What Actually Led To The Current State Of Women In India? [Women’s Day Special]

Posted on March 8, 2011 in Society


By Trishla Singh:

[Trishla Singh is a student of Delhi University, and the Founder of Voice Of Indian Women – a blog to address women issues. Do check it out here.]

When we talk about the issues that concern women or are related to women, problems like rape, harassment, dowry, exploitation of women in different kinds of occupations jump to our minds. One always seeks a solution for these problems. However, in order to even begin – we need to understand what leads to these problems. I feel that the representation of women throughout centuries has led to the image of a woman that we see today. This image depicts her as vulnerable, someone who is better off in the confines of her home. Religion, culture, even popular cinema has helped to develop this image of women.

We often put women in two categories, either they are the chaste figures represented by Draupadi or Sita, or they find their identity in the new age Sheila or Munni. In both the cases the personality of a woman is reduced to certain characteristics. Draupadi and Sita are the obedient wives, while Munni and Sheila are sex symbols. All these women are objectified and victimized in one way or another. They, in their symbolism, are made to serve the needs of men – directly or indirectly.

The famous Draupadi was a wife to five husbands. Her polyandrous marriage seemed to create a problem in the epic of Mahabharata. Draupadi’s father was convinced by many people in order to agree to such an arrangement. Nevertheless, she was married to the Pandavas. She was the dutiful wife. In her conversation with Krishna’s wife Satyabhama she elucidates on the duties of a faithful wife. One must pay attention to this discourse. She said that:

A man was a God to his wife and it was through him alone that a woman obtained progeny, enjoyed comforts and luxury, attained fame in this life and heaven in the next.

If a man was pleased with his wife, she received whatever she wished; if angry, he could even kill her.

A woman should learn to restrain her thoughts, be quiet, and earn the complete confidence of her husband.

A woman should avoid haughtiness and unmindfulness, she should avoid the company of those not liked by her husband.

She went on expounding on what a wife should do and what she should avoid.

One may draw from the above, that a woman was definitely an individual not to be trusted easily. She had to earn trust of her husband and perhaps her in-laws as well. Her soul aim was to please her husband and treat him as a demi-god. She was not allowed to trust her thoughts. She couldn’t voice her opinions without being sure of the fact that they will not upset her husband. Her every move was minutely observed and approved. She was then a mere puppet or a robot brought in the household of her husband in order to serve him. One may read slavery into this kind of a relationship. Her position was no better than the black man’s in a white man’s world.

This ideal image of a woman is still propagated and even encouraged in our society where the men are the Gods, and women, their worthless servants. Women are also discouraged to think and be independent. They are not trusted with freedom.

Sheila and Munni are the sex symbols. They exist because they are in demand. Our current society needs them to satisfy perverse fetishes. Sheila represents the dream of every man. She is the unattainable sexual fantasy while Munni represents the every day prostitute. Perhaps, she is not as mysterious and exciting as Sheila but definitely doable, may be more. Be it popular cinema or contemporary society, we are unable to separate a woman from a symbol. She is either a symbol of sacrifice or a symbol of sex. Either she is ‘Tulsi’ of Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Kyunki Saas bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ or she is a devilish fallen temptress. One must understand the reason why such sitcoms became so popular. The women were able to identify with the symbolism. They were expected to sacrifice everything for their families. And what does this entity called family constitute? Her husband and his parents, her children and several relatives from the husband’s family. What was her role? To cook good food, to serve her husband. What does the good woman in these serials wear? Sarees or Indian clothes. What does the ‘spoilt daughter’ wear? – Western outfit. Such representation clearly perpetuates an ideology.

A woman who wears western outfits is not good. While the good or chaste woman wears Indian clothes and follows the sacrificial images of Draupadi and Sita. Gender roles and patriarchal notions clearly dictate these attitudes. This also shows the general attitude of the people. The wide acceptance of these images led to instant popularity.

What do men and youngsters draw from such representation? Women are to be used and enjoyed either as sex objects or as servants in the form of wives. Our society clearly segregates boys from girls at a very young age. It strictly imparts gender roles. It does not let the boys who later become men understand women or girls as people but as ‘things’.

It is this erroneous representation that leads to crimes like rape. Rape as a crime is a complete internalization of this concept. It is a crime in which the will of a woman is negated and the will of the man is fulfilled completely. It is something that our culture screams at the top of its voice. The role of a wife is to sacrifice her feelings and emotions for her husband. The role of Sheila or Munni is to satisfy the male libido without reaching or understanding their own sexuality. When a man rapes a woman he is completely within the confines of our culture. This is what our culture teaches men. It teaches them to dominate the woman. Make sure that she does what he says. Our culture encourages rape and crimes against women. I remember, when a Noida student was raped by a few village boys, it were the mothers and fathers of these boys who justified this act.

Women need to understand their representation. Texts written by men represent women. Women need to rewrite their own histories and create representational images that give an accurate picture. A woman needs to breakaway from such ideologies and create her own image.

[This article represents the harsh reality of our nation. You might not be the ‘men’ we talk about here, but a majority of our populace still thinks on these lines. The question is, are you willing to take the baton in hand and stop this ‘culture’ of treating women like objects? Do comment]

Image courtesy.