On Women’s Day this year, we wanted to create new conversations around what it meant to be a woman in the modern day:
Devi Yesodharan, author of the upcoming historical fiction Empire, wrote on how the notions of ‘traditional’ role of women in India has changed over time, recounting the Chola empire.
It was in the Chola royal court that women had the greatest power: the chief queen sat beside the king on his throne, and could issue and influence royal orders.[i] Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, Rajaraja Chola’s aunt, was a strong presence in his court, both as an advisor to the king and as a patron of the royal temples.[ii]…What is especially interesting is the employment of women in the Chola empire as bodyguards. War is seen now as something that belongs exclusively to the male sphere – it has taken us until 2016 for the first female fighter pilots to enter the Indian Air Force – but in the Chola empire, the padimagalir, women bodyguards, were dedicated to protecting the king as he travelled in wartime….
Sayoni Basu, publisher of Duckbill Books, selected her 10 favourite girl characters from Indian children’s writing:
It felt good because as I was writing this, I had to choose books from a range rather than hunt for them. There are still many more to be written—there are not enough contemporary books, especially in English, dealing with caste, class, poverty, about tribal kids, kids with special needs, about sexual choices—but those books just don’t exist, whatever the gender of the protagonist. But there are now a significant number of books about fighting for opportunities and equality, and many books with strong female protagonists who take their destiny into their own hands…
Renuka Narayanan, author of Hindu Fables: From the Vedas to Vivekananda, wrote on how Hindu scriptures list out the qualities of an ‘ideal wife’, but never that of an ideal husband:
Caste is ‘men against men’. But gender is ‘all men against all women’. This is because caste itself is founded on women’s bodies…For centuries, caste as a male hierarchy has been based on birth. This necessitates controlling the mind and body of women as a service sector to the patriarchy… Take, for example, the traditional wifely virtues that went out as advice to Sita by Rishi Atri’s wife Anasuya in the Sri Ramcharitmanas (Aranya Kand, verse four) by the influential 16th century poet Tulsidas of Varanasi:
“Devotion of body, speech and mind to the feet of her lord, the husband, is the only duty, sacred vow and penance of a woman.”
Psychologist and author Deepa Narayan argued it was time to break the notion that a ‘quiet’ woman who doesn’t speak out is a ‘good, moral’ woman:
Voice is not just about voice. Voice is so fundamental to having a self, that women without a voice loose themselves, they become half-women. Every time a girl is told to shut up or not allowed to speak up or does not speak up, a girl is diminished. Not only is she diminished, but the habit of silence, the habit of not speaking up, slows down her thinking and eventually her ability and confidence to participate in reasoned argumentation.