The Tamasha of Women Empowerment in India

I don’t remember when was the last time I walked out of a movie feeling so content yet wanting to run back into the hall and experience it all over again. Despite the inconveniences of poor health and a bad choice of seats, the cheers from the audience, the hilarious narration and the inspiring story only left me wanting for more. As the end credit rolled and I walked out with a new found sense of optimism, there indeed were questions lingering all over my head. And I believe the questions that the movie leaves us with are more important than the movie itself.

Real and inspiring is the story of the Phogat girls. However the story of their mother is what concerns me more. The trauma of multiple pregnancies for the want of a son, the agony of being put down for not being able to bear a son is still a harsh reality for a lot of unfortunate women across the country even in states that boast of a healthy gender ratio or a better literacy rate.  While the Phogat girls should be the norm and their mother an exception, the bitter truth is that in India their mother is the norm and the girls are the exceptions. One might want to take comfort in the fact that our governments have been working hard to do away with a lot of these age-old societal illnesses through various schemes and spread awareness amongst people.  Yet, I feel the progress isn’t remarkable enough given the whole battalion of bureaucrats working under a separate ministry for Women and Child welfare for almost 70 years now. But it is not the government who must be held responsible but the people themselves.

Such is the hypocrisy of empowerment of women in India that we want our girls to be empowered but only so much that we still can find her a husband. All her achievements gets discounted if she is not able to find a suitor for herself and that becomes a huge burden on the family. What hurts the most is that this is the attitude even with the very educated and enlightened part of the society and there are multiple levels to this hypocrisy. While we want our daughters, sisters and friends to be independent women and successful in their profession we want our daughter-in laws and wives to be “homely”.  We are very progressive that we want our daughters to have the best of education available but only in an all- girl’s institution. We are self-proclaimed liberals yet we want our wives to quit their jobs or refuse a promotion that comes with a transfer or sacrifice that new opportunity at work just for the welfare of the family. The same person who comes across as a revolutionary father is not always a revolutionary husband. And there are times a revolutionary husband refuses to be a revolutionary father.

Is the scenario any pleasant on the other side? No, not at all. One of my professors once told me that it is sufficient for a woman to be educated enough to teach her child. I was probably too naïve then to understand what was wrong about that statement, but today when I ponder over it I feel saddened.  Mind you, my professor is a very successful woman and one of the best in her profession. She did not just stop with teaching her child and I have the greatest respect for her. Yet it is distressing because the women we have been empowering all these years are more than willing to give away their careers for the benefit of the family or to be with the husband in some foreign country.  Strangely enough a large population of women indeed seem to be content being that or they pretend to be happy that way. The idea of being independent might surface occasionally when their ego is hurt but then that is soon forgotten and they go back to being happily ever after. Some lucky ones with a very ‘supportive’ husband manage to be some kind of an activist or a writer or an entrepreneur of sorts and they never forget to mention how supportive their partners were in their success. There are indeed women who want all of it without compromising with any of it, but then there are very few options available for young mothers or women who are willing to get back to work after a child care sabbatical.  Let us also not forget the neo-liberals who break stereotypes with respect to what they wear, what they eat, what they drink and what they do, yet continue to live in abusive relationships in the name of love or marriage. Empowerment for them begins in a shopping mall and ends on a bar table. There really is a dearth of truly empowered women in this country.

I am not sure if Mahavir Singh Phogat really did tell his daughter that she must fight to be an example. But I do know of women who fought the odds against them that not only liberated them but also a multitude of women around them. The fortitude that these women displayed ignited a fire in the women who got to know them – a fire  that could burn down the fences drawn upon women time and again in the name of tradition and culture. These nameless and faceless women are the true faces of empowered women in India.