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WOMEN'S LIB - not at cost of culture

Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

"An educated Indian woman is a multi-faceted person and dons more than one role at any point of time. She cooks for the entire family, she is the nurse at home, she is the teacher at home and the list can be endless. She also contributes to the bread of the family. In spite of all these merits, she is yet to get the real freedom and society is yet to realise that the woman is the backbone of a family," says the wellknown social activist, Ankitham Indrani Jaggarow.

She feels that the percentage of liberalisation among women is much lower than actually propagated. "In fact, I think bondage and suppression is more in the upper and middle strata of society. The only thing is that it does not surface that easily."

Born in a Bengali family she came to this city as a bride in 1956, married to the scion of the Ankitham family, A.V.N. Jaggarow. "A lot of people think that ours is a love marriage. It is very much an arranged one. But having been brought up at a bureaucrat's home where progressive thinking was the order, my first entry to this city (town then) was a bit of culture shock. For me, it was like entering an overgrown village. But over the years I have fallen in love with this city and its people."

Into social service

Her grooming at home coupled with her education at Delhi and Shantiniketan helped her imbibe and nurture the traits of creativity and concern for society into her personality at a very young age.

"I wanted to put my education and whatever qualities I had inherited from my parents to use - fortunately both my husband and my father-in-law, Bhanoji Row - encouraged me to do something on the condition that I would not be earning any money for the family. That meant no jobs: this put me thinking in terms of getting engaged in some kind of voluntary service," reminisces Mrs. Jaggarow.

She forayed into social work by joining the Indian Red Cross Society in 1964 and since then there has been no looking back. She is a strong believer in the adage: the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. With that intention she took up imparting basic education to rural women. She took an active part in taking education to the rural parts of the district under the guidance of the Department of Adult Education of Andhra University in 1966-67. Apart from being the vice-chairperson and correspondent of Mrs.A.V.N. College, which was founded by her family members, she is a member of the governing body of a couple of other institutes like Visakha Valley School and Centre for Women Studies in AU.

What had really turned her into a woman activist?

Narrating one incident, she says, "A couple of decades ago I came across a young woman from the below-poverty-line segment who was on verge of being driven to become a commercial sex worker. I quickly got her married to a person in a temple. This incident moved me, and thereafter I started taking active part in women- related issues."

Mrs. Jaggarow is not only a founding member of the Mahila Dakshata Samiti but has been its president for the last couple of years. Under her stewardship the samiti handled innumerable cases relating to dowry deaths, wife beating, sexual abuse, harassment and property disputes.

To expedite legal cases pertaining to women, she was the brain behind the constitution of `Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat'. She also spearheaded the anti-arrack movement through the samiti during the campaign's formative days.

The list indicating her association with various social bodies could run long just as the number of awards heaped on her. To name a few, she is the recipient of the National Commission for Women Excellence Award and the Ugadi Puraskar.

Talking on freedom for women, she says, "Every woman should be allowed to lead her life in her own way. But that does not mean that one should deviate from her cultural roots. Do what you want to do, but within the framework of family and social values. Women should not only be respected but be considered to be part of the family and society. Then only the real emancipation would come to the fore."

Culture first

Though she might sound a hardcore feminist at times, Mrs. Jaggarow believes in the concept of joint family and blames the nuclear family system for the degradation of the social values among the younger generation. "Our culture is very strong. In fact, it is the mother of all cultures in the world. Hence there is no need for aping the west and promoting scandalous concepts like live-in relationship and decrying the age-old institution of marriage."

SUMIT BHATTACHARJEE

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