Women Empowerment In Indian English Novels English Literature Essay
Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1952) with the revolutionary statement- “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman…” heralded the French Feminist criticism unquestionably but the actual impeteus to the women-liberation movement as literary expression was provided by Elaine Showalter who established indisputably that the idea of “feminine” projected a system of “cultural construct”. She stipulated daringly,
First, there is prolonged phase of imitation of the prevailing modes of the dominant traditions and the internationalization of its standards of arts and its views on social roles. Second, there is a phase of protest against these standards and values, including a demand for autonomy. Finally, there is a phase of Self-discovery, a turning inward free from some of the dependency of opposition, a search for identity.
Thus the critic supplanted the traditional definition of feminism especially in literature by a new paradigm for manifesting the evolutionary aspect of woman’s consciousness as reflected in literature specifically in the British novel through three stages of progression- the feminine, the feminist and the female.
While the post-colonial enigma gradually changed into a neo-colonial consciousness in India, the creative writers specially the woman factionalists resorted to examining the role of modern Indian women vis-à-vis family and society differently and more positively. The second generation of Indian women novelists like Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Bharati Mukherjee and Shobha De specially exhibits a steady progression in context of the three stages advocated by Elaine Showalter. Their female protagonists display a psychic transformation traversing and evolving gradually but firmly through the respective stages of imitation of tradition, protest and advocacy of rights, and eventually introspection leading to self-discovery which metamorphisezes them into strong, independent, expeditious women willing to encounter the onslaughts of life not merely as a minority group but with the cognizance of being powerful sustaining force for society as a whole.
It has been observed that the status of women in India has been subject to many changes over the past few years. From equal status with men in the prehistoric times through the less equality in the medieval period to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women , particularly in India has been an eventful. In the contemporary times, women have adorned high offices in India including the post of President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Leader of opposition party respectively. Not only that women have done exceptionally well in different spheres of life, be it academics, teaching, defence, media or entrepreneur etc.
Scholars believe that in Ancient India, the women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life. However, some others hold contrasting views. Works by ancient grammarians Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their husband. Scriptures such as RigVeda and Upnishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Matreyi.
In the ancient times, some kingdoms in the ancient India had traditions such as nagarvadhu (“bride of the city”). Women completed to win the coveted title of nagarvadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagarvadhu.
According the research studies carried out, women enjoyed equal status and rights during the early Vedic period. However, later, the status of women began to decline with the Smritis (esp Manusmriti) and with the Islamic invasion of Babur and the Mughal empire and later Christanity curtailing women’s freedom and rights.
The position of Indian women in the society deteriorated further during the medieval period when the practice of Sati among some communities, child marriages and ban on widow remarriages became a part of social life among some communities in India. The Muslim conquest in Indian subcontinent brought the purdah practice in the Indian society. Among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, the Jauhar was practised.
Inspite of these conditions, some women excelled in the field of politics, literature, education and religion. To name few, Razia Sultan became the only woman monarch to have ruled over Delhi. The Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years, before she lost her life in a battle with Mughal emperor. Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the mighty Mughal forces of Akbar in 1590s. Jehangir’s wife’s Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power and was recognized as the real force behind the Mughal throne. The Bhakti movements tried to restore women’s status and questioned some of the forms of oppression. Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was one of the most important Bhakti movement figures.
During the British rule also, it was observed that in the 19th century Hindu women are “naturally chaste” and “more virtuous” than other women. During the British rule, many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Jyotirao Phule etc fought for the upliftment of women. Apart from men, women too played an important role in India’s struggle for independence. Some of the famous freedom fighters included Bhikaji Cama, Dr Annie Besant, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani, Sarojini Naidu, Rani Laxmibai and Kasturba Gandhi.
