Remembering bell hooks, the undaunted feminist

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

The world still mourns the incalculable loss of an inimitable author, professor and activist, bell hooks. The impact of her works that range from gender, race, class to education and critical pedagogy could clearly be felt as people from all corners of the world took to social media, expressing their grief and paying tribute.
Born as Gloria Jean Watkins, she borrowed the pen name “bell hooks” from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Some of us might wonder, “why did she prefer writing her name in lowercase?” Well, there were alot of reasons for it, this is how she explained it herself – “Many of us took the names of our female ancestors — bell hooks is my maternal great grandmother — to honor them and debunk the notion that we were these unique, exceptional women. We wanted to say, actually, we were the products of the women who’d gone before us,” she expressed in an interview with Randy Lowens in 2009. “I think it’s more important that you read my work, reflect on it, and allow it to transform your life and your thinking in some way,” she added.


Her spirit was truly unmatched, her writings sparked every soul it reached, her critical perspectives made us all wander into the path less taken and her words so powerful that they moved us all, irrespective of whatever race, gender, caste and class one was born into.
Her legacy has initiated conversations around almost every social issue and she will always be remembered for what she lived for; a black woman not afraid to call out the perpetual system of oppression and class domination, a radical feminist who was ready to shake the pre-existing feminist notions built around prejudices and exclusion, an educationist who asserted the importance of allowing students to question the dominant ideologies instead of becoming passive recepients in the classroom and an author who reminds us that we can be a part of a loving community. (All About Love, 2000)
HER WORLD INDIA celebrates bell hooks for her nonpareil boldness, authenticity and uniqueness.

MINORS FORCED INTO FLESH TRADE

Imagine waking up one morning and your parents telling you that you have been sold-off!Imagine been forced into sex work by older men and not being able to do anything at all, becoming a product to customers who come at their will and force you to do sex work all day. Shefali (name changed for discretion) a teenage girl was forced into sex work as a child, when asked about the amount of customers she was subjected to in a day she replied sobbingly, “I couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to.” She was abducted and duped and forcefully taken from her village. Several such minor girls are abducted, raped, sold-off by their own parents as minors to brothels in Sonagachi a well known red-light district in Kolkata. They are abducted at such a young age that some even failed to remember their parents faces as they were taken away from them when they were just toddlers.

This situation arises when the thought process of people is not developed enough to recognize how and why a girl child is stigmatized in our country, instead of the prevalent practice of infanticide and foeticide parents are now deeming it fit sell their girl child, she is seen just as an extra mouth that will have to be fed and will eventually grow up and drain the economic resources of the family in the form of dowry. Sometimes these toddlers were handed over to families in the city to give them time to grow-up but don’t heave a sigh to relief just yet, these girls were given enough time to grow till they were 5 years old when they were pushed to do work as domestic labour washing dishes, doing laundry and cleaning houses .On top of that they were tortured as well.


The lockdown proved catastrophic for many daily wage workers leaving them jobless and without a penny in their pocket. But as the economic distress set-in many were forced into sex work. In the 6 months of lockdown 1098, the national helpline set up by the Ministry of Women and Child Development received 27 lakh distress calls. On July 6, the Union Home Ministry issued an appeal to states in a note describing the unspeakable tragedy “Children and youth are more likely to be persuaded or tricked by criminals who take advantage of their emotional instability and missing support system. Once trafficked, the victims fall prey to many forms of unfair treatment such as forced prostitution, forced labour, forced begging, forced marriages, etc,” it said. The Supreme Court had asked the central and state government to gear up for possible increase in child
prostitution when the lockdown was lifted. A bench led by Cheif Justice of India S.A. Bobde suggested “only policing will do.”
While there are several laws in place against child prostitution to deal with child abuse cases, the Government had brought in a special law i.e. ‘The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012’. The Act came into force on 14th November, 2012 along with the rules framed there under. The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all the
children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.

