By Nishu Aggarwal
New York, NY: “Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation” and “Indian Consulate, New York” jointly celebrated ‘International Women’s month’, focusing on, Women’s Empowerment through education on March 24. The event also provided the first opportunity for newly appointed Consulate General (CG), Riva Ganguly Deb to interact with the diverse Indian community for vibrant exchange of ideas. Dr. Anila Midha, a prominent Physician who took the helm for the evening explained to the capacity-gathering the main objective of the event and introduced various participants.
In her welcome address, Hon. CG Das, provided an overview of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao as a flagship initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whereby a third of ‘Village Panchayats’ have been decreed to have women in responsible positions. She acknowledged that, though great strides are being made to empower women, a lot yet to be done to change age-old attitudes and beliefs affecting women in our society, and especially in rural areas. She expressed hope that the grass-root organizations like Ekal, with presence in 60,000-plus villages can play an important role in it.
Aroon Shivdasani, the President of the Indo American Arts Council gave the Key note address. She stressed the importance of educating men as much as women to create an environment in families where self-esteem of individuals is not compromised and women have equal opportunity in all walks of life.
ITV’s famous anchor woman, Renee Mehrra, moderated the panel discussion among three successful women of Indian origin from different backgrounds and family values. Ranjani Saigal, Executive Director of ‘Ekal Vidyalaya’, touched on the need to uphold the standards set by parents who precipitated her own academic success at IIT and MIT. She further elaborated a story how during a visit to a rural area a girl asked her, “what can I do in my village what you have done out there?” According to her, the question has dogged her ever since while she is working at Ekal. She informed that Ekal puts special emphasis on educating girls and making them self-reliant though various skills-training, in rural-tribal areas.
Dr. Urmilesh Arya, C.O.O at Gastroenterology Associates in Brooklyn and a trustee of Hindu Center in Flushing, brought to fore a critical challenge for girls in accessing education – the fear that their daughter would get romantically entangled with a boy, which may bring shame to the family. She herself overcame this challenge and many others with self-conviction and courage.
Dr. Sunita Saini, and Director of South Shore Psychological Services and Long Island Psychology and Psychotherapy Services, highlighted the importance of having a supportive family who, regardless of gender, value building their children’s career more rather than acquiring material assets.
There was a resounding agreement that when a woman is educated, she educates her entire family. The ensuing discussion highlighted the relevance of good health for women as a strategy towards empowerment. The panel cautioned that overcoming the socio-cultural biases that promote female infanticide and the perception that a girl is a burden are major stumbling blocks in restoring dignity of women in our society.
Vinod Jhunjhunwalla the President of Ekal Foundation, USA and Prof Subash Midha, the main Ekal coordinator for the event thanked the Indian Consulate, for their support in hosting this event.