When God created man, he also created woman………

The word ‘woman’ encompasses the word ‘man’ – she shows a man what love and care, sharing and sacrificing are all about. The origin of a child is the mother and she is a woman. It is not said for nothing that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’. In the apron string of the woman is hidden the great power which can make a paradise on Earth. Schiller has rightly said: “Honour women! They entwine and weave heavenly roses in our earthly life”. Undoubtedly, woman is a magnificent creature – a power of benevolence and tolerance, a protector and a provider, an embodiment of love and affection, an epitome of integrity and understanding – all wrapped in one. She is shraddha, the quintessence of fortitude; the grihalakshmi, the honour and fortune of the home. In Indian mythology, woman is divine, holy and pure. Divinities Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning), Parvati (the Goddess of Power), and Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) are worshipped by fervent devotees all over the country. Even the Rigveda places women on a high pedestal of sublimity: Yatr nariyastu poojayante ramante tatr devah (Where women are respected, there dwell gods).

Ironically, they, who constitute one half of the world and without whose presence the survival of the world is unimaginable, have been going through all sorts of trauma in the male-dominated society. Has one ever wondered why only the women are subjected to torture and atrocities? Why is the desire for a son so strong that daughters, since their birth are treated as a second class citizens? Why is there no news of ‘man-beating’ or of male infanticide? How come that it is the women who are raped, molested and teased, and not men? Why are there no notions like ‘female chauvinism’ or ‘female ego’?

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights very clearly points out that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as sex, race…. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. The Declaration had both genders in mind, but for over three billion of the world’s women – human rights seem mainly linked to one gender alone.

Millions of woman are in low pay, low status; they work with no proper prospects of pension or care in their old age. In nations like UK too, women in law, management, medicine, education are all too often paid notably less than men for work of similar nature, as though women’s economic needs are lower. Sexual harassment at work is one of the worst attacks on a woman’s right of equal opportunities especially in countries of the former Soviet Union and in countries where customary laws hold powerful sway.

In many countries, property and financial advantage continue to pass mainly down to the male line. In Tanzania, women are lobbying for the right to inherit land. In Jordan, one third of reported murders are family murders of women. In Muslim countries, the so-called crimes of honour are on the increase. Judges rarely award the murderers severe punishment. Some time back, in the former Yugoslavia, there were reports of about 40,000 Muslim women who were raped by Serbs and Croats.

In the Indian sub-continent, 90% of 109 judges questioned in a survey said they would not opt for legal redress in a case of domestic violence involving their own daughter or another female relative. Cases of female foeticide, female infanticide, sexual abuse, child prostitution, molestation, rape, wife- beating, and bride-burning have become so common place in India that they do not smite the conscience of the so-called civilised society any more. In Pakistan, in recent years, two hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad have treated 794 cases of young women burned with kerosene stove. In Bangladesh, men have taken to throwing sulphuric acid on the faces of young girls who refused to fall prey to their sexual intentions. The unfortunate part is that only 44 countries today have laws against domestic violence; about 17 countries have made marital rape a criminal offence, and only 27 countries have passed laws on sexual harassment. In fact, many an eyebrow was raised when the first UN Conference on Women was held in Mexico way back in 1975. People just could not understand why of all the issues women should be the agenda of an international meet!

For the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, man and woman were equal ‘except as had been made by nature and can be seen with human eye’. “To call a woman on a weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. Wife is not the slave of her husband, but his companion and helpmate, an equal partner in all joys and sorrows – as free as the husband to choose her own path,” he said. The late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had remarked: “I don’t think that any society can progress if half of its members do not have equal opportunity and their talent and capabilities are ignored.”

It is not that there hasn’t been an upheaval in the world of women. In fact, many women have strived to break free of all shackles, whereby redefining the concept of ‘woman’; they have made their own rules and developed themselves. In other words, they fought for what they believed was right. Many women have now come to occupy positions of authority and power, thus posing challenge to the time-honoured concept of male superiority and dominance. There are examples galore where women have come out in flying colours in their respective fields, brought laurels and got accolades from the whole world.

Women rulers are still remembered as efficient as their men counterparts, be it Razia Sultan of Delhi or Cleopatra of Egypt. How can one forget Rani Lakshmi Bai, Mira Ben, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and many more, whose contribution heralded a new era in the struggle of Indian Independence? Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit created a record by becoming the first woman President of the UN General Assembly. Indira Gandhi, who went on to become the Prime Minister of our country, is still held in high esteem the world over. Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, Ms. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mrs. S. Bandarnaike are names of the women who rose to the position of Prime Minister in their respective countries by overcoming severe opposition.

