I’m really not sure who the hero of this story is. Is it Udhaya Keerthika – an astronaut aspirant? Or her parents? A dad who is a writer and painter currently facing the herculean task of finding funds for his daughter’s higher studies or the mother who works as a typist with a meagre income, yet determined that her girl’s dream is not compromised for anything.
I had the opportunity to spend the day with Keerthika and her parents at their home in Theni a few weeks ago, and was struck by the humility and patience they displayed. Between the non-stop phone calls and visitors, Keerthika’s parents tirelessly explained their daughter’s aspiration to everyone they met. When I caught a few minutes with her mother, she said,
“it might seem irrational that we are spending so much time and effort to find resources to fuel her dreams, rather than get her married. However, we feel that education is equally important for a girl child.
In fact, my advice to all parents who have girls is to never ever underestimate what a girl can achieve. Girls are just as capable as boys. Girls and boys have aspirations that are equally important, and parents must make sure they believe in their children and encourage them. My husband and I are committed to supporting our daughter and her dreams.”
Her dad remembers when Keerthika was born, he would go around and tell everyone that he had a ‘PT Usha’ in his family, referring to the athlete PT Usha who achieved world records in athletics for India. “I aspire to see my daughter being a good scientist and an astronaut for our nation. One day, we as a family want to encourage and support other girls with dreams like Keerthika. A lack of resources cannot be an excuse for not achieving one’s dream”, says Keerthika’s father.
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Dare To Dream Big Dreams
Keerthika, a 21 year old from Theni, a small town in Tamil Nadu, who recently graduated with 92% in Aircraft Engineering from Kharkiv National Aerospace University in Ukraine. Though her entire schooling was done in Tamil medium, Keerthika always dreamt of reaching for the stars – quite literally, via being part of a manned mission for ISRO and to be the first woman astronaut for India.
Having very little to live by, her friends and family thought that Keerthi was ‘dreaming well beyond her means’, but when her father would tell her stories of real life heroes like Bharathiyar, Abdul Kalam, Karl Marx, Kalpana Chawla and other contemporary achievers, they inspired her!
As a teenager, she stood first in two competitions conducted by ISRO before she was 18 and that really encouraged her to keep her focus firm on space studies and to become an astronaut. She says she would lie down under the open skies at night and gaze at the stars endlessly. “I am so very eager to see the stars and the outer space that God has created”, she says.
As I spoke with Keerthika, I noticed that she is a person with absolute clarity of thought. Although a private person, she politely answered the incessant phone calls, received visitors and humbly accepted the shawl honour that each of them came with.
Keerthika told me that she doesn’t spend more than 10 minutes a day on social media and believes that social media is the biggest distraction for today’s youth.
As an aspiring astronaut, she says there are lot of physical challenges to be overcome as a woman, but that she is determined and has dedicated her life to being an astronaut and studying space. She says, “my parents have taught me to fight when things get tough. They have given me the freedom to dream and aspire.”
Her appeal to all the other parents is that they need to recognise that every child first trusts their own parents, and so it is their responsibility to encourage and be there for their children through failure and success. Most importantly, to never compare their child with others and to teach them to face hardships with the right attitude.
She said, “I am grateful for all the challenges that we had to face for they have made me resilient and strong, capable of facing any situation in life.”
I later notice that she sneaks into her room to spend some time in prayer before getting back to the living room to meet with the next stream of visitors.
A Wealth Like No Other
As the day comes to an end, I walk away realising that this family is one of the wealthiest people I know. Rich because of their right attitude, hard work, strong faith and their love and trust of each other.
To me , it seemed like her parents were not just raising a girl child, they were raising a future astronaut and they saw themselves as simply being the ‘wind beneath her wings’.
A few days after my visit, it warmed my heart to find out that the family was able to raise the money for her to go to Poland for a two month course in analog astronaut training, and she is one of just 8 people from around the world that have been selected for this training.
As Kalpana Chawla once said, “If you have a dream, follow it. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a woman or from India or from wherever.”
Christy is a producer for a tv channel. Her first love is street photography and she strives to be a story teller through her images. She is also a volunteer with Women Of Worth and a regular contributor to our blogs.
Every day, we hear stories of women being victimised, raped, assaulted. The number of crimes against women has experienced an 83 % increase from 2007 till date. With a rising number of crimes committed against women day by day, it has become inherently crucial that women learn a self-defense technique to be able to stand up and protect themselves.
