Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Monday, December 28, 2015

230. Meena

When I was in Kabul, I came across www.rawa.org, which I found to be very insightful and trustworthy. RAWA stands for ‘Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan’. This in local language is ‘Jamiat-E-Inqalabi Zanan-E-Afghanistan’. There is a sentence which attracts the attention of readers. It says, “If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist, you are with RAWA. Support and help us.”
RAWA is working in Afghanistan since 1977 and is one of the oldest Socio-Political Women’s Organization working for Peace, Freedom, Democracy and Women Rights. RAWA was established by Afghan women and is being run by Afghan women. Referring to the RAWA website, I could understand Afghan women’s perspectives, could better know their struggle and also could understand what they want to achieve, what they are dreaming and striving for. The RAWA website can be accessed in seven to eight different languages, which clearly shows that their well-wishers are spread across the world. It is a surprise that in war-zone Afghanistan somebody thought of establishing Women’s Organization. Moreover in an environment where human rights are least respected, this organization is working for 38 years without diluting its founding principles is a miracle to me.
The person who created this exceptional organization is Meena. She is the founder member of RAWA. There is a brief introduction of Meena on RAWA website. However, I was searching for more information regarding Meena. Then I came across a Marathi book on Meena. This book is a translation of Meena: Heroin of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavias. The English book was published in 2003. The book is translated in Marathi by Shobha Chitre and Dilip Chitre and published by Rajhamsa Prakashana in 2008.
The International Women’s Year celebrated in 1975 (followed by Women’s Decade) was instrumental in generating discourse across the world on status of women and the need to improve women’s participation in all spheres of life. Even in India, Women’s Movement faced the challenge of existing gender stereotypes – this challenge still exists. We will fail to understand the importance of Meena’s and RAWA’s work unless we have a know their context – the situation in Afghanistan.
In July 1973, Daud Khan forcefully removed King Zahir Shah, thus ending his 40 years of rule (1933-73). Daud Khan established Government which was pro-Russia (then USSR). Zahir Shah Government encouraged education of girls and women, even co-education; women were working in different establishments. They were announcing on Radio, they were Air Hostess, they were Telephone operators. For the ease of operations at workplace, these women were not using burqa (veil). However even during those days women’s existence was secondary as the society was governed by Sharia. Meena understood women’s plight at a very young age and in Malalai School she met some wonderful teachers who gave right direction to her inner spark. Meena started thinking independently, rationally and started dreaming about Rights of Women.
Meena was born in Kabul on 27 February 1956. In 1975 she joined Kabul University. The University atmosphere was charged with passionate discussions on different topics including Marx, Islam, Afghan culture and so on. But slowly the atmosphere was spoiled by fundamentalist elements amongst students and professors. In 1976, at the age of 20 she got married with Faij, this marriage was little late compared to the tradition surrounding her. Before accepting marriage proposal, Meena put conditions like she would continue studying even after marriage and Faij will remain loyal to her. It is interesting to note that Faij not only accepted these demands but lived accordingly. He was certainly a different kind of man.
To protest Daud Khan’s pro-Communist approach, Islamic Fundamentalism rose in Afghanistan. People were caught between two conflicting approaches, which were equally harmful for them. During this period of turmoil, Meena decided to establish a Women’s Organization and started meeting women. At this time, Meena was a young girl of 20; newly married; without economic support and without experience in organizing women. However, Meena’s empathy, tenacity and hard work created a group of enthusiastic Afghan women who were ready to struggle for Democracy, Peace and Women’s Rights.
Meena starting meeting different women - with whom she was acquainted – one by one and in 1977 RAWA was established. Both Police (Government) and Fundamentalists treated RAWA as its enemy. So, right from the beginning, ‘Secret for Security’ principle was followed by RAWA. This was necessary because police would have tortured women to get information about RAWA. The hostile police and the fundamentalists – neither were able to destroy RAWA forever. The credit for this strategy goes to vision of Meena.
