Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Archive for the ‘Article on women’ Category

India: Goa’s Women Professionals want more, and they want it now

This article is written by Sapna Shahani

Lillian D’Costa, 32, left the idyllic village of Saligao in North Goa where she had spent her childhood years, and moved to Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka five years ago. “I had reached a point where I wasn’t growing any more and realised I needed a change,” she recalls. “I’m sure that Goa offers a better quality of life than many other states, but that’s if you’re economically well-placed. If you’re young and need opportunities for growth, Goa does not work.”

Ashwina Souza, 23, left her family in the Southern Goan town of Vasco last year to pursue a Ph.D in Industrial Psychology in Mumbai. “My seniors told me that the faculty here in Goa was not as good as in Mumbai. Besides, in a place like Mumbai, there are so many industries and they need people like us. Among my circle of friends, many have left Goa – perhaps six or eight out of 10.”

Two voices of young women professionals from a state that has recorded the highest per capita income among all Indian states in a 2009-10, according to the central statistical office. However, a study by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Employment also reveals that Goa has the highest unemployment rate in the country. What’s worse, according to another study conducted by Goa’s Ministry of Labour in 2009, only one-fourth of those employed in the state are women.

These figures imply that not only is Goa’s wealth not distributed equally across all sections of society, its working women are clearly marginal players in the state’s economy. Unless efforts are made to reverse this trend, Goa stands to lose young talent, with many youngsters like Lillian and Ashwina being forced to leave home for educational and employment opportunities in other states. Indeed, they are left with little choice, given the rising inflation and high cost of living in Goa.

Perhaps in response to the impending crisis, Goa recently became the first state in India to announce a dole for jobless youth. But such political gestures are merely symbolic. There still isn’t much public discussion about creating jobs for the state’s 80,000 people registered with the Employment Exchange. The Goa Chamber of Commerce carries a telling piece of information on its website: “Roughly about 15,000 graduates come out of Goan colleges every year. The government on its own will not be in a position to provide employment to these youth…”

There is widespread consensus in Goa that higher education in the state does not prepare graduates for real jobs. While the state has focused on primary education – ranking 11th among all Indian states in terms of performance – higher education appears to have stagnated. Public perception is that it is best to earn one’s degree or post-graduate qualification outside the state if one can afford to do so.

Says Aldina Gomes, a lecturer at Carmel College for Women in Nuvem, “As a professor, I’m a little against how academics is handled here. Everyone has to study humanities but they don’t really have a connection to the subject. They won’t pursue humanities as a career but will end up doing something completely different… There is a clear lack of vocational guidance for students as well as career opportunities. There should be many more entrance exams, job-specific courses and certificates that can get you jobs.”

Of course, women students are full of expectations. Take Zaheera Vaz, 20, who is about to start her Master’s degree course in Political Science at Goa University. She is keen to have extra-curricular activities that could help her develop her analytical skills. Nashoma De Jesus, 22, who is currently finishing her Master’s degree in International Studies at Goa University, would like more field experience. “The education system is too theoretical. We need more exposure while we’re studying. Internships should be mandatory,” she argues.

But this would require more investment in higher education, as Sabina Martins, a prominent women’s rights activist and school teacher with a Ph.D in chemistry, points out. “I did my research in carbon, which can be prepared from coconut shells. I thought since Goa has so many coconut shells and carbon is in high demand, being used for water purification and in so many other applications, it should be easy to make carbon this way. I went to see the only plant that does this in Goa and it was run by someone from outside the state. Planning here is devoid of research,” she says.

Those who don’t leave the state and are lucky enough to find jobs after they graduate, get measly salaries, sometimes as low as Rs 4,000 (US41=Rs 44) a month. Aglin Barretto, 23, has a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology and works in two schools as a counsellor. Her salary? Just Rs 5,000 per month.

Both opportunities and salaries are lower in Goa than elsewhere and that is a source of angst for young women like Skitter Faia, 32, who works in a PR firm in state capital Panaji. “I hear a lot of people talking about job security and I think that means a government job where you can work or not work and still take a salary home,” observes Skitter. Others feel that appreciation and promotions don’t easily come the way of women employees. Clara Rodrigues, 24, a journalist based in Saligao, rues the fact that the glass ceiling obstructs many ambitions women may harbour, “We need opportunities to grow vertically in the organisation.”

But this does not mean that women have stopped dreaming of personal growth and freedom. Interestingly, one of the reasons why many young women here prefer to migrate out of the state is to free themselves from the diktat of conservative families and the norms that mark rural life. D’Costa says, “As a single woman living outside the state, you don’t have to rush home. Or face judgmental people in the village who are always assessing you. Or hear that your phone isn’t accessible. These are constraints I experience every time I return to Goa.”

Despite the stereotypes fostered by the coastal tourist belt, life in Goa’s hinterland is fairly restrictive for young women and the general outlook is narrow. Ashwina shares a personal anecdote, “Once in college, a teacher asked us why we wanted to go to college. Students gave all sorts of answers. Some argued that it was their ticket to leave home; others said it was their certificate for marriage; still others just wanted to ‘pass time’, while a few talked of how it was the best way to make friends. Only three of us – out of a class of 60 – said they were in college to pursue a career.”

She and others like her want the state to be more pro-active about broadening professional vistas. Not only would this bring economic benefits to the state, it would mean more women in the workplace, they argue. For instance, they point out, that Goa – with its educated population – is eminently suited to emerge as an IT hub, yet little is being done to achieve this.

