Ya Devi Sarva Bhooteshu Shakti Rupen Sansthita
Namastasyei Namastasyei Namastasyei Namo Namah
Most of us are familiar with this Sanskrit verse that adulates Goddess Durga as the embodiment of power, in words, and glorifies the whole of female community as the incarnation of courage and valour, in spirit! And the immediate context that this verse resonates with (no guesses there) is the performance of Indian female athletes on the world’s largest sporting platform.
India concludes another not-so-satisfying odyssey in the Olympics; with its last medal hope Yogeshwar Dutt losing to his opponent in the first bout of the qualification round. (Note that the medal tally of the nation across all Olympics is one less than the individual tally of a certain Michael Phelps). But this season had an interesting gender story for India. Apparently, not just skill and strength but luck also seemed to be on ‘women’s side’ because unlike Yogeshwar Dutt, Sakshi Malik got a chance at repechage where she bounced back to win her Bronze!
A golfer and a gymnast earned cheers and respect; the Indian Olympic Association earned ridicule and derision; a shuttler and a wrestler earned medals, love, respect, glory, fans, attention, riches, honours and so on! With two medals, many losses and even more learnings, Rio Olympics have also given us Indians (commoners who were only cheering from their TV screens) a lot to reflect upon. And no, I’m not talking about the ‘pride of being a Sindhustaani’!
With Sindhu, Sakshi, Dipa and a couple of others who made us proud, being women, the most obvious discussion that dominated news media was that of patriarchy. Social media was flooded with status updates and articles on how Sindhu and Sakshi are a slap to the patriarchal clutches of our country, that which is believed to be the age-old tradition/system of India. How easily we forget that the verse at the beginning of the article is a product of the socio-cultural practices and culture of those Brahmanical times. We’ve had women achievers always. As an idea, we belong to a women-respecting nation. As practice, yes there are gaps, and patriarchy is just one example of several such gaps; not limited to India.
Consider that patriarchy is few people’s mindset, and not a nation’s operating principle! Mindset brings me to another aspect of patriarchy. It is likely that all those people (read husbands), who hailed the women athletes for their feat are the ones who complain and chide their wives for (accidentally) putting more salt or less sugar in their food. They are the people (read mothers) who condition their daughters in a way that their only dream remains to please their husbands and make babies. They are the people (read young girls) who spend all their time and money trying to look ‘attractive’ in the eyes of their boyfriends. Patriarchy is deep-rooted. Not just in men.
We live in the age of digital media. We react fast. We forget faster. Whether the uproar on women’s equality and respect, in the light of women achievers at the Olympic Games, can trickle down to everyday habits of people like you and me, is yet to be seen.
After woman to man, this is woman to woman! What is common between Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa, apart from all three being women of steel? That none of them adhere to the conventional standards of beauty! This coincidence, I feel, is almost to give us a message. We live in a society where beauty and womanhood is often associated with a certain skin tone, a certain body measurement, a certain body language, and certain practices (make-up, shopping, dress-consciousness, look-consciousness, etc.)
Why should we blame patriarchy alone for holding us back when even women think that being ‘beautiful’ (conforming to the norms of physical appearance) is some kind of quality! It does not take a PhD to understand that your physical features are a result of a biological process (genes, heredity), and that you have no merit there. It’s time to give our ideals of female heroism a makeover. It’s time to journey from outside to within! Just imagine the number of industries that will fall apart the day we start appreciating (and practicing) real beauty!
19th August was an ordinary day for individuals; at work, at home, going about their everyday chores. But it was special for every Indian. A cricket-crazy country was suddenly badminton-bound.
PV Sindhu scripted history with many ‘firsts’ to her credit. And each of these women taught us to measure success not by medals, but by spirit! Let’s make this spirit count!
[Contributed by –Supriya Baid]
The writer is an advertising professional, a trained Odissi dancer, a stage anchor and a former Radio Jockey from Kolkata. Juggling with multiple fields of creativity, she loves to express on social-cultural-psychological subjects, sometimes on stage, sometimes on paper.