There have been warriors, rulers and leaders among women, but only a handful remain in our memories.
Draupadi, Rani Laxmibai, Meerabai, Radha — centuries of Indian history and very few such women’s names float around when we think of heroic women from our country’s past. And strangely, we remember few details about these women’s struggles for the cause they believed in and the fights they waged for it. Even the very term ‘heroism’ is often seen as something masculine. While patriarchy explains why stories of these women have not been celebrated, Delhi-based author Ira Mukhoty has taken on the task to uncover the heroism of these historical figures and mythological characters in her book Heroines.
“It was a realisation that there aren’t many books on India and its historical figures written by Indian authors. Majorly American and European authors have been writing about our history — from their own perspectives. In my research I found that this was true, and especially when women are concerned, there is a lot of myth making and fabulation surrounding their stories. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to find out the truth and bring these women into our public consciousness, the way they were at the point of time they belonged to,” explains Ira about the idea behind penning this book.
The book brings to life the dusky Draupadi, whose story emerges from almost three millennia ago; Radha, who sacrificed societal responsibility for a love that transgressed convention; Raziya, the battle-scarred warrior and many more such daughters, wives, courtesans, mothers, queens and warriors.
Choosing who to feature in the book was a fairly difficult challenge, shares the Delhi-based author. “The research for the book revealed interesting aspects about how some women became an important part of our collective consciousness, while some were just erased,” points out Ira and adds, “For instance, Laxmibai and Hazrat Mahal were contemporaries, but Hazrat Mahal has almost been forgotten. Where women’s history is concerned, there is a dearth of recorded information, and few of them have been remembered through folk songs and some sublimated into goddesses, which is a puzzling thing.”
Being a scientist in the past helped Ira differentiate between facts and myths. “It was a challenging task to separate interpretation from cold hard facts, but luckily being a scientist (before taking up writing as a profession) helped me put in some innovative research and look for primary sources wherever they existed — from national archives to the buildings where the remains of a few of these women have been kept — understanding the women through all the traces they’ve left,” asserts the author.
It is necessary to bring out tales highlighting women for their achievements rather than let them turn into goddesses, Ira believes. “In today’s environment where there are so many attacks on women, these stories are highly important. Here are stories of women from generations ago, who have gone against the societies to stand for what they believe in, at the cost of their life and such accounts are the need of the hour. We have been a very advanced society in the past, where women are concerned, and there is no need to regress in any way. These tales are to make us question where we are heading as a society,” she concludes.