Society has created women stereotypes and expectations that they should behave in a particular way. This has led to discriminations and biases. Every time a woman is violated or exploited, the incident is scrutinized through the magnifying lens of societal norms. This has forced women to stay locked up inside their conventional stereotypical image.
The very nation of woman submissiveness, spontaneous, trained or socially conditioned, has triggered off a range of varied shades of violence around her in the form of domestic violence, female foeticide, female infanticide, rape, acid attacks, denial of parliamentary participation and so on.
Through this book, which is a collection of essays on women-related issues, the author has sought to highlight the image of women as they see them. The multiple ways and gender bias as seen through the eyes of women.
Is the domestic violence law really a boon for women? Is a fair skin one’s only guarantee to get a job of choice? Should a rapist be pardoned for his heinous crime if he offers to marry the victim, and will it be justice for the girl/woman who was robbed of her honour and treated merely as a commodity?
While the male-dominated feudal society discusses things from a traditional viewpoint, these essays try to touch upon what impact these incident produce on suffering women. The central themes is why should she be treated as a commodity. Why is she defied to be commodified? Why can’t society treat her as equal?
Shoma A Chatterji is a noted author freelance journalist and film scholar. She holds a Masters in Economics and a Masters in Education from the University of Mumbai. She obtained her PhD In History (Indian Cinema) from Netaji Subhas University, Kolkata.
Her areas of specialization include cinema, gender, television, child rights, human rights, literature and relationship. She conducts workshop on writing, journalism and film appreciation in Mumbai and Kolkata, and film made presentation on gender and cinema across India and beyond. She has served on the international and FIPRESCI Jury at several Films festivals across the world.
She has been recipient of many awards, some of which includes Best Film Critic in 1991 at the National Awards; Best Film Critic award from the Bengali Film Journalists’ Association in 1998; commendation for her ‘Outstanding Contribution to Women’s issue from the Eve’s Weekly Women Journalist Award; National Award for the Best Book on Cinema in 2003 for ‘Parama and Other’.
Outsider—The Cinema of Aparna Sen; and Bharat Nirman Award for ‘ Excellence in Journalism’.
She has also won several research fellowship for research in gender and media from National Film Archive of India, Pune; Public Service Broadcasting Trust, Delhi; The Network University, the Netherlands; and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi.
The Indian woman has always been misled by the imposed
ideal of womanhood. Be it in her gentle manners and natural
tenderness, or her lack of physical strength, she has always found
herself hidden behind a mist of illusions, social constructs,
fenced in from all sides and forced away from the real world into
the seclusion of a helpless and dispossessed life. It is the unfair
system that fosters the absurd notion that she has no place in
the world of work outside her home. Man is the maker of that
world, and woman's duty is to make it a home according to the
structure that is a pre-conceived, square pattern for her to follow
with rigid and unquestioned loyalty, without curves or circles to
permit the flexibility human nature is born into.
Indian women's involvement in the nationalist movement
could be termed the turning point in the change in their position
and status. Women could not be denied this participation largely
because their involvement developed within the parameters of
traditional gender ideology and colonial concepts of legality,
both of which identified respectable women with privacy and
domesticity. By the 1920s, mass demonstrations and shop and
court picketing by women challenged Indian and colonial
gender stereotypes. The British hoped that purdah-related values
would inhibit women from breaking colonial law. But by then,
India had become any woman's home within the context of the
nationalist struggle and purdah ceased to stop women from
confronting British rule in public.
Against this historical backdrop, it would be interesting to
place the Indian woman in perspective, in the contemporary
situation and explore how she has fared in the rat-race to equality
in a largely patriarchal society.
In September 2000, the United National Population Fund
(UNFPA) reported that across the world, one in every three
women had been physically assaulted or abused in some way,
typically by someone she knew, such as her husband or another
male member known to her. In response, governments publicly
condemned violence against women and committed to show
political will and provide financial resources for its eradication,
but their performance, in practice, failed miserably to meet
women's needs. In Peru or Jordan, the US or South Africa, or
other states, men who beat or rape women in their homes or in
state 'custody, or who murder female family members to restore
"family honour", or sexually assault female students, all too often
do so with impunity. Too often, states' response to this violence
is perfunctory and shortsighted. At times officials do not bother
to respond at all.
The larger issue of contemporary women addressing Indian
women specifically needs to be dealt with through the printed
word here and now.
The situation of women in India is no better. But there is
not much in written form in the shape of a contemporary book
that explores and analyses these issues in depth that the lay man
and woman would find interesting and informative. The legal
machinery for example, puts in modifications from time to
time, but one new legal issue leads to the violation of human
rights of some other interested party. These things need to be
recorded and documented for posterity as a frame of reference
for women's studies in the future and as a trigger for further
studies along similar lines.
This is a humble attempt towards that goal.
The word 'perspective' stands for a specific point of view in
understanding or judging things or events, particularly one that
shows them in their true relations to one another. It is a word
that has wide connotations in human life, across cultures, cutting
across borders of time, place, people, language and economy.
Through this collection of essays, the author has sought to throw
up images of women from multiple perspectives, particularly
from a gendered perspective-looking at issues from a woman's
point of view. Feminist critiques of the institution of the family
now unfold aspects of vulnerability and violence that are a part
of everyday lives of women. Certain groups of women outside
family such as widowed, separated, living together and deserted
women seem particularly vulnerable to violence. Other groups
include faceless women who continue to suffer violence on the
streets by the moral police and within the home by their family
members. When a girl comes back to her parental home after her
marriage breaks up, the family often fails to take into account
the changing structural construct of contemporary Indian life
and draws upon the familiar model of the widow while laying
down its expectations for the prodigal daughter in her new social
role-that of a divorced or separated woman.
