In India the female form has always been worshipped as the Divine Mother. She is Saraswati – the giver of knowledge and wisdom, Kali – the strength or Shakti in every life, Lakshmi – the bestower of wealth and crops and Bhoodevi – Mother Earth. In fact all our settlements owe their existence to her because every river in India is worshipped in the feminine form whether it is the mighty Ganga and Yamuna or the very pure Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri. At home she is Gruh-Lakshmi, the Goddess of the house and as the living Goddess, she is Gou-Mata, the divine cow.
But there is another side to the story too; women in their everyday lives have been treated as less than human. Whether she is the girl on the street or the woman in the house, she is given scant respect and is an object of desire or ridicule. Even the lucky few who are respected highly are usually respected for their roles as a wife or mother. Very few women are respected for their own self-worth. So how did this happen? How is it that respect for women in the last decade have reached such depths as never seen before?
It is an interesting fact that the leader of the biggest political party, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, is considered the de facto prime minister. The leader of the opposition is Mrs. Sushma Swaraj; she belongs to the second most influential party in India and the speaker of the Lok Sabha is Mrs. Meira Kumar. Till recently we had a woman as our President (Mrs. Pratibha Patil), the Chief Minister of the U.P., the most populated state was Mayawati and we presently have two Chief Ministers of the fairer sex - Smt. Jayalalita and Smt. Sheila Dixit. Given this scenario, one would have thought that the women should rule the roost all over the country. Strict reforms for arresting female feticide should have been made mandatory and education and health for women should have been high on the agenda for these ladies in power. But unfortunately all this has been as real as a mirage in a desert.
In fact these women in power have been so ineffective that they have not been able to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is pending from almost two decades. “We maintain that not passing the 33 per cent Women's Reservation Bill will encourage the women to be denied equal rights in land, property, access to education and jobs” said Sudha Sundararaman of the All-India Democratic Women's Association. It is difficult to believe that in a country where women occupy such important posts, women all over the country have to fact sexual harassment, killings and crimes being perpetrated in the name of “honour” and other forms of violence. It does not come as a surprise when we see that the male literacy rate is 82.14% and the female literacy rate is much lower at 65.46% (as per the Population Census of India, 2011). And no one raises an eyebrow when one reads that U.P. and Rajasthan, both states which had women as Chief Ministers until recently, are among the bottom states for female literacy.
Today, when we are outraged at the fact that women are treated as objects solely for appeasing carnal desires, it is time to introspect a little. How is it that rape cases and cases of physical abuse have become so common that men do such deeds with impunity and no fear of a backlash from society? Are there any women that stand out as a figure of courage today in India? Is there a role model in today’s India who can stand out and command respect?
Just yesterday I read a comment: “Just two women are safe in Delhi – Sheila Dixit and Sonia Gandhi.”
This shows that the women on top, instead of being a role model, have become a caricature.
This was not the scenario a few decades ago. In the distant past we have always had strong women who commanded respect and infused courage in the people. Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Rani Chennamma of Kittur, Devi Ahalyabai Holkar, Razia Sultan, the rulers of their respective kingdoms became symbols of courage and justice while upholding traditions dear to them. We speak of them even today and are motivated by their sacrifices. 20th Century freedom fighters like Sarojini Naidu, Beena Das (Bhowmick), Lakshmi Sahgal (Swaminathan) are still remembered by us. In recent times, the seventies saw the rise of Indira Gandhi as the courageous Prime Minister (she was considered the only man in the Parliament!) and Mrinal Gore as the ‘Paaniwali Bai’ who fought for clean drinking water in Mumbai’s suburbs. In the eighties we had P.T.Usha as the gutsy, hardworking sportswoman who succeeded against all odds and Kiran Bedi who struck fear into the hearts of those who violated traffic rules in Delhi, Mother Theresa and Anu Aga, the Chairperson of Thermax India Ltd. All wonderful ladies who were role models for a whole generation of women, they encouraged women to step out of their houses and explore new horizons. Thanks to them India saw a new crop of women getting into fields which were earlier restricted to men. On T.V., Kavita Chaudari’s programme ‘Aur Bhi Hain Rahein’ and Priya Tendulkar as ‘Rajani’ too encouraged women to be brave and chart new territories. In the legal field Rohini Salian and Flavia Agnes struck terror in the hearts of gangsters and high-handed men. Not just women, men too were in awe of such personalities and believed that women too could amount to something big.
