March 8 is a good time to look back and remember all those men and women who fought for Women’s Rights and got us to where we are today. Around 130 years ago, Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education with support from her husband Jyotirao Phule. She set up India’s first school for women. I wonder how difficult her struggles must have been and such stories are also an inspiration to many like us to stand up and challenge inequalities in the society, even if there is a long way to go to achieve equality.
Challenging inequalities and societal norms is a slow process. This is because we advocate and believe in ‘women’s choices’ and that women should have the right to make their own decisions. Now the woman also takes the decision in a patriarchal society where she has grown up and therefore many women will be at various stages of transformation and it is essential to respect her choice and decision.
I have recently got married and having been through the Brahmanical traditions of getting married – I can vouch that tradition and culture play a huge role in creating hierarchies among the genders. In our marriage, there is a tradition where the bride is expected to touch the feet of the groom clearly giving the man a superior position.
There is a tradition of ‘kanyadaan’ where the woman is handed over by one man (father) to the other (husband) almost signifying and making you feel that you need to be looked after and taken care of by a ‘man’. This ritual was traditionally followed when there were child marriages and the economic burden of the woman was shifted from the father to the groom’s family. Another stated logic is also that the groom was considered Vishnu and the girl is then the prime offering that can be made to God. Objectifying women has not been rare, and making her a gift is nothing to be surprised of as well. But what is surprising is the fact that even after all these years of fighting against child marriage, bringing economic rights to women – this ritual is unquestioned and still in practice.
Then, there are rituals to change your caste – if caste is something that you are born into then how can marriage change it? This will defy bigger problems in the country if someone born to an upper caste and married to a lower caste starts availing all relaxations due to marriage. There is also a Supreme Court verdict that caste cannot be changed due to marriage but we live in a society where social marriage is more important than the legal marriage, hence such traditions remain unquestioned.
Similar is the practice of changing identities and surnames after marriage. Legally, it is completely up to the woman if she wants to change her name or not but in the society that we live in, such choices are not offered to many women.
And when I constantly work on violence against women and read data like 1 in every 3 women have faced violence in their lives and violence from the partner (Intimate Partner Violence) is one of the most prominent forms of violence – it is not very difficult to understand how traditions and culture play a huge role in making a man feel superior. And that is why we need to take inspiration from figures like Savitribai Phule and challenge some of our regressive cultures and traditions.