Veteran actor Ratna Pathak Shah poked the hornets' nest when she remarked that educated women observing Karva Chauth for their husbands' long life was a regressive sign. It is; not just regressive but primitive. Shah's biting comments open a plethora of questions about women's own perceptions regarding hoary old patriarchal issues. Somewhere, it seems that women themselves love to remain in the shadow of men and they're happy being subservient to them. This engenders the question: Are they indeed empowered in the exact sense of the word?
Let's analyse it dispassionately. Two legendary sociologists from Maharashtra, Irawati Karve and Meera Kosambi analysed this phenomenon very cogently and both being women, could understand the dilemma of an “educated” woman yielding to the patriarchal hegemony and religio-cultural totems in Indian society. Karve and Kosambi opined that women of all hues and shades have subconsciously internalised male supremacy and socio-religious customs/rituals, over the years, nay centuries, not just as their inexorable fate but also as a patni-dharm (befitting of a woman/wife). So, somewhere it's a woman's wilful resignation to her fate and also a sense of satisfaction of being a dutiful wife. It's like, “Kitna sukh hai bandhan mein,” to quote a line from Lata Mangeshkar's song.
While this explains a woman following certain gender-biased and unequal customs, the question remains: Has she understood being empowered in these times? Today, it's education that empowers a woman. And we must weigh and view this issue from the perspective of an educated woman in the 21st century. When an academically empowered woman longs to have a male child and curses herself for giving birth to a female child, is she mentally, socially and psychologically empowered? When a well-off, educated woman undergoes deliberate abortion because the would-be child is a female, is she empowered? When she has to wear a veil, doesn't deep down she resent? Does she feel truly empowered? No, it's not because of men and their patriarchal attitude that we see the lopsided ratio of male-female in the northern states and more or less all over the country. Women are also equally to be blamed.
Ratna Pathak had not condemned or condescended women. She had just commented upon women's masochistic tendency to follow suit and refrain from questioning the validity of certain customs and rituals that are still prevalent and inveterate in our society. She (Ratna) didn't instigate women to challenge men on all counts and become belligerent. She just meant and wanted women to become an independent and free individual, which unfortunately, she's still not. Empowerment is not a stray thought. It's a collective mindset. Toppling a man and becoming the CEO of an organisation is not empowerment. To be empowered is to be emancipated in the exact sense of the word. It's freedom from all societal pressures and ingrained doubts. When a woman talks about her fundamental rights, she must herself follow them. Charity begins at home. Why do highly educated and advanced women still use their husbands' surnames that have been imposed upon them? Why don't they use their nee (maiden surname)? Why do “empowered” dark-skinned women in India still buy fairness cream to look fair? Have they been able to internalise the idea and spirit of empowerment and emancipation? Coming back to Karva Chauth or Vat Poornima in Maharashtra, when the women observe Karva Chauth/Vat Poornima for their husbands, do they follow and understand the purport of empowerment in its totality? Why do women themselves thwart the entry of other women at Sabarimala, arguing irrationally that menstruating women are indeed “impure”? Why do they resign and succumb to stereotypes concocted and circulated by men? In fact, a majority of women of all hues resign themselves to accepting the norms set by a patriarchal society. Whether social or sexual, submission seems hardwired into a woman's psyche. Most women, at least in the Indian context, still follow the uber-ideal character and example of Sita and eulogise her for not raising a question when Ram doubted her character. Her agni-pariksha (ordeal) is extolled more by women than by men as if it's a virtue. When working women still expect and demand reserved seats for them on buses and trains, are they empowered? When a young woman nonchalantly goes to a chemist's shop and asks for an I-pill or prophylactics, she's condemned more by women.
In short, one needs to change one's whole attitude to accept and promulgate changes. Hindi poet Dushyant Kumar Tyagi rightly said: “Har badlaav hota hai khud se/ Insaan pahle khud ko badle” (Every change begins from the individual/ One must change oneself). And all these changes in outlook and attitude must be implemented by women themselves. At the same time, men should also think like Kaifi Azmi and say, “Jis aag mein jala hoon usi aag mein jalna hai tujhe/Uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe” (Woman, you too need to face the same predicament/ Stand up and come along, my beloved). This is the sine qua non, and both women and men must understand this.
The writer is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages