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Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Woebegone World of Women, Despite International Women's Day


TSV Hari, Chennai

3256 words, 30 minutes reading

Southern Features News Services Exclusive

Yet another International Women’s Day [IWD] has gone by.

The unjust unequal status of women worldwide is yet to end. This is despite the passage of 100 years since the first occasion of IWD! [1]

The first ‘official’ IWD was an event circa 1917. It went on to trigger the Bolshevik Revolution, creation of the USSR etc. Leon Trotsky [2] – a man the commies have learnt to hate the world over – said thus about the occasion: “Though the meetings and actions of February 23 [1917 in the Julian calendar which is March 8 in the Gregorian calendar – the first] International Woman's Day were foreseen, we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution.”

Despite leaders like Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai hailing IWD, the Soviet Union declared March 8 as a public holiday only 47 years later in 1965. The ‘free world’ represented by United Nations, however, needed another decade to acknowledge its solemnity.

IWD was short-changed even in the very nation it began because, its supreme leader Lenin wished to sideline the bold woman – Alexandra. [3]

So far, only 28 nations have officially declared the day as an international holiday. India and the United States of America do not figure in this list.

The situation continues to this day.

It is most visible in modern day America.

Trump has a hate-hate relationship with actress Meryl Streep.

In a series of tweets, Trump termed Mary LouiseMeryl” Streep as “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” and “a Hillary flunky who lost big.

Hollywood considers philanthropist Streep as ‘the best actress of her generation.’

Would women feel safe under such “official misogyny”?

Such a reprehensible situation isn’t the tale of US of A alone.

Women politicians are harassed, bullied and sexually assaulted, said The Guardian in its October 2016 report. Operative excerpts:

Physical, sexual and psychological violence against female MPs is undermining democracy and efforts to end gender inequality, a study of parliamentarians around the world found.

More than 40% of female MPs interviewed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction while serving their terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children.

More than a fifth said they had been subjected to one or more acts of sexual violence and almost a third said they’d witnessed an attack on a colleague in parliament.

Some 80% of MPs said they had been subjected to psychological violence – hostile behaviour that causes fear or psychological harm.

The survey sample used by the IPU was small – interviews with 55 female MPs from 39 countries in five regions of the world – but the union’s secretary general, Martin Chungong, said the results made clear “the problem is much more widespread and under-reported than we realise”.

The situation in India is no better.

During an election rally in Himachal Pradesh in 2012, the then future Prime Minister of India Narendra Damodardas Modi made a snide reference about Sunanda Pushkar wife of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor [4] and termed her a ‘Rs 50-crore girlfriend’.

Surprisingly, Modi was proven right about the suspicious nature of the lives of Tharoor and Sunanda. But, the suspected murder of the lady is yet to overcome “stumbling blocks” created by official apathy and/or criminal intentions.

A few years ago, founder of the Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav – former Union Defence Minister to boot, condoned rapes of women with an absolutely heartless statement: First girls develop friendship with boys. When differences occur, they level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Should they be hanged for rape?

As a nation, India hails motherhood. PM Modi has kick-started the ‘save-the-daughter-campaign’.

The sheer apathy never ends.

Indian politicians are always quick to talk about women empowerment.

A lot is said against the Indian males who treat women as doormats. The virtues of such females being praised to the skies is its worst aspect, goes the general belief. This was very highly visible in Indian movies of yore.

Celebrity director, the late CV Sridhar made one such movie. It was remade in 5 different languages

The original film was in Tamil –Nenjil Ore Aalayam– [A Shrine in The Heart] released in 1962.

In 1963, Sridhar himself directed its Hindi remake Dil Ek Mandir. Thereafter, the film morphed into Telugu in 1966, Malayalam in 1976 and Kannada in 1977 in titles more or less with the same meaning. The last version had ‘super-star’ Rajnikant playing one of the male protagonists.

