Friday, August 9, 2019

The Many Colours of Indian Indigenous People

Dr. Shiny Varghese

Indigenous people are those who inherit and practice unique cultures. With 370 million such people living across 90 countries, they represent more than 5000 different cultures, and speak over 7000 languages in the world. Though they form less than 5 percent of the population, they account for 15 percent of the poorest in the world. What is noteworthy is that people have retained their social, cultural, economic and political characteristics which are distinct from the societies of which they are a part of. The closeness to environment, adherence to their own culture, customs and traditional beliefs make the life of indigenous people a distinguished one. Although they remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in India, the problems of these people remain more or less the same, across the world. The protection of their rights, the land they live in, limited or no access to essential resources and their identity are some of the major issues that needs to be addressed.

The tribes of India
In India, there are 705 ethnic groups or indigenous people who are notified as Scheduled Tribes (ST’s) spread across the States and Union Territories of India. As per census 2011, their population is 104.3 million and they comprise around 9% of the total population of India with most of them residing in rural areas. Women amount to almost half of the tribal population. The sex ratio is also favourable as compared to other social groups with 990 females for every 1000 males. There are various views surrounding the status of these women in India.  Some say that the status of the women in tribal societies seems to be better than as they are characterised by egalitarian principles while others are of the opinion that it is more or less similar to the women in the general society. One of the most important determinants has been whether the women live in a matriarchal or patriarchal society. The Garo and the Khasi tribes assign the women a higher position due to the matrilineal descent and inheritance of property through female line. Even in a patriarchal society, the husband doesn’t always play a dominant role. For instance the Gond woman enjoys equal status and freedom as men in the social life, whereas on the other hand, even though the Tharu have patrilocal system of residence, wives who are known to have the knowledge of sorcery and witchcraft are dominant in the relationships. In the domestic spheres, Juang women take part in the decision-making process; however she is not consulted during important decisions.

Bodh Tribe of Ladakh
As per a study done by Veena Bhasin (2007), tribal communities too have son preference but they do not discriminate against girls by female infanticide. Though boys and girls do not have similar inheritance laws, girls are not subjected to abuse, hatred or strict social norms. They are free to participate in social events, dancing and other recreational programmes. Among Bhutias of Sikkim and Bodhs of Ladakh, there is no distinction in terms of the work done by men and women, although heavier tasks are done by men. Both men and women run small businesses and women also work as porters. There are many other privileges enjoyed by some of the tribal women of India which include freedom in selection of life partner, contributing to the local economy by participating in agriculture and other sectors, possibility of remarriage after divorce or death of husband, freedom to talk to whom so ever they please, man or woman of any caste or creed, freedom to exercise their voting rights.

However, some of the drawbacks include that a woman’s supremacy is restricted within the family domain and does not extend to social or political spheres. The religious domain has also been primarily a field for male dominance and a strategy to deprive women of public authority.
The present condition of tribal women is not an accidental affair but has evolved due to several factors in the past. By contributing economically, women have acquired social freedom which is quite remarkable in its scope. These women also toil very hard sometimes more than men, however they are not considered backward and no men tell them what to do and what not do. Even the patriarchal society, conveys respect rather than envy between the genders. The women in these areas are far more independent and powerful than modern sub-wives.

It is inspiring to hear stories of Madhumati Debbarma, Sandhya Rani Chakhma and Hatlhing Doungel who have fought against the odds and have been elected as members of the male dominated district councils in the tribal areas of northeast India. They have had to struggle against patriarchal mindsets, to encourage women participation for overall development and welfare of women in their regions.

Katkari tribes of Maharashtra
Similarly, in the areas of Shahapur Thane, there are many tribal communities residing such as the Thakurs, Katkari, Koli Mahadeo, Kokana, however Thakurs and Katkari communities form the majority. Population First through its programme AMCHI has been working with these communities for over a decade and the experiences and insights gained through the regular interaction has been very inspiring. In tribal hamlets like Palichapada, where access to water was an issue for a very long time, women with a little handholding changed the face of the village with their persistent efforts. There have been instances where women groups in these hamlets have led to increased health and education outcomes too. It is interesting to witness that women are decision makers in most of these communities.

August 9th commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It marks the beginning of the sessions on Indigenous Populations at the UN in 1982. It is fascinating to see how lessons and experiences from tribal areas can be taken to inculcate values and morals in terms of gender equity and equality in the modern urban societies. It is essential that we work towards revitalizing, preserving and promoting indigenous cultures and share good practices through various platforms.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Sanctions Are Not the Solution

Anuja Gulati: Consultant, Population and development

At a press conference held on 25th May 2019, Yoga guru Baba Ramdev called upon the Government to implement punitive measures to contain population growth. He advocated for the denial of voting rights, contesting elections and benefits of Government schemes to the third child. He also added that if such a law is enacted people will not give birth to more children irrespective of the religion they belong to.

