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Lives, challenges and triumphs of women: Interview with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni



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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, popularly known for her book “The Palace of Illusions” which narrates the Mahabharata from Drupadi’s point of view talks about books, culture and feminism with Modern Diplomacy. Chitra is a celebrated feminist authors who gives voice to women in mythology whose narrative has most often been written and controlled by men. By shifting the focus from men’s stories to women’s narratives, she increases empathy and understanding of lived women’s struggles.

First of all, congratulations on the success of your latest book The Forest of Enchantment. Your work has been loved across different age groups, globally. What inspired you to be a writer?

I was inspired by 3 things: moving to the USA when I was nineteen, the death of my grandfather, and my nonprofit work with domestic violence and trafficking.

When I moved to the US, I began to see more clearly—both the world in India that I had left behind, including many things I valued about my culture. The death of my grandfather made me aware of how fleeting memories are and how soon we forget. My community work with women made me aware of many silent problems that exist in our communities and how important it is to hear these stories and empathize with these lives. All these made me want to write and share my experiences.

Your work seems to have a central theme; Of women and understanding their identity in the backdrop of family, culture and geography. There are few notable writers who are doing good work in this. How important do you think it is, to be able to successfully deliver such stories?

It is very important to showcase the lives, challenges and triumphs of women, and to do so in a way that humanizes them and makes readers identify with them. I believe with such empathy, attitudes change for the better and thus readers’ lives begin to transform. So many people have told me that they were inspired by the life of Draupadi depicted in The Palace of Illusions and Sita in The Forest of Enchantments, even though these are characters from long ago. They told me these books gave them inspiration and allowed them to move forward in their own lives. So I know firsthand the importance of women’s stories. And I, too, continue to be influenced and inspired by such stories.

You were born in Bengal, a place that has given eminent writers whose works have been celebrated worldwide. Your name is a joyful addition to the already illustrations list. What has Bengal and Kolkata given you, taught you and how did it nurture you while you were growing up?

I grew up reading  (in Bengali) the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Sharat Chandra, men who empathized deeply with the plight of women. Later I read Mahasweta Devi, BaniBasu and Mallika Sengupta, among others. All these books inspired me to write about women and gave me good role models. So I think the greatest gift Bengal has given me is the works of its writers.

Why do you believe that in this 21st century world, we still live in the shackles of patriarchy, something that should have been broken long back for an equal, liberal and just world?

There are many complicated reasons. I’ll mention two. An important one is the lack of education for girls, which changes our thinking and gives us willpower and confidence. The other is financial independence for women, because without it women are at the mercy of others, including people in their own families. It is very important to work on these. I am happy that in my small way I support organizations like Pratham in India which focus on education as well as vocational training for women.

What is it in a human being that makes her want to express her emotions by penning down her thoughts, what we call poems. Do you believe, like many, that empathy is the most crucial trait to be a poet?

Empathy is important, yes. But observation skills and imagination are equally important. And self-honesty, because many times poems are about our own lives and our understanding of important events and challenges we have faced. Or they can be about nature, where observation and imagination are particularly important.

Your work also includes remarkably portrayed cross cultural references between India and the USA. Did that arrive out of your personal experience? In other words, was that a reflection of your own personal journey of a cultural shift? How was the reaction from the American public on this work?

In some ways, my cross-cultural stories come out of my personal experience, but more so out of my observation. Also listening. I like to listen when people discuss their lives and challenges. The overall reaction from the American public has been very good. I am grateful for all the positive reviews and awards, and some of the books have been on bestseller lists.

Writing stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana from the perspective of the female characters and protagonists. That was bold and made for a tremendous round of applause. How did you come up with the idea?

Thanks for the kind words! I have been impressed and fascinated by the stories of our epics ever since I was a little girl listening to my grandfather telling me these tales. As I grew up, I wondered more and more about the fascinating women characters in the epics, and I became aware of how little space was given to them. We knew their actions but not their thoughts or their hearts. Slowly the desire filled me to write about them, making them the heroines of their world. To really look at who they were and what they had to teach the contemporary women. They were certainly worth learning from, even when they did controversial things! I was worried, though, as to how people would react to this project. Surprisingly, the response has been immensely positive. I am grateful for that.

Your work has been touted as something that reverberates ‘simplicity of the language’ and is ‘rooted in reality’. How important do you think such qualities are for good writing and for getting connected to the readers?