The tale is a strange love-triangle revolving around a man who gets admitted to a hospital with what seems like terminal lung cancer. He discovers that his lovely and faithful wife – tending to him very dutifully and tearfully – was once the girlfriend of the very doctor treating him.

Without sounding accusatory in the least, the husband suggests that since he could die on the operating table –his widowed wife ought to wed her original boyfriend.

The contrived melodramatic climax, however, is nothing worth writing home about. Yet, the script led to the turning of box office turnstiles, not once, but 5 times in different languages!

Poignant songs were penned eulogising the ‘chaste’ docile woman.

The Tamil version had this song – rendered into English by the author:

The immortal Kannadasan’s lines for the Tamil movie:

Are you the one who suggested [this travesty]?
Tell me
My soul mate!

Will you
Hand me over to another man?
Did you actually mean ME?

How could you even think of it?
And why at all are you doing this?

Didn’t our marriage result
In My auspicious honour
The wedding garland
The respectable vermillion mark
That transformed
A bride becoming
A revered family woman of fidelity
Into ideal reality
Weren’t you the one to link our minds?
Didn’t you promise lifelong companionship?
Can a garland that adorned a temple deity
Once withered and fallen by the wayside
Be used
For another worship mode again?

Life’s creeper blossoms only once
Enlivened by an enduring eternal relationship

Youtube link:

The next year, in the Hindi version, Hasrat Jaipuri [Jaipur’s Wish] wrote thus:

In your love
I have forgotten the rest of the world

Are you suggesting that I should forget this love?

Having moved me from my maidenhood’s nest
Into your lovable cage of womanhood
Your deed warmed the cockles of my heart
I love this cage
And you are suggesting a new freedom
I never wanted

How can you suggest such cruelty?
How can I accept it?

I have become yours forever

My parted hair at the pate
Adorned with the holy dust of your feet
According me societal respect
Rendering me a creature of love

My handsome icon
I am wedded to propitiate you
Willing to lay down my life
At your affection’s altar
Your affectionate Ganges
Has purified my body and soul

The mirror
That reflected maidenhood’s unfettered dreams
Broke the very day
I knotted my sari’s honourable end
With the eternal blissful future with you
It can never be undone

Upon your entry in
The sanctum sanctorum of my heart
Our little shrine is closed to others’ entry
The depth of your ocean of love
Visible through your eyes
Are my only comfort

Youtube link:

Simply put, the above poems glorify women’s doormat status.

The concept stems from the most glorified divine doormat of Indian mythology – Goddess Sita of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Sita, the incarnation of the Goddess of Wealth, emerged from a tilling field and was known as the offspring of Goddess earth – Mother Bhūmi.

Adopted by the ‘royal sage’ King Janaka of Mithila, Sita chose to marry Hindu God Ram. Palace intrigue resulted in Ram being exiled for 14 years in a forest. Abducted by an evil demon Ravana and imprisoned in a Lankan garden termed Ashoka Vana, Sita was rescued by her husband and willingly underwent a trial of fire – thus establishing her chastity.

Spending 3 years in Ayodhya as the queen, she conceived. However, the pregnancy was questioned by a thoughtless subject. Wanting to win the trust of the society at large, Ram banished her to the forest till her name clearance.

Her twin sons Lava and Kusha succeeded in defeating Lord Ram and his entire army in battle. Thereupon, the divine incarnation invited her to take her rightful place on the throne of Ayodhya, but she refused.

Sita chose to return to the Earth's womb, for release from a cruel world.

Placing my poetic instincts in the modern context but in the nearly prehistoric backdrop, here are my lines:

Pray educate me
What am I My Lord!

Am I your equal human partner in life?
Or am I an organic pleasure machine?
Merely meant to deliver offspring?
Should every baseless assault on my credibility
Result in my declaring my purity through
Tribulations of male triumph?

You won my father’s groom contest
It was I who accepted you as my husband voluntarily
My unflinching love towards you
Led to my sharing your forests’ travails
I saved my chastity
Under the gravest of external threats
I allowed its scrutiny through a fire trial

I carried our children in my womb as your gifts
Yet our children had to win a war
With you
To prove
I am blameless!