While reading this book, I was amazed by the work done by Meena and her known and unknown colleagues in RAWA. I kept wondering about the source of the tenacity, the sensitivity and the determination to march forward to achieve the goal – irrespective of the situation. They all were and are indeed amazing women.
Afghanistan’s known history shows that RAWA was the first attempt to organize women to fight for their rights. For these women, the atmosphere was neither congenial outside nor within the home (for most of them) to work through RAWA. They began with small group discussions, helped each other when required, conducted literacy classes – and RAWA progressed from strength to strength through these activities. On many occasions the resolve of RAWA women was tested, and through every such difficulty, their resolve became stronger. Whenever the Government in the country was changed, women paid the worst price.
This is not the place to review history of political situation in Afghanistan. But briefly speaking during the period 1978 to 2001 the head of the Afghan Government were: Daud, Tarakee, Amin, Babrak, Kishtmand, Najibulla, Taliban and Rabbani. Every change in power came with bloodshed, thousand were jailed for no reason and without inquiry, thousands were killed and many more fled away to other countries. With every change, women’s life became more difficult, the restrictions on them kept on increasing, the walls around them grew bigger, and they were more and more suffocated. Life of women in Afghanistan became more difficult with passing time.
During this period RAWA became stronger, its work spread. RAWA was always ready to help women. Women in Afghanistan gathered in front of jail to find out the status of their family members. These women were treated with cruelty. RAWA used to inform the word about these brutalities through pamphlets and distributed them even when the Police was chasing them all the time. RAWA also brought out a monthly called “Payam-E-Zan” – which was first of its kind in the country. RAWA women had always to be worried about police raids on their homes. In such situation how difficult it would be to publish a magazine and distribute it – one who has never faced such situation can only imagine.
Meena was instrumental in bringing out USSR brutalities in Afghanistan. At the same time she foresaw the danger of Fundamentalism and Terrorism. She tried to make the world aware of the problem of Fundamentalism, but we did not listen to her.  
 In 1982, Afghan Government (that was USSR) declared that it would arrest Meena at the first opportunity. It was impossible for Meena to work in Afghanistan. So she crossed border and went to Pakistan where thousands of Afghan migrants were somehow managing to be alive. Many times Meena and her colleagues took risk and crossed the Afghan-Pak border. RAWA colleagues and women stitched clothes to earn livelihood, the provided home and education to orphans, the conducted literacy classes for migrants, the established Malalai hospital and served many sick people.
Even though Meena’s movements were kept secret, on 4 February 1987, Meena disappeared from Quetta (Pakistan). Later RAWA realized that Meena was assassinated. It was a tremendous shock to RAWA, but they continued Meena’s work with a greater determination; realizing that it was their obligation to realize Meena’s dream of Democratic and Peaceful Afghanistan. Unfortunately even at the end of 2015, Afghan women still have a long way to go.
We need to know that Afghan women never had an option of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ government; for decades they have to choose between “worse” and “worst”. It is true that Mujahidin fought against Taliban, but when it comes to women, both Mujahidin and Taliban were equally cruel with women. Even after the New Era of 2001, when Afghan women saw Warlords as part of the existing governance, they knew that their plight and fight was not yet over.
It was necessary for Meena and RAWA to keep a low profile. They had to destroy papers on many occasions fearing police raid. They had to be careful about not keeping any proof about their movement and activities. Whosoever was ruling Afghanistan, they certainly were against Meena and against RAWA, simply because Meena and RAWA fought for Women’s Rights. This is the reason why we had hardly any information about Meena.
After the attack of United States of America on Afghanistan in 2001, Melody Chavias visited Pakistan and Afghanistan; interacted with many colleagues of Meena and then she wrote this book. Generally when we read a biography, we get an almost complete and consistent picture of the life of the heroine/hero of the book. Due to the circumstances in Afghanistan, this book cannot give us the complete picture. However, the glimpses of Meena’s life and work clearly tell us the plight of Afghan women and their courage.

