Women’s Day: the wood and the trees
by Sunita Palita on 30 Mar 2015 2 Comments

“It is good to swim in the waters of tradition but to sink in them is suicidal”, thus arose the voice of Mahatma Gandhi that drew scores of Indian women into the freedom struggle to battle along with men to attain what the nation had come to believe was a pressing imperative - ‘the British must go’.


On our own, having had the pleasure of honeymooning with freedom for nearly six decades, we as a nation have betrayed these very women by keeping them prisoners of a mindset that mirrors them as the lesser half and not the better half, and certainly not as equals.


Pulling out women from the shackles of discrimination seems a more gigantic task today than any other act of liberation. For if it was not so, there would not be an ever increasing incidence of sexual molestation and other forms of violence and indignity faced by women in their daily lives. This is the grim reality of life for many, at home and in the public realm.


Oblivious to the stark realities, endearing to many a feminist groups, are the images of women intensely searching for identity in days and dates stipulated for them by world bodies like the United Nations.


Amongst a plethora of functions held in New Delhi on International Women’s Day, this year, the Indian Council for UN Relations (ICUNR) conferred awards upon some chosen women achievers in the field of beauty, media and the like, which was sponsored by a well known business house dealing with Real Estate.


While one appreciates the willingness of the business community to participate in an arena that engages in the development of women, one cannot but wonder which kind of women they consider worthy of honouring. In this month of March, which many companies are professing to celebrate as ‘Women’s Day, everyday’, we must take a step back and seriously ponder the women who daily face the ‘problem’ of being women.


The history of International Women’s Day suggests that the day should be chosen to reflect on the determination of ordinary women who play an extraordinary role in the backdrop of their homes and communities, while remaining deprived in an unjust environment. From the fulfillment of basic survival needs to the social-phenomena prevailing for or against them, what is it that brings them peace?


Speaking at the ICUNR function, eminent classical dancer Dr Sonal Mansingh stressed the need to “liberate men as opposed to women”. But the organisers were happy conferring prizes to women in the audience for sporting high stilettos and red lipsticks and many rings on their fingers! Yes, seriously, that is how women were called out and given prizes.


Have Gandhi’s fears come true? He once apprehended, “I have a fear that the modern girl loves to be the Juliet to half a dozen Romeos, dressing up not to save her from the sun and rain, but to attract”.


Invoking women to realize their potential and not harp on commercially successful catch phrases like, “why should men have all the fun”, would perhaps invite the wrath of those who think this is the path to parity with men. But can it bring equality and dignity?


The women who attend such functions and accept such prizes have no knowledge of the fact that ages ago, our own Sarojini Naidu was the first woman to speak about women’s rights! It is her birthday, the 13th of February, that has been designated as National Women’s Day and which ought to be observed in India as a tribute to those women who form the body of the nation India.


That generation of women had many trailblazers. We would do well to examine our history of just the past century to recognise the women of depth, daring and ability who pioneered in many fields, from medicine to freedom movement to social reform. They are the best role models for this century when education is freely available to all and myriad employment opportunities are opening up, to men and women, as never before.


Lipstick is part of the traditional adornment (shringaar) of Indian women; it is not a badge of honour or liberation, and should not be mistaken as such.


The author is a social development expert associated with the Yamuna Action Plan-II

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