Things take on different meanings depending on who is looking, where they are looking, and in what context they are subjecting the situation to. Humans, according to Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, are both “the witness and the judge,” meaning that we see and judge. And it is because of this witnessing and judgement that different people have various perceptions depending on their diverse experiences.
As I look back at my childhood, I recall a very disturbing incident where a friend of mine was killed by her father just because he feared she would be killed or raped or kidnapped on their way to the border during the partition in 1947. I read heart wrenching stories in the newspaper everyday like how bodies were hung on trees and how there was chaos and violence everywhere. People were killed, maimed and displaced from their houses. I often sit back and see a reflection of my past whenever I see my grand children. So much has changed since then. It’s been 75 years since independence and we as a society have evolved so much. I often find myself sitting in anticipation for my past to stop haunting my dreams but this longing for peace and closure eventually has somehow become a permanent feature in my life and I have to come terms with it.
Partition has had a profound impact on everyone’s social lives. Women were subjected to violence on many levels, including communal, family and macro levels. They were kidnapped, raped and murdered. To safeguard the family honor, they were forced to commit suicide. Furthermore, they were abandoned by their relatives in the name of recovery, and their children were denied basic rights and treated inhumanly.
Today, my granddaughter is a feminist face of the society. She is a human rights lawyer who works day and night to avail women rights and gender equality. Last night, she told me about how women are celebrated throughout the globe today and the various laws which act as wheels of progress to heal the wounds of the past. Some laws that caught my eye like the Right to Education Act, 2009 which provides all children between the ages of six and 14 years the right to free and compulsory elementary education. Although this law is gender-neutral, it gives a push to the education of girl children, by giving them enhanced access to schooling. Education plays a huge role in fighting and making people woke about the society and the rights available. According to the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005, daughters have the same right as sons to their father’s self-acquired property, if he dies intestate, that is, without a will. The property will be divided equally among all legal heirs. The past was nothing like this and women had to fight for the most basic rights such as eating on the dining table with her father. Women were seen as objects to be gambled with. They were kept in rooms and considered ‘sacred’ presents that could help in diversifying their business but not anymore. Today, one-third seats are reserved for women. The 73rd amendment has made an effort to provide women with some special powers in all the 3 tiers of Panchayati Raj. As per the act, ⅓ of seats are reserved for women in addition to the seats reserved for SCs and STs. It was indeed a bold step. The rural women will also be now able to exercise some political power and play a role in decision making for village affairs.
After recognising the plight of women and their marginalisation in society, the government took significant steps to effect change and better women’s social, economic, and political circumstances. Although it would be a lie if I say that the policies introduced by the government are being implemented fully since customs and traditions are still valued highly in a country like India, women have gradually grown more independent and informed over the years. Today, women are winning medals at the Olympics, leading countries and practically touching the moon. From the times of Indira Gandhi during to star players like PV Sindhu, we have come a long way. Women’s status in Indian society has radically changed since Independence but there is definitely room for improvement. Indian women started their journey in an era where we were forced to lead a colorless life. We were forced to alter our eating habits. Our right to worship was taken away just because we lost our husbands. Such was the society-created women dependency on men that women had to burn alive, alongside the husbands! But thankfully, we buried these days behind us, learned from our practices, and evolved! Resultantly, here we are-where women contribute to every success ever-imaginable, at helm of so many industries as leaders of the society, guiding us through the dynamic times. My granddaughter is living the life I always dreamt of, my ancestors couldn’t see the progress I am looking at and wherever they are, they must be proud and satisfied that their hustle and sacrifices did not go in vain. Times have changed, moments have surpassed but the journey doesn’t end here. The road is long and we must keep going. The night was dark but I see a ray of sunshine now, this time too shall pass.
By Saajan Mehta