January 11, 2010

Feminism and 'Seven steps in the sky'

Before I put my views on different thoughts of feminism from the novel 'Seven Steps in the Sky' in my future post(s), I have tried to post here some of the points that are the gist of the novel. As I've already mentioned in one of my previous posts, the book revolves around the married life of a woman and a few of her female friends and relatives. She was born in a middle class family in a town and was married in an upper-middle class family.

Despite the novel being set in a middle class family of a town in 1980s, the questions it poses are (unfortunately) still unanswered.


- Why is it always the daughter-in-law's duty to please all others around her? Why don't the in-laws often think that a little innocent girl has left everything - her home, the love of parents and brothers and sisters, friends she's known since childhood, the free laughter and games? And hence they should really look after her, take care of her hopes and dreams! A daughter is always told to win the hearts of her husband's family by love and service. Why doesn't anyone normally tell the husband, the mother-in-law, the sister-in-law, to make the new bride's life easier, happier?

Men always do what they please. A woman, especially a new bride, must forget her own wishes, and then gradually that becomes a habit.

- Why is the daughter-in-law often expected never to get tired? Do they think that once a woman becomes a daughter-in-law, she is an unlimited source of energy?

- Why do women get married? Girls study and wait for a proposal, and then get married. Right from the first breath, they are told that marriage is the ultimate aim of their lives. If that aim is not achieved, or not accomplished in good time, the girl becomes depressed, and her life loses its direction. Every effort is made to regain that direction; standards are dropped, and what was once barely an acceptable prospect becomes acceptable and it feels like an end to all the trouble. She agrees to observe every kind of traditional restriction. She must cover her head all the time, she cannot go out to work, there must be a certain amount of jewellery in the dowry. Every condition is accepted so as not to lose the chance of marriage. If it's lost, the daughters become a burden to the parents. Why? What do the women get out of marriage?

Love? A roof? Protection?

Women want love but what they get is mostly desire in the garb of love, not love itself.

Women want a roof. Does the house become theirs? If a man is angry, he says - 'Leave my house right now.' If he is pleased, he says - 'You brighten my house.' It is always the man's house. The woman only brightens it. This is all that is expected of her - to look after the man's house.

Women want protection. For that protection is a solid wall erected around them. The wall has no windows to look out at the sky.

- A husband's death is a terrible blow to the wife. But, often it appears that a husband isn't greatly inconvenienced by the loss of his wife. That is because women's lives and emotions are valued less. And that is proved by the fact that a man can remarry immediately after his wife's death. Men often remarry quickly, even before their wives' pyres are cold. It isn't often possible for a widow to remarry, even for the sake of her children.

- If a widow's only son dies, it is considered to be the height of tragedy, but if a widow's only daughter marries and goes away, that's a great relief. Isn't it strange?

- Most women who marry, forget their identity and live in submission to the unwritten code of their in-law's house. Their talents are developed only within permitted limits. Everything else is sacrificed to the goddess named 'peace'.

Women have had a low status for centuries. They have been victims of injustice and violence, their intelligence and talents made subsidiary to beauty and appearance; they have been made prisoners under the guise of protection, and to make them accept all this without rebelling, they have been given false ideals. They have been told that, to be epitomes of endurance and sacrifice is the realization of their womanhood, that not maintaining a separate identity but submerging it into their husband's is their ultimate goal.

- Why is it set that the daughter-in-law can go to her parents' home only at a certain time during pregnancy? Why is the permission from in-laws needed to go to parents' home especially in the the initial months of marriage?

- All their life, children carry their father's name with theirs. There is no mention of mother in the family tree. Her mind and body were worn out with the endless chores of bringing them up, but she will die leaving no name, dissolve without leaving any trace. Why? If there were only daughters to a father, there would be no branches from his name, as if he had no children, as if he had never become a father. Why?