Here are 5 reasons every woman should consider learning a self-defense technique:
1: USEFUL FOR SAFETY AND PROTECTION
Perhaps the most obvious reason for having a few self defence techniques at the back of your hand is for the purpose of safety and protection. Every day, we hear one story or another, of a woman being victimised, raped, assaulted.
Although it can be rightfully claimed that the the concept of every woman learning self defence is similar to the concept of victim blaming and not punishing the perpetrators instead; we also need to understand that as stringency, regulations and support grow to reach to the point in society where a woman can walk out of her house at 11 PM in the night with no second thoughts in her head, there needs to be some form of protection that women can depend upon. Imagine a world where every woman was empowered to fight back?!
2: TO AID PROGRESS IN SOCIETY
With female talent rapidly blossoming globally across all professional sectors and industries, for women to continue to expand their reach and potential around the world, one of the major factors that plays an irrefutable role and which is of paramount importance is safety. Women’s safety should not become a burden and more importantly an excuse for companies and businesses to downsize recruitment of women employees and staff. Through knowledge about safety, safety techniques and laws, every woman can progress without being held back.
An inherent feature of being equipped with self defence techniques is the enormous change in level of confidence that a woman experiences along with a concomitant rise in self esteem, self worth and self respect.
4: WOMEN CAN BE PHYSICALLY STRONG TOO
Biologically, it is said that on an average, a man is physically stronger than a woman(not to say that women can’t be stronger than men!). Most attackers are not likely to be equipped with any martial art skills. They naturally tend to use their size and gender as an advantage. This is why most self defence forms primarily aim at performing a temporary defensive move or one that pains the perpetrator, giving enough time to the victim to run away and call for help. The results can mean a matter of life and death for the woman.
5: BREAK STEREOTYPES
Gone are those days when society would force us to imagine a husband, brother or a son to come and save a woman who is almost always portrayed as helpless, desperate, scared and vulnerable. In addition, more women learning self defence could indeed instigate fear in the minds of the perpetrators, and could actually lead to facilitate a positive change towards alleviating the issue of crime committed against women!
Gone are those days when women depended on husbands, brothers, sons and boyfriends to protect and save them. Gone are also the days when women are portrayed as helpless, desperate, scared and vulnerable.
More women learning self defence could not only instigate fear in the minds of perpetrators, but could actually facilitate a positive change towards alleviating the issue of crimes committed against women!
Have you ever learned a self-defense technique? Would you consider learning one? Tell us what you think!
Welcome to women’s history month!
It is always the highlight of every year around this time for us at WOW to celebrate who we are as women, anticipate the changes that are yet to be and be challenged to participate in being change agents who facilitate justice and equality for women and the girl child.
Throughout 2019 our focus will be directed towards emphasizing the need to create a culture of safety for women. Safety is crucial to a person’s well-being and immensely influences one’s quality of life. Lack of safety for women stands in the way of women living lives to their full potential. It is a fact that even today the most vulnerable people group in any part of the world are women and children. Women and the girl child face the brunt of all the worst forms of deprivations. It is imperative that we press on to find solutions that ensure their safety and well-being.
Issues of safety for women and the girl child begin long before they see the light of day. It begins in the womb and continues on through their life span. Women continue to face violence in the form of ‘gendercide’ (the extermination of the female foetus or infant), domestic violence, rape, molestation, human trafficking, sexual harassment, eve-teasing, neglect, abandonment and more. Also, our definition of safety is incomplete if we don’t include emotional, verbal and intellectual forms of abuse.
Before we ask ourselves what we can do to address issues of safety for women and the girl child, we should consider why they face these forms of violence and what motivates or instigates the perpetrators to exhibit such behaviour. Incidentally, we all should also acknowledge that violence against women is not just endorsed or perpetrated by men. Though the perpetrators are primarily men, women are as guilty of endorsing attitudes ,values,beliefs that perpetuate violence against women.
When it comes to the ‘why’ question about women’s issues of safety, it ultimately boils down to how we value women and the girl child. If they are considered ‘second-class’ and if our social conditioning dictates that women are not equal to men, then it directly will reflect on how we treat them. When our mindset towards women is not challenged, we will continue to experience and endorse violence against women in its various forms. In fact gender inequality in any capacity is an act of violence against women. It is high-time we evaluate our pre-conceived notions and beliefs about women, supported by our cultural practices or traditions.
