Ab Key baras Bhej Bhaiiyya ko Babul...

For centuries women in general have cried and longed for their siblings, parents and friends secretly. The loss of a family by a woman is something patriarchy has validated. When a woman gets married she has to move out of her home. Its the done thing. The smart thing. The proper thing. A man is protected from such a situation in the name of tradition and male supremacy. Like many other traditions, its an acceptable thing that a young bride has to leave her family behind to live with strangers. Interestingly, this pain and agony has been romanticised time and again with various rituals. Women have been trained to be dependent. Most of us who have managed to receive liberal education, have also had to face subtle and obvious discriminations. But my question is what are we as women doing about it?

In my close encounter with the Indian rural women I have observed that contrary to popular perception they are often more empowered than their urban counterpart. I have been living in and around rural India for some time now. Empowerment has multiple, interrelated and interdependent dimensions. Economic, social, cultural, and political. It can be viewed vis-a-vis access to resources, relationships, power, and perception.

I build my case by qualifying what one means by empowerment. Perhaps a woman's self worth, her control over her life both at home and at work and lastly her ability to direct social change to create a just, social and economic order could be some pointers.

In the rural space I occupy I have met a woman in a live in relationship. There is another woman who is the bread earner of her family. The remarkable thing about her husband is that unlike many chauvinist urban men he has taken over the chores of his house. He is a truly progressive man who is an extremely fair husband and an engaging father. The domestic help at my place is a feisty and decisive women. A washer woman I interact with regularly has stood for the Gram Pradhan Election. I have met girls who have asserted their right to marry and choose their partners. And I have met a married woman here who has chosen love over a disabling marriage.

Many women occupy important posts by contesting elections in the rural area where I live. Looking at all this, I wonder about some of the urban women I have met over the years. I recall many women with computer and internet at home who have refused to train themselves digitally. I cringe at the thought that some of these privileged women cannot operate bank accounts or make travel arrangements. Many of these women are incapable of handling hospital admissions even during emergencies. Even for simple tasks like social visits or shopping they need the company of their husbands.

Many rich urban women feel proud that they are well protected and pampered by their husbands. They don't realise that they are but dependent on another person. They may be literate but are not active in family's financial decisions. They have no hand in family budget, savings and investments.

The above inabilities in spite of great privilege and access to resources is shameful. This total surrender to another person's decisions is not just being foolishly romantic. Its simply making a fool of oneself. Interestingly this dependence is often eulogised as love and great luck.

True woman empowerment is all about women breaking free from the chains of limiting beliefs. Most social, cultural and religious practices have traditionally kept women suppressed.

Rural women educated or uneducated have often broken their chains. While rural women are short of resources they are still often their family's equal decision makers. Upper Class, privileged Urban women must understand that by not raising their voice against inequality they are being unfair to themselves and all the women who are lesser privileged but fighting bigger wars.

If the privileged class of urban women will not assert equality of action and decision making the underprivileged women will end up fighting alone and longer. It is also important that women learn technology, communicate, network. Thats how one becomes empowered. Not by just enjoying luxuries...and keeping quiet!

Fight a little battle for fellow sisters. We have a long way to go together!

Dr. Maria Sheikh Farooqui, Bsc BAMS MD CCGO

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