An offence is treated as ‘aggravated’ when committed by a person in a position of trust or authority of child such as a member of security forces, public officer, public servant etc. The Act provides for the establishment of Special Courts for trial of offences under the Act, keeping the best interest of the child as of paramount importance at every stage of the judicial process. The Act incorporates child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences.The government also released an app called “Khoya-Paya” to track children who went missing.
While these initiatives are appreciable their is still a long way to go and their is a requirement of strict and stringent execution of such laws to free such children from the clutches of agents who sell these children into forced sexual labour.

Women In The Indian Workforce: A Critically Untapped Resource

“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult” – Melinda Gates

The value of the labour of women has historically been underappreciated in India-be it in the domestic sphere or otherwise. Perhaps this underappreciation is why women’s participation in the Indian workforce today is severely lacking.  On the Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India has fallen four places from 2018, now ranking 112 of 153 countries, largely due to its economic gender gap. Female participation rates declined from 34.1% in 1990-00 to 27.2% in 2011-12) and further down to 20.5 percent in 2019.

Source: TheDiplomat

While the universal data is discouraging, examining the demographic divisions of this data might provide some explanations. Expectedly, there are considerable variations between urban and rural areas. The participation rates of rural women decreased from 26.5% in 2009-20 to 23.5% in 2011-12 while the rate for urban women increased from 14.6% to 15.5% during the same period. The size of agricultural landholdings has shrunk with concomitant divisions within families causing fewer agricultural work opportunities are partly responsible for this decline in the rural case. Moreover, male members of the family are given preference over female members during land inheriting, despite provisions such as the Hindu Succession(Amendment) Act, 2005.

The other aspect is education. Secondary education has increased which may account for the withdrawal of women of secondary school-going age from the informal sector labour force. The few paid, formal jobs available, besides MGNREGS in rural India, tend to go to men and women with degrees, leaving women educated only till the secondary school level in limb, even with skills that qualify them for non-agricultural work. For women past secondary school-going age, the workforce population has increased for urban women, while it has declined for rural women, reflecting the greater availability of formal jobs in urban areas.

The urban-rural angle is not the only consideration to be taken. Women with no education and women with tertiary education display the highest rates of labour force participation among Indian women. It can be argued that the rising incomes of Indian households have led Indian women to withdraw from the labour market and focus on their role in ‘status production’ i.e. domestic and caregiving activities that are considered the “natural and morally correct” duty of Indian women. 

The societal importance placed on marriage over career for Indian women is another cause behind these figures. Marriage is still looked up as a source of social dignity, economic dependence.  Because of this, women who choose to marry after becoming successful in the professional arena are less in number.

Photo Credit: Ruchita Choudhary from HER-WORLD

A survey in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2016 finds that around 40-60 percent of women and men in rural and urban parts of India believe that married women whose husbands earn a good living should not work outside the home. A survey by Avtar Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, finds that women are paid 34 percent less than men for the same job with the same qualifications, despite India’s Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 that mandates equal pay for the same work and prohibits hiring discrimination. 

Besides that Indian women are also obliged to well-meaning but discriminatory government policies like amended India’s Maternity Benefit Act 2017, which increased women’s paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. This act reinforces women’s role as primary caregivers and increases employer bias, especially in the absence of similar benefits for fathers. Moreover, a significant amount of women’s work is not accounted for. On average, Indian women perform nearly six hours of unpaid work each day, while men spend a paltry 52 minutes. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the scenario. Surveys show that women have lost more jobs as compared to their male counterparts. In terms of the total population, 23.3 percent of men employees were laid off, as compared to 26.3 percent of women. According to Ms. Neetu Ahuja, Senior VP, Public Policy and Govt Affairs, Kotak Mahindra Bank, one in three mothers have considered leaving the workforce during the pandemic, this, of course, includes women in top leadership positions. Representation of women CEOs & MD in Indian listed companies today already stands at only 3.7% despite companies with women in executive positions reportedly having 50% higher profitability & share performance 

Studies have shown that the financial performance of firms improves with more gender-equal corporate boards. The bottom half of the countries in terms of gender inequality in their sample could increase their GDP by an average of 35% if they close their gender gap. However, India is falling behind to reap the benefits of increasing the labour force participation of women. 

