A piece on Times of India about Bangalore Literature Festival

Voices of reason

Maxin Mathew, TNN | Sep 28, 2014, 06.35AM IST


Four women with strong opinions – an Alternative Nobel-winning Pakistani human rights activist, the first woman chief justice of the Delhi High Court, a celebrity Indian author and columnist and a former rocket factory workerturned Chinese journalist – left the audience in raptures with witty anecdotes and sharp views on why it is difficult to separate politics from women’s lives at the Bangalore Literary Festival on Saturday.

"It was very difficult for me as Chief Justice to deal with men," 83-year-old Leila Seth said. "On my first day in the lunch room, I was told, `Now that you are here, when we have tea parties, you can look after it.’ I said, I certainly will not," Seth remarked indi gnantly to loud applause from the audience.

"When my colleagues used to introduce me, they would say, ‘Meet our new lady judge.’ I told them, why don’t you say, ‘meet our gentleman judge’ for the men? It’s ridiculous! They can see me. That’s why women can never stay out of the political. Because it is forced on you," Seth added.

Shobhaa De minced no words in expressing her concerns about the `emergencylike situation’ that women are facing now.

"Anything any woman does in public domain becomes political. Women’s lives, no matter how privileged it may seem from the outside, are difficult. We have choices either we pick playing victims and surrender to the system or we become ninjas. The minute you suppress women’s voices, the world will become a poorer place. It’s important that we are heard," she said.

Asma Jahangir, who won the Alternative Nobel three days ago, chose to skip the spotlight in her homeland and come to India instead to discuss women’s issues. "When I started working, there were only 2-3 women lawyers in Pakistan. When we were growing up, we were never asked about our goals. I had to fight to become a lawyer. I had to promise that I would never go to court, but then later I did. It’s like asking a singer never to sing in public," she reminisced.

Chinese writer Lijia Zhang too echoed De’s concerns. "I decided I will learn English and bring about a change for myself," she said.

Fittingly it was Seth who had the last word. "Being a wom an and a mother, you know how to deal with men," she said, "you make them feel that they are the most important and then do what you think is right."

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