- Men can do most kinds of work, can survive somehow. But women have some biological limitations, and to make up for this, they must develop their talents, otherwise they cannot realize their full potential. So, shouldn't women be at least as much educated as men, or better?

- Why can't a daughter look after her parents if she is earning? If a daughter really wants to care for her parents, she should stay unmarried because if she does marry, she often loses the right to be of service to them. That obligation belongs to the son. After marriage, a son can take care of his parents, and ask his wife to do the same.

The same holds true when someone wants to pursue something which requires a lot of dedication. If a woman wants to be in a field which requires a lot of dedication to work, she is supposed to stay unmarried as she might not otherwise do justice to her 'household duties'. But, if a man wants to pursue such a field, he would rather be advised to get married so that his wife takes care of the household duties and he can pursue his interests/job better.

- When a husband's relations, close or distant, come to visit, stay for a meal, they all should be offered enthusiastic hospitality by the wife. Not many of the wife's relations come visiting. The husband will pay attention to them only if it pleases him, but if he is not in the mood, he will ignore them. He and his mother aren't often too pleased if the wife shows too much affection for her kin.

- Kitchen - is the woman's world. Their unhappiness stays hidden in the dark corners of the kitchen. Nobody sees it; the other rooms in the house are lighted and airy, but the kitchen, where women spend most of their time, is small and gloomy. Occasionally, the lights have to be switched on even in the day. There is no place to sit. There are fans in other rooms but often not in the kitchen, which is hot.

- A woman may work outside as hard as her husband, but it is always she who serves him the meals. Why don't we ever see the reverse?

- There are no words like 'barren man' or 'deserted husband' in the dictionary unlike their feminine equivalents. Is it because the right to 'desert' is a man's right only?

- Does wearing or not wearing bangles and applying or not applying a bindi makes a woman a worse or a better person? Does a society or a culture survive through its external rules, customs and conducts, or by its morality? By mere mechanical manifestations, or loyalty to the truth, compassion and selfless love?


Added: This post has been selected by BlogAdda as one of the top posts for 'Tangy Tuesday Picks' on Jan 19, 2010
Added on March 8, 2010: This post has been republished on BKhush here.
Added on December 27, 2011: This post has been selected as one of the posts for Tejaswee Rao Blogging Award 2011 by Indian Homemaker (IHM) - one of the most respected bloggers in India.

37 comments:

  1. very interesting
    and realistic

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  2. Haresh, being a feminist you overlooked the situation of women in society. What you have talked about is the worst case scenario, which I agree is present. But on the other hand the situation is not as bleak as you see, and I am convinced about it.

    Kitchen - is the woman's world. Their unhappiness stays hidden in the dark corners of the kitchen. Nobody sees it; the other rooms in the house are lighted and airy, but the kitchen, where women spend most of their time, is small and gloomy. Occasionally, the lights have to be switched on even in the day. There is no place to sit. There are fans in other rooms but often not in the kitchen, which is hot

    [Pawan] - Kitchen is small because it really need less space. Gloomy, I really don't see that. You can't really put fan in kitchen. Do you?
    A woman may work outside as hard as her husband, but it is always she who serves him the meals. Why don't we ever see the reverse?

    [Pawan] - Do you really do not want to see the change (at least in cities) or it's your ignorance?

    "Does wearing or not wearing bangles and applying or not applying a bindi makes a woman a worse or a better person?"

    [Pawan] - It really does not make. But the situation is same as celebrating Holi, Diwali, Id etc. Do you know the real reason of celebrating these festivals? All these festivals are relevant to farmers, but we celebrate it in cities too.

    So, similarly there are bindi, sindoor, ring which shows the lady is engaged/married. and btw the same is true for men too. They wear ring too after engagement. Isn't?

    Frankly speaking, it needs another blog to comment on this post. So, ending it here.

    But every coin has two faces. I am not completely denying the facts you have put in here. But I can't also ignore the changing face of women in society too, which is far brighter than you have mentioned.

