A modest but promising start was made at the two-day Karmani Conference for and by women Rotarians with over 150 delegates from various districts enjoying the unique platform offered by all the 19 Rotary clubs in Nashik, D 3030, that organised the gala event. “We are confident that in the next 3–4 years, this exclusive programme will emerge as an all-India women Rotarians conference, and draw at least 600–700 delegates,” said DG Rajiv Sharma.
Guest speakers, professionals and panellists turned the spotlight on the aspirations of women Rotarians, the roadmap to achieve their dreams and the ways to surmount obstacles and challenges during their Rotary journey. In his opening remarks, DG Sharma said he had this idea as the newly elected DGND three years ago. “I am a feminist at heart; women are emotionally strong and they are good role models as they give their best in anything they undertake.”
India has only 11 per cent women Rotarians against the global average of 22 per cent. “We should aim to reach at least 25 per cent in 3–4 years. It would be ideal to hit the 40 per cent mark in 10 years,” he said.
India has only 11 per cent women Rotarians against the global average of 22 per cent. We should aim to reach at least 25 per cent in 3–4 years. It would be ideal to hit the 40 per cent mark in 10 years.
— DG Rajiv Sharma
Addressing the meet PDG Ravi Vadlamani, D 3150, recalled his experience during a 1974 RYLA which had made him a “confident Rotaractor”. Even better, it helped him meet his wife “Rajyalakshmi in 1977 for the first time.”
Rotary gives scope and platforms to serve and makes ordinary mortals into super heroes, he said. The women who had impressed him, apart from his wife, also a PDG, were Mother Teresa; Akanksha Founder and child rights activist Shaheen Mistri; Magsaysay Award winner Shanta Sinha; young fundraiser Isabella Field from the UK; and Sunitha Krishnan of Prajwala, Hyderabad, who had rehabilitated over 12,000 sex workers, despite “being assaulted and threatened frequently.” At 15, she was gang-raped and at the age of 8 she had organised classes for special children through dance.
The urge to provide deprived children the same facilities as in private schools drove Shaheen to run After-School Hours at the same premises which handle currently 6,500 poor students in Pune and Mumbai. She believes that “dreams can be delivered if you are driven by passion and one should be audacious to dream big.” Her Teach for India (TFI) has trained over 1,500 professionals and fresh graduates to teach in government schools in backward areas.
In 1996, when he interacted with Mother Teresa to build 100 schools costing ₹5 crore, “I learnt that simplicity, a ready smile and a prayer on your lips will take you a long way, and that material wealth does not matter.”
Shanta of M V Foundation has sent 1.2 million dropouts back to schools and has now expanded her work to nine African countries.
Isabella became the youngest fundraiser in the UK for mobilising £100,000 for building a cancer hospital in memory of her sister who succumbed to the disease. “With hands-on service and compassion, women are better in reaching out to the community than men,” Vadlamani added.
Asking the delegates to do high-five claps, PDG Rekha Shetty, D 3232, said, “You have the power to discover the true self in you. So, first love yourself.” Second, acquire knowledge and plan the years ahead. “Invest in learning; Rotary is the greatest learning experience for me and helped me in self-development.Women are better placed to lead the clubs as they are not spendthrifts and have better management skills.” Of all the navarasas (nine emotions), compassion has a transformative quality with its caring and persuasive abilities that women are blessed with, she said.
Recollecting her struggles against the then social customs and bigotry, International Inner Wheel Past President Minna Kapur said from being a meek, docile woman she rebelled to become a warrior. An octogenarian, she cremated the body of her brother despite stiff opposition. “We are all karmanis endowed with the stature, identity and power to transform society. In rural India, women don’t speak, but act silently to create the right impact at the village-level.”
For ages, women are being harassed, exploited at home, workplace and by relatives and neighbours, said Neela Satyanarayan, IAS, the first woman State Election Commissioner of Maharashtra. “Indian history and mythology are replete with incidents of sexual harassment. Women were maligned, ostracised and hence subjugated to keep quiet,” she said.
Is the society ready to offer security, protection to women who are being abused, blackmailed, harassed and even killed at times, if they complain to higher authorities, she asked.
We are all karmanis endowed with the stature, identity and power to transform society. In rural India, women don’t speak, but act silently to create the right impact.
— Minna Kapur, past president, International IW
But she warned if women take undue advantage of #MeToo and misuse it then “there will be an upheaval against women and it will stunt their progress.”
She felt the #MeToo complaints by upper class society women were a ‘sham’, “when compared to the untold suffering and humiliation meted out to rural women who don’t have opportunities to express their grievances.”
Who is a better Rotarian — male or female? The panellists PDG Dr Sarbjeet Singh; Dr Surjit Kaur, National Editor, Association of IW Clubs in India; Rtns Vivek Jhaykhedkar and spouse Rupali fielded questions on diverse issues like gender bias, recent amendment in the classification to include homemakers, sensitising men on giving opportunities to women, flexibility in club timings, educating women on the byelaws, and how women have an advantage with their multi-tasking skills. The panel discussion was moderated by Soma Jaiswal, D 3291, from Kolkata.
Women achievers from various fields — Aswathi Dorje, IPS, Director, Maharashtra Police Academy; Sangeeta Pethkar, Odissi dancer; Jayshree Todkar, bariatric and laparoscopic surgeon; and Monica Athare, an athlete — shared their experiences on their success.
A common thread binding them all was their pursuit of excellence in the face of adversities and the will to achieve despite odds, said Medha Saykhedkar.
In a presentation, Dr Pradip Joshi, past president, RC Jalgaon, said, “the longest war in human history is between men and women on who is better starting from pre-agriculture era.”
A talent show comprising group dance, singing, skit, poetry, acting and Bollywood music provided the fun quotient. RC Hassan Midtown President B K Sowmyamani, D 3182, leading her Team Spoorthi was crowned ‘Karmani Queen’.
On Day-2, a Jugalbandhi by a spirited group of boys and girls clad in colourful attire belted out high-decibel music through a mix of royal and traditional instruments that are unique to the Khandesh region of North Maharashtra.
District Events Secretary Asha Venugopal, First Lady Rashmi Sharma, the event compere, and RC Nasik Grapecity President Durga Sali managed the logistics.
Visiting a vineyard
More popular as the wine capital of India, Nashik has 40–45 wineries, all of them on the foothills of Western Ghats. Rotarians were taken around the Soma Vine Village, 25 km from the city.
The Soma winery has a 25-acre green complex, of which 15-acre has grape plantations with five different varieties of white and red grapes. About 100 tonnes of grapes are harvested during January-March and the women enjoyed the wine tasting session.
Pictures by V Muthukumaran