SONGSOPTOK:  What is your earliest memory about being a girl?
JAYATI SARKAR: When I was growing up in Agartala. My earliest memory is of my mother dressing me up in pretty frocks and receiving a lot of love and attention from my parents.

SONGSOPTOK:  Where did you go to school? Was it a girls’ school? If yes, then why do you think your parents send you to a school for girls? If not, why?
JAYATI SARKAR: My first school was a co-ed nursery school, Shishu Vihar, in Agartala. My second school, again was a co-ed school, Auxilium Convent, in DumDum Kolkata where I studied for a year in standard two. Rest of my school life, I attended a girls’ school, Calcutta Girls’ High School (CGHS). To the best of my recollection, my parents chose Auxilium Convent for purely practical reasons as my mother had to drop us and pick us up from school, and hence they chose a school which both of us could attend. However, as the commute to DumDum became difficult, we had to shift to schools nearer by that were on a direct tram/bus route. Since there were not too many good co-ed schools around that fitted the bill, I was sent to a girls’ school that was good and the commute was easy, and my brother accordingly to a boys’ school, St. Xaviers’. So the choice of school was determined by its quality and by convenience.

SONGSOPTOK:   A lot of studies indicate that the gender segregation starts in school. What is your experience?
JAYATI SARKAR: Since I attended an all girls’ school, obviously there was no segregation at school. However, I was aware of the problem of gender segregation from a very young age after witnessing some instances in my extended family and would constantly and vociferously argue it out with my parents in order to seek answers to the phenomenon.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you remember any incident(s) from your childhood where you witnessed gender discrimination? What are your thoughts about that?
JAYATI SARKAR: I construed gender discrimination in my school years as not getting the same treatment as my brother and (male) cousins, which I faced from time to time, but only from my grandmother! I was not mistreated as such, but somehow I felt that she was nicer and more tolerant towards my brothers. I never, however, perceived any form of bias from my parents…if anything I sometimes felt that my father positively discriminated towards me vis-à-vis my brother. My parents always treated me as an individual telling me that when I grow up I should be independent like a man, and that I was more like a son to them (man was always a reference point though) !

SONGSOPTOK:  Now going on to college / university – what according to you were the advantages / disadvantages of being a woman? Do you think that women were treated fairly by the educational institutions?
JAYATI SARKAR: I do not recall being at an advantage/disadvantage in college and university just on account of being a woman. I was treated fairly in both college and in my university.

SONGSOPTOK:  A lot has been written about the unsafe environment in India for women, especially on public transports. What is your personal experience? Has the situation deteriorated over time? Are the streets of your city less safe today than let us say a decade back? If so, what is you analysis of the situation?
JAYATI SARKAR: I have been using public transport from my school days (class VI onwards).  In Kolkata, I never felt unsafe walking on the streets or taking the public transport. Of course, the occasional eve-teasing was there, and also faced the usual disgusting behavior in buses. However, I managed to create my own defense mechanisms and dealt with these problems. Being in Mumbai for the last twenty-two years, I do not find any noticeable deterioration in the environment. My children (including my daughter) have been using public transportation from a young age and have never complained about feeling unsafe.  The increasing number of incidents that are being reported in the city in the last four five years is, in my opinion, a combination of more frequent reporting by the victims (facing less taboo due to a more open society), better coverage by the media, and may be an increase in the number of incidents. Whatever the case, this has brought a noticeable and welcome change in terms of bringing safety/especially women safety in focus and a matter of public concern and policy.

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, to what extent is the patriarchal society in India responsible for the status of women? Do you see any reflection of the patriarchal control in your own/extended family?
JAYATI SARKAR: Hugely responsible! In my own/extended family, on my father’s side, I have seen matriarchal control and on my mother’s side, patriarchal control. I find women (including daughters in law) more dominating on my father’s side and men, more on my mother’s side.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think that social status (caste, class, affluence) plays a significant role in how women are treated in India? How? Are there significant differences in the status of women in urban & rural India?
JAYATI SARKAR: No, I do not think that there is a one to one correspondence between social status and treatment of women in India. I have seen and read about really affluent/educated people in urban areas mistreating girls and women in the family and outside of it. Mind set is important and a regressive mindset can be found In India, cutting across caste, class and affluence. The way women are treated largely depends on the environment and value systems to which a family is exposed. I do not have much idea about how rural women are treated, but I can surely say that urban living is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for according an equal status to women.

SONGSOPTOK:  Would you say that there is equal treatment of women in the workplace? Are women given the same opportunities as men? Has the situation evolved compared to the earlier generation?
JAYATI SARKAR: No, gender is a discriminating characteristic in the workplace. Numerous studies as well as anecdotal evidence do point out to unequal opportunities between men and women. There is enough evidence that points to discrimination in hiring, the phenomenon of ‘sticky floors,’ ‘mommy traps’, ‘glass ceilings,’ and unequal pays. My personal experience suggests that women have to work extra hard to prove themselves to be as capable as their male colleagues at the workplace. It is therefore not surprising that women who survive this process are on an average smarter than their male counterparts. The situation has surely evolved compared to earlier generation, as there is increasing recognition that gender discrimination does exist at the workplace, and women have become more vocal about such discrimination. Affirmative and explicit anti-discrimination policies are also much more prevalent now than before.

