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Happy nation

That famous fable about a happy man’s shirt that every child reads in primary school may not be an idealised lie after all. As we strive for more wealth, exotic holidays, bigger cars, and those better-paid jobs, new research is now revealing that those who own next to nothing and scrape a livelihood from the soil may be the happiest among us. Two influential studies in the past three years suggest that Bangladeshis, with their predominantly rural lifestyle and lack of exposure to want-driven needs, may be infinitely happier than Americans or Europeans whose standards of living we aspire to achieve.

The happiest, richest and most developed countries across the world have traditionally been assessed on the basis of their high standard of living, national income measured by economic criteria and lightning-speed technological progress. Indeed, Bangladesh, labelled one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, never came into the picture being a poor performer in all these categories. But a new global measure of progress, the ‘Happy Planet Index’ reveals for the first time that happiness may not actually have a price tag on it. The Happy Planet Index prepared by the UK-based New Economics Foundation (NEF) goes beyond conventional economics in a survey on the progress of nations based on the amount of the Earth’s resources they use, and the length and happiness of peoples’ lives.

Surprisingly, the survey reveals that countries labelled with ‘medium human development’ came out better than both low and high-development countries; moreover Island nations scored well above average in the Index. Vanuatu, a Melanesian island nation in the South Pacific Ocean has been chosen as the happiest nation and the African nation of Zimbabwe placed at the bottom of the list. The index, based on the three factors of life satisfaction, life expectancy and use of environmental goods and services, rated Bangladesh as the 41st happiest nation, with the UK at 104th and the USA 150th.

This new report adds to a growing pile of evidence which suggests that the global economics gurus have got it all wrong.

Three years back, the World Happiness Survey, a research led by some professors from the reputed London School of Economics rated Bangladesh as the happiest nation in the world. The research based on the link between personal spending power and the perceived quality of life concluded that money can buy everything but happiness. The study revealed that people in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, derive far more happiness from their small incomes than, for example, the British (number 32 on the list) do from their relatively large bank balances. The research further showed that, people in most rich countries including Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Japan and others are much unhappier than their poorer counterparts.

For many, living in a volatile, poverty stricken country with constant pessimism about future of the country and complaints about the living conditions, the Happy Planet ranking or the World Happiness Survey look strange and out of the ordinary. It begs the question: What is happiness?

So, what is happiness?

‘Happiness is a subjective concept, shaped by social forces, so it very well could be possible that Bangladeshis are the happiest, if they so believe. But to understand why they believe they are happy, one needs to explore what they believe happiness is,’ says Shazia Omar, who studied social psychology at the London School of Economics and has researched perceptions of happiness among the rural poor in Bangladesh.

According to Shazia, Bangladeshi society is traditionally characterised by a culture of contentment which stems from a belief in god and the importance of being ‘happy’ with what he has given to a person or a family. ‘What is interesting is that women are typically given a different ideal of happiness than men, hence the adage, “Shami’r shukhie, streer shukh,” ’ says Shazia. ‘As rural women attain financial empowerment through schemes such as micro-credit, however, they are gaining more control over the quality of their lives and the traditional concept of happiness may be changing,’ she says.

‘In a typical Bangladeshi traditional setting the family values are much stronger than in the West. In our society the value of life and happiness is based more on a family bond and togetherness. For us being with the family and exchanging respect, love and commitment is happiness,’ says Ferdousi Hannan, professor of sociology at Dhaka University.

Indeed for most women happiness is based on their ties with the family and their feeling of responsibility. According to the 41-year-old housewife Shammi Ara, ‘Happiness is being able to see my children happy and ensure my family is always safe and secure’. Undoubtedly, her words express the views of most, if not all, Bangladeshi housewives. ‘I think people in the West confuse happiness with pleasure and fail to realise that the two are completely different concepts,’ adds Ferdousi.

When it comes to women, this valuation of happiness seems to remain even in the urban setting characterised by frenetic nine-to-five corporate lifestyles and increasing pressure to perform, financially, socially and within the family. ‘From nine-o’-clock in the morning till five, it’s like a long wait to go back home and see my husband and children. Having dinner together every evening is simply precious for all of us,’ explains Renuma Akhter, a 35-year-old Dhaka banker.

The case is not any different for men either. For 43-year-old Anwar Sarker working in an IT company in Dhaka, happiness is to have a settled job and a wonderful family to be with. ‘For us the sense of security and comfort counts. Moreover, the assurance that your children and you family is fine is a major factor behind a happy life,’ he adds.

