‘You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching’

April 8, 2014 at 11:02 PM | Posted in When the older get bolder | Leave a comment

logo_172x100FIRST STIRRINGS: Shovana Narayan

FINDING an unusual retired woman civil servant proved to be a challenge. Some have achieved high visibility but I needed a compelling story, not a list of achievements. And then the name of Kathak maestro Shovana Narayan, recipient of Padma Shri (1992) and until 2011 a full-time member of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, came to mind! And the cherry on my story would be her marriage to Herbert Traxl, an Austrian diplomat. To have fulfilled three pursuits–dancer, officer and diplomat’s wife–concurrently, and without a crinkle of controversy, would certainly make an unusual story.

The questions were obvious: What led her to dance and what drove her to excel? How difficult was it to manage two professional careers as a classical dancer and as a member of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service? Did marriage and long periods of separation affect the couple’s relationship?


Shovana calls herself a “plodder” and attributes her success to two factors—hard work and determination. Looking at her family background, that may not be entirely true. Although she may not have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she certainly had bells on her toes before, as a toddler, she got shoes!

Shovana was greatly influenced by her mother and the atmosphere in which she grew up. She belonged to an enlightened Bihari zamindar family where two influences were at work.

On the one hand, mehfils and kavisammelans were a constant feature in the household. On the other, a strong sense of nationalism was infused in the older generation. Shovana’s maternal grandfather, Bapu Shyama Charan, and two of her uncles lost their lives in the freedom struggle. Her grandfather was the first Indian to be jailed as a part of the nationalist movement in Bihar. Her mother was a close associate of Indira Gandhi and connected with the All India Congress Committee.

When Shovana had hardly started to walk, her mother—herself a product of the Benares Hindu University and a music-lover—took her to Sadhona Bose, a prominent dancer-actress of the 1950s. Shovana’s initiation into dancing began right then, when the diva held her tiny feet and thumped them to the reverberation of ta thai that tat—sounds that were destined to resonate in Shovana’s ears for the rest of her life. A 1957 black-andwhite photograph shows six-year-old Shovana with her little chest bearing an array of medals and an even larger shield alongside.

The government house in Bharti Nagar where her parents lived was visited by famous singers and musicians, including Bhimsen Joshi and Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Once she was a little older, Shovana’s mother took her to the Sangeet Natak Academy and the Bharatiya Kala Kendra for coaching. It was here that the young girl was initiated as a pupil of Birju Maharaj, who accepted his new pupil but did not appear impressed by her studious looks. She was handed over to a senior student who took her under his charge. But even Birju Maharaj could not ignore the girl’s persistence and doggedness. Reluctantly at first, Birjuji became aware of his pupil. The rehearsals were gruelling and became more and more demanding as time went by.

Even as this tutelage continued, Shovana pursued her education. Her good performance in science led her to join Physics Honours at Delhi University. Hardly a winning combination for a dancer, but Shovana was made of sterner stuff. With a Physics Masters under her belt, she secured a CSIR junior research fellowship for solid-state physics, a pursuit which could not be further removed from classical dance!

AS Shovana started accompanying Birju Maharaj onstage, it gave her extraordinary exposure and high visibility; but a dancer does not emerge into her own until she can command a solo performance accompanied by her own musicians. The first such opportunity arose in 1971 at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Bombay. It was there that she got a chance to test her talent for connecting with the audience and to face the distinction between the theory and practice of dance. As she performed what she had rehearsed so many times before, she sensed that the audience was getting restive. It was a desperate moment for her and one that needed a quick response. In that moment, beset with forebodings about what loomed ahead as a maiden failure, she learnt a universal truth: every performing artiste must inevitably discover the untaught technique of stagecraft—and quite literally dance to the tune of those who care to listen and watch. It became the turning point of her independent dancing career as she whirled round and round, faster and faster, pirouetting to a perfect finish and a resounding applause.

