Do breaking stereotypes, crushing comfort zones, pacing stagnation, lifting the burden, and doing the unexpected unlock the possibility of living a life of freedom? No, not for the women of my nation. “Women” of my nation have to live according to the perceived notion of womanhood first before living the life of a free “human.”
I was born and raised in an Army household. Naturally, discipline and norms were made to be an integral part of my life. A tight schedule without late nights or night outs, pocket money of which every penny was accounted for, good grades, and minimum friendships were few of the rules that I was made to follow. When my friends would go partying and on tours, I would sit back and revise my notes. I didn’t have any complaints barring a few teenage disappointments. I realized that strict parents raise rebels; I know this from my first-hand experiences. I do have my share of rebellious and mischievous tales, again with no complaints or regrets except for, let’s say, a few adulthood disappointments.
But who would have imagined that amidst playfully disobeying and escaping these household rules, life would take a fast-paced turn and throw me off my game? I realized that my existence was, and would be, bound by the societal expectations of an ideal woman of my nation?
Well, living in a world where casual sexism goes unnoticed in almost every household, having been born in India was an incidental cherry on the top of a rather rotten pie!
While growing up, I witnessed the numerous ways in which women were treated “a tad” bit different from men. Women, both working professionals and housewives, were the only ones taking care of the entire household and their children. Girls had to greet people with unrealistic kindness and entertain them as a “girl” was supposed to. And there were constant lessons about adjustments and keeping one’s family happy. Back then, being a mere child, I never really “noticed” or “questioned” these gross undermining. Why? I didn’t know any other way and thought it was just what it was.
This is exactly how most of the modern-day tragedies are born.
We often forget the value of terms like “selfless,” “sacrifice,” or “nurturing” when it comes to describing a woman. They have become so “natural” and “obvious” that people rarely ever pay attention to the underlying hypocrisy!
Men, on the other side, are consciously and almost repeatedly perceived as “strong,” “powerful,” or “successful.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with admiring selfless motherhood, but who made motherhood a gender-specific, universal concept? Who bestowed weaknesses in sacrifice? And who exactly thought that compassion could never take you on the road to success? Guess we’ll never know.
From women accepting their casual dismissal as submissive “entities” to standing against the face of “misogyny” today, modern feminism in the 21st century of India did not come easy. Going as back as to the mythological figure Draupadi, considered one of the first feminists merely for possessing a sound consciousness about her virtue as a respectable “person,” womanhood has challenged this society for the longest of time. Be it the question of Draupadi’s self-respect, Rani Laxmi Bai’s unmatched bravery, Savitri Bai Phule’s empowerment, or the sheer rebellion of today’s women, Indian women have seen and done it all. We will keep progressing and are indebted to tons of women who tore the societal bonds and stereotypes to emerge fearless and as women of substance.
As a kid, traveling around the country and leaving behind my friends and my comfort zone became absolutely normal over time. Unfortunately, it did leave me behind with no “childhood friends” or a specific place to call home, but then again, it made me realize the importance of being self-aware, sufficient, and opinionated.
This “adaptation to change” trait also made it possible for me to settle in the latest phase of my life—the college life in Delhi. Delhi is the infamous rape capital; the polluter of the nation; a city where stalkers, goons, and molesters are neighbors. Yet I decided to live here “independently.”
In this city full of mansplainers ready to knock you, a sense of competition and the constant need to prove myself as a woman became a part of my lifestyle. Before expressing what unique I could bring to the table, I had to justify how I was capable of doing the same tasks as my “male” counterparts.
I recollect the apparently controversial Pinjra Tod movement on the campus that hit a spur among those trying to bring women down for illogical reasons.
Why do these girls need to go out at night? We need your parents’ permission to let you step out of the room. You definitely cannot wear “that” here. What character does this behavior give away?
This movement, wherein women had to demand the minutest decency to let them live their lives like adults and to make their own decisions, was an eye-opener for our ridiculously unfair society.
This reminds me of Gayatri Devi, the Maharani of Jaipur, a celebrated idol since the 1930s, who refused to be confined by the purdah system back when even stepping out for women required the “approval” of the heads of families. Although married into royalty, she didn’t compromise her boldness and free spirit to regard her family’s “respect,” and dared to have an opinion. After her victorious welcome to the Lok Sabha, she even curbed the purdah practice in Rajasthan to let women face the real world.