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    Replies
    1. kithen does not need fan/space? are you kidding...have u entered and worked in a kitchen.....well u can try doing it to have a better opinion. it is a sad fact that kitchen pollution is as bad often worse than automobile pollution...u can check this fact. A kitchen should be well ventilated and spacious enough to avoid health hazards. But while a lot is heard about automobile pollution not many discussions are heard about kithen...where 50% of the population spends more of their lifetime. Sad but true.

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    2. A kind request to Mr.Pawan is that please check into many rural areas and also not to generalize what is happening in some privileged families. The writer of the article has asked very good thought provoking queries I feel. There are many people who keep thinking that if a few women have come up in the social or political ladder, almost all women have come. It is not enough if one Indira Gandhi was the PM. There are many men who have succeeded as PMs, but no women. It is not enough if one Kalpana Chawla goes to space, or a few women entrepreneurs have occupied top echelons, there are many capable women who are unable to achieve because of certain factors as the writer has mentioned. Stop looking at the cream of the achievers...look at the percentage of women achievers. This will give the result.
      Also lot of female children are killed, which is a real problem (see 50millionmissing.wordpress.com). If the situation is far brighter as Mr.Pawan has mentioned then why is their increase in crime rate against women, female foeticide and infanticide, and also glass ceiling effect in corporate sectors for women.
      Denial or undermining the problem is a greater problem than the real one.

      Delete
  3. @Pawan,

    (1) How would we define what 'needs' space and what doesn't. Kitchen is something where a woman spent most of her life, probably more than what she spends anywhere else.

    And, practically I don't quite see any reason why a fan can't be in a kitchen.

    (2) I rather want to see the change. I wonder if this post shows my ignorance because I have seen families in a small town for 17 years, in a tier 2 city for 4 years and in a metro for 5 years. I've seen families of my dear ones, friends and relatives. And I've read enough articles on research done on it by international organizations.

    Believe me, I would be more than happy to see what I've mentioned to be wrong, statistically :-)

    I can't deny that less than in a minuscule percentage of households in India, you might not see this. But, not more than that :-)

    (3) The point that is made by 'wearing bangles and applying bindi' argument is: Does a society or a culture survive through its external rules, customs and conducts, or by its morality? By mere mechanical manifestations, or loyalty to the truth, compassion and selfless love?

    Why is a widow not supposed to wear bangles or apply bindi or wear particular type of clothes only?

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  4. reading this post seemed you are airing my views
    I ditto all your thoughts

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  5. Amazing post Haresh!!!

    And I feel you can see how much a woman is valued in her home from the kind of kitchen they have. Kitchens these days can and sometimes do have fans, chimneys, good lighting and convenient gadgets - but a lot of families don't care for these. They have other priorities.

    And it's true that a woman's family and friends are not welcomed to visit too often in her marital home - and again if they are welcomed in her marital home, then it's an indication that she is loved, valued and treated like just another family member - not like an outsider whose duty it is to sacrifice and 'adjust'.
    Same goes for application of sindoor etc, being able to wear Western clothes, meet friends and family; go out ... basically being treated like an intelligent adult means she is the envy of her less fortunate friends because she has something an average Indian woman does not - respect and an equal status in her marital home.

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  6. @Anju,

    :-) And thanks for dropping by :-)

    @IHM,

    Thanks!

    Yes, looks like the size and condition of a kitchen is often a good indicator of her value in the home. Situation is changing and in fact most of the kitchen built these days happen to be bigger than those in the past. But, I can see that this is happening more in bigger cities and metros rather than in smaller towns. One of my uncles in my town who build his house around 5 years back has a small kitchen and no fan in spite of the house being big enough.

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  7. The questions you raise are some of the ways and mechanisms in/by which systemic subjugation of women in society has continued and because these are inherent in the practices they are easily internalised by both women and men. For this reason, these issues remain insignificant and lead to further violence, exploitation and abuse of women and girls. If both women and men and girls and boys were to be treated equally and fairly, these issues will not remain insignificant or treated as unchanging status quo. That's why you see some changes in the attitudes and practices in families and parts of the country where some level of equality has been established.