If we talk about defining women empowerment, it simply means giving the women crucial authority. It has been proved since time immemorial that women are more responsible when tackling a situation, so delegating authority with confidence is the first step towards women empowerment. It also means to give rights and power to women to face the challenges of life. Empowering Women aims to inspire women with the courage to break free from the chains of limiting belief patterns and societal or religious conditioning that have traditionally kept women suppressed and unable to see their true beauty and power. It is known fact that women, particularly in India are still backward and they are not aware of their rights that the constitution has endowed. The mission of many reform institutions in India is to make them aware of all these facts and fight against the torture and all evil things caused to them by the society and the husbands and other people is called “Women Empowerment”. Women empowerment is instilled by many with the aim of giving power to women to make their own decisions in their lives. It includes social, economic, legal, and political and health empowerment. It is a central issue which is growing at a slower pace. Despite worldwide evidence of the low levels of female participation in social, educational, economic and political spheres, there is still a tendency to see it as a real problem in few other countries.
Women Empowerment in India-
Women empowerment in India is a challenging task as we need to acknowledge the fact that gender based discrimination is a deep rooted social malice practised in India in many forms since thousands of years. The malice is not going to go away in a few years or for that matter by attempting to work at it through half-hearted attempts. Formulating laws and policies are not enough as it is seen that most of the times these laws and policies just remain on paper. The ground situation on the other hand just remains the same and in many instances worsens further. Addressing the malice of gender discrimination and women empowerment in India is long drawn battle against powerful structural forces of the society which are against women's growth and development.
We have to accept the fact that things are not going to change overnight but because of this we cannot stop taking action either. At this juncture the most important step is to initiate ground level actions however small it might seem. The ground level actions should be focussed towards changing the social attitude and practices prevalent in the society which are highly biased against women. This can be initiated by working with the women at the root level and focusing on increasing women's access and control over resources and increasing their control over decision making. Further working on the aspect of enhanced mobility and social interaction of women in the society would positively influence all round development and empowerment of women in India.
Issues related to Women empowerment in India-
It is worthwhile to ponder on the fact that we are one of the worst in terms of worldwide gender equality rankings. In India women are discriminated and marginalized at every level of the society whether it is social participation, economic opportunity and economic participation, political participation, access to education or access to nutrition and reproductive health care. A significant few in the society still consider women as sex objects.
Gender disparity is high, crimes against women are increasing and violence against women is all time high and in most cases go unreported.
Dowry related problems and death is increasing and is profoundly manifesting in the urban population. Workplace harassment of women is another phenomenon which is rapidly increasing as more women join the workforce. Early age marriages are still taking place in large numbers and the number of girls going to school is abysmally low. Moreover majority of the girls who join the school drop out by the age of puberty to get married and live a life of drudgery. Female feticide and infanticide is starring the nation as one of the biggest social crisis.
Women empowerment in India: Ending gender inequality and gender bias
It has to be understood that unless we change the basic social attitude which cultivates gender inequality and gender bias we would not be able to achieve much in terms of women empowerment in India. There are many laws and there have been many amendments that have been carried out to end the discrimination against women and empower women in all aspects of life. Gender equality is enshrined in Indian constitution and constitution empowers the state to end the gender based discrimination against women. There is reservation of seats in local bodies and municipalities and another law is being envisioned for reservation in parliament. But the sad part is that all these laws and amendments have become toothless as the fundamental problems lies in the attitude of the society which is highly biased against women. Now what is the solution? The only solution is for women to come together as a unifying force and initiate self empowering actions at the ground level.
Indian English Literature-
The rise of the novel in India was not purely a literary phenomenon. It was a social phenomenon as much, rather the fulfilment of a social need. It was associated with social, political and economic conditions which were comparable to those which favoured rise in England. The rise of novel and appearance of it in nineteenth century India as it did in eighteenth century England synchronized with the rise of individualism and with all the consequent political and social reorientations which followed.
