Sahil Sehgal

Soaring high

Terrorism is inspired by insane objectives, motivated by bottomless depths of hatred, instigated by puppeteers who have invested heavily in havoc through the mass murder of innocents. This is war beyond any doctrine, a cancer which must be operated out with a firm scalpel. There is no good or bad terrorism, it is pure evil. Amidst such a horrifying scenario, Niloofar Rahmani, has become Afghanistan’s first female fixed wing military pilot, living out her father’s dream and emerging as a symbol of her country’s revolutionary assent to roles for women outside the home. Now at the age of 23, Capt. Rahmani is facing death threats from both the Taliban and her extended family members for daring to work in the male dominated profession of military aviation. The U.S.-led coalition had publicized Capt. Rahmani’s achievements, helping turn her into one of the faces of the post-9/11 generation of Afghans, those who came of age after the end of Taliban rule. Online photos of the young pilot in her khaki jumpsuit, loose head scarf and aviator sunglasses went viral. Capt. Rahmani flies a Cessna 208 turboprop plane that ferries soldiers to battle—and sometimes brings home their remains. A year ago, she became an aircraft commander. Life has become increasingly difficult for her and her family after the threats. “I really wanted to be in the military. I really wanted to be in the Air Force,” said the aviator, currently one of three female Afghan military pilots. “But I can’t continue like this”, she rues. The fact that she continues to serve daringly despite the fear of consequences, speaks volumes about her courage and valour.

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Zika Virus Causing Malformed Infants in Brazil

Image Source: The Hindu

Image Source: The Hindu

Brazil finds itself struck by a major health crisis as a little known virus, the Zika virus is doing the rounds causing brain damage resulting in babies born with small than usual heads. The virus is believed to be spread by mosquitoes. While the government faces criticism for its late responses, pregnant women across Brazil can be found panicking. These women have been advised to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. In some regions, where mosquitoes are too widely prevalent, the women have been asked to delay having children “if they can wait”.

The number of registered cases of this incurable condition has risen from 167 in 2013 and 147 in 2014 to 2,782 in 2015. The technical term for the disease is microcephaly. Another country hit by this virus from the various Latin American countries is Mexico. Cases have also been registered in USA in travelers that have visited countries where the virus has shown its effect. Resultantly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued an warning over the possibility of the disease spreading across.

The place of origin of the virus is Africa and some researchers say that the virus probably arrived in Brazil at the time of the 2014 World Cup. Another theory is that it arrived with the canoe race through French Polynesian paddlers, which has been another region to have seen a surge in the number of cases recently.

Brazil had already been struggling with dengue before the arrival of Zika, having reported 1.6 million cases as opposed to 569,000 cases of dengue in 2014. With an 80% increase from last year, 839 people have died from dengue in 2015. Health officials believe that weather and rainfall could be another factor, since climate change and its resultant increased temperature makes it easier for them to multiply. Also the increased rainfall has given them increased areas to breed in.

Image Source: V News 24

Image Source: V News 24

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Syria’s Ray of Peace

Courtesy: www.worldbulletin.net

Courtesy: www.worldbulletin.net

In today’s world, for a country to be having a civil strife is common-place news and generally such a conflict is not ephemeral, usually lasting for months and years on end. Watching such news on our respective televisions everyday may not make us raise our brows in despair and shock but being present in such conditions and situations is a different story altogether. Even though countries having a powerful standing in the international arena and other peace-keeping international organizations like the UN have tried to douse down the massive eruptions of violence and vehement protests in such volatile situations, yet they are mostly in vain and to no immediate relief. However, there have been efforts at an individual level and by small and big NGOs and organizations to take the distress into their hands and find solutions to the problems causing the warfare, no matter how short-lived these solutions maybe. One such person who has added to this cause is Majd Izzat al-Chourbaji, a Syrian national, who was born in 1981 in the town of Darayya. Even though the Syrian issue started as a part of the Arab Spring which was a series of revolts and protests against the autocratic governments in the Gulf States, however, this violent tussle won other world players who have only helped in worsening the situation and causing a “war within a war”.

