Journalist and psychologist Devi Rajab spoke recently at UCF about the conditions South Africans of Indian origin experienced during apartheid, and how the contributions of women helped the society to develop.

The public forum, which was preceded by a musical performance by professor Nandkishor Muley and his students, drew an audience of about 160. The event was organized by a partnership of The Burnett Honors College, the Global Perspectives Office and The India Center.

Narrating the story of Indian migration to South Africa, Rajab said hopefuls were lured away with the promise of opportunity, but that they had no idea of the social, political and economic difficulties ahead. She mentioned the numerous restrictions – 144 in total – passed into laws against Indians. Commenting on the cruel side of culture, Rajab quoted one immigrant who said, “I hate being here, but I can’t go back to India because I have broken my caste; I ate with a non-caste person.”

Eventually, apartheid broke down with the help of labor movements by women in South Africa and India, said Rajab. She told the story of Valyemar, a 16-year-old girl arrested for protesting against the government. After becoming ill in jail, Rajab said, Valyemar refused to be released for medical reasons, saying that she would die for her “mother country.”

Rajab then added, “Mother Africa has defined me, embraced me and molded me. I was conceived in India, made in South Africa.”

Rajab discussed a recent renaissance for South Africans of Indian origin and how “Indian women are allowed to blossom like never before.” As a result, she said, new opportunities for women have opened up in all different levels of society, including jobs in politics, business and trade.  

When asked what can be done to help decrease similar gender-related issues that women face all over the world, Rajab responded that education is the most important tool for emancipation, and that women also need support such as childcare to succeed.

Additional sponsors and partners for the event included The India Group, Anil and Chitra Deshpande India Program Endowed Fund, Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, CliftonLarsonAIIen, UCF International Services Center, UCF Center for Success of Women Faculty, UCF Political Science Department, UCF LIFE, UCF Book Festival 2013 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Global Connections Foundation.