Enough is enough

If my life’s chronology of events imply
Injustices were perpetrated upon me

Rather than casting aspersions
On your manhood
I beseech Mother Earth
To bestow justice upon me
By taking me back into her womb

As a woman
I may be docile
Seem defenceless
And bandied as the symbol of
Your brave chivalry


I am not

As the world now sees me
Returning to my mother’s womb
I question all heroes
As to whether
The purity of their mother’s motherhood
Can only be proven thus?

If conception
Consented or otherwise
Is such a sin

Can humanity ask itself?
Why are
The same acts originating in
Human pleasure points
As shames of womanhood alone?

Aspects of the Indian scenario cited above aren’t aimed at glorifying the grant of deified doormat status to women.

The citations are merely meant to illustrate how fault lines remain blurred – despite some proactive action…even if initiated by female versions of divinity.

The above description cites some of the lopsided aspects of Hinduism.

Religions and social systems append ‘divine sanction’ and or social necessity as alibis for this sort of misogyny the world over. Here are some instances:


Women had fewer opportunities or privileges than men in sacramental activities. Women could not serve as credible witnesses in cases pertaining to financial disputes. Women were debarred from priesthood and from being reigning queens. Divorces could only be granted by husbands. Vows of unmarried girls under the age of 12 years and six months could be nullified by her male parent. Judging charges of adultery was and is the male preserve. Daughters could claim a share in the family fortune only in the absence of a male heir!


In ancient Athenian law, women lacked many of the legal rights given to their male counterparts as stated above. Respectable women were not meant to appear in public.

Women in Classical Athens did have the right to divorce. But, they lost all rights to any children they had by their husband upon divorce.

Medieval Europe

Roman laws were similar – created by men in favour of men.

Female non-citizens or slaves had no rights at all and could be exploited by males as per whims and fancies.


Byzantine laws were copied from Roman laws and were equally unjust.


In Islamic law, men only have to utter “I divorce you,” [Talaq[ three times in the presence of his wife to officially initiate divorce. A waiting period of 3 months is forced on the woman if she is discovered to be pregnant. If pregnancy is confirmed, the divorce shall not be effective until delivery.


The colonial takeover by the British during the 17th and 18th century had more negative than positive affects on women’s rights in the Indian subcontinent.

Although they managed to outlaw widow burning, female infanticide and improve age of consent, scholars agree that overall women's legal rights and freedoms were restricted during this period. The British abolished local custom laws in favour of separate religious codes for Hindus and Muslims which had harsher treatment of women. These religious codes lead to women having poorer rights when it came to landholding, inheritance, divorce, marriage and maintenance

The above paragraphs are a few illustrative examples. The sufferings of women – actually have a larger devastating effect on the society.

All these simply underline one sordid fact: the worldwide unequal status of women is yet to end despite the passage of 100 years since the first occasion of IWD!


The first such event took place on March 8, 1917, in Petrograd, then the capital of the Russian Empire, ruled by the Tsars and it triggered the Russian Revolution. To comprehend how meaninglessly ornate the day has become, one only needs to ask someone as to whether they would support the occasion if they knew that it was originally a communist event and called the International Working Women’s Day. The most likely reply would be in the negative. One ought to know that the first IWD happened to demand voting rights for working women. The law granting the right of adult suffrage for the fairer sex became was legislated 7 days afterwards – courtesy the good offices of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov a.k.a. Lenin.

The Russians, at that point in time, had followed the Julian calendar. The date hence was February 23.

But the Gregorian calendar, followed internationally now, said the date was March 8.

Other women had used the same day demanding the basic right to vote. They include: Luise Zietz, Clara Zetkin and Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst. All of them were communists.


