The society’s mentality even today is saving for girl’s dowry instead of spending on her education. The courteous hypocrisy to worship Goddess in Temple but treating women like slaves at home.
This article is going to give you a feel of tartness and I do hope that my clarifications can work as antacids for the chocked mentality of its hypocrite readers. Before I pen down my emotions and thoughts through a poignant story of a woman, let me clarify that I am an advocate of gender equality, a patriotic Indian and I don’t give a damn to those who are doing the noble work of distributing labels like “anti-national”. The story is as real as Padmavati, and this article is written in the 21st century!
The reference to Padmavati is not ironical in the context because it is contemplating women’s plight from that century to the current. Being from the holy land of Chittorgarh and having grown up listening to the folklore of valours like Panna Dhai and Padmavati, I have always believed that strong-willed women can change the narrative of the history. Rani Manu Bai of Jhansi and our erstwhile PM Indira Gandhi were examples of courage and leadership that changed history, and geography. But what they could not change, unfortunately, is our regressive mentality of how even the educated lot of us view our women.
In my part of the world, a girl is still seen as a responsibility because a father still cares about “Kanya Dan” (her marriage) rather than her education. That terms like Kanya Dan’s Bojh (burden) are still in use in urban as well as rural area, these words signify that it does not matter whether our daughters are doing a skywalk like Sunita Williams or winning laurels at Olympics like Sindhu and others, we will continue to see them as Bojh. Period.
People usually need examples otherwise they label it as conspiracy and start a debate on how foreign powers or liberal people are playing with the ethos of our great nation which is as pure as heaven. Sorry to dishearten you but this is not the case until you get rid of the filthy mentality.
So, let’s talk about Vipada (Calamity), our protagonist, whose name signifies her father’s Bojh and her mother’s hardship. Vipada is from Chittorgarh as well. An avid reader and an intelligent mind mean she is always among the toppers of her class. Chittorgarh produced literary gems like Meera Bai and since childhood Vipada was seen as a prodigy who would make a name for herself in literature too. Fast forward to her post-high school days, from some friends I gathered information that she has opted for engineering. I was shocked because she was meant for literature as that was her passion and that’s what we hoped she will opt for a career too. Well, we assumed that it was same engineering craze that bites all parents as shown very beautifully in Aamir Khan starrer 3 Idiots.
Present day, I accidentally met Vipada at Chittorgarh’s iconic Kali Mandir, a temple of Lord Kalika at picturesque Fort of the city, a UNESCO world heritage site. As a customary gesture, I asked her, how is she doing? Her face turned pale and she said “Fine” and turned her face away. I was puzzled by her response. I tried to talk to her to see why she said fine when she looked anything but fine. As a devotee of Lord Kali she could not muster courage to lie in her premises and opened up.
She narrated that she wanted to do literature but her parents forced her to do engineering. She had offers from prestigious colleges in Delhi University in creative writing with scholarship but to them, her dreams were not bigger than their social status. I murmured, most people in Rajasthan have this issue why is she making a fuss of it. Just attend a college in a city like Jaipur and live her dream. But she said her mother said something which made Vipada to not believe her ears. She quoted, her mother said, “Mat dalo bade shehar me, ye ladki kisi ladke ke saath bhag jayegi” (Do not admit her in a big city, as she will elope with some random boy). That’s a shocker because this girl has not befriended any male students even from her class. “Such trust-deficit?” I said, “maybe it’s your mother’s nature to doubt?” Her reply was that her brother got admitted a few years later in a metro city and when she quizzed her mother, her mother replied, “He is a boy! We can trust him.” Bravo, gender-specific trust issues! So a bright student like her ended in a mediocre ranked college in a small town.
She tried to keep her literature dream alive via blogging. Her blog was generating good traffic and she was getting praised from all corners. She won a trip to Singapore through some online blogging competition. Her parents refused again. I asked why? The same argument, you are a girl! It did not matter to them, that fifteen other people are going and the program has been going on since last many years and she has thoroughly researched about its credibility. My parents allowed me to travel to Korea when I was in my 2nd year of college, thank God I am a boy!
After her B. Tech, she wanted to do a masters and got an offer from one of the best universities in the world for creative writing. Again with a scholarship. Having studied abroad, I knew how difficult it is to secure funding for your masters. Finding a needle in a haystack. Indeed an achievement. But her parents instead of taking pride in her cursed her for going ahead without their consent. Her father said, “marry first and if your in-laws agree then go ahead and do whatever you want”. I almost spontaneously quizzed her, “what do they think that you are a servant and they own your life? Is it a bloody 18th century?” She put her hand on mine and said, “Welcome to the real world man”. She left bidding adieu with a smile that has pain embedded in it.
The sad part is that Vipada’s story is not a one-off example. There are hundreds of women out there whose parents or partners believe that they own them. There are thousands of women out there who are not independent to take decisions of their own life. There are lakhs of women out there who have to kill their dreams because their wings are chopped off in favour of their male siblings or partner. There are crores of women out there who do not find themselves consider equally at their homes or workplace. And the saddest part, there are half a billion of women out there who command equal respect for complimenting men in making this country great but rarely get their due share. Reasons? Our regressive mentality. Our hypocrisy. The hypocrisy to teach them about Kalpana Chawla but never letting them pursue their dreams to fly. The mentality of thinking that boys are the flag bearer of Vansh (dynasty). The hypocrisy to chest thump about how progressive you are but never appreciating your wife’s effort to manage everything in your life. The mentality of celebrating women’s day by clicking Selfie, sending forwarded messages or shopping at discounted prices instead of changing the way we think or the way we behave. Celebrating one day would not make us value women’s right if we continue to own this hypocrisy and this regressive mentality. We need to develop a change in our thought process.
We need to start changing women’s lives from our home by helping our mothers, sisters and partners in household work, by giving them reasons to smile, by making them live their dreams and by acknowledging the fact that we are what we are because of the endless silent contributions of women in our life.
In reverence to womanhood!
This article has been contributed to us by Mohanish Suresh Borana. He is the national president of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK and a Chancellor’s International Scholar at the University of Sussex. He holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh and University of Mumbai as well.