A Country for Women: The Road Ahead in India

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Date: 1st March, 2013

Venue: Loreto College, Kolkata

Swaniti Initiative, in collaboration with the British Deputy High Commission of Kolkata, hosted “A Country For Women: The Road Ahead” on the 1st of March, 2013 at Loreto College. The guests were Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya (Senior Advocate and Former Mayor of Kolkata), Samita Sen (Director, School of Women’s Studies at Jadavpur University), Sanjay Wadvani (British Deputy High Commissioner, Kolkata). Heba Ahmed, winner of the Swaniti Policy Analysis Exercise, was also invited to be a panelist. The event was attended by policy researchers, diplomats, students and working professionals interested in discussing the economic, social and political state of women in India.

Mr. Sanjay Wadvani, the moderator of the discussion, opened the session by providing an overview of the recent events that had triggered national outrage against the atrocious marginalization of the Indian woman. Highlighting the urgency with which the nation had woken up to the deteriorating law and order situation in the aftermath of the rape and murder of a 23-year old student in New Delhi, Mr. Wadvani spoke of the need to not just legislate, but also execute policies to make cities safer for women. The forum was opened to the panelists, with Dr. Samita Sen pointing out the active fear prevailing in the minds of women. Dr. Sen emphasized that this fear has led to an inertia which restricts the very nature of their lives and interactions with the society – a sorry state of affairs in a country as large and diverse as India. She questioned the dichotomy of the Indian household where males and females belonging to the same family are expected to abide by different sets of rules.

Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, in his opening address, commented on the unfortunate commodification of the Indian woman by the Indian man – a tragedy that troubles the society even today and leads to serious unwanted repercussions. Without absolving the Indian woman of all blame, he asserted that change cannot be channelized unless the women too discard the unquestioned acceptance of traditional gender roles.

Heba Ahmed discussed the fundamental position and definition of women in society. While she acknowledged the general degradation of value systems where masculinity and honour are tied to grave sexual violence, Heba also spoke of the urgent need of the hour for women to rescue themselves from the imminent threat of significant marginalization.

The audience engaged with the panelists to bring up issues of domestic violence, gender sensitivity in modern education and the politicization of gender debates. The Q&A session was concluded by Prof. Banerjee of Loreto College who poignantly pointed out that her students had subconsciously restricted their daily lives because the setting sun marked a period of fear, uncertainty and lawlessness. The session wrapped up with a networking session where the members of the panel interacted one-on-one with members from the audience.


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