Mitali, MA, M.Phil from Kolkata University marries Sanjib through an arranged marriage and after 4 years of marriage, the couple is blessed with a son. Mitali though qualified had never wanted to take up a job or be financially independent. She could have taken a job at the school but she preferred not to. She allowed her knowledge to rust. However, now as a mother, she inculcated all the habits she acquired to pursue higher studies, into her son. Her dreams came true. He turned a great achiever and ranked first in the State in his School finals. BITS, Pillani then made him a Software Engineer hotly chased by Multinationals. At the media rounds after he ranked first in State, Mitali’s son dedicated his success to his mother.
Maya is an outstanding student from Rajasthan with a compelling desire to work with the less fortunate in Society in the field of education. After her Graduation from LSR, New Delhi, she pursues a Masters degree from JNU and joins an NGO working in the area of education. They are part of curriculum planning and textbook development for children who go to State- run schools. The program is a huge success in many states of India. In 2002, LSR awards Maya " The Distinguished Alumna Award for the year in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the field off Education" If you ask her, she will tell you, it was not so easily got. She has had to fight the clutching claws of patriarchy in its different forms. First, she refused to become a hapless domesticated housewife when she married her comrade from JNU. Second, when she became a mother, she still continued to face up to the grueling demands of her work outside, leaving her son in the care of in-laws, a supportive husband or house-help. Third, in ten years, she and her husband also adopted a second child and had to make various changes and accommodate new ways to handle the new challenges together. They shared responsibilities at home. And they sent their elder son to boarding school where he was happier with more friends and many things to do.
It had been a fight to keep at what she wanted for herself against the crippling claws of patriarchy and social demands which are so used to seeing women in homes more often than in public places.
The question: Do women sacrifice themselves for their family? Do some of the most talented women also fall into the trap of putting themselves away and lose themselves in oblivion - a space I call nothingness?
In situation A, Mitali who had put herself through the grind to pursue higher studies, finds that she is not even ready to continue to study further, after her marriage. Nor is she ready to implement her learning by taking up a job. Rather she prefers to let the knowledge rust until she becomes a mother and then put her whole effort towards making of her son – and of course he scores better than she had ever done in her own lifetime. She is satisfied and proud. However, her contribution has been to only her son. The community at large gained nothing from her.
In situation B, Maya went further – her commitment spread to a larger community, outside the four walls of her home. She had made all her choices well. She forged ahead, not allowing patriarchy or any social demand to force her to return to home and hearth. She showed by action and less by word that although she might be prepared to follows certain institutions society had created, she was not going to follow the dictates of such institution virvetum. She might choose motherhood as her need to nurture, but she was not going to let that come in between her larger interest of working for a common good. She had her own agenda for her life and what she’s going to do with it. She was going to follow her plans. This brought her recognition.
It is apparent from Case A and B that there exists cases of both – women who put themselves aside and those who don’t. Both make their unique contribution but Case B makes no compromises and she stands for what she believes. It is expected that she will manage to foster greater solidarity from her immediate family, her husband. She will also be a role model of women who make no compromises and are creative enough to find new ways to manage to get everything they want in their lives. Conviction breeds conviction; doubt, doubt.
Reclaiming our lives
Not an easy task at all as patriarchy has taught us to see and believe what it has for so long imposed upon us. In fact we are still struggling to break out of what has now become our First Nature – the way partriachal laws have seen us as women. Reclaiming out lives, our bodies, our minds require us to define on a regular basis, what we are, and what we want of our lives. Then going ahead and getting it. It is only too easy to fall back on patterns designed by patriarchy. The need of the hour is of distinctive feminists, who clear the path of all mantles imposed upon them by society, and the homes we grew up in or the expectations of the institutions we enter. We have to negotiate a new identity we can call our own. This individuality has to emerge out of our own culture - taking some, leaving some. We also have to be careful that in our effort to define ourselves, we do not start defining ourselves in the light of other cultures where women’s liberation has gone ahead of us. The road map must emerge from within us. We need to also take care that while we redefine how we are going to look at relationships, we don’t leave patriarchal relationships with men only to form the same with other alternate partnership equations. Nor do we fall trap to the " Sheila-and-her-poodle’ syndrome. What is that you ask? I’ll tell you. Too many women in their effort to find voices that are heard are cooped up in relationships with "Yes-men". While it mightn’t bring up problems on a day to day basis, it may cause them to fall into a slumber that threatens our further growth. For when everyone around us says yes, there is no challenge left. On what basis are we then going to question ourselves -this is me, this is who I am going to be".
We must overcome our need to stereotype in order that we don’t have to struggle that hard to find new definitions, new ways to negotiate relationships. Such comfort zones can become very ‘uncomfortable’ indeed.
We need to re-define ourselves and use all our creative energies to take stock of ourselves as often as we can and reinvent ourselves. We need to challenge ourselves all the time, shatter our own belief systems. There has to be a burning dissatisfaction with our own selves - at all times and a fire that compels us to move, to transform, to undergo metamorphosis in order to bring about newer selves. There is no space for complacency.
If we are to take 1980 as the benchmark year that marked the beginning of Woman’s liberation in India, do we need to re-think our struggle to find ourselves? Yes we do! We need to take annual, monthly, weekly stock of ourselves, even a daily stock if need be. Nothing must come between our goals and us.
We might put our rucksack down for a while, rest a bit, revel in the joys of home making, motherhood, being the family’s Executive Chef and what not, but wake we must, refreshed with renewed vigour and charged batteries, pick up our bags and begin to walk on the road less traveled.
We need to institute awards for the most creative, path-breaking feminist in India – every year.
So who is this distinctive feminist?
Yes, she is still your girl next door, who can sit with you and do a round of gossip and recipe exchange. Even tell you all about the new detergent, which is both, cost effective as well does a better job. But she is on her own, a breadwinner, and an equal shareholder in home expenses, someone who still loves her kitchen chores, which she shares with her partner. She is strong and determined and she will succumb to no external pressure to mould her character. She sets her own benchmark for herself. She pays her own bills at the restaurant or prefers to go dutch. She is gracious to accept your gifts and an invitation to an evening out, where you foot the bill, but watch it, don’t make it a habit. She is still the mother of your children, your intelligent wife and partner, but she is neither a doormat, nor a mother who will put herself away to focus only on child rearing. So watch your step lest you step on her tail – yes, she will bite! Changes are the order of the day for her and expect to have new rules on the contract as often as she thinks they need to be re-worked. You can call for those changes yourself as well. It gives you a chance to re-think your life and strategies to run your life. If you are the man in her life, be grateful that you are no more burdened with the financial responsibilities of the family and you have someone to share it with you. Be happy that you don’t have to foot her bills everytime or buy her airticket to a holiday or foot the hotel bills by yourself. She is going to bear half that cost and occasionally she is going to let you be at home and hearth while she goes all out to be the sole wage earner in the family.
And if you are the woman in her life – ditto, of course!
Now, will the real distinctive feminist for the year 2006, please stand up?