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Dangerous Ws – Wine, WhatsApp, Women: Statistics That Show Subrahmanya’s Biased Reality

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By Samar Halarnkar, 

The suspension of two college girls in a prosperous, highly literate small town showcases India’s struggles with female independence and offers some clues to their low workplace presence.

The photograph that stirred the small, temple town of Subrahmanya in lush, prosperous coastal Karnataka this week is notable for its ordinariness.


Two slim, young women in slacks, t-shirts and comfortable shoes sit on the ground of a semi-finished building and lean against each other. Behind them is a forest. Besides them is a pint of beer, two bottles of cheap wine and a plastic glass. Both appear to be at peace, smiling and lost in their thoughts, sharing a quiet, private moment.

It wasn’t to remain private. The photo –it is in our possession, but we will not share it here to spare the women another invasion of their already invaded privacy –got on to Whatsapp and went viral through the district of Dakshin Kannada, better known by its capital city, Mangalore.

The Moral Guardians Of Mangalore

Mangalore is known for its often violent Hindu and Muslim vigilante groups. Their targets typically have been mixed groups of men and women and Hindus and Muslims: at a pub, a home stay, an ice-cream parlour, even school girls and boys posing playfully in a Whatsapp picture.

Last year, a Muslim group called Muslim Defence Force was created to stop “Love Kesari“, a counter to the Hindu bogey of “Love Jihad”, which originated six years ago across the border in Kerala’s northern districts. The core philosophy of both groups is the same: Stop women from meeting, consorting with or marrying men of the other religion.

With the young women of Subrahmanya, the fact that one girl was Muslim and the other Hindu did not help, or that the Muslim woman’s father was a BJP worker.

karnataka-map-v2The wine, beer bottles and the trees implicated the women—if they were men, it would not have mattered—both second-year B.Com students of the 32-year-old Kukke Shri Subrahmanyeshwara College, situated in the foothills of the Western Ghats Subrahmanya, a conservative temple town. The evidence clearly indicated that they were partying, and that was not acceptable to the district’s moral guardians, in this case the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing.

ABVP activists brought the photo to the attention of the police, as a matter of public order, and pressured the principal of the college, Dinesh Kamath, to do something. He suspended the young women.

When IndiaSpend called Kamath, he said the suspension was “temporary“, until the facts were sorted out. He confirmed that the photo was not shot in his college but likely two years ago, when the young women and a friend visited the neighbouring coffee-growing district of Kodagu. On August 18, the suspension was revoked.

IndiaSpend asked him a larger question: In such a highly literate district, how does a college principal deal with teen hormones and the yearning for freedom?

You see, whatever the literacy rate, there are personal weaknesses,” said Kamath. “We can do anything in India, is it not? The constitution guarantees freedom, isn’t it?” He paused. “But should there not be limits? We should know the limits. Should parents not tell them?

The young women would be released from suspension, Kamath indicated. Their families have grounded them, and–as is increasingly evident across India–the women are likely to learn of new boundaries and restrictions, as they begin their journey into adulthood.

A Good Place To Grow Up Female–Or Is It?

As statistics go, Dakshin Kannada appears to be a good place to grow up female in emerging India. The sex ratio of 1,020 women for every 1,000 men is among India’s best (national average: 940), according to census 2011.

The female literacy is 78%, 13 points above the national average for women. The district’s women are among India’s oldest when they get married, at an average age of 24—and this is for women in rural areas, according to state health data.

Girls routinely top local exams, many stream out into the professional world beyond their lush district, and development has proved to be a great contraceptive. Dakshin Kannada’s total fertility rate is 1.4, down by half over 30 years; it is now the same as Japan and lower than Switzerland.

If it were not for inward migration, the district’s population would decline. The infant mortality is 35 deaths per 100,000 live births (India: 43), better than richer and more developed Iran.

india spend table

Three clues to Dakshin Kannada’s struggle with female emancipation are available in the mean age at marriage, child-sex ratio and workplace data.

The first clue: The mean age of marriage in urban areas is lower than rural, skewing the overall mean marriage age to 23.5, lower than the rural age of 24, the data reveal. This means the pressure to marry is greater in more literate urban areas.

The second clue: In 2011, the child-sex ratio–the number of girls, aged zero to six, for every 1,000 boys—in Dakshin Kannada was 947 to India’s 918. But the district’s child-sex ratio is down from 952 in 2001, echoing a larger trend in India’s richest areas. As richer, more educated women have fewer children, there is pressure on them to ensure these children are boys. Little else explains Mangalore’s declining number of female infants.

More than 90% of women—all except one were literate—in a 2014 Mangalore study were aware of pre-natal sex selection, 75% knew it was a crime, but a majority of them still wanted to know the sex of their child, a group of researchers reported in the Journal of Diagnostic Research.

The third clue to the clipping of female wings is available from Dakshin Kannada’s workplace data. The female work participation rate fell from 42% in 2001 to 25% in 2011, according to a 2013 paper from the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. Globally, this is not an unusual trend: when societies are poor, more women tend to work; as incomes rise, they tend to withdraw, returning when education levels rise.

Educated Young Women: Shackled By Their Societies

It is known that India does particularly badly as regard women in the workplace.

Female labour force participation in India is lower than many other emerging market economies, and has been declining since the mid-2000s,” notes a 2015 International Monetary Fund working paper.

Within this demographic, the unemployment rate in India is highest for urban women with graduate degrees and above, Shriya Anand and Jyothi Koduganti of the Indian Institute of Habitat Settlements wrote in this IndiaSpend piece last month. More than a fifth of such highly educated women–who could significantly boost the economy–could not find jobs, they reported, quoting government employment data.

The conundrum: While Indian companies struggle to fill positions, Indian women with graduate degrees and above cannot find jobs. There are no data for this, but our hypothesis, in line with the observations of social scientists, is that even highly educated Indian women often find it hard to break the shackles of family and tradition.

Your correspondent has met many young women who live away from home but are still shackled by the expectations and rules of families, neighbours, teachers, bosses and random strangers. For each woman who breaks free, there are many who cannot.

It is unclear what will happen to the two young women of Subrahmanya, but it is clear that instead of being defended, they will be informed of what is–or should be–out of bounds in Indian culture.

Whatsapp is killing our culture and education,” K Byrappa, the vice chancellor of Mangalore University, told Bangalore Mirror. “Colleges should ban its use …we have to maintain the dignity of higher education. India is known for excellent education and many foreign universities are following the Indian system of education. Hence, blindly aping the West is not correct.

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.


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    Women will soon be banned in Ice Cream parlors like Pubbas. Pamod Mutthalik reigns in Mangalore.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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