Says D’Costa, “The government wants to invite only ‘clean’ industries to the state. With its good roads, broadband connectively and relatively cheaper land, it could easily attract the IT industry. IT companies are moving out of Bangalore to places like Chennai and Vellore, but why aren’t they coming to Goa? Bangalore was once known as a retiree’s city, but now it has reinvented itself as a world city. Why can’t Goa make the same transition?”

If Goa has to keep pace with the hopes and expectations of women like D’Costa, it would need to do much more to expand employment opportunities for young professionals.

Published in Deccan Herald, Bangalore edition, 30th April 2011

Women in India don’t want to be in the Defenses

Should women be allowed to play a greater role in the Indian defenses, this is a debate that keeps cropping up time and again. More than once I have seen some women screaming on national television on how the defenses are bias and are keeping women out of frontal roles, such as combat. The most recent case in point being that Indian women were not allowed to become fighter pilots. This, when all other countries including China, allowed women, screamed the women defense!.

The defenses headed by men also put up a stiff resistance citing research about how women just aren’t meant for the role, and for once in my life, I kind of agreed with them. But of course if you know me, you would know that it definitely could not be for the same reason, and yes, you would be right. The fighting machine in this world, and that includes the cannon fodder, is just not the creation of women. Women are inherently creators not destroyers and so I honestly think that if women rule this world, there would have been smaller armies, smaller defense budgets and as a result less fighting. In a world of conflict created by men why in the world should women participate?, should the want to participate, why in the world should they protest for not being allowed to participate?

If the Indian defenses or any other defenses for that matter want to keep women out, they are doing women a favour we should be grateful for. Women especially the upper middle class ones, who have access to all the TV channels and self appoint themselves ‘speakers’ on behalf of other women, often drape themselves in the deceptive garb of feminism and enlightenment and fight for equal opportunity with out the intelligence to note, who it is that they are fighting with. How many of these women have sent their children to the defenses without a heavy heart is yet to be seen, but more important for these women to discern is, what it is that one is fighting for. What good has any defense force done so far. An overwhelming majority of the time, a country’s defense forces are used against their own people, why would we as women want to perpetuate this violence. So Hail to the Indian defense forces and please keep the women out.

Gold: The Story of a Goan Murderer

DupattaIt’s the fag end of summer in Goa. The beads of sweat roll down the back and sting the eyes, most people can be found spending their spare moments in their veranda, waiting for the tiny whiffs of breeze that may or may not come by. Most school children are savoring their last few days of holidays. Collecting mangoes from the neighbours yard, helping their parents clean up the garden, stack in the firewood and heading to the village spring for a therapeutic bath.

Most homes are entertaining guests, relatives who have come back to relaxed Goa, for a few days off the treadmill in the city. But this year, the gossip has not been just about the grand old aunties at church, the weddings attended on the weekend or the price of mangoes and salt fish. It is also about a serial killer who over a 15 odd years has confessed to killing 15 women!

The modus operandi. A supposedly unassuming Mahandand Naik from Shiroda befriended women in their 20s and 30s, pretended he was in love with them, after a while suggested he would introduce them to his parents, and on the appointed day asked them to come finely dressed, then waylaid them, strangulated them, often with their own dupatta, robbed them of their jewellery and then dumped their bodied.

The modus operandi seemed to be the same every time, the bodies dumped in rivers, or hung, often the victim was stripped. The police identified some bodies, were unable to unidentify others, and didn’t even manage to find other bodies, as they lay buried in secluded places.

Fifteen women and the number may grow as more confessions tumble out. More and more families that have had their daughters and sisters missing are coming forth to revive old complaints. Some families hoped against hope that their daughter had eloped with her boyfriend and living happily, have now been proved wrong.

The police had closed numerous cases of these women as cases of unnatural death are now reopening them. And while this drama unfolds, not unlike the movie “Perfume: the story of a murder” most people in Goa, who live a relatively sheltered life are obviously shocked and stunned.

Following this case from 500 kilometers, so many questions and issues come to my mind.

Women in Goa even though relatively well educated compared to their counterparts in the rest of the country are still naïve to their safety and can fall prey to murders like Mahandand Naik.

These women were emotionally vulnerable, unmarried, with a desire to love and be loved, and a wicked mind like that of this serial killer was able to identify and take advantage of their vulnerability.

The killer although displaying an unassuming simplicity about him was cold and calculating. Remorseless in implementing a well practiced plan, which refined itself further with each murder.

Could a man have perfected his art so well that he could go undetected for a decade and a half, or did his family fail to ask him and themselves some crucial questions? To what extent did they collude with the serial killer who lived among them?

The families of these women victims did not pursue the search for their daughters and sisters to the legal end. Perhaps the victims came from poor families and the family could not afford the time or monetary resources to pursue the cases.

The police, with all the public resources at their disposal kept doing a shoddy job of investigation. Probably ignoring evidence in their desire to close the case. Perhaps unqualified and so unable to recognize evidence. Perhaps lazy and unmotivated to pursue cases. In their incompetence, the Goa Police have become inadvertent colluders with the serial killer

Do the gruesome murders of fifteen women tell us something about the ‘value of life’ in Goa, does it tell us something about the ‘value of life of women in Goa’.

Do these murders tell us something about the ‘collective conscience’ of a society, that failed to raise an eyebrow about the murders (just like they fail to raise their eyebrows for so many other things) in the state, relegating these victims the place of a number in the statistics for the year.

Or am I reading too much into this whole incident.

