Blog By Aruna Joshi

A Salute to Womanhood

Whenever I have to travel to Churchgate for work, I prefer to take the local train. One of my favourite pastime during the train journey is observing other women in the ladies compartment and listening to their conversations. Majority of these women who travel by train are office goers. Those who stay at far-away places typically board the train at 7am to reach office on time. They have to wakeup early in the morning, cook breakfast and lunch for the family, ready their children, pack everybody’s lunch boxes, get ready and rush to the station. The whole day they work under high pressure and in the evening, they leave office at 6pm, reach home by 8pm, cook dinner, feed the family, help children with their studies, finish all the chores and prepare for the next day before they go to bed. For most of them, their husbands do not really contribute to the daily chores as they feel it is their wives’ domain. But these ladies work indefatigably and earn money so that they can contribute to the financial well-being of the family. I am really amazed at the resilience and tenacity these women exhibit. In spite of exhaustive routines they go through every day, one can see their fresh and cheerful faces in the train, chatting their way with the fellow commuters.
We live in a country of huge disparity. On one end of the spectrum are the women who have reached the pinnacle of success in their chosen field, while on the other end there are women who are putting in their best efforts to make both ends meet. Though women are termed as a weaker sex, the contribution of women in the socio-economic-political landscape of our country is unfathomable. History has shown us how, from Rani Lakshmibai to Indira Gandhi to Mother Teresa to Kalpana Chawla to Indra Nooyi; women have not only enormously contributed to the development of our country, but left a permanent mark on the globe. All of them went through tremendous challenges, made huge sacrifices and showed extra-ordinary courage that made them ineradicable from the history of time.
Being a woman, it gives me immense pride to see women’s achievements at par with men. There is practically nothing a woman can’t do in this world. However, it also gives me equal pride when I see these women in the train successfully facing the basic challenges life throws at them. A woman is bestowed upon with incredible abilities of strength, courage, sensitivity, kindness, love, tolerance and many more. But at the same time her mettle is also tested from time to time.
So while we celebrate the International Women’s Day and acknowledge and pay respect to the women who have contributed to the mankind, we should also applaud the women who may never reach the award winning pedestal, but their fight with their life challenges are noteworthy.
I would like to share a story of one such woman who was oppressed and ill-treated and had no one by her side. She fought the battle against the society, single-handedly.
Surekha was 16-year-old when she got married. Born and brought up in a small village in Marathwada district of Maharashtra, her life revolved around the family. She had never stepped out of her village. The only exciting thing for her to look forward to was her marriage. She entered into a wed-lock with sweet dreams about her future. Surekha was an innocent and good-looking girl and never complained about working hard and loved to take care of her family. Because of her loving and helping nature, she instantly became popular with her in-laws and the villagers.
Life seemed to be going pretty well for her, in the initial years. As time passed, her in-laws became desperate about her having a child. Their anxiety increased with passing time and they started pressurizing her. However, Surekha could not conceive. Because of the pressure from people around, that became the mission of her life. She and her husband visited many doctors and sadhus and hakims with the hope that some magic will happen. But nothing worked. Gradually everybody’s behaviour towards her began to change. The people who praised her in the past now refrained from even talking to her. She was debarred from the family and social gatherings as it was considered inauspicious to invite a woman who is ‘infertile’. She was often taunted by her husband and in-laws about her inability to produce children. They even tortured her and called her names. The rejection, hostility, hatred from the people she loved changed her to a miserable, helpless, and sad girl.
It is unfortunate that majority of the girls in rural India have to live an oppressed life. They are supposed to live ‘within their limits’. And these limits are set by the people around them, especially men. It’s a crime to express their feelings, and are blamed and held responsible for whatever goes wrong even without any fault of theirs.
With Surekha, this went on for almost ten years. One fine day, to her utter surprise she saw a positive change in the behaviour of her husband and in-laws towards her. She was so naïve that she thought her prayers were answered and everything would be great again. They had a family meeting in which all elders convinced her about how important it was to have a child to take the family name forward and that she should allow her husband to re-marry. They offered her to continue to stay with them and told her that they would take good care of her. Surekha had no option than agreeing to her in-laws as she had nowhere to go. Her parents had already closed the doors of their house for her.
Her husband married again and had a son in one year. After this, Surekha’s life became hell. She had to work like a slave – toil hard in the farm and do all the house work; whereas, the other lady was pampered and her only job was to take care of her child. Surekha became despondent, but was stuck. They would not let her go easily as they had a servant free of charge. She was often beaten up by them if she failed to do her assigned job or worked slow. One morning Surekha decide to elope after being tortured the previous night. When all the family members were still sleeping, she hurriedly packed her bag and ran out of the village. She went straight to her parent’s house. When her in-laws learnt about this they spread the rumour in the village that she had an affair and eloped with her boyfriend. This story left me totally flabbergasted. It is an irony that we worship the stone idol of the Goddess in the temple and ill-treat a woman of flesh and blood for issues like infertility and dowry.
I am happy to know that now Surekha has filed a case against her husband for bigamy and pledged never to return to her husband in spite of her family forcing her to. She learnt stitching and bought a sewing machine with her savings, and is now earning her living respectably, nurturing some big dreams about her future.
On this international women’s day let us pledge to respect the womanhood in every woman irrespective of the socio economic, cultural or religious status, or achievement and help and empower each other, not only on the women’s day but every single moment. Let us never underestimate our power and potential and be grateful for being born as women, as a woman is God’s favourite creation. Every single woman is a warrior capable of achieving the extraordinary. Let us recognize and acknowledge that power within us and remember that our capabilities are unlimited. Happy Women’s Day to all the women reading this blog…! Love yourself the way you are. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!