Tracing the Roots of Change: Feminism in India and the 50s and 60s Born Women

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Feminism being multicultural and diasporic, the needs of women across nations are grossly dissimilar, conditioned by familial, societal, racial, marital, economic, cultural and individual subjectivity. Samrudhi analyses feminism, tracing the roots of change, in the regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Talking about feminism in a general sense brings to mind the names of Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich and Elaine Showalter since the beginning and growth of feminism is by default attributed to the Western influence. Because very rightly put, these women brought about a revolutionary change in the male dominated society that was and set about the task of theorising the needs of women in a society where their inner needs and feelings should be articulated loud and clear.

But, feminism as an instrument of change cannot be interpreted in monolithic universal terms, ignoring diverse cultural differences across the world, particularly that broad but highly significant division between the Orient and the Occident. Feminism being multicultural and diasporic, the needs of women across nations are grossly dissimilar, conditioned by familial, societal, racial, marital, economic, cultural and individual subjectivity. In this complex scenario, it would be wrong to equate Western and Indian feminism. As ’s Indigenous Roots of Feminism rightly puts it, “Draupadi deconstructed the notions of chastity and Sati; Sita of power and motherhood; Kali of violence: Puru’s younger wife of sexuality; the bhakta women, of marriage and prayer”. So, though feminism in India dates back to historical, even mythological times, present day feminism often traces its roots to today’s new generation of youth, especially the 80s and 90s born, who have been initiated naturally into a versatile, global culture and are quite adaptable to change. But to bring about the real change, a holistic approach is necessary and in such a context, what becomes a roadblock is the traditional, patriarchal ideas of the generation just preceding us – the 50s and 60s generation.

That particular generation has been cushioned between the ideals of a moralistic, traditional society, an idea they imbibed from their ancestors and the ever-changing ideas and growing voices of today’s young day feminists. They have unwillingly been sandwiched between two diagonally opposite ideologies and this has resulted in a confused mass of citizens, particularly women who can’t easily part with their deeply ingrained traditional value systems and neither can they accept the changing ideologies of the youth, often their own children or grandchildren and this gives rise to a clash of identities.  It is difficult for parents to accept that their daughters too are as much capable as their sons, that wearing a saree is no longer considered as exemplary or a symbol of being cultured, that a woman’s of dressing isn’t a symbol of her values or identity, that women too can travel alone, do late night shifts, engage in a profession of their , that marriage and divorce can and should also be a woman’s and so on… the list runs long enough to cover the entire page. When these women see their grown up daughters or newly married daughter-in-laws going out in Western attire, attending parties and corporate events, having a number of male friends, this becomes a bone of contention in many families. It isn’t because they don’t want the welfare of their children, but over the years, they have been so subdued by a culture that they cannot accept this new reality. We don’t blame them or the “Generation Saree” as I prefer to call them; rather we sympathise with their emotions, their ideologies because we women of the new generation understand that they have been persecuted without chance or and after years of having been silenced and subdued, they lack the audacity to cross the barriers or change conformed notions and ideologies.

Citing a personal example, my mother, who holds a PhD degree and is a Professor in Botany and has done valuable research work at the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Asia’s biggest research centre for rice and allied agricultural varieties objects to many of my Facebook posts, saying that her colleagues get irked. During one such intense discussion about the need of change, I asked her in depth about it and what she said was shocking. Even in government run or funded colleges and educational institutions, the common rooms become a vibrant stage where mostly such highly educated women open up their smart phones and flicking through social media sites, make their colleagues’ children or daughters-in-law a subject of ridicule, based simply on their posts or comments or their attire. I myself have been a victim of irrational questions fired at me in social gatherings – “Why are you staying alone in Delhi? Do you go to late night parties? Do you have a boyfriend? When are you planning to get married? These and endless questions, to mention a few. This just reveals the glaring anomalies of the thought process of their generation, where even such a high level of education hasn’t been able to change people’s misogynistic notions. It both angers as well as pains me when yet another such question is fired at me and more so because I am a woman. Why is a grown woman, trying to build her own identity, seen through the lenses of suspicion? Why do my own relatives think of my life as one shrouded in conspiracies? It pains me that despite tirelessly to bring about a change in society, I have been unable to change the mentality of my own people.

I am not here to complain. My real intention is to bring to notice where the real change should begin. Our mothers and their friends, sisters, and cousins – the “Generation Saree” needs to be shown the world through a wider perspective. Though the task is a difficult one, it is not impossible. It will take patience and time to mould their attitudes and bring them to that level of acceptance but this change is vital to reignite the lost flames. Because as youth we are constantly evolving, but the evolution should be a holistic one, inclusive of the immediate past and the future generations. Only then shall it make sense and only then can we be true to our cause.

©Samrudhi Dash

Photos from the Internet.

#Feminism #RootsOfChange #VirginiaWoolf #SimoneDeBeauvoir #AdrienneRich #ElaineShowalter #JasbirJain #MaleDominatedSociety #Patriarchal #Misogynistic #SareeGeneration #Women’sIdentity #DifferentTruths

Samrudhi Dash

Samrudhi Dash

Samrudhi Dash, hailing from Odisha, is a twenty-six year old writer, with a Masters Degree in English Literature from JNU, New Delhi. Her published works include four poetry anthologies, and her debut novel “Beyond the Horizon” (2017), by , New Delhi. She has contributed poems and articles in many journals and anthologies of international repute. She believes in a life by design and an equalitarian world order where men and women have a balanced status.
Samrudhi Dash