The true stories of rural women are written in the palm of their hands, not in books. You can feel their unscripted strife, hard work and sacrifice from just a handshake. Their palms are rough, caused by repeated blisters over continuous use of tools whilst carrying out manual work, a stark contrast of many of their counterparts in towns and cities. Many have no time for themselves as they have to do household chores at the break of dawn, prepare food, take care of the children and work during the day to ensure that there is food on the table every day. Despite working almost round the clock, several rural women go through additional mental and physical harassment from their husbands and families. They have to endure it all in silence because that’s what the patriarchal society has taught them; that it’s part of life and normal for women to face pressure from all fronts.
The world has started talking about their untold sacrifices but no significant change has been seen so far. The United Nations began observing International Day of Rural Women on October 15 2008 in recognition of “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” The day is also observed to bring about awareness among the general public on the need to improve the lives of rural women; to provide opportunities for economic and educational empowerment, to ensure equal participation in decision-making; and to provide proper healthcare. But the plight of rural women remains. The clamours to elevate their status have failed terribly. Attempts by government and non-governmental organisations to uplift them have failed to make any significant change as there is no constant support system available.
The future of rural women in Nagaland is dim too as Naga society is still reluctant to change old traditions that subjugate women. Some have argued that women in the state are treated better than their counterparts in other parts of the country and that there is less discrimination here. But less is not enough. There should not be any gender-based discrimination whatsoever. Justifying injustice instead of accepting the cruel fact, however ugly it may be, only shows that change is miles away. The truth is that women are still not given their deserved platform to empower themselves for greater social change. There is injustice everywhere, be it religious, political, social, or economic (inheritance, alimony, etc.). The scenario is even worse in rural areas. And with most educated people from villages preferring to live in towns and cities, rural women are left on their own. When occasional seminars and awareness programmes are over, they go about their day, heading back to the farms and paddy fields with the same old tools. What our society has failed to understand or intentionally ignored all these years is that women need no preaching but equal opportunities and rights just as any other human being to get out of the vicious circle of poverty and live renewed and transformed lives. Talking about women’s rights and their plight serves no purpose if core issues like economic, social and political injustices are left unaddressed. The time for action is now.