|HER WORLD||Sunday, July 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Even though the best
woman hasn’t won!
The price of not being
Today, there is one ‘attitude’, which connects all women. They all know that money and power are the driving forces of the world. Nothing else works as well as these two great assets in life. No wonder they, too, run after the same mirage as the whole world, says Vimla Patil.
THEY say that nothing in life is as permanent as change. At no point is change more evident than when one stands at a milestone of life.
The theory of change, though it applies to the entire world, has been of special interest to India for several reasons, not the least among them being the fact that in the middle decade of the 20th century, this huge sub-continent was welded into one nation under one government. Because of India’s Constitution, all citizens have been equal in the eyes of law and this has meant a great leap forward for women — that half of the population which was earlier shackled by illiteracy, lack of financial or legal rights, oppressed by religious obscurantism and, therefore, deprived of social status and justice.
The fate of this half of the population began to change at a faster rate than that of women in any other country after 1947. The result is that as each door of opportunity opened, women’s attitude to their life-roles, their destinies, their rights and responsibilities and their aspirations have changed from one generation to another. Women in India have changed at a faster rate than women anywhere else in the world and their ‘attitude’ has changed the very face of our society. Perhaps there is no better way to examine this ‘attitude’ than to describe in some detail the various stages of a modern Indian woman’s life. Of course the word ‘modern’ is used here with a clear purpose, because among the 500 million Indian women, the majority still live in the dark ages of illiteracy. But those who have seen the light at the end of the tunnel, are the ones who have set trends and formed the substance of women’s 21st century ‘attitudes’.
Take young girls to start with. While the birth of a girl child is still not considered as joyful an event as that of a son, at least in many urban, educated strata of society, girls are considered equal to boys and many mothers actively plan to have daughters. Modern, educated mothers’ attitude towards girl children is that they have an equal say in shaping their lives, choosing their careers and selecting their life partners. Daughters, say their mothers, should have the same free air to breathe as sons have had for generations. Yet, this new end-of-the-century attitude has a little tinge of doubt mixed with modernity. When a daughter stays out the whole night or goes away from home on overnight work or leisure trips, there is an extra line of worry on the mother’s forehead. Nevertheless, young girls are taught to think for themselves, aim at self-reliance, financial and emotional independence. They are taught to assert their views and stand tall and confident in the face of oppression. All this means that the ‘attitude’ of parents towards girl children is changing. Yet, it is shaped by a mixed bag of concepts — part being born of a centuries-old heritage and part being the result of modern thought streams.
An Indian girl’s school life and adolescence is also tinged with the same complexity of attitudes. School and college girls are encouraged by parents, teachers and society in general to excel in everything their do. Academics, sports, hobbies, serious pursuits and home creation — all these talents are nurtured and protected. But the freedom to learn and educate themselves runs parallel to the need for controlling the sexuality of adolescent girls. Mothers from even the most liberal and progressive families do not approve of promiscuity in girls whereas they are prepared to overlook such errant ways in their sons. Freedom cannot be compartmentalised and adolescent girls in metros and cities are often seen using this freedom in forbidden ways because of their attitude that they are equal to any young man with whom they may interact in their youth.
Marriage, as many young women feel, is a strange institution today, with dual edges. A concept based on compromise, it historically expects women to give in more in every family situation. Indeed, its success, many women feel, depends upon how much a woman is willing to surrender. Here too, feminine attitudes have changed considerably. Their views are born out of a peculiar reality. In their parents’ home, they are protected, pampered, expected to excel and given freedom just as sons are. This situation changes overnight after marriage. From being protected, they become protectors, having to fit in with a new man, his family, their food, culture and way of life. This is where the new ‘attitude’ of women has brought in maximum change — good or bad. They object to unreasonable compromise and surrender and quit marriages more easily than ever before. Because of the new awareness of young women and to some degree, their parents, divorces in all strata of Indian society have become common and there is very little stigma attached to that ugly word any more.
