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Girls and Girlhoods at Threshold of Youth and Gender-A Vacha Initiative,

Book Review by Sakshi Goyal, Rachna Amarnani and Guruvaishnavi*

Girls and Girlhoods at Threshold of Youth and Gender-A Vacha Initiative,

Editor: Vibhuti Patel, The Women Press, Delhi.

We are extremely thankful to the editors and the contributors of the book who have so beautifully brought out the different aspects of Girlhood. It is so nicely articulated in the foreword of the book that “Girlhood is seldom considered as an important phase in itself in India”.

Chapter 1 on “The adolescent Girl in India” by Sonal Shukla and Pradnya Swargaonkar reflects why a girl always stays behind in comparison to a boy further leading to the disadvantaged position of the women in all institutes of national life. The chapter starts with a historical background of the adolescent girl in India showing her marked absence. I feel inclusion of the historical background at the beginning of the book makes the book so meaningful, as it is very important to know the history of the issue that we are trying to address. It emphasises on Phulmani Dasi case that resulted into a national level controversy in the pre-independence period regarding 'age of consent' and led to rasing of marriageable age of girls.

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Comment by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel on July 11, 2010 at 8:23am
Chapters by Ms Shalini Mathur (15) and Dr Rohini Kashikar (17) Sudhakar have provided us with a case studies relating to ‘Adolescent girls’ in chapter number 15 and 17 respectively.

Mukta’s awe inspiring work among child sex workers in the past 4 years has been captured in Chapter 16. The chapter 16, by Mukta describes the process adopted by the volunteers that empowered about 50 girls.Chapter no 18 by Parul Sheth is very interesting because it is about children’s activism through Balsena. It is surprising to know how children helped in doing research work about the situation of children in village.

Dr.Ruby Ojha has talked about NGO intervention for empowerment of adolescent girl in chapter no 19. She has emphasized on participation of society, educationist and community leaders for upliftment of adolescent girl, government coordination with NGO, creation of new policies and programme for girls.

In chapter 20, Advocate Vijay Hiremath has enlightened us with girl child law in chapter no 20. He has tried to critically analyze the laws relating to girl child. I was glad to read that after Article 14 and Article 15 which talks about right to equality, there was formulation of new Article 15(3) in which it allows the government to make special legislation and scheme for the upliftment of women in the country.

The last Chapter no. 21 takes us through the National Symposium on Girls and Girlhood which was conducted on November 6-8, 2008 at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai organized by VACHA and P.G department of Economics. This Chapter gives us a clear picture that how this Symposium was conducted.
-Sakshi, Rachna, Guruvaishnavi
Comment by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel on July 11, 2010 at 8:22am
Congratulations are due to Mr. Amrit Gangar, author of Chapter 14, “Absence of an Age: Had it been a Durga Trilogy?” not just for picking on a subject like growing up of a girl child or adolescence, which he terms as bal-kishori, that is so clearly critical to a study of girl child yet agonizingly absent in most of the references in life. The route of films to establish this point comes across as a significantly different yet a hugely pleasant surprise to the reader. The narration is gripping to the end. Gangar kicks off by highlighting the fact that how Indian cinema has conveniently edited off this period from the girls life. Through his examples of northern & eastern culture, he goes on to prove that how the films are nothing but true reflection of what is prevalent in the society.
His knowledge of Indian and global Cinema and his penchant for keen observation is evident by the veritable array of examples that he uses from Hindi to regional cinema and draws apt comparisons with world cinema to unequivocally prove how Indian cinema has conveniently misused the cinematic license to edit this age with a single cut, and moved generations in a moment. His examples span generations (from the 1934, Naachwali to the, Kairee made in the Millenium), genres (from the very arty to the completely commercial Satyam Shivam Sundaram) and even geographies (Bollywood, Bengal, South Indian and Global).
He really lets the cat out of the bag by revealing some behind the scenes secrets, which only a true industry expert and an experienced cinema critic could. He explains with deft examples of how even film makers who ostensibly seem to project a pro-feminine message and a girl child’s growing-up years, are in point of fact, only interested in exploring voyeuristic details for viewing pleasures of a mostly masochistic audience. He explains this fact, very effectively and, I must admit, very entertainingly, through the Mise-en-scene used by the filmmakers. Whether it is the rape scene of the adolescent Nita from the movie Insaaf Ka Tarazu, the change of attire of Guddi from frock to saree or the sweet and sour experiences of the adolescent from Kairee, Gangar manages to bring home the point in true cinematic style.

