Let Our Daughters Become Powerful Durga, Not Just The Ghar-Ki-Laxmi!

When we narrate the great stories of the past to the next generation, instead of saying that women were ‘used to’ distract, assassinate or lure men, we must say that women had the power to make or break huge empires without lifting a sword.

One of these days, I was in a particularly pensive mood when my mind decided to rewind and show me a little action replay.

It was about 6 years back, when I was 14. Me and my mother were taking an OLA back home from my dance practice. It was about 12 or 1 at night, almost all shops were closed, and the open ones were pulling their shutters down.

The road back home was a particularly bumpy one and as I was returning from my Bharatnatyam classes, the ‘Ghungroos’ (anklets) in my bag jingled every time we hit a bump. I didn’t give it much thought. But after a little while, the driver looked at us through the rear view mirror every time my anklets jingled. He had a weird expression on his face as he looked at the 14-year-old me. But that expression sent chills down my mother’s spine for some reason. She signalled me to hold the bag tightly so that it didn’t make any sound. I didn’t know then why she asked me to do it but my mother’s scared eyes, compelled me to obsequiously oblige.

How can a simple thing like this make men look at girls and women “like that”?

This flashback got me thinking – Why does a girl always have to mend her ways? Why does a girl with ghungroos always have to be perceived incorrectly? Why does a girl irrespective of her capabilities still get objectified? Why does a girl always have to be apologetic of her choices?

When will these ‘Whys’ be answered?

Awareness about gender equality has been going on for quite a while now, still it seems to be all hat and no cattle. Why is that so?

The explanation to this is simple. The more deep rooted a perception is, the more time it takes to change.

And the practice of women being used as objects of entertainment is as old as time. Women being sent to “seduce and distract men from their goal” or to get information out of them has been an age-old practice.

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A well known narrative in all our epics

The well-known tale of Rambha, Menaka, Urvashi being sent to distract sage Vishwamitra from his penance stands as a testimony to this theory.

There are stories in the Mahabharata, for instance, Urvashi, a celestial nymph, was requested to keep Arjuna entertained for the night when he visited Lord Indra. During the time of Yudhistra’s ‘Rajasuya Yagna’, kings would send beautiful women as gifts for entertainment.

This shows that the objectification of women finds its place in one of the major epics of our country.

The Pandavas are lauded for keeping their mother’s word and marrying the same women. But no one ever questioned whether Draupadi wanted to marry five men.

In the Ramayana, Sita was shooed away from the kingdom like a rodent from a farm based on a hearsay about she being in captive of another man.

It underlines the absence of the need of consent. It shows that the opinion of the women wasn’t considered important.

Sanskrit literature also mentions ‘Vishkanyas’ (Poison Damsels). Literary figures who were raised on a careful diet of poison and antidote. They were trained assassins who used to be used against powerful enemies.

All of this trickled down into real life beliefs and practices

All these stories and deeply embedded beliefs reduce society’s chances of accepting women as equals. For, beliefs, that are older than time, to change is a herculean task.

The existence of objectification surely found its way into Indian monarchy. Women being treated as commodities wasn’t just restricted to veshyas or courtesans, kings would marry off their daughters to their rivals to avoid war or enmity. For instance, the famous Rajput Hindu queen of Emperor Akbar, Mariam-uz-Zamani.

There are tales which claim that the Mughals and Europeans who plundered India misunderstood the saintly ‘Devdasis’ to be prostitutes. Thus, reshaping the sanctified system of Devadasis into a whole new level of sordid prostitution.

Though history saw a few valorous women in the form of Rani Laxmibai, Kittur Rani Chennamma, Rani Abbakka Chowta and Razia Sultan, these stories are like pins in a haystack. Thus, leaving the society deprecating the value of women.

Let’s consider our daughters Durga, not just the ghar-ki-Laxmi

In an Indian house, when a girl is born, she is considered to be ‘Laxmi’ or Goddess of wealth. She is raised to be docile and nurturing. She is taught to be understanding, accommodating and selfless.

Won’t it do mighty good if along with teaching her to be a demure ‘Parvati’, we also teach her to tap into the ‘Durga’ self that she is capable of being, whenever necessary?

For, the ancient texts that highlight patriarchy also glorify the power of women, maybe not at the same intensity but it still counts.

Language is a funny tool. You can completely change the interpretation by wording the same story differently. So, when we narrate the great stories of the past to the next generation, instead of saying that women were ‘used to’ distract, assassinate or lure men, if we say that women had the power to make or break huge empires without lifting a sword. It would make a mammoth of a difference.

So that next time a 14-year-old girl doesn’t have to clutch her ghungroos to stop it from jingling. Instead, she could proudly flaunt being a dancer instead.

‘Yadevi Sarva Bhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Samstitaha
Namas-Tasyai Namas-Tasyai Namas-Tasyai Namo Namah’

(Salutations to the Devi who resides in all beings in the form of power)

Image source: a still from Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

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Khushi Sanath

I'm a 3rd year electronics and communication engineering student at MIT Manipal. read more...

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