It is a time of strange contradictions. The urban woman can be found yakking on a cell phone, all dressed swankily, with a cigarette hanging on shiny gloss, driving smooth wheels in slim heels, rushing to her next meeting. Her ayyah, on the other hand, is a meek little woman, with five children of her own, and a husband who lives to drink, and hits her if she does not give him the money to do so. Her daughter, though, is relatively better off, since the mother may not want the same fate to befall her girls, and has the privilege of education. Mixed bag, truly. But what is yet more amazing is that all these people may have one thing in common- the prime time sob-opera that will be the substance of all conversation and hot gossip for tomorrow.
Ekta Kapoor has revolutionised the world of Indian television, people claim, till date. The star kid made her big bucks and a seized her throne in the world by floating a string of soap-operas which had the Indian woman hanging on to them, and hanging on to the edge of her seat. Having exploited the sagas of domestic tussles and claiming to depict the truth in her stories, the real ground reality, she has become one of the few extremely successful women in the nation. And that, in a nation deeply divided on the lines of gender; one where the idea of independent women is still new, despite the national identity being close to 61 years of independence.
What really is the Indian woman? In the early years of an independent India, she had a number of avatars and was interpreted in a number of ways, on and off screen. For Satyajit Ray, she was Charulata, the modern woman who had a point to make, and a very sophisticated manner of making it. Ritwik Ghatak saw her as the oppressed woman, ever more burdened after the concept of identity development sunk in to the Indian psyche, as the land of opportunities was just beginning to open up. Ghatak’s protagonist in Meghe Dhake Tara crumbled under the pressures that home and the world imposed upon her, implying the hollowness behind the tall claims. Bharat Mata herself stood for the spiritual strength and unrequited anger, that was to stand mighty against the oppression of the exploitative British Raj. (British Raj, which was under the monarchic grip of a queen. talk about irony!)
Fast forward to today- We have the likes of Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar, Sudha Chandran, Sushmita Sen, Barkha Dutt, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Sania Mirza (and more, in no specific order of importance), living within the same national boundaries as uncountable nameless victims of abuse: physical, mental, psychological, verbal, traditional. This second category even includes the likes of Bhanwari Devi- one of the few who are high profile by virtue of being stuck in highly impossible situations. Its a mixed bag- the assortment ranges across caste, class, religion and language.
In the present context, of an India which is touted to be a super power by 2020, empowerment of women is taking centre-stage for a lot of political mobilisers and high end aspirants. Feminism was never a scandalous, eye-snatching, bra-burning movement here. Today, as more people are waking up to the capabilities of the fairer sex, it is becoming increasingly apparent that reservations, even of seats in the Parliament, are ways of ’empowering’ this largely backward section of Indian society. It is a given that a democracy needs to ensure the welfare of all its citizens- minority or otherwise. Only, women have so far qualified neither as a minority nor as otherwise.
But it is to be understood- for empowerment to work, emancipation is essential. Only a mind free of shackles would know the meaning of and have the courage to pick up the weapons being handed to it. Maybe Feminism should be taught as a subject right from pre school. Maybe that alone is the way to ensure that militantism does not dawn on the gender war. Maybe that would be the only way to educate a girl about her rights as an equal. Maybe that would be the only way of destroying any future prospects of misconceptions about what a woman is and what she wants to be, when India is finally really ready for a woman as head-of-state, as a true leader, she at least knows her own worth.
It is true that this will take a really long time- America has only just arrived at this juncture today. We will take time, but the Indian woman really needs to be able to represent the confidence that is being fostered within the state, in the name of a booming economy and rising international clout. And a confidence which will be able to stand up to any form of patriarchal bullying. Maybe financial betterment is a prerequisite to all this. If so, now is the time to shine, amigos.