There are many kinds of writers. Each relate to life and to language and to their readers differently. I have always believed that clear, simple language is important. I wish to invite as many readers as possible into my books. I don’t want them to be only for intellectual types. I like to read and write from the heart. When my mother was alive, I often thought, I want to write books that are accessible to her. (She was a wonderful, intelligent woman, but she did not have a formal English education, just what she picked up in the course of her life). I believe art should be inclusive, not exclusive.

Tell us how important it is to keep the cultural sanctity of literature festivals alive and running. What role do they play? 

Literature festivals are SO important. They create excitement around books and ideas. They bring readers and writers together. They allow writers to have discourses with one another. I learn so much whenever I attend a litfest. I am so glad that India is having more and more festivals, and that some of these are in relatively remote places or smaller cities where people might not have otherwise had the exposure. I am glad to see, especially in India, that young people are excited about books. When I read from Forest of Enchantments in Jaipur, I was delighted to meet many high school and college students who had read my books. I would never have known about that otherwise.

A message that you would like to convey to the young and aspiring writers…

If writing is important to us, we must make time for it in our lives. This means we must simplify our lives to find time and energy to read and write. As writers, we need to read widely and read everyday. I recommend keeping a writer’s notebook to jot down ideas that come to you while reading. It is also a good place to jot down sentences or techniques you are noticing as you read.

Try to write every day. It is also very helpful to have a few writer friends with whom you can share work. I still work with a writer’s group. We meet on skype every month, share work, and learn from each other.

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.

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New Social Compact

An Analysis on Marshall McLuhan’s concepts



Marshall McLuhan is an important scholar who has made major contributions to communication discipline through introducing new concepts like “global village” and “medium is the message”. It can be said that ideas of McLuhan can be applied to new technologies and social media discussions today.

McLuhan introduced the idea of “medium is the message” in his book called Medium is the Message that was published in 1967. According to McLuhan, what is said by the message is not very significant. The media actors which can be regarded as the medium hold a more major influence on the masses than the message it presents.

The medium (or media in other terms) does not only have the role of being the carrier of the message but it is also the message that shapes people’s views and perceptions (McLuhan, 1967). McLuhan, based on the idea of “medium is the message” gave examples to support his claim in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964. According to McLuhan, the content of any medium is always another medium. For instance, the content of writing is speech; the written word is the content of print; and print can be seen as the content of the telegraph (McLuhan, 1964).

Another important concept coined by McLuhan is “global village”. This concept was introduced in the 1960s to say that mass media will spread all over the world and make the world become a global village (McLuhan, 1962). According to McLuhan, the electronic interdependence of today’s world produces a world in the sense of “global village”. The global village has been created by the instant electronic information movement according to McLuhan.

McLuhan believed in the usefulness of communication technologies. One of the most important emphases McLuhan made was about drawing attention with his findings about the global communication revolution. According to McLuhan, TV has been a critical invention that ensures that nothing remains a secret, and that eliminates privacy, and he believed that the change of societies is possible with the development of communication tools in various forms. McLuhan made one of the most important predictions of the 20th century. This was  the Internet.

In contemporary world, social media is used by millions of user all over the world. New technologies have turned the world into a “global village” Although McLuhan said almost 60 years ago, his ideas about media (medium is the message) and the “global village” concept are still relevant today.


  • McLuhan, M. (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man.   London: Routledge.
  • McLuhan M. (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan, McGraw Hill
  • McLuhan, M. (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.  London: Penguin Press.

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New Social Compact

Leaving no one behind with Fiqh for person with disability



As I watch the new Netflix documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution produced by former President Barrack Obama and Michelle Obama, I realize thatthere is an urgent need for grassroot activism to support disability religious rights to pave the way towards greater equality. The movie highlights disabled summer campers who fight for the realization disability rights in 1970s, at the time when they were largely ignored by the state.

And does Indonesia need A Disability Revolution?

According to a study by Monash University, it is estimated that the disability prevalence rate in Indonesia is between 4% and 11%. There are several causes of disability, ranging from malnutrition, diseases, ageing population, natural disaster, and accident. Unfortunately, due to social stigma in the society against people with disability, the disability statistical figures may be underreported.

The Indonesian government has been actively involved in international convention by ratifying United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 and issued the law no. 8 of 2016 on rights of persons with disabilities to comply with human rights standards. But, at the same time the law faces some stagnate situation regarding improved well-beings of people with disabilities because disability prejudices are still at the heart of this tension. 

For example, disabled children are less likely to attend formal education because of lacking inclusive schools. In public places, ramps and accessible information are not easily available. Zooming into the workforce, Indonesian 2010 census reported that only 26,4% people with severe disabilities were employed in formal sectors. This resulted in high rate of self-employment among people with severe disabilities. Many people with mental disability, such as bipolar disorder, have to conceal their condition for the fear of losing jobs.

