Posted in Women & Family

Why India does not celebrate the International Women’s Day

I am the daughter of a working mother who taught the deaf and dumb high school girls (they were still called that then, not referred to as the speech and hearing impaired), earning her living as a bold and fiercely independent woman since 1964. Yes, half a century before, my mother was a teacher who was trained to teach special kids. She passed away in service, working until the last day of her life. I am enjoying the fruits of my mother’s sweat and labour by way of investments to the present as she secured our lives the best she could when she was around. This woman I hardly knew. She is kind of a stranger to me now, yet she is one woman who can bring me to tears right this moment even as I blog away about her. I cannot pass through her school 36-37 years after she left, without breaking down. That is her powerful presence that shadows me forever. She is there with me when she is not there. What I love most about my mom is that, she made her own decisions. She shopped, she went to cinemas and plays, visited temples, enjoyed good music and food and books (Tamil) and lived it up. She was also a smart investor. My mother was clearly ahead of her times. She missed only one thing: looking after her own health. A big lesson for my generation women here. Women tend to neglect their health, but its a huge, huge mistake. Family suffers for this lack of foresight. Women must take their health rather seriously because they are the backbone of their families. Their indisposition may have a cascading effect on our entire systems – for worse. My Women’s Day message is always for women to take better care of themselves first. The short life of my mother that was rich in every other way is a reminder to me as I pledge to eat right, exercise and stay healthy as long as I can.

Women who can manage their homes well only can shoulder further responsibilities at national level.

Our External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj became the first woman minister to speak as Guest of Honour from India at OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) summit this week. Sushmaji went on to quote from sacred Hindu texts the Vedas and Shri Vivekananda, the world renowned Hindu saint who attended the Chicago World Parliament of Religions over a century before.

Hindu women remain the most underestimated ladies in the world because we don’t give up our traditions and customs, and we refuse to get anglicized/westernized or ‘arabised.’ Clothes or accessories or  your English language prowess have nothing to do with who you are. Strong and bold women from India emphasize this naked truth every time they are on world stage. Thank you ministers, you did India proud! India is your responsibility – this 1.3 billion nation. Our PM Shri Narendra Modiji cannot have better ambassadors.

“If women are gifts, then the sari is the best gift wrap”

Indian women abroad are also representatives of the Hindu Dharma outside India. Indian culture is something that must never be compromised. Wear your heritage and pedigree proudly on your sleeve. Do not succumb to the temptation of becoming a cheap duplicate of the West or Middle East. We are Indians, we are the Hindus, and we are what we are.

This is how women are described in ancient Sanskrit scripture. The Shloka was penned thousands of years before when women did not work outside their homes.

  • Karyeshu Dasi: dutiful like a servant
  • Karaneshu Mantri : gives intelligent advice like a minister
  • Bhojeshu Mata: feeds like a mother (in this context, feeds her husband the same way his mother would have fed him)
  • Shayaneshu Ramba : Pleases in bed like the heavenly beauty Rambha (celestial courtesan in Hindy mythology)
  • Roopeshu Lakshmi : Beautiful like Goddess Lakshmi (beautiful and bountiful like the very Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi – lucky omen for her husband)
  • Kshmayeshu Dharitri : Having patience and forbearance like Earth
  • Shat dharma yuktah: woman who has these six virtues
  • Kula dharma Patni : woman married into the Kula (family) (Kula is a family tree/clan; each Hindu is born with a Kula and Gotra which was why conversion was impossible. Only in recent years, Hindu Dharma sees voluntary conversions in large numbers from around the world) (the family tree grows with the woman becoming part of a specific Kula once she marries into the circle)

Feminists may disagree. My kind of feminism is not that of the placard holders. My idea of feminism is practical. Building a happy home, raising a responsible family (our children, future citizens of the nation) are more of a woman’s responsibility, the way I see it. For the simple reason, I don’t trust men for the role except in very extraordinary circumstances. Women continue to get pregnant when men don’t. Courts still give custody of children to mother over father on priority, in divorce proceedings. I wouldn’t want to deny my biological factor which shapes me the way I am. Men and women and equal in some ways and different in others. In the name of feminism, no woman can still take off her shirt in public and parade topless even in America. Being feminine today earns you the label ‘sexist.’ Being Tomboy has come to mean ‘feminist’. This is such a wrong and ill-conceived notion. Where I come from, women are an intriguing mix of everything. Indian women at least, are an enigma. Why should we fit into stereotypes.

In India, Navrathri – the 9 day Hindu festival that culminates in the 10th day Dushshera-Vijayadashami, is women-centric. Hindu Goddesses constitute equal and 50% of their male counterparts in our culture. I am a She Worshiper as much. An all-male God is unthinkable for a Hindu. The International Women’s Day makes no sense to us. It is for those who deny women equal rights. India has had a woman Prime Minister for 17 long years in the past: the charismatic Indira Gandhi, the woman who led India to a crucial war against Pakistan in 1971, who took on the likes of the then US President Nixon and Henry Kissinger bravely and defended the nation from foreign aggression.

Who says we have patriarchy in India. They cannot be more wrong. No society can be more matriarchal in reality than India.