There was not a single field where women did not make stride. There were young Savneet and Sivika, first women pilots in IAF ready to fly in the open sky; Kalpana Awasthi, the competent and dashing bureaucrat; Neena Mehta, the enterprising share broker; Bachendri Pal, Santosh Yadav, Phu Dorjee and Dicky Dolma who performed remarkable feats in the Himalayas; Radhika Nanda, the media director; Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta, acclaimed film directors; Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Shobha De, all renowned writers who made significant contribution to the literary world, and many more. Each of them reliving Maitreyi and Gargi !!!

The list of the great women achievers in endless, and will still not be complete if the names of Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Kiran Bedi, P.T. Usha, Monica Seles are not taken. For them it has been rightly said:

“Resisting adversity some people break, Others break records.”

Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, made history and showed the way to womankind how efficiently and nobly women can mitigate the sufferings of humanity in war and epidemic. Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, inspired the French to drive the English out of Orleans by her heroism. Mother Teresa, an embodiment of divinity brought smiles to the dying destitutes, kindled a new light in children who had been hitherto abandoned, and cheered up those who bore the cross of leprosy. Without an iota of selfishness, without any expectation of a reward, she set up beacons of hope for the poor and the neglected. She was chosen by God as a messenger to fulfil the divine mission of love and care.

Another woman who has managed to achieve miracles in the sordid surroundings of male chauvinism is Kiran Bedi. Known for her courage and strong determination, she is the first Indian woman to storm the then male bastion of IPS. With her single-minded devotion and dedication, she first streamlined the traffic system in Delhi and then, transformed the isolated and languishing Tihar Jail along with inmates (among whom were hard-core criminals, convicts and remandees). P.T. Usha has been the great Indian hope in athletics for a very long time. She earned the sobriquet of the ‘Golden Girl’ with her awesome performance at the Asian Athletics at Jakarta, Seoul Asiad, and at the 1982 Asiad in Delhi. Just when her detractors had written her off, she came with a bang at the Fukuoka (Japan) Meet in 1998. That at 34 a lady annexes medals, speaks at once of her determination and agility. Alas! Her announced retirement from international athletics meet will deprive India many a sure medals.

Monica Seles, one of the top-ranked tennis players, had to suffer because of an injury by a miscreant. After years of practice, she once again stormed the tennis scene by her impressive performances at the Grand Slam tournaments. Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookhey, and Lara Dutta have established India as a beauty superpower. Belonging to a country bound by strong traditions, they have proved that they are inferior to none in beauty, poise, grace and intelligence. Their self-motivation and perseverance have taken them far ahead on the roads to success. Such is the charisma of a woman.

The major onus of household work falls on her and she goes beyond bringing up her children, educating them and making them responsible citizens of the nation. Ralph Emerson points out that ‘a sufficient measure of civilisation is the influence of good women’. Victor Hugo once said, “Men have sight; women insight”. They are capable of handling any given situation in a better and more systematic manner as compared to men. With their patience and perseverance, strength and confidence, they can

bring about a revolution in any part of society. Cool-headed, dispassionate, objective and impartial they have won applause from bureaucracy; by dint of their zeal and dynamism, they have made sustained efforts towards social progress; they are now coming out from their homes to brush shoulders with men as co-workers. Women have demolished the myth that some fields were only meant for men. They have proved to be more vibrant, dynamic, sincere and perfect as doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, astronauts, diplomats, legislators, train drivers, fire-fighters, autorickshaw drivers, mountaineers, entrepreneurs; they have stormed all possible male-dominated bastions. Even in the results of the competitive examinations in All India Civil Services and Indian Universities, it is a pleasant surprise to see women amongst top successfuls in most of the exams.

According to Rabindranath Tagore, “Woman is God’s Best Creation”. She adds beauty and charm to every aspect of life. Emotional, affectionate, caring and, yet resolute, a woman is the perennial source of inspiration for man in the odyssey of life. It has been reiterated time and again that behind the success of every man is a woman. In a Lok Sabha Session in 1955, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru glorified women in one of his famous speeches. “I can say with considerable confidence that I am proud of women in India. I am proud of their beauty, grace, charm, shyness, modesty, intelligence, and their spirit of sacrifice, and I think if anybody can truly represent the spirit of India, the women can do it and not the men. Every time a woman has been sent abroad, she has done well; not only done well, but produced a fine impression about the womanhood of India”. Hats off to you woman!

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