It says in the epics that in ancient times a woman called Kunti, enamoured by the valour and brilliance of the Sun god, desired him and gave birth to his son, who later came to be known as Karna. However, to preserve her social status as an unmarried virgin and her right to marry, she was forced to abandon her baby.
Yet Karna was not an unwanted child. He was not an ‘accident’! Later on this noble queen laments her inability to nurse her own offspring and keep it or care for it (see Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s “Karna-Kunti Samvad” a poetic rendition of a mother’s agony and pain faced with social dilemma).
Kunti, mother of Arjuna, queen of King Pandu is a character from the great Indian epic Mahabharata, composed thousands of years ago, portraying life and times in the Vedic age of Vyasa, the author. She along with the second queen of Pandu, had five IVF sons between them.
Has the contemporary social conditions changed?
In the age of InVitroFertilization (IVF) and the Nano, and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and cloning, am I better off than Kunti? Can I be sayambhara* and choose the paternity and inheritance and heritage of my own child? Am I allowed to bear my child as I will?
Is the academic machinery being adequately used to empower her with competencies she would require as mother, caregiver, a tech-savvy worker, social or political leader or entrepreneur? Are the syllabii in schools still relevant to the social and economic roles a woman would be expected to play once she passes out?
Is she aware of her rights? Are there enough platforms where an average illiterate woman can voice hher grievances without commissioning the help of some political bhaiya ?
In the Year of the Woman and in the wake of March 8, the Woman’s Day, when I paused to ask myself these questions, the answer to all them was NO. India is still not ready
** Indian women continue to be repressed, forced to abort or to abandon her children, or face social ostracization unless society approves of the way it was conceived.
** She still cannot adopt easily,
** or admit her children to school if the father refuses to acknowledge them.
**In most cases she is still deprived of her father’s property on some pretext or the other.
** She still can’t rent a house easily if she is alone in a strange city, even if she is in her thirties.
In 1961 the Indian sex ratio – the worst in the world – was 976 females per 1000 males. Currently it stands at 927.
Despite the Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique Amendment Act of 2003, UN figures reveal that 75,000 female foetuses are aborted in India annually. Selective breeding has almost become endemic in India and means a woman is dead even before she is allowed to be born!
The Public Service Broadcasting Trust : In 2005, in a gender sexuality orientation workshop at the India International Centre at Delhi, the Chief organizer Rajiv Mehrotra had said that PSB commissions fifty two films annually in their endeavour to create media content to help the government and agencies to understand relevant issues and introduce better welfare measures. When I visited their site there was no news of any film to be released presently.
The Prez struggles to roll out reforms, but the ground reality is this: “Many legal experts feel that President Patil should be more circumspect.”…“she cannot directly summon civil servants or ministers nor can she insist on promulgation of action plan. This is the job of a Prime Minister.” (Times News Network news item published in the student edition under the title President gets Cracking on Empowering Women.
Well, if our own President can only be informed and then just encourage , warn and suggest and NOT DO anything then obviously my plight stands defined.
Being raised well and steeped in the ethos of my beloved country, I would patiently continue to re-read the Mahabharata and of women like Rohini and Khona, and secretly dream of one day be liberated or at least be invested with the power to do it myself.
I am not lazy. I would not mind doing it for myself, provided I know I shall not be persecuted or repressed or raped or worst still posted at Patan or some such hell hole or divested of my job. I would wait. I guess that is what is expected of gracious people?
* Swayambhar : refers to the ancient Indian practice of the woman’s father/brother/the head of her clan, inviting all possible suitors at the house, there she is formally introduced to them, and their achievements and accomplishments publicly related to her, after which she selects her mate indicating her choice by presenting the man with a garland. Unlike in the West she doesn’t kiss him or hold hands. In India touching between opposite sexes was a taboo even back then. Even hand holding was not seen as a simple gesture of cordiality but had specific social significance. While rescuing Devyani from a well Yayati had to pull her up by her hands, and later marry her because he had held her right hand!