TW: Domestic violence
The tradition of denying women their agency is an ancient one in our country. Women are viewed as ‘objects’ or ‘property’ to be handed down from one male relation to another.
The ancient text of Manusmriti illustrates women’s positions as, “In childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, and when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”
As Indian women, we have not only read these words but have lived them day in – day out. The text also endorses that we must be put on a pedestal and oppressed under the guise of protection. To throttle our independence is a clear message conveyed in this ancient text. And, so it has been done on so many levels that it will be too cliche for me to recount them here.
I instead wish to tell the stories of times when we have broken the shackles and rebelled and resisted this age-old structure of patriarchy, and defeated the modern forms of sexism.
Let me start with my story.
As a child, I witnessed domestic violence at home. My mother was beaten up, kicked and punched. But she endured for the sake of her children. As a teenager, I too was subjected to this abuse. Our voices went unheard, our decisions ignored. As I turned 18, I realized that this had to stop. I resisted, raised my voice against the abuse. I chose to challenge patriarchy.
Domestic violence is one of the worst forms of patriarchy. Standing up against it is physically and emotionally draining as we have to fight people within our families. However, it is not the only manifestation of a patriarchal mindset.
Setting unrealistic beauty standards for women is yet another way to control the lives of women. That you are too fat or too skinny or too dark or too fair are some taunts women have to hear.
I remember a friend once asked me, “why do you not bleach your skin?” It will make you look fair he would say, ‘more presentable’. Why am I expected to look a certain way? Everyone is beautiful and unique. My brown skin is as beautiful as any other skin colour. Why must I then conform to some set standards of beauty?
The one manifestation of patriarchy that is unique to India is Brahmanical patriarchy. It is a way of talking about the relationships between gender, caste, the economy, and the state. It economically and socially marginalises the so-called lower castes and women. Their lives are disparaged and their rights infringed all in the name of religion.
Call her a goddess, worship her, and ensure that she does not leave the premises of your house. Or that she does not marry a man from a Dalit community. Religion has played a crucial role in planting the seed of patriarchy deep in the social fabric of our country. And that is one major reason why uprooting patriarchy has become such a tedious task.
Many times the religious tenets endorse the discrimination and oppression of certain castes and of women. And we blindly follow them without realizing how malicious these are to some sections of our society.
These are only some examples of patriarchy. There exist many more such forms and traditions that embed a patriarchal frame of thought in the minds of people. Challenging them is not easy and certainly is not a one-woman job. We all have to together fight these evils persisting in our society for centuries.
It has been more than 100 years since we first celebrated Women’s Day. Every year on March 8th we celebrate women and womanhood. This March 8th lets us pledge to challenge patriarchy in all its forms and really #SmashPatriarchy.