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Why Women Don’t Matter


In 1987, Roopkuvarba Kanwar, a Rajput woman was celebrated by a huge number of people in her community for committing Sati at Deorala village of Sikar district in Rajasthan. She was just 18 and had been married for just eight months to one Maal Singh Shekhawat. Thousands of people watched her immolation into a heap of ashes and did nothing. In life, she was disposable and in death, Roop Kanwar was hailed as a Sati mata. It was never established clearly if the act of immolation in the pyre of her husband was voluntary or forced because really, who cares whether a woman wants to live or to die. What is important is that she aligns herself to something greater than her cheap, useless existence.


Be it tradition that deems  a woman dying in a funeral pyre to be more honourable and more valuable than one alive on her own terms. Or religion that celebrates her for fasting for her husband, or starving herself to death over a span of 68 days in the name of her faith. Unaligned and unattached, she is nothing.  Nothing brought this fact home more clearly this month than the fate of two women. One traditional. The other independent. Both are dead now and yet note how their deaths were reported and received. 13-year-old Aradhana was hailed by many members of her community as a saadhvi after she died of starvation caused by religious fasting. The press used a picture of hers where she was indeed dressed like a benign goddess. On the other hand, the murder of Monica Ghurde, a 39-year-old perfumer in Goa was reported with salacious headlines focusing on the state her body was found in because somehow that information was of key importance. That and the fact that she lived alone and was divorced.

But in the end, Aradhana and Monica were two sides of the same coin.They were used to satisfy our desire to deify and defile women without their consent. While  we can still condone women like Aradhana because they exemplify sacrifice and self-effacement, always good qualities to have if you are a woman, Monica was another matter. What can single, independent, liberated women like her expect except disrespect in life and in death? There is a price to pay if women step out of the bounds of tradition. As a comment on a thread said, “Elites (sic) like her should know how to treat minions.” In one line, her right to  an unthreatened existence was dismissed because she was supposedly elite, lived alone and should have been more careful around ‘minions.’ That there is a price to pay also if women stay confined in tradition is a conversation we haven’t quite mainstreamed yet.
Consent can be sometimes a matter of life and death but how unimportant it is most of the times was exemplified by Donald Trump’s recent leaked tape where sex was a matter of popping Tic Tac, a female body sans a voice or volition and a groping male hand. Nothing more.That he and his brain-washed supporters can dismiss such an attitude as just “locker room talk” and “just another distraction” as they move on to “more important issues” should tell you everything about the world we live in. What is done to women and is said to them and about them is not an important issue and should not be.
While his supporters normalised the culture of consent less assault by dismissing his conversation as “just words” , many of Trump’s male detractors critiqued him and contextualised their outrage in the fact that they had daughters and sisters and so could not condone his language. Establishing that a woman can be respected only if she is a daughter or a wife, or a mother or a sister. In her own right, she is possibly just a body part waiting to be grabbed.
Regardless of how far the discourse about feminism has evolved, the fact remains that women are not important enough to matter or to be counted in most cultures and conversations. They cannot be deal makers or breakers. Silence is their greatest virtue and that is why when young girls are molested by family relatives, they are told to keep quiet because it doesn’t matter. That is why victims of eve teasers are told to keep their mouths shut and not create a scene on streets, in buses and that is why one of Nirbhaya’s rapists confessed on camera that she was killed because she fought back. That is why  rape survivors and not rapists are shamed in court rooms and women in bad and abusive marriages are told to grin and endure it because well, what is at stake is far more important than their happiness or well-being. I know of a daughter who was once told by her own mother, “So what if you were molested by my brother? What makes you think you are special and better than anyone? This kind of stuff happens to every woman. Happened to me. Did I say a word? No!”
Centuries of conventions and mind sets that shame women, dehumanise them, shut them down, interrupt them and devalue them have been internalised by both men and women. And that Monica Ghurde was killed over a complaint about a missing umbrella demonstrates just how dangerous it is for women to voice an opinion. Or to contend for power in any way. Ask Hillary. On Sunday night, Trump threatened to jail her and shamed her for her husband’s sexual conduct on a stage supposedly meant to discuss his improprieties and other important issues. He also behaved like a stalker shadowing a prey. And got away with it.
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ  and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US and is now retailing some of her art at http://paintcollar.com/reema. She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

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1 Comment

  1. October 12, 2016    

    Maam your write-up puts into spotlight very pertinent question.
    Women don’t matter, because they are considered as second grade citizens and weaker sexton. But point to ponder is, that even in the west the wives of the Presidents take the names of their husbands , such as Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. All this is not limited to India only. Hillary has forgiven her husband despite of knowing about his philandering ways.
    Supreme Court’s judgement: that a women forcing their husbands to stay away from parents is a torture, then what about the girl who leaves her family and comes.
    Our physicality is such that we can bear labour pains which no male can but the mentality is such that any male can overpower us.
    At the end of the day it is all in our head. To progress and grow , we have to have a broader outlook.

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