Meena’s life and work and the way RAWA is carrying the torch is very inspiring.
The book is available on Amazon:  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

229. Guess Who?

This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 57; the fifty-seventh edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with Madhu Vajpayee, the author of Seeking Redemption and Shades Publications, the publisher of Friendship- Bonds Beyond Time.

Voting day is an important day in sustaining and strengthening Democracy.

There are Different parties and Different slogans.
There are Different promises and Different manifestos.
There are Different faces and Different issues.
Somehow to me, they all look alike. I cannot differentiate between them, not a bit.

As a patriotic citizen, I always register as a voter and I always vote – that is if my name does not miraculously disappear from the list.

Today the magic – black magic I must say – happens again.
My name is not in the list.

I have a Voter Identity Card but probably I won’t be able to caste vote today.

I move from one counter to another counter.
There are many Smart guys using tablets and smart phones, but my name does not appear on any of those screens.
I am getting irritated, frustrated.
I move away from the polling station, cursing the system, cursing the rules.

Far away from the polling station, one young man approaches me. Apparently, there is no one else on the road. All that crowd I saw is left behind.

He certainly understands that I have not voted, my face is quite transparent, especially when I am in a problem situation.  So maybe he is going to convince me about ‘importance of voting’ or ‘citizen responsibilities’ or something of that kind.

I can ignore him but I automatically stop so that he can talk to me.

He politely asks, “Can you please hold my hand for a minute?”

I am surprised. I don’t know how to respond to this strange request.
I am not young, but still a man, a stranger asking this question to a woman!  

Then I realize that he is offering me a small plastic hand.
It is an election symbol of one of the National Parties in the country.

I forget my frustration and start laughing.

Well, well, now a days this party badly needs someone to hold its hand.

Who will be that? Any guess? 
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Participation Count: 49.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

228. Pessoas Estranhas

Ontem fui a farmácia para comprar penso rápido. O custo para quatro pensos era de dez meticais e quinze meticais para seis. Tinha só onze meticais de troco e duzentos meticais em nota.  

A mulher de caixa levou os onze meticais que eu tinha e deu-me quinze meticais para fazer o pagamento na caixa principal. Fiquei confusa porque se eu ter pedido nada, ela deu-me quatro meticais a mais para que eu pudesse comprar seis pensos.

Algumas vezes encontramos pessoas estranhas que ajudam-nos sem motivo. A lição e’ que todos devemos ajudar as pessoas mesmo sem conhece-las.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

227. Opening Part II

This post narrates glimpses of development work of VSO Mozambique. However, this is written in individual capacity and VSO Mozambique does not necessarily endorse the viewpoint. Names of individuals and places are either not mentioned or changed. If you want to know more about VSO, click here or  here
Understanding a new environment is mostly challenging – even in the era of Information and Technology. As an outsider one has limited access to people’s lives and their perceptions about life. In addition to that as an outsider I am exempted from the general norms and rules of the society; which has a tremendous potential to create superficial interpretation of what I come across. So, cautiously I try to evolve general understanding not only based on my experiences (as I know my limitations) but also based on the experience of others – which they share.

Understanding a society poses another problem; especially when I try to understand through urban societies. With the increased influence of Market Economy and to certain extent its impact on traditional livelihoods; societies are no more homogeneous today. There are multiple streams within any urban society. So I keep on checking and crosschecking notions, practices, ideas, norms, rules and also exceptions – as change is constantly happening.

Due to my active participation in the VSO project (titled The Business of Girls’ Education), I get opportunity to interact with girls (and boys) in primary schools; teachers in primary schools; community members who are involved in School Management through School Councils and officers of Provincial Education Department. We have many discussions on barriers faced by girls in continuing education (and how to overcome those collectively) and that gives me ideas. These interactions throw light on Gender Roles, Gender Based Division of Labor, Access to and Control over Resources, Decision Making in the society. Triangulation is done by habit (not systematically, I must confess) and it fits into what I knew about this society even before I came to Mozambique.

We are in another school; meeting the 6 Lead Girls is an important agenda of the visit. We find that Marta is missing from the group and there are still 6 girls. Since Marta did not appear in the school this year, the school has substituted her with another girl –Cecilia. I do not want to discourage Cecilia, but I want to know where Marta is.

“Did Marta attend the classes regularly last year?” I ask the teacher; an enthusiastic and experienced teacher who is with us in the school.

“Yes,” replies the teacher.
“Why is Marta not coming to school?” I ask. Everybody chooses to remain silent.
“Is she transferred to other school?”
Silence. Not deliberate, but nobody knows.

“Is she not well?”
Nobody knows.

Looking at Cecilia’s face, I dare to ask, “Is she married?”
“Yes,” responds Cecilia

One more 13-14 year girl is married again. In 2015? Yes!

“Is she still in this village?” I continue asking. “Do you know her home?”

Cecilia knows Marta’s house. So accompanied by two girls and the teacher, we walk for twenty minutes.

We come across a cluster of huts and everybody stops. It takes some time for me to realize that the  cluster of huts belongs to one family and unless the Head of the Family (invariably a Man) permits us to enter, we cannot move further.

The father arrives. He might be 40 or even 50, it is hard to tell. The teacher speaks in the local language and explains the purpose of the visit. This is not an occasion for taking photographs. I am using neither camera, notebook nor pen.

“Oh! Marta is married. I have no problem if she continues going to school; but her husband should give her permission,” he explains frankly.

Marta’s husband is studying in the nearby district and Marta continues to stay with her parents. How old is he? May be 20.

