Come Navratri and a lot of noise is raised around women empowerment, without having any real translation on ground. But there are a few genuine noises that break through this clutter and strive to promote women entrepreneurs. Renuka Shahane is one such force who not only believes in empowering women, but also equalising men with women. She recently posted photos of herself wearing a handpainted Madhubani sari from an enterprise run by women from Darbhanga, Bihar.
Shahane, who was a popular name on television and films through the 90s, says that her love for Indian weaves grew through her journey on Surabhi, a show on Doordarshan that traversed the length and breadth of India to showcase the richness of our culture. “I have been a fan (of Indian art and craft) even before I did Surabhi. This is something that comes naturally to me. I learned much more about it through my journey on that show. I realised how difficult artisans’ lives are in our country. This is the kind of culture that we need to pass on and keep alive for generations to come. This is the most beautiful aspect of our culture that needs to be celebrated. Every state has its own unique feature and heritage,” she says.
Owing to their reach and impact, many brands approach celebrities for endorsements or social media shout-outs, but Shahane says she pushes for brands that she feels need that kind of encouragement, especially during these times of difficulty. “Most promotions are done for money, but this wasn’t for money. I felt that this is something that needs to be done, especially for women entrepreneurs. For this particular sari, I went to their website to check out their work and was fascinated with what they are doing in keeping alive Mithila art and Madhubani saris. I am planning to do many more shout-outs like this. Whenever people who I feel need that kind of support, I would use my social media to celebrate their work. Access is something which is not really easy for these artisans,” she says.
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Shahane has been giving a platform to women entrepreneurs through television shows as well. Talking about the kind of efforts a woman has to put in to convince others of her entrepreneurial ideas, she says women have to put in twice the effort than men. “Even today, in patriarchal mindsets, a woman’s work is considered lesser. People say ki aap as a hobby kar lo. There is so much business acumen in them,” she says.
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The mother of two boys, Shouryaman and Satyendra with husband, actor Ashutosh Rana, Shahane is a firm believer in sensitising boys. “We need to change the mindset of people. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come across, despite strict laws. Men also need to be empowered. They need to be equal to women. Social norms allow men a lot of leeway for basic things; they are not expected to follow certain rules. It is ok if they don’t, but a woman has to work double, struggle, learn self-defense. Ask the men to behave – isn’t that the easier way to go about it,” she asserts, adding that cinema today is helping change many of these stereotypes. “A lot of films are also doing by equalising the way girls and women are raised. There are films where parents don’t look at girl child and boy child any differently. We do need to share those stories and we need more sensitive boys. We need to equate being a good man or a strong man with being sensitive. Sensitivity is not a virtue of a woman, but a man as well. It is not a sign of weakness at all. Violence is not being strong; violence is being the biggest bully. What’s valuable about being a bully?” she concludes.
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