Imagine winning one of the highest literary awards in the country, and then being referred to by your husband’s name by a leading English daily. Politician and novelist Jayashree Goswami Mahanta has won the Sahitya Academi Award for the year 2019. But seems like it is not enough, apart from a notable political career, to earn her own identity. Why is it that no matter what a woman does, she cannot carve her own name in history? Must she always be known by her husband’s name? Or that of her father? Can’t our press keep itself from putting up regressive headlines that not only steal women’s individual identity but in a way belittle their achievements too?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • A leading daily referred Jayashree Goswami Mahanta as “Prafulla’s wife” while announcing her Sahitya Academi win.
  • Esther Duflo was meted out the same sexist treatment by a part of Indian media, as she was called Abhijit Banerjee’s wife.
  • It seems like no amount of achievements are enough for society to see women as individuals and not wives, daughters, sisters, etc.
  • Such an approach not only robs them of their identity but also belittles their talent and credentials.

Can’t our press keep itself from putting up regressive headlines, that not only steal women’s individual identity but in a way belittle their achievements too?

This isn’t the first incident where Indian media has belittled a woman’s feat and reduced her to being someone’s wife. Just last month economist Esther Duflo won a Nobel prize for her work along with her husband Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer. But some news outlets couldn’t see more to her than being Banerjee’s wife. Earlier this year, Indira Jaising, a senior Supreme Court advocate, took to writing an open letter to the then CJI Rajan Gogoi, demanding elimination of sexist language in Indian courts. The letter seemed a reaction to an incident where Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to her as lawyer Anand Grover’s wife, to which she shot back, “I am a person in my own right.”

Also Read: “Wife” comment on Esther Duflo’s Nobel prize indicative of a bigger problem

One wonders if this robbing of women’s individual standing is an Indian thing, considering how deep-seated patriarchy is in our society, and how it has brainwashed us into seeing women through the lens of their relationships with men in their lives. She is someone’s sister, mother, wife or daughter. Rarely do people see a woman for her potential and it only makes it harder for them to prove their worth. Being considered a secondary gender the odds are forever stacked against women, who cannot even lay claim to their achievements on their own. There is always that one person who’ll point out presence of a prominent man in her life, as a measure of defining her identity. And what happens when the said man has a legacy that is difficult to outshine? The struggle to leave your mark becomes even harder.

No matter how hard women try to step out of men’s shadows our society has this compulsive desire to push them back. A sort of reminder to “know your place.” This is how Jayashree Mahanta becomes Prafulla’s wife or Duflo ends up as Banerjee’s wife. It is as good as robbing these women of their names altogether. We might as well call them Jane Doe.

So, if we sincerely want the emancipation of women from the clutches of patriarchy, then we must always call out such belittling of their individuality. We should never let society forget that times have changed. That women are entitled to their own recognition and it is simply unjust to deprive them of it. Women overcome a lot of stigmas and social resistance to pursue education, career, art and passion. Success doesn’t come to them easily because gender is a priority over other relevant columns, when it comes to recognition. This is why it is essential that we take a stand whenever the achievements of any women are trivialised. It will be a long time before the mind-set at large changes, but it needs a constant push from us.

Image Credit: Jayashree Goswami Mahanta Facebook/Twitter

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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