A research found that discriminations against people with disabilities in developing countries, including Indonesia, caused a loss of up to 7% of Gross Domestic Product(imagine : what if a genius with severe disability like the late Professor Stephen Hawking had never been employed at university?).

Women with disabilities even suffered more from double prejudices, by their gender and their disabilities. What makes thing more difficult for disabled citizens is that, despite of some disabilities laws and ministerial decrees, they were poorly enforced. This explains the urgency of ending this discrimination from a social-economic developmental perspective.

As the largest Muslim majority country in the world, Fiqh (Islamic jurisdiction) for person with disability remains important to safeguard equal religious rights. As a non-disabled Muslim woman, being able to perform Islamic prayer (shalat) properly help me increase my mental wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

Unfortunately, there are still some Muslims who believe that disabilities are by-products of witchcrafts (sihr) or demons (syaitan) which can be healed only by involving spirits and enchanting some quranic verses. Further, in Islamic law per se, there is no specific term which can encompass all disabilities.

“Fiqh for person with disability is very important because the society has yet to accommodate special needs for people with disabilities in performing religious rituals. For example, how does Islam regulate the wudlu(ablution) taken by a man/woman without arms? Considering that Islamic law obligates that someone must wash one’s arm up to elbow during wudlu. And will the wheelchair be considered as najis(impure) inside the mosque?” said Mr. Bahrul Fuad, a disabled person and board member of AIDRAN (Australia-Indonesia Disability Research and Advocacy Network).

Mr. Ahmad Ma’ruf, the Disability Program Team Leader of Muhammadiyah, the second largest and most influential Islamic organization in Indonesia after Nadlatul Ulama (NU), even posed critical questions:“What if persons with hearing impairment wish to get married and say ijabqabul (Islamic marriage vows), will they use sign language? Because religious court has yet to regulate the sign language issue. And who has the authority to validate the sign language as “legally correct” in Islamic marriage?  What if a man with wheelchair wishes to be an imam (leader of a congregational prayer)? Is he allowed to do that, given the fact that many people still interpret explicitly the regulation that makmum (member of a congregational prayer) must follow movements of imam? What if there is no accessible ablution facility in a mosque? Should a person with disability performs tayamum (dried ablution)?”

To address this issue, NUand Muhammadiyah issued Fiqh for person with disability and raise awareness of the public concerning equality for disabled communities. NU even collaborated with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to disseminate the Fiqhto mosques nationwide.

Fiqh for person with disability will fulfil civil rights of disabled community comprehensively, ranging from ubudiyah(religious rituals),muamalah(interpersonal relation), to sahusiah(public policy). This Fiqh will also protect rights of disabled women, as the most marginalized group.

To ensure the smooth implementation of the Fiqh, the government, civil societies, disabled people organizations, religious leaders, and experts of Islamic law should collaborate for accountable monitoring and evaluation. Regular capacity buildings for judges, teachers, and village officials should also be organized.

Finally, political buy-in through Perda(regional regulation)and guidelines should be issued to strengthen government officials’ commitment to enforce the Fiqh. For example, the Special Province of Aceh under Syariah law have regularly issued qanun(regional regulations subjected to Islamic stipulations).

Historically speaking, during the Umayyad Caliph era in the 700s, the Caliph Al-Waleed ibn ‘Abdul Malik accommodated health treatment needs for his population with disabilities through the provision of health care clinics within all his jurisdictional provinces. This idea was emulated by Caliph Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who hired support services workers for people with disabilities. This initiative resulted in social and legal impacts worldwide, in which a broad array of laws on disabilities were enacted.

In making public policy for citizens with disabilities, the government of Indonesia should not paint disabilities situation with a broad brush. Rather, Fiqhfor persons with disabilities must be taken into consideration seriously. Otherwise, there will be far-reaching consequences on well-beings of people with disabilities in the long run.

This Fiqhis a beacon of hope for future generations, to leave no one behind.

As put forward by a member of Crip Camp: “If you don’t demand what you believe for yourself, you’re not gonna get it”.

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New Social Compact

Good Parenting Reduces the Divorce Rate



Divorce is a very stressful event. Apart from having a bad impact on children, divorce has a major impact on the survival of the husband and wife who experience it. Divorced couples visit psychiatric clinics and hospitals more than couples from intact families. Divorced couples experience anxiety, depression, feelings of anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection, and loneliness.

