By Rahul Mazumdar:
The months of May and June get excruciatingly mundane for a college-going student. Although they crave a journey backÂ home all through the year, in what seems to be an earnest urge to meet their beloved family members, the actual desire is to consume something edible- something that can be actually called food. Something, the entire world actually works for. But, assuming that all of us are not gluttons, relishing dishes isn’t sufficient to keep us busy for the seemingly endless period of two and a half months. Sure the FIFA World Cup has provided some respite along with the ever-intriguing ‘Game of Thrones’ but still, sometimes, life seems to be full ofÂ ennui.
On one such boring evening, I happened to come across a conversation that, once again, pointed out the extremely stereotyped vision of our society. On most days, I might have refuted it as a routine discussion, but on that particular eve, I was provoked. Almighty has blessed my mother with a treasure that I bet very few individuals possess — the ability to talk continuously on completely trivialÂ topics for eons. And when accompanied by her mother- i.e. my maternal grandmother, carping elevates to a higher level altogether. It was only this time that I realized; their perspective was shared quite unanimously by the majority of our population- an issue that is very disturbing, to say the least.
Our family has a ritual of cleaning the place where the idols of Gods and Goddesses are installed in the evening- which theoretically stands for putting the Gods to sleep at the end of the day, a practice that is usually but not necessarily performed by the lady of the house. That day, my mother was busy correcting her school mark sheets and so she asked my sister to perform the ritual. My sister flinches at the very beginning of having to do that task every time my mother asks her to do so, because you need to take a shower and put on clean clothes before that. What follows is a war of words between my mother and my sister, with the former accusing the latter of inactivity while the latter blames the former of being superstitious.
And then started the age-old dogmatic lecture about how girls ought to perform household tasks no matter how high they rise in their career, that she would have to do all these things without any fuss after her marriage, and how girls were differently created- where different can easily be interpreted as weak, dependent and timid- and all of this useless blabbering to a girl who would appear in her class 10th examinations the coming year. This can definitely be seen as an attempt to punctuate all her dreams and aspirations to make her realize that there would always exist a boundary beyond which, she would not be allowed to wander- a demarcation that was influenced, not by merit- but by birth.
At this point, I would like to clarify that my parents are actually quite open-minded- well, at least if I consider many others, they are. My sister goes to the same school as I do, and never has there been any sort of unjust discrimination. So this is not an issue confined to a single household or to a group of people with a similar ideology. The problem is quite intensified, and it does exist even in the minds of the self-considered ‘modern’ young generation. A woman in our society is viewed as the idol of devotion towards her spouse and that of sacrifice for her children. The difficulty begins when she has dreams of her own and dares to fight to protect them. The situation is quite ironical because it is women, themselves, who are quite visibly responsible for many kinds of injustices against their fellow beings, in many different cases.
From the very moment of her birth a girl constantly is made to believe that her major responsibility would be to serve her family- not her present one, but the one that would become her ‘real’ family. If lucky, she might be allowed to study but that mainly appears as an attempt to showcase one’s own pride. What is the value of education if the person does not put it to the correct use? Families nowadays search for convent-educated brides but many of them do not allow them to continue professional work by citing unjust and outdated beliefs and practices. These brides are just to be used as show pieces that can be proudly displayed before relatives and neighbours. Many of them try to fake compassion by arguing that they earn enough to suffice the needs of their family, and so, women do not need a job. The same people do not hesitate to accept dowry.
But the question every woman must have mulled upon is — Why wouldn’t I be allowed to work? Why can’t I live with self-dignity and with the assurance that I am capable to earn my bread? Why should years of education go to waste? If you ask me, I would have never liked to live according to the whims of anyone else- I would have hated it if I knew that all my life, I would be recognized by someone else’s name. They say that women need to take care of their children. But they forget that a sperm is also involved in that creation. So why should a woman sacrifice her entire life, while males are provided an opportunity to make a mark in the society?
The roots of such beliefs go a long way back. Lord Rama, after triumphantly returning to Ayodhya had to face questions related to Sita’s sanctity as she had dwelled- although unwillingly, but surely, with another man. It was then that Rama, in attempt to be proclaimed as an ideal King, asked Sita to obey the diktat instead of putting an end to it once and for all. In an attempt to be the ideal King, he had easily put aside his duties as a husband, which should have been his priority as his lady devotedly stood by him through thick and thin, and not the people. Oddly enough, Krishna’s indiscretions were termed as ‘Raas Leela’ but an innocent Sita had to pass the ‘Agni Pareeksha’ to prove her purity.
Today, male chauvinism is shamefully conspicuous in all parts of our society. A shocking incident took place a couple of years ago where Sania Mirza was used as a bait to pacify a beleaguered Leander Paes who had been infamously ditched by his partner in what turned out to be one of the ugliest off-field battles in the history of Indian sports. A few days ago a well-known Bollywood actress complained of molestation against her business partner. And these are just a few examples. I bet any daily newspaper reader does not begin his day without reading another horrifying account of any crime against women.
Reports of physical and mental harassment of women in the workplace do not make breaking news; they generally pass as accepted conventions. The burning cauldron of corporate giants and powerful politics has tarnished and charred the lives of many women who, in many cases, are just used for sexual comfort with promotions and increments dished out as consolation prizes. But when a serious scandal breaks out it is always the woman who is to be blamed of being an evil fusion of over ambition and of being characterless. It seems as if the woman is solely responsible for this illicit sexual relationship- as if she cajoled the other person involved in the act to unfasten his pants.
But you might be wondering here, why I blamed some women as the propellants of this evil. Here lies the answer — most of them have acquiesced to this status of a second citizen. It seems that most of them have learnt to live life the way they see their mothers live. A girl, from the very beginning, is forced to adopt- perhaps the compulsory feminine traits, of timidity and meek submission. To an outsider, she may appear nothing more than a breeding machine. We make noise about the rising cases of female foeticide, but ironically many of those gynaecologists are females too; we cry about domestic harassment of women after marriage, but in many cases, the culprit herself is a woman. Daily soaps project the ideal woman as the one who is locked within her house and who quietly complies with self-perceived duties and sometimes, even ridicules iconoclastic women who try to free themselves from such insular practices.
Surely we have a long way ahead of us before we truly realize our dream of women empowerment. Derogatory remarks like ‘Haath mein choodiyaan pehen lo’ which question the intrepidity of women are mindlessly used as common adages. And this occurs in a nation that gave the world one of its strongest political figures ever who served her country with unquestionable commitment, and died for the same cause. The same land, not too long ago, witnessed a female President, a female astronaut and women who made us proud in international sports events.
From Rani Laxmi Bai to Indira Gandhi, and from Sarojini Naidu to Arundhati Roy, Indian women have made most of the limited opportunities that were provided to them. Many, through sheer excellence, will remain etched in our memory forever. So it’s high time that Indian women start getting equal opportunities as their male counterparts. In a nation obsessed with mythology where we worship Durga for might, Laxmi for wealth and Saraswati for knowledge, maybe we can show genuine respect towards our lords by respecting and acknowledging our mothers, sisters, wives or for that matter, each and every woman.