Book-Review By Vibhuti Patel Bharati Ray and Aparna Basu (Ed.), From Independence, Towards Freedom: Indian Women Since 1947 , Gender Studies, Oxford University Press, India, New Delhi, 1999, pp-xxi + 248, price: Rs. 495/-.

Sexist biases in the family laws are examined in detail by Latika Sarkar in her essay, "Reform of Hindu Marriage and Succession Laws- Still the Unequal Sex". It was quite refreshing to read this piece as most of the published work on the
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  Book-Review By Prod. Dr. Vibhuti Patel, Director, PGSR SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai=400020Bharati Ray and Aparna Basu (Ed.), "From Independence, Towards Freedom: IndianWomen Since 1947"  , Gender Studies, Oxford University Press, India, New Delhi, 1999, pp-xxi + 248, price: Rs. 495/-.The main strength of this edited volume lies in its lucid style of presentation, collage of contributions made by cerebral women from wide range of concerns (from academics,research, policy planning, creative writing, electronic and print media, Legal activism,Demography to women's movement) and analytical vision of situating women's issueswithin the perspective of political economy. A short introduction by the editors sets thetone for the twelve essays, which provide profile of Indian women's problems in thecontext of socio-political changes in the subcontinent.The first essay, "Women and Partition- Some Questions" by Bharati Ray portrays the powerlessness of women refugees of partition who had to fight lone battles for survival of their children and for themselves. Double standard of sexual morality practiced by thestate and the civil society accentuated the dehumanisation of women victims of communal violence. This case study is extremely relevant today as mass of women arefacing similar situation due to social, environmental and political disasters all around.Bidyut Mohanty's essay, "Panchayat Raj Institutions and Women" gives a historicalunderstanding of invisibility of women in the Panchayat Institutions and mobilisation of  political opinion in favour of co-optation of women and /or reservation of seats for women in the local self-government bodies. Effectivity of women in implementation of area development schemes and programmes for women and children make themsuccessful in the Panchayat system. What the author does not highlight is the fact that if the same elected representatives take up women's rights agenda for gender-justdistribution of resources, they have to face hostility and violence.Experiential narrative by Ela Bhatt, "Towards the Second Freedom", provides blow-by- blow account of trials and tribulations of unionising poor women in the unorganisedsector. Peaceful and collective struggle waged by Self Employed Women's Associationunder her leadership demanded astute tactics and strategic thinking to create women'salternatives- SEVA Cooperatives, SEWA Bank, SEVA video, SEVA rural, SEVA health,SEVA housing and SEVA academy. This essay makes us convinced of the fact thatcooperative venture of women can make its members self-sufficient, in the midst of cut-throat commercial interests operating in the urban and rural India. Mukul Mukherjee's essay, Women's Work in India-A Collage from Five Decades of Independence culls out information on paid and unpaid work of Indian women from theofficial sources such as National Sample Survey, Census of India, International Labour Organisation and INSTRAW. It highlights discrimination faced by women in the work   force, limited contribution of the statutory sector of the economy for women, affirmativeaction of the state to counter patriarchal biases and the working of market forces. Thisdata-base is extremely useful for policy formulations and programme implementation.Creation of safety-net for women in response to New Economic Policy and StructuralAdjustment Programme through networks of women operating locally, regionally andglobally, ONLY can save them from the sharks of world market.Leela Visaria provides a demographic profile of Indian women in her essay, "Deficit of Women in India- Magnitude, Trends, Regional Variations and Determinants". It revealsthat underenumeration of women in Indian Censuses, sex-selective migration, skewedsex-ratio at birth due to female infanticide and sex-selective abortion and sex-differentialin mortality due to discriminatory food, health care and workloads for boys/men andgirls/women can be some of the major reasons for deficit of women in India's population.She concludes with a recommendation that challenging an ideology of sun-preferencethrough gender-sensitive curriculum and media education can correct this deficit.Sexist biases in the family laws are examined in detail by Latika Sarkar in her essay,"Reform of Hindu Marriage and Succession Laws- Still the Unequal Sex". It was quiterefreshing to read this piece as most of the published work on the personal laws in the lasttwo decades had tried to create a myth that the laws concerning marriage, divorce,custody of children, maintenance, alimony, guardianship and property are anti-womenamong non-Hindu communities, while the Hindu women are liberated. The essay bringsto the fore discrimination against women in Hindu Marriage Act and Hindu SuccessionAct which drew heavily from the Mitakshara School (which did not give coparsonaryrights to daughters in the ancestral property) and Dayabhaga School (which entitled theHindu widow the