Would it be better for all of us to dismiss it as a one off, so we can all go back to our lives and bring closure to the incidents? Or should we as a society spend a few minutes, maybe a few hours grieving the loss of fifteen women and an eroded social conscience.

I am still trying to come up with a response, as my intellect and my emotions tussle to explain the murder of fifteen women, full of potential.

Stop the violence on women in Bangalore

Stop the Violence on Women in



Dear Everyone,

For the last couple of weeks, women in Bangalore have been at the receiving end of some pretty serious attacks – for wearing jeans, going about their daily chores like traveling and waiting for a bus at a bus stop, for fighting back the moral police etc.

We need to STOP these violent physical attacks;

Below is a letter to the Police Commissioner and Home Minister regarding the recent attacks on women in Bangalore,

Please read the petition below and endorse it at-

Please try and sign the petition by the 6th of March 2009

Dear Sir/Madam,                                                  1 March

Over the last two weeks, several women have been violently attacked in

– On 28 Feb at 10.30 pm, Sanjana got hit by two men on a bike who slowed down, socked her on her jaw and fled away.

– On 24 Feb, Lakshmi was attacked at around 9 pm by four men who punched her, hit her, and abused her for wearing jeans.
– On 17 Feb, two men chased Geetanjali’s car at 1.30 pm. One chased her with a large stone as she ran to a friend’s house for refuge.
That week, Jasmine was attacked by four middle-aged men at 11.30 am when her auto broke down. They physically assaulted and tried to disrobe her while yelling obscenities.

More than 80 attacks and cases of moral policing have been reported from all over Karnataka in the last six months.Two women have committed suicide after humiliation from right-wing forces. On 11 Feb, Ashwini killed herself after Venur Bajrang activists attacked her and her friend Salim. On 12 Feb, Vanita killed herself after Bajrang Dal activists attacked her.

The police have not taken meaningful steps to stop or prevent this violence, to arrest the perpetrators, or to ensure the safety of all women in Bangalore and Karnataka. On the 2nd of March when a group of concerned citizens protested outside the Police Commission Shankar Bidari’s office, urging him to take action to make the city safer for women he blatantly denied the fact that these attacks have been taking place and said Bangalore is one of the safest cities for women and that there was no law and order problem.

These attacks are crimes against women. They are legal offences. They are neither isolated events nor trivial incidents of ‘eve-teasing’. They are part of a series of attacks inflicted on women in the name of ‘morality’, attacks that are escalating as women resist and fight back.

It is the core responsibility of the State and city police to ensure that public spaces are kept safe for all. Women across class barriers – from powrakarmikas to garment factory workers to students and young professionals in the corporate sector – have today become vulnerable targets on the streets of Karnataka.

As an organization fighting for the rights of all women, we demand that the Bangalore and Karnataka state and city police immediately:

* Take punitive action to ensure that the attackers are punished by the law;
* Take preventive action to ensure that no more women are attacked in Bangalore and Karnataka;
* Take enabling action to ensure that streets and public spaces in Bangalore and Karnataka are safe for all women to use and enjoy as a matter of right.


How secure are women with disabilities?

How secure are women with


womenrightsRecently I heard of two incidents which made me ask myself this very question, how secure are women with disabilities (WwD)?

In one incident a young mother of 35 hung her two teenage daughters both intellectually challenged, and herself. I guess she got tired of the pressures of life, the social stigma for having intellectually challenged daughters and an alcoholic husband. In the second case, a intellectually challenged girl, in a near by rural district, was taking food for her father in the field. On the way she was accosted, raped and murdered.

rightsThese two incidents bring to the fore one prominent fact, WwD; particularly women with mental illness and those intellectually challenged are not safe, either in their homes or in public.

In the first incident, the girls were obviously a burden to their mother, who was a poor lady, fighting for sustenance. She probably worried about what would happen to her children after she grew too old to provide for them. To her tormented mind, suicide was the only option.

Yet, she needed to be told that there was help. She needed to be given help. We have the Mental Health Act 1987, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities and Full Participation) Act 1995, The Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Indian Penal Code and probably more legislations than you and I can recall. Yet how many of these legislations are preventive, how many call for policy changes, how many policies that have been drafted and passed are being implemented? So many questions and the death of these girls is answer enough, about the situation of despair.

In the second incident, the girl was probably mildly intellectually challenged, so she was able to follow simple instructions and was taking lunch to her father. Obviously some lecherous man found in this simply girl a soft target. He also found in her a dispensable target. Undoubtedly this incident reveals a debased mind, but what about the girl, what does her family learn from this incident. What do other families with intellectually challenged girls learn from this incident? Do any of us expect that the girl and her family will get justice? Should we write this off as yet another death that will go by with no lessons learnt?


All those who are intellectually challenged are not ‘useless’. There are different degrees of disability. Depending upon the degree, they can be trained, to take care of themselves, to take simple decisions and even do simple tasks that can allow them to earn a small living. Yet families are made to believe they have people who are vegetables.


This article is full of questions. I don’t have answers to all of them, but I am searching, and perhaps you would like to join in too.

If you are an NGO or an association for people with disabilities (PwD), please put the security of WwD prominent on your agenda. If you are a parent with an intellectually challenged child please join parents associations, experience the strength of a collective and begin lobbing the government for welfare facilities. If you are a sensitive citizen and are concerned about PwD and WwD, please volunteer time. If you are a bureaucrat or are in a position of power please leverage it so that the lives of a few PwD are made better or even saved.

