Today is the International Women’s Day and a relevant occasion to think about how the lives of Indian women are shaping up in current times.
We often read about female infanticide, rapes, sexual abuse, acid cases, dowry deaths in media …all of which reflect the view that a woman is an inferior being, a liability, an object of desire and an object of possession. Realms of newsprint is devoted to the atrocities being committed on women and rightly so. Atrocities on women is a pressing issue and one that cannot be solved immediately. Decades of patriarchy (and if there is one thing that all organized religions have in common – it is the fact that the norms have all been laid down by men!) cannot be erased overnight.
But the very fact of rapes being reported, acid victims coming forward to seek justice, female infanticide being tracked…is encouraging. It is believed that the number of rapes has not increased year on year, rather the number of reported cases has increased. Often the rape would go unreported out of fear of victim blaming and ‘gharki izzat’. Now the narrative is changing from victim shaming to dispensing justice, however slow and cumbersome that process may still be. Reporting and acknowledging issues are the first step towards solving them…if we wish away our problems under the carpet and look the other way, we do the women an even greater disservice. So, the fact that there is an increase in the ‘reported crime against women’ means that women are not taking these transgressions lying down.
It is important to note that ‘crime against women’ have been commonplace throughout history. In fact, the lot of women was far worse in the medieval times…they were the spoils of war and traded like goods. But the acceptance of women as chattel and absence of any kind of redressal mechanism meant that the women had no option but to suffer their fate in silence.
The reality is different now. Women are far more aware of their rights. 24X7 news channels and social media have provided a voice to the hitherto silent woman. The families are also looking at their daughters as individuals in their own rights and not an extension of the ‘gharki izzat’or ‘maryada’. Girls are being encouraged to dream and their dreams are no longer limited to having a handsome husband and loving in-laws.
Nothing illustrates this change better than a few women whom I met during the last few weeks during my official travel. This feature is about these women, each of whom is a hero.
The first woman is a 24-year-old accountant whom I met in an office. She lives with her widow mother, leaves her home at 6 AM to reach her workplace by 9 AM and returns home by 9 PM in the night. She called off her marriage when the boy’s family demanded dowry.She has given an exam for a private company for a role in the UAE as ‘she wants to live in Dubai’. She is working hard and creating a life of dignity for herself and her mom. She is happy and upbeat about her future, full of joie d vivre.
The second woman is the CRPF woman who does the late evening security shift at Chennai airport. As I straggled in looking weary since I had a long workday, she empathized with me and said something which I will always remember, ‘’madam, are you and I not lucky? We get to work, we get to earn our own money. Whatever happens in your or my life, we will never have to depend on others for food…at least we can earn enough to lead our life with respect. Be thankful for your job.”
The third woman was a farmer’s wife in a village near Barsana. She covers her head with a ghunghat but very proudly told me that her daughter wears jeans. She is worried about her daughter’s upcoming class XII boards because she wants her daughter to graduate and work in an óffice’. She has not taught her daughter cooking or household chores because she does not want her to get distracted from studies.
Another mother, in a village in Tamil Nadu speaks about how her daughter is keen to become a beautician. So, she saves a few rupees from the monthly household money her husband gives to enable her daughter to join a beautician course. The steely resolve in her voice, ‘my daughter will make something of her life’ reflects her determination to help her daughter live her dream.
Yet another mother in a village in Haryana…when her daughter wanted to move to a nearby city for attending college, it was the mother who supported her. She fought with her husband, the elders, the neighbours and finally aligned them to her view. On being asked why, her answer was illuminating, ‘I work as much as my husband, but I have no say in any matter, because I am not earning. My parents got me married at 15. My daughter is intelligent. Why should she have to listen to a man just because he brings in the money? She will study as much as she wants, she will get a job as a government school teacher and she will get married only after that.’’
Most of the census numbers indicate this change partially – increase in literacy being one of them. But numbers do not always tell the complete story and often fail to capture socio-cultural nuances. More than any visible change at the surface, this change is happening at a cultural mindset level. The change is being heralded in by the mothers of girls, mothers who possibly could not lead their lives the way they wanted to…but in their quiet, non-threatening way, they are paving the way for their daughters to live their dreams.
This is not any bra-burning, man-hating feminism. It is marked by the absence of press conference, absence of hashtags, absence of slogans. This is feminism playing out in individual homes, at different times, in different ways – whether it is to support a daughter in her choice of groom, or to push the daughter to study harder, or to save money for her college, or to simply be there for the daughter – physically, mentally and emotionally.
A popular meme does the round on International Women’s Day – Here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them! The unnamed, unsung, unknown mothers in Indian homes, who are ensuring that their daughters get what was denied to them, who never stood up for their own rights, but are standing up for their daughter’s rights …they are the true strong women! This International Women’s Day – let us celebrate these true champions, these mothers who are bringing about the change where it matters most – in their daughters’lives.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta. Currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.
Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of Sify.com.
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