same share as the sons in husband's property).Zoya Hasan's article, "Muslim Women and the Debate on Legal Reforms" delineates thesrcin of the Muslim Personal Law, the state policy of non-interference in the civilmatters concerning minority communities and struggles of individual Muslim women inmatters concerning divorce ( Talaq ) and maintenance. She suggests that "Recasting thedebate in ways that ensure the principle of democratic choice guarantees equal rightswithout jeopardising minority rights." The essay is silent about the most mind-bogglingissues faced women's groups working with Muslim women. They have to face problemswith male community leaders in matters concerning dowry harassment, mutta (temporary) marriage and Talaq , buying of young girls as wives/ cowives (especiallyamong refugees) and perpetuation of vicious circle of CP-CM-CL(child- prostitution,child marriage-child labour) which prevents Muslim girls' enrollment in schools andcolleges."Women's education in India-Achievements and Challenges" by Amrita Basu gives acomprehensive picture of Indian women's journey of empowerment through education,from the Vedic times (2000-1500 BC) to the present. In spite of the landmark contribution of the 19 th century social reform movement for promotion of women'seducation and government policy in the post-independence period, 60% of Indian womenare illiterate. Education and skill development are the top-most priority of the Indian  women's movement. She rightly suggests that to ensure better quality of education for women, along with resources, gender and caste-specific issues need to be tackled."Indian Women and the Electronic Media" by Mrinal Pande provides a true confession of a media matriarch who has made a consistent effort to promote women's concerns withinmainstream print and electronic media. Her media analysis of commercial films, serials,docu-dramas is scathing, at the same time useful for the decision-makers as shesuccinctly examines the power-relations and the labour processes in the media-business.Our policy planners and the decision-makers need to make serious note of her apt remark,"Even the most eminent of India's economists and social scientists and anthropologistshave been getting their data collected by (a largely unvetted army of) young researcherswhose only qualifications are mobility within geographical area being researched and acertain facility with the local languages."Story-telling style of Tapti Guha Thakurta's essay, "Women as Artists in ContemporaryIndia" makes it very appealing to the lay reader. Instead of clubbing women artists indifferent boxes(i.e. schools), she situates their style, images and their legitimisation bythe mainstream art-market, in the unfolding realities around them. Case history of AmritaSher Gill is sensitively handled. Here she emerges as a hardworking and well-traveledartist , not an object of voyeurism (the image created by the male writers). Visibility of women artists trained in art colleges coincided with visibility of women's issues in the political agenda. It is sad to find no mention of women folk artists (from Madhubani,Warli, Hindu and Jain temple-oriented artists) who are outside the matrix of Europo-centric world-view."Sisters in Sorrow- Contemporary Indian Women's Retelling of the Rama Tale" By Nabaneeta Dev Sen makes a valuable contribution in the field of social psychologythrough her perceptive analysis of portrayal of SITA in women's folk songs and folk talesin Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Maithili, Gadhwali. Ideological imperatives of these folk-songs are understood through six major themes- Sita's birth, her wedding (with a touch of  pre-marital romance), her abduction by Ravana, pregnancy, her abandonment by Ramaand birth of twins-Luv and Kush. This essay provides an excellent exercise indeconstruction of patriarchy in the different cultural contexts of West Bengal andBangladesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Himalayan valley. The onlycommonality in all variations is SON-PREFERENCE and DOUBLE STANDARD OFSEXUAL MORALITY.The last essay, 'The Women's Movement in India- Emergence of a New Perspective', co-authored by Vina Mazumdar and Indu Agnihotri contexualises genesis of women'smovement in India within the matrix of geo-political developments in the subcontinent.From their depiction, it emerges that the Indian Women's movement had globalconnections right from its inception in the 19 th century. Violence against women has beenthe common theme of all phases of women's movements in India (Crusade against  sati ,female infanticide and forced child-marriage), the nationalist movement (alcoholism andwife-beating and physical assault of the women freedom fighters) and the women'smovement in the post emergency period (campaign against custodial rape, dowry  murders, domestic violence,  sati ). Interaction of women's studies and women's movementenhanced women's political empowerment and facilitated policy intervention. The essayends with a series of questions about equality and empowerment from the point of viewof an individual woman, human rights and social justice.This slick publication gives bird's eyes view about Indian women. Except for environment, it touches all facets of Indian women's life-situations. Its global perspectiveand style of presentations will make it acceptable among all those interested in India.
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