Women’s life journey: a Hindu perspective
(Left) Prarthana (prayer) under the banner of the Hindu Women's Conference.
The Hindu Women’s Network (HWN), Atlanta Chapter, held its 4th Annual Hindu Women’s Conference on July 29, 2017 at the Garden Plaza Hotel in Norcross, GA. Addressing issues faced by today’s women, it covered topics such as health, relationships, financial planning, religion, and spirituality. At interactive info sessions, speakers or panelists shared life experiences and offered advice. The audience got to weigh in on the issues and share their thoughts, making it a true conference of women, not just for women.
The day started with traditional lamp lighting by Shankutla Ahuja, mother of attorney Neera Bahl, a generous supporter of HWN. Kusum Khurana, President of VHPA Atlanta Chapter, welcomed all. Veena Katdare, the force behind this entire endeavor, shared the agenda for the day. The first session was anchored by Manju Tiwari, introducing the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), started in 1970 in the USA to uphold the lofty ideals of Sanatam Dharma. The presentation outlined projects undertaken by VHPA, both in Karm-Bhoomi USA and Punya-Bhoomi Bharat, to fight illiteracy, poverty, natural disasters, and more.
Sadhvi Ritambhara, Didi Maa, at the Hindu Women’s Conference in Atlanta.
Keynote speaker for the event was Sadhvi Ritambharaji, also known lovingly as Didi Maa, for her noble work to uplift destitute women and orphan children through the Vatsalya Gram projects. Sadhviji, an extraordinarily gifted speaker, a revolutionary thinker and a generous, compassionate woman, gave a powerful speech. She defined woman as the only agent capable of channelizing chaotic energies of nature to procreate and establish peace and harmony. She extolled the virtues of women, especially their giving nature. Cautioning women against “trying to become carbon copies of men” Sadhviji urged them to believe in their own unique role in this universe. She also squarely put the mantle of success of Hindu populace on women, by declaring that only a strong, confident, and self-respecting mother can give birth to a strong self-reliant child. So it is imperative that Hindu women believe in themselves and their inner shakti, to bring into this world fearless men and women. The positive force of Sadhviji’s words set the perfect tone for the day’s discussions, making the event a celebration of womanhood.
The sessions that followed dealt with a plethora of topics, with separate break-out sessions for youth and adult attendees. The first panel discussion for adults, moderated by Smita D, was “Retrospective,” where panelists shared their life achievements, regrets, what they would change, and the lessons they learnt. Audience got to share thoughts at the closing of the session. (See more details at bottom of page.)
The next session was hosted by Gold Sponsor Shri Sunil Sachdeva, founder of SDK Insurance. Rachna Gupta was moderator. Financial planning is a topic mostly ignored by women, and this session sought to bring this matter onto the radar for women of all ages. With an ever increasing number of women entering the work force, it is important that they be literate in financial matters. The speaker gave advice on retirement planning and long-term care, among other things, and useful tips on retirement funds.
On a lighter vein, and to get a reality check on life-skills of women, moderator Preeti Gupta gave participants short quizzes on daily life issues: how well equipped are you to handle unexpected situations, like a flat tire, a dead car battery, an overflowing toilet? Participants were asked to write down answers to these questions, and correct answers were entered in a raffle for prizes at the end of the conference. The answers to the questions, along with some useful YouTube links were shared with the participants at the end of the session. These were fun mini-sessions, especially relevant to Indian women living in the USA where relying completely on a male family member just isn’t an option.
Postlunch sessions included panel discussion on modern “Marriage as Sanskar (sacrament),” moderated by Neetu Sharma and Sabitha Venugopal. Panelists came from different walks and stages of life and addressed fundamental questions: why marry, the right age of marriage, how to find the right partner, dating, societal pressures, etc.—matters relevant to young Indian-Americans questioning the traditional modus operandi of Indian matchmaking, as well as the marriage itself. Audience members participated wholeheartedly in the discussion. Panel and audience agreed on the need to wait and marry the right person, rather than give in to social pressure or the biological clock. Mutual respect, trust, commitment, and compromise were the key words to make marriages work. A hot button issue was financial independence of women prior to marriage, on which consensus could not be reached, with both sides firmly holding onto their arguments!
