Author- Simran Keshwani
She’s a wife. She’s a daughter.
She’s a boss. She’s a worker.
She’s an employee.
She’s an educator.
She’s a homemaker.
She’s independent. She’s assertive.
She’s beautiful. She’s enticing.
She is – The Modern Indian Woman.
To understand what being a woman in India means, we need to carefully open the epistemological fractures of patriarchy, for which the reader must place themselves in a synchronic reference point of Colonisation. India, the mother of Democracy, got its independence way back in 1947, but with respect to the ‘weaker sex’, the aftershocks and baggage of a past full of subordination, impeding virtues, obdurate economical conditions, rancid orthodoxy and a raffish ingenuity that modifies tradition to suit the needs of the Powerful sex never dethroned itself.
Any discussion of the intellectual and political constructions of “Third World Feminism” must address itself to two diachronic dyads : the internal critique of hegemonic “Western” feminisms and the formulation of autonomous feminist concerns and strategies that are geographically, and culturally grounded. Speaking of modernism and progressivism, did those concepts ever hit the East or are they just a dissimulated import from the West that the Indian audiences adopted without second thoughts?
I would base my essay on two broad pragmatic pillars :
What is it to be a Woman in India Today and Who Defines Feminism for an Indian Woman.
To deflate the aura of hype around the first question, I’d like to cite a furtive conditioning operative used in the Indian Society. Hindu culture associates the supreme being as a hermaphroditic amalgam of the male and female energy. For every Devta, there’s an equally powerful female deity, Devi.
“Where women are honoured, there resides the god”, said Manu, the developer of humanity. Many women, especially those who are living in India, would laugh off at this statement, given the current status of women in India. But many people have no clue that the position of women in India was not always distorted.
A woman in India today can definitely not have it all. From being a good cook to an excellent maid, she needs to be the people pleaser in her in-laws’ house and has to be an assertive tigress out to conquer the world at her workplace. The two personality traits used in one statement above seem like a dystopian juxtaposition and absurd zeugma to the reader’s eye. But that, infallibly, is the balancing scale used to measure a woman’s worth.
Talking about the Indian society that prides itself on these lines by ML Sharma, Opposition lawyer in the infamous and bestial, animalistic 12th December 2012 Rape Case that left the country in bits.
“We have the Best culture in the country. In our culture there is no place for a woman.”
To even think of a befitting reply to this hypocritical statement that soaks itself in ages of Patriarchy and misogyny, would be an intellectual insult to any thinking individual. It is a guffaw on the immense women who are sacrificing a part of their dignity everyday to keep up with their professional career, to the strong women who may appear stolid on the front but are dealing with mental harassment from an oppressive state apparatus.
Even if we ignore modern day marriages, privacy in India is a myth. We have all heard about the inclement nature of the “Moral Police” faction RSS that has vowed to marry off couples celebrating Valentine’s Day.
The brand of Nationalism that strips off Privacy from the lives of individuals has had a double edged penitent repercussion on the woman who has to accept that Marriage is her only destiny and to spend her life fighting monsters of dust in the husband’s house is the future that’s sealed for her. Chastity is another gargantuan concern in a country where the food of one man is chased by ten others. Hunger, impoverishment and malnutrition occupy back seats when it comes to real life issues, but chastity tops the list.
A Sati Savitri Bahu is a dream come true, and a skimpy shorts clad woman who earns and lives off her own means, is bastardised.
We may talk of equality in the workplace and boast of laws, but the easily warped male ego further pushes the equation back by lots of decades. Some men are open to the idea of a fair competition, but surveys suggest, that 3 in 4 men when asked to choose a fair competitor from a pool of equally talented men and women, always chose men. This speaks volumes about how proving yourself at work is more than giving it your 100%. It is about putting in your 500%.
A woman’s success is never her own. It is always attributed to her beauty or charms. They may like you comely and delicate, but never assertive and driven. Such is the stark hypocrisy embedded in our system where if a feisty woman stands up and expresses her views, like Mrs. Kirron Kher who spoke about the issue of intolerance in the Legislative Assembly or Ms. Smriti Irani, who addressed the same issues in a burning, burgeoning exalt were ultimately exacerbated and reduced to rumbles of mere theatrics and tagged ‘Aunty National’. A woman with strong views is a double edged sword piercing through the veins of the age old system, and when the cut it too deep, they laugh it off.
Some women do beat all the odds. Time and again we have examples of the Indian woman breaking the archetype bubble of perfection and embracing her humanistic foibles blatantly, unapologetically and vehemently.
Miss Krishna Shroff, Jackie Shroff’s daughter, in a teté-a-teté with me for a Media coverage spoke about how an image of hers was branded “topless” and “indecent” whereas she firmly believes, if men can pose shirtless all the time and be glorified for it, a woman has equal rights over her body to portray it in whichever way.
Another success story which I’d like to bring to the limelight, one that I was fortunate enough to cover firsthand, is that of Miss Ambika Pillai, Bollywood’s most coveted makeup artist speaks about her struggle and tiff with the unabashedly ignominious world outside.
“All I ever wanted as a kid was to be happily married with 4 kids and a husband who loved me unconditionally and of course 2 dogs..But life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it.
Being divorced at 23 wasn’t the easiest situation to be in, especially when you are from an extremely orthodox family.. Where my dad didn’t believe in women working. So I left home, with a two year old daughter in my arms and went off to faraway Delhi, with every intention of doing a beauty course and heading back home to Kerala to open up my own little salon. Of course it didn’t happen that way but it was the foundation for my life as I know it now.”
Coming to the second aspect of my paper, I quote subaltern writer Koylaschander Bose,
“She must be refined, reorganised, recast, regenerated..”
We hear umpteen discourses on feminism everyday. While some are commendable, others are inscrutable and debated, like the much abhorred “My Choice” video. The big question is – who created this viewpoint to Third World Feminism?
Third World feminist narratives run the risk of marginalisation and ghettoisation from both mainstream (right & left) and Western feminist discourses. “Third World Woman” is a skewed concept in itself wherein we view it as a singular, monolithic entity. The necessary and integral connection between feminist scholarship and political action is definitely, motivated by a consumerist, enterprising backstory that believes in exploitation and gains being inseparable lovers (as Abdel Malek recounts in calling the West’s hegemonic position as a struggle for control over the orientation, regulation & decision of the process of world development on the basis of the advanced sector’s monopoly)
If we were to pause and think about the broader picture for a second, women have been historical subjects of subjugation for Times immemorial, but more so, a Third World Woman is arbitrarily thought of as philistine and poor, no matter how educated or financially able she is.
This vision is a gift from our colonial forefathers, as expounded invariably in the text Feminism Without Borders.
Did Indian Women really enjoy an upper hand before the British maligned the collective psyche of our nation is one question we must ponder over. If we’ve done away with the Repressive State Apparatus That puts us in the “dark” light, then why are we still holding on, with tight clenched fists to an oppressive idea when it comes to Women?
“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?” – Mahatma Gandhi
1. Recasting Women : An Introduction by Kumkum Sangari & Sudesh Vaid
2. On the Education of Hindu Females by Koylaschander Bose
3. Under Western Eyes : Feminist by Michette Barret
4. India’s Daughter – A documentary by Leslee Uldwin
5. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
Book by Chandra Talpade Mohanty
6. The Second Sex by Simon De Beavouir
7. From Developmentalism to the Civilizational Quest: A Mission for the United Nations University
Book by Anouar Abdel-Malek