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At the cost of sounding unpatriotic, I wish I was born a white British woman in 1950, one who, by the time she turned eighteen in 1968, could participate in the sexual revolution that had engulfed the West. This flower girl could proudly claim that she had done nothing to earn the distinction of being either superior or inferior to her male counterpart, that she had every right to walk the earth with her head held high, an individual and a human being in her own right.
Instead I’m born in a land of idiotic hypocrites who continue to claim in an age of education that women in India are actually respected! That’s why, I suppose, Hindu widows are forbidden from remarrying and Muslim women can be divorced by their drunken husbands just by uttering the word ‘talaq’ thrice. India is one of the only countries in the world that upholds this abhorrent practice. Even in Saudi Arabia, that bastion of Islam, triple talaq is illegal.
Women in India are disrespected, subjugated and oppressed. Temples forbid their entry, while scriptures deny them humanity, consigning them to the dustbin of the ‘other’, the place that everyone except upper caste men occupies. If in the cities women are unsafe, in the villages they are mostly fodder for exploitation, to work at home, to labour in the fields and to bear the rapacious appetites of men when darkness falls. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century exclaimed, ‘Oh unfortunate woman! What crime have you committed that you are born in a country where women aren’t respected?’
And yet we are still asked to believe in the mythology that women in India are goddesses. This fundamentalist image of the Hindu woman is perpetrated by extremist socio-political outfits like the RSS, whose male-only bastion is threatened by the emergence of the modern woman, one who is confident, educated and independent. If women are to be treated as goddesses, the narrative goes, they must ‘earn’ that right. They must live virtuous lives that aren’t contaminated by Western influences. They mustn’t ‘stray’ into the uncharted waters of freedom and liberal values. They must be virginal and ‘pure’, such attributes being defined by the men. And all this while men are allowed their bestial inferiority. After all, the scriptures don’t treat men as ‘gods’, so they are allowed their human follies.
In this narrative, women don’t really need education, especially not an education that teaches them equality and a rational mindset, for then they would question traditional values. Instead they are the flagbearers of ‘Bharatiya maryada’, the vessels for honour. The applecart must not be upset by questioning such a code of honour.
Educated women don’t give a damn for ‘values’ and ‘honour’ and ‘purity’. Mercifully, all they care about is how to find the right pair of jeans, one that suitably flatters their figure and helps them attract the right mate. They are ‘shallow’ and ‘superficial’ because they believe in wearing the right shade of lipstick, one that matches the colour of their top and brings out the highlights in their hair. They struggle, not to veil themselves, but to find the right job, one that gives them economic independence and liberates them from the shackles of an oppressive life at home. They talk to men as equals, and not as figures of authority, and if one of the men is attractive enough for something more than friendship, so be it.
Perhaps flower power is just round the corner in India. And then perhaps, the hypocrisy of treating women as slaves and calling them goddesses will finally its way to the dustbin of history.
Pic credit: ami2amity (Used under a Creative Commons license)
Beyond Pink writes on women's stories in urban India. They could be real or
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