Yesterday was still a time to recap little things from grassroots. Of how my friend who went to work in scooter in 1994 some 40 km up and down during her pregnancy – until she had her normal delivery. Roads then were potholed and a week before she went into labour, she even met with an accident and fell off her two-wheeler. Miraculously neither the mother nor the unborn daughter of hers got hurt.  An other friend is a single parent who has raised her son amid hardship, who is excelling in his chosen field of study today. She is an innocent divorcee, from her son’s second year and a working mother who never remarried. Another one is a widow but is always on road to earn her living. She tended to her husband who was ailing for years with ‘cerebral atrophy.’ My friends are made of steel. My aunt who served as a teacher too for a whopping 35 years, has had a double mastectomy – yes she is a cancer survivor. She has also had a double knee replacement surgery. She is a fountain of inspiration when it comes to women’s health – and in fact used to counsel breast cancer patients.

My bosom buddy from school was paralyzed head to foot thanks to JBS (a syndrome that affects our nervous system) virus for 4 years, soon after her delivery when her bodily defences were low. She not only recovered fully with physiotherapy, she continues to light our way as a beacon of hope by leading a normal life like any of us today, a good 15 years after she was afflicted and confined to bed.

Every woman has a story to tell. Every woman has a story she can relate to. A woman i know takes care of her mentally and physically retarded son from birth. The boy is now 7 years. The infinite patience and love of this young mother will break your heart. Another elegant septuagenarian lady, my friend’s mother, raised her younger daughter who was born with Down’s syndrome. She is a retired school teacher who tours the world with her 35 year old childish daughter in toe always. Together the mother and daughter have a whale of a good time. The daughter can take care of herself, a rarity given her condition. The mother trained her in personal hygiene through grueling years. Only a woman can be this, can do this. The half-child daughter of hers is in her fertile years. She leads a physically normal life without help which is a feat.

I doubt how many men have this kind of patience, tolerance, love, affection. Women are gifted by nature with these incomparable qualities. It is easy to tag some of us as ‘housewives’ who do nothing productive. Is it. I have always believed we women, and more so we housewives, function as catacomb binding and securing the family together under one roof. Our rewards are not financial. We get paid by way of quality life for our family.

Indian women are extremely strong and made of sterner stuff. There is substance to our women, not mere exterior sheen. Let us raise a toast to our womanhood – I see my Devis (Goddesses) in my friends, in my mother-in-law, in my nieces and cousins, in my sister, in my aunts. They are the living goddesses who enrich my life. I do not know of others. As far as I am concerned, I can gel well only with women friends of mine. Making male friends is still difficult for me, and is probably too late. With my women, I can be myself. With men – even if their intentions may be good – I have to be formal, i have to even watch my clothes. I am comfortable in women’s company. I cherish my women friends and feel blessed they are part of my life.

My friends do not frequent beauty salon. They do not hide their age. They take care of their elders. They have raised beautiful families they are proud of. In this hour, I wish to remember my two friends who have not lived to see this day. They both passed away due to cancer two years back. The girls who attended same class with me. One sat next to me for 2 years in standard 11 and 12 at school. She ran her own school for autistic children and was an exponent of classical Carnatic music. She was also a double PhD in teaching children with special needs.

My women are doctors, engineers, directors of companies, accountants, fitness instructors, teachers, journalists, lawyers and of course housewives. India teems with brilliant womenfolk. Our Chennai-born Indra Nooyi was world Pepsico boss. Indian born and Indian origin astronauts have flown into space. Women drive trains in my country. I have been flown twice to Doha by women pilots in an Indian airline. Sky is our limit. Literally.

We are proud of the outgoing Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi who has asserted in many interviews worldwide, how she is a mother at home to her daughters, wife to her husband and daughter to her mother.

Today is also the day to remember our housemaids, women nurses, janitors, farmhands, tailors, factory workers, bus drivers, women masons, cooks, street hawkers, vegetable, fruit and flower vendors, sales girls, receptionists, clerks, beauticians, women in armed forces, actors, etc., who make our life more comfortable. There is dignity in labour.  If not for these sisters of ours, rest of us cannot be having it this easy.

And finally everyone of us is a worthy woman in her own right. We may be singles/spinsters, lesbians, widows, divorcees, childless – but we are complete by ourselves. Lord Shiva is also called the ‘Ardhanaari’ because He absorbed Shakthi as His other Half. In Tamil we say, ‘Shivam illayel Shakthi Illai, Shakthi Illaiyel Shivam Illai’ – it means ‘There is no Shiva without Shakthi, and no Shakthi without Shiva.’ I beg to differ even in that. Shakthi is wholesome on Her own. If Shiva can complement her, fine. Bonus.

This year we school girls are celebrating our golden jubilee – all of us girls are 50. Most of us have also celebrated in last few years our silver wedding anniversaries. We look forward to bat to 75 not out at least! That’s our spirit as we work out, practise Yoga, eat healthy, go on all-girls tours without spouse/family, party yet philosophize (are we that age already?!) and generally stay healthy and happy! We shop till we drop and we drink up on life! Kudos to womanhood! The Feminine.

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