Triple Talaq verdict

Women’s rights are Human rights, Hillary Clinton famously declared in the Beijing in 1995!

Was it? That questioned was asked of our Supreme Court earlier in our Country in the famous Shah Bano case in 1985. Then the Court protected but the then government disappointed us.

Today, the question was asked again of the Supreme Court in the Triple Talaq case.

Is Triple Talaq violative of the Indian Constitution?

Am I, an Indian woman (irrespective of my faith, remember we are a secular country) entitled to be protected of my fundamental rights by the highest Court of the Land?

That was the question posed by this issue of the Supreme Court of India.

Two judges, Justice Nariman and Justice U.U. Lalit said, YES

The third said, it is violative of my religion and Islam does not believe in Triple talaq (Justice Kurian Joseph)

The fourth and fifth said the community should reform and law should be passed and till then we have nothing to do with it (CJI Kehar and Justice Abdul Naheer) and surprisingly NOT VIOLATIVE of the Constitution.

That’s the way I interpret this issue.

That finally, the SC declared triple talaq as unconstitutional by 3-2, is no satisfaction, only two judges out of 5 found it ultra vires of my rights as a citizen of my Country.

That bothers me.

This to me was an issue of gender justice, not so much of Muslim or Hindu. If Muslim women won this battle, Hindu and other women are waiting in the wings to challenge many more cultural or religious mores. Whether right to pray or inheritance. The Constitution is more basic than my religious or cultural identity. That’s what I wanted to hear.

Even though it was the right verdict by majority, it didn’t say what I expected it to say in clear unequivocal terms,

THAT WOMEN ARE EQUAL CITIZENS IN THIS COUNTRY AND THEIR RIGHTS ARE PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION.

Thank you Justices Nariman and Lalit.

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When stress is fatal

I found earlier this week that a former colleague, a wonderful kind, gentle and knowledgeable human being, passed away last week. Of a heart attack.

Over the past week, after I shared a post on this on Facebook, I received a few messages from people sharing that they too had themselves suffered a heart attack from severe stress, or knew someone up-close who had gone through this.

I remember that colleague and I talking last year when one of his other team members had died suddenly of a heart attack. He had known that guy well for years and was deeply saddened…mentioned that he had been going through a lot of stress recently…wondering if that had brought on his untimely demise?

The kind of stress that builds up, brings on a heart attack, a fatal one…?

I don’t know what was the cause of his death. But then when I look around, stress is palpable with so many of us. All those sources of what causes stress aren’t going to go away suddenly. But we all need to know that stress needn’t be here to take shelter in our lives.

Let’s hope each of us can do our bit to chisel it away bit by bit – meditate, exercise, yoga, dance, sing, meet, laugh, talk, cry…Help ourselves, and help those around us.

We also need more of us actively reaching out to others for help – be they our family, friends, others in our network or our neighbourhood. Somehow, stress tends to get pushed under the carpet – thinking this shall pass. But how many of us are conscious that it has built up to a stage where it has already caused tremendous harm to us!

I can’t be thankful enough that organizations such as SHB have been tackling this through its Listening Post initiative – a talking space, that recognizes that the simple act of talking, and having someone to listen to you, can be therapeutic. May the tribe grow, and may all of us dealing with stress avail of these services wherever they may be available.

 

Saathi Haath Badhana – A summary of our work

As we complete 2 and a half years, Saathi Haath Badhana(SHB) Social Foundation would like to thank you all, our well-wishers, donors, volunteers and partners for your support over these past years.

We are happy to share with you a summary of our activities over the last couple of years, as we are translating our vision of creating a “Social Wellness space for communities” into a reality, working on three core themes: Compassion, Gender and Life Skills.

 

Listening Post, our first community reach-out, completed 3 years in February and we are happy (not so happy that so many had to walk-in) to say that we have had over 100 walk-ins. We are grateful that our community has reposed its trust and faith in SHB and our volunteers have truly extended themselves in reaching out to individuals who have (at that point of time) needed a soothing ear.

Through our POSH program, we have reached out to corporate organisations in building a positive and professional work environment towards Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at work. We have also reached out with our gender sensitization programs and ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) workshops to corporates in multiple locations.

Gender Sensitization and Sexuality for young adults addresses the need for awareness on gender sensitivity and increasing competence in handling gender diversity amongst young adults. We have reached over 750 students in high schools and colleges in Pune over the last couple of years.