In Indonesia, the divorce rate from year to year shows an increasing trend. The Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia reports that since 2015 until now there has been an increase in the divorce rate. In 2015 there were 394,246 cases, in 2016 it increased to 401,717 cases, then in 2017 it increased to 415,510 cases, as well as in 2018 it continued to increase to 444,358 cases, and by 2020, per August the number had reached 306,688 cases.

               The increase in the divorce rate from year to year has serious consequences in families. Conflict during the process of parental divorce and separation has a negative impact on the physical and psychological well-being of all family members. Quite a number of research results show that divorce has a negative effect on all family members, especially children. The results of Amato’s research in 2011 with a meta-analysis approach to 67 study results showed that children from divorced families had lower academic achievement, behavior, psychological adjustment, self-concept and social relations than children from intact families.

               Based on In the author’s empirical observation, the ending of marital status for a particular family also brings several social impacts, for example: narrowing social networks which results in a lack of social support, causes negative life experiences and psychological suffering, and causes economic hardship for women.

Thus rather than that, a marriage which basically originates from an agreement between two parties, so if there is a divorce, it is certain that both parties will suffer losses. Even children from marriages who divorce will share such losses. Then, what factors cause divorce? In my opinion, the substantial cause of divorce is the parenting concept of a married couple.

Good Parenting

               Parenting, generally known by the public as a pattern of parenting parents towards their children. This assumption is not completely wrong, but it must be straightened out that parenting is an ideal household conceptualization. Of course, you have to move from a husband and wife long before you have children. A husband and wife have had to discuss it long ago so that in various desired manifestations it can be carried out harmoniously together.

Parents (married couples), basically forming their children until they reach maturity will not be separated from the influence of their world. The mode of reflection on the relationship between parent and child is a complex activity that includes many specific attitudes and behaviors that work separately and collectively to influence the child’s outcome and the emotional bonds in which parental behavior is expressed.

In this case, parenting can be explained in terms of two components, namely parental responsiveness and parental demandness. Parents’ demands are the extent to which parents set guidelines for their children and how their discipline is based on these guidelines. Parental responsiveness is an emotional characteristic of parenting. Responsiveness continues to the extent to which parents support their children and meet the children’s needs. Both responsive and demanding parenting have been linked to securing attachment to children. Referring to Baumrind (1971), he identifies three parenting styles, namely: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive with responsive and demanding concepts in mind.

Authoritative parentingis a condition of authoritative parents as a combination of demands and responsiveness. They make logical demands, set boundaries and demand children’s obedience, while at the same time, they are friendly, accept the child’s point of view, and encourage children’s participation in decision-making and often seek their children’s views in family considerations and decisions. This type of parent is then referred to as the type of parent who monitors and disciplines their children fairly, while being very supportive at the same time.

Authoritarian parenting, a demanding and unresponsive parental condition. They engage in little reciprocal interaction with children and expect them to accept adult demands without question. Strict socialization techniques (threads, commands, physical strength, love withdrawal) are used by parents who are authoritarian and withhold self-expression and independence. Authoritarian parents tend to set high standards and guidelines and require compliance. Authoritarian parents attribute love to success and not nurturing like the other two parenting styles.

Permissive parenting, consists of several clear and predictable rules due to inconstant follow-up and neglected bad behavior, neutral or positive affective tone. They give children a high degree of freedom and do not restrain their behavior unless physical injury involves. Permissive parenting shows an overly tolerant approach to socialization with responsive and non-demanding parenting behavior. These parents are nurturing and accepting, but at the same time they avoid imposing demands and controls on the child’s behavior. They have little or no hope for their children and often see their children as friends and have few boundaries.

Based on the three parenting models above that the author has reviewed and conducted a literature review, it is clear that the Good Parenting pattern that must be applied by a husband and wife is authoritative parenting. This concept implies a condition in which a positive influence on the realm of a child’s life until he grows up on the aspects of education and psychological well-being is formed.

A positive parent-child relationship illustrates that the family will survive in harmony so that it becomes the foundation of a healthy home and community environment. The influence of the parents on the whole life of the child means the influence from birth to adulthood due to the parents. Children spend most of their time at home and the attitudes, behavior, standard of living, and communication of parents with their children have a major impact on the child’s future life. If their parents are too strict or too obedient, it has a negative impact on their life. But the supportive, caring and flexible attitude of the parents results in a psychologically and mentally healthy child.

Parents (a married couple) should adopt an authoritative parenting style and practically apply it when dealing with their children. They are the backbone of a nation and the nation’s future depends on their psychosocial development. Healthy parents can produce healthy children in exchange for a healthy nation. On the other hand, unhealthy parents (husband and wife) will have a bad influence, a small example is divorce. And this is a burden for the nation.

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