Shovana’s reputation as a gifted danseuse soared from then on. But it was her first tour abroad which actually catapulted her into the international limelight. Performing the role of Kapalkundala, the whirlwind female fiend of mythology, she bared her teeth and spread her nails reminiscent of eagle claws before whirling herself frenziedly across the stage. There was tumultuous applause as the curtain came down. On her return to Delhi, the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan were opened for the first time—the ultimate State recognition. Thereon, her audience comprised visiting heads of State and foreign dignitaries— Prince Charles, Lord Mountbatten, President Kenneth Kaunda and President Jimmy Carter. Later, in 1982, at Moscow she danced before Indira Gandhi and President Brezhnev. It was here that an infatuated guest broke the security cordon, simply to shower flowers at her feet.

Meanwhile, in 1975, Shovana had appeared for the civil services and had been selected for the Indian Audit and Accounts Services. She proudly recounts how at certain stages of her official career, particularly in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, she handled double and triple charges to cushion an acute shortage of officers. Throughout a 35-year-long career and thanks to the advice of the doyenne of culture, Kapila Vatsayan, Shovana scrupulously avoided postings which had anything to do with the world of culture. Even so, combining official life with Kathak was like performing a trapeze act day after day. While working hours could be devoted to office, rehearsals and performances had perforce to be fitted into the early mornings and evenings.

SHOVANA realised early enough that she had to be scrupulously punctual as the slightest laxity could jeopardise her dancing career. The prevailing mindset expected 24-hour commitment from an officer and hobbies and extra-curricular pursuits of a serious kind were considered a waste of time. The only way to sustain her dancing schedules was to lead a double life and do it as quietly as possible. Shovana left office on time and drove directly to the auditorium every day—her costume, accessories, ghungroos and musical instruments crammed into the back seat.

Despite following a gruelling schedule, t was abundantly clear that she would not be taken seriously either as a civil servant or a classical dancer, if one world heard of the other. While she crossed the career hoops on schedule, this was often attributed to her prominence as a dancer. Cultural organisations considered non-khandani artistes as interlopers and her other role as a stodgy bureaucrat would not have endeared her to them. Shovana, therefore, had to maintain discretion by never revealing one world to the other. To add to her chagrin, her success as a dancer was often attributed to her European diplomat husband, who was credited with opening doors for his wife! That he lived thousands of miles away from India and had his own career to pursue never stopped tongues wagging.

Throughout a 35-year-long career and thanks to the advice of the doyenne of culture, Kapila Vatsayan, Shovana scrupulously avoided postings which had anything to do with the world of culture. Even so, combining official life with Kathak was like performing a trapeze act day after day

Indeed, her marriage to Traxl, an Austrian diplomat, is a story in itself. In 1979, a fortune-teller predicted that she would soon be marrying a non-Indian. That December, Shovana met Herbert. What followed was a longdistance courtship and the dilemma of deciding whether to give up the civil service, her dancing career, her family life in Delhi and follow her Austrian husband-to-be around the world. As she puts it, it was Herbert’s sincerity and goodness that vanquished all her doubts and they got married in 1982. Bhupinder Prasad, Shovana’s batchmate who registered the marriage, recalled the various wedding ceremonies and also recounted a rather tragic story and the courage her dancer friend had shown. Shovana’s father had been killed in a railway accident and it was left to the eldest daughter to single-handedly unearth his mangled body from a mass of corpses.

On the few occasions that Shovana lived with her husband in Europe, she did manage to get a ringside view of Western music and dance. This enabled her to start collaborations, which culminated in an extraordinary repertoire of fusion dance that blended Kathak with Western ballet, the Spanish flamenco and the
American tap dance.

