Women remain their own worst enemies. This is a bitter truth hard to accept but several cases in around half a decade convey it in the most gruesome manner. Earlier this month, two malnourished sisters, Mamta and Nirja Gupta were rescued from their Delhi house. They lived there with their widowed mother and the teenage son of Mamta, a divorcee. The two sisters had not stepped out of their house for the past six years. Last year, sisters Anuradha and Shonali Behl were found locked up in their Noida home in a worse state. Both had ceased stepping out of their home for seven months following the death of their father. While Anuradha could not survive, Shonali is still receiving medical treatment. In 2010, Shalini Mehra lived with her 81-year-old mother’s body for four months before the body was discovered.
Two sisters locked themselves in their house in South Delhi and lived with the body of their youngest sibling before the police discovered them in 2007.
Their cases have been painted as those of depression, social withdrawal and insecurity further complicated by financial crisis and social apathy. This, as their symptoms of withdrawal suggest, is only a part of their problem. Had perhaps the individuals in all these cases not been female, they would most probably have carried on with their lives in a normal manner. Yes, the abnormality in all these cases lies in their holding an extremely negative view, with a major inferiority complex, about themselves primarily because they are women. This stark reality stands out despite these being educated ladies, with the Behl sisters holding doctorate degrees. Their ‘abnormality’ arose and was probably compounded by their being single ladies, including Mamta.
The apparent fault lies in their being reluctant to face the world and be considered a part of society, on strength of their being women. In all these cases, tragedy and/or financial crisis compounded their considering themselves as too weak because of their gender to step out and move along in life. Instead, they chose to remain confined within walls of their residence, caring little for the psychological, medical and social trauma this could lead to. Facing the world, stepping out into the street, interacting with neighbours and other activities were apparently viewed as more challenging, perhaps even threatening, than remaining locked indoors, even if it meant in some cases starving themselves to malnourishment.
Undeniably, the social discrimination faced by women in India is still marked by cases of female infanticide, dowry deaths, wife-beating and other forms of exploitation. Incidentally, none of these cases indicate any of these or even the most talked about ‘saas-bahu’ discord. Yet their sense of ‘weakness’ was compounded by their apparently feeling the lack of a male member to ‘depend’ upon. Please note, the Behl sisters stopped stepping out of their home after the death of their father. Till he was alive, they apparently depended on him socially as well as psychologically. Socially, they were probably comfortable in moving around as his daughters. But his death spelt their being suddenly deprived of this support, a hard fact that they could not socially adjust to. Again, this bitter reality lies in their considering themselves socially weak simply because they happen to be women.
These cases highlight the degree to which the Indian mentality, including that of educated women, is still clouded by their considering themselves as too weak and inferior primarily because of their gender. This is further compounded by a fear and perhaps an unconscious threat of social condemnation with there being no male for them to depend on. Yes, apart from considering these cases as symbolic of social isolation in urban areas, it is important to delve on the ladies’ own attitude that probably led to their choosing to withdraw themselves into confines of their own homes.
Think seriously. Why would a mature, normal person suddenly change her attitude towards the society and thus her style of living? In these cases, it is not simply the case of their not wanting to face others outside their respective homes. But it is more strongly the rise of a sudden fear within themselves of perhaps a non-existent social wrath/condemnation that prevented them from ceasing to step outdoors, even if it meant starving themselves.
Women thus remain their own worst enemies when they still nurture illusions of inviting social condemnation simply because they happen to be women, without a male member to depend upon. Even if social challenges prevail, women must not allow themselves to falter before them.
The writer is a freelance journalist