This is a little story I had written for an assignment. Do let me know how it is. Share, comment and like. It is a work of fiction and not an actual historical event.
73 years of British rule in India had passed. Still under the rule of the white men, India seemed to not let go of the practices that seemed to have gripped the country since the Brahmins decided to lay down the Dharma sutras. No Indian had yet rebelled against the existing norms that not only put down women but also, tortured people on the basis of their caste and origins of their birth. Sati was rampant, education for girls was a taboo and widow re marriage was a sin. In such dark times, India found a few light bearers. They went by the name of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Vidyasagar.
She sat on the little cot beside that burned out oven. The house still reeked of the same onion smell and the paint was still peeling off from the brown walls. She got up and touched that white wall peeping out of that torn brown wall paint. She couldn’t believe how much her life and the society had changed. They say the country hasn’t progressed yet, she herself experienced a little progress in her own life. Soraya was only 3 years old when she was subjected to see the horrors of being born a girl. The mother she revered as strong, the mother she feared when she did some mischief was reduced to a whimpering kitten in the hands of her strong burly father who smelled of alcohol all the time, well at least the times she saw him at home. He didn’t seem to like her. She was told by her mother that it is because she is a girl and girls are only a burden. She was surprised when she heard that. She never thought of herself to be a burden and she believed that she was capable enough to support her mother, after all the only difference that she saw between herself and the other gender was a few more hair and slight more bodily changes. She never realized how that made a huge difference as to who gets more food and who gets education and who must be married off. Of course now she did.
But, Soraya’s life was not all that miserable. As she grew up she realized that she was a bit more privileged than her mother was or ever would be. She saw her mother fade away by the regular tortures meted upon her. In the morning she was a powerful goddess who went around Soraya, who handled multiple chores but in the night she was just a slave to a dominant force. Her mother never received education as she was told by her mother. She never learnt to read or write, but that didn’t matter to her. Her mother anyway exclaimed that what will a girl do after studying, on the contrary she should be an expert in cooking and washing and sewing to please and serve her husband. Her mother was married off at the age of 10 to a man who was 40. Soraya had often wondered about this difference till her mother simple stated that is exactly how it is supposed to be.
Soraya was 15 then, she asked her mother why she wasn’t married yet. Her mother had only laughed and said that the times were changing. She will be married off eventually, but with all these new reforms of women education had delayed the process. Her mother said that her father despised it, but just because he had to follow the current wave of new reforms he went with it. “But make sure all this education doesn’t go in your head. You don’t need all this. You need to learn cooking, come now help me with this” her mother said when Soraya had proclaimed that she wanted to study further after an influential and charismatic man had come to her school and made all the girls understand how important education is and one must study further. The man had identified himself as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Later that night, she heard her mother remark this to the man of the house. There was silence followed by a deafening laughter and all that she could hear were screams from her mother. She had closed her eyes hoping this would stop.
The following morning, her father came to her for the first time along with a young girl of not more than 16. She had deep brown eyes and lovely black hair. “This is also your mother, treat her with respect. Her name is Abhaya” He said and left after kissing her on the cheek. Soraya’s mother had just stared and almost looked sympathetic towards the girl. Soraya expected her to be angry, but she only seemed sorry for her. But, Soraya hated her, she had just taken away her mother’s place, but somewhere in her heart she was relieved, relieved that it won’t be her mother who would have to bear the heat of the man’s patriarchy.
That night, she did not sleep. Once more she found herself thinking about the words of the esteemed man. ” Women make up half of the population. Isn’t it only fair that they are allowed to pusue education and be half of the work force too. You, girls are not just mothers, daughters or wives. That cannot be your identity. You are a human who has every right to be someone and not someone’s wife.” Those words seemed to echo in her mind now, but soon enough it was followed by what had happened to her mother when she had casually remarked the idea of Soraya’s dream it pursuing her education to her father.
At the break of dawn, Soraya opened her eyes in the hope that the sunlight would brush away all the darkness of yesterday. Unfortunately, the world had something else planned for her. As she stepped out of her bedroom she heard loud weeping and people chanting the name of god. A few men were carrying a human figure covered with a white cloth which lightly blew in the wind. Her mother sat in the corner with a terrified expression with her father’s new wife trying to console her.