‘The children also pay back this sacrifice, when their parents are old, they take care of them, respect them, give them time,’ says 42-year-old Selima Hossain Allen who is a fashion designer in Dhaka. ‘It’s important that family elders get respect and are taken care of in Asian families,’ she says.

“Happiness is being near your loved ones. When I walk past the University campus, I see youngsters who are very happy and content - this is because they are themselves, they are able to express their joy and happiness freely, at that particular time they are not socially bound,” says Ferdousi. ‘Therefore, for many even the freedom for expressing emotions is happiness.’

‘I think individuals in the West lack that mental satisfaction, peace and comfort that we receive from our loved ones. They often seek happiness, and evaluate well-being in materialistic terms,’ points out Mahbuba Nasreen, who also teaches sociology at Dhaka University.

For 32-year-old Abdur Rob, a tea-seller happiness is all about money. According to him the sharp division between the social classes is only because of money. He feels the sense of security and comfort is the essence of happiness for many in today’s world.

So is it the increasing urbanisation that drives true happiness from our lives? Is rural life better suited to happiness than an urban lifestyle?

Speaking of happiness, one cannot help remembering David Henry’s famous quote, ‘That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest’. A case in point is the school text fable that every Bangladeshi child learns at a young age, about a King who can afford every pleasure in the world, but is unhappy and ailing. A wise man tells the King that he will only recover if he can wear a happy man’s shirt. Ministers go everywhere from the biggest mansions to the farthest kingdom to find the happiest man. But they find unhappy men wherever they go. After a relentless search they finally stumble upon the happiest man deep in a woods, and when they ask him for his shirt, ironically, it turns out that he doesn’t own a shirt.

‘The story tells us that happiness is not determined by money but rather the self-satisfaction attained on the little things in life,’ says Mahbuba Nasreen. ‘Certainly, people in the rural setting are more content with what they have. They do not demand beyond the basic necessities of life. They tend to be happier because they have a more peaceful life which is stress-free and independent of so called social norms which is a major factor that not only contributes to their satisfaction but also life expectancy,’ she adds.

‘What is unique about Bangladeshis is their power to withstand all odds,’ says social worker Samia Zafar. ‘Take the example of farmers. Each year, natural calamities such as floods wipe out their crops and despite that as soon as the water starts receding they start from scratch and dream of a harvest again. These people have learnt to live with these devastating aspects and yet smile through their sufferings,” says Samia.

‘Indeed the rural setting does offer a peaceful life but then again, in urban areas people are more open and express their views without hesitation. This is true in case of women, who are increasingly aware of their own rights and have more say about their lives, which undoubtedly makes them feel good about themselves and feel happy,” points out Ferdousi.

According to the report prepared by Happy Planet Index, in association with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, ‘Perhaps a more acute awareness of environmental limits has sometimes helped their societies to bond better and to adapt to get more from less. Combined with the enhanced well-being that stems from close contact with nature, the world as a whole stands to learn much from the experience of islands and rural areas.’

But then, why is it that we are nationally obsessed with acquiring a green-card for the US or an immigration opportunity to Europe or even Australia?

According to sociologists, the social setting has taught us to have aspirations, which are way beyond the simple things in life. Indeed, a major percentage of people rate happiness on the basis of luxury and material aspects of life. Thanks to exposure to global culture, for most holidays in the Bahamas or Switzerland is a key to happiness. With the fixed perception of these concepts of happiness, every year we see people migrating abroad in search of a better life.

As the HPI report suggests, ‘When we measure the efficiency with which countries enable the fundamental inputs of natural resources to be turned into the ultimate ends of long and happy lives, all can do better. This conclusion is less surprising in the light of our argument that governments have been concentrating on the wrong indicators for too long. If you have the wrong map, you are unlikely to reach your destination.’

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No justice for Tania

When six year old Tania came to Dhaka with her father Fazal following her mother’s death in 1997, they settled in a slum near Dhaka’s District Jail. In the months to come a shortage of money forced them to sleep in the premises of court of Dhaka’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. Fazal worked as the vendor there and they spent the night in the court verandah opposite Police Control room. On the 10th March 1998 around three at noon Tania was called away by someone she later described as a ‘Police chacha’ into the Police Control room where she was brutally raped. With the nation outraged and human rights groups baying for blood, the police falsely accused Obaidur Rahman alias Mora who worked as a cook in the police mess, of the crime. Last week Mora was acquitted of the charges and released by the courts of law, with the judge noting that there had been serious flaws in the investigation.

