Bundeley Harbolon key munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.
No Indian is stranger to the legends of the brave Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and for good reason. The life and times of this strident warrior queen have fascinated historians for nearly 160 years, giving birth to the glorious accounts of her heroic tales that all of us are so familiar with. The aforementioned are perhaps the most quoted lines of the famed poem titled ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ that every Indian is bound to have read or heard at some point.
However, there is something in these lines that has bothered me since the day I was first introduced to this poem at school, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why no one else was irked similarly. The Rani of Jhansi, the staunch and steadfast warrior of congenital determination even in the face of great adversity, is described in the poem as someone who ‘fought bravely and relentlessly, like a man’.
She was a woman who refused to abide by the socially constructed mores of gender conventionality, continuing to wear jewellery and refusing to cut her hair after the passing of her husband, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar. A queen in her own right, she would sit on her deceased husband’s throne daily and rule her land and people. She fought for her people, with her people, but not without summoning a meeting of representatives first, asking for their views on whether to march onto the battlefield or sue for peace, in truly democratic spirit.
Everything she stood for, everything her life bears testimony to, loses meaning once likened to the actions of another gender, for ostensibly, it was the only justification for her unconventional behaviour.
We live in a society wherein gender roles and prescribed norms are ingrained within us since long before we have even opened our eyes. We live in a society wherein words such as sportsmanship and mankind are used casually; a society wherein no one even thinks to pause their daily mundane activities and consider how morally, ethically and socially wrong it is to sort people into boxes, slapping barcodes onto them like items placed neatly on supermarket shelves, organised conveniently based on type, utility and worth.
By definition, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities; it is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” For a woman isn’t smarter, stronger, more compassionate or a better person than a man. She is human; and that doesn’t make her any less.
Why then, do we equate this word with misandry? Why then, does this word make us so uncomfortable?
It is so, because we, as a society are guilty. We are guilty of imprisoning ourselves within chains of what we have been told are fundamental policies of nature. We swallow this distorted image of ‘normal’ like obedient schoolchildren, not once stopping to question this ‘normal’ and its determinants. After all, the repressive practice of sati was considered ‘normal’ until roughly 200 years back when it was criminalised, only going to show how public initiative and legal sanctions in matters of socially constructed norms can help shape the ideologies and carve the mindsets of citizens.
Saying that nothing has changed over the past few years would be a grave disservice to those who have spent their entire lives fighting relentlessly for justice. But much is yet to be done. Creating an atmosphere of equity and justice is essential not only for the advancement of women, but for men to break free of the chains that confine them as well. I implore you to connect with your humanity, and urge you to reclaim the parts of yourself that have been held captive for so long.
Our lives and our society will go down in the pages of history. It is our beliefs and ideologies that will shape the legends of tomorrow. We possess the power to carve out the future, to shape the mindsets of our future generations, to teach them right from wrong, for we determine this ‘right’, and this ‘wrong’. Let us build a world together in which the laudable actions of men and women are not compartmentalised the way the Rani of Jhansi’s were in the poem this piece began with. Let us build a world together that we can be proud of.
I realise this piece will inevitably be lost amongst piles of similar articles and fading screams heard around the corner, just out of earshot. I realise this piece is not dissimilar to the thousands of others that came before this. I only endeavour to include my voice to the now fading scream, and hope it is joined by many others, until we compose a battle cry.
So many brave women such as Rani Lakshmibai came before us. We stand on their shoulders as we continue to reach for the stars beyond the glass ceiling.
This article in no way attempts to demean the works of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. Rather, it endeavours to highlight the little ways in which we facilitate these oppressive gender constructs, unbeknownst to us. This article is not critical of any section of society; it is critical of the warped lens through which we look to shape our understanding of the world around us.