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9 Decades: I Have Seen The Rise Of Women’s Rights In India From Pre-Independence To Now…

These are the thoughts and experiences about the rise of women's rights in India, by a woman close to 90 years, who has graciously shared about her life.

When I went to a gathering with a relative, a teenage girl approached me, and asked me to state my opinions about women’s rights and the generation gap. This set the tone and timing for me to write this article.

Though youngsters don’t like listening to the tales of us octogenarians, and our struggles, I think it is necessary to revisit the past, so that the future can be shaped. Many youngsters often advise me to not voice my struggles, as the world has changed, and the obstacles women face have altered, making my opinions obsolete.

In addition, I was told to adapt to the new environment, and ‘just deal with it’. This is something I’ve been told my whole life. So, technically, it was like I was being ordered by my higher authority. That hasn’t changed even today. But I believe that the younger generation does not want to hear about my emotional turmoil, and further trigger themselves.

I was deprived of many opportunities

However, I wish to narrate my story, how I was deprived of many opportunities, because of my gender. You may have heard this tale from every other old woman related to you, but my story is a mere observation of the struggles women faced in the 1940s and 1950s.

To begin with, I’d like to discuss education. Unlike women who go abroad to study, I was not allowed to study in another town, let alone in another state.

If you were lucky, your parents let you complete your schooling, before getting you married. However, to my surprise, there were many broad-minded parents even back then too.

In the Christian community, many of the women were post-graduates, much to my awe and envy. They were employed at convents and higher education institutions. They were the mavericks of the 1940s and 1950s; can you imagine that? Something that is so prevalent today, was considered taboo!

I also studied in a convent, and my peers also voiced that their parents, too, had a traditional mindset and wouldn’t let them study further. The code of conduct was a million times more restrictive than it is today. Yes, if you feel stifled now, then you would be asphyxiated if you were growing up back then.

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Code of conduct affected us all

As I was a gold medallist in my school days, this ‘code of conduct’ obviously affected me. Not to mention, I had an escort no matter where I went! Yes, even the bathroom, located outside my house! Sounds very much like living in the Big Boss house, right?

I honestly didn’t mind it that much, because I enjoyed the company of the male members of my family, especially my brothers. The third observation that I made, was that couples were really young back then, and sex education and family planning weren’t taught to us.

Almost everyone I knew had a minimum of five children! And those couples who were educated enough, couldn’t opt for family planning, without the consent of their family, in specific, their elders. In almost every family in my neighbourhood, it was the father who was the sole breadwinner, and dealt with the financial burden of raising a large family.

Just imagine, if I had suggested that I would like to work! It would be possible that members of the family would turn their head to 180 degrees, like a creepy horror film, where only the head turned around, while the body faced the other direction.

Traditions never worked in a woman’s favour

Due to this financial hierarchy, most families always ended up being middle class or in the lower middle class. Much to my dismay, even if the men had an undergraduate degree, they were forced to do clerical jobs, something way beneath their intellect and calibre.

So, the youth were always frustrated, irrespective of their gender. Societal norms and traditions never worked in a woman’s favour anyway, and men weren’t exactly thrilled either. If you are irritated, imagine how my peers and I felt.

The next generation was lucky enough, as they obtained their bachelor’s degree, and were employed as well. They became independent and even ventured out on their own, in different fields.

But even then, there were families that were hesitant to accept a ‘working woman’, because, you know, she ‘may not look after the family’! What an anomaly it was at that time. The concept of a joint family still existed, and even women who were permitted to work, had the help of their in-laws to rear their children.

Women began to think for themselves as women’s rights in India became a byword

I consider these women fairly lucky. Surprisingly, there were a lot of women, who wanted to break free from the shackles of society, and moved out of their homes, and the concept of a nuclear family emerged.

As both partners began working, they decided to have a minimum of two children, and I witnessed the rise of play homes, everywhere. And the rise in the number of women riding vehicles on the street had increased by tenfold.