These powerful women of today, protesting and standing for their most basic rights, showcase how India’s young, educated, and modern women are in for anything but confinement.
Fitting into the idea of an ideal woman—with a family-oriented mind, a tiny waist, fair complexion, and having a next-to-no opinion—always gave me a bit of a chuckle. It depicted nothing but the frustration of this society where people needed something or someone “weaker” to draw upon their insecurities.
The normalization of a woman’s life revolving around her “character” and accustoming her to the unrealistic and demeaning norms have surely brought down millions of unique brains, but at the same time, the normalization instilled the will of breaking free in Indian women. The women of my nation have come a long way from being homemakers with no apparent ambitions to living independently, equally, and successfully.
I recall the path-breaking poetess Amrita Pritam, who shattered every absurd standard set for a woman’s character with her work, one poem at a time. Amrita lived as a modern romantic and welcomed contemporary relationships. She was married to an editor at a young age of 16, only to get divorced within a few years, back in the 1960s. Her passion for writing took her and her two children to Delhi, and soon she fell in love with the work of the renowned lyricist Saahir Ludhianvi. She believed “Love is freedom, it must set you free,” and lived by it. Their affair caught the limelight but when she couldn’t find commitment, she left him to live independently with her children, defying the unjust notion of “need for a man” in a household.
Amrita moved on to become one of the most cherished names in the history of Indian authors and, till the day, inspires young individuals to set their lives free of the customs. She later moved in with the famous painter Imroz, and the two lived as life-long partners without the tag of marriage until her demise in 2005.
Stories of women like Amrita have given today’s women that missing, absent “consent” to pursue an independent and choice-driven relationship. This sense of control has led women to realize their significance and has given them a voice to stand up against the wrong conducts in their personal lives. The liberty of having a “say” in their personal lives was long overdue anyway.
I am thankful enough to be in an environment where normalizing the topics that are deemed to be a taboo is welcomed open-mindedly. Living in a surrounding full of enthusiastic and woke youth, people have publicly talked about the most natural and common things that go around in a woman’s life. I, too, have sat down with my male peers to talk, educate, and discuss periods, sex, body image, physical and mental abuse, and mental health.
It came as a surprise to most of my male peers that nearly every woman around them had faced the horrors of molestation, eve-teasing, and sexual abuse that they “only saw” in news headlines.
It is both saddening and infuriating to spot the ineffectiveness in educating children about these important subjects in the early stages of their lives.
Fortunately, in a world where even the most powerful have disregarded the importance of early education and self-awareness in children, I had the honor to work with young entrepreneurs imparting the same education along with creative knowledge to young minds.
These young women entrepreneurs started this project of teaching performing arts, awareness, and communication to underprivileged children with the motive to help them build a positive conscience. The stubbornness with which these women traveled for hours, conducted workshops, worked without any secure (male) presence in sleek corners of the city, and managed their studies well, was a slap on the face of this society which tagged them as “too ambitious” and “western.”
The tags—“western,” “bold,” “demanding,” and “outspoken”—this society has given to the modern women have helped them to develop an attitude where the more the society tries to bring them down, the more they rebound and rebel. Be it thrashing the age-old standards by speaking what is on their minds in places full of judgments, unapologetically competing with the men, staying up at nights to work or celebrate, wearing anything and everything despite the “inviting” allegations, not settling in to the idea of being just mothers or homemakers, and living independently bereft of a male figure in their lives, or simply supporting the “idea” of being modern, however small the step and stepping-up be, in a nation known for its discrimination and patriarchal triumph, a woman to even live ambitiously and freely is rather commendable.
These questions and opinions that I am privileged enough to draw today, even the mere thought of these problems didn’t cross my mind back in the time. Fortunately, along the thin line of evolving, I have seen the parallels between an independent and ethical woman get shattered. I have witnessed the notion of a woman needing protective gear (man) to save her from the “cruel” world get busted. I have seen the compliments for females shifting from mere physical appearances to their creative and professional accomplishments. And I have witnessed working women take charge of their own life first instead of the entire family.
I have witnessed the rise of the new woman in India, because I am the new woman of India!
Shrutty Sharma is a recent commerce graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She is a budding writer and a theatre enthusiast who strongly emphasizes on devoting herself to art and creativity and continues to pursue the same at every step of her professional and personal lifestyle. Although based in Gurugram, she has traveled across 15 Indian states and has grown up across the country. She likes to be opinionated when it comes to social causes and welcomes empowerment and adventures.