In 1992, Shovana was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to dance. Her regret was that her mother who had given her all the opportunities to excel was by then no more. She missed her mother’s presence at the ceremony and the emotional upheaval she experienced engulfed her once more when she received the Sangeet Natak Academy Award a few years later

No story would be complete without a word from Shovana’s husband. I skyped Ambassador Traxl in Vienna and asked him how he fell in love with Shovana. He laughed and told me:
“Initially I was intrigued by Shovana’s rare talent for dancing, combined with the career of a senior civil servant. What puzzled me even more was that she had a Masters in Physics which made her a unique combination of science, art and civil service. I got to know and admire her more and more, but one thing was clear: Shovana needed her environment in Delhi. If I uprooted her, I would be taking away what made her happy. So we decided to live as we have done. A strong relationship does not depend on physical proximity, it needs trust and understanding.”

Receiving the Padma Shri from President R Venkataraman in 1992

Receiving the Padma Shri from President R Venkataraman in 1992

IN 1992, Shovana was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to dance. Her regret was that her mother who had given her all the opportunities to excel was by then no more. She missed her mother’s presence at the ceremony and the emotional upheaval she experienced engulfed her once more when she received the Sangeet Natak Academy Award a few years later.

All through their courtship and married life and as long as they pursued individual careers, Shovana and Herbert lived on different continents. They bridged the gap by exchanging audio cassettes with each day’s highs and lows, long before Skype became a reality. A five-year posting which brought Herbert as Ambassador to India was a reward for having lived separately for years. Shovana gives full marks to her husband for what she calls his “ego-less frictionless self” without which her marriage and dancing career would have been on the rocks.

Shovana married Herbert Traxl in 1982

Shovana married Herbert Traxl in 1982

Their time together was not without lighter moments. On a visit to Mauritius, Herbert was met on the tarmac by an official from the Protocol Department of the Foreign Ministry. Shovana followed her European ambassador husband, clad in a sari. When the officer noticed Shovana tagging along, he asked her to go back and join others in the arrival hall. It was only then that the Austrian Ambassador informed him, “That’s my wife.” “Are you sure, Sir?” was the response!

AS Shovana puts it, to be married to a diplomat was like being married to a gypsy. Her husband had selected postings as near Delhi as possible, which gave the choice of Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Yemen, Djibouti (Iran) and Thailand, with accreditation to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Two years after they were married, Shovana became pregnant, which presented a new dilemma—in the world of dance there is great insecurity and an absence to handle maternal responsibilities could have grounded her dancing career, making a comeback far from easy.

The proud mother: Shovana with son Ishan

The proud mother: Shovana with son Ishan

Shovana continued to dance till the end of the fifth month when the bulge began to show. Forebodings about abnormalities kept gnawing at her, but no gynaecologist would certify anything. When she was 34 years old, she gave birth to a boy, who grew up sharing nine months of the year with his mother and three months alternating between his Indian and Austrian grandmothers.

As the years passed, complex questions arose: Which language should the boy speak in? Where should he be brought up? Where should his schooling take place? The solution left the little boy in Vienna with a grandmother and two aunts and an Indian maid servant’s son, Chotu, 13 years older than him, as a playmate. What longing and yearning must have visited mother, father and child can only be imagined. I spoke to Ishan, now 28, with two Masters in Economics and Law under his belt. I asked him whether he felt the pangs of separation and whether he hated the pity that must come his way. His answer was measured, but cool: “By the age of 8, I understood very well why my parents stayed in different countries. Once I knew the reason, I accepted it and never felt sorry for myself. No one in Vienna ever pitied me; they were interested in how I was doing, nothing more.”

In the 1990s, what had sounded like a charmed life, suddenly changed. Shovana noticed that her face was getting very dark and had begun to peel, even bleed. The condition spread to the neck and despite undergoing every conceivable medical treatment, nothing worked. It just got worse. Around the same time, Shovana also suffered a hairline fracture, tedious for anyone but critical for a dancer. And then the final blow came in 2000, when she awoke with the loss of peripheral vision in both eyes, akin to wearing blinkers all the time. At a functional level, her condition forced a dependency on drivers. Far worse than that, Shovana was destined to hide behind layers of make-up to conceal the discolouration. Remarks about her heavily powdered face were hurtful and continue even today. Reba Som, a music academic and a friend of Shovana’s, told me:

“What Shovana has been through could have sent her into despair and depression. It could have ended her dancing career, to say the least. But the way she has faced up shows her detachment from her outward beauty while her attachment to dance continues. It is a blessing of sadhana. Whenever I think of Shovana, I think of her brilliant smile. It is not a façade behind which she hides. Behind that smile, there is enormous depth that enables her to talk easily about her situation with no rancour or self-pity. It is remarkable.”

