By Shrabanti Ray
Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds
The Little Oxford English dictionary defines ‘Empowerment’ as the process of giving authority, power, strength, and confidence. How far does the statement correspond to women, in reality, is controversial in all aspects! Let’s initiate and approach the topic with some authenticity.
Jagomaya Devi, my late grandmother, was a perfect embodiment of motherhood and so, a symbol of womanhood. Her social quotient with her husband was mostly bitter. But their physical equation could be referred to as a need of that age and time, where having children mattered the most. It had nothing to do with her physicality, hormones, mood swings, abdominal cramps and a host of other unspecified complexities hidden in a woman’s body.
Everything was destined, dictated and guided by the laws of the society and the miserable minds at work.
Of course, it flickered and touched my tiny soul, back then.
Yet, many a time, I wondered, how it felt to give birth to 5 sons and 4 daughters successfully in a row. Were they conceived as something essential or merely resulted from a relationship that had to yield to the existing norms and guidelines? It remains unanswered and a mystery to me. On profound speculation and research, I failed to understand the outflow of love they shared, in contrast to their high-end disputes which never sought an outlet. My fully round-shaped grandmother was supposedly very contented with her personal achievements.
They had five towering sons and four docile daughters who would be taught similar lessons of life. On and off, I was in awe of my grandmother. This incredible woman had created life in her womb, year after year, without any grievance. Her cotton saree of 6 yards, its corners flying in the air, a huge line of sindoor adorning her curly parted hair and the glistening round bindi, almost guarding her identity, that was how we all saw her. She moved like a tired creature, at times sagging and lagging. Perhaps, due to the weight of her body or a mind fatigued and weary within. No one could guess! I never managed to explore and dig out any stories from her life. Was she empowered???
Annapoorna Devi’s Saga
Annapoorna Devi, a renowned sitarist, was well ahead of Pandit Ravishankar, her husband of limited years in togetherness. She amused several guests of honor and high profile dignitaries with her stellar performances. Unfortunately, this started stifling and suffocating their marriage. The musically aligned couple soon fell prey to conflict, jealousy and drifted away with much displeasure. She was educated, empowered and enigmatic enough to take things in her own stride. Then what made her stumble and fall, with different tales surrounding her much-designed life to agony and gloom? Was she less empowered?
Maria, an ayah in a popular school, had been around for the past 19 years, offering her services to aid the toddlers who have found a new lap of comfort and happiness, tumbling out of their mother’s naturally protected domains. She grumbled and muttered to herself, as she religiously performed her regular chores, apart from handling her family all by herself. She had to strike a balance between her work and responsibilities back home. It actually tired her. Sometimes, she had to work beyond her specific abilities that were not documented and agreed upon solely because of the circumstances she lived with. Why?
She was the mother of two daughters and was struggling sufficiently, to give them a life of dignity and substance. Her legally wedded husband of many years occupied himself, drinking away happily and swindling her hard-earned money. After all, he certainly had empowered himself to bleach her life colorless. In spite of all the obstacles, she never learned to write her name in English or sign with confidence. I rebuked her more than often and felt bad about it later. She was educating her daughters in the hope of seeking good alliances in the big glittery market of marriage. Wasn’t she aware of the bleak bad world that drowned many a living hope? Yet, she silently worked in that fatal direction of uncertainty. From where would the seed of empowerment germinate?
The Myth and Reality debate
Women's empowerment is never a working reality. Why? Social infrastructure is not supportive of this development to happen as it would violate the very existence of women and the cause of their survival. Women are domesticated and tamed beings who are overworked and surprisingly neglected too with low receipt in terms of recognition, fame, reward, wages, and acceptance for higher things in life. In fact, her identity is strikingly alarming. Her surname and being are contributed by either her father or husband. Her home is her Father’s house or her Husband’s…..choose anyone! Fewer choices for a fair deal, right? I’m SURE I would be branded a notorious FEMINIST even before you reach till the end. Ever imagined the warring hormones as your body prepares to bring life on Earth, the kicks and the inconveniences, and the dismal rude shock you face when you give birth. If you express the troubles, the reactions are quite insensitive. What’s the drama about it? Are you doing something different? Come on, .no need for this “NAUTANKI”.
PHEW!! Basic life ON this planet is facilitated and continuously Nurtured by a woman, irrespective of her social status, ego and caste. Is she taken for granted? Yes! Of course! A poor woman would deliver by a roadside while her fragrant counterpart delicately nursed in the luxury of a scented room or cottage beaming with eagerness. Both are at risk of meeting the expectations of what is expected of them. No one is aware of their respective fate. Education, the only active weapon that could work against these dormant thought processes, has been unable to filter opportunities and avenues, due to its unavailability to many a willing mind. In rural and semi-rural areas women are accountable for their actions and pathway of life and are subject to dire consequences, if found contributing to the society as a whole or in self-structuring. Incredibly rigid and baseless ways are maliciously transmitted generation after generation, and anyone daring to traverse beyond this line of control is social outcaste and can be thoroughly rejected and isolated at any given period of time. Doesn’t it look as if, the women residing in towns and cities have it easy? It is to some extent, but it comes with a price.
