In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I Pledge Allegiance.”
I finally shared my blog with my mom. And I think that was the best decision I have made since I created the blog. Her support and enthusiasm is something that I have always counted on and her excitement for the blog has encouraged me further. She sent me this beautiful poetry in my native language (Bengali) written by Subrata Paul, titled ‘Tomar Durga, Amar Durga’ meaning ‘Your Durga, My Durga’. Don’t try to use the Google Translate for the page (though you can appreciate the style and font of my mother tongue). The translator is nothing short of horrendous and will insult a native Englishman and a Bengali alike. I will try to provide the literal translation, as closely as possible. Let’s hope that I am successful in transmitting the main idea to you, without spoiling the beauty of the poem. But before I do that, let me tell you who this Durga is.
Durga is a goddess whom we Indians associate with the feminine form of nature; something that can vanquish demons, be a compassionate mother and is also the consort to one of the divine trinity – Lord Shiva. She is often described as a woman who is intensely beautiful, fearless and strong and supportive to the noble cause of all things good that is out there in the world. Durga Puja is the festival celebrated in honor of this Goddess.
You must be wondering if I have suddenly lost my marbles and have turned to religion. Nothing like that, so you can relax!!! I have nothing against religion, just a problem against those who claim to follow it. But why I am talking about this today is because of the poem that my mother has sent to me. The poem just reflects all that I have felt and had opinions off as a woman in this world. The poem narrates the grit and harshness of the women and their condition prevailing in the Indian society and paints a stark, contrasting picture of the color and pomp and glitter that is seen during a festival.
Here it goes (the literal translation):
Your Durga is always worshiped
with hundred and eight flowers.
My Durga awaits at the door
of the school tower.
Your Durga is welcomed for
five days with all grandeur.
My Durga’s house gets flooded
with rain water.
Your Durga visits for five days
the house of her parents.
My Durga is born on the
footpath without parents.
Your Durga is decorated
in themes of humanity.
My Durga cries for the
touch of humanity.
Your Durga has never seen
the darkness around.
My Durga has never seen
the lights around.
Your Durga is decorated with
thousands of tiny bulbs.
My Durga still searches the
dustbin with candles in her hand.
Your Durga is framed in
flowers and garland.
My Durga still searches the
love in the land.
Your Durga has so much
food to waste.
My Durga searches in the day
food from the waste.
Your Durga has ten hands
with weapons to fight.
My Durga just cries out in pain
hugging herself tight.
Theoretically many religious scriptures and texts depict the role of women in society as ‘ardhangini’ or ‘the better-half’. However, in practice the role of women can be summarized in three forms – the subservient, the sexualised and the victimized. I am not digressing from the fact that the situation is far from bleak considering the number of women in workplaces, and the growing statistics reflecting gender empowerment. However, it is far from being at par with the century that we are currently living in.
While women are guaranteed the right to gender equality under the Indian Constitution, the strong patriarchal traditions prevailing in the society has prevented that right to materialize completely, because of which the lives led by the women are still groomed and shaped by the rigid practices of the centuries-old customs where they are considered as liabilities. If you start plotting a graph of the differential treatment of a man and a women right from their birth, you will notice the gross distinction. Don’t believe me? Let me state you some facts:
- India is one of the few countries where the male outnumber females.
Now, let’s compare this data with the Indian scenario
In the Population Census of 2011 it was revealed that the population ratio in India 2011 is 940 females per 1000 of males. The Sex Ratio 2011 shows an upward trend from the census 2001 data from 933 females per 1000 males to 943 females per 1000 males. However, the Child – Sex Ratio has dropped to 919 as compared to 927 in the year 2001. And the reason is only – The patriarchal need of the society to have a male child to reflect the name and honor of the family for the future generation. Though Prenatal tests to determine the sex of the fetus were criminalized by Indian law in 1994, the discrepancy in the stated numbers paint a different picture of female infanticide and selective abortions.
- Discrimination women as a Child
As a child, girls are often treated differently from male children in terms of nutrition and health care; where limited food or financial resources are available, the insufficient means are prone to be allocated unevenly in the favor of the male offspring. This nutritional deprivation ensures inadequacies in growth potential and also highlights the start of health problems, that continues into adulthood.