Punitive and coercive measures like restricting the rights of the third born are regressive, discriminatory and violate the principles of informed choice and human rights.

India has been a signatory to various International conventions and treaties like the Tehran UN Conference of Human rights in 1968, the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, the London summit on Family Planning 2012, etc.  and in doing so, has committed to ensure that human rights are respected and protected in family planning programs. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development which called upon States “to ensure that Family Planning programs abide by human rights norms and professional standards….. and that the provision of contraceptive services are free from coercion and discrimination, ensure informed decision making, respect privacy and confidentially and respect the dignity of all persons”, marked a paradigm shift in India’s family planning program from a target and technology driven program, to a program which focused on empowering women and emphasizing on a human rights and social development centered approach. A coercive approach like the one suggested, would contradict India’s commitment to rights based Family planning and prevent individuals from deciding freely and responsibly the number and spacing of children they choose to have.

India has made substantial progress in the last few decades in terms of expanding access to contraceptive methods. Contraceptive usage has tripled from 13% of married women in 1970 to around 54% in 2015-16. Similarly the Total Fertility Rate has more than halved from 5.7 in 1996 to 2.3 in 2016 with 24 States and Union territories achieving replacement level fertility. While family size is decreasing and people are opting for smaller families, they want to have a particular sex composition of their families with one or two boys because of the deeply entrenched preference for sons. This has resulted in gender biased sex selection. The Sex Ratio at birth is abysmally low at 898 girls per 1000 boys (SRS 2014-16). Imposing the two child norm and exercising coercive measures would further advance son preference and daughter aversion, thereby increasing sex selection and elimination.

A look at decline in fertility shows that there has been a consistent decline in fertility across the Country and across all religions. The Total Fertility Rate declined from 2.7 to 2.2 between NFHS III in 2005-06 to NFHS IV in 2015-16. During the same period, TFR among Hindus declined from 2.59 to 2.13; for Christians from 2.34 to 1.99; for Muslims from 3.4 to 2.61 and for Sikhs from 1.95 to 1.58. Thus there is a consistent fall in fertility across the Country and across religious groups and communities. The pace of decline can be enhanced by improving access to quality contraceptive services and offering full, free and informed choices. 

A study on understanding the implications of the two child norm on Panchayats, undertaken in 2003 in five States of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan, (Panchayti Raj and the two child norm: Implications and Consequences, Mahila Chetna Manch, January 2003) brought out that coercive policies are exclusionary and largely impact the vulnerable. Of the disqualifications due to the two child norm, Schedule caste, schedule tribe and other backward class representatives formed a very large percentage. The study also revealed that women bore a large brunt of the policy, with many women deserted or divorced after giving birth to the third child or forced into having an abortion, which in most cases was conducted in unregistered and unsafe conditions to hide the fact that she was pregnant a third time.

India with 356 million young people in the 10-24 years age group has the world’s largest youth population, comprising 28% of the total population of the Country. It is likely that this population will add to the population momentum.  Hence, India’s Family planning program should be planned in a manner to address the contraceptive needs of young people. This can be done by empowering them with information and services. Although India’s family planning program provides a cafeteria approach with a basket of choices, the reality is that female sterilization continues to be the most commonly promoted contraceptive constituting 75.3% of modern family planning methods used (NFHS IV).  The use of spacing or reversible contraceptives methods has increased but the increase has been minimal from 5.6% in 1991-92 (NFHS I) to 11.2% in 2015-16 (NFHS IV). With a fairly large proportion of girls (26.8%, NFHS IV) being married off below the legal age at marriage in India, and the unmet need among young people in the 15-24 years age group being 22% as against 12.9% of the overall unmet need, the family planning program should be positioned on addressing the needs of younger couples This could be done by:
  •          Involving men as equal partners in family planning
  •          Increasing basket of choices.
  •          Reaching out to couples and individuals with choices that best suit their reproductive intentions.
  •     Improving quality of services through effective training of service providers in counseling, seeking informed consent, protecting client’s dignity, ensuring confidentiality and privacy.
  •     Integrating of gender and rights based values and skills through pre-service and in-service programs for service providers.
  •      Building capacities and skills of service providers to provide contraceptive services to young people in an unbiased and non - judgmental manner.

Coercive measures are dysfunctional, hence family planning should be voluntary and rights based, focusing on enhancing reach, improving quality, promoting informed choices to enable couples reach their reproductive intentions.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Happy Birthday Barbie

I just realised Barbie is older than me. She just completed 60 years. No wrinkles, no grey hair and no sagging flesh. She is the same beautiful girl- who set unachievable beauty standards for girls. It is said that given her proportions, in real life she may not be able to walk straight and may have to crawl.