Moral police drive girl to suicide

Moral police drive schoolgirl to


Deccan Herald, 12th February 2009

Mangalore ‘moral police’ drive schoolgirl to suicide Mangalore, DHNS: A 15-year-old girl committed suicide at Aikala near Kinnigoli here on Wednesday, allegedly after being harassed by suspected Bajrang Dal men for talking to a Muslim youth.

Ashwini, a 9th standard student of Aikala school, and her friend Mahadevi, went in a bus to Venur allegedly to meet Saleem, 28, a bus owner. The trio was trapped near Venur by a group said to be belonging to Bajrang Dal. Another group  stopped the bus at Paddanthadka and took Saleem’s bus conductor Rafeeq into ‘custody’. All the four were brought to Maroor in the Moodbidre police station limits.

After conducting an ‘inquiry’ the ‘moral police’ informed Moodbidre police sub-inspector Bharathi who rushed to the spot.

To read more click


This is a tragedy of grave consequences and utterly disgraceful. These Bajrang Dal men need to be arrested for abetting suicide and murder.

These right wing fundamentalist groups go about promoting themselves as protectors of Indian culture but all they have to show for their work is violence, hatred, murder and communal riots.

I am filled with anger and revulsion at how these right wing fundamentalist groups widening the fault lines in this country and divide people on religion. I am seething mad that their rabid actions have lead to the suicide of this teenage girl.

Teenage is a vulnerable time, emotionally, and it is at this time that values of respect and love need to be taught and explained to young people. Instead these wicked men with their dirty filthy mindsets go about emotionally wrecking and hurting young people.

When they tried to shame older women in Mangalore by pulling them out of a pub and beating them up before the glare of the media, the women of India rallied together to send these right wing fundamentalist pink underwear in the Pink Chaddi Campaign. But this little 15 years old girl could not have stood up to all these hooligans and now they have the blood of an innocent teenager on their hands.

May she haunt these Bajrang Dal men for the rest of their lives and curse them to feel her pain in every breath they take.

Hail Pink Chaddis

Hail Pink Chaddis

n1137520119_30280986_81481For those who are not Indian and don’t know what a Chaddi is, it is a underwear and yes, the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a rather odd name for a protest, but that is, until you hear how it came about.

A little more than a couple of weeks back, right wing Hindu fundamentalist known as the Shri Ram Sena barged into a little pub in Mangalore, a coastal town in Karnataka, dragged out the girls there and beat them up. All in full media glare. The group led by its chief Pramod Muthalik, were arrested and released on bail shortly thereafter.

Since the media was present at the beating up, the violent scenes of women being hit, flung to the ground and chased were run on numerous television channels for days on end. This highlighted and polarized the issue adequately.


Having hogged the limelight for days and strengthened by their experience the Shri Ram Sena went on to threaten that they would carry out similar protests for Valentines Day and get couples married should they be found together in public!

Drinking, wearing skimpy clothes, dancing, and unmarried young couples moving around in public, according to the Shri Ram Sena is just not Indian Culture. (gosh, do these guys need a reality check and paradigm shift in perspective)

While for some women this hooliganism was a terrifying reminder of the consequences of living ones life in relative independence, for others it brought indignation at the patriarchy and hegemony that still sort and fought for place in this time and age!.

3266029660_6fa0206dd8_b1The event itself is highly political and richly layered, allowing for numerous interpretations and analysis along caste, religious, class, patriarchal and economic lines. But keeping that aside, most women understood the event and the Shri Ram Senas agenda for what it was worth, the need to use the primordial controlling mechanism ‘fear’ to regiment society. And they decided to have none of it.

If the Shri Ram Sena could embarrass women by beating them up in public, the women of India know how to embarrass the Shri Ram Sena and so some of them got together and launched a nationwide Pink Chaddis Campaign.

So what’s this campaign about? Well its simple. Those who support the Pink Chaddis Campaign can either courier a pink underwear to Mr Pramod Muthaliks house, no he’s not running out of underwear 😉 its a potent mark of protest  or they can drop one of at the various collection centres in the top cities of India and hurray, on 14th February Valentines Day, the Shri Ram Sena will receive a consignment of pink underwear of all sizes, shapes and designs. How cooler can it get.


So don’t loose this opportunity to thump your nose at these right wing fundamentalist who want to determine how the billion people of this country ought to live their life, and what a women’s place should be, men and women please send a signed pink underwear

Building a Memorial for Fallen Heroes

Where women fall,

There the grass grows.

Greener for the fertility.

They fall

Acid burnt,


Cut to pieces (sometimes cooked),












Where women fall,

There the grass grows.

Greener for the fertility.

In three days it shall be 8th March. Another Womens Day, that time of the year to do a reality check and assess just how much we have progressed in the year gone by. Yet my mind does not feel particularly positive infact it is experiencing a deep anguish. Anguish, by what I saw in the morning news just the other day. A prominent television news channel ran a story of a girl from Andhra Pradesh, a bride actually, at a mass marriage who was refusing to marry. She had her head buried in her lap, shielded by her arms, as she tried to prevent the groom from tying the mangalsutra round her neck and her father stood over her, slapping and pulling at her arms, trying to lift her head so that the groom could tie the mangalsutra.

Not so long ago the same television channel aired an expose again in Andhra Pradesh, of parents pimping their daughters and allowing them to be taken for days together to neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Goa by the ‘clients’.

And yet, I know that this is not anything restricted to Andhra Pradesh. The attitude towards women is not surprisingly similar in adjoining States as well. I presently work in Karnataka and I keep hearing stories from my colleagues about how their parents keep pressurizing and coercing them into marriage against their will.

