So, we recently celebrated International Women’s Day. Or did we? Forgive me l guess I missed the ‘celebration’ in the shrilling rants of patriarchy. I was pretty hung up on M.L. Sharma’s statement, “Our culture is the besht(sic) culture. There is no place for women in our culture”.
He’s right you know. Well, I’m not so sure about the first part but he is definitely right about the second half. He’s right and our ideologues, politicians, bureaucrats and theocrats have asserted the fact since forever. We are affiliated to a culture that has held for centuries that it was Sita’s fault that she was abducted. After all, she overstepped the Lakshmana Rekha. And that Lakshmana Rekha has been inherited by the generations of women of this land. We belong to a culture that believed Draupadi to be a vindictive monstrosity because she asked to be avenged. We belong to a generation that condemns Surpnakha’s sexuality and Shakuntala’s liberty. A culture that abhors Surpnakha’s libertarianism but celebrates Krishna’s; where fables and folklores often portray women as a threat to be neutralised, a conquest to control the wild, unpredictable consumptive force that is a woman ( the myths of vagina dentata); where an unmarried woman is an unchecked aberration a Surpnakha or a Manthara and an orphaned or widowed one is manhoos, dayn, chudail.
Unfortunately, even the centuries of socio-cultural evolution could not give women a niche other than domesticity. In fact, social evolution has further restricted them. The islamic interraction brought with it a new prison – the purdah, readily accepted and appropriated by the patriarchs of our culture. Women were precious, delicate, fragile. They were the family’s and society’s honor. What could be a better excuse for docility and submission than a perverted idea of honor.
And if that was not enough, the British left the chains of Victorian conduct manuals of ideal womanhood to further restrain them. Do you know women of Bengal, and Awadh (present day Bihar and UP) had no concept of a bra or a blouse? Yes. Women from different regions wore different dresses more apt for their climate. It was the West that clothed them in blouses and petticoats (ironically shedding their own). Perhaps we taught them that culture and civilization was not about fashion and modesty couldn’t be measured by the length of clothes on one’s body. Ironically, that phase has no place in our cultural memory and we keep blaming mini skirts for rapes. Perhaps women were weak. With every epoch women have been deprived of their rights and pushed deeper into the abyss of patriarchy and men and masculinity have acquired a grotesque shape.
To say that our cultural history and myths have only demonized female sexuality would be extremely singular and selective. We also celebrate women and womanhood. The Goddess of learning is Saraswati, the Goddess of wealth is Lakshmi, Shakti is the Goddess of infinite strength who could single-handedly defeat an entire army. Our motherland is Bharatmata, Ganga is the artery that purifies millions and none could stand against the rage of mardani Lakshmibai. We even had our first woman head of state in 1966, much before any , so-called, First World country.
No doubt we revere our women have cherished them as mothers, preserved them as daughters and sisters and placed them on a pedestal. Even on this women’s day several (faux?) feminist men of the land begged for women’s safety because woman is “a mother, a daughter, a birth-giver, a nourisher”. The typical come-back of the victims (who can gather enough courage to speak out) of roadside scum-baggery is “tere ghar me ma-behn nahi hai kya” (Don’t you have a mother or sister). It is precisely an appeal to that utopian pedestal that defines all women – mother or sister, embedded in the psyche of both the perpetrator and the victim.
Perhaps the pedestal is the problem.
We tend to forget the sinister manipulation of patriarchy behind the pedestal. Saraswati might be the Goddess of learning but Brahma is the God of rationale and intellect. Lakshmi might be the Goddess of wealth but Vishnu is the God of prosperity. Durga and Kali were forces of exploding wildness and power and had to be tamed by Shiva. Bharatmata was a perennial damsel in distress always calling out her sons to save her honor. Ganga’s wild liberties had to be checked by Shiva and she was only allowed to flow freely on the path Bhageerath showed. And Lakshmibai was threatened by both, her countrymen and the British to take a side or become an undefended victim of war. All these women were conditioned and appropriated into the tradition of the Bharatiya nari – a parameter that has been used to judge and categorize women as the virgin, the mother and the whore.
The pedestal has in fact become a prison guarded by men – those who descend to animalistic depths to enforce it and those who encourage, sanction, approve and advocate them with a demonic self-righteousness.
Do rapes happen only in India? No. But is that a question to ask? Are we competing with other countries in terms of rape? Can the rapes that are happening in India be waived off by the slight of a hand on grounds that they happen everywhere? Besides, rapists in no other country get state sanction. No head of state can say “Some rapes are right”(Babulal Gaur) or “boys will be boys”(Mulayam Singh Yadav) or “aapke saath to kuch nahi hua na”(Akhilesh Yadav) and get away with it. We banned Aruna’s Story, we banned India’s Daughter on grounds of being defamatory to the country. A brutally raped women (Aruna Shanbaug) who was in coma for a period longer than her rapist’s life sentence; Another, who fought for her honor and lost. While four inebriated men ravaged her body, somewhere in the same city some dogs were fighting over her spleen and intestines. And when her story came out the state was all over the place trying to cover it up for some disillusioned idea of honor.
A rape is reported every 20 minutes in India, a lot of them are fake but they compensate for the vast number of incestuous rapes, marital rapes and rapes in orphanages and shelter homes that go unreported in the name of such honor. Women should get down that pedestal and reclaim there place in the real world. Men should realize that women need to be respected because they are human first and not because they are a mother or a sister. If your culture tells you that another human being (irrespective of class, caste, gender, sexuality, age) is inferior your culture is flawed. Accept and introspect and we won’t need a women’s day.