Labour Force Participation Rate In India in 2017, Source: NSSO

To improve parity between gender in the labour force, as stated by Ms. Neetu Ahuja, wee need  “Strong enablers such as favourable social support systems, flexible working hours, reservation in higher premier education institutions, reserved cabinet positions at Centre & State, not just in the parliament or assembly and increase in corporate boards positions.” Surveys have also found that the construction of either a kutcha or a pucca road increased the odds of women’s participation in non-farm work by 1.5 and 1.4 times. This highlights an urgent need to reduce occupation segregation and increase good and equal policies and awareness. 

The road to having a voice in decision making is indeed tough, but once it starts it becomes a remarkable process because “empowered women, empower women”
and soon enough, an empowered society!

Arranged By Jaya Narayan

COMBATTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

In a deeply patriarchal society like India, where the notion that men and women are equivalent in worth is still appalling to many: it shouldn’t be a surprise that domestic violence is not only prevalent but also dangerously normalized. Domestic violence, although criminalized by law, goes unreported in most cases. To many women, “home” is not a safe place of love and support but an inescapable cage of neglect at best and abuse at worst. 

The stressor of the global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have obviously not helped the case either. According to global statistics, domestic violence cases nearly doubled in the lockdown period. In countries like France and China, cases of domestic violence increased by 30% and 90% respectively. In India, from March 25, 2020, to May 31, 2020, nearly 1477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women. While this may seem like a small number, given the population of India; two things must be considered. Firstly, this number was much higher than the reported cases in the March-May period of the past ten years. The second factor to be considered is under-reporting. Of the women who did report(only 14.3%), only 7% reached out to relevant authorities-police, doctors, lawyers or social service organizations. More than 90% chose to reach out to friends, family and neighbours. The aforementioned pattern is clearly reflective of Indian society’s perception of domestic violence as a “private matter” to be resolved within the family or community. Seeking legal intervention is often seen as a betrayal to the family. Moreover, for many people, the husband, as a man has a right to “discipline” his wife, by whatever means necessary. 

During the lockdown, access to help even from within the community was greatly limited, legal pathways, even more so. Although steps have been taken by governments to make help accessible to women, most of them have been tech-focussed-helpline numbers and online counselling. Given that only about 35% of Indian women have access to technology, these measures have largely fallen short. Moreover, even when cases do go through the criminal justice system, adequate justice is not guaranteed to the survivors. 

A call for more efficient and wide-reaching solutions to combat the lockdown-domestic violence came mostly from NGOs and independent organizations instead of the government. The Delhi High Court, responded to a petition by the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) issued notices to the Ministry of Women and Child Development; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Government of NCT of Delhi; National Commission for Women; Delhi Commission for Women and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India to act upon the suggestions of the petition. The Karnataka High Court also responded to a similar petition guiding para-legal professionals to aid survivors of domestic violence seek help. 

In addition to awareness drives about available resources to seek legal help against domestic violence, there is also a need to set up a strong infrastructure to aid the rehabilitation of survivors. For instance, the  Gauravi one-stop crisis centre in Bhopal introduced an initiative that trained survivors of domestic violence as auto-rickshaw drivers to deliver rations to families in slum areas and simultaneously reach out to women facing domestic violence in these areas. Rehabilitation must also include active measures towards providing mental healthcare to survivors. The answer to annihilating domestic violence is found in the movement of women empowerment. Initiatives must be introduced to educate and financially empower women so they do not have to remain dependent on their abusers.

