Women And The Indian Society: Are They Really Free?

Posted on February 22, 2011 in Society

By Srishti Chauhan:

The status of women in any civilization shows the stage of evolution at which, the civilization has arrived. In terms of granting reverence and deference, Hinduism is probably the sole religion in the world where theoretically the status of women is a notch higher than men. In this world, perhaps, no religion grants a better place to women and no other literature has presented stronger and more admirable women than Maitreyi, Gargi and Sita.

Women, since times immemorial, have been a source of great intrigue and mystery to artists of all kinds- be it painters, musicians, playwrights or authors. Often serving as muses, women are indistinguishable parts of arts of all kinds.

Being no exception to the rule, Indians too, have often looked towards women for inspiration and motivation. The famous painter- M.F. Hussain, has repeatedly been under the limelight for painting his interpretations of the Hindu mythology. The painter in question has been the topic of many-a-conversations due to his search for muses amongst the Bollywood actors. From Madhuri Dixit to Amrita Rao- the painter has had several muses.

Likewise, there are innumerable books and stories dedicated solely to women. Khalid Hoissini, the author of the 2 very soul-stirring novels by the names of ‘A thousand splendid suns’ and ‘The Kite Runner’, had once said in an interview that the reason why he writes a story from a woman’s perspective is because it has innumerable dimensions to it.

In terms of status of women in India, of particular interest, is the state of Rajasthan. Infamous for being conformists of the most brutal kinds, Rajasthanis have always set limits within which their women are forced to stay. The movie- Dor, which gathered much appreciation for its wide-appeal and true-to-life story, was the story of 2 women who find a comrade and confidant in one another. The story revolves around a woman who has turned a widow the cause of which is the husband of the other. The movie explicitly portrays the life of widows in the rustic society of Rajasthan. Not allowed to touch another soul, the widows are treated like a lower species- any correspondence with which is morally erroneous.

This sort of callous treatment conferred on the fairer sex by the so-called leaders of the society is very distinctive of their thinking.

Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, is often referred to as the only ‘Man’ in politics. This lucidly states but a single fact; a woman is not expected to be strong. It’s only men who take path-breaking decisions and are tough.

Indian women have been typecast into a certain role which is engraved so deeply into the minds of people that changing it is a thorny mission. The advertisements for detergents, washing powders, glass cleaners and toilet cleaners- all feature women. It is considered natural for women to be home-makers. Often, working women are charged with the case of being negligent towards home and family- all this with no proof regarding the matter.

In the states of Jharkhand and Rajasthan, women are often labelled as witches who practice black magic. Last year, an elderly woman from Jharkhand was marked as a witch and paraded naked through the village. Such brutalities are but a platitude in a country where common sense is often defeated by blind veneration!

Indian women, though have progressed a great deal, are yet to enjoy the freedom of choice, decision making and speech that men enjoy. The statement that men and women are equal sounds very appealing. The reality that lies behind this euphemism remains hideous.

Present day status of women has improved a great deal, although this improvement is neither uniform nor extensive. With the crowing of Mrs. Pratibha Patil as the first woman President of India, a transformation appears imminent. Legally, women in India are one of the most liberated and superior as compared to those in some other parts of the world. An excellent example that supplements the aforesaid is the fact that women in Saudi Arabian countries are not allowed to cast a vote. In some countries, the value of one vote of a man is twice the value of a single vote by a woman.

A major related problem that our society faces is domestic violence- majority of fatalities of which include women. Domestic violence is an issue which can be related to the idea that women are inferior to men and men have the right to punish and probate them. The problem is not only peripheral but intrinsic. The socio-psychological makeup of most rural and many urban women has been shaped and molded by more than a century of patriarchal beliefs and a family system where the man (in form of a father or a husband) is the equivalent of God. The feeling of inferiority has been embedded in their psyche so much so that far from condemning acts of violence against them they are more likely to throttle the voices in favor of them. This is part of the clichéd vicious circle of illiteracy and social backwardness that accounts for all the resultant backwardness of the gender.

Unless social activism groups take these factors into consideration and delve deeper into the social realm of this problem, there is little that can be done. The government, police and the related authorities need to understand the connotation of their role. Most of all, men and women need to be aware of the much hyped equality of sexes and need to respect the same. Since ours is not a gender-stratified society in the literal sense, both sexes need to learn how to live in co-operation and concord. The patriarchal heads of society need to answer what the poet PB Shelley asked centuries ago – “Can man be free if woman be a slave?”

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