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  8. good stuff haresh.congrats on the tangy pick.

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  9. @Nisha,

    The general lack of attention given to such issues and the hesitation to oppose these forms of injustice are probably some of the reasons of such social norms and beliefs are still so much prevalent.

    @Gyanban,

    Thanks! :-)

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  10. amazing piece of work...

    u have raised so many questions and i wonder who can give us the answers...women all over d world...nt specifically in india...maybe its mre prevalent here comparitively...but the basic prblm is dat here d men have taken their birth right to dominate us...and we consider it our duty to sacrifice to them...like u said our life is what is sacrificed to the goddess named piece...and i wonder why is only our responsibility to keep the goddess of peace happy...y cant ur husbands a bit mre supportive...

    *sigh * i wonder if any there are answers...

    but nevertheless lovely post...

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  11. @Tweety,

    Thanks!

    The husbands aren't more supportive may be either because they don't consider these issues important enough or because they are under societal pressure to follow traditional customs/norms or in some cases, they're not willing to 'let the power go' from their hands.

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  12. Good Morning Harish

    Congrats on the tangy tuesday pick:)))
    Oh yes! how true the plight of the woman. It's a pity as women more than men are instrumental for their worse condition, women rule and women obey

    Abt the leaving home part, I had a post a couple of days back...
    http://pinashpinash.blogspot.com/2010/01/im-home-really.html#comments

    cya and keep at it
    PNA

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  13. @PNA,

    It's true that women should fight against the injustice. But, it's probably not always easy for every woman to do so.

    I'll like to and I will read your post.

    You've misspelled my name. Nonetheless, thanks for stopping by :-)

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  14. Hi Haresh
    came to your blog from your comment. following you now. I am touched and proud that there are men who understand women and their problems. congrats on Tangy Tuesday pick. ecellent post .. I too have written some posts on the issue , do read. Best wishes

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  15. @Tikuli,

    Thanks! And I feel sad why most men either fail to see the simple facts of life or lack courage/willingness to fight against them.

    I'm reading your posts right now. You write very well :-)

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  16. I'm so sorry... Haresh for misspelling ur name! What has to change is the rearing of girls and children in general. For that the attitude of the parents have to change. Small baby steps. If we have at least 10 parents who bring up their daughters like their sons, without any bias, equal love, opportunity and all... that will make a change. Empowerment should be started at a younger stage, not when people have grown up into adults and have a mindset that cannot be shaken or the their memories linger when they follow new changed ones

    Cya and appreciate you for the thoughts!!

    Good Day
    PNA

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  17. @PNA,

    Yes, if the small children are grown up in an environment when a boy learns cooking as much as a girl would do and a girl learns not to lose her identity just for others' sake, it will be more probable that they have right perspectives regarding themselves and about their spouse, etc when they grow up.

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  18. A wonderful post. Questions that no one dares answer. A comment above states that the above is worst case scenario. Not at all. This the normal scenario for most women. It is just that a few, just a handful dont have to endure such a bad fate. I challenge anyone that says a kitchen needs only a small space. Yes, those who breathe free air always wouldn't understand unless they are confined in that kitchen and have to lead the life of a woman as mentioned in the post.

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  19. Hi, have read ur piece of writing on Feminism & Seven Steps in the Sky. After reading that have a feeling that you write everything which is in my mind. have read d same book long back, but after reading ur piece of writing it gives me some other dimension. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
    Do u read Jay Vasavada's article in Gujarat Samachar ?

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  20. @Anonymous,

    Hi! That's lovely that you too share same views. In fact, when I'm reading someone's blog/books/articles, I too often feel that it's completely similar to my thoughts/views on that matter. May be it's because many of us share opinion completely similar to one anothers'.