Expectedly, the literacy rate of women in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is 57.45 and 51.17 respectively. Girls are married of at a young age usually in their teens or early twenties. She is not asked for her consent. The parents and an elder brother are likely to decide to whom she should be married off and when. The age of the boy really does not matter. The prospective grooms it seems is interested in just two things, the age of the girl (she had better be younger to him, infact younger the better) and the amount of dowry he is likely to get. The couple to be does not even see each other till after the wedding.

Recently a close friend of mine shared with me the story of his sister, who was married off at 16, a widow at 20 and dead at 25. It was only after she was married that the family learnt that her husband had been married thrice before. At 20 she learnt that her husband was a promiscuous man and had contacted AIDS, all this after an abusive and violent married life. A little after her husband died she learnt she was going to die too. “My sister had so many dreams and expectations in life, she wanted to do so much, she wanted to be someone. What wrong did she do to deserve this” asked my friend. I had no answer, except a deep sense of frustration and a growing sense of anger. How can we just sit by and watch so many lives lost, needlessly. How can we just sit and watch as so many lives are controlled by others, people who claim to be protecting them, and yet this claim of protection is such a hoax.

What seems more likely the case is that there is a tremendous objectification of women. Women seem to be as much an object as a ‘hot potato’ -and as worthless in the Indian context- to be passed on in a great hurry. At her parents home she is a burden, a ‘things that belongs to another to be kept safe until it is given to its rightful owner’. At her husbands home she is an object that a husband can vent his frustration out on and his family is welcome to follow suit.

Where does all this leave the girl herself? Does she have an identity, a voice, thoughts, dreams, hopes, expectations, desires, a spirit, a soul? Does she laugh, does she cry, does she have memories buried deep in her heart.

Another friend of mine told me how the girl he deeply loved was forced to marry another man by her blackmailing parents. Her mother actually staged a suicide attempt so as to extract her daughters consent. Yet another friend told me of this discussion he had with young girls in Bellary district about their dreams for the future. The girls listen to the facilitators sharing their hopes for the future but went silent when it was their own turn. After much prodding they replied that it was not possible to bring their dreams to fruitation and so they had stopped dreaming. “We don’t want to dream about what we cannot achieve” they said. Can you imagine the experience these children had lived through to be crushed, beaten and shaped into the state of acceptance they were in.

So many women’s lives are not their own to live and hope and dream as they wish. So many women’s spirits and souls are not their own. So many women’s minds and bodies are not their own.

For a while I thought there was a strong link between the degraded attitude towards women and the poverty from which they come coupled with the lack of education. Now I know better. The degraded perspective on women, the objectification cuts across all socio-economic and educational backgrounds, it’s a collective mind-set. And incase you think I’m painting some South Indian States black, let me assure you that the situation in all the North Indian States is just as horrifying. I was able to suffer Delhi, only for a few months. Their attitude to women (among other things) got so oppressive I began to feel stifled walking on the road.

Visiting an NGO on the suburbs of Bangalore I met up with little girls who had been rescued after they had been given up as devadasi’s by their parents. Imagine calling these innocent girls thrust into prostitution devadasi’s, if there really is a god (and I hope there is) wouldn’t he be choking on that one!.

Nothing new I suppose if the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women reporting that in Belgaum the sex ratio is 600 women to every 1000 men! And that in a village in Hassan she was shocked to find a school attended only by boys. It seems no girls had been born in the village at all.

The other day I read that Karnataka has 60 cases of acid attack victims since 1999. Because these women refused to reciprocate the love of a man, in insidiously planned revenge he bought hydrochloric acid, which is freely available for anywhere between Rs. 16 and Rs. 25 and threw it at her face, disfiguring it, damaging her body, disabling her and sentencing her to years of expensive medical attention and pain. The Government is still fumbling to come up with a comprehensive policy and implement it.

According to the recently published National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 59.5 % of pregnant women in Karnataka in the age group of 15-49 years of age are found to be anemic, an 11% increase from the last survey. It was also found that only 40% of those pregnant received folic acid supplements, which prevents development of anomalies in the fetus. Poor material health and lack of access to health care is the prime reason for the birth of children with disabilities. Another generation thrust into the jaws of lifelong struggle, pain and economic-social and political inequity. The decline in the access to food and healthcare is testimony enough to the growing poverty in the State and a reinforcement of the long held belief that women are the worst victim of economic inequity. Not surprisingly, the health budget of the State has been declined from 5.85 % of the total expenditure in 1998 to 3.73 % in 2005-06. A plot to ensure mass killings without a word of protest from the agency that is supposed to protect us.

In circumstances such as these it is important to understand the micro and macro linkages that go to maintain this state of hegemony over women. I do not know where one begins and one end, but coming from a family that has given me and my sisters complete freedom to choose and act, it was not until I began stepping and playing a prominent role in the larger social domain that I began to experience discrimination and feeling helpless against it. Back in the home every show of power and male chauvinism brought forth strong resistance, this mellowed my parents and ensured a slightly smoother path for my sisters. The resistance we exhibited also made us very independent and by and large self-made people with strong view and convictions we didn’t hesitate to view.

