‘Men at work’ reads the board at road construction site. Ironically, a group of women are seen collecting the gravel and carrying away it away.
When you think farmer you would often picture a man. In overall farm production in India, women’s average contribution is 55 to 66%. In the Indian Himalyas, a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours. (Shiva FAO, 1991) – NCW
There exists a pervasive amnesia when it comes to contributions of women. You will be surprised to know that Savitribai Phule led the country’s first feminist movement way back in the 19th century.She championed the cause of women, widows and Dalits. A child bride herself, she fought against the practice of child marriage and worked to improve the lives of widows by staging protests against barbers to dissuade them from carrying out the unfair ritual of shaving the heads of widows. She even opened a care center for pregnant women who had been victim to sexual abuse – at a time when such activism was strongly discouraged, even punished.
Today on her 120th Death Anniversary, let us take a pledge to acknowledge the contributions of women. As the saying goes – Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter. It becomes extremely important to record women’s achievements if we want to fight the pervasive amnesia relating to lives of women.
As C S Lakshmi, founder of The Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW) puts it, “Unless you document women’s stories and women’s work, how will future generations know what our history was? You may know your mother’s name, you may know your grandmother’s name but beyond that? Those women ancestors of yours must have existed, but who were they? You don’t even know their names, never mind who they were, what they did, how they felt, how they lived their lives. I feel it’s very important to know that. I feel we lose a little of ourselves when we lose our histories. We are the sum of these women and we have ignored them for too long. It is time to make things right again. Half the story of humanity has been left untold. So what we know is lopsided and inadequate for us to understand who we are.” The first women’s archive in India, SPARROW has been championing the cause of recording and preserving the work and lives of women.
If we want to prevent the recurrence of this selective amnesia in future we need to get the youth involved. SCM Sophia, an institute that offers Post-Graduation in Social Communications Media encourages their students to record and compile inspiring stories of women in their annual book Lives of Women.
A Country of Great Women by Indian Memory Project is another such initiative in the digital domain. The open curated platform allows users to record historic contribution of Indian women against some place of significance in their lives in Google Maps. It has names of 84 achievers and counting.
Anusha Yadav, photographer, photo archivist and the brain behind this idea tells us, “I like maps and I like the fact that you can use it to reveal different things than just geography. Through these maps, I want to pay a homage to the woman of India.” She discovered interesting things about Indian women while working on this project. One such revelation, “I got to know about a woman who had participated in Wimbledon match in 1929. No one knows that we had someone like that in our country.”
Despite the work being done by so many organisations and inividuals in this area, there is still so much lag. So many stories are waiting to be told. How about doing your bit in bringing about a change? Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, wife, teachers… how about knowing more about the lives of women in your own circle.