The eighteenth century was a n age of anarchy from a political point of view, torn as it was by wars, conquests and annexations. The character of Indian novel is bound to vary from language to language and is bound to be conditioned by the regional, linguistic and cultural peculiarities characteristic of the writer and his environment. But the Indian novel, whether in English or in any other Indian languages, has an individual quality, a distinctiveness which calls for serious critical attention and the Indian novel in English has this distinctiveness much more than the novels in other languages of the country, a distinctiveness which transcends all the peculiarities characteristics of different linguistic and cultural milieus. Though this would mean our accepting the Indianness of the Indian novel in English as one of the important frames of reference in all critical studies of the genre, one has to guard oneself at the same time, against the danger of the ‘Indianness’ becoming, with the writer and the critic alike, an obsession, an unhealthy pre-occupation with “orientalism, lush scene painting” and with a desire to “pander to the national self esteem of the Indians or gullibility of European intellectuals.”
A novel written by an Indian writer will certainly be Indian without any conscious effort on the part of the writer to the extent to which it depicts Indian life and culture, reflects faithfully the life and spirit of the Indian ethos and grapples with the problems and tensions generated by the rather unique way in which an individual’s life and character are determined by home, family and society in the Indian social milieu. It can be peculiarly Indian in respect of its form, narrative techniques employed and the manner in which it adapts the English language to the native sensibility.
It can be much more characteristically Indian in its moral and spiritual content and in the values and ideals it upholds and it may even show another worldliness, a predilection for myth and fantasy, a tendency to turn one’s back on the here and now and show “a basic hunger for the unseen’- all deriving from the Indian writer’s unconscious affiliation with the world of legends, fables and puranas.
But any deliberate attempt made by the writer to make his novel Indian or to design it for a Western audience will make it artificial and unreal. Though no Indian writer writing in English can be absolutely free from being conscious of the Western reader, he can at least avoid designing his work specifically for a Western audience. He may write for a Western audience as much as for an Indian audience but he must write as an Indian with India in his bones, of course, but without a conscious or deliberate effort to make his work distinctively Indian.
Indian fiction in English has emerged as a separate entity for the study of the rapid change and development in social, economic, political and psychological facets of Indian society. “To judge rightly an author” wrote Samuel Johnson once, “we must transport ourselves to his time and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries and what were his means of supplying them.” In the case of Indian novelists in English, it is not difficult for us to comprehend their life.
More than a century old Indian novel in English has faithfully recorded the challenges and confrontation of values and the process of transition and transformation going on in the Indian society. In particular, a large number of novels have been written underlining the essential dignity of man in the changing scenario and there is a strong ideational affinity of these works with the best in world literature.
As observed, in Indian English novels, women writings presented Typical Indian feminine sensibility and of certain emotional aesthetic propensities and predilections which are shared by all Indian women writers writing in English till our own day.
Feminism has grown from Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, R.P.Jhabvala and Nayantara Sahgal to pave way for Shobha De, Shashi Deshpande, Nina Sibal, Anees Jung, Raji Narsimhan, Bharati Mukherjee and others. These newer female voices have highlighted the interior landscape of the emancipated woman’s sensibility and her psychological pragmatism.
This changing scenario in Indian fiction in English has witnessed change in tone, temperament and thought-content as a result of the novelist’s newly acquired conviction and maturity. Modern woman has now acquired conviction and maturity. Modern woman has now acquired substance and an unconventional character and has paved way for a new dimension of the Indian novel in English. The novelists of today have begun to delineate the psychology of the characters amd the complex environs which has greatly affected them. International marriages which were frowned upon earlier, have gained greater acceptance and have transformed the Indian young women, who are now falling unabashedly in love with foreigners. Their oddities and uniquenesses, vagaries and vanity, faith and fickleness still need to be rendered artistically in the changing scenario of Indian society.
When we talk about Indian women novelists, a substantial contribution to Indian fiction in English has come from women. Women are born storytellers. Their fiction can be the expression of a different way of looking at the world with a female pair of eyes. The work of novelists like Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal and Shashi Seshpande has been widely noticed and acclaimed. But the recent emergence of women writers like Shobha De, Manju Kapur, Kusum Sawhney and Arundhati Roy forces one to consider whether our best-selling or prize-winning authors are really our best.
