Tradition of Tolerance: What Women Want

“God’s will” are the words of a mother who gave birth to twin girls. She has a Ph.D. and talks in English. Do not judge her yet. She follows the declaration with how much money her father had to pay in dowry and the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of her in-laws. She is now forcing herself to get pregnant again, for a son. She does not know whether her daughters’ life might be any different from hers.

The tradition of tolerance, of silent suffering, is passed on uniquely to women. Acceptance, irrespective of the context, is considered a strength. In her actions, she is firmly restricted by others. This is how the power structure operates. Those in power draw a line only inside which there is peace and security. Happiness is a condition lost to both who are inside and outside because there is no freedom for either. That is to say, oppressors become the oppressed when they choose to oppress.

The knowledge that fight is necessary, needed and must be undertaken for the good is never taught to us. The psychological conditioning of the females as inferiors is complete when they themselves begin to accept and promote their inferiority. Their right to choose, debate and decide dies.

What is Freedom?

There is a thin line between freedom and dehumanization. Freedom is to choose willingly, without pressure. Dehumanization is to turn a human being into a commodity through force or conditioning, to be enjoyed and thrown away. The latest trend shared by many madly popular movies, advertisements, songs and soaps is to dehumanize women by depicting them as a sex object. It is a form of intoxication where a bottle of whiskey is replaced by an artificially modified woman’s body. It is barter where a commodity is sold for money. It is using a human body for business.

Freedom for women is not freedom to please men or women or to offend them. It is freedom to be yourself. Freedom is the right of every human, irrespective of gender, social class or nationality to choose, debate and decide.

India is a liberal democracy where every citizen of the country has the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, freedom to practice any religion, and equality before the law. These are basic human freedoms that are a must for the natural and harmonious development of a person, both men and women. This right is violated when those who have freedom use it to take away the freedom of others.

Would Stronger Laws Help?

Laws seldom prevent crimes; they ensure punishment after the crime has been committed. Inefficiency of the Indian judiciary, investigative agencies and corruption has made laws largely ineffective even in punishing the guilty within a reasonable period. Cases keep pending for years, which lead to the further victimization of the victim.

Laws rarely alter mindsets. In India, the anti-dowry act has been in effect since 1961, long enough to alter the “custom”, which it failed to do. Dowry is acceptable, and so is the inferior position of women in Indian society. Men, women and the state reinforce this belief through customs, religion, behaviour and beliefs. Women are not allowed to wear what they like, say what they think, make their own decisions, go out alone, live alone, be out at night, drink (Indian law permits drinking for age starting 18-25 in most states) , and not even to give birth to a girl. She is dehumanized. From a person, she begins to see herself as a woman. Laws fail when a victim accepts victimization.

Changing the Culture: What We Can Do

Imagine an India where men and women are companions and not competitors, where marriages are not about money, where children are nurtured without expectations. That must be the only culture acceptable to us.

If we stop giving and taking dowry, if we train our girls in independent living like we train boys, girls will not be seen as a financial burden. Every act of dowry indirectly leads to the killing of a girl inside the womb. We see a female fetus as a burden when it is us that make her a burden. It is our shame. We kill our unborn girls. We buy and sell our children in marriage. We condition boys to oppress and girls to accept, both equally disastrous for the healthy growth of a personality. The responsibility lies with us and so does the blame.

Tradition is bad if it is not good:

Don’t prepare your daughters for a future you would not like to see them in. Tradition must be broken if it is causing harm. Sati Pratha, where a woman was either conditioned to such an extent that she willfully burn alive with her dead husband or was forced to burn alive, was a tradition. Now it is seen as inhuman. Change does not happen; it has to be brought about by the people.

It is unnatural to exalt women to the stature of god. A woman is a person, not a goddess. She must not be revered on certain days, and beaten on most. She is not a symbol. She is a person, nothing more, nothing less. It is an injustice to expect her to sacrifice, suffer and support at all times, at any cost. Our culture must be altered to consider humanity before gender. We all are people before we are men and women.

Change in beliefs:

The girl child is trained to take directions. ‘How will she manage in sasural if she is not trained?’ is a commonplace argument. The definition of sasural is a combination of hard work and silent suffering in the common mind. It is a place where a woman must accept to be directed, to be acted upon, to be the passive recipient. It is the process of dehumanizing. Yes, children need to be trained, but in what? Healthy training for the girl child is to think right, do right and fight against wrongs, irrespective of who does it. It replaces her position in society from a submissive subordinate to a strong co-worker, helping in the growth of the family, and through it, the country.

Bringing about change does not necessarily mean joining an NGO or becoming a social worker.

Important change can be brought about by doing justice at home. Till ‘they do it’ is not replaced by ‘we do it’, no change is possible. Seeing daughters and sons as children before seeing them as girls and boys is change. Daughters must not only be educated, but also trained in independent living skills so that she can exercise the freedom to contemplate, judge, decide and implement.

Use the power of words

Speak out. Our silence at the silent suffering of women has contributed to its continuance. Calling a wrong a wrong is the tiny step towards a greater change. Men and women must together fight to create a world where our children, both boys and girls, join forces to lead happy lives and help others uplift theirs. It is the collective responsibility of adults to change the world around us for the better. Children will follow in our footsteps.

1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Well written piece dealing with the psyche of the society towards women. The word “Weaker sex” is used the world over for women and denotes physical strength or weakness which was relevant in medieval times, but not now. Psychological endurance is stronger in women that sustains them in all kind of pressures in family and society. The bias against the girl child is also more deeply imprinted in women, which expresses when they become elderly and actively connive with other members of family to harass younger women such as daughter-in-laws. If only women resolve to resist this discrimination at all times and in all places, men will have no option but to comply.

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