The Sibling saga
Early in my career, in one of the group discussion sessions, a young and confident girl shared her distressing story of how her father favored her brother and secured his life by enrolling him in a prestigious engineering college in the city. When she expressed her desire to study Management, the fatherly figure ruled out any possibilities, defending his view, that “funds were limited. Besides, she would get married someday. How would the degree and certificate help?” The brother, undoubtedly, was over the edge and was politically empowered, which would continue lifelong in all his ventures. One wrong move left the girl in a crisis of verifying and establishing herself and her worth. The picture, in reality, is painted with shades of grey.
The doors and windows to the right kind of knowledge and wisdom do not reach out to all the descending angels and that’s a failure by itself. By any chance, if good weather prevails and a woman rises like a Phoenix, it is attributed to her close association with her boss, or that in the process of reaching the pinnacle of success, she has degraded her standards of being a good wife, daughter-in-law and a mother to her children. Aren’t there too many risk factors to play with!
To this, I am gently reminded of Indra Nooyi’s mother’s remark about her very successful daughter-“You might be the CEO of PepsiCo but when you enter your house you are a dutiful wife, mother and a daughter.” Of what value are the professional achievements if they are not perceived in an unbiased way? It does not justify her laurels. Many a woman whined at the appalling comment coming from an otherwise proud mother.
In an exclusive interview, Indra Nooyi, blatantly and unapologetically commented, “Women can have it all with support and sacrifices.” The message is crystal clear. To be successful you must walk over fire and burn many times. Not everyone can afford to be a Kalpana Chawla, Mary Kom or Naina Lal Kidwai. These are a select few who have marched ahead in glory. Ironically, there are lakhs of women awaiting an empowered life. With an acute history of gender bias and discrimination, the process of empowerment related to education and holistic growth has been a bare minimum.
Story Closer To Home
One of the house help in our house had limited means to cope with hunger and thus, survival was a pity. The husband would be consistently out of work, and the woman had to deal with the situation patiently by working in 6 to 7 houses during the day. Her ordeal transformed her into a frail human, with the only mission to feed a family of seven. Disheartening! She would confess that most of the days they would live on “paanta bhaat” (cooked rice left in cold water), usually accompanied by green fragrant chilies and salt. Mashed potatoes and onions with mustard oil were a luxury not to be repeated. Where do we taste empowerment here? Poor knowledge, poverty beyond measure, “sacrifices” and means to source good food are claiming the lives of women, in general. Besides, the high prices deter good living conditions, thus, raising the mortality rate among women.
This reminds me of my “MASHI”- my mother’s sister who I took notice of while holidaying a few years ago. She would delightfully toss-up a huge and golden omelet for her elder son, just because he loved it! When it would come for her turn, she would happily go eggless. I could never figure out the reason for her behavior until I turned a mother. Empowerment is undone due to affection. Being a mother is carrying loads of burden. Socially, she is expected to take care of everyone in the family, except herself. Surviving rituals and customs that require her to starve, fast or eat only when the other family members have finished are quite painful and unreasonable. Such acts are rampant in various communities. The women of the house leave no stone unturned for the sake of good luck and prosperity of the family. Ending up with a weak appetite, malnourishment, joint and knee pain are common ailments affecting women all over. Women share the right to be looked after, as well. Voicing out views and opinions are not desirable. Either they are dumb or suffer from attitude related sickness. That is the general outlook. Freedom of expression would have reduced the plight of women to a large extent but it does not happen. Communication is limited and barred at certain levels. It is not given momentum and direction.
Every Couple’s Tale
Long back, I had visited a qualified couple. The nameplate on the wall read:
Mr. Harsh Seth, B. Tech., MBA.
Mrs. Mohini Seth, M. Tech., B. Tech., MBA.
On inquiry, I discovered that the man of the house was a senior vice president in an MNC, while the woman was in charge of his food, laundry and general supervision of the house. After bagging a handful of degrees and certificates, she found it fair enough to take her husband’s permission in filling up an application form for a credit card. I almost fainted!
Empowerment a Birthright
The empowerment of women is not a fete that is seasonal. It is celebrating her natural, fundamental rights of existence without any social discord.
“Right after birth, a girl must be raised without shame and fear, And be heard with a patient ear.
Without any bar or limit, By not making her timid.
Without prejudice and restriction, She will achieve distinction.
Without doubt and suspicion, She will offer in contribution.
Without being aborted and sold, Many a tale she can unfold.”
I, therefore, conclude in a state of absolute mental gross, efficiency and equilibrium that the given topic is to be defined and understood as a conundrum. The need of the hour is developing empowerment of the society as a whole, in cultivating the true sense of empowerment of women.
About Shrabanti Ray
Shrabanti Ray is a teacher, trainer, facilitator,
mentor, poet, crafter, and writer forever.
She loves to create euphonious music and seeks solace in nature. She loves to write blogs, quotes, and poems.
Her work is deeply acknowledged in the writing fraternity.