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Women And The Indian Society: Are They Really Free?

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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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  1. Neha Bhandarkar

    The illustrations cited in the article with the help of Movies, Painters, and leaders is appealing.
    The status of Indian women or women in general, still battles with innumerable questions. Its the mentality that has to undergo a change , a positive one!
    Good job 🙂

  2. Salony Satpathy

    It is true that the condition of women is improving in India, but in terms of freedom of speech and activity, a majority of Indian female population is still far behind compared to many other countries in the world. Most Indian households are still ruled by the male members with all important decisions being taken by them. This condition, unfortunately is aggravated by the oldest female members of many families, who, after their husbands deaths, act as the heads of their families. These women, instead of improving the situation, degrade it by suppressing the other women. This is mainly seen in states like Haryana and Rajasthan (as is shown in television serials like ‘Balika Vadhu’ and ‘Naa Aana Is Desh Laado’). In such a case who is to come to the rescue of the women in our country?

  3. Sanika

    Inspite of the improving condition of women in our nation, there still exist many regions that beleive in prevelance of male dominance. Women belonging to such parts of the society can only help themselves in improving their condition by believeing themselves to be at par with men. They should stop blindly restricting themselves to the role of a house-maker and accepting irrelevant authority of the opposite sex. Constitutionally, women are at par with men, but they can be free in the real sense only if they start perceiving themselves to be free.

  4. Ram Sharma

    Despite the odds what is important to realise is that women today are constantly riding the wave and rising to the top of the business realm. Their contributions and patience along with the ability to deliver under high stress conditions has far exceeded the men.
    -Ram Sharma (School of Inspired Leadership- Gurgaon/India)

  5. Srishti Chauhan

    Sanika, sometimes women restrict themselves by choice but mostly they are restricted by circumstances which they can hardly fight. One odd women against a whole village of about 200 can hardly be expected to survive through all odds. There are so many women who are just killed- like that. Human lives are too inexpensive to be cared about-especially a female’s life- or so it seems in our country!

  6. Shilpi

    HINDUISM..I mean really..whats the reading you have about Hinduisn if i may know!!!!….lemme remind you..All religions in the world oppresses veils and objectifies women!! Pls do some study of Hindusim…Lets say you refer to the hinduism as defined by manusmriti- It say a women is a property of a man…she should never be independent….they should be below her father before marraige ,below her husband after..and below her son after her husband is gone!!! And this is practiced TILL NOW as change of surname and wearing visible signs of marraige and getting rid of it after being widowd!!!!!!!! The manusmriti also say -“DHOL GAWAR SHUDRA PASHU NAARI, YE SAB TADAN KE ADHIKARI”-which means dhol ,gawar,shudra,animals and women are worth being beaten up and this also continues TILL Now (Pls read the cases of domestic voilence))…and i m really sorry for you glorifying and admiring women like Maitreyi, Gargi and Sita…although all of them have been opressed by the so called hindu samaj ..did u forgt that Sita hd to give chastity tes..tho RAM dint…and they r celebrated gods of hinduism.!! Hence saying hinduism is a religion of equality is nothign but ignorance on your part!!!!..There are thosands of HINDU temples where women are NOT ALLOWED…. with all mandirs they have harems…where devdasis are kept as public properties to be used by the priests and we knwingly and unknowingly prmote these things by glorifying religion and women like Sita !!!!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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