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I imagine what Savitri bai and Fatima Shaikh would be thinking watching this future they sacrificed their lives over, watching young women fight over inconsequential things, and fritter away the precious opportunity of an education.
There is a Kumaoni fairy tale I read many years ago, a reverse Sleeping Beauty of sorts.
A young princess of 16 is trapped in an enchanted castle. There, in a room, she finds the handsome prince of the castle; he’s lying there inert, his body pierced by millions of pins and needles. The princess begins to pull them off one by one. It takes her many hours by many years of arduous work to pull them off, one by one. She sings to her prince, talks to him, encourages him to keep heart, that she will free him from his curse. Finally there are only the pins on his eyelids to be removed.
By now the princess has fallen in love with the prince. So she decides that she will have a bath and look her best before she takes off the pins on his eyes and he reciprocates her love. But in the time that she’s away getting ready, a servant girl appears out of thin air and removes the last two needles and the prince awakens. He takes one look at the servant girl and decides that she is his saviour and marries her on the spot. Our princess is then turned into the servant of the newly-weds.
Eventually, years later, thanks to casteism and elitism and some cleverness by the princess to prove that a servant can never be a princess, the stupid prince figures out that the servant girl who is “coarse of manner and attitude and often unclean” cannot be the girl who sang to him so beautifully through his nightmare and kills her and marries the princess.
There is no mention of how rotten the subsequent marriage was, was he a wife-beater, was their marriage a boring, silent one, did the princess get a chance to live her life fully or was being his charanon ki daasi satisfying enough to defeat another woman and have her killed in the process…
Yesterday, I watched this horrific video of girls from two elite schools in Bangalore having a street fight. Why were they fighting? The boyfriend of one of the girls was cheating on her with a girl from another school and hence the teenage girls of both schools deemed that it made sense to fight one another, which was lovingly videographed by passers by.
I was thinking of the sisterhood of Savitri Bai Phule and Fatima Shaikh, two marginalised women who fought oppressive forces doggedly to bring universal education to the women of the country, who were not allowed to touch books till then. Stone and cowdung were flung at these women by the men of that time. When they didn’t find a place to start their school for women, Fatima opened the doors of her home, and that’s how the first school for Indian women began, when men had kept them illiterate and chained to the home and hearth for millennia. It took the sisterhood of two women supporting each other.
Just now, I read an article about how in the 1970s, when there were only 70 women students in the whole of IIT compared to the 3000 men students, how these women came together in a sisterhood to fight the rampant sexism and misogyny and paved the way for more women to enter STEM.
What would they think of these young girls who cut school to scratch and punch and hit each other, kick their sisters in the gut, drag them by their hair down the stairs? How much more thrilling it would have been to do that to the boy who set them up against each other. Will he and his bros watch the girls’ shenanigans on pornhub and they will backslap the boyfriend of being ‘the man’?
In the film ‘The Gully Boy’, Alia Bhatt’s character breaks a bottle over the head of a girl who her boyfriend is cheating on her with. Why are women taught through film and story and scriptures that their enemy is another woman? Why are men portrayed to be so central in a woman’s life that they are never shown having a career or friends or an inner life, while the man will have all this and more.
Patriarchy ensures that women are always uneasy around each other. Often because men are the gatekeepers to most opportunities, women constantly find themselves competing for crumbs.
Patriarchy has also built up a man as a central figure in your personal life as this phenomenal cosmic event.
All over SM we read women celebrating ‘my man’. A half decent husband, who clears the low bar of being human by watching their own kids or washing vessels is called ‘a blessing’. Imagine, they have to be divinely ordained to merit a human as your partner and they don’t see the irony in it.
More than 50% of women who die homicidal deaths are killed by their husbands or intimate partners.
One in 4 women experience intimate partner violence.
Women can literally die or be raped because they are in relationship with a man and yet they women are fighting to be married or in a relationship with one.
And all myth and legend and capitalism does is perpetuate the ponzi scheme of, ‘my man, I’m so blessed’ phenomenon, and we are buying it. Where are stories that tell you that it is exceedingly dangerous to be married, that the collective of men depends on the oppression of women. One look at Neetu Singh these days tells us how good marriage really was to her (not!). Post her husband’s death, she has kickstarted a new career, and she has never looked this good before- happy, light and free.
Sometime ago, I was invited to an all women party at my friend’s house. It was a potluck dinner party, everyone brought a dish, we had a couple of drinks, we spoke about everything under the sun- politics, education, queer rights, astronomy, dentistry. No one spoke over anyone else, no one got drunk, no one launched into a monologue about their achievements.
Everyone was genuinely interested in each other, the shy ones were drawn out and when I apologised about being too passionate about mythology, they made me promise to never apologise for being true to myself. At around midnight things began winding down, all the women got up, helped the hostess to clean up, put the leftovers away or doggy bagged them, washed and took their respective containers home and when they left, the home of the hostess was as clean as it was when we entered it.
Contrary to what is imagined in mythology or pop culture, no one moped about the ‘man’ in their lives, actually I don’t think we even spoke of men, there were no catfights, nor MIL or bai or bitch boss bashing.
How many stories teach us to build a sisterhood, strengthen. I see women doing so many things together- going to restrooms together, baby-sitting for one another, holding space for each other, mentoring younger women (and men). And yet the focus of the male gaze will be on objectifying and reducing their roles as antipathetic to one another.
No, all men are not bad. But they all benefit from patriarchy and till they see that and work towards dismantling it because it’s a human rights issue, it will take women fighting it together to make any inroads. The enemy of a woman is not another woman, although no doubt many are handmaidens to patriarchy, but ultimately the goal is to take down oppressive systems to ensure equity for all those who are marginalised by the current systems. And women and girls fighting each other over a man is not going to help the cause of anyone.
Marriage, relationships, and lovers will come and go. We have bigger struggles in front of us. I imagine what Savitri bai and Fatima Shaikh would be thinking watching the future they sacrificed their lives over, watching young women fritter away the precious opportunity of an education. Already right wing forces around the world are rising to squash women’s basic rights these young girls seem to take for granted. How long before we voluntarily hand over our rights and become actual handmaidens if we continue along this path?
Image source: Twitter
Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...
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