The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dussehra and the worship of Durga is over but the imagery of the goddess stamping out evil remains embedded in our psyche. The inherent strength of the Indian woman, her tolerance and her magnanimity in stepping aside to let her man stand ahead are salutary and speak volumes about her confidence.

If Indian men began worshipping their wives and daughters, putting them on a pedestal as they do Durga and Laxmi, India could well become the land where gender equality is celebrated because respect for women is fundamental to our ancient culture. Over the centuries, as men in power restructured the narrative, they forcibly diluted the position of women and compelled them into a position that is unacceptable in any civilized environment. Having lost this one special civilizational asset, India was put into the category of cultures that are not as sophisticated or enlightened so far as women’s rights are concerned. By permitting these changes, we reduced ourselves to being a regressive society that suppresses and ill-treats the other sex — our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

The scorn towards women is evident in the manner in which men speak with each other, often interspersing their inane conversations with a phrase that curses their mothers and sisters. It is crass and crude to the point where it makes you want to throw up but it reflects the mindset of the weak Indian man who needs to use this kind of swear words to establish his macho persona. What is it that gives the Indian male this deep insecurity which manifests itself in crude and ugly behaviour in the public place'

Human and divine

Female infanticide is the outcome of male insecurity. Men just cannot deal with potentially strong women usurping what they claim is their space. It is always the weak who want to dominate. It is the politically weak who need to scream and yell, the socially weak who need to put their women behind the purdah because they know full well that if the latter competes with them they will expose the limitations of men. Because men are physically stronger, they try to establish their territory by pushing aside the weaker sex.

All these are beginning to change as women venture out and protest against their subjugation. This pushed men to introduce even stricter dos and don’ts for their women, using faith and a misinterpretation of cultural values and ethics to rationalize their retrograde diktats.

India could lead the way in liberating women from the shackles that bind them. Women are the strongest repositories of values and ethics, myths and philosophies. They can judge with selfless ease what is right and what is wrong. They keep the peace whether at home or in the community. They understand demand and supply. They conserve and protect. They are able to sacrifice for their offspring. They are hardworking survivors. They are the best negotiators with sound instinct.

If solutions are to be found in our volatile world, where might is right and respect for diversity and differences has no place, may be women should be brought in to play the mediator in crisis situations. Making adjustments without forsaking a belief or a set of values is what will make the difference. The predominant male political class has a lot to learn and, in that process, a great deal to discard. The failure of good governance may well stem from the fact that there are very few women in cabinet ranks in ministries such as agriculture, finance and home affairs. Discrimination is unforgivable in today’s world.

And so, three cheers for Durga as she stamps out evil and three cheers for Laxmi as she ushers in the new, be it in the sphere of wealth or of values or of both.

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