Holding half the Sky

It’s that time of the year again, when women are the flavor of the season… when people and organizations fall over each other to prove their appreciation of her.


We live today in chaotic times.  We are constantly bombarded from all sides by fragmented images of women, created from deconstructed truth, mixed with large doses of fantasy and honed to suit a wide range of vested interests.


From the 24 hours sound bite obsessed TV news channels, to the raucous anchors of talk shows, from women’s’ merchandise vendors to politicians with their greedy eyes on gender vote banks, from voyeuristic media agencies catering to prurient interest in women’s bodies to right wing fundamentalists wanting to cover up their women and keep them in their “place”…. everyone is a stake holder.


And on Women’s Day this ersatz cacophony reaches its annual feverish pitch.


As women living in the midst of this constant churning it is important that we too should learn to use this day.  This is the moment for us to pause and ponder for ourselves.


Who are we really?  Are we just pawns?  Do we even know any longer what we genuinely want? Or feel? Or hate? Or love?  Do we know what really matters to us as social human beings? Are we proud or afraid of our womanhood?  Do we want to be free or protected? Are we “painted and dented women”? Are we Mahalakshmis? Kali Maas? Bharat Mathas? Or just ordinary human beings?


Yes, we do live in a society where Daughters continue to Disappear because their families don’t want them.  Yes, we also live in a society where a trafficked minor is dubbed a Child Prostitute and street sexual harassment is dismissed as Eve Teasing and where minor children are routinely sexually attacked by adult predators.   And yes, we still refuse to acknowledge that rape is an act of brutal oppression which has nothing to do with dress, provocative behavior or sexual desire.


But this is just one face …one sound bite as it were…of the larger picture.  We also live in a country of women achievers…..women who stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in every professional field.  We live in a country where women techno-czarinas, who have grasped the latest technology and built their own successful empires.  Where women scientists are involved in cutting edge research, women pilots fly huge planes and sportswomen excel in male dominated sports.  We live in a country full of top class women journalists, doctors, lawyers, film makers, politicians, professors, agriculturists, bankers, fashion designers, software engineers, musicians, artists ……


There are women in our country for whom even the sky is not a limit.  They can fly high, freed from traditional social shackles. There are women who have soared to great professional heights, married or co-habited with persons of their own choice, produced or not produced children and lived their lives as they chose to.  There are women achievers who have moved steadily along having achieved a wonderful work life balance.  There are wonderful home makers, care givers, and social workers who give of themselves without even expecting any recognition or return.


But, sadly, they live and function almost cheek by jowl with other women whose wings are clipped almost as soon as they are born.  Women who are not even allowed to get a basic education, are married off before they reach puberty, have multiple pregnancies before they are out of their teens and are in danger of being killed for not bringing enough dowry or for marrying persons of their own choice.


And there are also their sisters in other parts of the country who live in the shadow of terror and whose lives are defined by the violence that surrounds them… a violence which is not of their making but nevertheless dictates the way in which they live.


So as women living in these multiple Indias we have multiple images of ourselves.   In simpler times, before the cosmetic companies and image consultants gave it a makeover, this day was dedicated to the celebration of the social, economic and political empowerment of women.  The message was clear and simple and so was the image.


Today Women’s Day is still about celebrating achievement but the tone is different as is the focus.  As for the image, it is confusing, complex and larger than life.


Which has its own advantages….


In the midst of all the multimedia blitzkrieg this is perhaps the only way and only day on which a clear and positive limelight can be focussed on to the multidimensional Indian woman and show her for what she is:  neither a victim nor a goddess, neither a temptress nor a shadow, but a strong and resilient human being who often holds up more than half the sky.


Gita Aravamudan

Gita Aravamudan

Gita Aravamudan grew up in a small gold mining town in Karnataka, went to college in Bangalore taught high school for a year and squeezed her way into journalism. Worked as a trainee for Hindustan Times Delhi and then at the age of 21 became a full-fledged reporter for Indian Express Bangalore and became the first woman reporter in the city. Free-lanced for a long, long time, writing for a wide range of English language publications from different parts of the country. Her latest book of narrative journalism “Baby Makers: The Story of Indian Surrogacy” (Harper Collins 2014) the first ever comprehensive book on the subject has already received excellent reviews and is being translated into Japanese. Her other books are “Colour of Gold” a mystery novel set in an Indian gold mining town (Harper Collins in 2013), “Disappearing Daughters: the tragedy of Female Foeticide” (Penguin 2007) (translated into Marathi & Japanese), “Unbound: Indianwomen@work” (Penguin 2010) and “The Healing” a novel set in Chennai (Harper Collins 2008).