That time of the year
- March 1, 2012
My month of March has always been cluttered with engagements dealing with women’s issues. Although after the International Women’s Day on March 8 it sort of peters off and by mid-March amnesia hits till same time next year. So by writing this piece I am trying to stretch it as far as I can! The cynic in me is bored of this tokenism and the idealist is happy that at least once a year we focus and also hopefully do something for those who are holding up half the sky. Thankfully, I am much more of an optimist and, therefore, now for over 20 years I have been religiously (there ought to be another expression for us atheists!) ‘celebrating’ the Women’s Day.
During college I enthusiastically shouted slogans and marched for miles holding placards, along with a sea of charged women and a few good men. Now years down the line, that seems like a rather naïve way of trying to change the world, but had it not been for those protest rallies and dharnas, I wouldn’t have met so many incredible women, whose experiences watered the seeds of purposefulness and idealism, fortunately rather early in my life. Since then I have attended many workshops, conferences, talks, events, protests and even galas that celebrate women and reflect on all that needs to be done.
This March also saw a wide spectrum of invites. But what most stayed with me was a simple event that celebrated ‘ordinary’ rural women from Andhra Pradesh who had made a difference to their lives and the lives of others. On the day trip to Hyderabad, I was thinking if it was going to be worth leaving my little one and rushing in and out of airports for the Naveena award ceremony. I had taken up this commitment, as I was amazed how Naveena, a weekly women’s TV programme, sincerely took up strong and relevant subjects through many debates and campaigns, in times when a women’s show is often about beauty, fashion, recipes or the usual domestic drama.
Once I reached the venue, and was amidst these women who had forgone their daily wages and had travelled long distances, I forgot all else. Many of them had little babies in their arms, older in age, but smaller in size than my 19-month-old. Looking at them, the statistic of 60 million Indian children under five being malnourished was not a mere figure, but a heart-wrenching fact. I felt ashamed of complaining about leaving my child in the comfort of a well provided home, with a nanny whose only job was to take care of the little one.
I had a lump in my throat, when they were introduced, along with their stories of struggle. Each of the awardees had in some way shown exceptional leadership and courage in fighting their oppressors and were anything but ordinary. At the end, when I went to meet them, mercifully they neither knew who I was, nor did they care. They simply held my hand with a sister-like familiarity and warmth. It had been a while since I had held hands that were so rough with hard labour, that it reminded me what real women are made of. City life has a way of making one forget what lies beyond it. I would probably never get to see them again, but I know that, that touch will remind me what one sometimes forgets.
While life in affluent urban pockets has changed considerably and women have won many hard battles in the march to equality, we don’t realise how far we still need to go. Meeting those village women reminded me not only of the stark realities, but also that many are part of a silent revolution. But if we again slip into amnesia, then we might have to wait a whole year to get a reminder.