The last five years of a 35-year-long career in the civil service gave Shovana the opportunity she needed before retirement—association with the organisation of the Commonwealth Games as Special Director General, directly involved with the delivery of the opening and closing ceremonies. Indeed, the life of this unusual woman can be summed up with a memorable quote:

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
-William W. Purkey


Health policy rethink

April 4, 2014 at 1:08 PM | Posted in Demography, Fertility, Family planning, Population, Gender/Women's Rights | Leave a comment

deccan logoThe challenge is to contrast the cost with the advantages of introducing strategies that could transform lakhs of lives.

Whatever may be the complexion of the next government, three areas of health policy require urgent rethinking. All three depend upon changing human behaviour which is often a bigger challenge than finding resources. But given the dramatic extent to which a few initiatives can better lives and reduce investments on health, the implication of continuing to function incrementally needs examination.

First there is the issue of fertility and here one refers to quality, not numbers. Fortunately by now, nearly half the country has achieved replacement levels of fertility. But Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together account for a third of the country’s annual 27 million births, would need another 15 years to reach there. And while the picture is somewhat better in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, these states too will need another decade to contain fertility.Pushing up the first birth to after the mother is 20 can bring a 50 per cent reduction in maternal mortality. It will allow the mother-to-be to overcome malnutrition and anaemia which predispose her to birth underweight, malnourished and sickly children. The expectation that trickle-down from economic growth will percolate and boost their health is unlikely, given fresh health findings.

A recently published Lancet survey which covered 36 low and middle income countries has shown that economic growth (GDP) makes little difference to child under-nutrition. That is precisely why demographers and economists need to demonstrate the implications of allowing generations of children to be born too early, only to become victims of malnutrition, infirmity and even stunting, wasting and poor mental development.

But this is far from easy. Rural mindsets favour early marriage and childbearing soon thereafter. To some extent mandatory registration of marriages will oblige more and more families to wait until a girl is 18 years of age. Although a welcome development, it will not address the issue of malnutrition and anaemia which afflict adolescent girls, leaving them in poor shape to bear healthy children.

Apart from the need to encourage postponement of the first childbirth to after 20, there is also a need to focus on spacing between children. WHO studies show that in rural areas, mortality is highest among infants born within a year, and the risks are progressively lower when followed by a gap of two, three and four years. Every encouragement needs to be given to spacing between children by persuading women at risk and their well-wishers to understand the need for longer birth intervals. Condoms and pills are known to have too many imponderables and when overall contraceptive use is less than 19 per cent among 15 to 24-year-olds, alternatives must be accessible.

Space births

In China, 40 per cent of the contraception is managed through IUDs (intrauterine device.) In Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran and Sri Lanka the use of IUDs and injectables – both for spacing and limiting births – helped lower fertility years ago. In India, female sterilisation still accounts for 72 per cent of all contraceptive methods although it is an outmoded strategy. No other country promotes it so widely. The economic gains from widening newer contraceptive use among adolescent and young women needs to be calculated and tools that are reliable and trouble-free offered to them. The second policy area which needs urgent attention is the high incidence of oral cancer. The Union health ministry statistics show that 50 per cent of cancers among men and 25 per cent of cancers among women are related to tobacco use.

