Women Hold Up Half The Sky

There is no evidence in the world that a country with 1/6 of the world’s entire population can sustain itself on agriculture. If India had intended to be the industrial/ manufacturing hub of the world, then it would have had to take steps like those taken by China 10-15 years ago to make itself a cut-price industrial and manufacturing centre of the world. That didn’t happen, so we have to conclude that in the next 30-40 years India’s destiny and future economic growth is intimately entwined with the world’s ‘knowledge economy’. For that to work the country must educate, develop and refine its best brains. It must then enable and equip the people with those brains to master the tools and the skills to utilize their minds to compete against the very best in the world.

And here’s the key point – at least half of those ‘best minds’ are walking around right now in female bodies!

Harnessing the potential and economic strength of those minds cannot happen in an environment in which women are seen as adornments to be ogled and objectified. On the day when the tragic news came that the Delhi gang-rape victim lost her fight for life, the newspapers are full of advertisements for New Years Eve parties where men are encouraged to go to leer at scantily clad women. I am not, for a moment, suggesting that men of all countries of the world don’t ‘look’ at women, view pornography etc. However, there is a fundamental difference in terms of where the line is drawn – looking doesn’t get extended to touching in public places, in public transport etc. How much does it say that metro and other trains have to have a separate carriage for women?

The world over, young men see young women they like, flirt, make suggestive comments to elicit interest. However, the ultimate power and freedom always lies with the woman to accept or reject the advances. If advances are rejected, then the men know to back off. When I was growing up I would often hear a phrase – ‘playing hard to get’. It implied that a woman would pretend to be saying ‘no’, but she really meant ‘yes’. Did such things happen? Yes, of course. But, what happened was a shift in cultural values that meant that if a man approached a woman and she indicated ‘no’, then he would back off and make no further move towards her. If that spoiled a ‘game’ she was playing, well that was seen as a small price to pay to err on the side of safety, to err on the side of not intimidating a woman who had the right to say ‘no’ and be taken at her word. To err on the side of caution was/ is to respect the woman’s right to the sanctity of her body.

There’s a long road ahead. Where women are seen as chattels, where girls have to leave education because nobody can be bothered to provide them with basic bathroom facilities, where men think it is within their right to dictate to a woman about what she should/ should not wear, where a woman is denied her fundamental right to say ‘No’ (within or outside marriage), where a woman who goes out for an evening to enjoy herself with friends is seen as ‘asking for it’, where sexual harassment is dressed up in the innocuous term ‘eve teasing’ and portrayed as ‘a bit of harmless fun in popular entertainment – then such a society will find itself wanting, suffer shame and humiliation and fail to actualize its potential.

In tribute to that brave girl, and all the others who have suffered through sexual violence and rape I found myself pondering on Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. Tagore’s dreams for India can only begin to be realized when the female mind is without fear and the female head can be held high as an equal. Until that time, much tireless striving is necessary.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action —
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


~ Rabindranath Tagore ~




One Response

  1. Thank you for finding the time to give expression to your thoughts on this very, very sad incident and the situation as a whole. I too was deeply saddened by the New Year revelry so blatantly advertised alongside the heartrending news of this fearless soul with a zest for life-rudely snatched away from her..Profound is the word that comes to my mind- regarding your thougts on Rabindranath’s composition and the female mind.Yes, much tireless striving is necessary..much.

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