Mrs. Neera Bahl, attorney, continued the discussion on marriages: legal aspects, laws in Georgia, community property vs. individual property, etc. She talked about her own life experiences and her pursuit of her dreams. Her inspiring narrative reinforced the need for women to believe in themselves, value what is inside them, and trust that their goodness will attract the right kind of people and environment.
From these discussions about emotional and intellectual pursuits, the conference transitioned to physical well-being. Mrs. Shobha Swamy, a nutritionist and yoga instructor, presented a holistic approach to nutrition and promoting permanent lifestyle changes, including adopting a healthy plant-based diet with minimally processed food for a healthy body and to reverse chronic diseases. She outlined the harm caused by excessive use of oils and argued against the use of milk in our diet. Her informative slides made one rethink their dietary options. The session concluded with a personal story by Mrs. Bindi Mehta, who talked about her bariatric surgery, a choice she was glad she made.
This conference had separate sessions for women aged 19 to 25. “Identifying Abusive Relationships” was conducted by Ms. Aparna Bhattacharyya, Executive Director of Raksha, an organization that helps abused women. Everyone in the session was asked to give a characteristic of a healthy relationship and a characteristic of an unhealthy one. Discussion was done on why a relationship is healthy and why it is unhealthy. The importance of communication was also emphasized.
The second morning session was about Rituals vs. Spirituality, defining rituals as separate from, but important to, spirituality. Dr. Roopa Luthra talked about how spirituality can be a motivation and assistance to keeping to a righteous path; all people (regardless of religion) could attain happiness.
Afternoon sessions started with a Career and Workspace segment conducted by Preeti Tanwar, a Software Engineer working with the nonprofit Ekal Vidyalaya. She emphasized the importance of knowing where one is to eventually attaining one’s ultimate goal. Using the analogy of a shopping mall map, Ms. Tanwar gave tips to improving one’s life and habits to eventually get where they want to go.
A Mental Health segment followed, by Anjali Patel, a college student hopes to be a teacher. She talked about how to identify signs of depression, and what can you do to help others facing this or other mental health issues. She encouraged people to seek support from their families and communities.
The day was rounded out by a presentation by Bhutani/Nepalese displaced families who are now working and studying in the USA. They went over where they came from and circumstances of their displacement and life here. There was a lot to learn and think about, which was an important theme of the conference as a whole.
The conference concluded with the Sangh Prarthana, a prayer for world peace. The HWN team plans to continue the conversations started in this conference via social media, and looks forward to meaningful interactions with the community members.
Website Bonus Feature
Some background on keynote speaker Didi Maa: museum, Vatsalya Gram or a Village of Maternal Love, etc.
The four panelists were from different age groups and backgrounds: Mrs. Jaya Asthana, a clinical social worker working in Hospice, and a dedicated VHPA karya karta (volunteer) since the 1990’s; Dr. Anjali Ambekar, retired (and the first lady to hold this post) Medical Commissioner, Labor Ministry, Govt. of India, Delhi; Mrs. Manjiri Hegde, a young professional who recently moved to the USA, a former TV executive in India with MS in Mass Communications; and Ms. Anjali Patel, a second generation Indian American, majoring in Education from North Carolina State University. While the senior panelists shared their life stories to encourage and inspire the women in the audience, the younger panelists provided valuable insights into the challenges faced by the younger generations, their aspirations, and the decision making process they go through.
Marriage as Sanskar Panel:
Mrs. Sneha Mehta, a retiree from federal government, and a dedicated volunteer for VHPA, Mrs. Divya Rajpurohit Asthana, a Georgia Tech graduate, a second generation Indian American and a young mother, Mrs. Preeti Tanwar, a software professional, career advisor, and coach & mentor on life skills to college students, and Mrs. Manjula Reddy, a devoted social worker committed to the Hindu cause.
Gold Sponsor Shri Sunil Sachdeva, founder of SDK Insurance, offers customized Life, Health, Disability, Long-term care, Retirement planning or as he says "Personal Life Assurance Strategy.”
Also Sushma Chander, Neera Bahl and Associates, and Sita Goel.
Conference attendees were treated to morning and evening snacks, tea, and a delicious catered lunch. HWN team members Rachna Gupta, Sanjana Dhar, and Preeti Gupta managed the registration desk. Smriti Singh took pictures, and volunteers and board members of VHPA Atlanta were at hand to help with the set-up and smooth running of the conference.
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