Friday, October 7, 2016

Expanding abortion rights for women

Abortions are legal in India. Terms and conditions apply, of course. Married women have had access to abortions since the conception of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. Back then, and even now, it stands as a progressive legislation.

On September 19, The Bombay High Court ruled that imprisoned pregnant women have a right to make motherhood choices. It added that they should not be treated differently from other pregnant women.

There is a lot to cheer for in this judgment as the bench consisting of Justice V.K. Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar state in several places that women have a right over their bodies and thus abortion is a right. The common piece of information being circulated from the judgment in the media is: Women in different situations have to go for termination of pregnancy. She may be a working woman or homemaker or she may be a prisoner, however, they all form one common category that they are pregnant women. They all have the same rights in relation to termination of pregnancy.

The court after considering the Rules in the Maharashtra Prisons Manual went on to examine the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP). The Court while doing so has differentiated between women suggesting that married women (who as per MTP can undergo abortions) can even be expanded to include women in live-in relationships. However, in the same judgment the Court also suggests: A woman irrespective of her marital status can be pregnant either by choice or it can be an unwanted pregnancy.

It is unclear if the decision of the court was limited to married women because the MTP only deals with abortions for married women. In this reading, one can see the negotiation to expand the right to abortions to all women but couching it within our understanding of pregnancy being relevant only to married women or women in long-term relationships. This patriarchal idea is echoed in the newly passed legislation with respect to surrogacy as well.

Though the judgment helps us progress towards better abortion laws, we still need to advocate for a legislation that accords abortion rights to women irrespective of their marital status.

Additional reading:-

Gautam Bhatia on a few unanswered questions:

Nandita Saikia voices concerns on the law:

Monday, July 25, 2016

When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The most challenging time for our field staff is when we encounter deep-seated cynicism of the service providers, be it the health workers, anganwadi workers or the school teachers. With the school teachers the cynicism arises from a) a perception that the students are dumb and are not interested in studies b) from disenchantment that nothing can be done better than what is being done currently in the circumstances c) distrust of the NGOs and corporates who are seen as coming and doing something for a day or two with no long term association or impact.

Bade Sir of Zilla Parishad School Vehlonde, epitomised such cynicism and refused to permit the Population First (PF) team to conduct the five-day School In Development (SID) programme in the school. This was despite the fact that we were invited by the village education committee members and other teachers of the school, Waghire Sir and Jadhav Sir to conduct the SID programme in the school. They got to know about the initiative at the orientation programme conducted by PF for the service providers. It was unanimously agreed by the committee members and teachers that the SID programme would help promote better hygiene and sanitation practices in the village.

It was only on the intervention of Mrs. Jatal, the Kendra Pramukh, that Bade Sir allowed the team to interact with the students. Forty students from class V, VI, and VII were selected to be trained as Vikasdoots or Messengers of Development.

The five-day SID programme was always transformational for the children who were given hygiene and sanitation messages through a number of group and fun activities. For instance, all the children were asked to clip the nails of their family, friends, and neighbours and bring the nails so collected to the session. All the nails were then soaked in a transparent bowl to demonstrate how much mud they carried. An equally interesting activity was the hand washing demonstration with only water and then with water and soap. The activities are full of fun and make the children realise the importance of good hygiene practices for good health. 

Students running their election campaign seen with their symbols for election in Bal Panchayat.
The village and school mapping exercises for identifying areas which are insanitary like garbage dumps, stagnant water pools, slushy surroundings of the wells etc. helps the students mark out  the trouble spots for action.

Live demonstration of water treatment with Medichlore and good water use practices helps them promote the same in their villages and houses. Each child, thereafter, takes the responsibility of monitoring hygiene, sanitation and water use practices in five households. 

The group of Vikas Doots cheers at the end of the training.  They are set to take action on sanitation and hygiene conditions.
Identifying the emerging leaders and giving them on a rotation basis the responsibility to ensure timely attendance in the class, cleaning and decorating the class room and documenting the activities of the day helps them over come their fears and inhibitions and take proactive role, be it cleaning the class rooms and school premises, or the approach road to the school and their neighbourhood.

Helping them understand the local self government system, the role of the village committees and also enabling them to contest and participate in the formation of a Bal Panchayat – a cabinet of elected students. The Bal Panchayat is constituted through an election process where they file their nominations, canvass for votes and win elections to become office bearers of various ministries builds immensely their leadership and communication skills making them the real messengers of inclusive and people-centric village development.

It is this transformation in children, of this school in a remote tribal village, which changed Mr. Bade into a supporter of AMCHI and its village level initiatives.

While he did not come even once to see the training on the first day, from second day on he started making rounds to the training hall and by fourth day, when the election process was explained and conducted in the school, he was completely drawn into the training. He was amazed to see the students fully involved in the training and enjoying it so much. They were learning and demonstrating what they had learnt.

Bade Sir expressed his opinion on the last day. He said that PF team conducted the training with a lot of involvement and considered each student as its own. The students too reciprocated with involvement, creativity and enthusiasm. Such trainings should happen again and again. He was very happy with the initiative. That is the reward we cherish as it reflects hope, positivity and a desire to change and that we can bring about change if only we know how to be in a sharing and nurturing mode.

The students were equally generous in their praise of AMCHI team and shared their plans to work on sanitation, hygiene and health of the community. The teachers were touched by their enthusiasm and energy.

Later, when PF organized an educational tour to Mumbai for the students in February 2016, Bade Sir took the lead and guided students to be in groups and manage all the tasks required to be done during the trip. He appreciated the planning and execution of the trip by PF.

Now the students are getting involved in planning and executing hygiene and sanitation projects in the community and in the school.  Till April 2016, the students have constructed nine soak pits and five compost pits in the villages.

Vikas Doots have cleaned the area around the common tap and  made provision  for waste water disposal.
They regularly organise the Bal Panchayat meetings in which teachers also participate. They water the plants in the school premises and clean the premises regularly. They organise rallies to spread hygiene and sanitation messages in the community. Constructing a vermi-compost pit in the school is being planned and the Teachers have promised to guide them in their activities.
The SID programme changes the way children perceive hygiene and sanitation issues and reduces their tolerance to unhygienic and insanitary behaviours. By providing them the required skills in leadership, communication and team work they are being transformed into Vikasdoots and their activities really speak louder than any endorsement by us.


Soak-pit constructed by the students keeps the area free of waste water.