27 June 2005

The strength of women

What most impressed me about the group of women who took the law into their hands and killed a rapist in the premises of a court in Nagpur (see my post of 25 June), were two things: (i) they were women, and (ii) they were slum-dwelling women from a small town in India. Meaning, they were not educated and sophisticated women from an urban city like Mumbai or Delhi; nor were they spandex-wearing superheroes with special powers from comic books or movies.

The Nagpur incident was a far cry from what happened in a Mumbai train almost three years ago: A young mentally-challenged woman was raped in a compartment where over half a dozen men were seated. None of them raised an alarm or tried to get the rapist off the girl. Instead, they waited for their respective stations, got down and left. Only at the final station did someone report the rape to the police.

The Nagpur women were strong, positive and self-reliant – filling the roles of men. They were not superheroes of the Batman school; nor damsels in distress in a fairy tale. They were women with ordinary looks in their ordinary saris or salwar-kameezes. They were ordinary women who left their daily household chores to do something they believed in… to fight oppression.

Yes, a lot of questions arise: About the women’s own motives and actions, about justice, and about taking the law into their own hands. Four women were arrested on the spot. While voicing their frustration, one woman said, “The police is of no use... we thought enough was enough. Instead of dying slowly by swallowing such humiliation, we thought it is preferable to die once for all.”

What a thought! But, what does it mean to us urban sophisticates? Was there now a breed of strong competent women in India who were worthy of hero status? And, were they emerging from small towns to do the work of men and the judiciary system? As individuals, were they more conscious of justice and their self-worth than we were?

If heroism is about living according to heroic ideals and struggling with those ideals, if heroism means action and response to challenge, then these women from Nagpur have certainly proved their point.

According to Joseph Campbell and his interpretation of heroism from mythology (see my post of 18 June), “Heroes play a crucial role… Societies must have heroes to incarnate the society’s values." From what I understand, the whole point of heroes – whether from mythology or from fantasy – is that they are not limited by reality; and here, in a small town called Nagpur, we have not just one but an entire group of women living that reality for all of us.

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