This article was first published on Women's Web on 08th March 2016, on the occasion of International Women's Day. Here's a reproduction of the article collected from the archives that makes sense not just on IWD but the whole year through.
In the middle of an important official meeting, my mobile gives three continuous beeps. It might be important, so I pause and take a look – it could be one from a long distance colleague who is simultaneously and as aggressively involved in the annual HR appraisal process as I was, or from my parents staying far away from us, or from kids at home who may have wreaked havoc in absence of their utterly busy mommy.
But presto! It is a far more important message that runs like this – “Comfortable cotton salwar kameez for summer, with special discount up to 70% on Women’s Day… for women who deserve.”
I am aghast. For women who deserve? For heaven’s sake, which woman would not deserve to wear a comfortable cotton salwar kameez? Besides, nobody in the global advertisement world is concerned about my right to deserve ‘equal work equal pay’ but is very interested to help me buy a much deserving dress at a discounted rate on an impending Women’s Day!
Messages like this one suddenly remind me that 8 of March is once again around the corner and a lot more ‘deserving’ rewards are waiting for us women to cash on. Like there’d be one or two formal invitations to attend seminars on the rise of womanhood, innumerable gift offers luring an otherwise forgetful husband to remind his lady love how special she is and a couple of events in the city calling for participation on emancipation of fairer sex in modern times.
Those who’d not be prepared enough for such heavy doses of intellectualism would alternatively be vying for get-togethers in the name of IWD (that’s how gen-internet refers to the day) to chat, gossip, make merry over shades of lipstick and new wine, share vicious laughter and raise a toast to the new-age wonder women they think they are.
And that’s about it! Over and out! Beyond the furores, it is another ironical story that even if the entire elite gentry of this social fanfare are brought together under one roof, it would comprise a minuscule 7-10% of the population who celebrate the IWD.
It was in one in these happening women circles a few days ago, that a common friend needed help to lodge an official complaint against harassment and abuse by her former boyfriend. To our not so utter disbelief, she could hardly find any support from her uber-modern party friends.
Some claimed to be busy. Some did not want to indulge in someone else’s personal affairs. Some were fearful about handling the aftermath of being involved in a complaint. Some were suddenly remorseful about the girl’s inciting behaviour towards her boyfriend.
Whatever their reasons, her ‘much dependable’ female coterie conveniently managed to escape a chance to endorse and support women’s rights in true spirit.
The bubble of Women’s day celebration has but a fragile skin. One prick of a challenge and plop! It bursts. What can be more disheartening to note is that it is largely the women themselves who year after year and generations after generations keep bloating the water bubble with the futile air of gender discrimination.
A few days ago, when my neighbour was blessed with a baby and we rushed in to congratulate, her tempestuous mother-in-law uncannily interrupted, “Why a treat? It is her third girl child.” Even before we could get over her annoying statement, she butted in again to cajole the new mommy by saying, “Chalo, koi baat nahi…..jaisi jiski kismat?” Read (Hard) Luck!
I wasn’t as disheartened by her judgmental comment as I was about the fact that it came from another woman! It is certainly baffling why women act so foolishly sometimes. Instead of teaming up with each other for the benefit of us all, we wilfully fall in a self-dug filthy pit.
At ‘karvachauth’, don’t we raise our life partners on to a pedestal by fasting the whole day long and praying for their long life, as if our own is any less important? At ‘rakshabandhan’, don’t we again place our brothers a step above by seeking a pledge of protection from them, no matter how protective we ourselves might sometimes have been in raising them up? At a ‘kanyadaan’ don’t we often look for the eldest man in the family to pitch in on behalf of the bride’s widowed mother, thus depriving her of the privilege?
How unfortunate that a woman’s freedom to choose is devoured by what her close kin want her to choose. Like a career which is safe for her matrimony in future (whoever has heard of parents encouraging their girls to become wrestlers?) or the choice of dresses she must put on (short skirts is her invitation to wanting danger).
Even the right of reproduction is not her sole right. When must she bear her child? Who bestows legitimacy on the baby, by law? Can she reject her pregnancy? Must she surrogate? To bring her own baby to this world through her own body is not considered her decision but a collective moral pronouncement by the entire family.
It is not surprising that while some of us have the advantage in reading, commenting and celebrating Women’s Day ordeals, half of India’s as much worthy women warriors struggle day in and day out to meet their daily bread and butter – Working in open farms in some remote village. Labouring under the fearful sun carrying bricks on their heads while they build our houses. Doing our dishes and cleaning our homes to make them fit enough for celebrations. Some struggle to make it to school and some never do.
I’d rather think of Women’s Day remembering my old world grandmother who knew nothing of the international day but never missed a chance to stand up for our poor domestic help whenever her ruthless husband resorted to violence upon her. To an extent that at one point of time, the petite, skinny, seventy year old woman challenged a mob of fiery young men who were trying to outrage the poor girl’s modesty.
The idea is but simple – Walk the talk!
Until we get the majority of our women folk to be a part of the Women’s Day hubbub, it will remain but a mythical bubble created by the elite, privileged and happening people.
I will spend the day ditching chocolates, flowers and careless chortles in a party and instead remembering the inspiring women who have created a difference to women’s lives. And you?