The volume of Indian literature written in English is smaller than that written in the various regional languages, and spans a smaller range of time, having only commenced with the spread of the English language and education. But in the last two decades there has been an astonishing flowering of Indian women writing in English, the literature of this period being published both in India and elsewhere. The authors are mostly western educated, middle-class women who express in their writing their discontent with the plight of upper-caste and class traditional Hindu women trapped in repressive institutions such as child-marriage, dowry, prohibitions on women's education, arranged marriages, suttee and enforced widowhood.
When we look at different genres in Indian English literature, the portrayal of women has been written with emphasis. The purpose behind portraying women was to empower the situation of women, particularly Indian women.
Toru Dutt (1856-77) was the first Indian woman poet to write in English, and her work depicts archetypes of Indian womanhood, such as Sita and Savitri, showing women in suffering, self-sacrificing roles, reinforcing conventional myths in a patriotic manner.
Kamala Das originated a vigorous and poignant feminine confessional poetry, in which a common theme is the exploration of the man-woman relationship. The predicament of a single woman, spinster or separated, has also been a prominent theme in women’s poetry. Tara Patel shows in Single Woman (1991) that in the harsh reality of the world, the quest for companionship without strings is a difficult one. Anna Sujata Matha in Attic of Night (1991) writes of the trauma of separation and the travails of a separated woman. Poetry for her seems to be an act of transcendence of agony, in the name of survival. But the image of woman she projects is strong and determined, and she argues for a sense of community, justice and companionship. While in women's poetry we hear the voice of the New Woman’s definition of herself and a quest for her own identity, we hear the conventional male voice and see a conventional, often negative portrayal of women, in men’s poetry. An example is the six volumes of Nissim Ezekiel’s poems, which depict women as mother, wife, whore, sex object or seductress.
Many Indian women novelists have explored female subjectivity in order to establish an identity that is not imposed by a patriarchal society. Thus, the theme of growing up from childhood to womanhood, that is, the Bildungsroman, is a recurrent strategy. Santha Rama Rau’s Remember the House (1956), Ruth Prawar Jhabvala’s first novel To Whom She Will (1955) and her later Heat and Dust (1975) which was awarded the Booker Prize, and Kamala Markandaya’s Two Virgins (1973) are good examples. As in poetry, the image of the New Woman and her struggle for an identity of her own also emerges in the Indian English novel. Such a struggle needs support structures outside the family to enable women to survive. Nayantara Sahgal uses this theme as the nucleus of Rich Like Us (1986). Other novels, such as Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli (1977), look more towards issues of traditional Indian culture, particularly the debate on female education. Another example of the western educated female protagonist’s quest for her cultural roots is Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night (1992).
A number of Indian women novelists made their debut in the 1990s, producing novels which revealed the true state of Indian society and its treatment of women. These writers were born after Indian independence, and the English language does not have colonial associations for them. Their work is marked by an impressive feel for the language, and an authentic presentation of contemporary India, with all its regional variations. They generally write about the urban middle class, the stratum of society they know best.
In the field of regional fiction, four women writers, Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair, Kamala Das, and Susan Viswanathan, have put the southern state of Kerala on the fictional map, while the culture of other regions has been represented by other women writers.
As early as 1894 in Kamala, Krupabai Satthianadhan explored the cultural clash suffered by a Hindu woman who is given a western education in India, and the experience of being caught between two cultures has remained a prominent theme in writing by Indian woman. There are many Indian women writers based in the USA, Canada, Britain, and other parts of the world. Some are recent immigrants, while others, such as Jhumpa Lahiri, are second generation immigrants. These authors write about their situation in cross-cultural contexts - states of 'in-betweeness'.
The theme of migration that leads to self-discovery, with a negation of the traditions of the country of origin, is a recurrent one among migrant authors, Bharti Kirchner’s Shiva Dancing (1998), Ameena Meer’s Bombay Talkie (1994), and Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine (1989) being good examples.
