It feels good, especially as a woman, to be asked to contribute to a magazine meant for the police. The name of the magazine, Protector, is very apt because it is the police that protect people.
When you think of people needing protection, you usually think of women and children – the weak and the infirm. Yet, those of us living in Kolkata should not think of women as the ‘weaker’ sex because in the city of Kolkata we have always celebrated Shakti or the power of a woman. It is in this city that the great protector Ma Durga makes an annual appearance to be worshipped with much splendour and pomp. Then there is the popular Goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, who is a household deity in Bengal. Spring is welcomed every year with the worship of the Goddess of learning and arts, Saraswati. Even the very name of the city Kolkata is said to have been derived from the fiery Goddess Kali.
Ironically, even in this Goddess-dominated city, women are unsafe and we need our police to become their protectors in public spaces. But it is also a matter of great pride that the police force is having an increasing number of talented woman officers.
As a woman and lifelong teacher of girl students, I cherish the idea of women as protectors. How can a woman become a protector? The answer is: “In many ways”. Nobody questions the role of the mother as a protector of her children. She protects them from all kinds of harm that can affect their body, mind, heart, and soul. Today, I feel that all mothers should be especially empowered to educate their sons to respect women, to treat them as equals, learn with them and work with them. Indeed, their sons may have a woman boss at work one day or they may have to serve in the armed or police forces under a female commanding officer. If women are educated to bring up their sons to be ‘gentlemen’, we would not have to worry about rape and molestation.
Despite many crimes against women, it is a very big mistake to perceive them to be weaker than men because of the overt physical strength of the latter. In fact, in stamina and endurance, women are equal or often superior to men. But this business of competing with men to establish that women are equal, is in my opinion rather foolish and silly to prove their superiority. On every Women’s Day many words of wisdom float around – morale-boosting words, condescending praise, feel-good expressions and selected women achievers in various fields are annually felicitated. Perhaps this is a laudable practice since women are generally treated unfairly in society and special provisions, special awards and special ‘days’ are needed till they earn their equal and rightful status alongside men.
Incidentally, I can’t help feeling that there is a veiled insult in the practice of having a separate category for women from different walks of life. Sometimes it is a kind of concessional or affirmative move to ‘uplift women’. Therefore, I get quite upset when anyone announces with pride that she has stood first among girl students. I would much rather announced her rank on the whole. There are several women today who top exams but I have never heard a boy say that he has stood ‘first among boys’. This honest assessment is far more dignified as it implies that the genders are assessed on a level playing field. The only areas where gender-based categories are acceptable, for obvious reasons, are sports and athletics. But here too, I fail to understand why chess should have separate ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ categories.
In my opinion, competition between genders is not only senseless but counter-productive. Although I am all for ‘woman power’, I have never encouraged my students to think that they were better than their male counterparts. It is far more meaningful for me to empower all young girls to believe that they could try their hands at anything and hope to excel – their gender would not get in the way. Yes, it is true that they would have to fight bias, deep-rooted prejudice and years of conditioning but as educators, we need to instill in them self-confidence, self-belief and the will to succeed. There are enough role models of women achievers and they must learn from men achievers too. Many of the world’s problems would be resolved if we accepted the truth that men and women are not superior or inferior, not even equal to each other but are complementary.
This brings me to the stereotyped division of labour. The sooner we come away from gender-oriented work or jobs, the better for humanity. It is the individual who must be assessed objectively irrespective of gender and the best person for the job gets it! Thus, we have male chefs and women bankers, females in the police and male nurses in a hospital, men in beauty parlours and women in factories. The beauty of this harmony is that there is no perception of inferiority or superiority. Each works and contributes according to his or her own strengths and interests. Thus we have the power-couples Shiva-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, and Brahma-Saraswati and to remind us that we are one we have the image of Ardhnareeshwar.
Young girls must be empowered to believe that they can do anything and everything but they must not fall into the trap of emulating men and trying to outdo them at work. Women must be proud of being women – strong yet gentle, powerful yet kind. They must be proud of being industry heads scientists and police officers. And they must be equally proud to be mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. Indeed, as the embodiment of Shakti, they must remain creators, caregivers, and protectors.