Wherever marriages survive, their success is because this changed attitude is accepted by in-laws and husbands or because the woman has recast her own awareness for the sake of children, economic security or other considerations and gone back to her traditional role of giver and nurturer. In any event, though a woman may have changed her ‘attitude’ towards marriage, she has yet not changed her concept of motherhood.
Children, they say, grow up faster than ever before in the present technology-driven age. They think independently, exercise their options in careers, marriages and even place of residence. Their attitudes towards the mother — or the parents — are often dictated by their need for freedom, their compulsions to break traditional rules because of peer pressure and later by the love or infatuation they have for their sexual or marriage partners. It is here that women’s ‘attitudes’ are changing the most. Gone are the days when they committed themselves to a mother-child relationship lifelong. Gone are the extreme sacrifices where mothers were prepared even to be the ‘servants’ in the home of a son or daughter. Today, they stand up for their dignity and self respect and find some means of earning a livelihood. Many urban women are educated and have their own careers. Others have inheritances. Yet others conduct their small businesses from home. The attitude here is not to revolve their lives around the children — especially when the latter are married.
For generations, women have experienced the betrayal and ungratefulness of their children — barring exceptions of course — and tolerated everything because society expects mothers to be "forgiveness incarnate" or "goddesses of love and sacrifice". Attitudes here too have changed. Because women feel that if men, children, business — and indeed the whole world — have become money and property oriented they had better sit up and accept this change and build their lives in a different mode too.
It follows that women’s ‘attitude’ to widowhood and old age has also changed. No longer is widowhood that inauspicious spectre which ruined women’s lives. Widows are well-dressed, self occupied and live lives of dignity — at least among educated, liberal sections of society.
Because these changes of
‘attitude’ have touched only a minority of women at the beginning
of the 21st century, many may underestimate them. But all seeds of
change take time to grow — especially in a country of 1000 million
people. Today, there is one ‘attitude’, which connects all women.
They all know that money and power are the driving forces of the
world. Nothing else works as well as these two great assets in life.
No wonder they too, run after the same mirage as the whole world!
Even though the best
woman hasn’t won!
THE Indian Constitution may give the President extremely limited powers, making the incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhawan virtually a figurehead. But the few discretionary powers it vests in the President for moments of constitutional and political crisis— the two primary ones being to invite a party to form the government and appointing the Prime Minister, and dissolution of Parliament—- means the Indian head of state can influence the course of politics in the country.
With the next General Election in 2004 likely to throw up as fractured a mandate as the last one, the next President will, in all likelihood, be
called upon to exercise these discretionary powers. Additionally, as the principal trustee of the Constitution—which embodies the consensus on which the nation stands—the President is expected to uphold the values of democracy and secularism. And, even though a largely titular head of state, the President is the face India presents to the world.
It is in this context that the candidates for the recently held presidential election need to be looked at. Which of the two—A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the choice of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the right-wing Sangh Parivar, or Dr Lakshmi Sehgal, the Left nominee—measures up to the challenges and ideal of the Indian presidency? The two present entirely divergent worldviews reflected in their lives, work and personal visions.
Indeed, even though the presidential contest this time was an entirely unequal one, with its outcome a foregone conclusion, the symbolism involved in the fielding of Lakshmi Sehgal cannot be ignored. As Parvathi Menon wrote in a recent article in Frontline, "Her life has been an inextricable part of India's destiny as a nation, its struggle against colonial rule, its attainment of freedom, and its maturing as a nation through 55 tumultuous years. In the great historical transition, of which she has been an active and inspiring participant, 'Captain' Lakshmi always positioned herself firmly on the side of the poor and unempowered. A freedom fighter, a dedicated medical doctor and an outstanding leader of the women's movement in India, she embodies the finest aspirations of Indian leadership."
