The many upheavals which our country has undergone over the centuries have often left its people tattered and torn. The populace has suffered ups, downs and disasters by the plenty. It is only the resilience of the Indian society, particularly its women, which has enabled us to remain stitched together, largely firm and resolute, despite the alarmingly variegated anti-forces which have threatened to destroy our collective fabric.
War, famine and plague have fortunately reduced at the global level in intensity and frequency, points out Yuval Noah Harari, author of the much acclaimed modern classics, Sapiens and Homo Deus. It is evident that pernicious social mores and inequalities along with the nefarious tendencies of evil doers have posed greater challenges to society in the modern era.
The housewife, the mother, the sister and the daughter have borne the brunt of some shocking practices and customs over the centuries which lesser mortals could not have withstood. The Indian woman has forever displayed fortitude and inner strength which has enabled her to come out shining despite the odds. Why, even in today’s supposedly modern era, a young lady has to undergo more stresses and pressures than a young man, simply because of her sex. She has to be extra aware and alert while walking on the road or standing at a bus stop. Our system has not been able to set in place enough safety measures for women to be absolutely their normal selves in public spaces. They have to forever be on guard, forever cautious. All kinds of closed circuit television cameras and other pervasive technological interventions have also not been able to stop them from feeling that someone, somewhere, is gaping or peeking at them.
Yet, and increasingly so, the Indian woman is shedding inhibitions and letting herself go in order to attain her dreams. The recently released Bollywood film Saand Ki Aankh (Bull’s Eye) highlights the astounding true story of two grandmothers who become champion shooters without the acquiescence or even knowledge of their men folk! To have participated in over 300 rifle shooting championships wearing ghagras and covering their heads in a traditional manner, and to have come out trumps, albeit in the veterans’ category, is a mind boggling attainment.
The dropped jaws of varied retired brigadiers and inspectors general of police, whom they defeated many a time with aplomb, have been showcased aptly in Saand Ki Aankh. Not only are the earthy acting capabilities of Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar (who play the venerable Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar) worth a mention, the direction and the screenplay of the film are also upmarket and utterly professional. To think that my wife and I might have given it a miss when I heard the somewhat abrasive sounding name of the film! It was only at the insistence of our much more aware daughters that we decided to take the plunge, and have been gushing about SKA ever since.
A particularly telling scene from the film is one in which the women of the village in question, steeped in patriarchy as it is, are shown being themselves in the confines of their rooms. Ironically, their closeted quarters represent the only place where they can let go of their ghunghats (veils) and generally feel unshackled. The sheer grit and determination of women of the past who emerged victorious from the stifling norms of their social envelopes are laudable and worthy of emulation by girls who are growing up today.
One truly hopes that the handcuffs of traditional ways of thinking will not inhibit any young girl who dreams of a bright future in future decades. As I write this column, our daughter Spriha is somewhere in the hinterland of Satara district in Maharashtra, part of a research team of youngsters hoping to better the lot of health workers in rural India.
Young women like her are not afraid of venturing into uncharted territories. Parents like us will do well to not only stand by them but to encourage them to break all moulds in the quest for serving humanity. At a recent gathering I remarked that women are the more evolved half of our species. One truly hopes that in times ahead the handcuffs of traditional ways of thinking will not inhibit any young girl who dreams of a bright future.