In an all-girls school, amid Independence Day celebrations, we were always asked – “What does freedom mean to you?”. The question, as years pass by, raises a plethora of notions for girls and women across the country as we dive deeper into our individual ideas of freedom. Our Constitution guarantees every citizen, equally, a host of freedoms. Freedom to move about, speak, live anywhere, enter any place, work anywhere, think anything we want to and to be who we want to be. But has this freedom really seeped into our lives?

Going by the words of Swami Vivekananda, ‘There is no chance of welfare, unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.’

Sure, women are more empowered, today, than ever before. But the question is – are women really free? The British have gone, but today’s freedom struggle for women is tougher than the one that was fought back then. 

Freedom of choice and opportunity

Freedom is the right to exercise choice. Meaning, having access to same resources and options and then having the freedom to choose among them. Look around, and you will find that the freedom to exercise choice is becoming lower for women. The problem is that choice will be exercised if there’s an equal opportunity available. There are hundred and one examples of women not being able to exercise a right to choose at workplaces like corporate houses, film and television industries, media house, agencies, law firms, education sector and politics. The root cause is the lack of equal opportunity.  

How equal are we? 

Read the papers, watch news channels or access social media, and we will notice that the last decade has all been but a cause for women’s empowerment and gender equality. Now after endless debates, campaigns, social discussions and a very few implementations, do all women really feel empowered and equal? Why, even after 72 years of Independence, there is a need to discuss women’s rights? While a certain section of women may have the platform to exercise their basic rights, there is a majority, in interior India, which is still fighting not just for themselves but also their families.

Why aren’t there more women in policy making in Parliament? Where are more women judges in courts across the country? Why do we, today, consider it a big achievement when we read a headline which says “So and so becomes the first woman to head the organisation” or “XYZ open its doors for women after 50 years”, when this, really, should have been a normal way of life for women like it has been for men?

More than inequality, it’s the gender bias that is heading the country’s functioning these days. Women are fighting for the freedom to be inclusive. And this, after decades of Independence, is definitely not empowering.

Freedom from patriarchy

Again, there can be a hundred incidents named which prove that women are still victims of patriarchy. Even today, in many corners of our country, each time a girl attempts something extraordinary, patriarchy raises its ugly head. Women will truly be free when they’ll be able to shrug off the baggage that patriarchy offers. Patriarchy, unfortunately, is a different and important discussion altogether. Men are as grave victims of patriarchy as women are. The word, with all its unnecessary weight and meaning, needs to go; only then women will succeed in their fight for this cause of freedom.

How free are we from stereotyped sanskars?

What is it with benchmarking women to sanskars? So, historically, women have been considered secondary to men. With endless efforts, women were finally given rights of equality to a certain level. However, the sanskari society still continues to dictate behaviours of women. Free will and independent existence are nearly invisible in some sections of the country. Definitions of morality, female virtue, and the double standards are constant reasons to fight for.

Many will argue that it is not the case anymore. The point is if nearly half the population is still living in such oppression, how can we call ourselves free?

Freedom in culture

The last few months saw women struggle to enter certain temples. These are temples which deny them the right to enter because of their biological features. To have the Supreme Court take up such a matter, and decide whether or not women can enter temples is in itself an alarming cause for a fight to access rights.

How safe are we? – Freedom from atrocities

We wake up to the never-ending news of rape, gang rape, acid attack, harassment, dowry deaths, female infanticide, abandonment, etc. These have now become routine incidents. Women are a part of the largest group of sex trafficking victims, who are subjected to forced prostitution. These are mounting indicators of women’s oppression in India. Now, really, how free are women when it comes to safety?

It is always stressed that the nation must lead to “emancipation” of women by defeating shortcomings in terms of education, safety and health. This heavy word, however, with an even greater meaning is yet to be realised.

Women, in India, will be free in the true sense when there’s a stop to their under-representation in professional fields. Women will feel free when they can, fearlessly, move across the country. This gender will gain the sense of freedom when gender laws will effectively be enforced; when no one questions their sexuality. The idea of freedom, for women, will only be a reality when the country, collectively frees itself from patriarchy, bias, atrocities, double standards and have the ability to accept women as they are.

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