To all those who aren’t specifically abreast with the Syrian conflict, it was a civil war between the President, Mr Assad’s forces, and the “rebels” who demanded democratic reforms after the Syrian government took violent measures to curb the public’s chagrin and dissatisfaction against it’s rule. However, soon both the parties were backed by different countries like Assad’s forces started getting ammunition and oil transfers from Russia and Tehran whereas the rebels were being backed by the Gulf countries and the US, UK and France. Soon enough, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups started taking over parts and pieces of the Syrian land, leading to a chaotic and bloody mess in the state of Syria. This state of affairs has affected the civilians the most and continues to do so, leading to their immigration and rise in their death toll rate day by day.

A Syrian living in Serbia displays a placard on March 16, 2013 during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the center of Belgrade. Courtesy: www.transconflict.com

A Syrian living in Serbia displays a placard on March 16, 2013 during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the center of Belgrade.
Courtesy: www.transconflict.com

To get the political prisoners released, Chourbaji organised sit-ins due to which she was arrested by the police and was brutally treated, causing her several profound injuries. Despite her injuries and the violent treatment meted out against her, she organized peace-building and citizenship workshops among the prisoners and insisted on peaceful and non-violent methods of protest against the regime. She also persuaded 150 women detainees to go on a hunger-strike so as to pressurize the regime to present their cases in a court of law and was released among many others due to her peaceful methods of action. However, she fled to Lebanon along with her three children due to continued surveillance by the security forces. She has not failed to work to help the Syrian people even after she left her country since she established “Women Now” in Lebanon on 2nd January, 2014 as a center to provide assistance and aid to the women refugees of Syria by providing them vocational training and also psychological help to the women and children to help them get over the trauma they suffered in the civil war. These noble and brave-heart efforts of hers won her the International Women of Courage Award in 2015.

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Not just a walk in the park.

To find solace, I went to the nearby park. I had honestly visited this park a million times, never alone but I didn’t think going there alone would be a big deal until today. I finally found the peace, I had to come to look for. As I sat there, listening to songs and waving hi to the kids nearby, I saw a white car cross the park. It had loud songs playing and thus was hard to not notice but I didn’t pay much heed to it. My instincts came up on high alert when the car came around a second time and stopped near the park. I found that to be weird but I brushed it off as nothing. Nevertheless, I made my way out of the park and started walking back to my college. As I moved forward, I heard the same song that was playing in that car once again. My curiosity took over and I turned to see that the same car was now behind me along with another blue car. I breathed a sigh of relief when the cars crossed me and moved ahead but the both stopped a little while after. I continued walking and walked right past them and they moved on only to stop again at some distance. By this time my instincts were flaring so I decided to take a shorter route. I was happy to see the blue car driving away but the white car stayed on my trail for quite some time. As I came near the gate of the college, he stopped his car but I crossed it without showing him any sign of the fear that was rising inside of me. As soon as I crossed him, he started following me again. I quickly retracted to my college, finding relief in the fact that nobody could actually harm me in there.
As I walked to my hostel, I played the whole scene again and regretted going alone in the first place. That’s when I came to my senses and realised that going alone did not seem to be unsafe because it was 1 o clock in the afternoon and the park was situated well within a good residential area. But still I was followed. I still felt a fear inside of me, every time that guy stopped his car.
I will not stop going out or live in fear but what this experience specially made me realise that I might as well be just a girl in a world full of men. I talk about being strong and not letting men control the best of you but when I came face to face with such an experience all I thought was, I need to get out of here safely. All I felt was plain,simple fear in its rawest form.
So to the man that followed me, I would only like to say that I hope that you someday too feel like the way you made me feel and I’m much more than some girl you can bully, I am a women on her way to change society so nobody can make a girl feel the way you made me feel today.

