Wednesday, November 22, 2017


She was eleven years old. Freshly bathed and changed into her new school uniform, she was walking towards the bus stop humming a happy tune when suddenly someone slapped her on her pubic bone and zipped by on his bike. She instantly felt the slow burning in her cheeks. The pain, embarrassment, shame and shock welled up along with the tears as she quietly walked on – keeping her soul-shredding secret – never to be shared with anyone for the rest of her life. Five years later she was dodging commuters at the railway station making a beeline for her breasts as she rushed to make it to her 9:00 a.m. lecture on time.  She also has a vague but vivid memory – vague in terms of time but startlingly clear as an image – of a dark man masturbating in his car outside her bedroom window.

Most girls have experienced some form of sexual abuse at some point in their lives and at some level – either at the hands of random strangers, close relatives, friends of their parents or even their own drunken fathers. Many cannot even tell their mothers – or if they do it is often stoically swept under the carpet of denial, quite likely leaving those mothers to spend their lives resigned to the fact that their own husbands have violated their daughters. And this is way before the girls have discovered their own sexuality or even understood the concept of masturbation; leave alone experienced the arched ecstasy of an orgasm, the tenderness of a considerate cunnilingus, or the virtual reality/fantasy of a wet dream. A book I am reading quotes a lady telling her daughter: “The only thing a woman has to ever do in life is ENDURE. That is all she is capable of, what she is made for and has to prepare herself for.”

To ever dream of, let alone expect any form of pleasure of any sort is considered insolence and insubordination in many parts of the world (female circumcision being a case in point). But let us not kid ourselves. It is happening all around us – even in so-called educated and liberal societies. Behind closed doors and under soiled sheets – men expect to be serviced, waited on, cooked for – while they go about living their lives free to indulge in whatever they desire and to be excused for the most heinous behavior simply because they are providing for their families, which somehow gives them the right to be selfish, abusive, self-indulgent and for the most part – absent. Absent from familial obligations and any other responsibilities that might take them away from their own perverse pursuits. Of course – not all men are like that. Of course women are also providing for their families. But then they are harassed at the workplace. There is no escaping the ugly face of sexual abuse.

Yes we have all heard of sodomy and other horrors perpetrated on little boys and hapless men in prisons or during ragging in colleges. But have you ever heard of a woman swinging by on a bike and yanking a man’s penis and speeding off? Or a woman charging down a railway platform just to collide with some passenger’s smelly crotch?? Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Women are just not capable of such abysmal behavior.

The point is we are living in times of “coming out”. People are speaking and writing more about sexual abuse than ever before. Campaigns like “Me Too!” help abused women realize that they are not alone. That there is no place for shame. That no more can the blame be put on their shoulders. That they can speak about it, process it and can grow up to be fine, accomplished adults, instead of living in constant fear of it being ‘found out’. As the articulate jazz and blues singer Joni Mitchell sang so beautifully: “He was out of line girl, you were not to blame.”

Written by Suneeta Rao- Singer, Performing Artiste and Writer

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rain rain go away!!!

The continuation of monsoon into October was seen as a nuisance by many of us…our romance with rains was over and we were looking forward to bright sunny days. But I was anxious. I was remembering the bright faces of women who said “yeh bar achchi fasal hui madam” and the heavy loss of standing rice crop that followed such unseasonal rains a few years back. I was praying that there should be no repetition of that year this time.

 So, when I visited our villages I was very nervous…as expected there was deafening silence, people going about their work with a sense of resignation. “Koi bhi diwali nahi manaya madam… poori fasal Kharab hogai hai” said Sadhna, our village volunteer. And it was heart wrenching to see stretches and stretches of farms with the crop flattened and drowned in water, the rice plants growing wild and the rice kernels turned black with fungus. I was told that the grain cannot be used even by the family as it has not hardened yet. Now, most families are coping with the burden of paying for labour to clear the fields to prepare for the vegetable crops which they hope will sustain them through the year. Not all families engage in a second crop.  For them the only hope is the grains saved from last year and the PDS supplies.

Crops damaged by excess and untimely rains
For villages which have kitchen gardens, farms and forests surrounding them, we hardly find any sparrows, butterflies and bees. We had to abandon a bee keeping project because we could not find and retain bees required for bee-keeping. The heavy and indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides could be a cause. The white sediment on hard cracked fields during summers that we see also indicates the havoc that is being played by chemical fertilisers on the soil. The rising cost of farming and poor returns are making the villagers sell their land to realtors to develop gated communities. Many of the small hills are blasted and flattened for road extensions and timber lobby has cut hundreds of trees in the interiors of forests taking advantage of the desperation and ignorance of the very poor tribals in these interior villages of Shahapur. Is it any wonder that the rain patterns have changed in the last few years?

But in this desperate situation I was surprised to see small plots of rice fields which were intact. I was told those were the fields where they have not used hybrid seeds or chemical fertilisers. The plants are short and sturdy and could withstand the heavy unseasonal rains. It reminded us to go back to our old methods of farming.

To address some of the issues mentioned above Population First, through its field project AMCHI has been promoting production of vermi compost and organic farming in villages through women’s groups for the past few years. Women are trained not just on production process but also to undertake promotion, marketing and organise farmer melavas to educate other farmers. The transformation this is bringing about in the women is tremendous and slowly but steadily the farmers are showing an inclination to use organic manure in their fields after seeing the results in the demonstration plots where only the organic manure produced by the women is used.

Currently, our women engaged in vermi compost project are working towards taking land from landlords on crop sharing basis and do organic farming. We are excited about it. This is just the beginning and we are hoping that we would succeed in making women farmers spearhead the change in the farming sector.

Women engaged in vermi-compost enterprise
You could be part of this movement. If you are involved in organic farming or marketing organic products you could provide us technical and marketing support, if you are a journalist, photographer or a film maker you could help us document the process, if you have disposable income and the heart to support us financially you could do that small act of signing that cheque. And I am sure all of you can wish us well. Please draw a cheque on the name of Population First and can send it to us at our office address: Ratan Manzil, Ground Floor, 64, Wodehouse road, Colaba, Opp Hotel Happy Home, Mumbai – 400005.
Contributions to Population First are exempt from tax under section 80-G (5) of the Income Tax Act. Population First is registered under Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act 1976.

Written by Dr. A.L. Sharada, Director, Population First