Human Rights Promoted in India with Classical Dance and Poetry

5 March 2003
Author: UNFPA

Early in February, the India office of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, organized an event in Delhi to explore reproductive rights, including the rights of women. The event featured a combination of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance form and a poetry recital, entitled, 'I Know, So I am,' which addressed the rights of women.

Woman: Empowered, I can take on the universe.

The dance was performed by Rama Vaidyanathan, with the poem narrated by Meera Khanna. The dance/recital had three major segments, on womanhood, motherhood and personhood. On womanhood, the poem says, in part, "…As a woman, I am a person/ …I am not just a body/ I say so/ To you, I can say no/ I say so/ I have a mind/ I say so/ … I am not less/… Never lesser than you/ I say so."

On motherhood, Ms. Khanna's narration adds: "God made the world/ Then, he made me a creator/ I was created to create mankind/ To me, He gave motherhood/ The very core of my personhood/ To me, he gave compassion/ The purest of all emotion/ He made me a mother/ And raised me in stature."

Nevertheless, the poem also narrates how women are sometimes addressed: "You are a mother/ Mother to only sons/ You are the creator/ You'll create to order/ You'll love/ Love only the sons of man." It then presents a few painful questions: "May I never mother a daughter? Where have all the baby girls gone? Where have all the little girls gone? Where have all the sisters gone? Where have all the mothers gone? … Am I an identity? Or just a womb/ Am I a woman? Or just a channel for man/ Am I a mother? Or just a son bearer."

Some answers are provided in Ms. Khanna's narration: "In strife, I gain strength/ In oppression, I know my right/ … I am the mother/ I am not the body/ I am also the mind/ I am a mother/ To man and women/ In me is the might/ To fight for my right."

Finally, on personhood the poem continues: "I am daughter, sister, wife, mother/ … A person beyond all dimensions/ … I think, I work, I invent, I discover/ I am a homemaker/ I am a nation-builder/ … I can take on the universe/ With myself in grace/ I am, so you are/ I know, so I am."

The chief guest at the event was a member of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice Sujata Manohar.

In a separate development in January, a two-day meeting on population policy - development and human rights, also held in Delhi, adopted a declaration that called for population policies to be integrated further into India's overall development goals. Conferees stressed that a rights-based approach to population was far more effective for the successful implementation of programmes than any based on coercions or disincentives.

The meeting was organized by the National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as well as UNFPA. It was held to encourage dialogue from the perspective of development and human rights in the implementation of population policies at the central and state levels in India. The forum was opened by the then-Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shatrughan Sinha, who stressed that population policies or laws should be based on a rights-based approach. Participants included officials of central and state governments, policy makers, representatives of non-governmental organizations, population academics and workers, as well as international organizations.

The declaration adopted at the meeting noted that population policies based on a coercive approach violated human rights and were not consistent with the spirit of India's National Population Policy. It said that the propagation of a two-child norm and coercion or manipulation of individual fertility decisions violated the principle of voluntary informed choice and the rights of people. Similarly, it continued, the use of acceptor targets led to undue pressure on potential clients from service providers.

The conferees then called on governments of States or Union Territories to exclude discriminatory or coercive measures from population policies. They affirmed that reproductive rights could not be seen in isolation, as they were intrinsic to women's empowerment and the empowerment of marginalized sections of society. Therefore, they added, priority should be given to the health, education and livelihood of women since they were essential to the exercise of those rights, the reduction of fertility rates, and population stabilization.

Conferees at the human rights commission meeting declared that reproductive rights include the right to informed decision-making, free from fear of discrimination; the right to regular, accessible, affordable, good-quality and reliable health care; the right to medical assistance and counselling for the choice of family planning methods appropriate for individuals; and the right to reproductive security, free from gender-based violence.

They concluded by calling on Central and State Governments to ensure that domestic laws on population promoted the proper exercise of reproductive rights, prevented harmful practices that derogated from a proper exercise of such rights, and protected every individual's rights. They also urged the governments to allocate adequate financial resources to implement population policies founded on human rights and development.

--Abubakar Dungus

Population : 1380 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 61%
Girls 62%

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