Gangar has astutely highlighted the diversity in the cultures by mainly drawing a comparison between North and South India. Talking about the ‘coming of age’ or puberty is generally considered as a taboo in Northern India whereas in Southern India it is celebrated. A fact well highlighted by the example of Karik Raja’s Tamil film album, collection of sweet memories, that depicts a scene in which a younger sister weeps because her brother hadn’t turned up for her puberty function.
The article is made all the more interesting by interspersing of opinions and comments from functional experts and film makers alike. It also points out a rare scene in a Gopalakirshnan movie, showing a girl who bleeds while studying in her school classroom. The filmmaker points out a major need to be more vocal about menstruation so that the guilt feeling is removed. Am sure many women, definitely including myself, would passionately second this call.
The author while divulging the reasons for omission of this untouched topic explains that it is considered as a taboo, soft porn and that there’s a lack of women as popular film directors. It is perhaps one of the most non-preachy articles that one could ever come across, if at all, on this topic. Purists could argue that there is a total absence of facts and figures in the narration, however even they would not be able to stay untouched with the very visual and gripping manner of bringing out the societal issues related to growing up of the girl child.
And finally in the climax of this blockbuster effort, he explains Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy- based on a male protagonist and his life throughout the three editions - and his desire to convert the same into Durga trilogy (a female pre-adolescent character and sister of Apu who dies in the first edition), thus making it a film based on a female protagonist.
To explore this idea, he throws up a challenge to develop the story to film makers and functional experts like Shoma Chatterjee, Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, Rinki Bhattacharya and Dr. Udayan Patel. The results throw up a wide spectrum. From a conservative Shoma Chatterjee who hits a road block to the more liberated views/story of Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan who makes Durga the protagonist and actually goes on to educate her and culminates by showing her as a writer and an agit-prop feminist not in a typical manner but aesthetically sensitive to the woman’s space and woman’s world.
The befitting climax in some ways also highlights the author’s near frustration of not finding a reel or real example and hence wanting to explore the realms of fantasy. The narration is so captivating and live that as a reader also you end up sensitized, agonized and frustrated at the lack of efforts to represent the bal-kishori.
Comment by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel on July 11, 2010 at 8:21am
Prerana Sharma’s chapter 8,”Existance in Shadows: Women and Disability” highlights how disabled women and girls face more discrimination than disabled men and boys within the family in terms of health care, education, training, employment, income generation opportunities and exclusion from community activities.
Krishna Chandra Pradhan (chapter 9) narrates conditions of female children in Orissa with special reference to Ganjam District. Dr. N. Indira Rani and Dr. N. Komali Salomi’s chapter 10, focuses on much neglected area of sibling abuse. It is based on a study of sibling interactions in family setting.

In a chapter 11, on The Indian Girl Child: Trajectories of Social Construction Sunita Parmar in an algorithmic form presents the trajectories of socialization of the Indian girl child. She draws out a comparison on how the boys and the girls initiate into the adult social world but the initiation for the boys is enabling and for the girls is constricting. The girl inscribes a certain “acceptance code” of conduct. Marriage is a vocation for girls.

Dr Pratima Shastri, in chapter 12, presents her analysis on how patriarchy encompasses the Indian society. She narrates the various aspects connected to patriarchy and its effects on women. For this, she has particularly spoken about Mrinal Pande’s ‘Girls’ to analyse Politics of Gender and the Familial Structure in the Story.

In ‘Girl Child, Television Advertising and Status Quo: Gender in HDFC Standard Life Advertisements’ (Chapter 13) Dr. Mira K Desai states, it has been an ongoing practice of the advertisers to define women in relation to men where as men vis-à-vis majorly their work. Emphasis has been laid on son’s education and daughter wedding. I firmly agree with the author about representation of women as sex slave in most advertisement of hospitality industry and photographic goods industry.
Comment by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel on July 11, 2010 at 8:20am
Further in Chapter 4 by Dr. Daksha Dave talks about Declining Sex Ratio in India. It shows the trends on declining sex ratio across census years and different states. The data is conclusive of the fact that Sex ratio in India is adverse to women.
Chapter 5 titled “Education and Health of girl child in Urban India” by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel reveals that in India, compared to their male counterparts, girls are statistically less in number, less educated, less healthy and are more vulnerable to neglect, exploitation and abuse.
Chapter 6 by Dr. Dolly Sunny talks about one of the most formidable problem i.e. of Child labour in India. It defines and gives the interstate disparities of child labour in India. It categorises the reasons for child labour into demand side and supply side factors.
Rekha K. Talmaki in Chapter 7 titled “Trafficking of Tribal Girl Child” defines Trafficking and brings fore an extremely distressing fact that the percentage and intensity of trafficking is quite high among tribal girls between the age group of 12 to 18. For the convenience and better understanding of readers it categorises intensity of trafficking in different stages.
Comment by Prof. Dr. Vibhuti Patel on July 11, 2010 at 8:19am
Chapter 2 by Ms. Prabha Tirmare has emphasised the need to introspect factors responsible in upbringing of girl child to ascertain her identity and status in society. The chapter reinstates the fact that the work of girls is usually invisible because it is located in the domestic sphere. It makes a beautiful compilation of factors in the process of Socialization of girl child as 10 Fs (Formative Factors): Feudal Societies, Families and Shelter, Foods, Formal Educations, Fashion, Clothing and ornaments, Fairies and other tales, Folk songs, Festivals, Fun Games and Films.
Chapter 3 by Ms. Cynthia Stephen talks about the commitment of the government to the girl child. It starts the chapter with an important outcome from the census showing that the girl children in India show a tendency to become endangered species. It shows girl child in macro level policy like Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), CEDAW, United Nations declaration on Rights of the Child, etc. It covers the constitutional provisions for girl child in Indian Legal framework.

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