Friday, March 11, 2011

Freedom of Choice

I met an acquaintance, a young lady who was industrious enough to get herself educated to a post graduation, in spite of constant repression from her strongly patriarchal family. Studies, followed by careers, was believed to corrupt young women, giving them undue 'freedom'.

No, she does not belong to below poverty line rural population. I am talking about fairly well to do, educated - rather, literate families in the capital city of a *developing* nation (how I hate that word!). Something she said to me played in my head like a record player gone bonkers. "Choice? For me?..." That was the answer I got when I asked her why she chose to sit at home after her education. While I could have raved and ranted about equality and the 21st century being advanced and all that, I realized that she must have lived her entire life watching and learning from women who were used to other people running their lives for them. Obviously, she had taken the path less rebellious and chosen to flow with the current.

All this, in a civilization which saw wars being fought, kingdoms being ruined and empires being created due to choices women made in history. If we went further into the past (you can't have smoke without fire, I say. And so there must be some method to this madness we call mythology), mythology has given insights into the freedom of choice exercised by the women of this great civilization.

Don't believe me? Simply look at the all the strong women characters in Hindu mythology. Begin with Goddess Parvati, who created Ganesha to ensure her privacy - even from her husband, the mighty Lord Shiva. We all know how Goddess Parvati didn't find anyone who could stop her husband - the great Lord of destruction Himself - from entering her room when she was taking a bath. This resulted in her creating her son, who in turn, did the duty he was created for, at the cost of losing his life. That was how important the choice of one woman, albeit a Goddess, was.

Both the great Indian epics  - The Ramayan and the Mahabharat show the grit and determination with with the women stuck to the choices they made. Whether it be Sita refusing to accept the luxuries Raavan bestowed on her, or Draupadi refusing to neither forgive her wrong doers nor letting anyone else forget her humiliation. Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, chosing to raise the Pandavas, choosing to talk to her disowned son to save the Pandavas probably changed the entire course of the epic. One can only imagine whether the epic heroes - Ram or the Pandavas could win their wars, without without the strong willed women in the respective epics. Women gurus, women court ministers, women pilots (oh ok... i meant charioteers..... remember King Dasrath and Kaikey?), women rebels (Amba... who decides to become Shikkhandi) and women rulers were existent in the past.

And of course, recorded history too, has accounts of women rulers and influential women personalities in the courts of almost all kings ("I am the king of the house, and I have my wife's permission to say so?"). Which brings me back to the point I am trying to make - when will we stop needing interventions to make the freedom of choice available to all?

No, I am not on a man-beating, woman-glorifying path. And to my male friend who asked me a very blunt question - "Are you a feminist?"... No. I am not. I am just wondering what our nation would be like if freedom to choose was an option available to all the brains in this country!!