Gori: Tracing the Identity of Women
by Sreepriya Menon
In an attempt to trace the identity of women in India, I focused on Tagore and Tilottama Misra’s works of the 19th century. The pursuit was to compare how the issues faced by women originated and how have they changed. Amidst historical events like the colonization of Bengal and the change in domestic spheres of people that it brought, women and opinions about them were thoroughly recorded as print culture was rich in that period. This also included women writing for themselves and reaching out to a wide reader base like never before. Clash between the Brahmo ways of living with that of the orthodox Hindu also led to a vocal discussion in the homes and intellectual circles of Bengal. Women became visible in the society as something more than one domestic unit found in every home belonging to a large similar crowd everywhere. Another dimension added to the female identity was their role as divine mother which could be related to the nationalistic ideals of Bharat Mata. This interestingly was only a symbol initially where feminine ideals of beauty, virtue and motherhood were praised but the real , tangible state of women, their rights to voice their opinion if at all they had a right to form one was ignored. the book depicts a change in this view as resulting from various avenues of influence. The aggressive protagonist “GORA” experiences the reality of his society through travelling and witnessing the state of living of his countrymen. He witnesses the intelligence and dynamism of women around him including his mother and the daughter of a Brahmo family friend. He comes to regard identity as situational as opposed to his initial rigid standpoint of identity by birth.
In the Assamese work of Tillotoma Misra, the focus is more on how the women make a place for themselves in society even though they are from different social backgrounds. the reality of the characters’ life is shaped by resistance to indentured labor against the british, brahmo reform efforts and proselytizing work of Christian missionaries. The resulting milieu created a portal for the women to step out of their homes and explore their purpose as productive individuals in society. A very thorough debate is taken up through the characters regarding the nature of religion and faith in India and how it serves its purpose in both unifying and segregating the people. This is the background where issues such as widow remarriage and women’s education held the spotlight. “Swarnalata”, the protagonist and her two friends Tora and Lakhi epitomize something very real and at the same time an ideal in our society. They work and exist as concrete examples for women who know what they want and do not cringe when someone comments on their audacity to do so.
The questions that arise with such an examination of literature and present scenario of women are several and weighty. With feminist movements for everything under the sun, it is important to consider what matters to us as women, following a beaten track for the sake of being popular or stand fast for something that we consider beneficial to our gender and thus essentially half the population. Even if we have achieved greater independence as a gender, are we delivering as much as our predecessors. Are we taking our rights for granted and thus aggravating the scenario? Much as we have to be proud, women have even more responsibility to act than before and to think before they act.