Taking the devi's name in vain

Sep 07, 2014, 08:36 IST | Paromita Vohra

Problems are so much easier to solve when you understand what causes them

Paromita VohraProblems are so much easier to solve when you understand what causes them.

Hence it’s a relief, to know that the Dharmadikari committee, instated to recommend ways to curb violence against women, has issued its fifth interim report where it has identified the cause of sexual violence: bar dancers. Ban bar dancers, and violence will reduce. Sure, these aren’t the only recommendations. But they do get some importance along with a recommendation to curb the corrupting influence of social and electronic media, as phones, SMS, email, Facebook and Twitter are channels via which women are harassed.

Isn’t it intriguing, that whenever we discuss the safety and freedom of women, we usually suggest more things to ensure that their mobility, communication and sometimes livelihood are hemmed in, rather than that looking for ways where they can be out and about and not unsafe just because they are women. Everything it seems, is to blame, except ingrained sexism and misogyny.

The film Chandni Bar (2001) by Madhur Bhandarkar highlighted the life of a bar dancer
The film Chandni Bar (2001) by Madhur Bhandarkar highlighted the life of a bar dancer

Also, whenever we discuss the situation of women in our society someone is, one hundred per cent, going to say: “Women are worshipped as devis in India.” I’m never very sure why. Is the fact that we worship the divine in feminine form supposed to assure us that women will be safe just via invoking the Devi’s name? (Still keeping that onus firmly on women, of course.)

For women this usually translates into: you must preserve devi status by conforming to some narrow definition of devi-ness, or culture will be destroyed. (Ban bar dancers, save society in other words.)

The pedestal is a convenient place to put women so you don’t have to deal with them as equals. How come our leaders and thinkers keep making the comparison between women and goddesses but not men and devas? After all men are also worshipped as devas, no? So shouldn’t they be given the example of various devas to aspire to? Instead, while women struggle with devi-dom, men it seems are allowed that ultimate human right — being human.

So, here’s an idea — how about we worship women as people? Because regular women are just people, not devis. Whether they are bar dancers or priestesses, as people and citizens they have to be treated with respect.

At the heart of the matter is also the question about whether laws are enough to change a society. Laws are necessary to facilitate a change. Laws may represent an ideal. Even if society does not act as per principles embodied in law, we believe that it is a goal we would like to move to. But surely something else is also needed — a curb or a law are rarely enough in themselves.

For example the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), aligning itself to the Companies Act of 2013, mandated this February that every listed company must have at least one woman on its board by October 1. Just one — not half, one third, or one fourth. More than half the listed companies in India have yet to appoint a woman director.

When the lights go out in Mumbai, as they did last week, important industrialists tweet that this is a “threat to the India story.” No industrialist in this devi-worshipping nation of ours seems to have felt that the absence of women in the boardroom is a blot on the shiny India growth story.

Yes, such attitudes are etched deep in our culture, even in its most educated quarters. Such changes take time — but a good beginning would be to stop taking the goddess’ name in vain.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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