Empowering the Impoverished Mind: A Brief Lesson Beyond Genders

Rita Chatterjee, Principal & administrator, Apeejay school, Appejay education trust

An epilogue…

Rousseau wrote, “A girl reading is already a lost girl.” The choice of indulging in reading drives her into the fuzzy zone of bewilderment. I was recently reading and I know I was lost, somewhat baffled. I was almost poring over this book containing stories based on Upanishads. One story struck me hard from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

A Rishi, Yajnavalkya decides to go to the forest for Vaanaprastha and he invites his two wives to choose between accompanying him as an ascetic to the forest or to stay back and run the house that has all and more than one would need. Maitreyi chooses to go to the forest and have an equal opportunity like her husband to seek the ultimate truth or know the ‘Brahman’.

Katyaani decides to stay back and look after the household and uphold and preserve all that her husband had laboured to set up, the house, property, wealth, cattle and all. Now the question is who is smarter, who is the gainer? Who is righteous? Who is powerful? While the patriarchal prejudice glorifies Maitreyi and her virtuous choice, we hear nothing at all about Katyaani. She is quiet and composed. She is silent about her accomplishment, her triumph and her realisation. Nobody dares to write about her defiance, a rebellious positing of the antithesis. She ignores the Smritis and Shrutis and goes for her gut-feelings.

So, I fervently believe that her organic decision making is no less glorious. She uses her heart and body to pick the option and Maitreyi uses her mind, her intellect. I feel both were fantastic in their pronouncement, both were wise.

An analysis…

These two women had inspired me to rethink and revisit the overly discussed issue of ‘Women Empowerment” and the aspect of emancipation of the girl child. I am a woman and I have a girl, though almost a lady now. I think these terms ’empowerment’ and ’emancipation’ are complicated walls in case of gender assessments. We need to have a no wall proposition, where following the movement of thinking, a woman escapes the confinement of identity, moving into the open of liberated language. In fact, our value based society moves between closed precincts. Our evaluations are overwhelmingly ancient and constantly reinventing protocols sustaining the same structure and hierarchy. We build walls in the name of liberation and empowerment. We do not exist or transform with our bodies and we fail to reinforce words by their beginnings. But, these beginnings are what anyone belongs to.

Let us look at it more deeply. We are born neutral with a set of specified physical features and a default socio-economic setting. We are no girl or no boy then. The default setting conjures elements from the traditions and dominant practices of the new born without much choice and shoves it up the empirical evidences of the growing child. However, it is still nascent and pure and so it is not detrimental. The real politics of gender emerges as one starts to speak or gesticulate. That is when our conscious mind starts functioning and our ego is born. The ego is the one who linguistically addresses another, and it is only through this address that each, in a reciprocal entwining, may fashion oneself as “I”.

The “I” is constructed of layers of empathy and power and subjectivity. Sooner or later an abundance of words defining the identity, “I”, inundates the child while sleeping, while eating, while washing, while resting, while talking, while working and even while suffering. The person gradually starts performing the words and her performances progressively shape her gender. Judith Butler says, “Gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo…. Gender is… an identity instituted through a repetition of acts.”

However, one must know that it is not like a theatrical performance, where one would play a male role one night and a female role the next. It is more complex; the identity created by the act is profound and has a deep mark engraved in the person’s essential being. I hope, we understand the construction of an identity, however, what is more important is to investigate the nature of the multiple issues concerning the constructed identity. It is true that whether it is a man or a woman, the hierarchy, the appropriation, the body politik, the diverse societal scanner and often the ego, “I” attempt to usher the ‘gender-wise-identified’ person in a semi-classical conundrum.

And the poor ‘Gender’ weeps at the altar of judicial despair. We really do not know how to handle it? The man with a male body and a man with a a female body are not same, yet both have their own suffering and joy. Similarly, the female bodies’ diverse gender-lives do not put them in peaceful pockets; they have their own gloom and melancholy. So, in almost all cases the construction of gender is vulnerable to ill conduct and susceptible to decay. So, we realise that it is not only a concern about empowerment of the girl or the woman, it is also about empowering the man or the boy that’s being built. So, if there is any fault if at all, the blunder lies in the process of construction or shaping of the gender.

A remark…

The body is generative, gestural and communicative, but not the radiator of power. It is the mind that exudes or emanates power. So, we have to fix the mind of all and sundry and not just provide mere subsidies to “the woman”. ‘Empowering woman’ is like a patchwork, a provisional solution to a deep engrained anomaly. Simone de Beauvoir talks about becoming of the woman. I believe the fault lies in the becoming and not the woman. All our ‘becomings’ are flawed. And we need to fix our mind which exercises and maneuvers the becoming. Therefore, the fragile mind should be empowered. Minds of all our children, boys, girls, rich, poor, educated, illiterate, privileged, disabled, all should be administered to the right education of becoming, the wisdom of the nature the ecology. We know how nature is unaffected and true to its essential being. A mango tree won’t bear neem fruits. Let a woman be a woman; let not body parts, social prejudices, traditional practices or judicial decrees influence one’s becoming. Let the bodies be liberated and life be safer and happier in all their actions and no-actions.

A proposition…

We must keep in mind that empowering woman alone doesn’t provide safety or happiness to her. A sleeping karate kid can get molested, an educated lady can be disrobed in public by brute force, a powerful woman can be gang raped on a lonely street. Then, what is the way out? Well, I think it is necessary to empower all. It is required to empower the collective minds of the society with the right knowledge and true wisdom. Yesterday, I saw a play, ‘Sona Meye,’ based on the theme of oppressed women, by Janasanskriti presented as a forum play and finally in the forum the audience did not seek for the solution from the play rather generated the solution organically from their own experiences. We too should not seek any assistance from the other to protect our identity as a woman or a human being, rather generate the resolution from our own selves, families, societies and nations. We need not simply change, rather we need to evolve.

A few ending lines…

I believe, a woman is not the weaker sex, it is an inviolable identity. Katyaani had it. Maitreyi owned it. So do we. Let’s trace it.