Who Is Responsible For Curtailing Women’s Right To Freedom?

One of my friends told me that her husband criticized her for locking her phone, whereas the husband never allows her to touch his phone and locks it in the cupboard.

Early in the morning of May 23, 2023, around 6 a.m., I got a call from my cousin from abroad.

While speaking, he told me how he took care of me as a child. He might be two years older than me, but we studied together. So, calling him by name was not at all a problem for me. I was too sleepy as I went to sleep late the previous night.

While talking, he said, “We gave you freedom.” My eyes were sleepy, but the mini-me in me awakened me to reply to him, saying, “Freedom is not to be granted by others. It is to be lived by everyone. Men always think that they are the owners of freedom, and they control their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters!”

A fighter for her rights

Recently, I met a young woman, an officer in a reputed bank, who came for a women’s leadership meeting in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, South India. She had short hair, wore a modern dress, and had a car. These made me look at her in wonder, as it isn’t common for Indian women, especially Tamil women.

She came along with her daughter, who is about 12 years old. The daughter interestingly told me that she chose her name, which is typical Tamil. I learned from her mother that the name was changed by the girl herself in the gazette. That gave me a hint that she might be a single mother raising her daughter alone.

During the women’s meeting, we all had time to share our stories of struggles, successes, and challenges in fighting for our identities in our respective places and spaces.

On WhatsApp, when I see her status, I see in her a real fighter who wants to be independent and raise her daughter with the same sense of duty, obligation, and love.

Likewise, there are so many single women who break the shackles of culture, which denies women their freedom. There are others who are born and brought up in a privileged position or have risen to an elite position due to their grit and opportunity. Such women can break glass ceilings in varied places and positions. But, for most marginalized women who lack education, skills, and opportunities, and live in oppressive power structures, making a rightful move for their freedom, identity, and representation in society, either at home or at work, becomes hardly a reality, even if they have the desire and effort for transformational desire. They continue to persist in living in inhuman conditions.

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Such realities often raise some questions. Isn’t it beautiful to see women who can live on their own making a difference in a conservative and male-dominated society?

There are some rare men who can see this clearly

Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, better known as Periyar, a rationalist and social activist from Tamil Nadu, spoke widely on women’s rights, women are enslaved by traditional practices.

Periyar (17 September 1879–24 December 1973), also known as Thanthai Periyar, was an Indian social activist and politician who founded the Self-Respect Movement and Dravida Kazhagam. Since 2021, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has commemorated his birthday as ‘Social Justice Day’ in recognition of his role as the ‘Father of the Dravidian Movement’ and his uprising against caste and gender inequalities in Tamil Nadu. His progressive insights are still relevant, especially for the empowerment and emancipation of the poor and women at large.

In a country like India, women are taught to be dependent on men, though not all women in Indian society are. The social system in India creates in them the idea that men are created to protect women and they take control of the private space of women, and they are not ashamed of their acts.

Women often struggle to have a space for themselves

One of my friends told me that her husband criticized her for locking her phone, whereas the husband never allows her to touch his phone and locks it in the cupboard.

There are men here who do not allow their wives to work outside home, especially some who think that they will “get in touch with other men and spoil the family honour”. It is this insecurity of men that curtails the freedom of women.

Liberty gives women inspiration to be themselves, or have opportunities to empower them with better insights for their enlightenment, which may enable women to demand their rights and dignity and voice over the oppressive power structures that be.

Obviously, women must struggle to get what they want. This is the story of another person with whom I am acquainted. He is a person who loves to see his wife get promoted, as she is a government employee. Though she is a police officer, he usually says that she needs his accompaniment, as if women cannot travel alone.

Most men have sexist ideas of what a woman should or shouldn’t do

He is not alone in a society that thinks in a similar way. These are all weird ideas that spring from male chauvinism, gender stereotyping of women, and patriarchy.

Here, we are reminded to question the patriarchal mindset and the age-old practices that are built upon the bodies of women to subjugate, dominate, and exploit. I was told that women need to sacrifice their desires and feelings for the sake of others or masculinity, and it is women’s duty to submit and be submissive to such irrational tendencies and ideologies. Often, one hears that men need to take pride in protecting a family’s honor: women should not fall in love, and good girls never go against the will of their parents and elders.

I recently watched a short film named ‘Home’ in Tamil where a girl struggles to leave her parental home for her husband’s house after marriage. Her father is keen on removing her name from the family ration card and adding it to her husband’s family.

The girl is perplexed, as she does not want to cut off her relationship with her mother’s home. When her fiancé forces her to have intercourse with him, she objects. The fiancé asks, “What is your problem now?” Anyway, she is going to get married soon, and after marriage, he will have sex with her.

In the climax, the girl decides to call off the wedding and leave her parents’ house. This short film leaves every woman with this question – Why must a leave her parental home after marriage when a boy continues to remain in his house and take care of his parents? Why the ritual of Kanyadaan in which the bride’s father gives her to her husband?

Statistics on women moving home in India

Statistics published on Indiaspend say that almost 50% of internal migrations in India today are because of marriage, and 97% of migrants are women.

The mother’s house becomes a strange one after the wedding, and social custom obliges a woman to leave her relatives. We are brought up with the idea that, anyway, the girl should leave her parents and live in her husband’s house.

Religious texts focus on the same. Even religion takes away the freedom of women.

In the famous novel Jane Austin’s Persuasion, there is a conversation between Benwick and Anne Eliot: “I do not think I ever opened a book in my life that did not have something to say about a woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs all talk of women’s fickleness,” says Benwick, and the answer of Anne Elliot, the protagonist of the novel, is noteworthy. “But perhaps you will say, ‘These were all written by men.'”

Therefore, this is how freedom and destiny are determined by men who cannot fully understand the nature, dignity, and rights of women. Men need a lifetime to understand the beauty of a woman’s soul and being. She is an enigma herself. Nature itself teaches us that women are born to create, nurture, and nourish themselves and others. If they are treated with respect and love, society can be transformed into a heaven on earth.

Finally, this must happen to every woman in the world. If it is not happening much, because men and society do not pave the way for it as it should have been happening. Until then, women need to aspire, claim, and demand rights, dignity, and freedom with grit.

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