Our Support Program for board exams students/their parents has reached over 200 students and parents through group sessions as well as one-on-one sessions, providing a space for them to share their anxieties, learn a better way to cope and support each other.

Our Smart Phone Assistance program for Senior Citizens  is very popular amongst senior citizens and helps them learn to handle their phones, iPads or tabs better, to help them connect with families, use the internet for financial transactions, shopping or conveyance and in general , cope with the “digital” revolution. Weekly sessions have helped us reach over 80 senior citizens over the last one year.

The Caregiver’s Group helps care-givers get the support they need while caring for someone they love,  which can sometimes be unfamiliar/intimidating or overwhelming. Caring for caregivers is a critical endeavour to nourish our souls.

Many of the above programs which run evenings from our Centre in Aundh are FREE of Cost to the community.

 


In addition, we have conducted a number of Saturday morning workshops on delightful subjects such as “Haiku”, “Serendipity” and “Madhubani Painting” which open up a brief window into a hobby of happiness. We have also focused on workshops to build life skills (“Financial fitness”, “Online Banking”) and coping skills (“Palliative care”, “Awareness on Laws for Indian Women”, “Writing as a therapy” etc.). The idea is to help us learn newer, exciting skills that help us flourish in a world of everyday challenges.

We are happy to announce 2 new programs, one for adolescents/ teenagers and the other a legal cell for Women in distress starting April 2017. We will be sharing details of these programs on our website and on this blog as well.

We have a strong volunteer team and our volunteers are drawn from all walks of life: students, teachers and young entrepreneurs have been volunteering with us for the last couple of years and have brought energy and enthusiasm to all our programs. They are trained and mentored to deliver these services professionally, but with a personal touch. Many of you who have attended these programs have already met them. We are indeed blessed and we hope that our volunteer work-force will increase as we move along. We hope to add professional paid social workers to work with the larger community as we grow.

Do visit our website saathihaathbadhana.org for details of our programs and workshops. Our mailers announcing our plans and new programs will also reach you every month.

Kindly feel free to write back to us at  reachus@saathihaathbadhana.org or call us on 9373339162.

World Health Day – Are we failing our children?

Have you been disturbed by the incidents that you have been reading about in the newspapers?

A young man, 24 years of age, doing his MBA flings himself off from the 19th floor of a five-star hotel in Mumbai. See here.

A young man sets himself off on fire in IIT-BHU, see here. See here

Kota, in Rajasthan has the ignominy of having most suicides of students that the Collector writes a letter to parents. See here

So much so, a student is committing suicide every hour in India. See here.

What ails our students? What ails our society that we fail our young people? Isn’t every suicide a cry of anguish for any parent, teacher or Head of an Educational Institution?

Today is World Health Day and this year’s focus is on Mental Health, particularly on Depression.

A suicide is often the last straw. In the incident in Mumbai, it was his third attempt at suicide. What triggers the suicide is not the issue. Often, an altercation with parents or higher authorities or poor grades is only the visible issue. It is not. There are deeper underlying issues that have been bothering the person for a much longer time and the incident is only the trigger.

Most helplines that function as reach-out spaces for people who have suicidal tendencies or are close to that point of complete helplessness, report that people who call are aware of the difficulties that bother them, are battling with their unique situations, are unable to find solutions to their issues, see no other way out but to seek escape from their position and to choose death.

Depression is a stage you reach when you have been battling life’s challenges for too long. A prolonged battle with the odds is one of the causes of depression. While depression can also be caused by neurological or psychological factors, there are sociological reasons too for people to get into a depressed state of mind.

As younger people get troubled because of academic or social stress, as a community we are withdrawing their vent spaces. Families have become smaller, with no time for each other, schools and colleges come with their own milestones of academic performance with teachers under constant pressures to show results, peer and social pressure to “belong” so much so, that though our youngsters are able to vocalise their anguish, we have nobody to listen.

And where are the listening spaces? The confidential, non-judgmental spaces where one be? Just be? Even hanging out with friends today seems risky for fear of being ridiculed or judged based on what we wear, how we talk. Our sensitive kids withdraw into themselves, afraid of voicing who they are or expressing themselves. They invite parental censure or social disapproval. How are we helping them build self-confidence and faith in themselves to surmount all odds?

