“Empower a woman, empower a family. Empower a family, empower a village. Empower a village, empower a nation.” These were the words of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he launched the ‘Nari Shakti’ campaign in 2015. The campaign aims to recognize and celebrate the immense contribution of women to Indian society and to empower them to become agents of change. In our pervasive social paradigm, we as a nation have followed longstanding western philosophical definitions and remedies including how women’s issues are seen and characterized in our country. Pseudo-intellectual understanding of women and the niche inherent Indian essence got distorted the more we adopted the western lens to see women of our society. Indic understanding of women empowerment and self- awareness was lost long back in the discourse of western feminism. Women themselves have capitulated to the influence of the west which sees women as a reductive category and this has led to the crumbling of the whole edifice of Indian society.
Celebrating women’s day every year, highlights and unveils the issues pertaining to inequality and discrimination against women. This day marks as a reminder for not just women who are proving their mantle in every walk of life proven very recently in Oscars where two women won the Best Documentary Short Film for their project named ‘The Elephant Whisperer’, but the entire nation of their respective rights and duties in regards to women. It is also a day to inculcate the teachings and values of and pay homage to figures like Babasaheb Ambedkar, who paved the way for better future for the country and recognised the value of women in its growth. Even if symbolic, we need to realise that symbols are the life source of change and they are as important an attribute as any.
There needs to be a shift from anglo-centric approaches by following Indic traditions and looking for solutions within the rich and prosperous Indian philosophy and thoughts. The present paradigm of women empowerment that we’re following in our country tries to fix this problem. The present Government has realised that a better future of a country and its growth is only possible when we recognize the value of women in each field and it is important to rethink and reorient our values and perspectives by emulating indigenous intellectual traditions propagated by eminent, illustrious personalities like Babasaheb, Swami Vivekanand Ji and many more. The Government has, among other initiatives, emphasised upon looking inwards as we, as a country, has had a long tradition of having women in leadership roles, as warriors, as embodiments of grit and resolve. The Devi Sukta hymn of Rig Veda propounds that the universe itself is a manifestation of feminine energy which is the procreator of all that’s around and within. Women are worshipped as Goddesses and have been shown in mythologies, folklore, oral traditions to lead their own journeys. This can very much be seen at Ayodhaya, where the choice to bring the sacred stone to carve out the idol of Ram – Sita from the rocks, not only authenticate the conjugal relationship but the power that women have within themselves and women’s full potential is being realised as Stree- Shakti at the temple. Thoughtfulness behind the choice of the stone gives powerful affirmation of ideas through which the socio- cultural order of our nation can be intact.
This symbolic assertion is one that we as a nation could place pride in and that honors the spirit of International Women’s Day and sees it in Indic perspective. Goddess Sita who is considered to be the personification of feminine virtues, devotion and resilience is also a signifier of the significance of traditionally revered attributes of womanhood. The symbolic significance of this step is that it shows the divine and quintessential nature of women that Indian culture has always revered and furthers an Indic way of celebrating women and the ‘Nari Shakti’ imbued in our culture. The powerful affirmation of this philosophy in acts like these explicates how we could derive a more holistic approach to women empowerment emulating Indic traditions rather than meaninglessly imitating western ideals.
While women have been part of Republic Day celebrations for decades, this year’s celebration has been historical in numerous ways. One, the Hon’ble President Droupadi Murmu who doesn’t only represent women but is also the first president from the tribal community, inspires confidence in generations of girls to strive and achieve their dreams. Second, the most evident show of Nari Shakti could be witnessed in women officers leading the marching contingents of the armed forces. Several tableaux also celebrated Nari Shakti like, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even several ministries. First ever women armed police battalion in the world also marched during the parade. The diverse presence of women in the parade was also exemplified by the first ever all women pipe band contingent of Delhi police. The nation also witnessed Mahila Praharis be part of the coveted and awe inspiring camel contingent of BSF for the first time since its introduction in 1976. Third and last but not the least, this republic day served as a reminder on the Kartavaya path that women have played an invaluable role in bringing the nation to where it is today and in more ways than have been traditionally acknowledged. With such initiatives help girls and women in the country develop capabilities and aspire to break the symbolic glass ceiling of non-representation/ under representation.
It was not just an address to the people of India, on the occasion of the 75th Independence day by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, to respect women in thoughts, words and conduct but was a thrust placed on girls belonging to Socio-Economically Disadvantaged groups to bring them to the mainstream and instil in them aspirations which are further strengthened by representation.
The present state centred Indian culture and traditions in policies and initiatives as well. Examples for the same could be seen in their emphasis on propagation of Ayurveda, Yoga etc. Initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao aim to solve the issue of female infanticide and low female literacy through a more culturally inclined route, by coupling our traditional values with the modern truistic push for gender equality. There are also tangible apparent instances of ‘Beti Padhao’ as far as women in education are considered as was explicated in the 6th convocation held in JNU recently, which witnessed more women Ph.D awardees than men. Such milestones have been made possible by indigenously cultivated efforts towards educational growth of women. The slogan of ‘Beti Bachoa Beti Padhao’ itself conveys a very personable and culturally relevant connotation that resonates with the common populace for who it is meant. The National Education Policy 2020 also centres girls’ education and emphasizes on the value of educating daughters and making them self-reliant.
It must be noted that representation of women in various fields has seen a major boost during the tenure of Modi Government and is also exemplified in various instances showing that when in positions of power, women have led significant social movements and initiatives to promote causes that help other women and girls. It is a worthwhile question to ask given the Jawaharlal Nehru University has forever been seen as a bastion of inclusivity, gender equality, promoting diversity, and social justice, but why did it fail to celebrate first ever birth anniversary of a figure, Savitri Bai Phule, a pioneer in her own regard, who has had such an impact on the social and gender landscape of this nation, who herself being from a marginalised caste fought for the right of women from marginalized groups to access education.? Why the birth anniversary of Savitri Bai Phule was celebrated only after the appointment of a female Vice Chancellor? It is just because she hails herself from a marginalized caste group or it is showing that to further the cause of social justice and women empowerment, they must first and foremost be meaningfully represented in positions of power? If it is so then such change is needed to bring country’s economy in pace, their representation in each field should be acknowledged.
The vision and effort of the government is leaving no stone unturned in going beyond merely sermonizing about the oft-repeated rhetoric of women empowerment but actually ensure tangible changes in that regard. These initiatives however seemingly inefficacious have the potential to inspire the most impoverished, disadvantaged and marginalized section of the society in an inclusive and Just India. The present Government shares these aspirations with such visionaries like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya who gave the mantra of Antyodaya which means to bring the last person in the mainstream and is a mantra of inclusive growth.
The expansive scheme of “Mission Shakti” is an umbrella scheme to further the goal of Nari Shakti, to ensure that women are given both resources and opportunities to realize their true potential. It is praiseworthy that the shared national imagination of gender equality and women’s emancipation is moving towards a tangible culmination under the counsel of the present Government.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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