By Simi Rizvi
28 August 2013
‘Tere maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khub hai lekin
Tu is aanchal se ek parcham banaa leti to accha tha’.
Majáz Lakhnavi has rightly conveyed the vulnerable, subservient status of women in society, in this couplet, where he says that the cloth covering her head is traditional and culturally valuable, but if she would have made a flag out of it — shown courage and strength in securing her position in a male-oriented society, things would have been different. She should have broken the shackles, barriers of serfdom and come out of the confined shell and acquired a dignified status in society, to which she is ascribed to.
The status of women has always been a matter of concern. Since past, women were not given equal status and opportunities as compared to their male counterparts. The patriarchal nature of society has hampered their freedom and curbed their talents. Women have always been put behind the walls since ages. They have been looked down upon with disdainful contempt, reducing their status to a mere plaything or slave of men’s whims, a mere chattel to be dumb-driven, to be bent under the yoke. Joseph Conrad has rightly said, “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men”.
Women have been subjected to all kinds of tortures, exploitations since time immemorial in the form of Sati, dowry system, Purdah, widowhood, re-marriage etc. They were devitalised and made dependent on the men folk. They were reduced to mere household drudges, with no independent will.
During a later period, many reforms were introduced to improve their lot. They were provided education which paved the way to develop their skills. The spread of education has completely changed the scenario. Women have begun to occupy key positions in almost every field; they are pilots, police officers, doctors, engineers, scientists, magistrates, ambassadors, and even Prime Ministers.
In an era of modernisation, Indian women have recaptured their lost identity. With co-education, they have cast off age-old inferiority complexes and march side by side with the men folk. They are proving academically better than men. They have excelled and challenged themselves in almost all competitive fields. They are now aware of their rights and their position in the social milieu and are making substantial contribution by trying to scale the ladders of social advancement with zeal.
But the whiff of emancipation that has blown in society, has been largely enjoyed by women of a higher social strata; those belonging to the lower social strata are still untouched by the winds of change, still in grip of poverty, superstition and subjugation. So, the question is: Despite the freedom, social advancement and equal opportunity, has the status of women really changed drastically?
Even in the 21st century, many working women are still subjected to immense pressure to shoulder the dual responsibility of being housewife and a working woman. The gender discrimination still prevails in the mindsets of people who are unable to digest the progress of women. Women are subjugated to humiliation, are sexually assaulted, abducted, molested, raped and harassed at their homes, work places and even in public places. Such incidents recur daily, and women are neither safe inside the womb nor outside. The practice of female infanticide is one of the gnawing problems that remains unsolved and needs to be tackled. It is a most brutal and destructive manifestation of anti-female bias that pervades our patriarchal society. Though initiatives have been taken to curb this heinous act, it prevails because of unscrupulous elements in society.
Mere implementation of laws and public demonstrations cannot emancipate the lot of women. There is a need for radical change in the mindset of society. The conservative male chauvinistic attitude shall have to give way to liberalism. Charlotte Bronte said on women, “I am no bird, and no net ensnares me, I am a free human being with an independent will”.
Let women enjoy the privilege of freedom and progress to the fullest. Men must be roped in to initiate social and political changes. “I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent , who has the courage to treat me like a women”, said American author Anais Nin.
Women are builders and moulder of a nation’s destiny. They have the courage and the strength to endure problems and resolve them. They are an embodiment of love, compassion, understanding and sacrifice. They deserve respect. Man and woman are two important pillars of society. They are like ivy clasping the oak and hence supplement and complement each other. Thus, where does the discrimination lie — in society, our mindsets or in our set principles? Has the transformation of women from the past to the present really changed their status or position in society? To a large extent, no.
Simi Rizvi is an Assistant Professor at Zakir Hussain College, University of Delhi