Woman: Children of a Lesser God...Perhaps?


The modern Indian women of today, living mostly in Metros and big cities are faced with dual responsibility. One of a Homemaker and the other, of career women. She has to live up to the role of a traditional Indian wife, mother and a daughter-in -law and at the same time cope up with the demands of her career. Intense commercialization and an increase in the living standards of the society have forced her out of her house, to earn and contribute to the family income. But with it came the assertion of individuality and awareness of her rights and they seem to be certainly better off then their counterparts elsewhere in the country. But then, it may just be a minuscule percentage of the whole lot. And the plight of majority of the women still remains the same. 

What does the word woman really signify in the Indian sense of the term? Is she a weakling, the ever-suffering poor nobody often projected as, by the female activists? Or the weepy mother forgiving and ever giving … and taken for a ride for most of the time. Or is she the juicy and overtly endowed woman, projected by the Hindi films, which has forgotten the difference between a heroin and a vamp? Or maybe perhaps, a ramp model, ever ready to throw of her clothes at the drop of a hat, the moments she sees crispy green notes. Well, she is eulogized in our myths, and given a status of a goddess. But is she really that? Has she really been accorded, that level of respect in society, or even, lived up to those expectations. A paradoxical question really! While everything seems so hunky-dory on the obvious, the tale is quite different, in reality. Subtly there is a lot going on in there… it is not so simple to understand. Life is full of complexities. And the woman too faces quite a lot of them. She reacts and assimilates humanly. 

While we cannot overlook the fact that they have been oppressed for centuries and denied basic rights … still, we do have few very good examples from History where women have fought the social and political oppression and held their own. But such examples are very few and far in between. They were the privileged few. Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Razia Sultan, Rani of Jhansi and of course our modern day Margaret Thatchers and Indira Gandhies etc. But inspite of these successful stories the fact still remains that the women had to endure a lot; be it psychologically, mentally, physically or emotionally. 

Although I feel it is not correct to categorize women and put them in slots. And passing a blanket judgment seeing a few examples is certainly not justified. Everyone is a product of his or her environment and living conditions. But the women of today can be classified into three categories. First are the educated and the literate women who are aware of their rights and privileges. Confident of herself she can make the necessary compromises cognizably, but she cannot be taken for a ride. Second are the ones who are educated and may or may not be economically independent… they are aware of their rights but cannot voice them, due to psychological fear of abandonment or threat of physical abuse. Third are the uneducated and the illiterate women mostly belonging to the lower strata of society and the tribal belt. They fend for themselves, their husbands and their families and live under constant threat of physical, mental and emotional abuse. 

Economically backward class women dominantly face psychological and mental pressure induced mostly by physical abuse. While the case may be different with the upper class women. They face mental and emotional pressure induced by threats, insults and fear of abandonment. Even they are not free from the threats of physical abuse. Study shows a high incidence of psychological abuse with 43.5 per cent of the women experiencing at least one incident of psychologically violent behavior like insults, threats, inducement of fear of abandonment.

Women in ancient India were certainly treated with more reverence, respect and perhaps they enjoyed a better social status. Well at least the literary works of the period prove that. The Kauravas of the Mahabharata were killed because one single woman Draupadi was humiliated, while Rama waged war against Ravana for Sita's abduction. And taking into consideration that the literary works, of particular period portray the prevailing cultural ethos, we have a very different picture of women's status in the society- say women could keep multiple husbands- Draupadi had five. It is absolutely unthinkable in contemporary India. And any woman, who could dare do so, would be looked down upon. Radha's legendary love for Krishna has been eulogized in our myths. And mind you, she was another man's wife! A woman could remarry and even divorce was permissible under certain conditions. Kunti had multiple sexual partners; all her children were from different devatas - her husband was impotent. And Karan was born to her before her marriage. In-fact she was an unwed mother. And yet she was never considered to be a fallen woman. We have a goddess to match every god proving that women enjoyed equal status. Women dressed scantily and were not required to be behind the purdah. But the present day scenario looks very different and paradoxical. 

The modern Indian women of today, living mostly in Metros and big cities are faced with dual responsibility. One of a Homemaker and the other, of career women. She has to live up to the role of a traditional Indian wife, mother and a daughter-in -law and at the same time cope up with the demands of her career. Intense commercialization and an increase in the living standards of the society have forced her out of her house, to earn and contribute to the family income. But with it came the assertion of individuality and awareness of her rights and they seem to be certainly better off then their counterparts elsewhere in the country. But then, it may just be a minuscule percentage of the whole lot. And the plight of majority of the women still remains the same. 