Her-World: In conversation with ASHA sisters- battling COVID-19

It is all about respect and mobility transport services, says the Asha workers. They walk 5kms tirelessly to fetch water for the thirsty, deliver buckets house to house, and lend major help and support in helping women give birth. Deliveries happen at home, they say; there are no hospitals, dubious sanitation, and pressure to deliver at home because of finances. They are more than simply midwives: they advise the new mothers to wash their clothes with soap and water, dry them in the sun, and give valuable advice that banishes some of the strong, prevalent myths that still abound, like the myth that new mothers shouldn’t breastfeed their babies till three days- which is harmful for the baby, because the feeding should be done within 30 minutes, and not three days. Important, time-sensitive information, without which there would be a lot of health concerns and diseases, are taken care of by the Asha sisters.
Their social and financial status, is less than satisfactory. There are organisational changes that could benefit the voluntary group; salary increase and beneficiary to them, according to the efforts made; media involved should play a positive role which grants them the respect that has not been awarded to them until now- so that their work becomes smoother and without fewer hurdles towards completion. If all these conditions are fulfilled, then their work could also reach the status of being their main work bringing in the most financial returns.
Their work is collaborative; the Sarpanch and Zilla Parishads, put in a joint effort to alleviate the concerns of the people. Main elections have been successful because of the network and the legwork of the Asha sisters, and for the work they do which is invaluable, yet which no one else dares to do- they deserve District, and State level recognition.


But the issue runs deeper than that. Since this is a voluntary organisation, they cannot receive a fixed salary; if it comes under the aegis of the government body, then it will become a departmental section, which might alter its foundations. Their income can only be increased by incentives, and a minimum incentive, though set, has not been replenished since the Coronavirus hit. Under regular circumstances, this minimum incentive plus a top-up reflective of the services rendered, the equivalent of the time spent while working, and incentive rates adjusted for inflation- would be more than deserved for their hard work.
The organisation is at the grassroots level. And 80% of the grassroots consist of unmanicured land, which is difficult to work at, and lots of things to be done. There is a school for the children, but only the boys go there since it is very far from their immediate vicinities, and girls are occupied doing housework. In this situation, t becomes increasingly tougher to introduce them to education, and much more important that that education happens nearer to them to be availed. The girls had to be painstakingly convinced, and dragged to school from their household chores to study, for they did not appreciate the value of education, they remain so cut off from it.
There are too many difficulties to battle, too many hurdles to overcome, the sisters say. They need to be joined with education, especially health education and especially the old midwives with no education and little training, because good health is not possible without it. Education workers need to work together with the Asha sisters, be a part of their community to bring essential services to the society.

TalkShow: Walking Against the Odds: Women at Work

HER-WORLD PRESENTS

TALK SHOW ON “WALKING AGAINST THE ODDS : WOMEN AT WORK ”.

Date – 29th August, 2020

Times – 05:00 PM Onwards

Register Here : https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdOIJkC4Gfc-NalbKXYpBDF5RchazSrLyaUcHWKLvBJhNM_eA/viewform?usp=sf_link

Zoom link : https://us02web.zoom.us/j/3784819509?pwd=YUtURGk1RHJpYlViT0tBUW9Vak40dz09

Guest Speakers

            Ms. IRA SINGHAL- IAS, Bureaucrat, New Delhi.

Ms. SUCHITRA KRISHNAMOORTHI – Actor and Singer, Mumbai.

Ms. MALINI NAIR – Author, Poetess, Painter, Netherlands.

Talks Host 

Rakhee Bakshee

Founder & Editor-in-Chief HER-WORLD 

World Environment Day : Hope Amidst Dark Times

Strange are the ways of nature and mankind. As we the citizens of Earth continue our battle with the unseen enemy, the World Environment Day falling on June 5 has brought with it the dual message of despair and hope. There is so much to grieve over, and also to raise a toast to. It all boils down to what we choose to believe, and how we act.

Two apparently unrelated events, occurring in the same week a few days ago but in different parts of India, reflect how we view the glass: half-empty or half-full. The first is the unfortunate killing of a pregnant elephant in Kerala, by making her eat a pineapple stuffed with crackers which burst in her mouth. She, and her unborn baby, met a horrible end. Our media and social media are justifiably going hammer and tongs over the unspeakable crime.

At around the same time this elephant died in Kerala, something wonderful happened in Rajasthan. Two tiger cubs were born in the newly set up Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve near Kota. At first glance, this may not look like much of an important occurrence. After all, what’s so special about a tigress giving birth to cubs? Doesn’t it happens all the time and is a part of the circle of life and death? 