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On the face of it

It is said that the face is the index of mind. It is an integral part of an individual’s identity, personality and sets them apart from the rest of the world. It betrays their deepest emotions, with just a twitch, and their happiness with just one smile. Such is the beauty of the face. It enchants, endears, and amazes. So much so, that nature carefully designed it for each individual to have their own. Custom – made for all. Sometimes, the demons around us take it upon themselves to mar it. The reason may be petty like rejection, disappointment, or humiliation. They retaliate by disfiguring the face of a person. The identity of a person. The attack is not just physical, it’s supremely personal and emotional at the same time. The number of acid attack victims has been steadily rising in the country and is higher now than it was a decade ago. Amidst such a ghastly situation, some of the victims have taken an initiative to help others afflicted with similar brutality. One such group, have set up a cafe for the abused women. The café, situated in Agra, India, aims at gaining acceptance for the victims often shunned by their own society. ‘Sheroes Hangout’, is the cleverly named café run by Lakshmi, Rupa, Chanchal, Ritu, and Sonam, who do everything from cooking and cleaning to accounting and dress designing. Rupa was attacked when she was 15,and the acid melted her skin, burned off her eyebrows, and disfigured her upper lip, leaving her in a coma for six weeks. Devastated by the incident, she has finally gained her confidence back after founding Sheroes. Ritu had to forego her education and volleyball, at which she excelled, to escape from the stigma posed by the society. She too found her self- respect back at Sheroes. Apart from healing from the emotional scars themselves, these women also reach out to other women and help them. Dolly who was attacked by a lovelorn local boy at the age of 14,now does her school work at the cafe, and dreams of studying medicine in the future. They have been told by their customers that they were beautiful before, and are beautiful now. We couldn’t agree more.

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Child Sex Ratio Rises by 5% in Haryana

2015 seemed to be a good year for human rights and women empowerment because according to a report made by Haryana Chief Minister Lal Khattar on Thursday, child sex ratio in the state has increased by 5%. This is another 5% marked increase from the ratio of 2014—846 girls per 1,000 boys. The CM further claimed that efforts would be made to increase child sex ratio above 900.

We appreciate the aims and efforts of the present Haryana government and hope 2016 would bring even more fruit than 2015. Women empowerment is the need of the hour and all must respond, participation of the state authorities being of the utmost importance.

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Report: Women Head 6.67% of Educational Institutes

A report carried out by the Edushine Advisory Group showed that women head 6.67% of the higher educational institutes of India. It reviewed 810 higher education institutions of the country and found that 54 Vice-Chancellors or Directors were female. The report also claimed that women headed 9.8% Central Institutes and 8.61% state universities.

This is definitely good news. It indicates that the powers of progress and development at our work, even thought at the surface, they appear to be working sluggishly. Women all across the country must take inspiration from this and dedicate themselves to achieving fulfilling careers.

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Saudi Arabian Women Vote for The First Time

After centuries of suppression and discrimination, the women of Saudi Arabia have finally got to vote. They took part in the municipal elections held in December, 2015—contesting as both voters and candidates. 978 participated as candidates and approximately 1,30,000 women will got to vote.

This event is another landmark in the careers of those fighting for equality and women rights and we celebrate with them in this moment of history. Female suppression has long been synonymous with middle eastern countries. This occasion is a step in the direction, the destination equality

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India ranks 130 in Human Development Index

It’s good news for India. As per the latest report of United Nations Development Programme(UNDP), India was ranked on the 130th position on the Human Development Index(HDI), having jumped up five places since its 135th rank in 2013.

India’s HDI value for 2014 was calculated at 0.69, placing it under ‘the medium human development category.” Norway was ranked 1st.

HDI is a scale that measures the status of a country according to its life expectancy, literacy rate and per capita income. Currently, HDI is giving ranks to 188 countries.

