Mirage of empowerment
Pushpa (name changed) is a woman of strong ethics and integrity. She works in many houses as a domestic help including mine. She is not literate enough so knows only this menial work to feed her family of four, two sons and a drunkard husband, who does nothing more than drinking and abusing her in every way possible. Her life is full of misery, but I have never heard her complaining. Her sole objective is to raise her sons, provide them with good education and help them stand on their feet when it is their turn to hold the reigns of their lives. This is the story of every second woman belonging to this economic stratum. Hardly supported by their husbands, they alone are fighting the battle life has so mercilessly bestowed upon them. They have accepted their fate and carry on their duties without complaint. They are not oblivious of all the tags, a patriarchal society so carelessly pastes on woman; weak, meek, dependent, domestic. But they simply don’t have the luxury to seek shelter under any of these tags.
But if you have come to think that it is they who are the decision makers of the house as they earn the money, then you are completely off the mark. It is still the alpha male that wields the real power. He refuses to work, compels his wife to gain more work in her hands so that she earns more and provides him enough to splurge on his fiendish pursuits. He often beats her and his kids, snatches away her earnings and holds her responsible for all the wrongs in his life. So much for being a woman!
Coming back to my domestic help, Pushpa is proud of the fact that she has given birth to two sons and not a daughter. Partly, because it adds a proverbial halo around a woman to mother a male and partly because she knows the fate that awaits a girl in her community. She had pinned her all hopes on her sons that one day they will bring about her salvation.
Though the trend I have seen so far is anything but encouraging. Boys very early on sniff the intoxicating power that comes with being a male. They see what special status they have been bestowed upon by the special arrangement of planets that gave them exalted male incarnation. By this sheer status they do not even need to move a finger to get whatever they want. As soon as they enter teens, they hound their already burdened mother for the mobiles, fancy clothes, pocket money and a TV in the home. Few years down the line I see women complaining that their boys are demanding motorcycles and fancier gadgets. That too when most of the daughters in this community have already engaged themselves in helping their mothers with domestic chores as well as working in a few houses as help. They do not shy from resorting to domestic violence to establish their supremacy, one department they know their women will fall behind.
Girls do not pursue studies beyond middle school because they have to help their mothers and boys do not do it because they do not deem it worthy. So school drop-outs are frequent, in spite of government giving free education, material and mid day meals.
Talk about woman empowerment to these women, they would laugh at this idea. Their husbands may be only trouble makers in their lives but they will not even think about leaving them. I once risked asking this question to Pushpa, she nodded her head disbelievingly as if I committed a sacrilege. The explanation she gave me set me thinking. She said, “Open money and open woman become everybody’s game, madamji. Under his tag, at least I am secure and can work freely to support my family. If I leave him today, who will guarantee me and my kids security? With his name after my name, my community gives me certain regard. My relatives respect me. Without him, the whole society will turn into a hostile stranger.”
The reality hits hard and is much bitterer than what we imagine. Pushpa may be the pure power coursing through the veins of her family, but empowerment still eludes her.
This is a guest article by Meenakshi Malhotra; to read more, visit her blog http://beyondwoman.blogspot.in/