No ‘Nari Shakti’ Please!


Ma Durga is coming to town… how do you know? You have hoardings everywhere of Sourav Ganguly sharing banner space with the latest Tollywood beauties (and MPs) who (try to) impersonate a raging Durga about to slay the demon Mahisasur – who, for reasons of space, couldn’t be accommodated in the banner. I found that symbolic. For the real demon that the Durgas of the world have to continually contend with – patriarchy – is an invisible force, insidiously and relentlessly powerful, and still very far from being slain.

Hence, I am a little sick of the annual reminders of female power everytime Ma Durga visits us. How, like Durga, we women are the very embodiments of “shakti”, naturally multitasking with our invisible ten hands; and though we are full of the milk of human kindness, we have our “rudra” side, too. Hence… men, beware! Don’t cross your line!

Make no mistake – I have no doubts about women being multi-taskers or having huge reserves of inner strength. I don’t doubt because I have those qualities myself… I belong to the tribe, after all! My question is: what really constitutes “shakti”? And what exactly are we celebrating? Shakti means both strength and power. We have strength – but not power. Sorry!

All around me, I see women with immense strength – mostly, the strength to endure. Which has been the badge of our tribe for millennia. But there is also the determination to fight adversity, the willingness to be patient with life and people. Endurance, patience, fortitude – these are not just adjectives in the lives of women, they are lived realities… far more than they are with men. (Multiply the need for those qualifies manifold in the case of lower class/caste women). And then there is the enormous responsibility of bringing up children, the onus of which is still, overwhelmingly, on women. As are homemaking and caregiving in general.

I don’t see any radical shift in gender roles in our society. There are more women with degrees now, yes; also more women who earn their living. But that does not necessarily translate into empowerment. For many, it is actually leads to double enslavement – at home and in the workplace. Money can give financial independence – but true empowerment is a different thing. It is the ability to define the terms of one’s own existence, unapologetically; to stand up for one’s rights and stand by one’s principles, without compromise; and, very importantly, to enable others to do the same. Very few among us can do that.

So during Durg Puja, let’s wear our new sarees and shoes and jewellery, do pandal hopping with our friends, participate in the anjali, enjoy the rhythm of the dhaak and dhunuchi, gorge on delicious food… but PLEASE, let’s not talk about “nari shakti”!