Vidya Bal is a veteran feminist activist who has been struggling to bring down the gender bias that is so entrenched in the Indian society. She started working for the women- centric magazine, Stree and brought about the Nari Samata Manch (Women Equality Forum) in 1982, to fight the evils against women.
With the establishment of the Nari Samata Manch, Vidya Bal and others like her reached out to women who needed help. These women were assured of their anonymity and asked to be vocal about what affected them. There was a realisation that women suffered behind doors as well as outside but tried to hide their emotions as there was no one out there to extend their helping hand.
During the initial years of her rigorous work, she realised that most violence perpetrated on women was for dowry. She and her associates were quite radical in their approach with the harassers, staging protests in public places. Women in their counselling centres were given the freedom to decide as to what kind of reaction or justice they wanted. Even the harassers were invited to discuss the issue in order to deliver a fair decision.
This took a much bigger shape with the focus shifting to a legal battle. As a result of a long struggle on the part of women’s organisations, the government came up with women’s policies. It was a matter of celebration when reservations for women were allowed in decentralised local bodies and municipal corporations.
Bal acknowledges the fact that despite reservations, the males in the family were the real head behind the position that the woman held. The female member was only a puppet at the hands of her husband/ in-laws who laid out dictates she was bound to follow. In fact, the society at large found it quite alright.
While this is a story she narrates of the 90s, the scenario isn’t quite different now. Nonetheless, she finds certain changes quite promising. She states that it wasn’t a common sight to see women unfurling even the national flag let alone taking decision in terms of projects and funds that’s quite common these days.
She believes that the government hasn’t quite done its part to do much for women. In fact, state revenues from sale of alcohol is used to fund women’s programmes. This is such hypocrisy given the fact that violence perpetrated on women is by the drunk male members. Ironically, the government wishes to empower women by promoting sale of alcohol which is responsible for disempowering women.
In May 2015, their organisation founded a centre for men too, in order to help them come up with their problems and seek solutions. In response there were initiatives from the LGBT community as well for raising awareness and support.
We are working on breaking the patriarchal stereotypes. We want to create awareness that it is about being a good human being—and not about being a “feminine woman” or a “manly man.” Only then, we can aspire for an equitable society. —Vidya Bal
She believes there is an urgent need to have the Indian youth understand and be sensitive to gender specific issues. That being supportive of an equitable society, would not effeminate them. What is necessary is striving to become better human beings.