Let us analyze the findings of a survey, which appeared in the Times of India. The assertion of self-brought about by the economic independence has made her more prone to violent attacks at home especially by their unemployed husbands. The study reveals that more than 54 per cent of the surveyed women, who reported injuries, had regular employment. And last year nearly 90 per cent of the women who reported an injury were working women. Like I said it seems very hunky-dory on the obvious but the story inside remains the same. Now this report can be very misleading too as it can also signify that economically independent women have the courage to report the matter to the police being more aware of their rights. Normally, on majority of such occasions these crimes goes unreported, especially concerning women who are not economically independent. A survey also reveals that inspite of the sufferings only 2 percent of the victims report the matter to the police. Out of the total 10000 victims surveyed, sixty-two women reported the matter, and only 16 got relief. While most of the women, 95 percent of the surveyed - chose not to opt out of marriage. The fear of being abandoned or marooned on the shores of the unknown, burdened with responsibilities, is perhaps greater than the threat of physical torture. So she keeps quiet, burying her pains in her bosom… shedding a quiet tear now and then.

In another FA survey conducted by International Center for Research for Women (ICRW), spanning seven Indian cities and covering both rural and urban population reveals that 45 per cent of the women surveyed had been subjected to at least one incident of physical or psychological violence in their lifetime. While 26 percent had experienced moderate to severe form of physical abuse and slapping was not included in the survey. 

Economical independence does not always secure her rights. Although it may be a powerful tool in her hands, but she may not be conscious of it, unless she is aware of her rights and gets rid of the psychological dependence, that has been drummed into her mind that she cannot survive or live on her own. A name has to be affixed to her; individually she cannot be known or considered a respectable human being. And indeed single women who prefer to live alone and independently are mostly looked down upon. See the case of Shabnam the SI from UP police who supposedly murdered her lover for not marrying her or whatever the case may be. Well She is already declared a loose-character woman, as she stays alone. The judgment has already been pronounced by the society. The court and the judges will come later. So driven by the opinionated society of ours the woman has no choice but to live within the confines of a marriage however bad or good, to latch on to certain amount of respectability which the society accords to her if she is Mrs. so and so. 

In a gender bias society of ours where having a son is supposed to be a privilege and daughter a burden- where killing of female fetus morally accepted and choking to death of newly born girl infants, a practiced norm in few places in the south of India- I wonder how far this bill which was passed recently in the Lok Sabha will be effective. The bill bans pre-natal diagnostic determination of sex, of the unborn child. Although it is a move in the right direction- but what about the implementations part of it? Ultrasonography, which is used for the purpose, cannot be done away with. It is an absolute necessity in keeping tract of the health and the well being of the child in it's pre-natal stage. It is useful in the diagnosis of many diseases that the fetus may suffer from, and which can be baneful to it, in it's post-natal stage. So what was done officially earlier would be done unofficially now… just a hint about the sex of the child, from the doctor would be enough. Where does that leave us, exactly where we started isn't? According to a survey by an independent organization, last year about 50,000 to 80,000 female fetus were aborted in the country. While according to another statistics collected by ICCW (Indian council for child welfare) Alligundam village in Usilampatti Taluk of Madurai District alone out of 1194 female babies born in the second half of 1993, 156 of them were suspected to be done to death and the organization managed to prevent 243 infanticide. We have 927 women to every 1000 males in our country and at this rate of female infanticide the ratio could distort further, which will certainly have log term social implications. Bills can only be treated as check-knots. It cannot irradiate the perils a girl child faces even at it's conception stage. The collective conscience of the society has to be raked up to change and improve their attitude towards women. She should not be considered a burden to be carried or an added responsibility … but one of the set of wheels required to move the cart of life smoothly. 

In a normal orthodox middle class home the women or the 'Bahu' has to move about her daily chores invisibly … and unquestionably accept …but she is never supposed to feel, emote or demand… she has to fit into the mould of a perfect non-complaining malleable wife, a subservient daughter- in- law, and an ever indulgent mother; an epitome of Indian womanhood- ever-sacrificing, subservient and infallible. Ironical in the land where there are maximum number of goddesses … she is burnt and killed for dowry, sometimes raped and molested even as a child, beaten when pregnant … and when she willingly or unwillingly throws herself on the pyre of her husband she is idolized and becomes a Sati. A supreme sacrifice!! What an irony??