For eight years investigations were carried out and there was no effective result. While the case was filed twice in these years, at the end of all these years it was only proved that Mora was innocent and was victimized through a conspiracy. In an attempt to do so, not only was Tania’s loss not compensated by an action taken against the actual criminal but Mora also lost out eight years of his youth. ‘It was a conspiracy to save the image of the police and to cover the criticism of police in society,’ Mora said in a statement. The weeping Mora said, ‘I lost out eight years of my life’.

According to human rights groups Tania’s case reflects the flawed investigation and the weak justice system in the country. It was through Advocate Alena Khan, who not only fought for Tania’s case for years on behalf of the Dhaka-based NGO Bangladesh Society for Enforcement of Human Rights but also as an eye witness of the series of incidents that involved a cycle of conspiracy, that the real culprit was revealed.

On the 10th March, 1998 afternoon, after the gruesome incident, Tania, in a state of trauma and soaked with blood was seen in front of the police control room by advocate Shah Alam who immediately rescued her and consulted the chief Judge in the CMM court about what could be done. Instead of taking immediate action he ordered her to be sent to the National Medical Hospital. ‘Considering the fact that he holds a great degree of power he could take immediate action and shut out the control room and arrest the criminal, but he didn’t take any such action,’ points out Alena.

It was advocate Shah who informed Alena, having failed to have any actions taken by the Judge at the time. ‘I reached the spot by four O’clock and saw her trembling with pain and lying on a bed without any doctors around. When I asked why she wasn’t being treated they said she needed to be shifted to Dhaka Medical College for the critical surgery of her bruised genital organ. During this time the police present in the hospital had not taken any action claiming that they didn’t have a car to take her to the hospital. I discharged her from there and prepared to take her,’ remembers Alena.

Alena knew she couldn’t lose a minute in asking her who had done this to her. When she asked, Tania said she was taken to the Police control room by a ‘Police Uncle’ who hurt her so much she started screaming, he tried to strangle her and left her lying in a pool of blood. ‘When I asked her who he was, she didn’t name anyone, she pointed towards a policeman standing outside the hospital room and said he looked like him - tall, short haired and dark. She knew Mora well and if it was Mora, she would have identified him easily,’ says Alena. ‘When an incident occurs, a child of her age has the capacity to utter out the most familiar name especially when she is in a state of trauma, but Tania never mentioned Mora’s name’.

That day as Alena saw the trembling child on the hospital bed and the ignorance of the police officials and suspicious acts of police members, she felt it was her personal responsibility to ensure Tania is fine. And so followed the sequence of incidents whereby Alena followed her almost every where, from hospitals to court room where she herself was questioned as a witness. Soon after Tania was shifted to DMC, since nobody signed the bond for Tania, she signed it in and stayed with her. ‘She wouldn’t stop screaming unless I would stand by her side. Although the police officials tried to move me away from her, I stayed with her throughout the day’.

The next day when she came to visit Tania again, she heard her screaming loudly. She saw the police taking her somewhere by force. When she asked where she was being taken, they said it was the PM’s order to take her to CMH for proper care. ‘Shockingly, there wasn’t any doctor or nurse present in the microbus, being suspicious I jumped in and went with her,’ she says ‘After she was shifted to CMH I was not allowed to meet her in anyway but I visited the hospital regularly. By this time Mora was arrested and this pulled me more deeply into the case. After about three days I managed to meet her while she went to the bathroom.’ It was then that Tania confessed how she was forced to blame Mora by her father, who was promised Tk 10,000 and some acres of land in exchange. Through requests and pleas Alena finally met her and her father, who wasn’t willing to confess the truth. For the next one and a half months Alena couldn’t meet Tania in Lalmatia police control room where she was being held alone. ‘She recognised me the moment she saw me. She rushed to me and told me that her father was never given the money promised and so she had now the permission to confess the truth,’ said Alena. Following Tania’s father’s confession, the case was again put forward. But in the days that followed Alena or other officials working on the case could not trace Tania. Furthermore Mora was charged with two other rape cases but none of the cases included any valid proof or witness.

‘I was in the middle of two difficult issues. On one side was Tania’s justice on the other was an innocent man’s life and it was a difficult fight because every time we tried to solve the case, the police was a barrier,’ adds Alena. ‘I was even attacked twice for my relentless effort to prove the truth both for Tania and Mora’.