“See the boys will never interfere with you” said my friend Sammit once. “You don’t look like a victim, look at those other girls, they are so docile, they look like ready victims”. I still don’t quite understand what he meant but I know that a lot of girls and women are highly manipulated by their families. They are ‘broken’ into conformity in the quite privacy of their homes, by the persistent voices of their mothers and the angry growl of their fathers. Somewhere deep down I strongly believe that women are prepred to be killed, like the sacrificial lamb in their homes. If only the could have been made confident people, given the humane perspective of right and wrong, given a single rule on respect and disrespect, if they had been taught that come what may they have a right to live and must put what their heart tells them first, if they had been taught that it is alright to listen, and act according to preserve themselves, we would have saved millions of lives. Men would have learnt where to drawn the line, this society would have been a fairer one, healthier one, happier one. We would have had less to blame ‘the Government’ for. However, I couldn’t agree more if someone said this is a very micro view I’m taking but I’ll leave that for another day and comments from some reader.

Women in Post –1961 Goa: Problems and Challenges

When the women of Goa begin to reminiscence about the last four and a half decades of Goan history it will be a journey of mixed responses, for the women’s movement has witnessed gains and losses, successes and failures, times of expression and times of being silenced, times of vibrant activity and times of lull and importantly, times of prolonged and vociferous protests against neo-liberal, privatizing and globalizing forces that took the guise of ‘developmental’ after much media hype. For decades the women of Goa have demanded for a gendered perspective and an equal representation in charting the course of the State.

The history

The State of Goa is a tiny speck of land on the west coast of India that was a Portuguese colony up until 1961. Goa was then a pre-industrial economy dominated by agriculture and mining. Post Independence the economy saw a drastic change with the advent of industrialization and the influx of a diverse population coming in from the neighboring States to bolster the massive need for labour.

Historically, the Portuguese have displayed a deep concern for women’s rights and their egalitarian sense has reflected itself in the people of Goa. One can see this in the equal access to education and the resultant freedom to choose a full time profession, the increase in the age of marriage and the Portuguese Uniform Civil Code, later called the Uniform Civil Code which gives the daughter an equal right to her father’s inheritance and property, “as a result the position of women in Goa was better than their counterparts in other parts of the India” writes Fatima Da Silva Gracias, in her book Kaleidoscope of Women in Goa 1510-1961. A decade later however the women of Goa soon found themselves having to fight to retain this very position they had come to believe was inextricable theirs.

In the early 80s the Governments of India and Goa came to realize the tourism potential of the State and as the industry began getting organized and the Governments began to boast of growing foreign exchange returns, the women of Goa began to find themselves as yet another commodity thrown into an attractive ‘holiday package’. Tourism brochures and the carnival became methods to exhibit this ‘exotic’ product. The women of Goa were none to happy and there was a long phase of resistance to this marketing gimmick. The last three decades of tourism which has taken Goa from the destination for backpackers to an international tourist destination has had tremendous impact on the social, economic, political and cultural fabric of the State, And women, as homemakers and as vital contributors to the labour requirements of the tourism industry have experienced its impact on two fronts.

The entire decade of the eighties was a time of vibrant protests against the tourism plans of the Government both State and Central as they become willing fronts for the international leisure industry. Women played a frontal role not just on women’s issues like the lewd portrayal of Goan women in tourism brochures and cultural events like the carnival but also on issues like the easy availability and use of drugs, the land grabbing methods of the Government and denying fishermen, toddy tapers and other traditional users of the beach, access to the beaches, environmental degradation, step motherly treatment for the development of infrastructure etc. More recently women’s groups have launched strong protest against the Governments’ move to set up off shore casinos and against the eviction of commercial sex workers from their homes in complete infringement of their human rights and dignity, alcoholism, domestic violence, labour issues etc.

The current situation

Today, Goa has an 82.32 % literacy level and a high Human Development Index, thus making it one of the better-developed States in the country. There is a high public presence of women in the State yet one cannot use this, as an indicator that everything is bright and cushy. Subtly a much too worrisome conflict is boiling, the symptoms of which can be seen through the indirect violence that repeatedly simmers to the fore. Much of this violence is unrecognized and indirect and therefore remains unmitigated.

Thousands of Goan women are employed in the tourism industry, both directly and indirectly. They are the beautiful face of the industry at the front office; they are the little known face of the housekeeping. They are the masseurs at the beauty parlours and those struggle to run their small businesses which may range from pay phones to trinkets. Yet this labour market has an underbelly of dark secrets, of prostitution, escort services and little talked about pornography, to meet the growing demands of sex tourism. Not surprisingly the demands of sex tourism do not attract Goan women alone. It also involves the trafficking of women from the relatively poor states of India like Karnataka, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Goa is taken to a new height with the new entrant of foreign women such as the Russians. Numerous sex rackets have been unearthed by the Goan media. When the Government of Maharashtra imposed a ban on dance bars in the State, the girls headed to Goa in numbers sizable enough to enrage local villagers. But few of these cases have been dealt with conclusively. Every case seems to point to the obvious yet potent nexus between the police, politicians and unscrupulous pimps.

A National Human Rights Commission report conducted by the Institute of Social Sciences on trafficking of women and children in India 2002-2003, reveals that Goa has also the highest levels of trafficking of women and children compared to other States. Trafficking has acquired especially grave dimensions after Baina, the red light area located next to the Murmugao Port in Vasco, South Goa was demolished in 2004. As a result, say NGOs working with Commercial Sex Workers in Baina, the trafficker is no more a brothel keeper and the problem has spread, becoming more sophisticated, complex and organized as a network. A growing concern is also that about the spread of AIDS.

It is not difficult to understand why Goan women find themselves agreeable to provide sexual favours for economic gains. The tourism sector is one of the most unethical and unregulated employers. Most of the hotel staff is paid a pittance, the employment is seasonal and the labour in this industry receive little or no labour benefits, it is a tacit understanding that the staff can expect an additional income from the tips that come by, often the desire for a decent lifestyle makes prostitution acceptable after all and this is true not just for the women employed in the tourism industry but the men as well. A direct fallout of sex tourism has been the increasing cases of women with HIV/AIDS. With the Government withdrawing on medical welfare, it is NGOs and women’s groups who have had to pool resources.

