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The speech of Prof. Hema Raghavan at International Women’s Day’s Celebration

The speech of Prof. Hema Raghavan at International Women’s Day’s Celebration

The speech of Prof. Hema Raghavan at International Women’s Day’s Celebration

I thank Indialogue Foundation for conferring on me this honour on International Women’s Day. I dedicate this honour to all men and women, all brothers and sisters who constitute Humanity on earth, our planet. Men and women are two sides of the same coin of Humanity and both are engaged in their respective ways to steer the world. The world cannot move till the two work together in conjunction. The role of men and women in society is complementary and not adversarial. For every woman who receives this honour, shall there be a Man who deserves the same honour as both mutually complement each other.I was born in the 20th in Indian society during these 70 odd years- and especially over the last four decades- with women in fairly large numbers getting educated and taking up employment outside the four walls of the house where they had remained incarcerated for many millennia. Today in the 21st century, the modern educated woman demands parity with men in all aspects of life. She refuses to be harnessed to irrational ancient customs and norms that dates back to Manusmriti of 200 B.C that had decreed that no young girl or young woman, or even an aged one can do anything independently even in her own house. According to Manu, “in childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.” But despite these encouraging strides towards women’s empowerment in the present century the agonizing wait continues for a change in the patriarchal mindset in India. What is urgently required is to set right the moral compass that has deflected from the traditional respect and honour bestowed on women in ancient Vedic India known for its rich civilization and culture (well before the advent of Manusmriti). The status of women in India has since then been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has seen the highs and lows in their existential status. Ours is the land of Sita who showed her moral strength not only to defy Ravan from making advances towards her, but also to accept exile in a forest where as a single parent she brought up her sons fit to be the Princes of Ayodhya; century and we are now in the 21st century. I have seen the changes ours is the land of Draupadi who defied the Kauravas and instilled fire in the Pandavas to avenge her humiliation; ours is the land of Durga, the slayer of demon Mahishasura; even
fifty years back, this nation had accepted a woman as Prime Minister of the nation for the longest number of years; this is the land where today women in large numbers successfully participate in all activities such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology and business enterprise. And yet sadly we see a spate of horrendous crimes committed against women today How do we set right the moral compass? This can be achieved through education dialogue nurtured at home and later in schools. I feel privileged to be associated with Indialogue foundation which in its name appreciates the need for dialogue to resolve conflicts among people. Indialogue foundation has been inspired by the Islamic scholar and peace activist, M. Fethullah Gulen, whose teachings are based on dialogue and education. It is unfortunate that in many families, including the educated and well-off families, mothers have over years of subjugation internalized gender bias to such an extent as to mindlessly pamper boys and cater to everyone of their whims while denying the girls even their basic needs in terms of nutrition and health care.Most of the gender differences are created by women against their own species and these encourage men to assert their patrilineal superiority. Home is the place where the child learns its first lessons and it is imperative that parents recognize the adverse impact of gender discrimination. Gender inequality is worse than all other forms of inequality as it sunders the physical, mental and emotional fibre of the woman. What happens within the family expands to the whole society outside.One of the best means of sensitizing young adolescents- both boys and girls-is to expose them to literary and socio-historical writings that describe, discuss and deliberate on women’s issues, treatment of women throughout history and deal with feminist philosophy. It is to be made clear that feminist philosophy is neither a militant philosophy nor a radical rebellion but is meant to empower women as human beings. It distinguishes between sex and gender. Simon de Beauvoir’s formulation “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” suggests how woman as a construct or an idea acquires a gender identity unencumbered by the concept of biological sex. The study of seminal books on gender in schools and colleges has to be a part of the academic curriculum and when these books are studied, discussed and deliberated by young men and women, it will contribute to a future when men and women are equals.Last but not the least is the need for women to develop self esteem in order to meet the challenges of society. The need of the time is for her to create new images for contemporary women. Looking at the various images of women in art and literature, in films and TV serials, we find that most of them are images of oppression. We rarely find any strong signs of getting off the whine of the oppressed and turning them into a courageous shout of the survivor. Very seldom we are shown the turning image of the suffering woman into one of vitality and strength that is to be her new UID. This is her new image, in quest of human freedom and action, an exemplary image of woman that helps her discover, what she can become, an image that helps her rediscover her humanity and her central place in society. Woman’s new image in this sense is an integral part of her search to understand herself in order to become herself. This is her search for an image of an authentic personal existence sufficiently powerful to deny her earlier UID of nothingness. Authentic personal existence is not to be misunderstood as living an existence as per norms imposed from without, but it implies a meaningful personal authentic response from within to any given situation, to any crisis of a particular moment or period. Howsoever a woman may think of herself as a mother, wife, daughter, a princess or a politician, as a person she must be concerned with potentiality, choice and decision while discovering her authentic personal response to each situation she faces. The image of woman is not distinct and divergent from the image of man. Both are the images of the human in us which seeks to discover a meaningful way of life through realization of our unique human potential at each moment of crisis. Such an image, therefore, cannot be a fixed, conscious and fully formed model inherited from the past, but it is something that is constantly changing and evolving. It proceeds and develops through every type of personal encounter – like a disastrous war or a terrorist attack or victimization at home or harassment at place of work or experience of mental, physical and psychological pain. The image of woman as profiled today is by and large that of a unique person who realizes her humanity by becoming what she only can become. The image of the modern woman-both educated and uneducated- is unique in that it is an integral part of her effort to understand her potential in order to become an individual. She does not gloss over her suffering, but intermingles its roots with those of stubborn hope, affirming a rare degree of strength to endure what cannot be cured. We see this in today’s woman who is forever seeking a direction towards establishing a just and equitable place that steers clear of all gender bias and discrimination. She has proved equal- at times better than her male counterpart in all fields of action-be it an academician or a police /administrative officer,a banker, a lawyer, a doctor or one who works in the villages as a panchayati head. Despite wearing different hats she has not discarded her unique id of an efficient, caring and compassionate householder. Imtiaz Dharker sums up these ideas of an authentic image of a woman when she speaks of the multiple images of women which are rich and fluctuating entities, embodying a multiplicity of selves.You hold so many possibilities

Just inside the skin

You could be any number of things

Manipulator, mechanical pawn


The image is never really fixed

Allow, for one moment, your guard to slip and all the


Will catch a glimpse of the thing you have kept


All this time…

and that is the UID (Unique identity)of the new age woman.