Maybe yes, but the cubs of Mukundra Hill underscore an extra-ordinary development. Given the threatened status, as well as huge appeal, of tigers in India, the state of Rajasthan till now had two tiger sanctuaries: Ranthambore and Sariska. Yes, Mukundra Hills was announced as a tiger reserve few years ago, but it could be seriously considered that only after a tigress gives birth to cubs there. The logic may seem strange, but is quite simple actually. A tigress will rarely conceive in a region, let alone give birth, unless she considers that area to one hundred percent safe for her off springs.

After declaring Mukundra Hills as a tiger reserve, two tigers (a male and a female) were translocated here a few years ago. Then subsequently, another tiger walked over here from Ranthambore and made this place his home. But Mukundra Hills had still not passed the litmus test, of welcoming new cubs. This week it passed the test with flying colours, and that’s why it is such a big deal. 

A member of our species killed a pregnant elephant, but collectively we also ensured a brand new healthy habitat for tigers! It showed us humans as both destroyers and creators. At a miniscule level, I would like to believe, we may be matching steps with Lord Shiva’s dance of life and death.

And therefore the World Environment Day, arriving as it does in these dark times of death, disease and crushed human spirit the world over, also brings with it hopes of better days ahead. The tiger cubs of Mukundra Hills may just turn out to be the much-needed light at the far end of the seemingly unending tunnel.

Ajay Suri is writer, wildlife film-maker and nature photographer.

He is also the recipient of Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Environment Reporting.

His blog is tigersandbeyond.com and he can be reached at suriajay@gmail.com

Mohammad Rafi: Remembered and cherished, decades later

Mohammad Rafi, the fabulous playback singer, who regaled music-lovers for over three decades, will soon be getting a public museum in his memory in Kozhikode (also known as Calicut) district in Kerala.While a private museum in Rafi mansion in Mumbai is being run by his family for a few years and another one by a die-hard Rafi fan Mansoor Ahmad Faarooqui, is functioning in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, the upcoming one is probably the first of its kind in the South. 

In Kozhikode, which has a large population of Muslims and Gujaratis, the singer continues to have a huge fan base, even almost forty years after his demise.

There is no dearth of talent in this country and these days, social media plays a crucial role in discovering that talent for us. The most recent one to win over our hearts, is Saurav Kishan, a young 23-year-old singer from Kozhikode, Kerala, who has enchanted his audience with his melodious Mohammed Rafi songs. Even I, an avid pop song listener, could not get over the uncanny resemblance of the man’s voice to the iconic singer Mohammad Rafi.

There are plans for a museum being erected in honour of the singer. Talking to The Federal, Hashir Ali, President of the Mohammad Rafi Foundation (MRF), says that the museum will be functional in one year. It will try to cover the vast work of the singer who has sung over 7,000 songs in Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Telugu, Marathi, and Maithili. His work traverses the genres Sufi, Hindu devotional, patriotic, peppy, sad, and the romantic.

He says, “It will have his rare photos, rare collection of songs and gramophones, along with a replica of all the awards he has won. We will also put up the entire song collection and details of his works in the museum.”

The museum is an ode to not just his music but also to his generosity. The people of Malabar in Kerala (which includes Kozhikode) who were working in Bombay, were instrumental in establishing the link between Rafi and the city by organising concerts and fund raisers. Ali said, “Rafi Saab had visited Calicut several times during the peak of his career. One of my uncles had arranged a fund-raising show in which he performed. He didn’t charge him a penny and helped build a school and college through the concerts. He was a great singer no doubt, but he was also a great human being.”

Due to his tangible presence being reflected in a new undiscovered singer, Saurav’s Rafi videos were shared without delay on Twitter by a user, Judish Raj (@JudishRaj), including- ‘Teri Aankhon Ke Sivaa’ from the 1969 film Chirag, starring Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh in the viral video. Reportedly, the young man is known as “Chota Rafi” locally. The video posted by Judish Raj has garnered over a million views in just two days. He also posted another video of the man singing another iconic song ‘Chaudhvi ka Chand’ from the 1960 film of the same title produced by Guru Dutt. Raj has stated that Saurav’s family cannot thank the internet enough for making him an internet sensation.