This is not to say that all our cultural values and practices are all anti-women. But every culture needs to progress to be more meaningful in its expression. And every practice or belief we hold needs to be seen through the lens of our very basic fundamental and constitutional right i.e every human being to be treated with equal value and dignity. Safety is the human right of all people and not just the privilege of a few. Gender, skin colour, religion, caste, economic status or age should not be parameters that determine a person’s worth. And progress needs to be defined by how much we are willing to give room in our belief systems for the dignity and humanity of women and the girl child.
When we recognize this need for a ‘mindset change’, we will have identified one of the fundamental reasons for violence against them. Therefore, safety for women is not an issue that stands alone. On many fronts, it is one of the worst manifestations of prevailing attitudes towards women.
We need to challenge ourselves to rethink our definitions of ‘women’s empowerment’. We need empowerment that starts from within – where we educate a woman to recognize her value and worth. But this is only half the work done. The other half is with how we educate boys and men. Teaching them to respect women as equals is crucial. We don’t have real safety if our concepts of safety is defined by the restrictions we place on women. As long as we hear comments like, ‘what was she wearing when this happened?’ or “why did she go out that late?’ we are setting false or weak standards for a woman’s safety. True empowerment will take into consideration both obvious and hidden factors that shape and mould our attitude towards women. It is in accepting, endorsing and promoting the equality of women in all spheres that genuine safety is birthed. The idea that women are equal needs to span across boardrooms to public offices to schools and colleges. The idea then has to become our posture towards women and the girl child. When we truly begin to acknowledge the equality of women in our attitudes and mind-set we will rise above finding symptomatic solutions to women’s safety.
In keeping with this year’s IWD theme, #balanceforbetter, if balance has to be achieved, men need to be part of the change process. If organisations have to grow, the quickest, fastest, and smartest way is to invest in developing women, creating conducive environments and introducing equitable work place policies. Lasting change can happen only when society as a whole is transformed inside out. This means change at the individual level as well as at the systemic levels. Let not history document how even this generation failed to make a dent in the dream of an equitable world.
I stumbled upon art in my quest for a more meaningful life. I wanted to give an outlet to my creative energy which would have been stifled had I joined the business for which I was trained. As a product of the prestigious NIFT, I saw numerous opportunities to join the industry and pursue a career in design.
Somehow I was not very convinced about this idea, during my college years I never saw myself in a fixed hour job. I would rather be a free spirit and choose to create when I wanted to. My path to becoming a full-time artist has been indirect to say the least. However, I wouldn’t trade my time of being an “artist interrupted” for anything.
The longer road with all of it’s detours has really paid off in terms of rounding out my life experiences, making me more focused, determined, and extremely grateful for the opportunity I have in the studio right now. Waiting is a great motivator.
I’ve always had a love for creativity, right from a very young age and although I might not have fully understood it on a conscious level, bringing something new and unique (and hopefully of value) into the world always brought me a great deal of satisfaction.
After my studies at NIFT, New Delhi, and a short stint of work, I got married. Thereafter, it was motherhood which was my first priority. Soon I realised that I needed to do something on my own for my creative persona.
I started visiting various art galleries in Delhi and participating in their painting workshops. This is where the seed of being an abstract artist was launched & permanently lodged into my soul. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think of it myself until I started working on my first canvas. It was like a bullet hit me. I FELT something connect – the freedom that comes with working for yourself.
So there you have it – my story.
I always prefer happy and hopeful endings when I hear a story, so I’ll leave you with this:
Following your heart, inner vision, and passion can lead you to do the very thing you love & cherish, even if it takes a L-O-N-G time.
Since the journey is long, it is important to have courage and belief in your work. Don’t get dejected by criticism. Some times, the response may come very slowly, but if you have faith in what you are doing, you will get there.
It’s not always smooth sailing, so you have to take the ups and downs of your journey as they come. Keep the faith strong and keep surging ahead.
The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous.
“Even confessing feels good under the right circumstances.”
It was during the time of mid-September when the winter has just started and with Chennai suddenly becoming whimsical with it’s dreamy sunsets and the dew drops in the trees, everybody feels fortunate and happy.
