The New Women Of Family Under Traditional Systems: Times Tell Thoughtful Tales

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Madeleine Albright, the first woman to have become the United States Secretary of State and a staunch feminist, said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”. She never confessed of having any revelations about that, hence we cannot know if that is true at all. But if it is true at any scale, most of the women will end up in that ‘special place’ if we (or in case of hell, The Gods) just accept the criticism of women by feminists like Virginia Woolf who wrote in her book ‘A Room of one’s own’,

“What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows?”

Albright

Women who are now protesting against triple talaq in India, women and families whose lives have been getting destroyed now for several years in Punjab after paying heavy dowry to never returning NRIs, the widows living in Vrindavan, and many more…they should think about their mothers and grandmothers what were they doing!

Why weren’t they helping their own daughters even when they were facing grave inequality and injustice from society? The Muslim women who lived under constant threat of being left or immediately divorced, any moment and for any imaginable reason…what were they thinking while marrying off their daughters?

How insecure the families would be feeling, if they had felt sensitively about it constantly! Surely some women have had become submissive, cruel, worrying, scared and brave who lived under such constant pressure. But we don’t know any literature written in our age talking about this issue, at least not a popular one. 

When Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain wrote ‘Sultana’s dream’ over a hundred years back, she was already preaching about women’s education in Bengal, defending Bengali language of her writing over foreign Arabic and imposed Urdu and was a leading feminist activist. This fairy tale of hers speaks about a dream world for women, where she would rule the kingdoms and men would be “shy and timid”. This story was written after 42 years of Bankim’s Kapalkundala, where he advocates for women’s freedom of choice and decision making by making one of the female characters say,

“The people who watch the flower bloom, feel happy to see it bloom. But where is the happiness for the flower in this?”

What the father of Shakuntala, and she must be thinking and feeling while walking among court men and women into Dushyant’s court and fighting to protect her marriage with the King himself, which had occurred out of love and passion? This kind of marriage was given 6th position by Manu among 8 in the types of marriages, just above Rakshasa marriage which is done by abduction after killing the women’s relatives. Well, Dushyant who had accepted a long forgotten wife even though there was no proper judicial system back then must have been an honest and righteous man than the Prime ministers of our times.

Vedas

Incidentally, considering current regime’s stand on Romeo let us not forget that its supporters have said repeatedly that India lost its freedom 800 hundred (sometimes 1200) years ago.  They must look back at the hatred filled treatment of Prithviraj Chauhan after his marriage, which weakened him militarily. But when have they learned from history! Moreover, when have they have got their historical facts right!

That story of Shakuntala keeps one hopeful about trust and love, but it also puts a condition of symbolism and honesty on both parties. Vatsyayana who said that marriage on mutual consent is what always meets a good end, was not considered to be an intellectual or an authority over culture and religion by the Victorian translators and also the right wing nationalists. They are way too similar in mindset than one could think. He wrote, “A woman desires any attractive man she sees and in the same way man desires a woman” … “She may leave the man if love is not found”. Manu also has said that for non-Brahmins the best marriage is when they desire one another. Whether it’s a story of the birth of the universe as per Shaivaites or the practice of havana as per Brhad Aranyak Upnishad, an aspect of love has always been there.

The national law is made in India and in most of the large countries considering the accepted norms in the society, religions and for protecting the stability of the state which doesn’t accept micro-cultures and intends to see the nation as one single entity. That could never assure justice and freedom to each but all; but since the nation has to be protected (read ‘defended among populace’) and the law has to be followed, there is no other choice but courts.

The courts don’t work on wisdom but on a certain set of rules. They could only protect marriages and contracts in families but not the diversity of understanding in various kinds of relationships. That can only be built by the trust. But if justice is naturally not given on the most basic levels in any relationship then there is certainly some place for courts to make a difference. If not now then definitely sometime later in future.

But then the mothers and fathers will have to answer what they were doing for all lost time!