Due to his immense popularity in the state of Kerala, each year, Kozhikode has been marking the singer’s birth and death anniversaries. This year too, on December 24 (Tuesday), with the city decking up for the 95th birthday celebration, there are at least three programmes being held. MRF’s show on the beach will have an audience of over 10,000 people, Ali says.

Nayan J Shah, a music show organizer from Kala, an organization curating shows in Kozhikode, says the assortment of cultures make the city a congenial space for enjoying the rich music of Rafi.

Mohamad Koya or Hydroos Koya, 60, a resident of Kozhikode, as he is widely known, has in his collection, every song sung by Rafi. In the form of gramophones, the ardent Rafi fan who has been listening to music since he was five years old, is an avid collector. He says, “I have travelled as far as Coimbatore, Chennai and even Mumbai to get my hands on these items,” he says proudly. Among his collections of songs by prominent playback singers like Lata Mangeshkar and T.M. Soundararajan, he treasures the songs by Rafi the most. “I have been a big fan of his since the days of Radio Ceylon. Even today, on the occasion of his birthday, I am set to travel to Mumbai to get some more records,” he says. The singer has left an indelible mark on the cultural fabric of the country, and in particular, the Kerala state.

Saurav is one of the proponents of the late Punjabi star. He is presently pursuing his degree in Medicine from China, talked to ScoopWhoop about his music journey. 

“Surrounded by music, mostly old Hindi and Malayalam, I began humming when I was just four. Soon I was participating in competitions and programmes and Rafi’s songs were part of my repertoire.”

Saurav had performed at the Rafi Night 2019 in Kochi, and has shared several videos of himself singing some iconic tracks of Mohammad Rafi, on a YouTube channel by the name Saurav Kishan. Saurav has been singing since he was quite young. In a fun fact posted by Raj, when Saurav was 10 years old, he sang a Rafi song on the stage. A famous Malayalam music director had approached his father and told him that he should concentrate only on Mohammed Rafi’s songs and nothing else.

Even Anand Mahindra tweeted the video with the caption, “We have been waiting for decades for a new Mohammed Rafi. It sounds as if we may have to wait no longer… I couldn’t switch this clip off…”. This indeed is a mark of respect along with being a great acknowledgement. Earlier this month a shorter version of this song was posted on Facebook. People now impressed by his singing have started following him on his YouTube channel for their daily dose of Rafi hits.

After his video was shared, Twitterati took to the comments section to shower praises. One of the users thanked Saurav for sharing this during such tough times which lifted everyone’s mood, “Sharing this beautiful heart-taking singing, you have cheered up my mood.”

A soothing balm and a trip down memory lane could not be mor comforting in this time of uncertainty and panic. All the best to Saurav Kishan!

Fostering holistic development and gender equality: Ms.Ananya Kamboj

Talking to Anoushka Parija from Her-World, the fifteen year old celebrated sportsperson, Ms. Ananya Kamboj from Chandigarh, shares her vision and ideas. 

HER-WORLD: As a young sportsperson, a girl driving change, what has your journey been like? Tell us about your childhood and passion for sports.

Ananya Kamboj: Right from my childhood, I wanted to become an athlete. I started playing basketball from the tender age of five.  Only when I turned eleven, I started playing football. Starting from 5am, my schedule used to be a sports power-packed affair. Gradually I realized that it was mentally and physically difficult to manage both the sports. After juggling between the two sports, I made the tough decision of choosing football over basketball.

HER-WORLD: As a girl in a predominantly male-dominated terrain of sports, what were some of your challenges? How did you overcome them?

Ananya Kamboj: The objectification of women in sports is a deplorable reality. They’re called ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ rather than being called a champion or talented. 

Another major challenge for women in India remains the burden of cultural baggage and the predatory nature of the eco-system that governs sports in India. Unfortunately, women face far more challenges emerging through the cave of athletic development. Only the strong willed and determined can prevail by surviving the hostile and abusive environment that is present around domestic sports.