While the case was under investigation that year in a seminar titled ‘Convention on Elimination of all forms of discrimination Against Women,’ President Shahabuddin Ahmed while delivering his speech mentioned, ‘It is our moral duty and responsibility to ensure the proper development of children’s wellbeing for a better future of the nation. The incidents concerning inhuman forms of child abuse that we are witnessing is depressing. Six-year-old Tania was raped in the Police Control Room recently. Shockingly, no form of action was taken against the 20/25 members of the police working there. If this kind of incident took place in other countries all members present would have been hanged to death. These forms of heinous acts need to be combated trough the co-operation of all levels of members in the country, or else we all as a nation, as beings would be an insult.’

Meanwhile Alena presented Tania’s father’s confession and photographs which she had taken in the hospital while the police were trying to rein her in. ‘Advocate Aslam who was the public Prosecutor for Mora could have been able to get Mora a bail a long time ago but he was too slow,’ regrets Alena.

Last week, Mora was released. Nurun Nahar, a Judge of the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Tribunal-3 of Dhaka, said in her judgement: ‘I found various flaws in the investigation by the assistant superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department of police, Mohammad Mojibur Rahman’. She also added that Mujibur Rahman did not try to unearth the clues of the case, and he also did not try to find out the real rapist. She further pointed out that if the IO investigated the matter properly, the real culprit would have surfaced and vital clues would have come out and it would have been possible to punish the person responsible. Moreover, the prosecution failed to identify the place of occurrence by the prosecution witnesses. A number of the witnesses said the victim was raped inside the police control room while others said it happened in the toilet. Despite repeated attempts, New Age could not reach Mojibur Rahman or any other members involved in the investigation to shed light in their side of the story.

‘After Eight years of constant struggle Mora was released but then again the question remains: Was justice served? Will the injury to Tania’s body and her mind ever fade? Who will compensate Obaidur’s loss of eight long years in prison or Tania’s loss?’ asks Alena.

‘When the case was forwarded for further investigation, nothing effective was done. If given a try they could find out the members present in the control room that afternoon through the roster record,’ added Alena. ‘It is with deep sense of disappointment that I would remember this case - justice was not served for any of the victims at the end of it all. Mora lost out eight years of his life and Tania’s culprit was not punished’.

Unfortunately, Tania’s case is not an exception, if we look at the past records of flawed investigations and involvement of police officials in such acts. Not very long ago, Shima Chowdhury was brutally raped by a police officer and the investigation was rigged with misinformation, say human rights groups. ‘We have seen many other victims like Shima, Yasmeen, and Tania’s case is the repetition of the same sequence of events that involved police officers,’ said Alena. Indeed Shima’s story was similar. She was raped in the police custody and eventually she died in jail. ‘The irony of her case was the same as well, the police tried to save the culprit who was also a police officer. In fact the Judge in the case herself stated clearly that the investigation was flawed. She also said that the accused, the witness and the culprit included only the members of the police’.

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Yasmin’s legacy and the women’s movement (with Mashida R. Haider)

In 1996, Sheema Chowdhury was raped and murdered in police custody. Sheema had gone to Chittagong with her boyfriend where she was picked up by the police officials of the Raozan Police Station. She was placed under ‘safe custody’. On September 9, Sheema was gang raped while in custody. The teenager was later murdered in Chittagong jail on February 7, 1997, it has been reported. On the basis of these allegations, her brother, Shahjal Kanti Chowdhury filed a case against Uttam Kumar, Constable Sadek Ali, Abul Bashar and Goura Chandra Karmakar. The case, like plenty of others like it, is still pending, waiting for a verdict. It has been ten years.

Another case that once again pointed out the involvement of the police officers and flawed investigations was the case of six year old Tania. Tania was raped on March 10, 1998, in the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Court premises. According to reports she had been called away by her ‘Police chacha’ to their control room toilet. With the nation outraged and human rights groups baying for blood, the police falsely accused Obaidur Rahman Mora who worked at the police mess as a cook. For eight years, investigations were carried out and there was no result. While the case was filed twice, at the end of it all, on July 25, 2006, Mora was acquitted in the verdict passed by the Women and Child Repression Tribunal Act-3. The investigation being ‘flawed’, the actual rapist of Tania is walking free.