We at SHB Social Foundation are highly seized of this issue and need your help in taking some of our initiatives forward. Our Listening Post and Hang out with Art and other initiatives are trying to create barrier free spaces where all are welcome to express themselves.

And we need the community to help support these because we can’t fail our children again.

Appreciate The Goodness In Children

The city is under attack! Cars, Chota Bheem, Kalia and their troupe, super heroes- everyone is running for their life. After almost 5 minutes of panic, there comes Jaggu the monkey atop a shoebox that works as make-believe tower. He announces that he has arrived and there is nothing to worry about. The monster has been captured.

The next instant, I feel a plastic toy tugging at me with a sense of urgency while I am working. I turn around to check what the matter is. Holding the blue toy monkey in his hand, my four year old says “Mumma you are the monster that everyone is running away from. Jaggu is the superhero and he is going to kill you” By the time I react to show how terrified I am of being killed by Jaggu, I see tears running down my little one’s cheeks.

“What happened?” I ask, intrigued by this sudden change of mood. He lets out a loud wail and said “I don’t want to kill you”. I quickly enveloped him in my arms and told him that it was okay to feel bad inside after saying or doing something bad to others. And that it showed he cared for and loved that person- in this case his Mumma. It took me another ten minutes to calm him down until he resumed his play. This time the city was routinely normal and the superheroes were assigned the job of traffic police. After confirming that everything was well with the city, I went back to work.

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But I couldn’t concentrate. I wondered why he played such games, why he used the term ‘killing’ so loosely, why does he think the world needs superheroes. I thought I needed to sit him down and tell him right from wrong. But then I realised I didn’t have to. He had already understood it. He understood good from bad. He knew where he had to draw the line. He figured what was unacceptable. He instantly felt guilty of his thoughts and asked for forgiveness (without being told to). As a parent, should this be enough?

This morning I came across the term ‘emotional development’ in the newspaper. It is the ability to regulate and control ones emotions and to form secure relationships. The article by veteran actor and psychiatrist Mohan Agashe, says that emotional development is not taught in our schools nor at home. Children are left to deal with it on their own as they grow.

While something as delicate a subject as this cannot be ‘taught’, it certainly needs to be internalised. Big words like inclusivity, compassion and equality that we adults talk about are practised by kids too. In the park, when a child is shunned by the others, there is always that one kid who feels bad for him. When a kid falls from her bike, the others rush to help and go tell her mum “Aunty usko lag gayi”. When kids take turns to bring Parle-G biscuits and a dish of milk for newborn kittens in their parking lot. All of these instances must be taken note of. Our role as adults or parents is to pause from our routine and tell the kids that we appreciate their act of kindness. This in itself will go a long way in making the children more humane and thankful of the world around them.

If we are so quick in reprimanding them for their bad behaviour, why not be just as quick to value their good behaviour? What do you think?

Understanding mental illness in India, and the rights of the mentally ill

A few days ago, my fourteen year old daughter was watching a Hindi crime show on television. It showed a lady attempting suicide by jumping off a flyover, when she was stopped just in time by the detective, and she was warned, “Madam, what are you doing? Don’t you know attempting suicide is a criminal offence in India?”

For a moment, I couldn’t decide who looked more confused, the poor lady on the flyover or my daughter, who turned to me to ask why this was a criminal offence. All I could come up with as response was “I know it is a criminal offence, but I don’t really know why. Maybe that’s one way to discourage people from taking their own lives…?”. My response sounded lame, even to my ears. 

When I checked later, I found that while an attempted suicide is illegal in some other countries too, the intent is not to “punish” those who have attempted to take their own lives. Rather it is aimed at enabling the state to intervene so that it can assess the mental state of the person, based on which their treatment can be enforced. Someone who has attempted suicide typically does not (or is not supposed to) get arrested, jailed, and tried for the “crime”. However despite the noble intent of discouraging another suicide attempt, viewing an illness from a criminal lens has felt heartless and impractical. 

Therefore it was heartening to read about the Mental Healthcare Bill 2016, passed by the Indian Parliament this week that has decriminalized attempt to suicide and acknowledges that a person is suffering from mental illness at that time and will not be punished under the Indian Penal Code. The government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person having severe stress, and to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.