While it is commendable that India has managed to better it’s standing since 2013, the country has still a long way to go before it can manage to be categorised as a ‘developed nation.’ A rank of 130 out of 188 countries indicates much room for improvement

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Feminism in Mahabharata

India has a rich culture and heritage to boast of. The literary works, dances, music, crafts and handicrafts precede the country in fame. In fact, India was famous for its thinkers, philosophers, scientists and authors even before ‘India’, with all its boundaries, existed! Such is the awe-inspiring work of our forefathers. One of them, is the great epic, the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata was penned down by the wise sage Vyasa, and it recounts the kingdoms of ancient India, and the battles fought between their princes. However, on analysing the text deeply, we find that it’s a saga of romance, greed, lust, malice and tragedy, and most importantly, the concept of ‘the greater good’. Many scholars have reasons to believe, that the epic, which was written roughly around the year, is still very relevant in today’s Kalyuga. The morally grey characters, that refuse to conform to the extreme sides of the spectrum, were miles ahead of their times. Be it the arrogance of the power holder Duryodhana, the literally and metaphorically blind king Dhritharashtra, or the conniving statesman Krishna himself, the characters are as realistic as they can be. The Mahabharata has been the subject of study and scrutiny since time immemorial, and a number of scholars have dedicated their lives to the sole purpose of highlighting the teachings of this epic. Since it is not possible to analyse all of this vast story at once, I have chosen one of the many aspects of the Mahabharata: the unabashed feminism.
Feminism is an important issue in today’s times. The fairer sex has received the shorter end of the stick far too many times. However, things seem to be changing for the better in recent times. Laws safeguarding the liberties of women and providing them equal opportunities to carve a niche for themselves in the world, are being framed in the majority of countries. The feminists and their thinking has taken the world by a wave. This might make one think, that the concept of feminism is a recent one, something which has emerged in the recent past. We, as the descendants of one of the mightiest civilizations of the world, ought to know better. The Mahabharata is brimming with examples of feminism and women defying the male patriarchs to stand for themselves and their rights. I have selected a few such characters from the story, who stand apart due to their sheer bravado and their power to reason.

We start with Satyavati. For those who are unaware, Satyavati was the beautiful daughter of a fisherman, whom the king Shantanu, of Hastinapur, wanted to wed. He was so smitten by her beauty, that he gave no importance to the difference of status and caste between the two of them, which in those times, were important aspects to be considered for an alliance. The bold Satyavati of course, made no mistake in recognising the king’s weakness for her. Where ordinary women would have been flattered beyond measures, by a mighty king’s romantic advances, and would do anything to be his queen, Satyavati was confident of herself and laid down her conditions to wed the king. She made sure that her own son would be the heir of throne by manipulating Devavrata’s affection towards his father Shantanu, and making him step aside, ever so subtly. The entire future of the Kuru clan was changed, by one single stroke by Satyavati. Despite belonging to a relatively lower section of the society, Satyavati was ambitious. She did not give in to the king’s advances easily and made sure she got what she wanted. Another example of her boldness and rationality is when upon the death of her sons, she calls for sage Dwaiapayana Vyasa, to perform Niyoga with her daughters-in law. The practice of Niyoga, was looked down on by many, but that didn’t deter Satyavati from turning to it to save her bloodline. For the longest time after King Shantanu’s demise, Satyavati, with assistance from Devavrata, handled the affairs of the kingdom efficiently and diligently. She was a strong woman, an inspiration to all the feminists today.