Despite government endeavors to make Primary education free and mandatory for all children up to the age of 14 years, irrespective of gender, it is often the parents who back down from such initiatives stating reasons such as domestic chores serve as a more valuable lesson for her future husband and in-laws; virginity of a girl safeguards the family’s honor, and schools which are located at a distance and have male teachers can pose a risk to such an honor. These very reasons also promote the practice of Child Marriages. India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. The rates of child marriage vary between states and are as high as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan. While fewer Indian girls are marrying before the age of 15, rates of marriage have increased for girls aged between 15 to 18. The harmful consequences of child marriage are lack of opportunities for education, bonded labor and enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and domestic violence, and are often exposed to serious health risks, early pregnancy, and various STDs especially HIV/AIDS. The prevalence is seen more commonly in rural India due to the practice of old customs and belief that a women can be protected only by the man in her family and a family’s honor is linked to the girl only. It is really heartening to know that people have started raising their voice against many such unjust practices.
Coming to the age of teens were emotions are already running high, and we girls go through the extra step of literally stepping into puberty, body image and our developing sexuality becomes a matter of concern for our society. We are made to feel shame for having a normal biology. Yes, yes I am indeed referring to menstruation. The time that still makes grown men cringe in worry (and some in disgust)
Growing up as a teenager in Indian society means following rules that will make you wonder the logistics of it. You can’t enter a temple when you are menstruating. Like as if god is going to come down to check what’s the scene under you skirt. The men in the house should not get to know that you are having your menses. So hide the signs. Already many teenagers are suffering from body inage issues, and then your elders are there to make you feel bad about something as basic as biology. The irony is the Kamakhya Temple located in Guwahati, Assam is reknowned for worshiping a god who menstruates.
At least I was fortunate to have access to sanitary napkins. There are numerous instances where women do not have access to this basic utility. They use rags and clothes as a medium which they wash and re-use it until the next time. With this incidents in mind, numerous social campaigns were started. Just today only I came across this article which re-emphasised the need of the hour, i.e to improve the condition of women in India and other developing nations.
- Discrimination against women – after marriage
Times have changed, but traditions and beliefs haven’t. And I am not the only one who pointing this out. During the period of British Raj, social issues like Sati (burning of the widow on the pyre of her dead husband), purdah, female infanticide, child marriage, inheritance, slavery, prohibition of widow re-marriage and the lack of women’s rights in different fields were dominant in the society. Ignorance is a bliss, but only up to an extent. It is only in the latter half of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century that steps were taken to abolish or change some of the social customs through legislative measures. Many of us will always thank people like Raja Ram Mohan Rai, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dayanand Saraswati, Keshab Chandra Sen, Swami Vivekanand, Maharashi Karve, Justice Ranade, and others for their initiative and dedication that brought us some semblance of dignity. Other than starting up formal education for girls, the significant legislatures that were brought into practice are:
1. Abolition of Sati Act, 1813.
2. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.
3. Civil Marriage Act, 1872.
4. Married Women’s Property Act, 1874.
5. The Child Marriage Restraint Act (Sharda Act), 1929.
6. Hindu Law of Inheritance Act, 1929.
7. Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1939.
8. Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946.
Following Independence, numerous legislation have been introduced in an attempt to uplift the downtrodden and degraded spirit of the women in India. However lack of general awareness regarding these laws, traditional practices and beliefs, deep-rooted patriarchy and the game of politics and power hasn’t made the process any easier.
What saddens me more than the corrupted power, is the fact that while the general public prefers to turn a blind eye, Indian media and movie industry haven’t taken a role of eradicating ignorance. Recently, me and my friends landed up in a huge discussion about how every girl in our acquaintance has been sexually harassed at least once. When leading stars in our film industry depict stalking of a girl as a form showing love and adoration, who won’t be encouraged by it? Not every glitter is a sign that needs to be emulated. Sometimes there is a hidden layer of grit underneath it.
I am not saying that Men do not suffer in our society or they have it any easy. I can recount the number of ways that injustices are pelted to a man. I am not trying to shout for women to be brought to a class or level higher than other mortals either. What I am emphasizing here is on the fact that when there are so many serious issues that requires immediate attention. Instead of making them feel secure, confident and self-reliant, what we are cribbing about is how men don’t get seats in reserved sections or how they don’t get free drinks like ladies do. If you raise this kind of opinions as social issues in a social movement tagged as “#Mancriminate”, then no justice will ever be done, either to a man or to a woman.