History has been cruel to women everywhere. I write about India because I know it better than other countries, and because the legacy of cruelty continues here until today, more so than in many countries.
Fort 1: Amer Fort
On our first day in Jaipur, we went to the stunning huge Amer fort (pronounced Amber by western tourists). Amer fort has a 12 km wall surrounding it and encasing the old Amer city. There are watch-posts along the wall where guards stood in olden times. It was built by Raja Man Singh I in 1592. For those of us who watch Bollywood movies, this might mean something to you if I say Raja Man Singh I is Princess Jodhaa’s dad.
And by the way, the Bollywood epic Jodhaa-Akhbar romanticizes things extremely and actually glosses over very important facts:
- Jodhaa was Akbhar’s third wife. He also had many concubines and was a total womanizer like most Indian Kings. The movie makes out like they’re both falling in love for the very first time.
- Jodhaa was converted to Islam before marrying Akhbar. Her muslim name was Marium. The movie incorrectly makes out that Akbhar accepts her as a hindu bride. Though we have to credit the Mughals for being a bit more accepting of other religions as they created another religion called ‘Din-e-ilahi’ which allows its members to be basically hindus or muslims and marry.
I found all this out from our cheerful Kazakh-descendant driver from elefamily.
In a previous post, I called Jodhpur the city designed around caste. I call Amer fort the fort designed around oppression of women. Though that’s probably not how the architects thought of it, constrained by the cultural views of their time and unable to hold a mirror to themselves and take a deep first-principles-based look at their thinking.
The fort has four main quarters: Diwan-e-Aam or the “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas which is a courtyard designed to be cool even against the hot Rajasthani summers. The beauty of the fort is undeniable. The cruelty to a modern feminist shocking.
Women had their own quarters where they lived. There were 12 wives and many other concubines. They could only go in women-only areas so that they never came into contact with any men other than their shared husband. Wonderful.
They never ventured outside the palace. Their only contact with the outside world was through female servants. Female servants would carry merchandise into the female quarters and here women would look at clothes, art, jewellery, furniture and decide what to purchase. They each had their own ‘apartment’ in the palace, which they tried to decorate in the most elaborate ways possible, vying for the attentions of the King – “Please do come visit, I love you so much I’ve had your face embroidered in this hanging carpet and I worship it every day”.
Twelve “Queens” competing desperately for the attentions of one King who rarely visited and also had multiple concubines. Pains me to see how these women were forced to be pathetic. Poorly educated, unable to rise up to their oppressors, unable to even realise they were being oppressed…and worst of all, contributing to the oppression of each successive generation of women. Women oppress women in India, sometimes more than men do. Look at cases of dowry deaths: in the majority of cases, mother-in-laws burn daughter-in-laws for dowry money.
Another symbol of patheticism was a wheelchair for women. Women wore heavy dresses and jewellery and would sit on the wheel chair and be wheeled from one place to another by eunuchs. It’s funny how different mindsets can be. Some women would have thought of this as a luxury. To me, it’s sickening to be so heavily laden with jewels and cloths that you cannot move independently and have to be wheeled around.
They watched any event, any ceremony through blinds on the top floors of the palace. They could see out but no one could see them. The poor women were better off in some ways, they were out in the open at least, only their faces veiled with scarves.
Fort 2: Jaisalmer fort
‘Sati’ is the ancient Indian practice of forcing widows to jump into the fire that their husbands are being cremated in. This is now ILLEGAL, and the last recorded case happened in 1987 in Rajasthan (way too recently for my liking). The ‘logic’ is that women are property of their husbands and their life revolves around their husbands. Once their husbands are gone, there is no point in their life and they better go with him.
In Jaisalmer and in Mehrangarh fort, we saw the handprints of the women who’d been forced into the fire.
Fort 3: Mehrangarh fort
On the entrance of Mehrangarh fort is a painting that tells it all. It shows a wedding happening, with the members of the man’s family on one side and the woman’s family on another side. The woman’s family have their hands folded and are hunched over in humility. The painting is too faded and fine to make this out via a photo, but you get my point.
And these are three forts I’ve featured in this article. The others were similar, designed to keep women away from the outside world and from advancement.
Faces unseen, voices unheard and worst of all, their own minds undeveloped. These are the ancestors of modern Indian women. The women who we must NOT be like.