Women of Punjab
Written by Bubbu Tir
Kinne hi falsafe gaye han sirje, ik teri chup di tarjmani khatir (So many philosophies have blossomed in your silence.)
These lines best describe women. Still waters, they say, run deep. So does the Punjabi woman. Just a few decades ago, she discovered a world beyond chulha-chownka (the hearth). But the seeds of this shift were sown much earlier in the 20th century. After the First World War, the village fauji (soldier) came back with a new perspective; women, he felt, needed to be educated enough to hold fort in his absence. This belief led to the advent of a whole lot of schools and colleges in the then prosperous Malwa belt of the state with Ludhiana at its epicentre. The world was finally recognising the need to extend beyond the single hand economy. The Punjabi woman too began to realise her worth, she learnt to gaze into the mirror, appreciate what she saw, and even improve on it. Her mind learnt to reason, ask, and answer. The wings spread and gained power and flight.
But the Punjabi youth was struggling with shrunken landholding, vanishing industry and lack of jobs. Somewhere an innovative peer created an escape route to foreign shores whereas somewhere else, another peer drowned himself in drugs and drinks. Few managed to stay afloat and keep an illusion of wellness alive. The support system (read government) could not generate enough employment avenues for the ever-growing band of young men. The general public is not protected by quotas, favoured by contacts or supported by finances. But amidst all this doom and gloom, the Punjabi woman, especially in urban areas, continued to aspire, quietly notching better scores in exams, and in some cases, even stepping out of the state to seek a better future.
Punjab di dhee shayad angehli wich hi agge nikal gayi te putt assin saambh nahin sakey (The daughters of Punjab surged ahead unnoticed and the sons we could not handle)
Therein began another battle. The woman had to re-mould herself to measure up to another role expected of her by a newly emerged society. You began hearing of convent educated, economically empowered, homely brides. The proverbial glass ceiling remains cemented.
One keeps hearing of many schemes for the welfare of the girl child beginning in the womb itself. One wonders, though, what is being done for the ones that are already there. The aimless degree-oriented education system can be substituted with an effective vocational training programme so that the rural women can benefit from it. It might also help revive our art and handicrafts.
Long ago, I would hear my grandma voice her homespun wisdom. Kithe bhala hona hai aurat zaat banaun wale da (The maker of a woman is not going to get his dues). A woman, she said, has to prove her worth at every step to each relationship. If a father is to hold his head high in society, the daughter has to comply with his wishes; if a husband has to do well socially, the wife has to subsume her personality; if a child has to excel, it’s the mother who has to work, yet no credit ever comes her way. She has to distribute herself in various relationships, yet all of them put together are not meant to do anything for her emotional sustenance. It holds true even now, especially in the Punjab countryside.
Kuch rishte wagdeyan paniyan warge, adhiyan adhooriyan kahaniyan warge, Kuch hunde najaayaz asley jehe, ansuljhey gunjhal masley jahe. (Some relationships are like flowing water, like half-baked unfinished stories, some are like illicit ammunition, like an unsolved problem.)
We are naturally created to nurture relationships. Our attitude cannot ever be dispassionate towards situations. We are the emotional quotient of society. Had it not been for women, there would be no mending anything broken. The social fabric would not see a stitch in time either. Besides, a woman has no expectations.
Our rural sisters are not aware of their own needs. They are stuck in a groove with little or no escape. Their health is often neglected, the daily chores are endless, insecurities abound and higher education is a distant dream. Farm distress and suicides are only adding to their woes. No wonder “Kaneda” (Canada) has become the sole solution to all unanswered questions.
Bubbu Tir is a Punjabi poet and columnist. Translated from Punjabi by the author