Fourteen year old Yasmin Akhter was raped and murdered by three police officers in Dinajpur back in 1995. According to reports, she was picked up by the police officers while she was on her way to her mother’s house. The police officers assured Yasmin that she would reach home safely. Afterwards, she was brutally raped and murdered, her body dumped by the roadside. When her body was discovered, entire district of Dinajpur rose up in arms against the police and the local administration, forcing the government to take note. Following strong judicial inquiry and police investigations, the three officers were finally arrested in 1997. Two out of three policemen convicted in Yasmin rape and murder case were hanged in Rangpur jail after midnight on September 1, 2004. The executed convicts were assistant sub-inspector of police Moinul Haque and constable Abdus Sattar. Their last appeal for life, the presidential clemency, was rejected. This indeed remains a beacon of justice served in a short time, the duration being almost ten years.

Even as human rights groups have championed the cause of helping victims of sexual assault file cases against their aggressors and the financial clout of carry cases through the courts of law, the incidence of rape seems to be phenomenally on the rise in the country.

According to research carried out by MN Islam of the Department of Forensic Science, Dhaka Medical College, in a paper titled ‘Retrospective study of alleged rape victims attended at Forensic Medicine’: ‘Sexual assault is one of the fast growing violent crimes in Bangladesh. We carried out a retrospective study of 675 alleged rape victims out of total examined 1665 cases during 1994-2000. In the last seven years, 441 victims refused examination and a final report is pending in 2.4 per cent cases due to non-availability of ancillary investigation reports. We found that 48.9 per cent cases were sexually abused based on history, physical evidence and opinion of the examining doctor although high vaginal swab for spermatozoa was found to be negative in all cases. Out of 675 cases studied in this paper, 33.5 per cent was in the 12-15 year age group, in 511 cases the assailant was known to the victims, 23.7 per cent was reported and was examined within 72 hours of occurrence, unmarried persons constituted 56.6 per cent cases and 69.9 per cent was literate. In 45.8 per cent of the cases the victims were abused during the daytime. Non-genital violence was observed in 91 cases, 2.9 per cent was admitted to the hospital, 2 per cent reported with pregnancy, 0.4 per cent reported with abortion and four cases had a history of previous abuse. Genital findings included hymenal rupture in 38.9 per cent and 9.6 per cent cases of forchette were found with recent tears. In 248 cases, opinion was negative due to delayed attendance, false charge and time-consuming procedures.’

So where, exactly, do we stand where the women’s movement, especially against sexual violence is concerned? As more cases are getting revealed every year, and the justice system is trying to solve the cases, as law enforcers are starting to take notice, a huge part of the movement, the human rights NGOs, speak up.

‘The fact that we hear complains concerning abuse and rape of women is a great improvement in itself,’ points out Habiba Akhter, a human rights campaigner at the Dhaka-based NGO Nari Pokkho and an advocate of the Supreme Court.

‘For decades these issues were not talked about and blamed on women. Now we are seeing a change: the stigma associated with such cases are reducing. People are more willing to speak out and most importantly it has become a social issue which people are finally beginning to see as a crime,’ she says.

According to Habiba cases of girls like Yasmin, Sheema and so many more have changed attitudes towards the phenomenon of rape in our society.

‘A major factor behind this change has been certainly the media and the women’s rights groups. In the last ten years all kinds of efforts have been adopted by both these groups to increase awareness at the national level,’ points out Habiba, ‘and it is because of this that there has been a threat to those who commit crimes at least to some extent’.

Despite some of the positive changes seen in the last ten years in terms of awareness and change in attitudes, it is still a matter of grave concern that it takes ages for such cases, be it Tania or Yasmeen’s to be solved. In most cases with the high officials, including the judiciary involved, justice is not served at the end.

‘The problem lies in the fact that the system in our country is not speedy and effective. Added to that are the interests of the state and others involved,’ says Habiba. ‘Part of the reason for cases like Tania where, even the perpetrator was not identified or even punished is because of the lack of accountability from the side of those involved in judiciary and proper monitoring from the government itself,’ she says.

One flaw in the system, as Habiba points out is that despite the changes and progressive action taken in such cases, little has been done for the victims. ‘We don’t have such concepts as reparation. Indeed much has been done for women and their rights. But has anything been done for the victim?’ Habiba asks.

Advocate Alina Khan, a prominent human rights activist, agrees that the media has played a role in disseminating awareness on women’s rights.

