By Joanna Reid
On National Women’s Day and the Hindu holiday, Holi, Wednesday, March 8, Dr. Ranjana Kumari spoke about her first-hand experiences with activism for women’s rights and shared her knowledge on gender equality. She was invited to speak about the fight for women’s empowerment in India by Levermore Global Scholars (LGS) and the students as a part of the Bhisé Global Learning Experience (who studied abroad in India). About 30 people were in attendance.
Kumari is the director for the Centre for Social Research and a chairperson for Women Power Connect, two nonprofit organizations in India. She is also the author of several books, one of which is, “Brides Are Not For Burning: Dowry Victims in India,” about married women who were driven to suicide. Kumari also helped to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill in India, which gave women a third of seats in the lower house of Parliament.
Katie Laatikainen, who hosted the lecture and led the Bhisé Global Learning Experience, stated, “The LGS program was pleased to be able to sponsor the lecture by Ranjana Kumari who has fought for decades to improve the position of women in India. Through the support of the Bhise Global Learning Initiative, we were able to invite Ms. Kumari to visit Adelphi at the intersection of two holidays, the Indian holiday of Holi, which focuses on the triumph of good over evil, and International Women's day. We were fortunate to get a global perspective on the ongoing fight for gender and women's equality.”
Amanda Franstedt, a senior finance major who traveled with the Bhisé Global Learning Experience and was at the event, felt that Dr. Kumari’s lecture was beneficial. “I had already met Dr. Ranjana Kumari briefly in India and knew of her impact from the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi. Her perspective of looking at all women as strong as opposed to oppressed under patriarchal standards is also something that stuck with me.”
Kumari began her talk, which took place in the Ruth S. Harley University Center, by explaining that Women Power Connect is the first lobby organization to work with Parliament in India. It also works with 1,600 organizations from all over the world.
“Slowly women have come together in India and fought against many kinds of discrimination, inequality, oppression and also different forms of exploitation women have gone through,” she said, adding that women from all over India, all a part of the Centre for Social Research, worked to organize groups of women from all parts of society.
“Unless we are able to mobilize them [women] and bring them into understanding the discrimination it’s very difficult to change society,” she said.
Soon Women Power Connect began focusing on expanding education to women. Education for all in India became a fundamental right in 2009 under the Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Since the 1970s, access to education in India has expanded significantly.
Kumari believes it’s important to recognize intersectionality when it comes to discrimination. “You cannot say these are the women; it’s a cross section of women,” she said. She explained that women who are from marginalized communities are more likely to face exploitation and violence than those who are educated or wealthy. “It’s important to include women from all different backgrounds and ask how we can really extend our hand of support towards them.”
After Kumari completed her doctorate in political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, she focused on women’s leadership. She pushed to get women in policy making. She knew if women could get in these positions, change would be more likely to come.
“And to our surprise in 1993, we got a law changed… and this was the Constitutional amendment, which is called [the] 33% reservation bill.” This law expects at least 33 percent percent of seats in the lower house of Parliament be filled by women. “Now 1.8 million have gotten into elected positions [at the local level].”
However, Kumari said the law has yet to be passed and applied to the upper house of Parliament as well, so she discussed her experience at attempting to pass the same bill.
“We all worked hard to draft the bill. We went across the country, organized regional, local, national conferences to get the real sense of what women want. The bill was drafted and presented to the Parliament. This was the only bill ever in the history of Parliament, which was torn [by the officials working in the Parliament],” she said.
Kumari recalled sitting in the lobby of the Parliament house with other women, wearing black in protest. “We see all that drama inside the Parliament, and it of course it so happens that the bill could not be passed.”
Kumari concluded by telling the audience that, “patriarchy is not only an Indian system. Women have to engage men in conversations and question who has given them the right to oppress women? When you engage yourself in dialogue things start changing. We have to believe in change… things will change and are changing now.”