Women’s time will come
A major Indian magazine, Outlook, carried a piece about our iconic women. Reading about them is both heart-warming and inspirational. They cheer you up when all the other headlines, dismal gloomy bad news, send you into a depression cycle. To add to the good news, last week a journalist friend remarked how on revisiting her ancestral village she discovered stories of ordinary women. How they survive in spite of adverse conditions, insurmountable odds and very little support. It set me thinking about other wonderful women I know.
Gayathri, my friend Rama’s mother, recently turned 80. She is a particularly strong woman, and I always admire her spirit, her chutzpah. She moved from bustling Bombay as a young girl, to marry into a Karnataka village family. Even now, though it’s changing rapidly, Indian women marry their partner’s family, not just the spouse. We rarely lead separate lives.
For Gayathri’s 80th birthday, Rama invited all the relatives to a surprise dinner. It was wonderful to hear the stories surrounding Gayathri’s youth. Apparently, the entire village talked about the ‘revolutionary Bombay bride’! She arrived, a modern young bride, around 60 years ago, quite prepared to deal with her new life. The only thing which threw her was that there was no toilet. She threw up her hands and said: ‘That's one thing I am not prepared to do. I can’t go to the open fields or behind bushes.’
Not easy, 60 years ago, for an Indian bride to voice an opinion or make a demand. Not easy even now. So her in-laws built a toilet for the Bombay bride! She is still talked about as the modern young woman who brought the first toilet to the village. She is feisty, full of life and wonderfully inspiring to speak with. Gayathri produced 3 strong daughters. ‘Inspirational at 80’: I think of her as a role model. Someone who has a lot to teach us about coping, finding a balance and doing it all graciously.
Another, much younger, woman I greatly admire is Meenu Vadera, a Delhi-based woman who started a taxi service, ‘Women on Wheels’, run by women for women. Last week Delhi was officially declared ‘the rape capital of India’, by a census bureau. No-one was surprised. But Meenu started her taxi service before Delhi’s rape stories hit the headlines. She has become iconic now, but the fact that as a single woman she brought up a child alone and began a spectacular women’s project makes her very special indeed. More so, on the Indian scenario, where opting not to get married still raises eyebrows.
Meenu thought through her plan carefully. She wanted to create a space for women in an all-male bastion. She combines a revolutionary career and income option for poorer women with providing a safe journey for city women who can afford taxis. Her project is historic, having broken down age-old barriers and opened up a new economic opportunity and career option for women in Delhi, where patriarchy prevails very firmly. She reports that the gender bias against women drivers, apart from the universal jokes, is especially difficult in India. One of her women drivers reports that when male drivers see the women cabbies, they try to overtake, block, catcall and eyeball them. It’s the macho male culture which finds these women a threat. And taking that on successfully is definitely something to cheer about. I salute Meenu and all her tribe.
My list of inspiring women could go on, but I have a space constraint. It just cheered me to think that these women, and there are many of them, give us something to cheer about, in spite of all the doom and gloom, the horror stories and all manner of gender insensitivity in our parliament, and in the mouths of loathsome politicians.
Perhaps, after all, woman’s time will come.
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.