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Signposts and Imprints

Maya Sharma

By Femida Handy , Meenaz Kassam, Suzanne Feeney, Bhagyashree Ranade
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 236, Rs. 320.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

There are signposts and imprints in the text and even the subtext that evoked instant recognition having traversed them myself—as a feminist, as a woman and as one involved in the inception of a grassroot organization: the intersecting themes of the book lured me on. The agonized comments of the feminist founders in their endeavour to confirm to a collectivist form to ensure egalitarianism and democratic way of functioning, and the compulsions of adopting some bureaucratic features, “ It’s not just practical”, or “ We really tried and then decided we could not continue this way”, resonates of a familiar conflict between ideals/beliefs and reality /practice. “The new staff just does not have the same values”. It is a book that a number of social activists all over the country would identify with and therefore a must-read for them and all those interested in knowing more about the women run NGOs and even more for those who love stories of everyday heroines, true stories of women living on the edge and making it work for them. A book of fresh perspective on partnerships between women of privileges and the underprivileged.   It is precisely for these very reasons that one wishes the book had explored more deeply the inherent contradictions that emerge: Of working as non-profit organizations on livelihoods of the poor, that leave some margins of ‘profits’ to enable sustainability, of the largely middle/upper class, and caste and educated women having social capital and working with the vulnerable, and attempting to work out egalitarian structures and values. Seeing themselves not as do-gooders, but as women who empathize with women. The implementation of actions/practices that flow from the fact of women taking their own experiences of being women and relate(ing) it to their clients,” (p. 163) is demonstrated through the example of crèches/balwadids being set up. However, the rest of the book offers no example of ‘socially- sensitive and controversial issues’ (p. 55) in the lives of the founders or the professional staff that would suggest further identification with the oppressed women whose stories of abuse, sexual harassment, divorce, out of wedlock relationships figure in the book. While the fact of women as a whole being the subordinate group in a patriarchal system finds reference throughout the book there are no similar/different stories of middle class/upper caste women bearing the brunt of structural oppression/inequalities. ...

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