Yet, Barbie is Barbie. The craze of young girls, who love to possess more and more avatars of her and the wide array of her accessories. Small girls spend hours combing her hair and dressing her up.

“Barbies are fun to play with because you can use them in different ways. Like dressing them up in different outfits and clothes. Also there are different types of barbies. Like curly haired straight haired and light skin or dark skin. Overall barbies are fun to play with and are great toys in different ways.”
- Anusha, 10 yrs

“I like barbies because you can play pretend. Also they come with many accessories which are fun to use.”

 - Ahana, 7 yrs

Having never played with dolls and toys, I never had any association with Barbie. We siblings were happy playing with boys- gillidanda,  marbles etc. May be that is the reason why my association with Barbie has been only academic- how did it influence the body image of generations of women and promote gender stereotypes.

It is estimated that every 3 seconds a Barbie doll is sold, showing how popular the toy is across the world. Starting with a price of 3 dollars the doll has had special collectors editions costing millions.

The most expensive Barbie in existence was designed by Australian jeweler Stefano Canturi. Dripping in a bevy of white and pink diamonds, the doll was sold in an auction for a whopping $302,500.”

Prof. Vibhuti Patel, well known economist and feminist has this to say about Barbie and her influence. 

“My encounter with Barbie happened in 1984 when my daughter was born and got ‘A Barbie Doll’ as a gift from my cousin at the insistence of his son. This was in addition to clay doll draped in printed saree from Khadi and Village industry gifted to her by a Gandhian friend, wooden doll from Karnataka, dancing doll from Tanjore district and cloth doll from Rajasthan.

 Indian dolls were healthy, colourful and had facial expressions of warmth. In contrast the Barbie doll was slender, had a distant look, fully made up in pink makeup and pink dress. To me, Barbie set an unrealistic standard of beauty and skin colour. My daughter learnt one thing, whenever she saw a white, young and thin woman with Golden hair, she shouted and called her BARBIE.

 After 1991, economic liberalization flooded Indian toy markets with the MADE IN CHINA Barbies with all her accessories-makeup, comb, hairpins, purses, shoes at a throwaway price of Rs. 20 for the Barbie Doll and Rs. 10 for accessories. And the Barbie Doll reached ‘poorest of the poor’ households of India and within a decade captured the rural markets too.

 Variety of Barbie’s- thin and fat, white-pink-brown-black in skin colour, golden-silver-brown-black hair colour, happy-sad-angry-cool in temperament; Anglo-Saxon, Afro American, mongoloid, Aryan, Mediterranean, African, mix-race Barbie-s in variety of costumes representing different nationalities enhanced her global appeal.

 Thus market friendliness informed by multicultural approach and cost effectiveness have made Barbie survive for 60 years as an ageless Beauty.”

Research studies have shown that Barbie dolls provide  limited scope for play and girls and boys have shared having used the dolls for Torture play and for expressing anger. (Early Adolescents’s experiences with, and views of , Barbie, TaraL Kuther and Erin McDonald,

Sixteen year old Sowmya has this to say about Barbie:

"Personally, I don't like Barbies because I feel that it puts a wrong idea of body shape;colour and hair in young minds. Even though Barbie has come in many other skin tones,mostly only the fair, blonde haired Barbie is available. Second reason is Barbie is expensive and it is absolutely useless and not worth the money. Third reason is  it promotes makeup. Children from a very young age want to look like Barbie by wearing  makeup.  Natural beauty is discouraged. 

You cannot play any intelligent game with Barbie. Other than dressing it up, undressing and redressing it in different costumes. After few days it becomes boring and Barbie is made to sit in a shelf.

When kids play with  Barbie in the kitchen basically Barbie cannot do anything but if they play with kitchen sets they use their imagination and make their dream dishes and act like their parents while cooking. Same case with doctor Barbie and a doctor set. When children play with Barbie they don't even develop motor skills.

Barbie cannot even  stand properly and there is nothing much to do with the accessories or props that come with Barbie be it Astronaut Barbie, kitchen set Barbie or laundry Barbie. That is why I never liked playing with Barbie. I always preferred toys like  clay modelling, quilling, rainbow loom,  building blocks, kitchen set, doctor set,etc. which helped me use my imagination."

Considering the growing negative perception among parents regarding Barbie, Mettlein 2016 has successfully repositioned Barbie as reflecting the aspirations of girls and has introduced greater variety - three new body types (curvy, petite and tall) and seven new skin tones, as well as 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles and more diversity in the doll's fashion choices, including career wear. The ad campaign Imagine the Possibilities ( focused on the range of career opportunities that the girls could explore with Barbie. Not just that, they are also successfully riding on the new wave of changing gender roles by roping in fathers as playmates for girls playing with Barbie.

With the backing of the marketing and creative teams and her sheer appeal to parents and girls, Barbie will be ruling the markets and our hearts for many many decades to come.

Happy Birthday, Barbie.