October 2, 2007: Seventh Award Ceremony of the Sarojini Naidu Prize (India)

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By Sriparna G. Chaudhuri

The Sarojini Naidu Prize, instituted by The Hunger Project, for best reporting on Women and Panchayati Raj was awarded to three journalists in an inspiring function held at the premises of Chinmaya Mission, New Delhi on October 2, 2007. More than 450 dignitaries, including Ambassadors of various foreign missions, top bureaucrats of Government of India, heads of I-NGOs, Members of UN bodies, academia, media and other prominent citizens attended the function. Ms. Renuka Chowdhury Minister of State for Women and Child Development was the chief guest for the occasion; Ms. Asma Jahangir, eminent lawyer and activist from Pakistan and Ms. Shabana Azmi Actor and Activist honoured the occasion as guests of honour.

The Sarojini Naidu award is given in three categories English, Hindi and other Indian Languages and carries a cash prize of Rs.2 00 000 and a citation. The best from the entries for the award is selected by a panel of eminent jury.

This year the award under the English category was given to Ms. Teresa Rehman of Tehelka while Mr. Banwar Meghwanshi and Mr. Jyothish Kumar picked up the awards for Hindi and Malayalam respectively.

Asma Jahangir captured everyone’s attention when she congratulated India for reserving 33% seats for women at the village Panchayat level. She said she was glad that her country not only followed India’s example but went one step further, reserving 33% seats for women in their Parliament. Asma shared that though there was much resistance initially, it is the women members in parliament who are making it vibrant with their presence and participation. She recalled that those who opposed reservation of seats for women in Parliament later sent their own daughters, nieces and spouses to the Parliament. But when during a political crisis though the father resigned his membership the daughter didn’t. She said it shows how woman are unwilling to get back to the confines of four walls of home once they have been exposed to public life.

Ms. Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development began her speech by noting that October 2nd has been declared as the International Day of Non Violence across the globe. She drew the comparison that women’s struggle is similar to Gandhian non-violence. She described this non- violence as ‘militant non-violence’. She explained that non- violence did not mean passive inaction, but rather campaigning and fighting for human/women’s rights in peaceful manner. She said that most women in India are fighting in the same way, as they are not violent but firm in demanding their rights. She also said though the constitution has ensured empowerment, Indian laws are still gender biased and hence a struggle becomes inevitable.

Sonam Dolma, elected woman Panchayat leader form Leh, Ladakh was happy to see the infrastructure available at Delhi and wondered when people in her village will get access to roads and water. She said she is now more hopeful as women are now part of the governing processes. She said she has a dream of sending every child in her village to schools.

Shabana Azmi, actor and social activist remembered her childhood days when women played the role of a catalyst in bringing changes in her town Azamgarh. Women in her opinion are far more liberal and progressive and lauded them visionaries. She said the women’s presence in the Indian Parliament was 4% in 1952 and has reached a level of 8% after 60 years. What has been established through the 73rd constitutional amendment is the presence of a critical mass of women in the political process at the local government level. She believes it is important to support the fledgling first step of women’s reservations in every way one can.

She also said The Hunger Project has played a significant role in galvanising the media and has made consistent efforts to change the scepticism of media.

Her Excellency Ms. Ann Ollestad, Ambassador of Norway, inaugurated an exhibition on the theme, 'When Woman Govern'. The exhibition displayed the achievements of elected woman leaders in the field of education, and their contribution to governance. Ambassador Ollestad congratulated The Hunger Project for its initiative and said she is overwhelmed to see many powerful women as agents of change on the occasion and is happy that Norway is associated with the transformation taking place in the villages of India through the leadership of elected women representatives to village bodies called village panchayats.

Rita Sarin, Country Director THP opened the ceremony and shared the work of The Hunger Project India. She narrated how women leaders in Rajasthan insisted for a girl’s school within the village for girls, finally managing to pass a resolution in the Panchayat for the same.

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