HER-WORLD: You represented India in the Football for Friendship (F4F) social project in Russia. What were your learnings from it?

Ananya Kamboj: Football for Friendship (F4F) is an annual international children’s social programme that brings together children from over 211 countries to cultivate respect for different cultures and nationalities through football. Implemented by  Gazprom and supported by organisations like FIFA, UEFA, the UN, the Olympic and Paralympic Committees, governments, and football federations of different countries, children are divided into ‘teams of friendship’ and as a symbolic action, they tie friendship bracelets on each other’s wrists. When you wear this Friendship bracelet on your wrist, you are showing your willingness to follow the principles of this movement: friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions and honour. These principles are not only for the football field, feel free to follow them anywhere, anytime. Share a bracelet with a friend and start the race for peace, equality and fairness. 

HER-WORLD: As an advocate of gender equality, what are the lessons for sports as career choices in India? Is it gender-sensitive?

Ananya Kamboj: It has been an absolute privilege to be an athlete and both as a woman and an athlete, I dream of seeing equal number of girls playing cricket as boys. 

Despite the numerous obstacles and the difficulties they’ve faced, women have been athletes for centuries. Women have persevered and carved out their own spaces in sports. And as they blaze new trails, they clear the path for other women to follow them. 

It is a wonderful time for women interested in sports related careers and I want to encourage women from all backgrounds to consider new opportunities in the sports. If you are a woman and want to take sports as a career, do it! Generations of girls will thank you as sports continues to expand roles for women.                   

HER-WORLD: Tell us about your Sports to Lead campaign. How and why did you start this project?

Ananya Kamboj: I have been playing football and basketball in my school and club teams since childhood. During my training sessions, I noticed how some sports coaches had been promoting the notion that girls can’t play sports. I was very offended when the coaches used phrases like ‘you are a girl’, ‘you are playing like a girl,’ and those kinds of statements. I thought I need to demolish these differences between men and women. This made me launch Sports to Lead to help girls and women understand their rights and overcome gender inequality. This initiative uses sports as a medium and includes workshops and awareness sessions on how to fight discrimination and gender inequality. 

HER-WORLD: You are also a published author. What are the themes you touch upon? Tell us about your work and where we could find your books. 

Ananya Kamboj: When most persons talk about a school curriculum, seldom do I hear or read about sports as being part of the curriculum. This neglect has detrimental effects on the youth as a person who has never learned any sport would not be able to discern the difference between victory and defeat. That is basically the essence of sports education.

The book presents a holistic picture of the good life, which transcends the prevalent narrow understanding of what constitutes success, fulfillment, and happiness in life. It offers a fresh interpretation of sports through human values which collectively enriches the different dimensions of life. A harmonious realization of all these values helps us grow as truly and fully humans. My book is available online on Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press. 

HER-WORLD: How has COVID-19 changed the landscape of sports? Is there a message you want to give to young girls reading this?

Ananya Kamboj: Yes, COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of sports. The global outbreak has resulted in closure of gyms, stadiums, pools, fitness studios, physiotherapy centres, parks and playgrounds. Many sportspersons are therefore not able to actively participate in their regular individual or group sporting or physical activities outside of their homes. Under such conditions, many tend to be physically less active, have longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns as well as worse diets, resulting in weight gain and loss of physical fitness. 

My advice to young girls is create a flexible but consistent daily routine including physical exercise at home every day to help with stress and restlessness. 

HER-WORLD: How do you see the impact of Government schemes like Khelo India, Come and Play scheme of Sports Authority of India and efforts to celebrate diversity, gender equality and disability?

Ananya Kamboj:  Both initiatives of Government of India marks a watershed moment in the history of Indian sports, as the programs aims to encourage sports all over the country,  allowing the population to harness the power of sports through its cross-cutting influence and to use sports as a means of holistic development of children and youth, community development and more. 

The Come & Play Scheme was initiated for optimum utilization of SAI sports facilities across the country and primarily focused on encouraging local sportspersons in areas where SAI sports facilities/Centres are operational. The scheme creates yet another pool of talented sportspersons from where meritorious sportspersons can be scouted and inducted into regular residential sports promotional schemes of SAI Training Centres (STC) and Special Area Games (SAG). 

