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A woman's word

Dr Nita Mukherjee finds a fledgling idea that has taken wing—keeping alive women-related history by archiving invaluable reference materials

Way back in 1988, when ‘gender studies’ was not as popular a subject at Indian universities as it is now, those researching on women’s issues had to run from pillar to post to collect reference materials. Often, they found invaluable archival papers lying in old trunks in family closets. “It was then that a group of us in Mumbai, including the then head of women’s studies department at the SNDT University—(late) Dr Neera Desai—thought of setting up the Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW),” says Dr CS Lakshmi, founder trustee. SPARROW was registered as a trust in 1988 with the objective of building national archives of women-related print, oral history, visual and pictorial materials. For the past 23 years, it has been engaged in recording, reviewing, recollecting and reflecting on women’s history and life and communicating this information in various ways. SPARROW now has a broad-based board of trustees—academics from various disciplines—including Maithreyi Krishna Raj, Divya Pandey, Roshan G Shahani, Dr Usha Thakkar and Shoba Venkatesh Ghosh. Mihir Desai, a human rights lawyer, is also now a trustee of SPARROW. All of them believe that positive change in emancipation of Indian women and achieving gender justice is possible “with knowledge and awareness of women’s lives, history and struggles for self-respect and human dignity.”

In addition to collecting archival materials and organising them, SPARROW runs awareness drives through exhibitions, seminars & workshops, research studies and by organising school visits. The scope of SPARROW’s collection on women freedom fighters, activists, educationists and social reformers extends to the entire Indian subcontinent now, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In the past 10 years, SPARROW has brought out 33 publications and several research reports, and held 17 workshops. It has also started digitising its archives now. “We find that it is the only way forward to reduce the pressure of space. But it requires a lot of resources,” says Dr Lakshmi. SPARROW is also keen to archive cultural traditions as well as folklore and documenting traditional knowledge which often lies with women.

As with all such efforts, garnering funds was the main hurdle, especially since space was needed to house the archives. “Our initial fund-collection exercise started with sale of feminist calendars and diaries that we brought out. And the space that the archives had was, well, my bedroom! That was all we could afford then,” says Dr Lakshmi. After shifting around from one rented space to another and failing to get any support from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, it was only in January 2008 that SPARROW shifted to its own building ‘The Nest’ in Dahisar (a western Mumbai suburb), acquired with a generous grant from HIVOS (a humanist network with headquarters in the Netherlands) and donations from friends and supporters.

Today, the archives comprise an impressive collection of 14,160 photographs; 6,771 media slides, 609 documentaries in seven languages, 585 popular films in 11 languages, 4,888 books in 11 languages, 4,448 journal articles in seven languages, 21,025 newspaper clippings in eight languages, 274 private papers, 1,983 brochures in nine languages, 3,042 newspaper cartoons, 3,578 print visuals, 1,714 posters, 120 calendars, 8,000 cartoons by Maya Kamath, 649 music audio-cassettes/CDs and 550 oral history recordings.

Dr Lakshmi says: “SPARROW has traversed a long distance and there is a long journey ahead of us. But when a fledgling sparrow decides to fly, the sky is the limit!” You can support SPARROW by corpus donations, contribution to The Dr Neera Desai Memorial Library and by partnering for events like exhibitions, book fairs or seminars.

The Nest
B-101, 201, 301 Patel Apartment
Maratha Colony Road
Dahisar (E)
Mumbai 400 068
Tel: 022 2828 0895,
2896 5019
[email protected]


Getting junk food out of our educational institutions

The Delhi High Court’s direction to the Centre to take stringent steps to safeguard the health of students by banning sale of junk food in around educational institutions is a step in the right direction. We, too, can help in preventing this malaise

Simply put, Dussehra is the victory of good over evil, by whatever name it is called and in whichever local variation it prefers all over India and in many other parts of the world. To get a judgement like this from the Delhi High Court symbolises this even more
You can read check the news articles about the Delhi HC judgement here:
“We do not need lip service but we want the government to take effective steps to ensure that the sale and supply of junk food near schools and other educational institutes is banned,” said a bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Siddharth Mridul after going through an affidavit filed by the Centre in July this year.”
In brief, what this does is to place the onus on the government to ensure that soft drinks (carbonated and non-carbonated beverages containing sugar/sweeteners, colours and other additives) as well as fast foods (pizzas, burgers, instant noodles, processed foods and similar), are not sold in any educational institutions or within 1,500 feet/500 metres of these educational institutions. If one takes into account all schools, nursery/Montessori schools, tuition centres, colleges, training centres and any other places where education of any sort is imparted in and around Delhi, then this will, in effect, cover pretty much most of the areas where younger children are likely to gather.
Moneylife has also been writing on the subject, most recently at:-
So what next, how do those of us who are really concerned about this issue, take it further? For those who wish to file RTI applications on the subject, please write to me directly, and I shall assist. For the others:-
1) Help in giving this judgement as much publicity as possible. The mainstream media and it is interesting to observe which are the publications which have not carried this news report, or buried it somewhere—will not take this too far. Commercial considerations shall prevail, of the sort that was there in the days when tobacco advertising was still in vogue and that’s the simple truth. However, you can do your part by spreading this over the internet as well as by word of mouth.
2) Write to the school or college that you are in any way involved with, and ask them what steps they propose to take to adhere to the ruling in connection with this judgement, whether in Delhi or elsewhere. Ask for a response within a reasonable time and if not received, mark a reminder, and also please mark a copy by email as well as by signed hard copy to the high court that has jurisdiction where you live or where the school/college is located.
3) Do a physical check of what is being sold within the school/college and nearby and inform the school/college authorities as well as the high court which has jurisdiction. A simple site map will also help, and if you are not sure of distances, then using Google maps or similar tools will help. You can also consider ‘populating’ the online maps with this information.
4) Be more careful about what your children are provided by way of snacks on visits outside school. There is this tendency to ‘invite’ school children to malls and soft drink factories, as a means to making them aware of as well as bringing them into this unhealthy food culture, and it needs to be controlled by parents. A mall or a soft drink factory is not part of education and you need to tell the school that.
At the end of the day, what our children and we end up eating and drinking is up to us. There are many more ways in which to address this issue. Moneylife would like to hear from you on how YOU propose to take this further with the school/college YOUR child goes to.



Vikas Gupta

5 years ago

Its a welcome move from our Judiciary. Now the Administration has to enforce the law be it at Central/ State or District Level.
I think the next step from the Judiciary after taking Continous Enforcement Report from the Administration should be Banning of Children for advertisement of these products.



In Reply to Vikas Gupta 5 years ago

Thank you for writing in Vikas Gupta ji.

And while we certainly can expect the administration to help or not help in enforce basis local pressure points, fact remains, the actual pressure will have to come from you and me and the common woman and man on the street who is concerned.

Please do spread this article, and try to help in enforcement, we have to do it. The administration has not done so for decades - it will take time to change.

WE have to be the catalysts for the change.

Humbly submitted/vm

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