An Open Letter to Ms. Maneka Gandhi

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The Union Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, had sought suggestions from the public on how to make India better and safer for women. Our columnist, Payal, voices her concern on the said issue. Here’s her open letter to the minister, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

A few days ago, a message arrived, from Ms. Maneka Gandhi, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development, inviting ‘suggestions’ from the public on how India could be better and safer for women.

Dear Madame Minister,

Are you really serious about this? Because if you are, I doubt very much if you’d ever get elected again!

Women’s welfare does not lie merely in ‘keeping’ us safe, but in changing the whole Mindset of society. I wish I could wave a magic wand and say #BANMEN but let’s get serious about this.

1.   Catch them Young, before Patriarchy does

•   Introduce literature in schools about women in our history, in politics, education, medicine, social work. Poets, writers, freedom fighters, initiators of social change.

•   Make the textbooks gender sensitive and open to different gender roles – let the mother be found in the office and the dad be found in the kitchen. This is the reality of TODAY, and even if these are not the norm, introducing the idea will lay the foundation for acceptance and understanding.

•   Please introduce sex education, gender sensitisation, discussion of violence and misbehavior against women in the curricula.

•   Take strong and exemplary action against sexual harassment in schools/colleges

•   In addition, please ensure Girls Toilets in schools and free distribution of sanitary napkins

2.   In Colleges and Universities

•   Scholarships for girls, so that they can continue education and are not forced into marriages

•   Increase number of colleges for women – an educated woman changes Society

•   Ban discriminatory rules against girls that exist with timings/dress code/behavior in college campuses. Do not allow bans against Jeans, etc. – change the thinking that it is clothes that are responsible for rape or molestation.

•   Girls Hostels are not jails. Change the mindset of moral policing against women.

•   Reserve positions for women as Heads of Departments, as Deans, as Heads of College – the good old ‘Boys Club’ exists here too and they keep women out of leadership positions.

•   Continue sex education, and ensure availability of counseling for both boys and girls.

•   A media blitzkrieg and debates/discussions/seminars on women’s safety and empowerment in Boys’ colleges/ Girls’ colleges/Coeducation colleges – let the government sponsor these discussions and debates.

•   Internships for students in the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare and its departments to make young people aware of the magnitude of work to be done

3.   In our Cities

•   A nationwide campaign to expunge the term ‘eve teasing’ and replacing it with molestation and harassment. There is no such thing as eve teasing – let us recognize and call criminal behavior by its real name.

•   A very aggressive poster and hoarding campaign warning severe punishment for molestation, abuse, harassment.

•   A similar campaign that warns of extreme penalty for rape and make it a No Tolerance crime across the country.

•   Sensitising of the Police Force

•   Make public area – parks etc. Safe Zones by increasing policing and allowing women/couples to complain ‘on the spot’ if they are harassed.

•   Ensure that the licenses and ID’s of Cab/auto drivers are verified and checked. Make it mandatory for all public vehicles – taxis, autos, buses and metros to have a poster saying Misbehavior against women is a Crime, with the police helpline number clearly displayed.

•   Women-only buses till men learn to behave.

•   Let the women ‘reclaim’ public spaces by creating ‘Women only’ events where men are allowed entry only if accompanied by a woman.

•   Promote Women cabbies/bus conductors/petrol station attendants. Can jobs for women be reserved in these spaces so that these are not men only spaces?

4.   In Slums

 •   Women’s Help Centre – A policewoman, a social worker, trained volunteers to disseminate information about domestic violence, sexual abuse, and legal rights. Many NGO’s would be happy to run this center if space and infrastructure are given to them.

•   Subsidised Crèches – for women who go out to work and their children fall prey to crime. This will empower women and allow them to earn.

•   Separate Toilets For Women

•   Patrolling by police and check on criminal elements

•   Proper lighting

5.   Domestic Workers

 •   Issue of cards for domestic workers and Proper Registration as Domestic workers

•   Salary /wages should be fixed along with work times

•   Teaching them about sexual abuse and their right to legal recourse

6.   Legalise Prostitution

 •   Let them register, and be allowed to ply their trade

•   Bring them under the umbrella of safety, independence from pimps, Mausis (madams), legal rights and access to health.

•   This is the best way to curb child trafficking.

•   This most neglected and abused section of women deserves protection and empowerment. A Government cannot close their eyes and pretend they do not exist or treat them as either victims or criminals.

7.   Clean Up Your Act

 •   Look at the government-run orphanages and women’s shelters – under your eyes heinous acts are committed.

•   Partner with NGO’s that work on keeping an eye on the Staff

 It’s too much to expect you to be able to teach your fellow Parliamentarians decorum and decent behaviour when it comes to their female colleagues. I absolutely admire any woman who is a politician in our country, because I see a similar attitude of dismissiveness, superiority, and vilification conducted against all of you, that I see in our society. Someday, Ms. Gandhi, I hope, as men and women change, things will become better. Meanwhile, let’s fight the good fight.

Warm Regards,

Payal Talreja

©Payal Talreja

Photos from the internet.

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Businesswoman, curator of handlooms, poet, writer, and erstwhile doctor. Payal Talreja practices everything except her involuntary ‘profession’. She claims that words chose her and are now her weapon of choice because an activist born will stay silent for no man. A wanderer, a voyager, she’s happy to slum it or luxuriate in any life experience. She crafts poems and fiercely feminist essays and will assume her ‘Chandi’ avatar to ‘write’ any wrong.