According to ICMR, the direct and indirect costs of three major tobacco related diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic lung disease total 25 per cent of all public spending. Deaths caused by tobacco use are responsible for more fatalities than those caused by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined. Although excise duties on smoked tobacco have increased, they do not affect the unbridled consumption of non-smoking tobacco – a huge contributor to oral cancer. The ultimate solution lies in phasing out tobacco cultivation. But unless the costs of cancer treatment are juxtaposed in economic terms with the “gains” from tobacco cultivation, including the employment it generates, the agriculture and labour ministries and tobacco growing states will evade conversion to alternative crops.

The third policy area relates to the growing incidence of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes which are ballooning in urban areas. Much of this has to do with high salt, fat and sugar intake, besides sedentary lifestyles. Occasional awareness campaigns and admonitions from doctors are not capable of commanding the lifestyle changes needed on a massive scale. Disincentives, higher duties and health warnings on product labels have succeeded substantially elsewhere in the world. We have to calculate the dangers of soft handling because society will pay the price.

Who should do it? Discouraging early wedlock and pregnancy will only be pushed by health bureaucracies, if chief ministers champion the need to lower fertility and thereby promote women’s and children’s health. Phasing out tobacco cultivation will need sustained leadership from a prime minister who alone can drive three powerful but reluctant ministries- finance, agriculture and labour to understand the urgency to depart from tobacco cultivation.

Finally, meddling with the consumer’s right to satiate his palate will be considered political hara-kiri. Yet finance and health ministries in progressive countries are helping citizens to alter life-styles. The challenge is even greater among Indians who value extra-fattening foodstuffs as a mark of big-heartedness. Surely, a combination of public health researchers and micro economists can contrast the cost of doing business as usual with the advantages of introducing strategies that could transform lakhs of lives. And at nominal cost.

Birds of a feather sit together

March 12, 2014 at 2:55 PM | Posted in Gender/Women's Rights | Leave a comment


Unless women show confidence no one will show respect.

On International women’s Day I write this to encourage women professionals to show solidarity -by not getting cowed down by male bluster. This is not another “anti-male gripe of frustration” but a quiet lesson to ponder over. What I am recounting is based only partially on personal observation. A lot is founded on academic research into men’s and women’s behaviour patterns which have been studied for decades (including in western settings.) The sole purpose of the article is to make women understand that the biases, prejudices and stereotypes continue to exist even in the most urbane and sophisticated settings and if these are to be overthrown, women and only women can do it.

Women’s Seating preferences

Consider some findings from discussion groups when participants from both sexes are present. Invariably women bunch-up together at one end of the table. An odd woman may sit sandwiched between two men but by and large women tend to flock together, something which is quite apparent. When seats in the front row are limited, women tend to sit in the second row but usually near other women. On long tables they seldom venture to occupy a chair next to the Chairman, even if a seat is vacant.

Women’s politeness seen as timidity

When the floor is thrown open for questions and comments, two things can be observed: first, men are first to speak. Second, women speak in fewer numbers and clamp down the minute they are interrupted. Women tend to phrase a comment like a question making it sound like a doubt – not a statement. They accept a brusque Chairman asking, “So what’s your question? Come to the point,” by promptly ending whatever was being said. This never happens when a man speaks – not only does he finish what he is saying, but usually takes a disproportionately long time to do so. And except when it becomes really tedious, no one stops a man from rambling on.

In hundreds of meetings I have attended, the amount of time given to men far exceeds the time given to women. When a woman’s hand goes up and the Chairman says, “Sorry no more time for questions,” she dutifully puts her hand down; but every man who had raised his hand at exactly the same moment manages to be heard. Sometimes a man, who never put his hand up initially, suddenly intrudes, but even so he is accommodated!

Classroom behavior of women students

And this trend is not confined to only senior professionals. I quizzed numerous academics about classroom behaviour and this is what I learnt: really knowledgeable women students who perform exceedingly well in examinations and interviews however choose to stay quiet in co-educational settings. It is almost as though they feel, “maybe there is more to be said on the subject; maybe what I know is not enough; maybe the class will not agree.” On the other hand all academics agree that men are decidedly more competitive and even with little reading assert their opinions with enormous self-assurance.