All this is particularly noteworthy, especially as Kalam— despite his personal integrity, total commitment to the technological mission, gift for team work and sharp intellect— has what has been described as "an apolitical vision of science as a value-free enterprise, characteristic of those involved in developing weapons of mass destruction". His claims that after the Pokhran tests, India's nuclear weaponisation had given it "the capability to vacate nuclear threats", that the "process of nuclear weaponisation is complete", and that India "had all weapons to face any situation" are more jingoistic than realistic.
Recent experience has demonstrated that nuclear weaponisation has weakened India's national security, including its conventional force advantage over Pakistan. Add to this Kalam's tendency to oversimplification and reduction of all that is important to aphorisms and finally, his lack of political experience -- the picture that emerges is not of the most suitable candidate.
Not just that: Kalam failed to respond to what must be a defining moment in Indian history. His response to the state pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat earlier this year was less than adequate. He was content with an oblique reference to the need to "fight poverty rather than human beings". And this, when he will soon be expected, not just as a citizen but as the President, too, to uphold the secular ideal enshrined in the Constitution. And to "promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities, to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women".
Contrast this with Lakshmi Sehgal's record on the issue: Not only has she unequivocally denounced the targeting of Muslims in Gujarat, but her past actions are testimony to her belief and, indeed, practice of the ideal that has thus far kept India united. As a young doctor in Kanpur in the aftermath of Independence, she earned the trust of the Muslim population because she was the only doctor in the city ready to treat Muslims at that time. Close to 40 years later, during the anti-Sikh riots in October 1984, she was out on the streets standing fearlessly before shrieking mobs,ensuring that in the crowded area where her medical clinic stands, not a single Sikh was attacked.
Even if Kalam's assumption of the presidency is a fait accompli, it would be worthwhile to question the objectives of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in fielding him as the next President. Their aims were twofold: one, they felt that by nominating a Muslim, their crimes of omission and commission in Gujarat would be wiped out in the eyes of the world and inspire confidence among the minorities. Two, it would please their own constituents as it would endorse their militantly nationalistic approach to matters of national security.
As it happens, it has succeeded only in doing the second. If the Urdu press is any indication of sentiment within the community, Kalam, a vegetarian Muslim who swears by the Bhagavadgita, is close to the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, and maintains a conspicuous silence on the genocide in Gujarat has failed to inspire any enthusiasm. In the world community, as a cross section of diplomats testify, the choice of a man associated with the country's missile and nuclear programme has caused more alarm than approbation.
As Ritu Menon, feminist and co-founder of Kali for Women publishers, puts it, "The question is not whether Lakshmi Sehgal measures up to Kalam, but whether he measures up to her. She may lose this battle as women are used to, but I think she will end up winning the war just through the example of her life, through her work on health issues, and among women. She has held up a mirror to the vitiated politics of India; the politics of social justice she stands for shines brightly in comparison with the politics of military domination that Kalam represents."
The fact that Lakshmi
Sehgal could not be the President is as much a comment on our times,
as on the fact that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have begun to
succeed in dictating the nation's agenda. And in pushing a negative,
militantly nationalistic line on matters of national security. For the
principal opposition party, the Congress, which claims the legacy and
ideals of the freedom struggle, Gandhi and non-violence, Nehru and his
vision of a scientific temper tempered with humanism, allowing the BJP
to dictate support for Kalam must be a matter of eternal shame.
The price of not being money wise
"Why was I not taught to handle my money and manage my finances the same way my brother was?’
"I was never very comfortable being money wise. During my childhood my father and after my marriage my husband took care of my money and even though I am financially independent, I am not financially aware."
"During my husband’s prolonged illness and hospitalisation I realised how clueless about finances I was. I had always taken it for granted that these matters were best left to him."
"Even while I learnt to be thrifty and managed the money given to me very well, I did not acquaint myself with our assets and liabilities. Idid not know whether we had taken any loans or owed anyone money. I always counted on him to attend to all these matters."
DIFFERENT voices, different women but with a common thread running through their statements. The common refrain demonstrates the lack of comfort with money matters. Mostly due to our child-rearing practices and socialisation and partly due to the association of money with power and privilege and perception of managing money primarily as a male prerogative, we have a situation wherein women are wary or defensive about money matters.
