As a woman, I am perpetually in a state of confusion as to the ‘Feminist movement’ and the ‘women’s empowerment’ in our Bharat. This is because while these terms are ‘supposed’ to help women become empowered and ameliorating them, in our country these terms are usually used sarcastically or even maybe as a bad word. What is even more perplexing is that not just men, even women look down upon these words. Why? Let us take a look –
March 8, is the International Women’s Day. This day was first celebrated in Russia and then in the Communist and Socialist countries, to celebrate the women getting the power to vote and hold public office. It is a well-known fact that women in the West (including America) had to fight hard to get the right to vote (Suffragette).
Unlike the male chauvinistic West, in Bharat, it was automatically assumed that the women had every right to vote since, in our country, women had the right to rule too. We have had some exceptional Queens who fought wars for Independence, against foreign powers, against their local enemies and who were exceptional administrators too. Rani Ahalyabai, Rani Chennamma, even Razia Sultan (who had to fight the Turkish Mullahs really hard to stay on the throne), all donned this role with ease. People tend to forget that when the Kings of a region were out fighting, it was the patt rani (chief queen) who held the fort. They learnt the art of warfare, physical fight, mathematics, science, logic, astrology and Arthshastra (economics) from childhood, apart from cooking, stitching and other household activities. In fact, in the Ramayana, Kaushalya is described as adept in managing the palace and the finances of her kingdom. Kunti of Mahabharat was also known to be a great administrator even when she was living with her father. Our ancient scriptures are replete with powerful women who did not think once that just because they were women, they had to sit in the background and murder their aspirations or talent. Even Chanakya, the great economist mentions how working women have to be granted certain privileges keeping in mind that they have a family to run.
In modern times, we had Ma Sarada Devi (wife of Shree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa) – an epitome of spirituality herself, women entrepreneurs (SEWA & Lijjat Papad movement for eg.), educationists, researchers and many women freedom fighters such as Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali, young Indira Gandhi (leader of the Vanar Sena) and more, all of whom did not even think for one time that because they were women, they should not have their own personality or voice. And I don’t think that men of my land resented them or insulted them for being women.
But one thing stands out in Bharatiya women – the fact that they did not think that nurturing their family or doing household chores were beneath their dignity. It is a fact that the Bharatiya naari considers her role as a mother and wife to be one of dignity and respect. And rightly so. She is the reason why our heritage, culture and knowledge of our scriptures still flourish in our houses.
But since the late 70s, a trend emerged to see household chores and housewives in a disrespectful way and I believe the ‘media’ has played the role of a villain in this. When women’s magazines and journalists became popular, the first thing they did was to portray housewives in a negative way and working women as torch bearers of women’s empowerment. They also gave a lot of importance to body shaming and make-up techniques, instead of actually encouraging women to stand up to bullies. For them, that West which never respected women either by tradition or religion was their role model and the society that they looked up to. Their idea of women’s empowerment meant staying out late, being able to smoke and drink alcohol, wearing clothes of their choice, and sex out of the wedlock. Real issues like rape, molestation, education equality, sexual harassment at the workplace, etc. were just topics to be covered to sell their papers/magazines. Now that the West has woken up to the ill effects of body shaming, bullying and rape, sexual harassment at the workplace and such, our women journalists and pseudo-feminists too want to do the same. And while doing so, they do not forget to mention how our Bharatiya men are all masochists and our society is patriarchal in nature and that this is why our women are not empowered. The recent #MeToo campaign showing Sri Krishna in a bad light was a prime example of this.
Like a flock of vultures, they attack anyone who dares to say that one should be dressed modestly or take safety issues in their own hands (eg. Kiron Kher’s statement). Instead of highlighting on women’s hygiene, these pseudo-feminists (and some ‘pseudo-men’) think that showing off a sanitary pad in one’s Facebook profile, fighting for lesser tax on sanitary pads, not covering used/unused pads, all are true signs of emancipation. What??? Why can’t they instead work towards making people aware about environment-friendly sanitary pads (like those made of Jute), teaching girls to wear clean pads every 6 hours, making men more sensitive towards the difficulties a menstruating women faces, etc?
Unfortunately, our women are being divided by these pseudo-feminists based on their religion and political affiliation. That is why when women like Smriti Irani are targeted, the bullies are praised and when an unruly Renuka Choudhary is silenced, she gets support. The long-standing claims of the Muslim and Christian women w.r.t. property rights, marriage rights, etc. are neglected by these pseudo-feminists but a now non-existent Jauhar custom is a topic of discussion.
For me, my mother is an example of an empowered woman and a real feminist. She was a woman who was at ease reading the Economic Times & the Bhagavad Gita every morning. My father used to give her his whole salary and it was her duty to manage the family expenses (including those of the extended family) and save for the future within that small salary. She stood with my father when he wanted to help all those people who wanted to come to Mumbai to make their living (believe me there are hundreds of such couples in Mumbai who brought up many from their native place). It was only because of her that I did not feel like a lesser woman when I gave up my job to look after my children when they were small.
For me, Lakshmikutty, the tribal healer from Kerala, who got this year’s Padma Shri award, is an empowered woman. She has studied only up to the 8th standard (she used to walk 10kms to get to school) and lives in a hut; but that has not stopped her from treating people, educating her children or writing articles and poems. For me, Meenakshi Amma, the Kalaripayattu expert and exponent in wielding the Urumi (flexible sword used in the martial art), who does not forsake her saree even while fighting, is an empowered woman.
Instead of following the West and our Leftist media and intellectuals to know how to be empowered, it is the time that we look at our own homegrown women and learn more about being a really empowered. It doesn’t matter a damn whether you earn or not, whether you can speak English or not, whether you dress in Western attire or not, whether you can cook or not, whether you can manage the house and work together or not … what matters is whether you can do the best in whatever role you are in, whether you can help others and empower them too, whether you can give respect where it is due. Go, Woman – you do your best for yourself and your nation.