The All Ladies League (ALL) and the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March with an extremely interesting Panel Discussion at the Park Hotel entitled ‘Women Run the Show in Every Sphere of Life, Men Only Run’. Eminent panelists included Justice Ashok Ganguli (former Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and former Judge of the Supreme Court of India), Dr. Bharati Ray (former MP historian and educationist), Dr. Alok Roy (CMD Medica Synergie), Priti Patel (Manipuri dance exponent), Professor Suman Mukerjee (professor, economist) and Ramanjit Kaur (theater and film actor/director). The discussion was ably guided by ALL Kolkata Chairperson Ms. Nilaanjana Chakraborty who organized the entire program which was followed by High Tea.

The discussions centered on women and their contribution to the home, at the work place, and their value, worth and acceptance in current Indian society.  Each of the panelists shared their own experiences about the treatment of women and whether in their opinion, women’s status in society, among their families, friends and colleagues had progressed sufficiently.

Justice Ganguli recounted the age-old problem for women being viewed as a mere commodity and wondered if life even today had improved substantially. Poignantly citing the Indian epics and literature, he questioned whether equal justice, rights, liberty had changed much through the ages.  He then recounted Draupadi’s plight when she stated: ‘that the prize was me…my life (was offered) to the shooter of the fish, (she was) a commodity in the market place to be shared between 5 men’. Eventually when making her final walk towards heaven, she fell and recounted that: ‘no Pandava stretched a hand, making me realize that heaven must only be for men!’ Professor Bharati Ray also echoed some of Justice Ganguli’s feelings by highlighting anecdotally that her mother’s hard work at home was seldom acknowledged by anyone, in fact praise was always heaped upon her lackadaisical father who besides his economic contribution did nothing in the house.  She indicated that until recently, women were not allowed to own property in their own names nor a place to call “home” as they traversed between their parental, husband’s and sometimes their son’s homes. She lamented that men took all the credit and women did all the work, but chided that it was the women who shut their eyes to their current plight and did not do adequate justice to themselves.

Priti Patel on the other hand took a contrary stance and in fact, praised her grandfather and father for her success and allowing her to become a patron of the arts. Dr. Alok Roy highlighted that if all males were to disappear, the human race could still survive as long as women’s wombs were functional, but indicated that without women the human race would perish. Professor Mukerjee spoke of the difference within Indian society among the Assamese and the Tamils where women were the heads of the family. Finally, Ramanjit Kaur summed it up very well by stating – “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”.

From the wide range of discussions it appeared that women had made remarkable progress through the centuries and yet they had a long, long way to go to achieve equality and justice in Indian society.