• 72 Years of Independence, and I am Still Waiting for my Freedom as a Woman

    Bhavna Jha

    August 15, 2018

    Image Courtesy: Pinterest

    I am an Indian woman who is anxiously waiting for the day which marks the departure of the colonial masters. As an Indian, I am eagerly waiting for my Independence Day, but as a woman I confront a dilemma that, whether I am really free or still confined within the chains of patriarchy and masculine hegemony. I belong to a land, where women willingly jump into the fire, to prove their chastity. It is the cardinal obligation of a woman to be extremely devoted to her husband and her loyalty is considered to be the epitome of Indian womanhood.

    The Grand Narratives of India, the Ramayana and Mahabharata contain the ideals of womanhood which is blindly followed even in modern times. The epics demonstrate the Indian woman to be inactive, honing the fundamentals of Stridharma, sexually submissive and dominated female whose body is controlled, possessed and violated by dynamic, overwhelming manliness. Not just when the male counterpart of the woman is available does he control her, even in his absence he specifies a boundary which can never be crossed. In Ramayana, the laxman Rekha is drawn by the masculine figure, who is the protector of Sita – “supreme embodiment of femininity”. She is strictly instructed to remain within the Rekha, and in any case is not at all allowed to cross that line. When seen metaphorically, this is the line of patriarchy crossing which a woman’s body becomes vulnerable, is sure to face danger and tends to become impure in the hands of the ‘other’ man or the villain. It clearly depicts that women are helpless and are unable to fight for themselves, therefore, men, who are ‘dominant’, ‘independent’, and ‘strong’ come forward to fulfill their ultimate responsibility of protecting women, who are ‘submissive’, ‘weak’, and are always desirous of security. The entire storyline of Ramayana revolves around the concept of ideal womanhood. The Mahabharata on the other hand primarily talks about the duties of the wife towards her husband(s), even if she is inhumanly married to five men according to the wishes of the mother, and is later used as stake in a game of dice with the Kauravas. The ancient Indian texts reveal that how a woman’s identity is embedded in traditional networks of family hierarchy. Even today, a woman is compelled to follow some baseless rituals and the ideology of ‘pativrata nari’. Any deviation from these socially accepted gender roles is termed as being ‘characterless’.

    Gender roles in India or anywhere across the globe are constructed keeping the society’s expectations and values in mind. One can never imagine of deviating from the established gender views, and this often leads to gender stereotypes. Men are usually identified as ‘the bread winners’ of the family, or chief financial support, earning sustenance for his entire family and is thus generally termed as the ‘Head of the Family’, in a patriarchal society. While, on the other hand, women, whose social identity is limited to being “categorized as ‘someone’s’ wife”, is destined and entitled to do domestic chores, and serve her family and children, thus taking the responsibility of carrying forward her marriage because education and working outside of the domestic boundaries can adulterate a woman’s femininity. Instead of emerging as a financial support, women in India are considered to be an economic burden due to the existence of social malpractices like dowry, leading to countless loss of lives, either due to dowry related deaths or  sex-selective abortion, which is really very horrifying. Even the measures taken by the Government of India for the welfare of women promise to ‘brighten their lives’ by providing them the LPG connections, instead of supporting them on economic grounds, ultimately stereotyping their roles and confining them within the boundaries of the household. They are restricted within the limitations of homes, attending to the needs of their husband and children, away from the male-dominated outside world.

    Though, several women today, have crossed the boundaries of their houses, breaking these stereotypes, but still they suffer, despite laws that exist to protect them against unequal hiring practices, policies and pay. In today’s time, a new concept of ‘super woman’ or ‘super mom’ has come into existence which duals the responsibilities of a woman. She is required to take care of her children and emerge as a successful professional as well, whereas, men are only supposed to meet their professional targets without caring about what is happening in their homes. Thus, it can be said that this revolutionary step to allow women to step outside their houses, taken by the supreme male authority, instead of ‘empowering women’ served only to redefine patriarchy.

    Every act of women in India is under male control and surveillance. In our Sanskaari and value-laden Indian society, it is not at all a matter of objection if a man smokes but it turns into a disgraceful demonstration if a woman does likewise. Women are always treated as objects of indulgence and the most “important elements in women’s life is the pursuit of beauty, and the cult of domesticity”.  Women, in India are always degraded and commodified as an ‘object’. The colonization of the body in the form of patriarchal oppression has become so normal in India that it would really be a miracle that a day passes by without any news about it. Women, who are a ‘financial burden’ turn out to be the family’s honor as soon as something unfortunate or undesirable happens with them. The male dominated society blame women for their every shameless activities. According to them, women invite rapists by wearing revealing attires, and thus it is very necessary to keep a control on them. But, still the biggest question remains unanswered that how young and innocent girls manage to ‘provoke’ the rapists?

    The male chauvinistic behavior of the Indian society prevents women from living life on their own terms and thus they are not independent in any way, even after more than 70 years of Independence. I, being a woman, and a resident of this so called ‘free’ nation am eagerly waiting for the day when I will be free from the barriers of patriarchal attitude and will able to live my life in my own way, celebrating my true freedom and empowerment!

    BHavna Jha is an independent social worker based in Ranchi, Jharkhand.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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