It is being hailed as a landmark and progressive bill that addresses many other crucial factors of mental illness in a patient-centric way and aimed at ensuring that the patient’s interest is safeguarded

  • Definition of mental illness – as a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, and mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs. It does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.
  • Rights of persons with mental illness – The Bill addresses crucial aspects such as the right to access mental health care and treatment; free treatment for such persons if they are homeless or belong to Below Poverty Line. And right to confidentiality and to live with dignity and no discrimination on any basis including gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability.
  • Advance Directive – A person with mental illness shall have the right to make an advance directive that states how he/she wants to be treated for the illness and who his/her nominated representative shall be.
  • Mental Health Authority – Set-up a Central Mental Health Authority at national-level and State Mental Health Authority in every State with which all mental health institutes and mental health practitioners including clinical psychologists, mental health nurses and psychiatric social workers will have to be registered.
  • Mental Health treatment – specifics of the process and procedure to be followed for admission, treatment and discharge of mentally-ill individuals.

It is high time that India discusses its mental health issues, and the increased focus of the government on mental healthcare is encouraging. Per the findings from the recent National Mental Health Survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), at least 13.7 per cent of India’s population has various mental disorders; 10.6 per cent of them require immediate interventions.

They survey also points out that India’s urban areas are most affected with mental illness. And urban areas have a higher prevalence of schizophrenia, mood disorders and neurotic or stress-related disorders. This disturbing scenario could be due to fast-paced lifestyles, experiencing stress, complexities of living, a breakdown of support systems and challenges of economic instability. With continuing urbanisation, the burden is expected to rise and hence, there is a need for an urban specific mental health programme.

The survey also says that despite three out of four persons experiencing severe mental disorders, there are huge gaps in treatment. Apart from epilepsy, the treatment gap for all mental health disorders is more than 60 per cent.

Also, due to the stigma associated with mental disorders, nearly 80 per cent of those with mental disorders had not received any treatment despite being ill for over 12 months. Poor implementation of schemes under the National Mental Health Programme is largely responsible for this.

 

These are just some of the survey findings, and if you are interested, please do study the survey findings at http://indianmhs.nimhans.ac.in/Documents/reports/Summary.pdf .

Both the survey and the bill cover many critical aspects to do with gaining insights on the various aspects of the illness and its incidence, and its treatment and care. It is important that we understand these and also appreciate that passing the law is but one step. What is also needed is that we as a society – our caregivers, police, family, educational institutions, workplaces, etc. – are sensitised to the illness, to the rights of the mentally ill, and to taking timely action for their care and treatment.

 

Hello from Singapura!

I am Dipali Ekbote. As a quick intro – I have been a corporate professional with an exciting twenty years in the financial technology industry. I am a mother of two teenagers – a girl and a boy. A keen follower of disruptive developments in fintech, an avid trekker and a passionate believer in encouraging diversity and equal opportunity – these are all some of the topics I cover in my writing. I recently left my full time corporate job. In the past few months since then, among other activities, I write, work with the youth, work with businesses on their go-to-market strategy and execution of marketing programs, and have joined the leadership team at Lean In Singapore, and Women in Tech Singapore as Lead-Marketing and Communication. I also breathe!

A Bombay girl, having been born, and studied and worked there as only a Bombay girl can; I have also been lucky to live, work, and raise a family in the beautiful city of Pune, which is also where I met the wonderful people that got me re-connected with trekking. Pune is also where I met with Janaki at our friendly neighbourhood Twist n Tales, and got to know her over many conversations at her warm bookstore and some over hot filter coffee at her home. Been in Singapore past three years, and getting to understand and soak in this place, beyond its obvious qualities as a tourist attraction and a superbly well-organized country.

A few months ago, at a Lean In Singapore Circle discussion here, one of the younger ladies remarked how useful she found the sharing of various issues, ideas and potential solutions to challenges from the circle discussion. And how despite going through school, college and even MBA, how few conversations take place about the real world issues and life-skill learning and how strongly there’s a need for that. Her’s is not a standalone thought. The more I have engaged in conversations with people – at work, with parents, with youth, with women, with the elderly – the more striking has been the need to encourage more conversations…and more open conversations…on life skills. Some of the topics close to my heart are to do with youth and parenting, aging and the elderly, gender diversity and inclusiveness.

When Janaki discussed about starting this blog based on the “School of Life” philosophy, the idea resonated strongly.  Through this blog, I look forward to engaging with you all and to a great forum to exchange ideas and have conversations.

Dipali