‘Feminism’ is a word that resonates with any woman today. We’ve seen the concept of feminism arise, evolve and grow over the last couple of centuries. The dream is for a world that is equal in every way – equality irrespective of race, gender, religion, age, sexual preference and the list goes on. If this dream does come totally true, we’d be living in a perfect world wouldn’t we? Alright let’s talk specifically about feminism and equal rights for women – although the world is changing and things are better than they ever were, we are still not equal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining at all. Change doesn’t happen instantaneously and we all have a role to play in this evolution. To quote Gandhi – “We must become the change we want to see.” Each and every one of us has a part to play in making this change possible. Again, please don’t get me wrong – I am not a huge fan of all the ridiculous activities that feminists indulge in, in the name of ‘Feminism’ and no, equality is not just about using the concept of feminism to delegate household chores to the other half either. This in my view, is unbelievably short sighted and silly. Feminism to me is much more than that – true equality is about getting the respect we deserve and getting equal rights in EVERY way – starting from the right to education, the right to freedom of speech, decision and action.
Every culture and civilisation has been guilty of treating women unfairly. India, as with everything else, is a paradox in this respect! We are taught to respect women as mothers. We pray to ‘goddesses’ but we also have inhuman practices like Sati (where a woman is forcibly pushed into her husband’s funeral pyre to burn alive) and female infanticide. The western world is not that much better. Women were neither allowed to vote nor have a say in matters of importance until recently. United States of America, supposedly the beacon of the civilised world is yet to see a woman president. Ironically, it is the so called under developed nations that voted a woman prime minister before the developed countries! Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi tasted power and served their countries long before Mrs Thatcher.
So how do we bridge this gap of inequality? The power is within each one of us. We have two choices available to us – to accept our lot in life or to rise above everything and make things better for us and the generations after us. Roy abolished child marriage and encouraged widow remarriage, Bharati was an advocate of education and equal rights for women but thats not enough. We’ve come a long way but we still have a way to go before we can claim complete equality. For true equality to be achieved we need to take ownership in whatever miniscule way we can.
Well, yes, there is a purpose to this long winded tirade of words. Last night I witnessed a small act which gave me a huge amount of confidence for the future. I know that conservative purists may disagree with me but I do believe the future is bright. For those of you who don’t know Hindu law is largely governed by rules that were written by thousands of years ago by Manu the supposed architect of Hindu Law. To say these rules are full of double standards would be an understatement. I won’t go into the detail here – I’ll save it for another blog!! However, it would suffice to say in this context that Hindu scripture stipulates that only a son can perform the last rites of his parents. In families with no sons, it is usually the grandson or the son in law who takes on the task.
My parents have no sons, just three daughters. My father, bless his soul, has always treasured and cherished us much more than he would have cherished any son. Within the constraints of the old fashioned value systems that he grew up in, he always gave us freedom that he believed was necessary. He is turning 70 next year and thoughts of his passing must be crossing his mind. He said to me last night out of the blue – ‘why is it that only sons can light the funeral pyre? That should change – daughters should be allowed to do it.’ In his words I see hope and light and I thank God from the bottom of my heart for giving me a parent who is potentially a catalyst for change!