HER-WORLD: Who is your role model? What is the one motto or adage that you live by?

Ananya Kamboj: My late grandfather Mr. Nanak Chand Kamboj is my role model and he has been my greatest inspiration. He was a man of values, discipline and more of a community lover I would say.

My motto is to support youth to create positive change towards a more inclusive, fair, and sustainable community. I am here to serve a cause and that is to celebrate women empowerment and gender equality. Each one of us can make a contribution by empowering our daughters, sisters and other girls in our family and community. 

Emotions Matter: The need to start dialogue around mental well-being

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. 

But, why is only one day attributed to this cause?  

In India, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, the burden of mental health problems is of the tune of 2,443 DALYs per 100,000 people, and the age-adjusted suicide rate per 100,000 people, is 21.1. It is also estimated that, in India, the economic loss due to mental health conditions, between 2012-2030, is 1.03 trillions of 2010 dollars. 

The primary objective to have a conversation around emotions and mental health, is to remove the stigma attached to it and normalize the conversations around it. We spend most of our time at our homes, work places, schools, colleges- in other words, among people- and it is certain, that our emotions and well-being get impacted. 

The hour of the need is to normalize conversations around mental health and make it a part of our daily affairs. It is unfortunate that people still find it difficult to express their emotions freely, due to the fear of social stigma. 

                                                                                                           

Why it is necessary to bring up this conversation is, because every human being has a struggle/story that they are dealing with- and if one initiates a dialogue around emotions, it becomes easier for so many other people to accept themselves, and their emotions as something normal and valid.  

A healthy mindset can improve the work culture and performance. When there is a dialogue around emotions, people are going to feel at ease with their emotions and be more accepting and compassionate towards each other and themselves. Given the current situation of the pandemic, where there is so much uncertainty and distress, it is all the more important to initiate a dialogue around emotions and sensitize people.  

No emotion is good or bad. One should accept every emotion as it enters our being. Just like how the Sufi saint Rumi suggested, every emotion is a visitor and one should not resist any of them. We as human beings  go through so many emotions daily, and at times are unable to understand or find a space to talk about them. Given the fact that unfortunately it is still considered to be reprehensible and unbecoming, and not taken seriously in the society, there needs to be an effort to end this stigma.

Determinants of mental health and mental disorders include not only individual attributes such as the ability to manage one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviours and interactions with others; but also social, cultural, economic, political and environmental factors, such as- national policies, social protection, living standards, working conditions, and community social support. Poverty and low education levels are key amongst these factors. Specific psychological and personality factors also contribute towards the vulnerability. Genetic factors also play some role. 

Several policy reforms have been made in the past decade that make the environment extremely conducive for transforming mental health care in India. The right to mental health care in the new Mental Healthcare Act, the vision in the National Mental Health Policy, and the inclusion of mental health services in the guidelines of the Health and Wellness Centers (part of the Ayushman Bharat Yojana or the National Health Protection Scheme), provide legal and operational foundations for the scaling-up of evidence-based services for mental disorders to improve the health of people living with these conditions. The state-level estimates of the mental disorder burden by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Mental Disorders Collaborators, provides a strong impetus for each of the states to increase budgetary allocations for mental health programmes, build the necessary human resource capacity, strengthen information systems, and the supply of essential psychotropics, to integrate mental health services in their respective public health systems. The time has come to translate this vision into practice and transform mental health-care services. 

The Mental Health Care Act, 2017 has defined mental illnesses as  substantial disorders of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory, that grossly impair judgment, behaviour, the capacity to recognise reality, or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. A study conducted by a charity- Live Love Laugh Foundation- at the beginning of 2018 concluded that, 87% of the respondents showed awareness, out of which 71% of them used the word ‘stigma’ or associated other such terms with mental illnesses. 

If each one of us takes the initiative to initiate a dialogue around their emotions and mental well-being, a huge difference can be created in the society. 

(Editing Input by Sarah Muneem )