Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Women's Liberation - Kudumbashree Shows the Way

Saw an interesting picture in the newspaper today – a women’s pancharimelam team from a Kudumbasbsree unit welcoming the Health Minister Ms P. K. Sreemathi to the Tourism and Trade Fair.

It was an extremely pleasing sight. So different from the usual thalapoli walk comprising ladies dolled up in traditional Kerala sarees, looking pretty and walking ‘gracefully’, thereby endorsing the age old image of woman as an ornament, a seductress, the creature whose very rationale for existence is to bring joy and fulfillment to the man, the family and society – the frames into which are fitted the devadasi, the gazal dancer, the courtesan.

I don’t think these entrenched images have changed fundamentally in any part of the world. I was disappointed to see Michelle Obama dancing - for the white female electorate, was it? I would have liked to see her doing something more relevant to the role of the would–be consort to the most powerful man in the world – it’d appear that dancing and charming are only the roles that suit her, the woman. A President’s wife or a janitor’s wife, the story is the same.

Surely women are capable of less frilly roles too. The kudumbasree is a superb example of that. The cities of Kochin and Trivandrum would stink and be a breeding a ground for life threatening microbes if not for the fantastic service rendered by the kudumbasree in waste removal. Where the corporation and the municipality have failed, the kudumbashree has stepped in. It is the awakening and experience of the women power – sthree sakthi - that is seen in this picture where the kudambasree women chose to welcome the minister, not with thalapoli but with drums that are always associated with the strong, male of high utility value.

It’s time that women from the more privileged classes too made conscious efforts to break themselves free from these controlling images brewed long years back in the cauldron of patriarchal values. That liberation can come only when they experience the self esteem that the kudumbashree enjoys, a self esteem that is born of a realization that women can address and tackle not only women’s social and economic problems as they do, but also those of the society. The innovative self help banking system that they follow, their success in turning society’s problems into opportunities for themselves and service to the society, have enhanced their sense of independence and self esteem.

Which, I guess is why they didn’t line up in the Kerala kasavu sarees, holding thalipolis and walking seductively.

This reminds me to a function I attended in Florida sometime back. The Malayalee teenaged girls donned the kasavu saree, loaded their heads with jasmine flowers and walked up the aisle with the talapolis. What struck me was the most ‘unladylike’ movement of these young girls who had spent all their lives in Levis and Bermuda shorts. It looked awkward to me at first, particularly when one of them, impatient with the saree getting in the way, kept on hitching it up! But, as I watched them, I felt a certain sense of relief rising from deep within me. That ‘graceful’, seductive, annnanada(swan walk) is not something a woman is born with. It is imbibed from the air she breathes. Yes. No one is born a woman; she is made one.

I am not trying to say that these young teenagers are a liberated lot. Only, they have not been influenced by the Kerala concept of “how to be a lady” –at least, at that superficial level. As they weren’t trapped and trained in the ‘womanizing’ clothes, they hadn’t fallen victim to the images that control and shape the mind through the agency of the traditional attire.


  1. The same Malayali-American teenager who struggles with the sari will undoubted slink her way gracefully through her high school prom in a bare shouldered clingy gown and high heels. Sexism in clothes isn't the prerogative of Indian culture alone- it shows up in other forms in Western culture.

  2. Hello!

    The modern, educated woman is liberated, independent, knows what she wants, demands her rights, asserts her view point, demanding and will not allow a man to trample over her. The relationship with man is on an equal basis. The patriarchal system is breaking down.

    In Wimbledon tennis, women get the same prize money as men although they play only 3 sets.

    There are many women in foreign countries who bring up children as single parents.

    There are women auto drivers, petrol pump attendants, security guards etc. Women are constantly and continuously invading male bastions. There are women astronauts, foot ball players, referees, boxers, wrestlers, pilots, police officers and so on.

    In Israel there are women soldiers.

    Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully contested to be nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in the US..

    Many countries had successful women prime minister like Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. Indira in her hey days was know as the only MAN in the INDIAN Parliament. Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady.

    On the last International Women’s Day, a seminar was held in the A.J. Hall, Kochi. Women officials from all India participated. One of the things they did was to stand up and clap loudly for their husbands who were taking care of their children and houses in the absence of these ladies. One lady even remarked that if she gets a foreign assignment, her husband will have to resign his job and go with her.

    Indira Nooyi and Kiran Bedi are shining examples where the husbands played a subordinate role to ensure the wives success.

    I think I should stop now.

    Many thanks for the great post. It was very thought provoking!

    Have a wonderful day.

  3. @ suajtha
    fuly agree with you - every society has its own way of perpetuating gendered thinking

    @ joseph pulikotil
    agree with you, but must add you are talkng of exceptions.

    But that meeting in AJT Hall sounds extremely interesting. have they published the proceedings of that seminar. know how i can get my hands on it?

    definitely things are changing. this invasion into male territory has bee going on for sometime. the very concept of woman, the bread earner is one such invasion. but if u look closely at this invader, you'll find that the glass ceiling is very much there-and more often than not, it is the woman herself who is unwilling to/cannot crash thru it. The women you mentioned are the few who succeeded in doing it.

    Conditioning is so chronic and pervasive.

  4. Hello!

    This was an all India Seminar for Women Officers chaired by Reena Ramachandran, former CMD of HOC Ltd. I think she is living in Delhi. If you contact the HRD of HOC at Amabalamugal, they might be able to help you.

    Best wishes!

  5. Thanks.
    i know Dr. Reena ramachandran. I used to live in the same apt complex as she did while she was Hoc CMD.

  6. What a beautiful post!!

    "Surely women are capable of less frilly roles too"

    Since when did the Indian women have frilly roles? They always managed the menial jobs. I guess Kudumbashree extended that role to the encompass the society as well. Whatever the change we want in the society, has to be lead by women. Because "she' and only she can clean the mess her subservience has wrought on the Indian system as a whole!

  7. Happened to read this today, you said "this invasion into male territory has been going on for sometime". Was reading about Sabarinath scandal in Kerala last few days, yes, you are correct, see how many are involved in this case and all women!! "What do women really want"? Power, just greedy, Jealous, sex symbol? I just wonder... :-) I don't see any difference between men and women in these things (all human beings), it is the society and the culture that controls all the crap.

  8. Let Kudumbasree lead the way!

    Thinking locally, education and self-sufficiency are the two most important aspects women need to what we call 'empowerment'. Thats what I've understood from the western world and the women here.

    I've now almost lost my conditioned thought "oh! she is a woman!"...

  9. Managing a household [family] is tougher work than managing enterprises, where definite rules and procedures make things easier.

    Nobody achieves more than the successful housewife. Women bureaucrats and the like might make money; but they do not make a society as is done by the housewife.

    Kerala began having cleanliness-related problems and diseases when we began having 'Udyogasthaas' replacing 'Veettammaas'. We never had Chikun guniya when our housewives used to regularly clean our houses and burn the waste. Our children never went astray when we used to have mothers and grandmothers controlling things at home.

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