    Thanks for the compliments and encouragement :-)

    I do read both of Jay Vasavada's columns: 'Anavrut' and 'Spectrometer' whenever I get a chance. In fact, these two columns are the only things in Gujarat Samachar that I ever read. The rest of the newspaper is almost always crap. And, in fact, I'm making a blogpost based on Gujarat Samachar.

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  21. Hi,
    Do u hv any idea that apart 4m seven steps in the sky which books are there in gujarati lit. which deals with women issues ?
    Ya, Jay Vasavada's articles gives us some new thoughts, and his style of writing is very unique.

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  22. @Anonymous,

    There are many books in Gujarati which talks about womens' issues in Gujarati. Which exact kind of books are you looking for?

    By the way, one of my favourite book has been the Gujarati translation of 'A Doll's House' play. You may check out about the original novel here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Doll%27s_House

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  23. Thank you for dropping by my blog.

    And looking at your views, and those of a few other men, I can say, there is still hope. I have always been of the opinion that it is both the men and the women who will have to come forward, more so the parents.

    Would definitely love to read you more. :)

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  24. @Akanksha,

    Yes. And, it's sometimes disheartening to see unconcern of most men towards all these issues :-/

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  25. dear haresh,
    it is a wonderful surprise to read someone stating himself as a feminist.
    i had read the gujarati novel and i recently read the english translation.
    the scenario has changed since the book was written but a we still have a long way to go
    regards,
    alpa

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  26. Dear Alpa,

    Yes, the scenario has changed. But, it has changed more for a very minute percentage of women. For most women, it hasn't changed much, I believe. We really have got a long way to go!

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  27. Exceptionally well crafted post Haresh. You have raised relevant questions which people do not pay heed to.And as for those who say that the kitchen does not need much space or a fan, please try spending a summer afternoon cooking in such a kitchen I am sure you would not say something as ridiculous as that again.

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  28. @Pratibha,

    Thanks for the appreciation :-)

    Even I fail to understand why people have to tend to overlook (consciously or unconsciously) disparity, injustice right in front of them and around them.

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  29. I am so glad I stopped by to read your post Haresh. I am writing about women related issues these days and it is wonderful to see men who have broken their shell and stepped out to consider women as humans . Thank you for this. Do visit my blog sometime. cant post a comment from my wordpress id so using google.

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  30. @Tiku,

    I still wonder why there are so less people who actually think that women are no less human beings :-)

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  31. wooow thats a wonderful post...and you have a very good attitude of coming into womens shoe to write about her issues...all are logical to add a point on your blog being educated is not enough for women they should be witty enough to know the fact that they are enslaved...every women atleast once would be a prey into this kind of slavery...but keep going and one day you will realise you have been a part of one revolutionary step for women

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    Replies
    1. You are right. Many women are often not fully aware of the subtle slavery. That's probably because it has been an integral part of the customs and they have been socially conditioned to look at things without realizing the slavery they are subjected to as a part of their daily life.

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  32. First of all I have to salute you and your thoughts. What a great thinking you have! If all men of the world think like you, No women will suffer. Congratulation for your high words. :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Bharti!

      These are the thoughts and views of the book. I've just tried to bring them together and set as a post :-)

      Delete
  33. Great thoughts Mr.Harish. It is a truly surprising and positive action that men have started speaking on such empowering issues. Definitely, you are great and I would like to emulate your good intentions in both words and deed. As someone has already written, even if ten parents start making changes in their upbringing it will make the situation better. I also feel that not only should girls be brought with different outlook, but also boys also need to be taught their limits while having 'fun', as it should not transgress any limits that would impact the decorum of another human being.
    Actually many bloggers have started looking things differently, but there are many uneducated people or persons who do not have much awareness....how are we going to convey such inputs to them remains a big question as they occupy a sizable population in our country.
    Again thanking you for the thought provoking and insightful rhetorical queries.

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