Trigger warning: Mentions of depression, rape and related issues.
‘Songbird, why dost thou bear a broken wing?’
Wait, I know her! Naidu…Naidu…Yes! That freedom fighter, right? The one who went on Gandhi’s Dandi march with him? There’s even a very famous photo of them marching ahead to freedom.
Freedom…Independence…Such abstract concepts! As if freedom could be gained simply by drafting a constitution and establishing that you were no longer under some country’s thumb.
Speaking of countries…can you believe that India actually celebrates more than 60 national days? Me, I can count a maximum of five: Independence Day, Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanthi…Wait, what were the other two?
Independence Day…August 15th…Good movies on all TV channels
Republic Day…January 26th…Good movies, plus I was initiated into GUIDES in 7th grade.
Gandhi Jayanthi…October 2nd…October 2nd…
Why do I remember this day? Oh yeah! I once wrote an essay on how the Mahatma was a misogynist and was ostracised for it. If I remember correctly, I claimed that his ideas set women’s empowerment back by several centuries. Hey, don’t judge me, I was 13! And while I might have come on too strongly about accusing the father of our nation, I feel that I was justified in my other ideas.
I mean, why do we not celebrate the birthday of famous women? Like, Rani Lakshmibhai, or Kalpana Chawla, or Mary Kom, or Sarojini Naidu, or even-
Oh wait. Sarojini’s birthday is celebrated. On February 13th of every year, as National Women’s Day. Because she was one of the few people who fought for women empowerment, back when it was a barely-developed concept.
Back when we were just learning to walk on our own two feet.
Back when there were so many social and cultural pressures placed on us.
Back when sati and child marriage were fresh nightmares that we were struggling to recover from.
And the sad thing about nightmares? The fact that they are so personal that you can’t even talk to anyone about them. Not that talking to anyone about anything is easy nowadays. I mean, there are tonnes of psychiatrists, counsellors, and well-wishers just waiting to help you, but is it easy to confide in them? Well, I feel that I speak for the womenfolk when I say that no, it is definitely not easy to talk about your woes and worries, be it domestic abuse, rape, coerced sex, or any other trauma.
Just the other day, I was pondering the depths of life and love on Google when I came across this extremely insightful UN report that claimed that 70% of married women in India experience one of the above-mentioned traumatic issues at least once in their lives. The same report says that one-third of these instances go unreported. Scary, right?
Even scarier is the question of what women in Sarojini Naidu’s times would’ve done in those cases. Coupled with the fact that dialogue about mental health was non-existent back then, one can only imagine how difficult it could’ve been for anyone to talk about the hard times they were going through.
Today, figures show that more women become victims of depression, anxiety, or similar common mental disorders due to social and familial rejection, than due to any other reason. Throughout the years, women have battled suicidal thoughts, kept quiet about the worst kinds of abuse, and encountered probably thousands of sleepless nights, all because they consciously believed that they had to bear what they thought was normal in marital life. Being single was probably as harrowing an experience then as it is now, so that was no walk in the park, either.
Thinking about it now, I wonder; why is being single so difficult?
Why is being a woman so difficult?
More importantly, why is being a single woman so difficult (pun intended)?
We have come far as a society; we’re respecting women, supporting them, their education, their ambitions and careers. And that is an amazing thing, but there is still quite a lot to think about in terms of how far we’ve come in talking about women’s mental health.
Because we are still part of a society whose majority reserves the position of ‘breadwinner’ for men. Because we still follow a culture that says that women have to bear whatever is thrown in their way and suck it up. Because we still live in a period where the female foeticide and rape are very much a reality, though times are changing.
Times are changing, and it’s time to put our mental health and wellbeing first, before the opinions of the world.
Wellbeing, both physical and emotional, involves not just getting better with the help of medicines or therapy but also staying that way. You’ve got to be confident, secure and satisfied with yourself; you’ve got to learn to love yourself. And let me tell you, the whole world will be an obstacle in your path. But it’s time to take a stand.
We’re part of a world that tells us that femininity and fragility go hand in hand, but at the same time, gives us great burdens to bear. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Mary Kom, the woman who is a symbol of strength and courage.
We’re part of a world that tells us that the place of a woman is in taking care of the family, but at the same time, expects us to go great heights in all fields. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Kalpana Chawla, the woman who conquered space.
We’re part of a world that will beat you down and tell you that your place is there, but at the same time, expect you to be bold and outgoing. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Rani Lakshmibai, the warrior princess.
We’re part of a world that will, time and again, judge you for what you were, but expect you to be more than you are. Is that the case with you? Show them a picture of you, who are perfect just the way you are.
It’s time to display the phoenixes and eagles inside us, instead of the songbirds with broken wings that the world thinks we are. It’s time to rise and –
Wait! Songbird…Broken wings…Where have I heard these phrases before?
Oh right! Yes, it comes back to me now.
‘Songbird, why dost thou bear a broken wing?’
Wait, I know her! Naidu…Naidu…Yes! That freedom fighter, right? The one who went on Gandhi’s Dandi march with him? There’s even a very famous…