Anita Desai, in her psychological novels, presents the image of a suffering woman preoccupied with her inner world, her sulking frustration and the storm within: the existential predicament of a woman in a male dominated society. Through such characters, she makes a plea for a better way of life for women. Her novels have Indians as central characters, and she alternates between female-centered and male-centered narrative. Her later novels, written since she moved to the USA, reveal all the characteristics of diasporic fiction, that is, a concern with the fate of immigrants, and a growing distance from the reality of India, which is viewed from the outside.
In an article entitled ‘A Secret Connivance’, Desai criticizes ‘subtle, deep-rooted form of suppression’ in Inida and she attributes this convenience to the denial of education to women, and hence their complete dependence on men for their livelihoods and sense of themselves and their social place.’ Like other countries where women are traditionally suppressed,’ she observes, ‘India defies its women’, as mother goddesses and loyal wives devoted to their husbands as lords and masters. An Indian girl is brought up on myths and legends celebrating these archetypes, and inculcated with the belief that her mission in life is to try and live up to them, even ‘if in reality she is nothing but a common drudge, first in her father’s house and then her husband’s’. She cannot speak out or rebel because to do so is to question the myths and legends, ‘the cornerstone on which the Indian family and therefore Indian society are built’. This is a situation for which men are not entirely to blame, for Desai sees women as conniving in it, and she attributes this connivance to the denial of education to women and hence, their complete dependence on men for their livelihoods and sense of themselves and their social places. In classical poetry of the oral tradition by women poets, this predicament is encoded in the recurrent theme of a woman pining for a man, often camouflaged as ‘the pining soul for the godhead, a spiritual longing’. Desai in her novel tries to show how the material privation of women is justified in a complex of ideological expressions which constitute India’s cultural inheritance. Indian themselves, according to Desai, ‘ have been a guilty’ in creating and perpetuating these notions which shield both themselves and readers in the West from truths about ‘the human being within’, and a quotidian reality which is often seen as dull and exciting. Desai concludes:
If literature, if art has any purpose then it is to show one, bravely and uncompromisingly, the plain face of truth… Once you have told the truth, you have broken free of society, of its prisons. You have entered the realm of freedom.
In her novels, she enacts not only the courageous attempts of individuals to emancipate themselves from inherited cultural and social bonds but also her own freedom as artist; the shifting contours of everyday life throw up new locations of truth, and constitute the fertile ground of fiction itself. In her fictional revelations about the truth of women’s lives in India, Desai shows that for her women characters, ‘at home’ in India all too frequently means the confinement to a domestic milieu, and the bearing of an intolerable cultural tradition. This is the experience of Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain, published a year before Games at Twilight, and Bim and Tara in Clear Light of Day, Desai’s first major- and critically acclaimed- novel. These women protagonists have connived in their own imprisonment in the sense that Desai has argued, that they have accepted the grind of domesticity in a familial and cultural situation when other choices do not seem available or the opportunity for seeking them out does not arise, and being an outcast is unthinkable. The struggle to transform home from prison to some semblance of expressive private space is the measure of the women’s agency and selfhood. In the struggle for liberation, memory is often the key, both as it turns the lock which can shut and open the prison gate. The novels locate these women in the present and, from this point in time, narrate their past- as memory triggered consciously or unconsciously, or by the external reminders – in its haunting of their daily lives, forever unsettling ‘home’ with the ‘unhomely’.
The desire for emancipation from the past as bondage, and the quest to see her life truthfully and see it whole underline the narrative of Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain. In this novella, Desai explores the genealogy of the desire, its nature, and tragic outcome in the chaos of the inner self, the trauma of loss and betrayal, and ultimately, in death. The conduct of Nanda Kaul’s quest of truth, half-willed and half generated by the force of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of the novel; as in the short stories, there is minimal dialogue, which is characteristic Desai technique to suggest the break-down of social relations.
In the novel, Bharati Mukherjee has struck a balance between tradition and modernity by representing past and present which is achieved through the female protagonist –Tara, who severed her links with tradition but remains tied to her native country. Tara is influenced by ancient customs and traditions, but is rooted to modern customs. She is conscious of her existential predicament which is mirrored in the epigraph: “No one behind, no one ahead the path the ancients cleared has closed. And the other path everyone’s path… goes nowhere, I am alone and find my way.” Tara is alienated from the society as she oscillated between the nostalgic fascinations of a traditional past and the romantic and adventurous allurements of the present. The diasporic qualities exhibited by Tara establish the merging of the East and West which shows the clash.