“I did not want my daughter to marry, but she married what I can do?” says the father.
“Can we talk to Marta, please?” I ask.

Father goes to a hut in the backside to call Marta, but she refuses to come out. So, with the permission of the father, I go to that hut. But Marta refuses to come out. One of her aunts is there. With her permission, I enter inside. Marta does not know me, we have never met. She pulls her face down, covers it by both the palms and clearly speaks, “I do not like school, and I do not want to go to school.” I am surprised by her clarity of thought. At that moment I do not want to invade her privacy, I do not want to threaten her by my presence. I come out of the hut and tell the aunt, “When Marta wants to meet us, we will come again, let us know.”

On the way back the team discusses. “These girls! They want to marry. Even when her father did not want, she married. What can we do?”

I ask about the lobolo (the bride price) the father would have received. It is about 3000 MT (approximately USD 90). In addition to this the groom clears surrounding land and builds a new hut for the girl’s father (or family).

We could not stop marriage of this girl. However, we can at least bring her back to school. But why did Marta hate the school so much? How many more girls would be preferring marriage, feeling that school is not a place for them? And what exactly happened in the school? Are girls punished? Do they have to do more work in school too? Is it a language issue? (Not Portuguese but local language is spoken in the village.) 

We need to think. We need to strategize. We need to connect not only with the girls and teachers, but also with the community. Yes, through school councils, we have established initial contacts with the community, we need to strengthen those.

To talk to girls regarding consequences of early marriage is necessary but not sufficient. Adults have lot of power over their children, so it is important to work with adults.

And we need to work with boys as well. 

Are our efforts good enough to open better life opportunities for girls like Marta?

 to be continued...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

226. Countdown

This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 55; the fifty-fifth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with Rashmi Kumar, the author of Hooked, Lined and Single and Jyoti Arora, the author of Lemon Girl.

Sometimes I don’t understand my anxiety. I know you are not accountable to us and you always keep the date. However, I still check weather predictions. The news of your arrival helps me to survive the heat.

It is unfair to say that summer is always horrible. The kids have vacations; ample mangoes and rounds of ice-creams. Meeting friends and traveling. However in the corner of my heart, I know I am waiting for you. I know some people around me do not bother about you. They think everything could be purchased by money power. They are wrong. I argue with them. Such arguments make me feel vacant within. I wish you come a bit earlier this year so that I can forget and forgive these people.

In the world I live, there are multiple worlds. Women walk miles for a pot of water; farmers will be forced to either end their life or migrate. Animals are thirsty. The trees are dirty. The sky seems distant. The Sun blazes and we wait for you.

The evening brings cool breeze. On the western horizon I see black clouds. Will you come today? Oh, No!  Within few moments the clouds move. May be not here but somewhere it is raining.

I am away from home for a week. It was work, so I could not avoid it. And then I see you meeting my home town – on the television, in the newspapers, on FB, on social media. Everywhere. Well, what wrong have I done so that you avoid me?

I am frustrated with the heat, with the work, with the world. I feel lonely. I feel like crying. I just want to go away. Problem is: I cannot go away from myself. I know I would be happy again when you come. When are you coming?

They say that you have arrived in Kerala. Good to know. This means another seven days. Life ise worth of all this waiting.

Where is the umbrella? Do I need to purchase raincoat? What about Floaters?
That is the problem of being a human. On one side, I wait for you like I have never longed before. On the other side I am thinking of all the things to protect me from you. Is it not ridiculous? Yes, it is. I can see you smiling on my contradictions.

I feel you around. I smell you. I look at the elephant like clouds, big, black. But they keep on disappearing. Why?

Will you come tomorrow or today? Will you come in the morning or in the evening?


Finally you come.
You make this world beautiful. You change lives. You make lives. You bring smiles. You bring value to everything around. You bring smiles.
Thanks for coming!
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Participation Count: 48. Image Credits: Monsoon by Yann (Wikimedia Commons). Shared with GNU Free Documentation License CC Attribution-Share Alike.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

225. Opening: Part I

This post narrates glimpses of development work of VSO Mozambique. However, this is written in individual capacity and VSO Mozambique does not necessarily endorse the viewpoint. Names of individuals and places are either not mentioned or changed. If you want to know more about VSO, click here or  here

We turn right leaving behind a busy National Highway. As usual, with such turns the world around changes. The read earth road is stretched up to the horizon and after every ten minutes we see some people resting at the roadside. The interior villages have a road, but almost no public transport; so people walk for hours and rest when they get tired.

