Kudos to these (s)heroes!

Delhi-based singer & music composer Runki Goswami feels that it will take a while for the film industry to start accepting women directors.

For the longest time, women have been fighting for representation in different fields and have since come a long way, so much so that there are now websites like She The People and The Ladies Finger that solely focus on representing these female heroes and covering important gender issues. Despite the tedious journey that women have faced, the process continues as they still aren’t seen as equal when compared to their male counterparts. While the progression towards gender neutrality seems be moving at snail’s pace, women from different fields share the challenges they continue to face on this long journey.

Padma Shri Kathak guru, Shovana Narayan shares some of her experiences where ‘this is not done’ was something that came her way quite often. “The society looks down upon many things. The mindset of the society is such that I had to make my own path in life. But my mother always told me, ‘What ever you do, do it with conviction.’ And I followed that rule. I stuck to my ethics and morality,” she says.

She adds, “In the 60s I studied physics, did a PhD, and as a woman, this was not something common. While I was already popular as a dancer, I entered Indian Administrative Services — which was also one of the ‘this is not done’ moments. Then, I was a young girl when my father died in a train accident. Alone, I went to find his body, got a post mortem done and was back on stage in no time after his cremation… I had to give a performance in Mathura. In that era, I also had a long-distance marriage because I didn’t go abroad with my husband. So, I went against the established practices and did what I wanted. But I did all of it with conviction and it kept me going.”

Delhi-based singer and music composer Runki Goswami feels that it will take a while for the film industry to start accepting women directors.

“The remuneration paid to female artistes is far less than what male artistes get. Also, I feel the appearance of a woman is given more importance than her talent. However, women of today know what they want. They know how to pursue their passions and it’s really heartening to see so many good women musicians around.”

‘The fight for yourself’ kind of attitude is something that all these women have. They fight against all odds to achieve what they want, and don’t believe in lamenting about things they were denied.

Agrees Niharika Nigam, business development, Jumpin Heights, who was fortunate enough to be brought up without any gender bias.

“I don’t view the world in terms of ‘favours’ men receive or problems we face because of our gender. A problem is a problem and you deal with it. When you stop attributing issues as being gender specific, you can deal with it objectively without making it personal,” she says adding, “Empowerment is a state of mind. Nobody can hand it to you in a box and nobody has the right to take it away from you. You are the sole owner of your power, and if you’ve got to ask for it, you’ve probably lost it already. Unfortunately, in India where tolerance is treated as virtuous, women are often taught to not raise their voices. But what’s the point in not raising your voice and then asking for power later?”

However, not everyone is brought up the same way as Niharika and many grow up in an environment where they are intrinsically taught gender-specific roles.

“I believe that women are conditioned in such a way in growing up years that many of them lack the decision-making power. We are always taught to look up to men to make decisions for us and then follow their lead. I think if a woman breaks that mindset, there is nothing stopping her,” says Delhi-based nutritionist Shikha Sharma.

“Emotionally, a woman is a stronger gender than a man,” feels Jyoti Bhalla, owner, Filme Fashion, a multi designer store. “The moment we forget about men and women and focus on an individual, irrespective of their gender, our lives will become so much simpler,” says Jyoti.

But no change happens overnight, says Dr Zulfia Shaikh, who feels we are definitely heading in the right direction. “It takes years to win a war and centuries for a cultural pattern to change. Things are looking better in urban scenarios as compared to the rural sectors. Not only women but men too are starting to recognise the capabilities of women in all fields,” says the theatre personality and founder of the Bangalore School of Speech and Drama. “In the matter of inequality, it’s not only about paycheques or representation. Women were being made to feel like their voices and opinions didn’t matter. I think theatre is one of the most progressive fields as there is no bias here except when it comes to maternity leave,” she opines.

Actress Samyukta Hornad feels strongly about the matter as well. “The gender neutrality graph is a constantly fluctuating one, not only in the film industry but in every other one as well. Actors like Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi have paved the way and made a space for themselves as well as other women. This is very commendable because on sets, male actors have a lot more assistants tending to them and the spotlight is immediately on them as soon as they enter,” she says.

Comedienne Sumukhi Suresh believes that inequality lies in the audience. “I get asked why I do women-centric shows and my only response to that is, every audience is male-centric. Another time, somebody told me I was the funniest female comedian, and I know they meant it in a good way, but I want to be the best comedian there is, not just in the female section. Even my mom is not okay with the jokes I make. Changing the mindset of the older generation is yet another task we need to focus on, because they come from a different time and it’s going to be harder for them,” she says.

With inputs from Sneha Kalra

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