I began to wonder, was this the same street that was dusty and had women being passengers on bullock carts passing by once in a while? It was astonishing, as I took time to even cross the street. Was this the same country that had confined women in the kitchen?

I saw scores of women walking to work in the morning by themselves, returning around midnight, unafraid. I marvelled that the world had changed for the better.

Instead of being stifled, subservient, or being a follower, women began to think for themselves. Their fierce nature began to rattle the old guard and the establishment— work, familial, and had to learn to cope with the change. Women were going to take charge soon.

Then, the millennials came, and my God, I cannot congratulate them enough for achieving such an amazing feat. Urbanization has altered women, and globalization has led to the erasure of all borders.

These women are fearless

These women are fearless. The barriers between men and women have disappeared, and now, nobody gasped in horror when women spoke to men. It astounded me that when I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to buy, there were now women who chose their own partners. Women were no longer shunned or ostracized for being employed, or for being independent.

The older generations often have minor strokes, when they see their grandchildren dating, wearing the latest fashion, and living a carefree life!

We are just getting used to the new world

Now, imagine you hear a politician giving a speech without lying, wouldn’t that stun you? The reaction is similar; we just have to get used to the new world. Maybe we may never get used to it. However, it is because some octogenarians find it hard to believe that the world has changed.

We may not agree with your opinions, fashion choices, ideals, or world-view. It’s not because we are your enemy; it is because we are from a different world.

The main quibble we/I have with youngsters, from all the younger generations, is that you don’t perform the traditions and rituals that have been passed down by our ancestors. Every ritual has a meaning behind it.

If you find conducting a puja cumbersome, why is hosting a party not? Yes, you have a preference for one, and not the other. But my humble request is, you educate yourself about rituals, lifestyle, and health. There was a time when knowledge was handed down from generation to generation like an heirloom.

Young women must learn how to take care of their health

Today, young women do not know how to take care of their health, their bodies during pregnancy and childbirth. Instead of wasting thousands of rupees on prenatal yoga classes or post-natal care, perhaps let us old folks give you the right advice?

After all, I personally have given birth to six kids and I have remained healthy, up until recently. So why not go back to Ayurveda, yoga, and home-cooked food, instead of adopting a western lifestyle? It’s a request, not an order. It is for your benefit, after all.

This generation is fragile

The freedom and joy that you youngsters evince on your faces makes us believe that change is good for you, and that you young women can change the world. Yet, I believe that this generation is very emotionally fragile. Problems that seem trivial to me, seem enormous to millennials and boomers.

The mindset of young women is intransigent, and this is not applicable to only youngsters. Gen X and boomers are also to blame. They have to toughen their children up to face all kinds of situations.

Instead of treating their girl children like glass dolls, it’s about time parents told their daughters to toughen up.

Parents, communicate with your girls

Yes, the world has changed, maybe things are harder now than they were back then, but I promise you, if you are emotionally stable, even a challenge will seem like a cakewalk. Parents, please communicate with your girls, build a strong bond, and teach them to face every hurdle like a tigress. Women are capable of it all.

I want to tell women, your struggles in school, work, your marital, and personal life are all learning lessons, to shape you into the goddess that you are. Women power is not a trendy word, but a concept that we have to make a reality.

Do not hesitate to fight back

Do not hesitate to fight back, strive to achieve your dreams, and people may call you a maniac, judge you, and hurt you, but do not relent to the challenges you experience. I’m not asking you to be a superwoman. I’m asking you to be a tough woman.

No matter what or who anybody says, keep going. Once you handle tsunamis at a young age, even an earthquake will leave you unaffected.

Learning how to cook, does not make you a housewife. It is equivalent to pursuing Martial Arts or Ayurveda, as it is a means of self-care, self-love, and self-preservation. You can do it all.

I never got the chance to do what you can, but you can pave the way for your younger counterparts to do things that you can’t do.

Image source: Shutterstock

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