Women in male settings

Among the many groups that I have joined, I belong to one where I happen to be the only woman. Whenever we meet, I find that my male colleagues are keen to be chivalrous, to compliment me on my clothes; also to build me up as some kind of prima donna. Two things then follow almost automatically. The task of ordering the food is, without exception delegated to me as though that is always a woman’s job. The order for drinks is however a purely male thing and (although I do not crave the job,) alcohol preferences are conveyed only by men. This is not to invent new stereo-types but to show how women’s roles are perceived, even in professional settings.

When it comes to conversation, one or the other in the predominantly male group will start by narrating a story in which our man always comes out as courageous, resourceful and a winner. No man ever shares a confidence about domestic ups-and- downs, impossible children, difficult colleagues, impertinent subordinates or even a spat which took place on the way. (This all women will bear out is staple diet when women meet other women.) Men’s stories invariably describe some sort of one-up-man-ship like clinching a big deal e.g. buying a house, a car or the latest computer gizmo. The effort is to project oneself as knowledgeable, inventive and smart. And this when it is invariably the woman who has done extensive back-end research, exercised a considered choice and even negotiated the deal!

During my forays into a man’s world, the moment I start becoming assertive the response is always the same. The tone becomes patronizing and I get lectured to – much in the tenor used for very young children. If I stick to my point, it ceases to be a conversation. A buzz starts somewhere else in the group effectively drowning whatever I was trying to say. And if I still persist with my point, a couple of male colleagues will put me down collectively – not rudely- but with insufferable condescension-without even hearing what I had to say! On these occasions, I have discovered that forceful speaking is the only way and to be taken seriously, one simply has to behave like men do and forget about being liked. More of that later.

Women in social gatherings

In social gatherings like cocktail parties or dinner get-togethers, not only do professional women gravitate and sit together but just in case it becomes a mixed group, the roles get typified very quickly. As long as the banter remains gossipy, frothy and hilarious it is the women who command the conversation. But dare you start giving opinions on politics, cricket or investments, conversation quickly gets stultified and either the men start talking among themselves or wander off for a drink. A woman who persists is seen as entering unknown territory – to the point of getting chided by fellow women. “Oh come on yaar, stop talking to the men-don’t neglect your food, I have slaved all morning cooking it!”

The point of all these stories is to show that women themselves need to reverse this trend, without losing feminine cool and inborn graciousness.

The message I wish to give is this:

  1. Make it a point to go and sit with the men even if it looks odd. Try and sit as near the Chairman as possible which is what determines seniority and stature.
  2. Be the first to put your hand up and encourage more women to join and support each other.
  3. Think through what you are going to say and do not allow yourself to be put down by interruptions or condescension.
  4. Be upfront just when you start speaking: “I will not be able to raise my voice so please be gracious enough to let me speak without interruption.”
  5. If someone still interrupts, just say, “Since I have waited so long, now please give me a few moments.” It works with TV anchors and will work for every woman if she just says it- in front of an audience. It puts everyone on the defensive and thereafter no one will dare disrupt you. (But keep it short- always more effective.)
  6. And should anyone still butt in, say loudly but very slowly, “Excuse me I was speaking,” and just listen to the silence around you. Having started, persevere. Don’t let your voice fade into the afternoon. That’s worse than never having opened your mouth.

Here’s wishing every woman who reads this blog a wonderful International Woman’s Day. Today, show solidarity with other professional women, take a vow to be assertive, to help other women to be assertive and refuse to take crap in the classroom, in the office, in the sitting room or in the club. Sit along with the men. Have something important to say. Insist on being heard and say it all.

Unless women show confidence no one will show respect.