Another issue, which is widely ignored and worth a closer look, is that of women labour employed in the industrial estates. With a high rate of literacy most women in Goa find it unimaginable to be exclusively housewives. Goa also happens to be one of the most expensive States to live in and this is an additional push to women into the labour market, which is becoming increasingly treacherous with the global search for cheap labour. Presently Goa has 20 industrial estates, which employs thousands of women and more joining each year. Although there is a range of stringent labour laws, these industrial units which are similar to sweat shops are largely unmonitored by the Labour Department. The women here work under horrendous conditions, not just low wages of Rs. 1500 per month but poor work environments too. These range from damaging levels of noise, to handling hazardous chemicals, to improper safety equipment, to injuries on the work site besides long hours of work. The effect on their health as a result of being subjected to such conditions is largely ignored. Goa desperately needs a labour policy for women, especially one that seeks to adequately protect the health of women, and where the sexual harassment at the workplace law is implemented.

Goa also has a high rate of unemployment. A recent report in The Hindu claims that Goa had an unemployment rate of 20.1 percent in 2001 and if the present situation continues Goa will have an unemployment rate of 55.4 percent, the highest in the country by 2020. A high cost of living and the desperation for employment is compelling thousands of women to seek jobs in the gulf countries. Thousands of women are found working as domestic help, beauticians and nannies all over the gulf. In a recent report titled “Swept Under the Carpet: Abuse Against Domestic Workers”, Human Rights Watch says that millions of women working as domestic help endure conditions akin to slavery. Once the contract is signed and the passport taken by the employer, women working as domestic help are being harassed with long hours of work, poor living conditions, meager salaries and often sexually and physically abused. The cases of women escaping the clutches of their tyrant employers, and stranded at the Indian Embassy became so numerous that the State Government banned domestic workers going to the Gulf. This however did not address the economic pressures that are forcing women to temporarily abandon their families and risk life and limb in foreign countries some of which have comparatively oppressive laws on women.

Another issue that has gone largely ignored is health. The entire country is discussing and debating a study done and published by the St. Michael’s Hospital in the University of Toronto and the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and research Chandigarh, which claims that India has lost about 10 million girl through female feticide. The 2001 Census shows that Goa has an imbalance in the sex ratio too. That there are only 960 females for every 1,000 males. At a talk I had attended in 2005, the then Superintendent of Asilo Hospital (North Goa District Hospital) and the North Goa authority for the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act elaborated on how stringent the law was, but had also pointed out ways and means by which both doctors and those interested in terminating a female fetus could get around it. Goa is yet to register a single case of female feticide and has yet to come up with a plausible answer to the gender imbalance in the State.

Mental health is yet another issue that has got insufficient public and government attention. Thousands of women are under tremendous stress of both family and work, an alarming number are “breaking down” under this pressure and even though thousands of patients find their way to the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, the hospital is understaffed. Counselling facilities are minimal and there is no attempt to explore new methods other than medication to address mental disorders. Doctors are known to personally refer patients to meditation technique and yoga but there is no policy on the same. Interestingly the age group of people seeking psychiatric assistance is declining. With the pressure of studies, job and relationships going sour, more and more young people are finding themselves in need of counselling. Sadly, Goa lacks a mental health policy too. While all the budgetary allocation is going to putting up a super speciality wing and buying expensive machinery for the Goa Medical College, women totter from day to day, no surprise therefore that suicide in the State are on an upward swing.

Personal safety of women is another growing concern. The crime graph against women in the State is growing. Problems like domestic violence when reported to the police are dealt with callously if not ignored. There have been increasing incidents of murder and rape including of minors. The image of Goa is gradually changing from one that was safe for women to one that is crime riddled. The conviction rate, as in the rest of the country is abysmal and is not due to insufficient laws, but rather due to political interference and the incompetence of the police. This is amply demonstrated when one takes a look at the statistics, which show the shoddy First Information Reports (FIRs) and other documentation done by the police that aids the accused get acquitted! A long pending demand of the women’s groups has been for a women’s police station in the State, where a women can approach with confidence and be assured of sensitivity. Two years back the Government did finally set up a women’s police station and it already pleads overburdened. There is a desperate need for more women’s police stations though the long-term requirement is a gender sensitive police force and counselling wing that are approachable and non-bias.

Women in Goa being well educated and earning members, making vital contributions to the earning of their families are extremely conscious of their rights and are unwilling to take any form of violence obvious or subtle, lying down. With the influence of mass media like television and also the prolonged exposure to the inherently patriarchal Indian psyche the men of Goa have been slow to accept women as their equal. This is probably one of the reasons for the growing number of marital discords, which are resulting in divorce. There is an urgent need for counselling centers that offer support to couples and assist them through these times of crisis.

With violence of women growing and an increasing number walking out or having to be rescued from violent situations there is a desperate need for halfway homes. However governmental support in the form of halfway homes is virtually non-existent and only a few NGOs have homes though the number is grossly inadequate. There is need for a comprehensive policy that provides women in distress legal assistance, half way homes, counseling and rehabilitation.

There are two other issues that are worth highlighting and that have an indirect influence on the worsening situation of women in Goa. The first is that of single parent household. A sizable population of Goan men are overseas, leaving their homes to be headed by their wives for years together, these homes are virtually single parent families. No well known studies have yet been done on the impact, the stress of heading a family has on these women and their needs. The government no doubt benefits from the foreign remittances but there is little by way of support systems for women who my need help.