Today we have more women on the top, but they definitely do not inspire women, nor do they evoke respect in men. If anything, they have only landed in more and more controversies. Politics, Media, Sports, and Films all have become fertile grounds for lampooning women instead of invoking respect. Our women politicians seem to be all noise and expenditure, only interested in themselves and their cronies and families. Presently it seems difficult to name even one woman politician who has genuinely inspired the masses, who is not interested in accusing each other and going on foreign jaunts! Barkha Dutt, a well respected T.V. journalist, on whose life a film was made, too got caught in the quagmire of lobbying. In sports we have had the misfortune to see less of the determination of Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal and more of the misadventures of Sania Mirza, Pinky Pramanik and Santhi Soundarajan.
The biggest culprit in decimating the worth of women has been the entertainment industry. They have served as the main reason why women are now viewed solely as objects of desire and lust. Item numbers, which earlier were reserved for vamps, now have a special important position in the films of today. Women are mistakenly made to believe that display of flesh is actually the only way to show off independence. While it serves the purpose of earning more income for the producers, distributors and actors of the film, it also titillates the masses to an extent which cannot be considered desirable. The top actresses under the notion that they are the crowd pullers have actually become role models for lust. On the small screen, the situation is no different. Female actors play roles which show women in poor light, as scheming sisters, vengeful spouses and villainous relatives. Vulgar dance moves on T.V. seem to be the norm even in children’s dance shows. One of the most viewed serials on T.V. “Devon Ke Dev Mahadev” even shows Adi Shakti Parvati as a weeping, jealous character who is never confident about her own abilities. How then can we expect the men folk to relate to us respectfully in everyday life?
If women have to be viewed as more than a piece of flesh or an image of pettiness, it is necessary that we have more and more women as Role Models of courage and reform. The media has to veer away from showing women solely as objects of desire to showing them as capable, determined women. We need more Sabrina Lals, Mary Koms and Saina Nehwals. Women in business like Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma have to take time out of their busy schedules and inspire women to mould their lives in a better manner. Kiran Muzumdar Shaw and other entrepreneurs can become involved more vocally in encouraging other women to become industrialists. We need more and more people from the law enforcement agencies telling women to become braver and face the challenges courageously. More importantly these women should let their actions speak louder than words. Changes happen only when women do work to command respect. Respect demanded only results in temporary victory. When women with their actions prove to the world that they are not to be belittled in any way, they command respect.
One of the culprits in Delhi’s recent rape case stated that when the girl fought against her attacker, he was so outraged that he not just raped her, but harmed her physically too. This reaction happened because in his mind the woman was just an object of lust, totally incapable of resisting a man’s advances. He probably felt that as a woman, she had to be submissive and that he, as a man, was justified in showing her who the boss is. When she resisted, he could not accept the fact that she wanted to revolt, that she had a mind of her own. We need to show men that India’s women have the capacity to change the system. Campaigns like the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign or the ‘Aurat Bandh’ do show that women have the guts to protest atrocities meted out to them, but they bring out sniggers from the common man. This is because they do not touch a chord in our traditional conditioning. Women have to evoke feelings of respect through transformation like the SEWA women of Gujarat.
We need more female role models to show the country’s men that India’s women have it in them to be the nurturer and the provider too, to be the boss if required. The media owes it to the women of India to bring back the glory of womanhood by showing her as more than just noise, more than just protests and above all, more than just objects of desire and beauty. The media across the country has to start a campaign projecting women as engineers of change. They have to change the country’s thought process. India does have thousands of women working for the nation’s downtrodden masses, working towards making India a developed nation. But they are not media savvy. Every Woman’s day let us not make it about cards and advertisements for white goods. Let us project women as ‘Women of Substance’ and give all the girl children in the country a role model they can look up to. Let India be proud of its daughters and their deeds.