Indian woman – Sati or Shakti?



India is a difficult country. With abject poverty, lack of basic facilities like water, electricity, sanitation and housing, corruption, inefficiency and social disparities, if you are not the privileged one, it is not easy to survive in a country like India. Worse, if you are born as a woman. It’s a general perception that if a son is born he is your retirement fund but if a girl is born the same fund becomes dowry fund. Women are not preferred as a child. Women are not wanted. Women are not respected. Women don’t have status. Women are perceived and treated like inferiors worthy of only compassion, pity or help.

In last year’s election, Narendra Modi spoke a lot about Indian youth as demographic dividend. Unfortunately, when it comes to women, nobody sees them as another demographic dividend. It’s time that we recognize our women as most productive, efficient and economical asset of our society and celebrate her.

Indian Woman plays the most important part in our society yet she is the most ignored member of our society. Indian Woman, from the moment she is conceived, spends rest of her life fighting against a male chauvinistic society. Inside her house she is fighting for equality with her brother. Outside in the society she is battling eve teasers, men who smirk when she drives a vehicle because she is a woman and so many other battles on a minute-to-minute basis. She has been fighting it for centuries. And this is the reason, I think, Indian Woman has emerged as an extremely strong person as compared to woman of any other country. A woman who fetches water from a well, walks back several kms in scorching heat with ogling men and a latent danger of rape looming over and then she uses the water in most economical way can’t be an ordinary woman. Perhaps, she knows better about hard work than any man. This is why she should be celebrated.

Tragically, whenever women are discussed, we start thinking about a woman who is a suffering from illiteracy, ignorance, dowry, honour killing, eve teasing, rape, abuse, financial slavery etc. Is that what Indian Woman is all about? Who has made her illiterate? Who takes dowry? Who kills her for honour? Who is behind molestation, eve-teasing or rape? Why is it that all the evils of the society are associated with the victim? Because, it’s a design. The biggest trick rich play on poor is that they never let us see poor without their poverty. If one inverts the pyramid and see it from a woman’s point of view, men will come across as abducters, exploitators, molesters and rapists. The pyramid can’t be inverted because the narrative is in in the hands of the people who want to see women as abla nari (hapless victims). Indian Woman is abla because the narrative has always been with the men. Just to substantiate my point, let me illustrate a very interesting example. It came to notice that the incidence of HIV was increasing at an alarming rate of 15%-20% amongst women. A lot of men started questioning the character of their women. After a sustained, pan-India research, spread over two years, by ICMR it was found out that this incidence was due to ‘condom failure’. They took a large sample size, measured their penises and discovered that over 60% of Indian men have penises too small for the condoms to fit World Health Orgaization specifications. Since men control the narrative, the small size of their penis remains a well guarded secret. Isn’t it remarkable that despite being surrounded by such social evils, prejudiced narrative and inspite of social support, Indian Woman stands strong, calm, loving, compassionate, forgiving and beautiful? This is why she should be celebrated.

Indians believe there are two worlds – Mythological world and the real world. In our mythology, there is a concept of ‘Panchkanya’. Panchkanyas are made of panchtatvas (five elements) ‘earth, fire, water, air and space. Like earth (Sita) she is strong, ever-giving, sacrificing and stable. She is fiery, passionate, sexy and strong-willed like fire (Draupadi). Like water (Mandodari) she is in a ‘flow’ with strong undercurrent, turbulent on the surface yet deep in her spiritual quest. She is like wind (Ahilya) for her free-will, ethereal nature and freshness. She is likened to space (Tara) for their infinite intelligence, emotional range and vastness of heart. In a society where a woman’s greatness is measured by her chastity, where her patience is measured by her capacity to tolerate great injustice, one can still find many Sitas who happily sacrifice all comforts in lieu of their duty and devotion for their family. This Sita is constantly fighting Ravanas with her sacrifice and penance yet she doesn’t compromise on her dignity and righteousness, she instills right values in her children and protects her family’s honour.

There are Draupadis all around us with storms of anguish and anger. In every house there are Mandodaris, trying to create a balance between the injustice of society and the stability of her family with her wisdom. Whenever her family faces turbulence, she is the one who choses the right path. We meet Ahilyas in colleges, at home, at work who are subjected to unforgivable wrongs yet they forgive and spread their compassion. Indian Woman displays some or all of these qualities despite her financial status or social reality. She is suppressed yet liberated. Illiterate yet wise. Discriminated yet strong. Unaware yet innovative. Deprived yet rich in emotions. She is the unpaid labour of the household yet she controls the intricate economy of the house. She follows everyone’s wishes yet she is the moral leader of the house. She is bound by the dogmas of the society, yet she designs the life-graphs of a new generation. She is the hope in a hopeless situation. This is why she should be celebrated.

