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Balancing tradition and modernity in narratives surrounding contraception use among poorer women in West Bengal, India.
Unformatted Document Text:  8 Undeniably, there have been women of power in both ancient and modern India (Lalita and Tharu, 1991); but for the common woman, there are myths, legends and folktales that have reinforced the ideal of the woman who protects and cherishes her family even at considerable cost to herself. The Ramayana, for example, a quasi-religious epic familiar to almost every child growing up in India deifies women who sacrifice their selfhood at the altar of their husband’s duties and obligations, and for the ultimate good of their children (Swami Venkatesananda, 1989). Children are therefore tremendously important in a woman’s life. Marriage and children denote womanhood and a sense of place, and a woman is required by spoken and unspoken social law to maintain this at all cost (Mukherjee, 1999). As in many other developing countries, children also provide labor inside and outside the home, and denote economic security for their parent’s old age, among other things (Chattopadhayay-Dutt, 1995). India’s independence movement, culminating in the gain of political independence in 1947 brought an interesting twist to this theme of woman as creator and protector of the home. Chatterjee (1993) discusses how during this time even while women were going out of the home to fight for independence in solidarity with men, they were still being ideologically perceived as not only guardians and protectors of the home, but also sanctifiers of cultural pollution. It was felt, Chatterjee (1993) claims, that because men had to go out and associate with the polluting foreigner, the woman had to be traditional in all her values so she could keep the home authentically ‘Indian’. For a woman, these would include protecting the sanctity of the home and sacrificing her interests for that of

Authors: Mookerjee, Devalina.
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8
Undeniably, there have been women of power in both ancient and modern India
(Lalita and Tharu, 1991); but for the common woman, there are myths, legends and
folktales that have reinforced the ideal of the woman who protects and cherishes her
family even at considerable cost to herself. The Ramayana, for example, a quasi-religious
epic familiar to almost every child growing up in India deifies women who sacrifice their
selfhood at the altar of their husband’s duties and obligations, and for the ultimate good
of their children (Swami Venkatesananda, 1989).
Children are therefore tremendously important in a woman’s life. Marriage and
children denote womanhood and a sense of place, and a woman is required by spoken and
unspoken social law to maintain this at all cost (Mukherjee, 1999). As in many other
developing countries, children also provide labor inside and outside the home, and denote
economic security for their parent’s old age, among other things (Chattopadhayay-Dutt,
1995).
India’s independence movement, culminating in the gain of political independence
in 1947 brought an interesting twist to this theme of woman as creator and protector of
the home. Chatterjee (1993) discusses how during this time even while women were
going out of the home to fight for independence in solidarity with men, they were still
being ideologically perceived as not only guardians and protectors of the home, but also
sanctifiers of cultural pollution. It was felt, Chatterjee (1993) claims, that because men
had to go out and associate with the polluting foreigner, the woman had to be traditional
in all her values so she could keep the home authentically ‘Indian’. For a woman, these
would include protecting the sanctity of the home and sacrificing her interests for that of


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