LIGHT THE LAMP FOR WOMEN JOURNALISTS! On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, the newly founded Press Club Goa decided to have a function at the Youth Hostels Association of India complex at Miramar to celebrate women journalists. Lighting the inaugural lamp are (L to R) Minakshi Gad (General Manager, RBI Goa), Akshada Joshi (warden, Youth Hostel Goa), former Education Minister Sangeeta Parab who is lighting the lamp, Milan Vaingankar (bureau chief, Marathi daily ‘Goa Times’ and Diliip Borkar (president, Press Club Goa).

MOST journalists or media people, or news brokers or story tellers, they’re trained to listen and recount what, when, where, how and why in brief or in detail. Few journalists I know are eloquent when it comes to making speeches and it was with mixed feelings I received an invitation from Milan Vaingankar, speaking on behalf of the Press Club of Goa (I didn’t know there was one!) to speak a bit about the plight of women journalists on International Women’s Day on March 8 at the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) space in Panaji. They were having a function to celebrate women! I found myself agreeing wondering if there was too much to say or too little about women in media, there was little time to prepare any notes.
But I’m conscious of the fact that last year with the government’s hostility towards the print media and especially the opposition media in English (for that matter also Hindi, see where Ravish Kumar – my favorite human being – is today courtesy his criticism of the current government) – the bell has been tolling for the Fourth Estate (one of the four pillars of democracy) for quite some time. The covid-19 pandemic just about finished most of us putting us into various pits of despair.
With the rumor spreading that newspapers were contagious most folk hooked on good old fashioned newspaper also got scared of reading them. Even if they didn’t take too kindly to online media! A few papers closed down, many media people found themselves jobless or put on smaller salaries, many told to work from home on a pittance. All this has affected media women too and some of them (including me) live in constant stress and fear wondering if we will be able to support home and family even minimally – despite all the official rhetoric and granting of public funds for beti padhao and other schemes to support women, women continue to be at the mercy of male chauvinism at home and in office the country over…sometimes I think Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is in a tearing hurry to be another China or USA or China-cum-USA! At the same time it is hung up on collecting funds to build the Ram Temple and other grandiose constructions at cost of its own peoples’ miseries…is it more important to impress the world or our own country first? Or so go my thoughts, forgive or don’t forgive me!
Anyway, it turned out to be refreshing break and an education on IWD functions. This one was inaugurated graciously by former education minister Sangeeta Parab, and Deepak Borker, president of the Press Club, welcomed and wished all the women who were given red roses. The women journalists listed for speakers included Anuradha Moghe, Kalika Bapat, Anita Prabhu, Rashmi Narse and Sneha Naik; Minakshi Gad, the disarming general manager of RBI Goa Branch gave a heartwarming talk on the need for women to be leaders. Social worker Surekha Nilkant Chodankar was felicitated especially and confess I had to leave early because of a date with a doctor, and so missed the presidential summing up by my newly made friend Milan Vaingankar (bureau chief of `Goa Times’, one of the Marathi dailies of Goa). Usha Naik of All India Radio did some excellent compering.
WHAT did I say? I was a little nervous. Suddenly it seemed like there was so much to say and yet so little because most of it was already said by countless women! Basically, I said that women need to unite in their own common interests and come together as a fraternity, to be there for one another in stressful and fearful times like the present. When a political system seeks to silence them in a myriad ways perceived as not desirable by a male patriarchal order. The opposition media is being muzzled in all the ways possible!
Freedom to express oneself is the heart of any democracy and to make the media stressed out and live in fear constantly is akin to throttling democracy itself. Are we still a democracy or an autocracy? There will always be two sides to any situation and both have a right to be seen, heard and taken cognizance of in both the language and English media for it is the Fourth Pillar of any true blue democracy…good, bad or ugly, is a matter of opinion and only when we see a situation from all sides is there a fair playing field.
I am sorry the media is dying in India and only those who paint the government in glorious colors all the time run all the way to the bank, or so to speak. It is a sorry and regrettable situation.
What else? I was born in village Gujarati and spent my first four years between the villages of Bhadran and Karamsad. Then it was off to Penang island where my father had emigrated in search of greener pastures; so it was 16 years of growing up in Penang island in Malaysia. Where to begin with the community was conservative and lived close to its own cultural moorings …in the 50s and 60s. When I turned all of 20 years, a Gujarati girl ran away with a Malay boy and the community was so shocked, it had many Gujarati parents packing off their daughters of marriageable age to India to get married poste haste!
I was one of the victims courtesy a male chauvinist father and a helpless mother. My mother who was educated till “matric” as she once told my father proudly – it was that bit of education that gave her the courage to stand up to an imperial mother-in-law when she was told to kill her first child, a girl child. This was in the November of 1949. In those days the poor families applied the poisonous white sap of oleander flowers to the lips of girl children to let them sink into death, the body was then shoved down a pit latrine. Nobody asked any questions although everyone knew. But for my mother’s courage that fateful day I’d have gone with the wind perhaps the day I was born!
All this and a little more. Do not be silent to injustice, I said, women need to stop being each other’s enemies when seeking the favors of men…this is still a male chauvinist India no matter how digitally progressive it is. The more educated, the more subtle male chauvinism is. In the effort to be superwomen it is women who suffer more, it is time men grew up and respected the women in their lives.
On that note it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, au revoir, arrivedecci and vachun yetta here for now!

—Mme Butterfly

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