CHANGE is the rule of Nature. It does not, for a moment, tolerate what has grown stale. Ripples of change are occurring all the time. But the period gone by and its achievements are not all that puted. They do compel us to ponder on many issues. It is in this context, that we are to think over the issue of what should be the role model of young girls in the changing social values and perspectives.
Certain West oriented institutions are determined to fix, the direction of women’s development exclusively through the medium of women’s movements and challenging the ancient ideals of Indian women as antiquated; they consider them worthy of rejection. According to their thinking to place the ideals of Sita and Savitri before our young girls would be turning them custom ridden and depriving them of globalisation of women’s development. They believe that the role model of ancient Indian women would lead the Indian women into becoming slaves of men and therefore, they are of the view that to cast the present-day Indian women into the mould of Sita and Savitri and others is neither practical nor rational.
Their argument is that there is nothing glorifying in the history about which we so proudly talk. Those ages of history are in fact stories of women’s subjugation. Women have been subjected to oppression for centuries and their exploitation has continued in one form or the other. She might have been exalted in the words, “where women are worshipped, there is the abode of gods”, but the male-dominated society of that period treated the woman only as property. The women in those times did not protest because they had not learnt to live for self. She was all the time sacrificing her identity for the welfare of husband, son and family. Young women have been misguided for centuries by being presented the role models of our famous ancient women who are dedicated to their husbands. Even today there are efforts going on to exploit and oppress them and deprive them of their liberty through attempts to brainwash them with the ideals of sacrifice, forbearance, tolerance, etc. exhibited by the ancient women. They do not want a model that limits their liberty, suppresses their personality and turns them into a commodity.
The modern woman, determined for resurrection, is faced with a question-mark. It is no doubt commendable and praiseworthy to give a new dimension to the women’s movement in the present context. But these women, agitating for their rights and fighting against oppression both inside the country as well in international forums like the Beijing Conference, must not ignore that such movements can triumph only when the entire society accepts the basic postulates. Otherwise, things may go wrong. However, it is, without doubt necessary to shake up the social mindset through these movements.
The question is whether a new personality of the Indian woman can emerge by forgetting the historical perspective? Whether the efforts to erase the past of the Indian woman can ensure a bright today for her? And if today is hazy, what will be tomorrow like? The big question to seriously ponder over is as to what were the qualities that the Indian culture imparted to the personality of our women which enabled them to fight on their own the difficult battle of their life and become models of countless women for centuries?
In this global race for living for the self, it is imperative to remember those women of Indian mythology and history. It is quite obvious that they lived their lives not for themselves, but for the betterment of the family and the society. That is why qualities of human excellence as forgiveness, compassion, dedication, sacrifice, courage etc. were found in them, which made them models of example. We do not have to literally follow Sita and Savitri but can we succeed in life by discarding them? Today’s women need not perform the role of Sita and Savitri, but their human qualities and high values of life are not to be kept aside. The efforts to misguide the women by repudiating the ideals of our ancient women will not succeed so long as they continue to imbibe those qualities and ideals. It is such personal characteristics that keep a person to face difficult situations in life and determine his or her direction. The dream to ‘liberate the woman’ will not be realised until the woman of today learns to respect the human values of those ancient women.
In this age of building up the individuality of woman, the problem is one of finding the role model. The question is, what model should be placed before our young woman. Why should not the model of Sita and Savitri be placed before them? Savitri defeated Yama by reasoning and agreements, got the life of her dead husband restored. Sita, whose life was spent in the comforts of royalty, opted for a life of hardships in jungles. That was not a compulsion for Sita, but only an inspiration from a sense of duty, meaningfulness in being a life partner, a climax of a resolve.
The same Sita thereafter brings up her two sons in the Balmiki Ashram all by herself on the strength of her character. She imbues them with all the praise-worthy qualities, even in the absence of their father. Why should not then the ideal of Savitri and Sita be placed before our young women? In the words of Mahadevi Verma, “Women have to become human beings, not commodities.” Therefore, to establish the woman’s respect as a human being, it is necessary to assimilate the great qualities of those ideals. A handful of women, lost in the colourful life of the Western culture, are busy in only adorning their exterior form. If the woman herself gives up her fervour for her material form, she cannot be made a commodity to bargain for. She must recognise her true identity by abandoning her love for the exterior form and reverting into true human form.
This human form would be having both good and bad qualities, as is natural with a human being. In the present day spectacle of fighting one’s own battle, women with qualities of character are needed. In the process of their resurgence, role models cannot be ignored. So, why not present the model of Savitri and Sita who have complete personality?
Sacrifice and resolved are also required for the service of the country and the nation. Without making the spirit of sacrifice a part of her life, a woman cannot be devoted to the family or the country. If there is dedication to husband and family, there would be dedication to the country and God also. Dedication does not mean blind faith because it requires certain essential qualities. A woman can be motivated into a direction of change. Therefore, a strong and a powerful role model is needed. The developmental process of Indian women cannot be fulfilled by asserting that they have no role model. Even at the cost of ridiculing Draupadi, Sita and Savitri, the personality of the Indian women is not blossoming. History is only a mute witness. All of us interpret history according to the need of time. History depicts both the good and the evil characters. We can choose our own models and mould our character accordingly. No model can be found in the present or the future by discarding the characters of history. Models cannot be maulded overnight. We must give up the set ideas and identify a model that suits the modern age. An objective study of the status of men and women in the present society has to be made for the purpose. Men have exploited women for centuries, but it does not appeal to reason that the women today adopt a policy of tit for tat and organise themselves for exploiting men. Far from solving the problem, it would only make the situation more difficult and complex.
A healthy social environment is required for the development of woman personality. We cannot discriminate between right and wrong with a mentality to react. This is an extraordinary mentality and any step taken under its spell, will be destructive, not constructive.
Rights given on paper have no meaning unless there is competence to properly exercise them. Therefore, the rights granted to women by the Constitution and other laws as well as the society would have to be backed by duties if they were to be availed of by them. Qualities of character would have to be developed to evolve the capacity to utilise them. We cannot acquire these qualities by forgetting our history. Interests of women are not served merely by coming out from homes to the streets. Women’s lives cannot be meaningful with rights without responsibilities; for, the life which is of no use to others is hardly worth it.
It is from the characters of history that the Indian women can draw inspiration to rise above the self, family and society and do their bit for the mankind. It would not therefore, be proper to carry away our women from the ideals of our ancient women suiting the modern times which maybe acceptable to the young women marching with the twenty-first century.
(The writer is senior BJP leader and former Chairperson of Central Social Welfare Board).