The Identity of the protagonist is highly assimilative, can adopt and accommodate herself both to her traditional Indian way of life and to her newly adopted American ethos. She tries to move away from the constrained identity and vacillates between two lives: “maybe I really was between two lives.”(251)
Tara’s reconstruction of identity is rooted in her nostalgic and romantic recollection of her past. It is based on the flux of her thoughts about the past coming to her mind in the present but in fragments, and not whole. She tried to reconstruct her identity through her diasporic experience. She was attempting to redefine the importance of her cultures through space and time. Loneliness had made Tara a little wanton and wantonness had made her very lonely. In these five years she had changed beyond recognition, but other character Bish had not changed at all.Bish is also an upholder of tradition. He prefers the values of an imagined past than those of contemporaneity.
The concept of home and migration is very much embedded in the narratology that Bharati Mukherjee presents in Desirable Daughters. It is the sense of migration which brings about a change to the identity of Padma, who has finally made New York her home, her land of choice. But her inalienable attachment to her home makes her the sustainer and preserver of Bengali tradition in America. The alien culture thus fails to subvert her traditional identity. On the other hand it only remaps nad reconstructs her cultural identity. Hence migration plays a crucial role in restricting individual identifies and cultural attitudes and perceptions.
Bharati Mukherjee depicts a liquid society in her novels, ie a society in flux. It is a society of constant flow, the flow of migrants, the flow of machines, flow of criminals, flow of power structures, flow of people and commodities.
Desirable Daughters is the novel that takes a long time to lift itself from the surface and once it releases its themes and characters, it seems to get liberated from the trapped situation. Engrossed in Indian culture old and new, it keeps strucking down in tight little circles of detail that create an atmosphere of cramped inwardness, even suffocation.Bharati Mukherjee, like in her previous four novels and short stories, tries to portray the repression that enables the women of her culture nailed down in subservience to male desires. The feelings and emotions are discovered after exploring traditional Indian society.
Desirable Daughters is also a story of three sisters and the evolving Indian culture. Mukherjee paints a clear picture of her cast. Attention to social class, castes, and the clash between old and new India are presented. The players spend a great deal of time remembering their place and living up to an image that is slowly losing superiority. The tale grows more complex as it progresses. There are many names dropped, religions judged and castes prioritized. Tara's search for answers leads her to New York, where she's introduced to her sister's Indian world. The "mysterious son" guides the plot, but Tara's re-emerging self-awareness is what makes this story shine.
The ending of Desirable Daughters is highly suspenseful and quite complex. Mukherjee's description of the homeland is magical, but some of the symbolism was lost on this simple American reviewer, whose background is 5% of everything. Even in the confusion, the message in this vivid tale. It's fascinating, beautifully written, and not to be missed.
Sultry Days by Shobha De is the most striking attempt in propogating the idea of female subjectivity, which is not just a sloavish succumbing to male dominance but every woman is a staunch feminist in her heart resisting male injustices. In her novel, a victimized woman is presented as face life in a struggling yet confident manner. The novel infers that a woman with a fully integrated personality can solve many problems in her life and she need not be a victim, a fact manifested through the powerfully drawn character of Nisha Verma.
Nisha initially worked in an advertising agency subsequently adopting the career of a journalist. During her college days she met Deb or Dev, referred to as God in the novel, a freelance writer with a working knowledge of German, French and Spanish. He had won scholarship to Columbia but failed to avail it because his father couldn’t afford the air –fare. God was a talented man who could cook and sew, write poems, quote from the Upanishads and had an ear for music as well. Nisha was favorably impressed by God’s ways like other young girls were and would spend a lot of time with him buying him plenty of gifts. To quote the novelist,
I learnt very quickly that I had to bury whatever little ego and pride I had if I wished to hang around God. His attitude towards girls was simple- use them and leave them. There were enough takers around- bold girls whose jaws never stopped working on the thick wads of gim in their mouths.