Right from adolescence onwards, a girl should be encouraged to be familiar with banking procedures. She should be assigned the task of depositing bills, insurance premiums, open as well as operate accounts and learn to save and invest. This habit, once formed, will stand her in good stead and instill confidence in her to take financial decisions with elan and confidence.
Often what happens is if a woman is reared to be either wary of money matters or refuse to evince interest in them, she will reveal the same ambivalence in her adult life. Sometimes the price that she has to pay for her lack of awareness is a lot. Many women, due to this lack of confidence are steamrolled by their children into taking decisions that they are uncomfortable with. Eventhe chances of being duped, misled or defrauded increase manifold if a woman is clueless about the family’s financial assets, liabilities, savings, loans either availed of or advanced. If she has no knowledge or awareness about money matters, she is not likely to have control over her destiny. Chances of her continuing to rely on others if she is on her own make her position very vulnerable. In event of the demise of her spouse, trying to manage her finances by herself often leads to her being exploited by unscrupulous relatives, the extended family and even, in certain instances, her own children. She should not hesitate to take professional help, as and when it is required, to update her knowledge and skills on financial issues.
Money matters are a tricky terrain as far as the husband-wife equation goes. Used to taking most financial decisions singlehanded, without transparency, men often feel threatened when women try and ask too many questions about money or want to know about the income expenditure or investments. They perceive it as an encroachment on a terrain that is primarily "male.’ If the man genuinely wants to empower the woman, he will start delegating small tasks to her. In some instances, even the women are not willing to shoulder the responsibility of taking decisions pertaining to money on their own.
As a banker puts it: ‘’I have always encouraged my wife to involve herself in managing money and helping me to maintain accounts and pay bills. It is she who is reluctant to do so because she feels it is my job. When I remind her that how would she manage when I am no longer around she accuses me of being a pessimist!"
It is never too late to become money savvy and learn the ropes.
The fact remains that women do demonstrate exemplary efficiency and thrift while stretching the money given to her to balance the household budget. Even when the men are away to a foreign land, women do manage money and take vital financial decisions but the final authority is usually the man’s. Even single women bank on their fathers, brothers or uncles to take care of their money and invest it appropriately. If they really want to come to grips with money management, taking outside help is not such a bad idea because a professional’s advice is often objective and can help put things in perspective for the woman.
Of course, there will be many instances where the women do manage their money exceedinglywell. But they are exceptions and not examples.
They smile when they want to scream.
They sing when they want to cry.
They cry when they are happy and laugh when they are nervous.
They fight for what they believe in.
They stand up for injustice.
They don't take "no" for an answer when they believe there is a better solution.
They go without new shoes so their children can have them.
They go to the doctor with a frightened friend.
They love unconditionally.
They cry when their children excel and cheer when their friends get awards.
They are happy when they hear about a birth or a new marriage.
Their hearts break when a friend dies.
They have sorrow at the loss of a family member, yet they are strong when they think there is no strength left. They know that a hug and a kiss can heal a broken heart.
Women come in all sizes, in all colours and shapes. They'll drive, fly, walk, run or e-mail you to show how much they care about you.
The heart of a woman is what makes the world spin!
Women do more than just give birth.
They bring joy and hope.
They give compassion and ideals.
They give moral support to their family and friends.
Women have a lot to say and a lot to give.
Bank account of memories
The 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud mother-in-law of my best friend, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o'clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.
Maurine Jones is the most lovely, gracious, dignified woman that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. While I have never aspired to attain her depth of wisdom, I do pray that I will learn from her vast experience.
After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.
"I love it," she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.
"Mrs. Jones, you haven't seen the room ... just wait."
"That doesn't have anything to do with it," she replied. "Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged ... it's how I arrange my mind.
I already decided to love it ... It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.
Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away ... just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account ... you withdraw from what you've put in ...So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories."
— Compiled by Radhika