Next, we move on to the grand daughter-in-law of Satyavati, Pritha. Pritha was married to the younger grandson of Satyavati, who was also coroneted as the king of Hastinapur, as his older brother was visually impaired. Struck by a curse, her husband decided to forfeit the kingdom and hand it over to his brother, and left the royal palace to live the life of an ascetic in the forest, taking his two wives along. Pritha, was turned from a queen to a forest dweller, almost overnight. Yet, she took the change in her stride, and remained dutiful to her husband. She even shared the secret of her boon with his other wife Madri, who could bear no children, to enable her to enjoy the joys of motherhood. Upon the death of Pandu, her husband, Madri succumbed to her lament and gave her life in the funeral pyre whereas Pritha, with strong resolve, took on the challenge of raising five sons on her own. She never differentiated between her sons and Madri’s, and brought them up with values and morals. Pritha stoop up for her daughter-in-law Draupadi, when her honour was at stake. She questioned her own brother-in-law, the King of Hastinapur himself, about the proceedings of the court that fateful day, when Draupadi was disrobed. She challenged him fiercely, that she shall have her sons pay them back for their insults. Yet, she comforted the queen Gandhari, when their sons were on the opposing sides of the battle of Kurukshetra. Pritha is a personification of motherhood, the one who nurtures and protects, but will become vengeful when her off springs are endangered. She threw caution to the winds and did not hesitate to voice her threats in front of a court full of warriors and came to the aid of her daughter-in-law.

After Pritha, comes the main female protagonist of the epic, Panchali. She was the daughter-in-law of Pritha, and great grand daughter-in-law of Satyavati. The conception of Panchali was a well manoeuvred move by her father, who wanted her to be the reason on destruction of his friend turned foe, Drona. However, Panchali was much more than just a tool of vengeance. She was a fearsome warrior in her own right, intelligent, capable and above all, resolute. She was married to the Pandavas, and loved all five of her husbands equally. Even though the society looked down on women who were married to more than one man, Panchali proved herself to be worthy of respect and admiration by actively participating in her husbands’ political affairs. When her husband Yudhishthira, put her at stake in a game of dice, she questioned his act instead of meekly submitting to his will. She used her and wit and logic, and asked the court, that why is it that a wife, who is the better half of her husband, is put at stake like common property? Why is it that when Yudhishthira had bet himself, and lost the game, has the right to still bet against Panchali? These questions show, that in a predominant male society, a strong female voice had arisen. She argued, and not pleaded, to defend her honour. After the shameful incident of her attempted disrobing, she cursed the Kauravas that they would pay for their acts. Her form became so fearful, that the King had to apologise for his sons’ disorderly conduct and offer her a boon. That’s when Panchali showed her magnanimous avatar, and asked back for her husbands’ titles and lands, and nothing for her own self.
During the Agyaata Vaas in King Virata’s kingdom, Panchali was disguised as one of the queen’s maids. Keechaka, the King’s brother-in-law, tried to have his way with Panchali, who turned to the king for help. This shows that Panchali had a firm belief in the law of the land, and didn’t take matters into her own hands. She was sensible a d mature. Panchali is an embodiment of all the women who have stood up for their rights and have succeeded. She was well aware of her rights and did not hesitate in exercising them. She was a strong, resolute woman, who stood up for herself and others, and yet, was humble and respectful.

An author, while writing a story, generally takes inspirations from his surroundings. The socio-economic circumstances around him, the classes of people whom he interacts with, the physical environment and the emotions that he possesses, can be seen in his or her stories. The fact that Vyasa, who has written the story of Mahabharata, can create such female characters, strongly suggests that feminism was a part of the society back then. Sons and daughters enjoyed equal exposure to the art of fighting, and each had a definite role to play. If the law and order was inefficient, it was changed for better. In conclusion, we are left with a stirring on our minds: if our forefathers had such strong ideas and thoughts about feminism, why have we reverted to a primeval order of thinking? The regressive statements by some of the most prominent faces of the Indian Politics would put Vyasa to shame. Why not learn from the revered Mahabharata, and implement the lessons into our own lives? Who better a teacher, than lord Krishna himself?

With this, I conclude, that the concept of feminism is not new in India, but has been neglected for some time now. Since we look up to the teachings of our ancient gurus, there is no better guide than the Mahabharata to turn to. It has been, and continues to be a source of awe, wonder, and inspiration.

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