Lev Davidovich Bronstein a.k.a. Trotsky was part of the first politburo of what became the Soviet Union alongside Lenin,  Zinoviev,  Kamenev,  Stalin,  Sokolnikov and Bubnov. He was one of the brains behind the Bolshevik Revolution. Following severe differences with Josef Stalin over the autocratic control over the people in the name of bureaucracy, Trotsky attempted a coup. As a result, he was removed from power (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November 1927), exiled to Alma–Ata (January 1928), and thrown out of the Soviet Union (February 1929). He then founded the Fourth International an organisation that incessantly opposed the Stalinist State. A Spanish-born Soviet agent Ramón Mercader assassinated him in Mexico, on August 21 1940 at the behest of Stalin.


Though she called herself by her first husband’s family name Kollontai, Alexandra caused tongues to wag about her elopement with another man Pavel Dybenko. She was not reachable for some 10 days. Everyone presumed that she had been kidnapped by counterrevolutionaries. When she ‘resurfaced’ appeared, her so-called immoral behaviour was condemned by many of those whom she had presumed as her friends. However, her friend Lenin had the last word. “I agree with all you said, comrades. Alexandra must be punished severely. So; I propose that she marries Dybenko.”

Everybody laughed, and the matter was presumed as closed.

It turned out to be a punishment for Alexandra, however.

Her marriage with Pavel did not last long and they were divorced.

Alexandra was a tough negotiator. She played a clever but stellar role in the Soviet Union being recognised as a nation de jure – by Norway – where she was Ambassador. Apparently, a merchant delegation from Russia arrived in Oslo to sell a large quantity of timber. The Norwegians were offering a very low price. The negotiations were about to fail. Her intervention made history. In the presence of top Norwegian diplomats and the timber merchants, Alexandra remarked: “Neither these gentlemen nor I have the mandate to accept such a low price. But, Norway’s friendship towards the Soviet Union is so important that I will pay the difference from my personal money.” The Norwegian delegation retired to consult, after which they said: “We are not so impolite to accept your offer; we accept the Russian price.” The de jure recognition followed soon afterwards.


ShashiTharoor had to resign as minister of state only 10 months after taking office as a junior minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. He was accused of having abused his position to obtain shares in the Indian Premier League cricket franchise for Sunanda Pushkar (later his third wife). Tharoor denied the charges.

A series of intimate tweets appeared on Tharoor’s Twitter account, for his eyes only, from a Pakistani woman, the journalist Mehr Tarar. Tharoor immediately tweeted that his account had been hacked and that he was dealing with the breach.

In fact, it was ultimately Pushkar, Tharoor’s wife, who went into the Twitter account and made the tweets public. She told the Mumbai-based Economic Times, “Our accounts have not been hacked … I cannot tolerate this. This is a Pakistani woman who is an ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] agent, and she is stalking my husband. And you know how men are. He is flattered by the attention. I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL [that is, she was blamed for wanting shares in the Indian Premier League] I will not allow this to be done to me. I just can’t tolerate this.”

Pushkar told the Indian Express newspaper that Tharoor had been having a “rip-roaring affair” with Tarar, and that she would “seek divorce.”

Tarar, for her part, denied that she was in any kind of relationship with Tharoor. A friend of hers told the media that Tarar strongly denied any affair with Tharoor or the claim that she was spy.

The next day, January 16, 2014, Tharoor and Pushkar issued a joint statement: “We wish to stress that we are happily married and intend to remain that way. Sunanda has been ill and hospitalized this week and is seeking to rest.”

A day later, Tharoor found his wife dead in their suite in a luxury hotel, where they had been staying while their house was being painted. Tharoor’s personal secretary said that Pushkar had been found dressed, lying on the bed, and that there were no signs of violence. However, the next day one of the pathologists who conducted an autopsy said that marks of violence had been found on the body. Tharoor insisted that his wife had died of natural causes.

BBC India quoted the local police as saying that her death was “not natural and was due to poisoning.” Additionally, according to media reports, 15 injury marks were found on Pushkar’s body. Tharoor was questioned by police for several hours the following week; he was “cooperative,” the Delhi police commissioner stated.




The Guardian


New York Times

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