On the sixtieth year of Independence of a country, a woman goes to space, another becomes the President of the Republic and a third reigns the ruling coalition as its supreme commander. It is a country that supposedly respects its women and worships them. The country is none other than India – our ‘Matri desh’ or ‘motherland’ -that worships ‘Bharat Mata’. Its ruling deities are ‘Durga’ and ‘Kali’- the fierce embodiments of superhuman power. India’s Constitution guarantees equality of status and opportunity to all its citizens including women but somehow the birth of a female child here is always a sad moment.
The cliché that India is a country of paradoxes unfortunately holds true for at least 5 million of the Indian population comprising the fairer sex. Women in India have always been a deprived lot. Subject to terrible social traditions like Sati, Jauhar, Devdasi and Purdah , their bodies and soul have been the objects of perpetual mindless torture since times immemorial. When Nehru had wishfully throated the joy and hope of the newly acquired freedom………
When an age ends…
When the soul of a nation long suppressed
he definitely also meant the fairer sex. But have things been fair for the fairer sex even after sixty years of liberation? For a whole demographic chunk whose very antecedents have been clouded by centuries of suppression, subjugation and suffering, whose very roots have been watered by pain of a harrowing, squirming and excruciating type- did sixty years of political freedom mean something? How much the Independence has delivered socially is a question that often rakes our mind.
It’s really surprising and sorrowful for a country whose history is embellished with the glowing accounts of gifted women like Gargi, Apala, Razia, Durgavati, Noorjahan, Laxmibai, Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa - more than 40% women are illiterate. Less than 10% find representation in Legislature and Parliament, more than 60% women in rural area are married off before they are 18.The maternal mortality rate in India is 2nd highest in the world, the sex ratio here is a poor 933 females per thousand males. And even though diarrhoea is known to be the second largest killer of infants, only 43% women know about ORS. The average Indian female has only 1.2 years of schooling. Four to five thousand women die due to dowry related causes every year and nearly 80-90% married women in UP, J& K Bihar, MP, Haryana, and Rajasthan need permission to visit even friends and relatives!
Beginnings of change
To say that women have made no progress in the past sixty years will be blatant cynicism. Scattered across the ages, women of substance have always made their presence felt. And little requires to be told of the immense contribution of women in the freedom struggle. In fact it was this movement, which brought the secluded, shielded women of India out in the open. But with the end of the freedom euphoria, they were again relegated to the background. Time moved very sluggishly for them and the driblet of development slowly seeped through the tightly closed doors.
Sporadic events of stirring, stray instances of uprising kept occurring but it was only in the 1970s that the women were once again organised together in support of the common cause. The incident, which spearheaded the women’s’ movement in the 1970’s, was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen charged with the heinous crime of raping young Mathura had shaken the women of India to the very core. But did this unity mean that the women of India had finally awakened? If yes then why did the Deorala ‘sati’ case take place almost two decades later? A young woman burning herself alive on the funeral pyre of her husband, and a whole village hailing her step and later worshipping her, as a goddess was an incident sufficient to send shudders .
The efforts of the subsequent governments in improving the condition of the women cannot be totally undermined. Through legislations and various policies, the attempts by the governments in the past sixty years have been for the betterment of the fairer sex. One should not forget the Act, which gave women equal right over parental property, the Act which made demanding of dowry a punishable offence, the great Panchayati Raj Act that attempted to empower women at the grass root level and the latest Domestic Violence Act which ensures women are safe within the four walls of their homes. The efforts for the improvement of their health and education are also commendable. And to say that in all these years even one single government was indifferent to the condition of the women would be grossly untrue.
The time has come…
Women are still raped, assaulted, murdered, humiliated, mistreated and to top it all butchered even before they are born! The roots of discrimination against women are actually imbibed in the social and cultural milieu of the country. Sometimes out of compulsion, sometimes for convenience and sometimes due to tradition, society has always been unfair to women. And if even after six decades of liberation, nearly half of a country’s population is still in shackles- the accountability is everybody’s. The six million men, the subsequent governments and the women themselves are all under scanner!
Sixty years are enough to awaken a sleeping nation, sixty years are enough to strike once again the gong of change, sixty years are enough for a genre to realise its worth and sixty years are enough for the women of our land to finally shake their slumber and step out of their veils and snatch away their opportunities and rights.
No more the sky be dark for me
No more the horizons bleak
Shut out the light from me
Will snatch the sunny streak…!