We take a left turn, then another right. There is the primary school. After examinations, there was a week-long vacation. It is the first working day after the vacation, so we do not expect all the students in the school. Still 10-15 girls and boys surround us. Their eyes shine to see a stranger amongst them, and they are not shy. One kid is almost touching me. I bend forward to talk to him- in broken Portuguese. He is studying in second grade and has three text books. I open one book and ask him about the pictures in the book. He narrates. Then I ask him to read a line for me. He says, “I can’t read” and further declares, “no one in my class can read.” He is such an honest kid. Everybody laughs.

We meet the Deputy Director of the school. From each school, six girls from grade six are chosen as Lead Girls (LGs). VSO is arranging a two days residential training for LGs (39 schools in 7 districts of Manica Province). The team is visiting the home of each LG and explaining the objective of the district level training and of course seeking permission of the parents.

Maria is one of the LGs and she knows house of the other LG, whose name we mention first. Deputy Director accompanies us enthusiastically. Mozambique struggles with poor school infrastructure. After visiting every school, my admiration for Mozambican primary teachers increases. But that is another story.

The road narrows down and after 15 minutes, we have to leave the car and walk. We continue walking for 30 minutes – by habit I keep on checking my watch to know how much this girl Rosa has to walk every day.Rosa walks at least one hour every day to reach the school and another hour to return home. The road is lonely; it cuts across fields and little forest; it is not plain road but has ups and downs as the terrain is a small range of hillocks.

After reaching Rosa’s home we see eight children – age 12 to 1. Boys bring a mat (for women) and chair (for the teacher- a man) and the elder one goes to call his father.  These are local chairs. I like the creativity.

And yes, they are very comfortable.

Rosa comes. She did not go to school today. She says she had headache; but actually she is working in the farm. If I had to walk every day for two hours, would I have been interested in studying – I ask myself. 

The question is hypothetical for me, but it helps me to be in the shoes of Rosa. By the way, I have noted that Maria is walking with us without shoes; and I don’t know whether Rosa has shoes.

The father comes; his children surround him. He has five sons and five daughters – three daughters are married. I want to ask their age, but do not ask. The visit has other objective. This is the first visit to Rosa’s home and certainly not the last; I can ask more questions in the next visit.

The teacher introduces us, explains about the training, my colleague elaborates further. The father is happy to send Rosa to the district headquarters; which is about 70 kilometers from the village. We are arranging to pick up the girls and drop them back after the training. “Actually there is no budget for sending a car,” my colleague had reminded me early this morning. But we don’t want these girls to first walk for hours and then wait for more hours for public transport which is being run by individuals as private business. Safety of girls is our prime responsibility. 

I am also concerned about whether Rosa wants to participate in the training or not. Rosa is taking care of a young child. I whisper (I have to often do this because I do not speak Portuguese well and do not understand local languages!) to my colleague whether it is Rosa’s sibling or her child. I have seen many 12-13 year mothers here, so the anxiety. I sigh with relief when I learn that this is her baby brother.  Rosa and Maria are smiling together. Rosa says, “Father has given permission, I want to come.” She knows she is LG and knows that there are five more LGs in her school. I am feeling good. 

The mother arrives. I ask my colleague to explain the whole discussion to the mother. My colleague says, “Traditionally as Head of the Family, the father has the authority to share the information with his family. If he does not introduce us to her, we cannot talk to his wife. ” – Hmm! I am a woman too.

I respect traditions and culture. As an insider, I have always rebelled against discriminatory traditions (in my country). But as an outsider, I cannot rebel. However, I can take a little liberty; I can push the boundary a little further. Here my ignorance of local customs can contribute to my cause. So, when we are ready to leave; I approach the mother and tell her briefly about the training. She smiles. She did not participate in the decision about her daughter, but at least I try to keep her informed.

In the meantime, the father tells something to one of the boys and he comes with a basket of Tangerine – a gift for us, the guests. As a good guest, I put some money in the hands of mother; it is not cost of Tangerine; but a small return gift. May be that too is a tradition, because she accepts it without hesitation. 

May be, I should not hurry labeling this father; he seems a kind person with understanding. He is instrumental in the continuation of Rosa’s education. It is possible that he is just following the custom and tradition by not inviting his wife to discuss with us. We are actually on the same path; the apparent gap can be bridged. I am sure, once he trusts us, these barriers will be broken and new opening would emerge.

to be continued