Yet another problem is alcoholism in the State. Eighty percent of Goan families are believed to be affected by Alcoholism. There are supposedly nine thousand legal bars and an equal number of illegal bars in the State. One can only imagine the crisis situation this has brought upon the State, yet few if any are willing to recognize it let alone address it. The Goans have come to be known as alcoholics and the unspoken reason that draws hoards of domestic tourist to Goa is the cheap and easily available alcohol. The Government has two detoxification centers, one each in north and south Goa, comprising of fourteen beds per centre. Patients have to imaginably be booked months in advance to gain admission. The detoxification is only a medical process and there is no follow-up for the patients. Patients who are financially well off access private services but the general public has no other recourse. A concerted effort is yet to be made to understand the problem of alcoholism and its impact on women, who not only have to deal with an alcoholic husband and the resultant violence that entails but in the eventuality of his demise have to head the family as a single parent. Even less understood but worth mentioning are women alcoholics.

The challenge ahead

Goa with its high human development index, literacy rate and historically egalitarian perspective presents a unique set of problems for women. These manifest themselves in subtle ways and need to be addressed innovatively. Some of the solutions lie in women’s movements, others with the Government.

Goa has a diverse population profile; with nearly 40% of the population non-Goan in origin. Of specific interest are the women from the low-income group pouring in from the surrounding States to meet the labour requirements. These women work at the construction sites, as domestic labour and even in the tourism industry. Understandably these women come from conservative patriarchal social backgrounds and do not experience many of the benefits available to the average Goan women. Women’s groups in Goa are now faced with the challenge of widening the movement to encompass this wider set of people and also deal with the attitudinal challenge they pose.

The prominent and vocal women’s groups are mostly located in urban areas and have often addressed problems faced by urban women and developmental issues. There is a large set of rural groups like Mahila Mandals (women’s groups) who have formed into self help groups and engage in home based industry. However, these Mahila Mandals have been slow to address women’s issues. Their lack of ability, to express themselves in English and access to faster means of communication has often deprived them of a voice. There is an urgent need for bridging this urban- rural divide. The challenge before women’s groups in Goa is on how to create a platform to discuss issues across socio-economic and geographical divides.

In ‘97, the Goa State Commission for Women was constituted through a special social legislation to uphold and safeguard the rights and interest of women in Goa. The GSCW is primarily engaged in, investigating, examining and recommending a course of action on all matters relating to the provisions for women under the constitution and other laws with a view to improve the condition of Women in the State; it entertains complaints and takes suo moto notice of matters relating to deprivation of women’s rights; and renders guidance and advice to needy women to institute proceedings in any judicial forum or tribunal for violation of constitutional provisions or any other laws relating to women. Presently it commissions numerous studies on various aspects of life affecting women. It offers recommendations and suggestions to the government but none of then are taken seriously. Therefore the needs of women are largely ignored in the budgetary plans and policies of the Government. This situation needs urgent change. There is also a need a greater participation of women from all strata in the GSCW, which is thus far segmented in its approach. There is a need for the GSCW to create more forums at village level and upwards where women can know about their rights and seek assistance.

Interestingly Goa has 2.01 per cent more women than men voters in Goa. The challenge lies in realizing this potential and demanding greater electoral representation and reform in political parties. Presently political parties do not view women as a vote bank worth attracting and the women representation in the legislative assembly is abysmal with only a single woman legislator. During elections too, the political parties are conspicuously silent on their plans for the women electorate. It is time women in Goa collectively exert themselves for a 33% reservation in the State Legislature and women’s groups will have to take the lead here.

No doubt all this is a tall order and even while one issue begins to get addressed, new ones appear on the scene. But as we in Goa are constantly reminded, Goa has a small population and things are achievable. The challenges before the women’s movement are many and there is an urgent need for a comprehensive understanding of economic and political trends, both state level, regional, national and international to formulate a strategy that is inclusive and broad based, one that is willing to invest in the younger generation, to assist the emergence of a more rights conscious and respectful generation of people, one that redefines the threats, competitiveness and reasserts co-existence among people of all socio-economic backgrounds as potential strengths.


Fatima Da Silva Gracias, Kaleidoscope of Women in Goa 1510-1961, 1994, Concept Publication Company, New Delhi

-, Navhind Times, Oppressed Female Labour, 10 March 2003, p –

-, Navhind Times, Discrimination at Work, 6/12/03, p –

-, Herald, Only 5 p.c. workmen have health facilities: meet, 5/26/04, p –

Christopher Fonseca, Navhind Times, Labour Commission upholds globalisation in its present form-II, 1/13/03, p –

Sandesh Prabhudesai, Influx Indicators, 7 May 2003,

-, The Hindu, unemployment explosion’ to hit India by 2020 if current trends continue, 15th August 006,B’lore edition

Goa Desc Resource Centre, Friday Balcao Synopsis, Volume 2, Number 7, 2004, Violence Against Women,

Goa Desc Resource Centre,, Friday Balcao Synopsis, Volume 2, Number 5, Plight of Women Workers in Goa by Chhaya Madkaikar & Prafulla Khanolka.

Goa Desc Resource Centre,, Friday Balcao Synopsis, Vol. 3 No. 1, Women’s Empowerment in Goa : Challenges for the new Millennium – Dr. Ms. Pramod Salgaocar,

Goan Observer, August ’05

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