If ancient texts have to be believed, Indian woman was always free, equal and in many cases superior to men. She is found seated next to her man and no religious ritual could be completed without her. She is always portrayed as sensuous, charming and beautiful. In fact before the invasion of Mughals and spread of Islamic social taboos, Indian Woman has always been depicted in minimal clothes. Her beauty, body, and sexiness are celebrated in almost all the texts, literature and paintings. Be it Laxmi, Saraswati or Durga. Indian Goddesses are described as:

“eye-ravishing, smiling-eyed…  Swelling breasts…  Shapely thighs…  fragrant like the lotus…  extraordinarily accomplished, soft-spoken and gentle… slim-waisted… long-haired, pink-lipped, and smooth-skinned.” (Adi Parva 169.44-46, Sabha 65.33-37)

Indian Woman’s sexuality was celebrated and associated with strength and power. A relationship outside of marriage was always a woman’s prerogative. Islamic influence changed the dynamics of Indian society. It changed women’s status in social hierarchy from strong to meek. From Shakti to Sati. It brought in ‘purdah’ and imprisoned her inside the four walls. With invasion came rape, abuse, exploitation and financial slavery. Indian Woman, who was educated at par with men in academics as well as life skills, participated in intellectual discourses was restricted from going to school. Despite such restrictions, regressive mindset and hurdles today she is flying into space, treating patients, building bridges, winning beauty pageants, excelling in sports, making laws and leading corporate world. Alongside she plays the role of a house maker like a champion. Unlike the first world, she has kept our family system intact. With her hard work, focused energies, discipline, finance control, and value addition she has provided solid foundation to our family structure.

Management Guru, Stephen Covey, in his book ‘Seven Habits of the Highly Effective People’ talks about role-playing quality of leaders. Nowhere in the world one would find such a multi-dimensional woman who is a leader of the family, dutiful daughter in law, sacrificing mother, indulgent bhabhi, obedient daughter, concerned wife, shy bride, cultured hostess and a brilliant chef. She is a nurse to parents/ parents-in-law and baby-sitter to grandchildren. And, Mr Covey, she can play all these roles at once. Edward De Bono has professed the theory of ‘Changing Hats’ for leaders. De Bono could think of only six hats because, perhaps, he never met a typical Indian Woman. She looks after her family; her parents’ family, keeps helping neighbors and relatives. She is extremely hard-working, sincere, loyal, friendly, proactive, quick decision-maker, team-builder, resource manager, inventory planner, cost-cutter, quality controller, an efficient floor manager, productive worker, great negotiator, recycling innovator, fire fighter, 24*7 doctor, engineer, plumber, baker, tuition teacher, hostess, trainer, consultant, HR manager, R&D manager, maid, dish-washer, laundry-person, baby sitter, event manager, PRO, bearer, producer and nurture of human life. With limited resources, time and money, she creates human wealth. And she does all this for free. In corporations they say love your work like it’s your life. Nobody executes this work-culture better than Indian Woman. When Indian men are recognized, world over, for their hard work, humbleness, loyalty, honesty, knowledge and intelligence, it’s the result of this result-oriented, value adder Indian Woman. A day is not far when Indian Woman will show the path to this world. This is why, Indian Woman should be celebrated.

The themes of loss and humiliation are common in an Indian Woman’s life. They were abducted, raped, tortured, punished, abandoned, left to live miserable lives as widows and even sold as slaves by powerful men. Its because of this constant struggle, Indian woman possesses native intelligence, hidden wisdom, and a superior knowledge of life. The traumas, sufferings, hardships and a constant struggle to assert her space in a misogynistic society has given Indian woman maturity and foresight, the ability to find simple solutions and use the learning from experiences to arrive at intelligent instincts that benefit both her family and the society.

A woman who can survive such traumatic evolution cannot be a Sati but predominantly and fundamentally she is Shakti. It’s entirely our choice whether we want to see Sati with pity or celebrate her as Shakti. I think, It’s time to change the ‘negative’ narrative and celebrate Shakti.

It’s time to post a #SelfieWithIndianWoman.

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