As a 13 year old girl who came home from school happily to go out with her mother, I was disappointed with the rain. I waited anxiously for the rain to stop and once it did I rushed and told my mother to get ready.
The markets were the same, the people were the same but the stories I told my mother became even more interesting each week. The stories were from algebra to catfights to almost everything that filled my mind. Now returning from the noisy market, entering into a quaint street I understood my voice became louder and turned down my voice a little. And going down the street i heard a speeding vehicle nearing us and at the spur of the minute the man in the vehicle gropes my chest and the girl who toned her voice down a minute ago now screams at the top of her voice. I felt assaulted and was assaulted by a person who was my father’s age. My mother searched for words to console me. But I knew my mother needed a lot of consoling than me. We couldn’t do anything more than scream or console. I felt weak. I remembered my parents teaching me different types of touch, and I knew this was a bad touch but my mother was just next to me, does this mean both of us are weak?
No, the only person weak was the one who sped away in the vehicle. The only person ashamed was the one who couldn’t face us and sped away. But before I realized this I felt uneasy to talk about this to people. So, It took literally six long years for me to talk about a groping incident, How long or how resistant will a child take or be? Will it be before he/she realizes it’s not their mistake or after they punish themselves for something they are not responsible for?
Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. I, luckily knew my rights and with the support of my parents knew how to deal with it. But does everyone have privilege for that? We have the responsibility to ensure a safe place for everybody to live in.
Walls painted pink and green with windows as small as a pigeonhole. Narrow staircases with colorful sarees hanging all around is the sight of a room in a red light area. Young and old wait in the alleys with their faces painted and bodies perfumed, covering up a multitude of emotions, selling sex to men who frequent the area from different walks of life – the educated, the illiterate, the rich, the poor, the affluent and so on.
After a short walk, I entered a shack-like room. A young girl named Pinky caught my attention as she carefully examined my footwear that was piled up with some other footwear just outside the door. I sat next to her as she continued to show interest in my footwear and asked if it belonged to me. I responded and offered it to her. In exchange I got to wear her footwear and realized how hard it was to walk in her shoes. Though she didn’t quite fit into mine, she was happy with the exchange for the moment. As we got talking, I got a glimpse of her world through her eyes.
Pinky, caught in a cycle of poverty and exploitation, works in the brothel serving 15 to 20 customers a day on average. She finds momentary comfort for her cravings for love and care from her customers who frequent her. Although she admits that she goes through a gush of mixed emotions, she has learnt the art of numbing her feelings and finding joy in the little things around her – as simple as wearing someone else’s shoes. Within minutes, Pinky was busy answering calls from her customers and did not seem interested in me or my shoes anymore. She left me sitting on a bench wondering what her world is like. She definitely did not belong to the brothel but she was convinced that there was no way out for girls like her. She roams around the red light area like prey that has already surrendered its life to the predator who is too big to fight . Perhaps my few minutes in her shoes rocked my core being to the extent that my encounter with her has now become one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
As I walked back through the alleys and took a closer look at the painted expressionless faces, I could see an out-pour of hopelessness, fear and anxiety. Behind every painted face is a story that got them into the murky world – some have been pushed into the trade by poverty, abuse and desperation while some others are trapped and tricked into the trade by pimps. Whatever the reason, they live a life that is frightening, controlled and misused by the business-owners, abused by violent customers and become victims of the corrupt system. Rape, abuse, violence and many other crimes are a daily occurrence that is considered part of a normal routine.
Alcohol and drugs add a rosy haze to everything – a crutch that many of them rely on to make life bearable. Though outwardly, they seem to have dressed to attract customers, a closer look at their faces communicate the contrary.
This issue of commercial sex work, abuse, human trafficking and violence against women is a global phenomenon. Looking through Pinky’s eyes, I wonder what it would take to empower young women like her to stand up for justice and change. I wonder what it would take to fight the giant predators rather than surrendering. There are several individuals and social entities that have been combating violence against women, but for many, the situation of hopelessness remains.
However, I believe a change to this situation begins at our homes, our work places and our spheres of influence. Educating our children to respect women will set the bar high on women’s safety and protection. Every act of respect for man and woman is one step closer to making our society a safer place.
Every fight against injustice is worth the risk, worth the love and worth the cost. Let us stand up for Justice, Equality and Change.
This international anti trafficking day we remember Pinky, and all those children trafficked whose stories are like hers.