August 15, 1947. A day in our nation’s history commemorating India’s independence. Just recently, sitting by my window, I was thinking about what it really means to be free. Besides the book definition of “a condition of being able or allowed to do, say, think whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited”, what does it mean to be truly free? As a nation we celebrate our independence every year on this day, but are we really free?
Freedom to me means allowing your mind the liberty to be free from the shackles of regressive traditions and societal conditioning. Did you know that female genital infibulation, a common practise in North Africa and India, was originally exercised because of the belief that it improves hygiene? Or that a woman was to be in bed and not permitted in the kitchen during her menstruation cycle was originally a practise to allow the lady of the house some rest and comfort from her otherwise strenuous life? The rituals around seclusion was to allow women to cleanse their mind and remove negative thoughts during this cycle.
Over time, these rituals of ancient wisdom, as they call it, were altered by man, the more dominant gender who was calling the shots, resulting in subduing women. It then became about maintaining “purity”.
Melinda Gates in her book Moment of Lift, says: “Sometimes all that’s needed to be done to lift women in the society is to just stop pulling them down.” Whenever you include a group (women in this case) that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. She further goes on to say that girls are the real agents of development and should be given the right to education, birth control, equal pay and just the right to be able to say NO.
While I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a gender agnostic home and metropolitan city, this book opened my eyes to the real challenges that women face in rural villages in our country and I must admit it, the reality of my ignorance dawned upon me.
I have used the term Feminism, a term that’s gained a lot of popularity recently, multiple times in conversations, but I realise that I haven’t earned the right to state my opinions from this position of comfort and liberty.
Our first step towards really being a free nation would be to free ourselves from these traditional biases and unlearn the dogmas of society that have been subliminally conditioned into our upbringing. Probe and question beliefs that are unfounded.
The husband and wife team, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky, talk about turning oppression into opportunity. Sheryl calls the violence and oppression of women as our century’s greatest injustice. In the book they narrate true stories of Cambodian women who are forced into becoming sex workers to earn a living because they did not receive any education.
According to a survey, 30 million female infants were known to be aborted in China, because Chinese take pride in the male child. This book highlights that women are the resource, the solution and not the problem.
The next, most obvious step, is awareness and inclusion. We must be aware about the grave and pressing issues with regards to women rights. We must find our voice in one another. Bill and Melinda Gates, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have spent years of their lives, going to remote villages around the world helping women, but on a larger scale what they have really done is set an example that to uplift, empower and include women as equals in the society, both men and women have their individual and sizeable roles to play.
When I ask myself the question, “Am I truly free?” The answer is YES. Because I have a choice.
A choice and chance to voice my opinions, choice to educate myself, to decide if and when I want to start a family. Freedom is a choice not a privilege restricted to a few. When the women in our country will be able and allowed to do, think and say what they want, that’s when our nation will be truly free.
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