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Do Me A Favour, Don't Go Shopping This Women's Day

08/03/2016 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A woman is perceived to be the domestic goddess, the maker of all decisions in a household, or at least those concerning decor, draperies, detergent, dress and diet. So, with Women's Day this month, one doesn't have to be soothsayer to foresee that at least one FMCG or e-commerce giant must be ready to kick off a marketing blitz around all things woman. There'll be an onslaught of offers, no doubt, even putting the tremendously successful Independence/Republic Day campaigns to shame. But is this why we celebrate Women's Day? For more shopping? Isn't it bad enough that all our festivals--from Diwali to Christmas to Eid to Rakshabandhan--are already unduly commercialized and have become more about the clothes we wear or the gifts we buy? Does anyone remember 'conspicuous consumption'? I first came across that term in school.

Is shopping and receiving gifts the only way a woman (or anyone, really) can feel good about herself? Is this how we want to celebrate womanhood? Why do we really celebrate a day especially for women?

Can Indian women stand up for something this Women's Day? Do we have a dearth of women-related concerns to stand up for?

International Women's Day, originally called International Working Woman's Day, started in Eastern Europe and the erstwhile Soviet Bloc as a socialist and political movement. Over the years, some regions started observing it as a day of appreciation and love for the women in their lives (read mother, wife, etc), while others have maintained the United Nations' political and human rights theme fairly strongly. Here, the political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are set up for examination, debate, discussion and, hopefully, some action.

From 1909, when International Women's Day was first observed, to this moment in history, many issues have been brought to the fore. In fact, Women's Day in Germany in 1914 was marked with protests for women's right to vote (which they won eventually in 1918). In 1917, women protestors thronged St Petersburg on Women's Day for 'bread and peace', demanding the end of World War I and the end of the Russian food shortage. A hundred years later in 2016, the focus is on gender equality (aka feminism), a United Nation Sustainable Development Goal.

I urge each one of us to stand up for all that is wrong, in a peaceful and meaningful way...

Can Indian women stand up for something this Women's Day? Do we have a dearth of women-related concerns to stand up for? Let's journey into the history of evolution. Evolution didn't envisage that the key differentiator of man and animal, the human brain, would wreak more destruction on the species than any beast. We abort foetuses, kill female infants, starve little girls to death or if not that deprive them of schooling and education so they could do household chores (after all, daughters are 'paraya dhan', property to be passed on to a husband and in-laws). We evolved into a species that demands dowry as a birthright, treats women like child-rearing machines, stalks and harasses them, brutally assaults, rapes and murders them. Their inner being is shattered into pieces so that can never be put back together, so that they can never say no and so that they can never learn to stand up and ask, why? All these deep-seated manifestations of patriarchy are organisms that continue to infest our society even today.

As a student growing up in Delhi in the early 90s, I was inspired by Rajiv Goswami, the first student who attempted to immolate himself in protest against the Mandal Commission. I didn't really understand then (and it hurts when I write this) why we needed reservations for college admissions. Now I do. (Don't get me wrong, none of this means I support self-immolation as a mode of protest nor all reservation-seeking methods, as in the case of the Jats.)

Stop celebrating your technical and financial inhibitions and weaknesses, up-skill yourself, learn something new or volunteer for a cause.

What I want to highlight is that International Women's Day is observed to make a difference to a marginalized section of society. So, I urge each one of us to stand up for all that is wrong, in a peaceful and meaningful way. On Women's Day, we need to be at India Gate in Delhi, the Gateway in Mumbai, the Victoria Memorial at Kolkata and the Freedom Park at Bengaluru. Demanding pink taxis, pink autos, pink PCR vans, pink railway stations, pink panchayats, longer maternity leave, childcare facilities at work, more women in the workforce (including politics), pink blogs and caricatures, pink laws, if you please.

This International Women's Day, I would urge you to make the day meaningful in your own small (or big) way. It doesn't have to be a protest. Stop celebrating your technical and financial inhibitions and weaknesses, up-skill yourself, learn something new or volunteer for a cause. Rise and Reboot: get back to work, embrace the internet, open your mind to social media, learn to drive, learn to network, join mentoring programs, find sponsors and coaches. And if all this is not applicable to you somehow (!!), tell your kids about International Women's day and what it really stands for. Teach your daughters about self-esteem and that being fair-complexioned does not make you a better human. Tell them they are just as important in the scheme of things as their brothers and also teach them to say no. And, most crucially, teach your sons too.

Don't let International Women's Day on 8 March become 'discount day'. You may or may not join a protest, but please do not shop that day!

In Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Munna (Sanjay Dutt) asks Circuit (Arshad Warsi): "Do you know what 2nd October means?" And Circuit answers, "Dry day!"

Don't let International Women's Day on 8 March become 'discount day'. You may or may not join a protest, but please do not shop that day!

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