Nisha’s encounter with God brought to light several stark realities about life and society. God belonged to the very ordinary strata of society living with parents and brother in a dingy one room apartment with hardly any privacy. Comrade, his father was a union leader. Nisha’s class was much above that of God’s. Her father worked for a multinational company, their life revolving around company dinners and parties. Nisha’s parents were fond of dressing up elegantly. In short they stood in rich contrast to God’s parents. It was certain that Nisha was relishing her associations with a family hailing from a different class, admiring their sense of togetherness in spite of the fact that they subsisted just above the poverty line. She had everything at home but it was the sense of belonging that brought her close to God and his family.
The novelist has described a few other situations to prove that people were tired of their class and occasionally they enjoyed an interaction with members of the other classes.De tries to portray through her characters the metropolitan social life and cultural cross-fertilization. However, the novelist cannot restrain from writing about the problematic lives of Indian women residing in the metropolis. Shobha De’s observation coheres with Cora Kaplan who claims,
Literature has been a traditional space for the exploration of gender relations and sexual
difference, and one in which women themselves have been formidably present.
Kaplan also affirms that gender and class go together and when these two terms are interpreted in union then our analysis of them is totally transformed. Such a transparency in man and woman relationship constitutes the main fabric of Sultry Days in which the novelist has portrayed a variety of women belonging to different classes and has shown diverse attitudes in each. First there is God’s mother who adopts a reticent view of life. She is compromised to whatever she has lives life courageously and never thinks of revolting. Then there is Mrs Verma, Nisha’s mother who in the beginning is quite contented with her married life. However, she is emotionally shaken up when she discoveres her husband’s infidelity having extra marital affair with a Sindhi divorcee. Mrs Verma becomes rather moody but soon she gathers up all her courage preparing to face life boldly deciding to take up a job and when Mr Verma furiously reacts to this idea, Mrs Verma is blunt enough to tell him that her determination to work was final and she was not at all bothered about others. To quote the novelist,
‘And you want me to bother about them? Why should I? Why should I bother about you either? You can go to hell with your pompous talk and empty boasts. I am sick, do you hear, sick of living this false life varnishing my nails, setting my hair, wearing those silly saris and smiling through your office parties pretending nthing was wrong with my life. Well- It’s my turn now. And you can listen to me for a change. I will go along with Pratimaben with anything I choose to do…And the first one is that I’m taking a job.’
Through the portrayl of Nosha Shobha De throws ample light on the psyche of single woman. Nisha’s home was an unhappy one. They lived together, yet they persued their own paths. Nisha’s social life was dominated by girl friends, divorcees, widows and other singles.
Sultry Days ends on a note of optimism for the women folk belonging to the upper-middle-class Inidan milieu. Nisha learns to be courageous from her mother and both the women begin to sustain the men in their lives.
The novel presents before us a world of glamour, affluence, advertising, models, filmstars and many other glittering aspects of the so called high class society. For a moment the reader is blinded by the glitter and soon through gradually hollowness, the artificiality, the pangs and the inner fragmentation of such a falsified life strikes them with a cathartic revelation. Episodes which had initially frustrated the readers with their atmosphere of unreacheable luxury, ultimately purge them into reality through the epiphany after epiphany. For example, while hollowness of the class difference is shattered consistently, the folly of accepting the slavish subjectivity of women to male dominance is brought out, at the same time the feminine consciousness with its sustaining and pathological impact on family, community and society is proved time and again. Cora Kaplan stresses this fact in the following words which may be suitably applicable to Sultry Days:
The psychic fragmentation expressed through female characters in women’s writings is seen
as the most important sign of their sexual subordination more interesting and ultimately more
meaningful than their social oppression.