India’s high fertility: The myths and the reality

March 6, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Posted in Demography, Fertility, Family planning, Population | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,


This article attempts to uncover widespread assumptions about women’s fertility, contraception and the role that religion plays in birth control. The good news is that 44 per cent of the population living in 21 states and UTs has already achieved replacement levels of fertility. Kerala and Tamil Nadu achieved this more than a score of years ago.


Population stabilisation efforts in the rest of the country are of relatively recent origin but none-the-less commendable. The added good news is that the increase in contraceptive prevalence has been larger and faster among illiterate and uneducated women than those with schooling.

According to the International Institute of Population Sciences (EPW Arokiasamy 2009), more than two fifths of the reduction in Total Fertility Rate country-wide is attributable to illiterate women. The study calls it “remarkable demographic behaviour which has given significant direct health benefits to women and children — almost equal to what educational improvement has done for progress in human development.”

Now some disappointments: States which continue to lag behind are the same — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan — some 284 problem districts account for nearly half India’s population and 60 per cent of the yearly births countrywide.

Among 18 to 24-year-old couples the contraceptive prevalence rate is not even 19 per cent. In many districts it is as low as 10 per cent. According to NFHS -3 and the latest Annual Health Survey, in Bihar more than half the women in the child bearing group are not using any family planning method.

Ideally one should wait for the unravelling of the 2011 Census data and the results of NFHS- 4 to see the extent of improvement but both reports are expected only in a year or two.

Even so, lessons that existing reports provide will only get updated — certainly not set aside.

In India, female sterilization continues to be the most dominant method of birth control even though women overwhelmingly favour non-invasive options. In the absence of tools that do not depend on partner-co-operation (condoms) or adherence to rigid regimens (pills), a poor woman confronts the prospect of an unwanted pregnancies every month, until somebody agrees to escort her for an operation. The policy question is whether by facilitating more acceptable birth control options one can accelerate fertility regulation and in the process improve health outcomes for women (and newborns).

That brings one to a widespread myth relating to the practice of contraception by religion. Professor P.M. Kulkarni at JNU who has researched differentials in population growth among Hindus and Muslims (using NFHS data) says that all religious communities have experienced substantial fertility decline and contraceptive practice has been well accepted by all. Within religious faiths, 85 per cent of Hindu women would like to limit the family to two children whereas in the case of Muslim women, the figure is 66 per cent.
Even so, fertility levels among the poor, be it Hindus or Muslims are not so widely different and have in fact narrowed considerably.

The difference in births boils down to less than one child per woman.

“This,” says Kulkarni “belies the general belief that Muslim women are barred from using contraceptives.”

The belief that religion and religious fiats discourage contraception among Muslims is not borne out by statistics.

An even more significant aspect of his analysis of NFHS data shows that the unmet need for family planning is one and a half times more among Muslim women than Hindu women.

In terms of contraceptive use, Muslim women’s use of the pill is almost twice that of Hindu women and the use of IUD is also higher compared to Hindu women. Two things can be concluded: First that among the rural poor, the difference in fertility between Hindus and Muslims is not as marked as is usually supposed.

Second: there is a perceptible difference in the preferred method of contraception: Muslim women seem to be more open to the use of it.

This leads one to ask what might be the trends in Muslim dominated countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran which have achieved high levels of contraceptive use.

According to the UN Economic & Social Affairs Population Division’s Contraceptive Use by Method (2012,) in Bangladesh the use of the pill is more than 25 per cent. Women also use IUDs and injectables in sizeable measure. In the case of Indonesia injectables are the preferred choice, followed by pill use. The use of condoms is comparatively small. Iranian women seem to rely hugely on the pill but they also use IUDs in high proportion.

To sum up, the focus of the reproductive health programme has appropriately been on the laggard districts — mostly in the Hindi belt. But reduction in fertility has to be pursued by meeting the unmet demand for specific contraceptive choices and not by depending predominantly on sterilizing women. This requires three approaches: first by encouraging spacing among 18 to 24-year-olds; second improving access to contraceptive choices for women who are averse to sterilization. Finally what other countries have done to great advantage needs a re-look. In China, 40 per cent of the women rely on IUCDs. In India more and more women with children have begun opting for IUDs but access needs to increase manifold because the device gives a 3 to 10 year protection against pregnancy and can be reversed at will. Finally, latest research on the safety of injectables needs to be investigated afresh, looking at international best practices.

