ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry
Freedom to Dream: India at 70
By Debdutta Saha, 35 years, Hyderabad
‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing’- Arundhati Roy
That world is almost here today… Much has been said and passionately felt about our ladies doing us proud at the Olympics this year, and the grit, sweat and hard-work, the behind-the-scenes slog for many a year is not to be undermined. Yes, we have indeed come a long way from the horrendous days of Sati, of being typecast as witches and ‘Daayans’ if perchance her husband happened to die just before marriage or soon after… to winning Olympic Medals and flying planes. There are hardly any fields that women have not yet conquered.
We have women honchos who have defied the glass ceiling, and the Indian Banking Industry is today a veritable power house of number-crunching females, an anomaly of sorts given that this was a traditionally male bastion. So somewhere, something is going right for us, but has it been all that easy, and has it gone far enough?
Valiant women of yesteryear were strong torch bearers, pioneers in their own right who left behind a rich legacy for us to follow… Lakshmi Sahgal, Durgabai Deshmukh, Parbiti Giri, Sucheta Kriplani, Bhikaji Cama, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay were all freedom fighters. Most of us have hardly heard of them but they were instrumental in our fight for freedom.
It has been a journey fraught with challenges and that has only made it more meaningful and worthwhile for us, the women of India. Thanks to the pioneers who defied set norms, many of us are today well-educated, privileged women, leading lives that on the surface are not so different from our counterparts in the west, but is it all hunky-dory for us, the so called modern women of India?
At the threshold of India turning 70, I am still scowled at for being that ‘mother’ who leaves her children and goes to work, wears ‘fancy clothes,’ and ‘has fun’. My choices are not mine alone: they are analyzed and dissected by the extended family, and meanings with no correlation in truth are imagined in-between the lines. It is still a common notion in many families that the husband’s work is the real work that brings in the ‘moolah’, while the working wife goes to office to while away her time. The battle is not yet won.
A working mother and wife prepares her children for school and her husband for work before she herself goes to work. She dons an apron and is the loving wife and mother after she returns from work. Some families decide to teach this kind of woman ‘a lesson’ for daring to be independent and financially secure, by using domestic violence to control her. Indian divorce is still very much taboo, and it is the woman who is the scandal of the neighbourhood if it does happen. She is invariably portrayed as a character without morals, who does not really love her children.
There is always a price to pay for being ‘ambitious’ and ‘selfish’, qualities that no women from ‘good families’ are supposed to possess. These qualities do not fit with Indian tradition, where the woman is supposed to be the sacrificial lamb, at the beck and call of the entire family. In other words, a slave in the name of a ‘wife’.
Today, many of us are educated, opinionated, independent women, up-to-date with world happenings, with strong minds of our own, and we stick out like sore thumbs in our refusal to blend in. We are unapologetic about the way we are, since we believe in combining our Indian ethos with modernity. We are challenging stereotypes to embody a modern India that gives women the power to be themselves, an India that is so much more than poverty, dowry deaths, and corruption.
Slowly, steadily, a new wave of women is rising, who are combining money and motherhood, family and fun and are unashamedly proud to be themselves. We are proud to be contributors in our own right in shaping our nation, and we are even happier to be included in decision-making that will impact future generations. It is the time to celebrate diversity and plurality, to rise above arbitrary gender divisions and to lead our nation to light, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the nations of the world, to be an example to the world, as India takes her place in the sun.
My dream of India at 70 is for the empowerment of all — men and women, rich and poor – where everyone can dream and have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. We usually hear about the problems, but if you dig deeper, a lot of good is also happening. In the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh, an under-age girl recently refused to get married; female children are being encouraged to study; microfinance and bank accounts are enabling women to build up financial independence. Slowly, steadily, small voices are coming into their own.