Tag Archives: #Daughters

Desi Feminist Men – It Does Not Have To Be An Oxymoron

(Featured Image: Cover of the book, Men and Feminism: Seal Studies by Shira Tarrant)

In its simplest form, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In other words, because women have traditionally had fewer rights, feminism is about asserting and working to achieve equal rights for women. However, nowhere does this imply that achieving equality should be solely women’s fight or women’s goal.

There are but scarce instances when men made it their business to fight for women’s causes. A shining example is the active participation of Indian men in the many marches that took place all over India in 2012 after the horrific “Delhi rape.” Rather than retreating behind rationalizations such as “men will be men,” or “it has always been thus,” or blaming women for their choice of attire and pursuit of activities outside the safe confines of home, thousands of men agitated for respect and safety for the women in their lives — their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, coworkers, and neighbors. The men showed that women’s lives matter and that they matter to them.

In taking this proactive stand, the men were following the example set by a few men who came before. In this essay, I want to highlight a few of them.

Dr. Anand-bai Joshee

I am sure many know about Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor, and her heroic struggle to bring medical care to the women of India. I just published “Radical Spirits,” her deeply-researched biography. In the course of my research, I came across a letter that her husband, Gopal, wrote in 1878 to an American missionary requesting help to educate his wife. The letter makes an eloquent and heartfelt case for the importance of empowering women and men’s essential role in making that happen:

Ever since I began to think independently for myself, female education has been my favorite subject. I keenly felt the growing want of it to raise the nation to eminence among civilized countries. It is the source of happiness in a family. As every reform must begin at home, I considered it my duty to give my wife a thorough education, that she might be able to impart it to her country-sisters…. On the other hand, female education is much looked down upon among my people… My attempts have been frustrated, my object universally condemned by my own people. … and yet I cannot give up the point. I will try to the last, there being nothing so important as female education for our elevation morally and spiritually.

Gopal Joshee believed that it was important to educate and empower women, but not just for their own good. He saw that this was an indispensable component of the good of families, communities, and country. Indeed, he went so far as to state that the state of women was a hallmark of a civilized society. And, in pursuit of this goal, he stood alone against his community and defied its regressive views.

Another great example of a feminist man is Ziauddin Yousufzai, father of Malala. In his TED talk, he said:

Ladies and gentlemen, this plight of millions of women could be changed if we think differently, if women and men think differently, if men and women in the tribal and patriarchal societies in the developing countries, if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states, which go against the basic human rights of the women.

In other words, he made it his personal mission to empower his own daughter and to champion the empowerment of girls and women all over the world. The title of his memoir, “Let Her Fly,” says it all.

These two men, Gopal Joshee and Ziauddin Yousufzai, are separated by almost 150 years. Ironically, both were thrust into the limelight because of the tragedies of their protégés. However, these tragedies now live on as triumphs. Despite Anandi Joshee’s early death, or maybe because of the shock and tremendous loss that it represented, segments of 19th century Indian society took a decisive turn towards acknowledging women’s full humanity and their potential. Similarly, because of the violent attack on young Malala, there is greater awareness all over the world of girls’ right to education and empowerment.

Fortunately, tragedy is no longer a prerequisite to creating fundamental change for women. There can be no better example of this than what Indian states are doing to ensure and encourage access to education for girls.

  1. Tamil Nadu: The government offered a 50% subsidy to girls/women to buy scooters and laptops
  2. Uttarakhand: Girls enrolled in school get free bicycles
  3. Kerala: Sanitary napkin vending machines have been made mandatory in all higher secondary schools
  4. Karnataka: Girls studying in government and aided private degree colleges receive free education
  5. Gujarat: Free medical education to female students

Undoubtedly, there are countless nameless men fighting the good fight within their circles of influence, be it in their families or workplaces, or communities. For example, I know of a farmer who sold part of his land to finance the education of his daughters.

However, the battle is far from over. Many issues continue to challenge women. Starting from the management of menstruation and early marriage to access to education and medical care, they extend all the way to sexual harassment and rape, family and maternity leave, and equal pay.

So, here is a challenge for men to be more active feminists. Encourage your daughter as much as you do your son. Create a safe and welcoming family and work environments. Agitate for equal pay for women. Be compassionate and generous to your women coworkers and your subordinates (including household help where applicable).

Make every day Women’s Day and make every month Women’s History Month. The goal should be to make women’s disempowerment a historical artifact rather than a present-day scourge. Rather than diminish your power, it will only empower YOU more.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and co-founder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor.
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

The Boy Who Loved Vasant Panchami

The year was 1940. It was Magha in the Hindu lunar calendar. The Sun God was in Uttarayana. The Devas were offering their morning prayers. The portal to Heaven was open. On planet Earth, the mortals were stirring to welcome Vasant Panchami. A harvest festival flushed with food, flavors, fragrance, and fun. A fiesta of kites was coloring the skies. Bharat was in the clutches of the mercenary British empire. Bushels of gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and black gold(pepper) were flowing into the pipes of the Raj.

