Indian women have historically been considered secondary to men. It was with gradual efforts that women were finally given rights to their own lives and a certain level of human equality was achieved. However, the society still continued to dictate (and judge) female behaviour and assign them social positions. The concept of free will and independent existence seems to be invisible when it comes to women in India.

Are you sanskaari or characterless?

Women are at all times expected to behave in a socially and culturally accepted manner. Talking out loud in public, putting forward your opinion in front of men, refusing to get married at 25 or going out at night; all constitute as “sins” in a woman’s life which throw her open to criticism, comments and disgust from the society. The woman who wishes to question, rebel and speak against her oppression and discrimination is conveniently labelled as ‘unsanskari’ by the intellectuals of our society, including fellow women. Women generally only have two options: either to be “sanskaari” or else be labelled as “characterless”. While women constantly face the scrutiny of social pressures and moral standards, men are laid off easily in comparison.

Indian sanskaari girls

Media reinforces social norms

The disciplinary expectations from women are heavily reinforced in the minds of people through mass means of cinema and TV. It appears that these serials and movies are constantly putting a cap on what good women wear, how they behave and how it is right for them to be secondary in areas of decision making. The ‘ideal bahu’, the ‘supportive wife’, the ‘caring mother’, the ‘subsidiary employee’ and the ‘obedient daughter’ are certain images that have been infused into our minds through such means. The impact goes so deep that women in real life start finding flaws in them if they fail to comply with these images. What they refuse to comprehend is that these are preconceived social constructs created in order to preserve and nurture the dominant patriarchal society.

Fatima Sheikh was supposedly unethical and insensitive for wearing a swimsuit during Ramazan; Gauri Lankesh was killed for being a woman of opinion and dissent

Sanskaars: Do we really need them?

There have been many instances where women in media have been trapped into controversies for making choices of their own. Mahira Khan was accused of being uncivilised and spoilt once her pictures of smoking a cigarette with Ranbir Kapoor went viral; a lot was said about the kind of clothes Priyanka Chopra should or shouldn’t have worn in front of our Prime Minister; Fatima Sheikh was supposedly unethical and insensitive for wearing a swimsuit during Ramazan; Gauri Lankesh was killed for being a woman of opinion and dissent.

Sanskari Girl - Injurious to Health

The idea of being “cultural” and “well- behaved” doesn’t involve women being imaged as the ones who smoke, drink, have sexual tendencies or voice their opinions. They most certainly also wear clothes that cover significant part of their body so that men do not feel violated. Our sanskaars don’t allow girls to decide the length of their skirt, marry the man of their choice or even speak up in public. At the same time, we claim to give them enough space to be independent, courageous and decisive. These subtle acts of suppression, however, reflect otherwise.

In order to achieve wholesome progress, it is important that we give our female population the choice and the freedom to do everything that they want

In order to achieve wholesome progress, it is important that we give our female population the choice and the freedom to do everything that they want. True equality can only prevail once such notions of sanskaar are either made gender- equal or are completely boycotted in society.

Sanskari Girl - Injurious to HealthPath- breaking and unconventional representations of women are required in order to truly empower them. These cultures and norms are in fact undermining women to efficiently exploit their capabilities and become influential change makers. While larger forces are trying to subordinate us into submission, an unbiased introspection is required to understand why the notions of “sanskaar” are starkly different for men and women and if at all, such notions are required.

Nimisha is an intern with SheThePeople and these are her views

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