Women in our epics-Sita, Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari,
Urmila-have metaphorical significance. Their names conjure
up crucial experiences that sustain for all women till this day.
Their relevance is an acknowledged fact. While going through
their experiences, we not only get swallowed up by the starkness
of their agony and suffering but at some point of time we start
to identify with them. They reveal the quintessence of the
woman's self which is incised with the marks of fear of social
slur and its silent resistance against a system that subjugates and
silences her and enjoys her as a commodity. There are powerful
discourses in which the entire existence of Draupadi is explored
as she experiences the most acute trauma of insecurity and
disillusionment within the four walls of her own family. By
implication, these texts raise issues of a woman's identity and
self-determination in the face of her destiny being decided by
others. In the course of the dramatic narration, the writer turns
the mythical into the real.
Contemporary poet Suman Kesahri imagines what the
original author denied Draupadi by stating what Draupadi
would have said had the author given her a 'voice'. "Draupadi
Panchali, Krishna, Yajnaseni-all of these are adjectives, none
of them is a noun. Did it ever strike you that I have no name
I had only raised some questions, I only had some queries. and
you have taken away even my name!
These are just a few examples of a woman's perspective, the
author, on the woman, per se.
Women have always been misled by the imposed ideal
of womanhood. Be it her gentle manners and natural
tenderness, or her lack of physical strength, she has always
found herself hidden behind a mist of illusions, fenced in from
all sides and forced away from the real world into the seclusion
of a helpless and dispossessed life. It is the unfair system that
fostered the absurd notion that she has no place in the world
of work dominated by the 'stronger sex'. Her domain has been
demarcated around her-home and she is consistently reminded
of it. Man is the maker of the outside world, and woman's duty
is to make a home.
Women in Ancient Hindu Scriptures
The earliest religious texts of Hindus show some measure of
freedom for women. For example, it is clearly stated in the
Rigveda that a woman is free to choose her life partner.
The wife walked ahead, not behind the husband (cf uso
yati svasarasya patni Rigveda V: 115:2). Female sexuality was
neither despised nor reviled as it later was. A woman could make
advances towards a man with impunity. Sexual aberrations were
openly admitted; illicit lovers of both sexes (jara and jarini) find
frequent mention in ancient literature. But when nomadic tribal
values gave way to conservative ethos of settled agriculture, this
free and open relationship between men and women became
a thing of the past. As a result of racial miscegenation, woman
lost her right to ritual initiation or upanayana depriving her
from her right to education because upanayana was mandatory
for formal education. Rituals for women from then on were
without mantras. Interestingly, only the courtesans had the
right to formal education. While they were trained in the 64
arts listed by Hinduism, that too at the state's expense, other
women were trained in housework and at the most in music
Around this period, marriage became mandatory for girls.
But even the entire marriage system was oriented towards the
man's happiness and pleasure with the wife vowing to obey the
husband's wishes without any questions. The idea of a 'model
wife' was hammered into the minds of girls at an early stage
to the effect that becoming a 'model wife' remained the only
instigating force in their lives. The model wife obeyed her
husband and in-laws implicitly and never talked back. She could
run the household in her husband's absence but could not give
anything away in charity. She had no right to wealth or even to
her own body. (Manusamhita I: 10,11; 6: 3; IV: 14: 9; X: 10:
11; 15; VI: 5: 8: 2). This has been seconded by the Satapatha
Brahmana (IV: 4:2: 13) which states that the wife had neither
property rights, nor any right on her own body. She had no
economic freedom. The husband fulfilled her basic needs but
with time, she lost all her social freedom. Her movements were
restricted even within the four walls of the house. The plight of
womenfolk comes as no surprise when there are scriptural texts
which look down upon women as something evil. For example,
the Apastamba Dharmasutra and Satapatha Brahmana state
that woman is inherently evil. and so should not be seen. The
Dharmasutra even provides a minor expiatory rite prescribed for
killing "a blackbird, mongoose, rat, dog, Shudra and a woman."
(Apastamba Dharmasutra I: 9:23:45).
In ancient times, the women were never allowed any
political representation either. Sabha and Samiti, the two popular
political assemblies, did not permit women to participate in the
matters of jurisprudence. They soon lost the right to choose their
partners. The situation worsened when Aryans settled down
in India, making farming their main occupation. The bulk of
productive labour fell on men and women were pushed further
within the confines of their role as mothers and housekeepers.
The divide between the liberties allotted to men and women was
not restricted to their economic and political rights only. While
social norms allowed polygamy to men as their inherent right,
women were not allowed to practice polyandry. The Atharvaveda
(IX: 5:27) mentions polyandry twice-the woman had to offer
an oblation if she married a second time and polyandry was
permissible regionally for a small period of time. Pakistan With
time, the fetters confining women indoors became stronger.
If the fetters binding the growth of womenfolk were not
enough, ancient scriptures have ensured that women do not
have any identity of their own. The tradition of giving away
women as gifts in sacrifices along with other material goods
was practiced in India in earlier times. This is clearly laid down
in Sankhayana Srautasutra XII: 29:21 in connection with the
Sarasvatanamayana sacrifice where mares, women and children
were part of the sacrificial offerings. Women were also given
away as gifts for entertaining guests and as dowry to priests and
kings. Giving away girls to temples as devadasis was considered
to be a matter of pride. The Maitrayani Samhita repeatedly says
that a woman's body is not her own, hence she cannot prevent
herself from being molested." Violence thrives in the victim's
acceptance of the victimizer's moral right, social superiority
and physical power." Timely intervention through effective
protests could have secured the position of women, but the
efforts have been fractional. When women protest against
violence to their person by men, other women, social groups or
the machineries of the government, they are once again made
victims of violence.
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