He was eleven years old. Everyone knew him in the Krishna Nagar Mohalla, Lahore. The sweet water of the Five Rivers “Punjab” flowed in his veins. His feet were a few feet above the fertile land. He was born a Sufi. A Dervish. His family called him Kaka. His sisters Rama, Sunita, Santosh, and Tripta called him Pahjii (older brother). To cousins he was Pah. His Jhaiji (ma) and Maji (grandma) called him Nikka, as they stood on the street corner at dusk, watching out for his lanky frame on a bicycle. Curly dark locks flying in the wind. He was a force to be reckoned with. His birthplace shared a wall with a Krishna temple. Bhakti of the Blue God was imbued in his soul like the Raag Basant Bahar. Always eager to help everyone. Ever ready to share stories, and always immersed in poetry. Solving riddles of life with a flick of his fingers.  He knew which neighborhood aunty made the best ladoos. Which house received bushels of guavas. Who saved a tall glass of thandai for him. Which uncle played chess and which aunty loved shahtoots (mulberries). Friends of all ages called him Vatta out of affection. He had charisma. He was carefree. Fearless.

To him, every day was a festival. Vasant Panchami was his favorite day of all. Perhaps because he was born close to Vasant. Spring was in the air. He was up at the crack of dawn. After procuring a fistful of annas (coins) from Maji, he woke up his sister Tripta. They were off like the wind on his trusty bike. They rode along Nisbet road to Gawalmandi to purchase kites. The shops were decorated with multicolored guddis, paris, and magnificent patangs. Delightful with colorful crepe paper streamers. There was enough money to buy a dozen kites, dor  (sturdy string coated with crushed glass), and wooden charkhis.

Tripta was good at striking a bargain without even trying. Melting at her enchanting smile, shopkeepers gave them five percent extra merchandise or chunga. Moreover, the merchants held their gentle father Lala Gyan Chand Kapur in high regard. The halwais of Gawalmandi were setting up shop with big kadhais of hot milk, mounds of kalakand, jalebi, and chhole-puri. Women dressed in floral pink and yellow sarees and phulkari dupattas were going to the temple for Saraswati Puja, melodious bhajans reverberated in the city center. The brother and sister stopped to get breakfast. They bought two donas of kadah – his all-time favorite – made with equal parts of cream of wheat, butter, and sugar. Tripta always got more kadah or halwa in her dona but she exchanged her dona with her brother’s. Their love soared like a yellow kite in a blue sky. Fearless.

The year is 2021. I am a grandmother now. My grandson will soon be eleven. I never knew dad at that age but in many ways, he never grew up. I wish I could have accompanied him on the streets of Lahore but he never went back after the partition of India in 1947.

Last night, I dreamt that our home in Mumbai was decorated with garlands of mango leaves and orange marigolds. Mom looked angelic in her rose pink sari and dad’s shirt was tinted in buttercream. The Krishna idol was resplendent in yellow pitambar and a fresh vyjayantimala graced his neck. Koels were singing on the mango tree, mom had planted in the courtyard. The black golden retriever was beside himself in joy. The house was bustling with festivities. Trays of fragrant saffron basmati rice, flavorful yellow pumpkin sabzi, halwa, puffed puris, dahi bhallas, sweet and tangy chutneys were being placed on the breakfast table.

Dad was sitting with his grandchildren sharing their candy and reciting his school assembly poem to them Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua (Urdu: لب پہ آتی ہے دعا بن کے تمنا میری‎), authored by Muhammad Iqbal in 1902. He regaled the children with stories about Vasant Panchami the “Shah of all Seasons”. He painted word pictures of children playing tag in billowing mustard fields. He told them about Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire, who encouraged the celebration of Vasant Panchami in temples and in Gurdwaras. The good king and his beautiful queen distributed food for forty days leading to the Spring festival of Holi. Ranjit Singh organized Vasant melas and sponsored kite flying. The people of Punjab loved this boisterous activity. The sound of – Woh kata! Guddi looto! – jubilance echoed in the maidans.

In my dream, the children sat around their Nanaji( grandpa) their eyes as wide as patangs in amazement. After feasting on stories, they polished off the nutritious home-cooked meal, squabbling over the last puri. Later, Dad took them to the terrace to fly kites. There was a gentle sea breeze. The sky was colored with kites like a multicolored Matisse collage. The kaka from Lahore was having the time of his life! My son was holding his charkhi. My daughter and my nieces were spinning. I was helping Mom in the kitchen. It was a perfect morning dream. I woke up all smiles, beguiled by dad’s playfulness. Tender, mellifluous notes of Raag Basant Bahar played on my heartstrings.

I retold my lucid dream to my grandson in India, who listened to me by candlelight. We laughed. Dad had incarnated the fearless essence of Vasant. He lived his life in accordance with Iqbal’s timeless words.

 Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke Tamanna meri 

Zindagi shama ki surat ho khudaya meri

(The longing of my heart alights my lips

May my life be lit like a candle of wisdom…)

And, it was. It most certainly was. Fearless.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.