Ruchira tells us about the trials and tribulations of being a girl-child or a woman in the patriarchal Indian society, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
For fifty odd years, India has been my homeland. A city-bred educated woman, (to put it modestly), hailing from a comfortable middle-class family, I consider myself fortunate to have had multiple privileges. Yet I am nondescript, for there are hundreds of thousands of similar individuals.
Yes, you got it right! We are a progressing and developing nation. We have had a woman Prime Minister and a President as well. My sisters are going places – from traversing the outer space as astronauts, to the ocean’s depths as submarine staff, onward to snowbound mountainous borders as sentinels. Scientists, doctors, engineers are passé. Indian women are exploring challenging and exciting career options. Literacy rates, education levels, healthcare facilities are soaring too.
The incumbent government, coupled with social service organisations, champions the cause of women empowerment. Commendable indeed! But beneath this glossy veneer, lies a sordid reality. There exists a yawning abyss between the urban women and their rustic sorority. Most rural women still groan under the iron heel of superstitions, archaic customs, and norms. The government may jolly well build exclusive girls’ schools, but unschooled parents would surely try to be damp squibs in this regard. The logic: girls are meant to be married and then focus on domestic chores and child-rearing and bearing.
Another palpable pan-India trait is how eligible bachelors’ kin attempt to twist and turn matrimonial negotiations in their favour. Surprisingly, the more qualified the bride-to-be is the higher is the range of dowry, with minor variations from one community to another. Post-wedding harassment and brutality are on a downslide, though rearing their Gorgon-like heads sporadically.
Indians have a penchant for large households with loads of children; naturally, the frenzied craving for the ‘male child’ refuses to die down. A case in point is my personal experience. This was twenty-six years ago. My late father-in-law (God bless his soul) was a noted medical practitioner; yet when I underwent fertility problems, he fumed and seethed in rage; even mulling the second marriage for his only, much-loved son. Later, when I delivered a bonny girl child his mood turned thunderous again. He seldom missed a chance to grimace and shoot dagger looks at me.
Getting back to the mainstream, statistical surveys reveal, women and girl children are given lesser portions of basic nutrition in contrast to their male family members. Women’s hygiene and health are still not a priority. A recent survey proves a shocker: Barely 12 percent of rural women folk use sanitary napkins! Ditto for access to toilets. Second only to Nepal, India boasts of the largest number of open-air toilets! (There is a joke doing the rounds: India has more mobile phones than toilets!) Are we really a developing nation?
Moving on, we know the old English adage: ‘Children must be seen and not heard.’ Tweak this around a bit and Voila! “Women are not to be heard.” If you dare to speak out of turn, your parents are lambasted for failing to bring you up properly. Trust me, this is rather commonplace in today’s social milieu.
Men, men, men are the ones to determine a woman’s fate – what she thinks (or feels), her education, career, marriage, number of children, and what have you. In a lighter vein, let me narrate a personal anecdote. Almost a decade ago, when I planned to go on a solo trip to Southeast Asia, the travel agents summoned my spouse for written permission. Though it might be essential as per global travel industry norms yet it sounds a tad humorous – especially when it concerns a 40-year-old!
After mundane issues let us touch upon emotions and affaire de cour. It is sinful to fall in love with someone in your workplace or social circles. For, the Divine Right to determine the children’s future rests with the parents/guardians. Hence any form of disobedience or protest is frowned upon (and if need be) suitably punished. Who hasn’t heard of Kangaroo courts (Khap Panchayats) putting young lovers and newly-weds to death for defying their kith and kin?
Millions in India still wallow in filth, ignorance, and lack of enlightenment, unscathed by global waves of Women’s Lib, Women Empowerment, et al. Surprisingly, even a cross-section of moderately educated urban women are happily reconciled to the fact that it’s still a man’s world. On the contrary, they prefer to maintain – and often perpetuate – a status quo.
Ideas and opinions vary; in my case too, there will be bouquets and brickbats aplenty. But I do believe Indian women better give their lives a new twist. I am tempted to borrow a line from the blockbuster, My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a Man?”
©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh
Photos from the Internet
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Born in Guwahati Assam, Ruchira grew up in Delhi and Punjab. A product of Sacred Heart Convent, Ludhiana, she holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Armed with a P.G diploma in journalism in Journalism, she has been a pen-pusher for nearly 25 years. Her chequered career encompasses print, web, as well as television. She has metamorphosed as a feature writer, her forte being women’s issues, food, travel and literature.