Enough of men
GHALIB the 19th-century poet was capable of Himalayan vanity and grovelling modesty. He captured a nadir moment in his fluctuating emotions thus: ‘Ghalib e khasta ke baghair kaun se kaam band hai’n
Roiye zaar zaar kya, kijiye hai hai kyun’ (The world didn’t come to an end without Ghalib, the heavens didn’t fall/Why then lament the absence of a useless man, why this gloomy pall?)
The lament turned out to be an invitation to Majaaz Lucknavi to draw a vicarious conclusion. The younger poet (and wit) admired Ghalib immensely with all the 100 years that separated them. But he could not help offering his impish intuition about Ghalib’s self-deprecating lines. “They were written by his wife,” he proclaimed to a poets’ congregation in Lucknow.
Majaaz who died in the 1950s did in fact exhort women to reclaim their dignity at home and also on the battlefront spawned by an unequal society. ‘Tere maathey pe ye aanchal bahot hi khoob hai lekin Tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achcha tha’ (The headscarf looks lovely on you, sweetheart, but yield! Why not make a flag with it for the battlefield?)’
As always the International Women’s Day on March 8 will draw women and men to seminar halls, debates and symposiums to discuss the gender divide, the unequal distribution of work and pay between the sexes, the shackles placed on women’s rights, primarily their right to reclaim the freedom that men have cornered for themselves like a bad host at the breakfast table.
There will be the inevitable discussion about the relevance of marriage and family. Considering that it was the early socialists in Europe who first spoke up for women’s rights, it was not surprising that Marx and Engels frowned on the institution of the bourgeois family.
That theme will remain of vital importance for South Asian women and men, not the least because Tehmina Durrani among others has put the subject high on the agenda. In fact, a good reason why the issue is of crucial importance to South Asia flows from the reality that the region experiences feudal as well as bourgeois onslaughts on women. Germaine Greer might have been describing the prosperous Indian or Pakistani woman or perhaps a Nepali or a Sri Lankan ‘homemaker’ when she wrote in The Female Eunuch:
“In that mysterious dimension where the body meets the soul the stereotype is born and has her being. She is more body than soul, more soul than mind … Egrets, ostriches and peacocks, butterflies and beetles yield her their plumage. Men risk their lives hunting leopards for her coats, and crocodiles for her handbags and shoes. Millions of silkworms offer her their yellow labours; even the seamstresses roll seams and whip lace by hand, so that she might be clad in the best that money can buy.”
The consumer society being inaugurated as the way forward in our region is designed to inevitably obstruct the women’s advance, not spur their march for emancipation. The debates and discussions will get crude at times, because some women will flaunt Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, even Benazir Bhutto as role models.
I heard an untenable argument at a debate in Delhi the other day. The side with an Indian army officer’s wife in its midst won. She had argued how the nation’s armed forces trained the soldiers to respect women. And she got a loud applause for that. The interjection — why then does the Indian state not remove the nefarious laws that protect the soldiers from charges of rape and murder — was drowned in the din.
The Israeli army has done one better. Its recruitment of women at key levels of its hierarchy is matchless and flaunted as a rare achievement for women’s equality.
Should one ask a Palestinian girl what she thinks of this exclusive privilege for women in Israel? It is, however, heartening to see much of the world admiring Rachel Corrie, and not the Israeli women soldiers.
The brave American girl was crushed