Instead of lamenting over irresponsible parenthood, the focus needs to target the unmet needs of specific population cohorts to empower women with what they need the most — liberty to decide when to have the next child or not to have one. Without being subjected to an operation.

Religion is not the issue-women’s freedom to decide about pregnancy and childbirth is.

The Big Picture – Delhi Lokayukta Bill: Is it in consonance with law?

February 6, 2014 at 4:10 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

rjtvPublished on 1 Feb 2014

Guests: Shailaja Chandra (Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Delhi) ; T R Kakkar (Former Delhi Police Commissioner) ; K T S Tulasi (Senior Advocate, Supreme Court) ; Raghav Chaddha (Member, Aam Aadmi Party) ; Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Senior Journalist) and Anchor: Girish Nikam

Air date: January 31, 2014

I come in at 3:54 minutes and again at 21:57 minutes.

The Big Picture – AAP’s 30 days of governance: Achievements and fault lines

February 6, 2014 at 3:53 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

rjtvPublished on 30 Jan 2014

Guests: Prof. Pushpesh Pant (Political Analyst) ; Shailaja Chandra (Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Delhi) ; George Mathew (Chairman, Institute of Social Sciences) ; Vinod Sharma (Political Editor, Hindustan Times) ; Nisha Singh (Member, AAP) and Anchor: Girish Nikam.

I come in at 4.10 minutes, 17.24 minutes and again at 25.04 minutes.

The Big Picture – Battle for Delhi Police: Is AAP creating anarchy ?

February 6, 2014 at 3:39 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

rjtvPublished on 20 Jan 2014

Guests: Ved Marwah (Former Delhi Police Commissioner) ; Shailaja Chandra (Former Chief Secretary, Delhi) ; Neelabh Mishra (Editor, Hindi Outlook) ; Kuldeep Pawar (Member, Aam Aadmi Party) and Anchor: Girish Nikam

I come in at 5.03 minutes, 20.44 minute and again at 25.57 minutes.

The Last Word: Was the President’s R-Day speech overtly political?

January 28, 2014 at 6:48 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

ibnliveKaran Thapar, CNN-IBN | Jan 27, 2014 at 10:53pm.

While addressing the nation on the eve of the 65th Republic Day, Pranab Mukherjee targeted AAP saying government is not a ‘charity shop’ and ‘populist anarchy’ cannot be a substitute for governance. Without taking the name of AAP, who earlier this week staged a two-day dharna outside Rail Bhawan against the Central government, he was critical of Kejriwal’s style of functioning when he said ‘elections do not give any person the license to flirt with illusions’.

Guests: Shailaja Chandra (Fmr. I.A.S.) ; Vinod Mehta (Editorial Chairman) ; Siddharth Vardarajan (Senior Journalist) ; Dipankar Gupta (Sociologist) and Anchor: Karan Thapar

I come in at 2:24 minutes, 8:53 minutes and 15:48 minutes.

ChangeIndia TV Show on Urbanisation: How do we better our cities? #ChangeCities

January 21, 2014 at 5:13 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

ibnlivePublished on 19 Jan 2014

Network 18 founder and editor @Raghav_Bahl engaged in a television discussion on urbanisation #ChangeCities with @TheJaggi @nayyardhiraj @over2shailaja @MDPai05 and Jerry Rao. They discussed low cost housing, urban transport and many more. .

I come in at 4:32 minutes, 8:28 Minutes, 14:35 Minutes, 26:55 Minutes, 29:34 Minutes and 37:35 Minutes .

So what if you are older? I am taller!

January 16, 2014 at 9:30 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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