Maren auf dem Motorrad


Chhotebhai Noronha
Fair Ladies in the Land of Ganga

Kanpur Plus caught up with some of the fair ladies on the eve of International Women`s Day in March.

Vroom! Pintoo kick starts his bike. His pillion - Dr. Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp, a sociologist from Heidelberg University, Germany. What is she doing biking around in the city? She first came here in 1972, attracted to "the foremost industrial city", to study labour migration for her Ph.D. She lived in Kanpur for two years, staying with Col. P.K. and Dr. Lakshmi Sahgal. Their daughter Subhashini was Maren`s age, and an upcoming labour leader, so there was a natural bond.
Dr. Maren has vivid memories of going around the labour colonies on her red cycle. In those days Lalimli, Muir Mill and Elgin Mills were all working three shifts. If one slept out at night one woke up in the morning with a covering of fine coal dust. Today, sadly Kanpur has only dust, for the looms have fallen silent. Those same mill workers are now reduced to selling vegetables. In the course of her studies, Dr. Maren discovered that most of the millworkers were Dalits from Eastern U.P.. The reason, because whenever the thread broke, the worker licked it to join it. Hence no upper caste was prepared to work in the same department.
From the study of migrant labour, Dr. Maren`s focus gradually shifted to Dalit issues. She kept coming to Kanpur with a research grant from the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University. She felt happy that International Women`s day was celebrated with such fervour in Kanpur. It is not so in Germany. Women`s movements in the West were mostly of the "middle classes", and not of the proletariat. She finds Indian upper class women very strong. "They can ruthlessly shout their husbands down"! There is more of gender equality among the Balmiki where men play an equal role in child rearing.
Living in Kanpur has not been easy, with it`s appalling civic conditions, power cuts and chaotic traffic. Most people do not know how to relate to foreigners and tend to be very brusque in their repartee. Despite donning the traditional Indian attire and speaking chaste Hindi, she found that men in Kanpur just did not know how to behave with women.
When Maren first came to the city in the 1970`s, people were openly hostile to foreigners. With the passage of time, things have changed along with the attitudes and she finds herself quite at home in Kanpur. She keeps coming back because she feels that she really loves the people she is working with.

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