Even as these words appear before you...thousands, if not lakhs of girls across the country are compromising with their lives as their careers are put on hold simply because their parents can afford to ‘support’ just one child and that fortunate one is inadvertently the son.....Fortunately (as we are wont to believe) things are changing for the better. Yet when viewed from a broader perspective, epithets like women’s empowerment or women’s emancipation seem more of illusion than reality. Female foeticide, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, emotional harassment (on women) are undeniable realities even today. A woman who wants to fight society has still very few supporters...often even the family (including mothers, aunts and grandmothers)—ones strongest support is more worried about the samaj-- the society than its daughter’s beliefs. As an aunt, wizened through ‘life’s experiences’, had once remarked, she and her husband would not have worried as much had their eldest child been a son.
Such statements on a public forum will not be palatable to the urban(e) reader. For (as she is bound to feel) haven’t things changed? Women are increasingly more visible outside their homes, at the workplaces. The Indian woman has reached up to outer space and scaled the Mt. Everest; she is walking hand-in-hand with man etcetera are clichés that we often hear in feminist discourses and liberalist arguments. But scratch beneath the surface and the reality surfaces. This is the story of many villages and smaller towns across the expanse of the country. And India, despite rapid urbanization and an increasingly expanding concrete jungle--still lives in its villages and smaller towns. Often girls are heard to speak of the ‘liberty’ their parents have given them, but more often than not they themselves are not aware of the tentacles of (patriarchal) oppression that lurk underneath. A girl’s parents might never ask her specifically not to do certain things, wear certain kinds of dresses, and so on; but right from her earliest days, she is (un)consciously conditioned to believe that doing certain things or wearing a certain kind of dress, behaving in a certain kind of manner are improper and do not bespeak a girl of ‘respectable family’. With such ‘conditioning’ , a girl needs no other instructions. The epithet of being ‘traditional’, of being sanskari are oft tagged to such facets of a girl’s conduct. To add to this present-day entertainment and news channels too leave no stone unturned (in their mad scramble for TRPs) in presenting the woman as vulnerable.
Often, ‘Children’ are the biggest reasons (rather pretexts) for a woman . Feminists might rave and rant—but the average Narmada, Charulatha or Maloti of the small village or town -- who has no economic independence , not much education to back and least of all morale support—will continue drying her moist eyes with the edge of her pallu and let life go on. A woman’s sorrow need not only be the scars on her body. There are the innumerable scars in her mind that take much longer to heal. Every careless remark, every inconsideration leaves its mark in a woman’s consciousness. She might muffle her sob under the folds of a forced smile. But the fester remains.
Till the time w(o[m)e(n) ] do not release themselves from the straitjacket of the pater familias, and men and women alike do not broaden their frames of reference and recognize the “metamorphic nature of things”, the woman will only be moving in circles. Swanky malls and branded apparels cannot alter man’s mentality (here, by ‘men’ we imply all those women as well who are themselves pseudo-patriarchs i.e. who are themselves a cog each in the wheel of patriarchy). The change has to be(gin) from within.
The need of the times is change of mindset, a shift in perspective. William Shakespeare wrote in his sonnet number 65—
“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?”
Nothing is permanent in this universe. Everything is susceptible to change, including man and the circumstances around him. It is in the best interests of the woman that the changes be accepted by society—which again is an incomprehensible matrix that one dares not transcend. Stereotypes are to be shattered if society is to coherently move ahead. And when the coherence is missing, we have instances when irate men try to strip a woman naked in full view of the world.( Wearing ‘modern’(Western) dresses do not imply liberation alone. Nor do wearing traditional dresses indicate upholding of ones tradition.)
What is required presently is no elite panel or high brow discussion on all these matters but a percolation of the ideas (that will usher in) change to the grassroot level, to the deeper subconsciousness of men and women. Only then can the woman be thought of as ‘liberated’. Let she not seek comfort from compromise. Society and the nation will progress only when the ‘other half’ of the population is liberated in the true sense.
[pulished in 'Horizon'--The Assam Tribune]