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International Women's Day: Prakriti & The Feminine Principle

WOMEN AND NATURE “Nature is like a woman who enjoys disguising herself, and whose different disguises, revealing now one part of her and now another, permit those who study her and assiduously to hope that one day they may know the whole of her person.” — Denis Diderot Beginning from Plato’s fateful division of the world into spirit and matter, patriarchal philosophy and religion have used language and science to bolster their power over both women and nature. Both are stereotypically perceived as feminine (weak), as seductive (deceitful), or in the role of a mother (nurturer). Traditional Indian philosophy sees nature or prakriti as a living and creative process, the ‘feminine principle’, from which all life emerges. With a tumultuous colonial history and the imposition of the Western development model in India, nature has been exploited mercilessly and the feminine principle is no longer associated with activity, creativity and sanctity of life, but is considered to be passive and just as a ‘resource’. Male control over agriculture, economics, politics and society, as well as the gap between legal and actual land ownership rights, patrilocal marriages, the segregation of public space, and social interaction by age, class and gender, female illiteracy, and high fertility—all put women at a disadvantage. Women in poor rural households are victims of environmental degradation as well as active agents in movements for the protection and regeneration of the environment. The fate of the mythological female protagonist—Sita—in the much celebrated Indian epic, the Ramayana, ideally glorified and exemplified by Hindus, is evident of how women are perceived in fiction, a reflection on reality.
Imaging Pity as well as Power, the lone naked new-born babe seemed a visitant from Heaven, and smiled on fair Earth's bounteous bosom. — K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Sitayana
Sita—the daughter of Earth—in the blurring boundary between religion and mythology, between history and fiction, is portrayed as an ideal daughter, an ideal wife, and an ideal mother. The allusion to Earth as the mother from whose ‘bounteous bosom’ daughter Sita emerges is obvious. Thus, Sita is also a personification of Earth's fertility, abundance, and well-being. Here she is imaged as ‘Power’. Abducted by Ravan (King of Lanka), and then rescued by her husband, Rama (King of Ayodhya), Sita is accused of adultery and banished to the forest and compelled to give birth to her twin sons there. Ram meets his sons years later coincidentally and accepts them, though he hesitates to take back Sita. When ordered to walk through fire to give proof of her ‘purity’, Sita chooses to go back to the bosom of Mother Earth. At the mercy of both Ravan and Ram, Sita is imaged with ‘Pity’. Every time Sita suffers, she is compelled to seek refuge in nature. As men dominate women, and humans dominate nature, women and nature must be united in their struggle. Ecofeminism, the term being coined by the French writer Francoise d’Eaubonne in 1974, emerged in the West as a product of the peace, feminist and ecology movements of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Movements all over the world that are dedicated to the continuation of life on earth, like the Chipko movement in India, the Anti-Militarist movement in Europe and the US, the movement against dumping of hazardous wastes in the US, and the Green Belt movement in Kenya, are all labeled as ‘ecofeminist’ movements. So women are not mere victims to the development process, they also possess the power for change. The gender perspective involves more than a ‘women’s angle’ on environmental issues. Women’s participation in environmental movements and activities is a pathway to their empowerment. The world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. Now we do have female astronauts and prime ministers, access to higher education and choices in career and marriage for women. However, these opportunities are available only to a marginal proportion of the female population. We still have a long way to go.
The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights. —Gloria Steinem
Each year on International Women’s Day (8 March) the world inspires women and celebrates their achievements. It is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, not just for women but for all. The tradition sees men honouring the women in their lives with flowers and gifts. In some countries International Women’s Day has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. International Women's Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action—a global act at a local level—and not just for one day, but every day. Niyogi Books celebrates women and their achievements, and believes in the united struggle of women and nature. Their varied range of books under the new imprints—Olive Turtle (fiction), Paper Missile (Non-Fiction) and Thornbird (Translation), and the number of women authors and editors working with them—all stand testimony to their sincere support. Come, let’s celebrate this International Women’s Day by showing our love, respect and support for the women in our lives. To choose a valuable gift, let’s take a look at these must reads from Niyogi Books—

 A Calendar Too Crowded ( Paper Missile)  

Despite there being so many dates dedicated to women, there are 300-odd days when there is nothing special that life has to offer them. A Calendar Too Crowded is a collection of poignant stories and poems woven around the theme of womanhood, unique in its approach in portrayal of the plight of women. Read more at:

Parineeta, the Betrothed (Thornbird)     

The story of Lalita, a thirteen-year old orphan, who falls in love with neighbour Nabin Roy’s younger son, Shekharnath, traces Lalita’s journey from girlhood to womanhood through the themes of love and marriage. Originally composed in Bengali by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, this novel is a classic romance in English, translated by Niyogi Books. Read more at:

Radha: From Gopi To Goddess (Paper Missile)

Radha occupies a special place in the aesthetics of art, dance and literature, in theologies and in traditions. She is both kamini and ramani; she is both a gopi and a nayika. Through her we feel the presence of Krishna in Vrindavana and the opulence of the Vaishnava Rajput courts. She is a devi in the temples of the Gaudiyas and through her we are able to worship Krishna. She is even kalankini, or the defiled one, and through Radha we are privy to the folk literature of Bengal and modern middle class psychology of the bhadralok. Read more at:

 Nari Bhav: Androgyny and Female impersonation in India(Paper Missile)

Striving towards bringing an end to gender polarization, the essays in this book traverse the concept of ‘androgyny’, emphasizing on the constructed and performative aspects of gender and not on the dichotomy of sex. Read more at :

Perfectly Untraditional (Olive Turtle)

New York City-based writer, Shaili Kapoor, is shocked to find out about the death of her mother, Meena, who drowned herself in Pashan Lake in Shaili’s hometown, Pune, India. The book unravels tales of friendship, love, loyalty and tradition. Read more at :

Without Prejudice: Epic Tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer (Olive Turtle)

A novel on the sketch of a fictional bar dancer of Mumbai, it delves deep into the roots of their evolution as dancers. Highly informative, it provides insight into the whole Mumbai Dance Bar Scene and the prevalent social injustices. Read more at :

 Saanvri: the story of a concubine (Olive Turtle)

Saanvri’s tale is about decadence in high palaces of power; the story of a woman who learns to use the wanton carnality in men in a society that uses and abuses her. It is also about the three most important people in her life, all of who use her with impunity. Read more at :

 In the Shadow of the Devi: Kumaon (Paper Missile) 

This book documents the lives of the paharis and discusses the status of the women in their communities and forest policies, in the backdrop of the claim and struggle for statehood. It also traces the legacy of a land, a people and a craft deeply intertwined with its environment. Read more at :  
Arunima Ghosh | 08-Mar-2018