SONGSOPTOK:  Has the position and status of women evolved at home compared to your mother’s generation? Do women today have more decision-making power within the family structure? Can you explain your answer?
JAYATI SARKAR: Surely, the position and status of women have evolved much more compared to my mother’s generation. Women today also have more decision making power within the family. This is primarily because women are more educated now, and many more are earning. This has made women more aware and assertive and has given greater say in decision making. Having said so, however, it is also not uncommon to find educated, working women who are not meaningfully empowered in any way, including the right on their own earnings.

SONGSOPTOK:  If you’re the parent of a girl child, how are your concerns different from your mother’s generation? If you’re the parent of a boy child, do you take initiative to discuss matters of gender equality with him?
JAYATI SARKAR: Like my mother’s generation, concerns of safety remain paramount. My concerns of discrimination and bias against my girl child I think are stronger in my generation than that of my mother’s generation who I think were more accepting of existing social biases against the girl child. Yes, I have been pro-active in discussing matters of gender equality with my son and have tried to imbibe the concept of gender neutrality in both my son and daughter.

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, what needs to be done to improve the situation of women not only in India but all over the world? How can women contribute – at home, at work, at social & political levels?
JAYATI SARKAR: Change in mind-set and perception comes foremost to my mind. This can happen by a combination of affirmative action policies that pro-actively seek to create gender balance in terms of both opportunities and outcomes, as well as changing value systems through creating awareness through formal and informal mechanisms. Educating girls/women is extremely important since in many cases son preference, superiority of the male child, ‘role division’ of the male child, are ironically perpetuated at the family level by women who are the primary caregivers. Young boys therefore grow up with a sense of superiority, entitlement and ‘mardangi,’ which in turn gets perpetuated at home; work, at social and political levels. At the same, girls are brought up with an inferiority complex and ‘role division’ which continues into womanhood and reflects in their confidence and potential contribution at all levels. This inter-generational and intra-generational cycle of gender bias limits the contribution of women everywhere and at all levels.

SONGSOPTOK:  Violence against women is a global problem today that manifests itself in different forms in different societies. And the problem seems to be growing every day in spite of preventive measures. What, in your opinion, should be the priority in India? How do you see the role of the civil society in this context?
JAYATI SARKAR: Priority in India should be to clamp down on violence against women, period. Many laws are in place, but the problem across the board is in enforcing these laws. Enforcement is also a matter of mind-set and power-structure– men are the main enforcers, and here again, perceptions and value systems are at work. Violence is often not perceived as violence by the enforcers and hence laws are never put into effect. Hence, despite the existence of laws, legal recourse is still highly risky from the perspective of the victim as it often demonizes the victim. Many a times, violence is not perceived as violence by the victim herself (and in fact is rationalized), or even if it so, it is not reported out of sheer fear of adverse consequences. Civil society organizations have to play a role in both cases, to bring these issues out in the public discourse and campaign for better laws and enforcement.  Such organizations should create greater awareness among women of what construes violence against women in all its manifestations.

SONGSOPTOK:   What are views on women’s empowerment? What should be the priorities here (economic / social / cultural/ educational…
JAYATI   SARKAR: Empowerment should happen simultaneously at all levels, and not necessarily in a sequential way. One cannot have one without the other. For educational and economic empowerment, social and cultural empowerment is needed simply to generate awareness of the education of the girl child. One can of course jumpstart this process by first bringing about education and economic empowerment through government programmes, but the success of these programmes depend a lot on existing cultural and societal mores. Thus, a multi-pronged approach to empowerment is desirable so that feedbacks are constantly generated between the different types of empowerment. The power of information technology and social networking should be harnessed both by policy makers and civil society organizations to bring about empowerment at all levels.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think the situation of women in India can evolve in the years to come? What is your vision for the future?
JAYATI SARKAR: Sure. I am extremely optimistic about the future of Indian women, and women worldwide. To get a proper perspective on the condition of women today, one should look back across past generations. While in absolute terms, there is a lot to be desired, with every passing generation, there has been a distinct improvement in the condition of women in terms of both opportunities and outcomes. My take is that changes are happening positively and progressively, although our daughters and their daughters will still have to fight out many of the problems that our generation have been dealing with, both at home and work. What is encouraging too is that a higher proportion of men are also increasingly becoming aware of gender biases, becoming gender neutral in their perceptions,  and finally, a higher proportion of boys are growing up to become more gender sensitive men, thanks to the proportion of educated and aware mothers growing with each  generation. Overall, I can see the ray of light at the end of the tunnel turning progressively brighter with every passing generation, and it is just a matter of time before women find an equal place among the thousand suns (pun intended)!



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