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!!


  1. interesting. having this kind of thought wont ever put someone into a feminist or somewhat similar to it. couldnt be more agree with you. :)

  2. Meena,

    If it is choices available to men vs. choices available to women... I think they are the same for both in cities in middle/upper middle and rich class in India.

    Picking up a choice depends on the individual. There are constrains for both men and women. Take my example, I am a male..I could not take a better salaried job (which I really wanted) out of Delhi because of constraints at I had to make a choice to find an alternative in Delhi.

    IMHO male or females..circumstances can influence our decisions.

    Of course we shall not discriminate between males and females for giving them opportunities.

    Now living in the USA, I can say women (in cities and middle and upper class society) are very far advanced in India...than in the USA.

  3. @blommer22 .... thank you for reading!!

  4. @A, thank you for the comment. Ofcourse, what you have written is true. Today's woman in the urban world has much more choice than our counterparts in the villages, or in the past eras. However, in India, the urban, affluent group of women are a mere 1%. For the others, life continues to be a struggle for independence.

    And ofcourse,men too, are faced with dilemmas to do with family - as you were - appreciate the men who are willing to sacrifice / compromise their careers due to family. But there are lesser expectations of society from men as compared to women, don't you think??? :-)

  5. @Meena,

    About sacrifices, I do not have a sister so no benchmark to compare. My wife had exact same opportunities as her brother and after marriage same like me. Of course she gets maternity leave...too

    I think the World is changing now.

    I think some women feel more responsible and tend to sacrifice more...that is a female character. For example I know certain women who offer to take care of ailing parent rather than their male counterpart.

    I think expectations are same but it all depends on the family background, social status and financial background. Higher education, better financial status...equal expectations...

    But I do not disagree there is smaller percentage of this kind but it is more than estimation is around 25%. Rest 75% still live in 19th century...but I am sure people like you will change.

  6. @A.... thanks... point taken... the world is changing, slowly, but definitely changing! :-)

  7. Hi Meena, good post and relevant questions. I agree with you totally here, because the kind of life that you speak about regarding your friend, I have actually seen that kind of atmosphere.. regressive and sad, but yes, it exists. No matter how much we harp about how the world is changing blah blah, I still know there are families, that stop their girls from choosing love over a stupid, life-ruining, 'in-the-name-of-honour' type marriages because they want to keep their heads high in their communities.
    I KNOW there are people who have shoved their sons to take engineering because they wanted them to be engineers, even though they wished to say... .maybbe become a fashion designer??

    It's a distressing situation and the truth of the matter is, It still exists. Very much.

  8. @Punam ... thanx for the comment.. and sometimes one wonders at the futility of it all, right?