Indian woman
Manav Kaushal
Indian Women Misunderstood By West

They pity our women folk without understanding the value system of India, its women intellectuals, sages, warriors and ascetics.

Diametrically opposite reactions emanating from Indian nationalists and, on the other hand, from liberals to the BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, would perplex any balanced mind. One thing that has become crystal clear from this whole episode of flinging abuses at each other is that the Western Media neither understands nor even remotely knows India even as it attempts to educate the world about this country.

The foreigner’s knowledge of India is not only very shallow but also driven by a very strong preconceived notion of ‘West is the best’. There is, however, a microscopic minority in the West that realizes India’s cultural potential and have used our vast cultural strength to awaken themselves spiritually but, by and large, the West seems to have no scruples about psychologically bleeding any other culture by giving them a note of advice as Barack Obama did — after an otherwise successful India visit, making him a bad guest and diplomat — or by trying to showcase Indian women’s plight to relatively unconcerned world, as Leslee Udwin did.

Should we remain unconcerned about the habit (which may or may not be deliberate) of their media or leaders to show India in poor light? If we must react, how should we? Should we indulge in hysteric reaction of the type we witnessed after the release of the BBC film on YouTube or, more sanely, should we try to project our sublime side to the world — the side that has remained latent for years because of our own apathy?

India’s women need no advocates from the West simply because the women here have a very different mind. Indian women can easily sacrifice all that she has and yet enjoy the experience — an alien idea for the First World. Foreigners may be perplexed to choose a word for the tyaga of Indian women and some blunt and not-so-intelligent documentary writer like Udwin may come up with words like ‘submissive ‘or ‘suffering’ for our womenfolk. Sage Lal Ded (Lalleshwari) and mediaeval-era saint Meera, who single handedly stood against all kinds of suppression — including by her parents, husband as well as parents in-law — to dedicate herself to the divine are good enough examples to illustrate that Indian women are not submissive. They can, of course, be focused. An Indian woman’s sacrifice is driven to a great extent by that aspect of life that she believes is her priority. While it may be family for many, it is career for some and an altogether otherworldly pursuit for a few.

Indian society has been impacted, directly or indirectly, by women more than it has been by men. There is hardly a field in the entire social spectrum that has not been carefully shaped by Indian mothers, sisters and wives. Right from the Vedic days, when Lopamudra, Matreyi and the likes of Gargi excelled themselves as spiritual researchers to Ubaya Bharti, wife of Mandan Mishra, who showcased her intellectual strength by defeating and questioning the very line of argument of famous spiritual philosopher Adi Shankaracharya to the women saints in mediaeval world, which was a dark age for women the world over, like Meera to the modern women sages like Anandamayi Ma. History of India is replete with women spectacularly contributing to the spiritual surge of the nation.

Indian women have produced a mother like Jijabai who shaped one of the finest warriors like Shivaji by watching and mentoring her son’s daily progress until he grew to be able to take on the might of the Mughal Empire. She, while pursuing her goal, even restrained her husband from being with their son just because she felt her husband might infuse a defeatist mentality in the child. Is this not an example of ferociously independent, unpolluted, unsuppressed and unchallenged mind of Indian women? Elsewhere, when an Indian woman thinks it is time to take to arms without waiting for her son to grow up for the fight, she turns into Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, wielding a sword in one hand, mounting a horse for the battlefield and carrying her infant on her back.

Western thinkers may disagree probably because they want to see only those examples that fit in their definition of ‘independence’. A woman who displays a character that does not fall in the domain of the stereotype of Indian women the West has cultivated may quickly be portrayed as ‘suffering’.  Her sacrificing nature is something their media can never understand because they lack that ability or that virtue.

They cannot understand why Indians, men and women alike, cherish and enjoy losing every possession of theirs for somebody and sometimes not even for somebody but for some unseen and non-manifested divine force called God. Till they understand that willful sacrifice is not suffering but bliss, and develop the sensitivity to recognize that people and societies are different and must not be measured with the same yardsticks, they will continue to try and taunt India, its men and women. They forget, a good critique must be an educated one. If they must run commentaries on us, it’s time they studied us well.

The writer is an educational consultant who hails from Kapurthala, Punjab.