‘Ten years back, when we were handling Yasmin’s case, it was the first time that a rape case was covered so extensively by the media,’ says Advocate Alina Khan, executive director of Bangladesh Society for Enforcement of Human Right (BSEHR). ‘This case became a platform for various other bodies and people to express their views.’

Alina feels that the wide publicity that violence and rape of women received through the media helped make the positive changes that we are seeing today. With passage of time, indeed, the various cases have helped increase the awareness and the accountability of law enforcers.

‘Ten years back, the media was not as effective as it is today. With more and more electronic and print media coming up, we see that the moment such cases take place, it is covered at the national level,’ says Alina.

She also agrees that the level of awareness among women concerning their own rights has brought a lot of changes.

‘If not all, at least we have a number of women coming forward and speaking up for themselves,’ she says, ‘but again, we are yet to see very strong changes in the attitudes of family members. Even today there are numerous families that would not move to file a case given the stigma associated with being raped or abused.’

In the last ten years the cases of Yasmin, Tania, Sheema and many more, has indeed provided a platform for women to demand their rights. But then again, in the remotest areas there are countless cases like these, which are not talked about and at the end of it all, justice is not served.

‘There is a dire need for formation of clubs or forums in such places where the degree of awareness can be raised,’ points out Alina. ‘Moreover, there is a need to motivate the younger generations who can bring drastic changes in the attitudes and conceptions of people towards women.’

Dr Faustina Pereira, advocate of the Supreme Court and director of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), agrees that there has been progress, if not a sea change in the women’s movement in all of South Asia and particularly Bangladesh. And amazingly, Bangladesh acts as an example to other countries. Historically a very vibrant group, the movement keeps itself abreast of international events and adapts those as examples to their own cases with pragmatic and conceptual views. The uniqueness in this particular movement is that petty differences are put aside and on core issues such as sexual violence and women’s participation in the local government. It is not a monolithic entity, but a sum total of many different understandings and persuasions but on important issues it comes across as one voice.

‘ASK is of the view that a feminist lens propels us to look at social justice issues,’ says Pereira. ‘But since the early 80s, the tendency of every government that comes into power is that of the trigger happy kind, just passing the laws and getting maximum political leverage with minimum effort on women’s and children’s issues. Each government wants to put out its own record accolades, so women and children, bundled together, have become easy targets.’

‘We think that a law should be gender blind in its approach. We know what is and what ought to be and there exists a wide gap between the two, burdened by the patriarchal lens. One way to fill the gap is to chip away from the existing law those which are discriminatory and to bring out a jurisdiction that will allow the appropriate of laws to be neutral. Men, women and all citizens should be covered by one law.’

The logic behind that is if the parent law is so blatantly defective, that a new law has to be enacted, then it has to seen as a temporary special measure. And the women’s movement has always been wary of the government tendencies to enact and re-enact laws which become null and void after a while.

According to Pereira, despite the arguments broached by the women’s movement as a whole, there has seemed to be quite a disconnect between the voice of the movement, which echoes the voice of the people, and the pronouncements of the government of the day. And although the movement has made great strides in several ways, by educating itself in a much more serious way, on adopting a global perspective on women’s issues, and translating and adapting that perspective into ground level reality, although it has been much more serious in doing its homework, to negotiate with policy planners, government and international bodies, although they are becoming much more adept at using the UN and other international mechanisms to lobby their issues, they always seem to go through push and pull effect where they feel that despite all that has been achieved, it will be null, because of specific, political, anti-women agenda of the day—which is a narrow, regressive agenda.

An example is the undemocratic and shadowy manner in which the whole National Policy on Women’s Development (NPWD), 1997, has been changed in 2004. It points out very clearly, the disconnect between government rhetoric on womens’ empowerment and the actual practice. The changes that have been brought about in women’s policy reveal a very clear design to do several things: relocate women’s movement from the public and market sphere into the private domain, doing away with the support services for poor, marginalised, and elderly women, doing away with any provision of women’s direct election, negating the role played by the movement and not allowing for any participation of NGO’s in women’s issues.

So if one looks at these, sexual violence against women, their laws, and achievements over the past thirty years, they get threatened and challenged by the government of the day.

‘At this point in time the women’s movement finds itself in a fulcrum,’ concludes Pereira. ‘Balancing, see-sawing between rights, interests, political agendas, geo-political climate, corruption and the gnawing away of achievements by religious, fundamentalist groups.’

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