Soraya knew what was under the white cloth. And she knew what was to follow.
Her mother and Abhaya were both draped in white sarees the next time Soraya met them. They were all so busy trying to arrange for the funeral. And for the after funeral. Soraya’s mother was prepared for what’s to come. She didn’t smile or laugh for the whole funeral and she refused to speak to anyone. Abhaya on the other hand was smiling and laughing as though she was unafraid of death.
The following day, Soraya was made to stand in front of the crowd. Her mother stood in front of the raging flames waiting for the second mother to present herself. After waiting for hours, Soraya was sent to check on Abhaya’s whereabouts. When Soraya looked into the room she saw Abhaya’s clothes missing the room neatly kept and no sign of Abhaya at all. Abhaya’s laugh made sense to her now. She had abandoned her mother.
When Soraya was back, she couldn’t see her mother, only the raging fire. In a way she was happy that she didn’t have to witness this atrocity disguised in the name of ritual. With tears in her big, brown eyes she whispered. “She ran away.” She couldn’t hear the gasps of the people around her as the pain of loss had deafened her. All she wanted to do was get the ashes of the only person who she truly loved.
Soraya took over the household and even after listening to all the taunts from the neighbours and family, she refused to get married until she fell in love. She did fall in love with a man, whom she met during her travels to the market. He called himself Satish. Soraya was sure that he was the right man. Unfortunately, the society believed the opposite as Satish was inferior to her caste and that would meant that even such a thought was forbidden. Soraya who ignored all the insults eventually got married to Satish.
Soraya was crushed when Satish told her that he had to go to the city for work. His visits back home became fewer and fewer to a point which he couldn’t even meet her once a year. He wrote letters to her about how much he missed her and that as soon he would have enough money he would bring her to the city too.
The next letter she received was not from her husband. It was from the factory he worked at. Soraya carefully ripped the paper dreading what was written inside. Apology…Accident…Sorry…death. Four words echoed in her mind as she slumped on her chair. She knew what was coming. She had to escape.
She ran as fast as she could. She burnt the letter, took all the jewelry, sold it to a local shopkeeper and with the money she ran. To the station. And then she hopped onto the train to go as far away as possible. To the city.
When she set her feet down to the floor of the city, she got pushed about by hundreds of people trying to reach their destinations. And as though for the first time god had smiled upon her, she saw a familiar face in the crowd. The face she once hated that now she was thankful to see. Soraya ran to the women in the green saree who was carrying five books in her hand and hugged her so tight that all the books fell down.
Abhaya turned around to see that familiar scared face that she had once seen years ago. She looked different but her eyes said the same story. In a few hours, Soraya and Abhaya had both shared their stories, shared hidden tears and some missed smiles. Soraya discovered that Abhaya had run away to the city and had found a job as a teacher.
Abhaya then looked at Soraya as though she hit a light bulb moment, she pulled Soraya to her school and started talking to a women who looked very authoritative. They nodded at each other, shook hands and then they both smiled at Soraya. “Soraya? Welcome to your new school and home” said Abhaya smiling at her. Soraya stared at Abhaya and finally gulped her tears and uttered “Thank you. Mother.”
She stood in front of the Ganges unable to believe how much the village had changed. Girls were going to schools and windows were remarried. Soraya pulled out her mother’s ashes stored in a neat designed vessel. She opened the lid and let the ash flow into the river. She was joined by her new husband, who was a fellow teacher in her school.
As she saw the ashes falling from the urn, she smiled. At last her mother was in peace.
- The girls giggled as they left from their school. There was progress. More new girl schools were set up, more women were working and many even married late. India was becoming more active for their independence and women also came out in support. They were no more in their homes. That was progress. That’s what everyone said. Women were now getting education, they could re marry and the liberals even let their daughters work. The progress was evident. The light bearers had passed their torches to the future light bearers, who only seemed to grow in number. 2017. India had walked a little to reach here. Actually has walked a lot, it has run some would say. Nuclear weapons to sending a satellite to Mars. Progress is more than evident, yet groping, eve teasing and molestation hasn’t left the country. In more ways than one we never walked for the empowerment of women. Wage gap, dowry, domestic violence, being called out for dressing a certain way. Is that really progress?