WHILE the Constitution of India grants equal rights to women, more than six decades have passed, but women are struggling hard to make these rights socially acceptable. And new legislations are being framed in accordance with the new environment. Cases of their domestic and social oppression have increased much faster than the laws framed to protect their rights. This is probably the reason that the voices of women’s movements are heard everywhere.
These movements for women’s rights during the past half century have thrown up common slogan heard everywhere. These fighting groups may comprise old style women with long veils or semi-modern adult women with new hair styles, or ultra modern girls in jeans and tops, the slogan that they yell is, “We are women of India—we are not flowers, we are fire.” Initially, I was also attracted and enchanted by this slogan, but a question flashed across my mind—does this slogan give a true picture of the Indian woman?
Slogans raised by political parties, government and social organisations do not generally find acceptance in mass psyche. Many slogans like ‘Remove Poverty’, ‘My Great India’, ‘National unity and Integrity’ and so on, ultimately were taken lightly. The conduct of the slogan makers was different from the contents of the slogans. Empty of resolutions, these slogans ended into failure. Poverty was not removed, India did not become great and national integrity and unity were jeopardised. Without influencing the people’s mind and heart, these slogans only moved around their inventors, leaving an environment of their self-aggrandisement.
A need was, therefore, felt to coin a slogan, having roots in women’s position in society so as to be effective. It would have been better if that slogan was associated with improving the economic, social and political status of women. But it encompasses in its meaning the attributes of a whole woman. It is also not a passing slogan, but has become an integral part of the women’s movement. While, on the one hand, it gives a language to women’s movement on the other hand, it puts a question mark on the mould of the Indian women and her responsibility towards family, society and nation.
How can the Indian woman be mere fire? One whose contribution to social reconstruction is much greater than that of a man, cannot be just a destroyer. Serving the nation in every field with the ideal of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga before her, and making sacrifices at every step, an Indian woman cannot be mere Durga and Kali. By nature a woman is an amalgam of the aforesaid three forces. A slogan is of no avail if it cannot shake up a person’s conscience and spur action. In any case, a slogan like this one cannot be swallowed by the woman, living a down-to-earth life. At the same time, however, the effect of this slogan on the mind of woman cannot be denied. In some way at least, it has stirred her thinking. It has instigated her to become right-conscious instead of earning her rights by performing her duties.
Addressing a woman’s organisation, active in the field of social service, the late Mahadevi Verma once said, “If a man becomes wayward (Awara) and recalcitrant, that can be ignored, but not so in case of a woman. People are many times heard saying that such and such boy has become wayward, but have you ever heard such kind of thing being said about a girl? Therefore, just think of the great responsibility entrusted upon you by society. By the very nature, you can not be wayward or recalcitrant.”
Therefore, that slogan needs to be amended, to be transformed into a value-based, direction-oriented, meaningful and perpetual slogan. Let it remain so, but not in a negative form. It should be positive, reflecting the resolution of women. If only the word ‘not’ is replaced by ‘and’ to make it read, “We are the women of India – We are flowers and fires”, together it would become positively eloquent. Women would have to perform their duty of being flowers. A flower may change its hues, colours and fragrance in accordance with place and circumstances, but a flower is after all a flower.
A woman is a woman, complementary to man in the creation of the society. Yet, in this role also, she carries the responsibility of the making of a man. A flower does not in any way evoke a sense of weakness. Flowers are symbols of resolutions—whether they are bonded in the garland of the lover or placed at the feet of the Goddess or strewn to honour the patriots who have sacrificed everything for the country. The lover who gives a bouquet to his beloved, expresses through flowers the resolve of his love—which he cannot express in words. The person offering flowers at the feet of deities is confirming his dedication of faith in them. The flowers thus become a medium of conveying determination and faith.
The flowers represent this resolve for duty irrespective of whether they bloom in the jungle or in the garden, in a hut or in the President’s House. They symbolise the power of the human mind and a feeling of fulfillment at the joy of others.
This is the form of the power and the duty of woman. These should not be treated with contempt. A humiliated woman becomes Chandi and Kali. A woman who is making sacrifice at every step as mother, sister, wife and daughter cannot, and should not, tolerate humiliation and oppression. In such a situation, she would cast aside these attributes of hers. Therefore, there is no exaggeration if in the contemporary social system a woman calls herself a fire. A fire is not merely symbolic of destruction. It also lights a lamp to show the path in darkness. The flame in the woman similarly symbolises a resolve to undo the wrong that is happening in society and to lighten and clear her way.
If a woman’s temper transforms it to fire that also is a part of her natural self. She may become a fire, but not by surrendering her trait of a flower. Assimilating into herself the qualities of a flower, if she appears to become fire to society at times, it should be a healthy and acceptable situation.
No movement has ever become a mass movement without women’s participation in it, whether it was the Swadeshi movement, India’s Independent movement or the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi movement, Indian women have always played an important role in providing stability and dynamism to any movement and that will always be so because its success depends upon the depth of its roots. The woman is not only the root and the axis of the society, but also the flower. A flower cannot bloom without a definite ground and live roots. No battle for any cause can be fought without women’s cooperation. It would, therefore, be proper that while raising a voice of revolt against the social system and giving warning to social thinkers, she introduces herself with the slogan: “We are the women of India – we are flowers and fire both.” (Ham Bharat ki nari hain, phul aur chingari hain). Only bringing aur at the place of ‘not’ makes the slogan meaningful. The whole life, contribution and position of woman are defined.