As an Indian woman, I have cultivated more than a passing interest in what sets us and other indigenous peoples apart, especially with respect to how the female is regarded. This is what I have learned so far.
Since a little over ten thousand years ago, upon the advent of settlements, most metropolitan societies became increasingly disconnected from the ecosystems with which they used to exist in harmonious symbiosis. They transitioned away from taking only what they needed to satisfying their ever-expanding wants. The latter required an unending supply of natural resources, and of human labor to exploit this supply. As a result, it became necessary to dominate and harness the creative power of nature, including that which is held by the female of the human species. This battle to dominate transformed into a battle of bourgeoisie controlling proletariat and one of men controlling women. And so we find ourselves now in an era in which at least one out of every three women in the world is raped or beaten or both, women are paid less than men for the same work, and women’s reproductive freedoms are constricted by governments directed by men. We now live in a male-dominated era in which women are generally valued less than men and treated accordingly.
I consider myself lucky to have been born a woman, and luckier still to belong to an ancient people from the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, the land of Bengal. It is a land, which since before the dawn of cities, recognized and celebrated the female creative power, and still does to this day. It is a land that taught the rest of India and the world to understand and honor Shakti. At no time during the year, and no place other than Bengal, is the magnificence of the female aspect of Shakti as joyously celebrated as during Durga puja, the annual ten-day commemoration of Goddess Durga’s victory over the male oppressor of entire populations, Mahishasura. Whether the warrior Durga actually lived and breathed millennia ago, or is a legendary figure based on a kernel of historical truth, the particular tale of Durga single-handedly vanquishing Mahishasura, thought to be the most invincible man of that time, is one of my favorite tales. It is a story that inspires me as one of billions of women facing misogyny and disparagement on a regular basis in a world controlled mostly by men.