India is a nation which is a manifestation of well-known concept of Unity in Diversity – full of diverse customs, traditions, values and religions. Such diversity aptly shows up with different festivals celebrated in India; one of them is Navratri, which has been celebrated recently with pomp and show. We celebrate Navratri to worship and glorify Maa Durga and to honour her victory against the devil Mahishasura. The nine days of Navratri are marked as nine different incarnations of the goddess – Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta ,Kushmanda,Skanda Mata ,Katyayani, Kaalratri ,Mahagauri & Siddhidatri. As is well known, the festival is observed as a tribute to Maa Durga and Naari Shakti. The festival is celebrated in varied ways across the country. Though the mode of celebration and the name of the festival itself might differ across the nation, the core feeling and reason to rejoice it remains the same. For instance, in North India, people fasts and perform venerations. In Eastern India, the festival is celebrated in the form of Durga Pooja – beautiful and captivating pandals are embellished with lots of love and devotion and then grand aarti is performed. In Western India, Garba-Dandiya is played to hail the name of goddess. By the end of this festival, little girls are fed with due regard and love, considering them as manifestations of Maa Durga. Navratri educates us and reminds us of the significance and potential of Naari Shakti.
We hail the name of the goddess, perform venerations and what not with a lot of zest and enthusiasm to rejoice and celebrate the festival. But have we truly acknowledged the meaning and significance of the festival? Have we really implemented the values taught by it in our day-to-day lives? Have we succeeded in providing parity to women? Do we respect both the goddess, and the human form of her ?
Now, when I raise these questions, some conservatives may come up with the notion of ‘representation of fake feminism’ because they say women have the freedom of all sorts; to wear whatever they want, to study as much they want, take up professional jobs, join politics, and what not. If what they are saying is true, then why do we see acid attacks, cases of abuse, and rapes? As per the figures of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1500 victims of acid attacks; in the year 2020, approximately 28,000 cases of rape were noted with 84,000 abduction cases. Hang on – the list of crimes and unfairness with women doesn’t end just here, it goes on long from female foeticide to workplace harassment, stalking, molestation, eve-teasing and so on. These are the number of reported cases , there are numerous unreported crimes too that are happening against women; they remain unreported due to societal pressure. Even if they get reported, it takes decades to get them solved. We all remember Nirbhaya Case; even with full evidence it took seven years to deliver her justice. But who is to be held accountable ? Our system or we ourselves? Undoubtedly, there are helpline numbers, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and special laws for women – but is it sufficient? To summarise, resources in support of women are almost nil as compared to those to support an abuser. Sadly these cases have just become a number for us and the substantial part of the society doesn’t seem to be concerned about it. Actually, we have become accustomed to these cases as our news headlines just like our cup of tea.
Parents gets concerned by looking at these statistics and say that the outer world is unsafe and uncertain for women and she should be cautious while stepping out. To address their concerns, young girls and working women are asked to carry pepper sprays and learn self-defense for emergencies. What about our homes? Are we safe and secure inside our homes? It’s hard to digest, but unfortunately the answer is ‘NO’. The abuse against women happens in our homes too. Cases of physical and emotional torture with the women for dowry, being opinionated, for raising their voices, and much more.
In most conservative circles, a woman is considered as a ‘goddess of sacrifice’ who is expected to abandon everything – education, career and hobbies – just to be available and to serve others. Even in the new millennium, there are many girls who aren’t able to complete their studies, which consequently lowers the female literacy rate as compared to men. Literacy rate of women is 21.6 % less in contrast to that of men. This is because a substantial number of men think that education in context of a women is mere a hobby or pastime activity, and it has nothing to do with her life as she has to just get married and take charge of the household. These men actually don’t treat women as equal partners in society who have the right to live and make decisions. Taking decisions for other matters is a far away thing, it would be just like asking for the moon; they don’t even consider women as worthy to make decisions for themselves.
From their very childhood, women are just taught to please others, be selfless, perfectionist, multi-tasker, submissive and soft spoken so as to avoid conflicts and to maintain peace. She is made to learn everything, taught everything except her rights. She is just raised to be a perfect daughter, wife and mother. But in learning all these illogical, unreasonable and exasperating norms, she forgets her own self and loses her individuality. Her emotions and pain are always considered fake, unreal and dramatic. Despite all these constraints, many women have come out with flying colours – Arunima Singh, Kiran Bedi, Kamla Bhasin, etc. But this is just the tip of the iceberg as so many women are left behind. This clearly indicates why we need parity in society.
It is so ironic that on one hand we worship Maa Durga, Maa Kali and Saraswati, and on the other disregard her human form. This pops another question in my mind. What’s the use of worshipping the idol when we disregard women who spend their entire lives for the sake of others? What’s the point of this fake attitude?
To bring parity in the society, we need to look for solutions and introspect what can be done. Everything in this world can be mended and solved; we just have to keep fighting and going. The journey towards achieving parity is not going to end and be accomplished in a single day; we have covered miles towards it and have more miles to go. So, what can we do in this regard?
To begin with, we need to formulate more stringent laws, helplines, and shelter homes to aid and support the suffering victims. Secondly and most crucially, we need to be mindful of how we raise our boys and girls. Coaching girls on self-defense is important; but coaching boys to behave well and appropriately is more crucial. Raising young boys by saying, “Boys don’t cry and they are strong” is alright but they should also be taught to not make others cry and suffer. Conservative families must step back from the orthodox thinking of treating boys as superiors and girls as inferiors. Men and women are physiologically different from each other for a reason but it doesn’t and can’t demarcate them as being inferior or superior. We know this tradition of keeping and placing men at a higher level and prioritising their every need and demand has been practised for centuries, specifically because Indians have been the strict followers of traditions. Following traditions is alright, but along with it, we need to be mindful of what is right in the true sense. There’s no point in following the crowd and following things which are inappropriate and illogical. After all, we live in the 21st century; it’s high time and the need of the hour to introspect things well and leave those exasperating and useless norms and traditions. Women will have to step forward too for their rights and be more outspoken about parity; only then they will break the barriers of social obligations.
To conclude, I would like to say that the goddess – Durga or Kali – who we worship as idols in the temples are inside all women; and with that inner strength women can destroy all the Mahishasuras standing in their way to attain parity, independence and lead a happy, successful & prosperous life.
– Aahana Gahlaut
Picture Credits: capgemini.com