Female subjectivity is one of the most regressive elements in a social set up. The women long for love, dependency and the material and emotional comfort of fixed class identity. At the same time there is the ardent desire to be autonomous, so she is torn between the two and suffers quietly “constraints of bourgeois femininity” and oscillates between “reason and desire, autonomy and dependent security, psychic and social identity”.
Interestingly enough the arguments related to feminism and female subjectivity are not new, they have existed since time immemorial. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft’s book A Vindication of the Rights of Women discussed the psychic life of women as a crucial element in their subordination and liberation.
The Hindu moral code known as The Laws of Manu denies woman an existence apart from that of her husband or his family, and since the publication of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Rajmohan’s Wife in 1864 a significant number of authors have portrayed Indian women as long-suffering wives and mothers silenced by patriarchy. The ideal of the traditional, oppressed woman persisted in a culture permeated by religious images of virtuous goddesses devoted to their husbands, the Hindu goddesses Sita and Savitri serving as powerful cultural ideals for women. In mythical terms, the dominant feminine prototype is the chaste, patient, self-denying wife, Sita, supported by other figures such as Savitri, Draupadi and Gandhari. When looking at these narratives silence/speech can be a useful guide to interpreting women’s responses to patriarchal hegemony. Silence is a symbol of oppression, a characteristic of the subaltern condition, while speech signifies self-expression and liberation.
The image of women in fiction has undergone a change during the last four decades. Women writers have moved away from traditional portrayals of enduring, self-sacrificing women toward conflicted female characters searching for identity, no longer characterized and defined simply in terms of their victim status. In contrast to earlier novels, female characters from the 1980s onwards assert themselves and defy marriage and motherhood.
Recent writers depict both the diversity of women and the diversity within each woman, rather than limiting the lives of women to one ideal. The novels emerging in the twenty-first century furnish examples of a whole range of attitudes towards the imposition of tradition, some offering an analysis of the family structure and the caste system as the key elements of patriarchal social organization. They also re-interpret mythology by using new symbols and subverting the canonic versions. In conclusion, the work of Indian women writers is significant in making society aware of women’s demands, and in providing a medium for self-expression and, thus, re-writing the History of India.
One of the major aspects of women empowerment in India is to change the attitude of society towards women. The problem in India is that the society never worked on the premise of gender equality from a long-long time. Atrocities and discrimination against women is a way of daily life in Indian society. There is an attitude which still prevails in India where women are considered to be only worthwhile of household activities and managing the children. The veil system, child marriage and dowry are testimonies to this truth. Women have never been part of the mainstream society in India and they are still considered as a great liability. Majority of Women in India are poor, uneducated and insufficiently trained. They often end up in the daily struggle of managing an ill equipped family and are not in a position to propel out themselves of the oppressive and regressive social and economic conditions.
Female infanticide is one of the biggest crimes against humanity that is being carried out in India.
The patriarchal system encourages a male child and considers women as a property or liability from the day she is born. We need to accept the truth that there is a great discrepancy in the ideology and the actual practice of empowerment policy in India. Everything is happening at a very superficial level and the time has come to find out an actionable path at the ground level for real and measurable change.
To re-emphasize once again, women's empowerment cannot take place unless women come together and decide to self-empower themselves. Self empowerment should be all round in nature. Once this happens then we can think about galvanizing the system towards the direction of better health facilities, nutrition and educational facilities for women at a very large scale. Self empowerment can begin by addressing day to day issues faced by individual women and tackling them with a mindset of improving the overall living conditions of women at every level and strata of the society. A movement has to be build which awakens the individual self in each and every woman for creative and generative action. In this regard progressive and resourceful women in the society need to come forward to help their less privileged sisters in as many ways as possible. This shall help us sow the seed for real women empowerment in India.
Simone de Beauvoir has given a full length commentary on the plight of women today. It is worthwhile to quote the author on this subject:
The women of today are in a fair way to dethrone the myth of femininity; they are neginning
to affirm their independence in concrete ways; but they do not easily succeed in living
completely the life of a human being. Reared by women, which still means practically
subordination to man; for masculine prestige is far from extinction, resting still, economic
and social foundation.
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