She is a blank cheque…when she marries she brings in dowry, and then she starts her life subserviently under the watchful eyes of the mother-in-law. Before she even realizes she becomes a production machines for the cherished male heir to the lineage and god forbid, if she produces only girls or no children at all… then she becomes a ridicule of the family and a burden to the society… she is ostracized and ignored for all important functions…. She becomes a Banjh; somebody who cannot procreate… a bad omen for all sacred rituals pertaining to procreativity or the well being of the family. And as time passes and the transition from daughter-in-law to mother -in-law is complete.. she inflicts the same tribulations on the daughter-in-law. A woman is a woman's worst enemy most of the times, not forgetting what she went through as a daughter-in-law, when she was a new entrant to the family, she comes down heavily on her to avenge what she had gone through earlier. I have seen these happenings, again and again in normal middle-class joint-family households. My father always said, that "a hundred men can live in one room… but two women cannot live in hundred rooms". Earlier I never understood what he meant, but now with time and experience I know. Petty squabbles, jealousies over trifle irrelevant matters fuels their dislike for each other and does not allow them to live together in peace under the same roof. 

Divorces are certainly on the rise in the country. And the conduct of many a women seen and read, from the glaring pages of the media or the TV screen is really appalling and outrageous. It's deplorable, the fact that the women's body has been made an absolute object of commercialism. But we have nobody but ourselves to blame. Certainly we are a party to it too. Aren't we playing up to the male libido and their insatiable desire for sex and excitement? Just the other day there was news items in papers …models were romping around in minuscule dresses resembling vegetables to further the cause of vegetarianism. I swear there has to be a total bankruptcy of ideas. The easiest way out for any advertiser or a seller is to take a stunning model give her the skimpiest of clothing, let her romp around exhibiting the maximum on the ramp... in the magazines or on the TV screens and there you have a product which sells like hot cakes. Well the qualities of the product will come on later; at least they have made the initial inroads! And the sad part, they have so many takers. Their explanations "It sells, so why not?" Well in an age where everything's value is determined by their sale value, nobody can be blamed; they are just following the trend. The models are laughing all the way to the bank! Money earned out of sheer display of physical attributes!!

Now does it prove that, it is because of the improvement in the economic status of women? And it may be a threat, to the institution of marriage. There may be degeneration in the moral conscience of the society. Well, changes do bring about a kind of a chain reaction in many spheres. And we are still in the inceptions of these changes. Suddenly, these almost fifty percent of subdued, ill-treated better half of humanity, as they are known, are feeling em-powered. The happenings may even overwhelm us. But I feel that when the storm will be over the dust would settle down. Cause what really matters in life is human values and it is the relations that humans share which sustains in life. And no sensible person would chuck up a good marriage, nor deny the values and the benefits of good sense of morality. By the end of the day, far away, from youth and exuberance, in the lonely desolate passage of old age, it is values that you have lived by that matters - people and the relations that sustain. And the women too realizes that. What is happening right now is that, these subdued lots of human souls have suddenly got an outlet… a breather after ages of political, social and economical oppression. They are gushing out of the pinhole for a breath of fresh air of freedom and independence. They are overwhelmed by this newly acquired economic power. So they are expressing themselves indiscriminately. They are just having a field day! 

We including men and women all belong to the family called humanity and putting down men while lauding women should not be the basic ideology behind the activism of women's liberation. We are two sides of the same coin, we have to co-exist. Whatever problems women face today it is not exactly a woman's problem but a human problem. Feminism should not be about fighting men, but more about fighting for the rights of women in the areas of denial. I feel we should have that right in our minds. But it is seen that on many an occasion it is not the case. If the men have oppressed women, then women are also guilty of most of the ills concerning women. The in-famous mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law angle - the dowry deaths where the mother-in-law invariably is the strongest oppressor. The petty squabbles, jealousy and the bickering that are so common among women. The changes should come from within the stock itself first, and then only we can expect a healthier and a positive attitude towards us. And here's what a man - my lawyer friend - has to say, "The situation of women has to be understood in terms of her biological nature and her social role. This situation is really baffling because there is no one homogeneous growth of women's role in our society. And to what extent should their role be changed and which section of them should perform or ought to perform this new role and help the others to perform is the question that the women should introspect and delve on." So if we want a faster and a positive change in the status women in our country then she herself holds the key to it. We should catch hold of ourselves and not get overwhelmed by the suddenly acquired independence and the awareness of rights . We should try to help those who are not aware of their rights… those children of a lesser god… our sisters who are living in the remote corners of our country still struggling and suffering under the male dominated society. Where most of the rules and regulation are more conducive to men rather then women, women should be more accepting, accommodating and supportive of her own gender. And the changes are bound to take place…. it has to. It has been long over due.


More by :  Ooma Tiwari Tariang

Top | Women

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