Go beyond the Gender identity

IJ Anita Tejwani
Published on: 24th June 2014
I am glad that I got to write this article for an international e-magazine, 'Inspiration Unlimited'. Writing for the column "Inspirational Stories" not just comes with the responsibility of work but it also inspires me to give my best for all our readers. Here is another inspiring story of Dr. Sarla Santwani, who compels to work for women empowerment and carry out activities for the same. So, let's hear to what inspired her in her journey in this field.

Greetings mam!

Please tell us something about yourself

I am a human being. I purposely emphasize the word 'human being' because to a large extent, I have moved above the 'Gender Identity' of being a 'female' or a 'woman.' Female because, willingly or unwillingly, I have not performed the 'reproductive' role ascribed by Indian patriarchal society. It is not intentional; let me confess that destiny or circumstances have kind of made such a design of my life.

Brief us about your work whereabouts:

I am compelled to act as a woman because the people around me take me as a 'woman' and respond or react. I still have to struggle as a single woman in this patriarchal Indian social set-up for survival and earn recognition for my abilities and achievements. I am an academician. I began my career as a school teacher in Higher Secondary school and gradually worked hard to become a University Professor and now a Principal. I have worked in more than one university, which also includes an African University, wherein, I worked for more than eight years. In India, I have worked in M.S University (My Alma Mater), Gujarat University, Veer Narmad South Gujarat University and am now working in KSKV University of Kutch.

What are the awards and titles that you have earned?

My awards and rewards are yet to come, I am sure. I do remember that in 10th STD, I was awarded the 'Best Student of the Year' award. The Doctorate degree was conferred on me in 1997 by M.S University of Baroda. I did win several prizes in Debates and Elocution competitions during my school and college days. I still have those trophies with me, my precious possessions.

go beyond the gender identity, circumstances
How was your youth?

Academically, very satisfying as I was very serious about my studies. I did quite well. I was taught by some excellent University teachers of international repute for which I consider myself very lucky. However, at home front, life was full of struggle. We, siblings were born at a very late age of my father. Hence, before we settled financially and socially, he was retired and we had to face financial crisis. Moreover, myself being the youngest, had to face this maximum. Therefore, unlike other girls, it was not 'finish studies and get married' after that. I knew that I had to work and be self-dependent. This gradually became such an overpowering concern that the desire to 'get married and have a family of my own' got sidelined before I realized it was too late and I had crossed the 'marriageable age' set by the Indian society. Apart from this, the knowledge and awareness I had gained from my academic pursuits, especially my research in 'Women's Studies' and 'Feminist Philosophy' made me increasingly suspicious of the prevalent social set-up and marital norms. I had little patience with the 'chauvinistic' male behaviour. I realized that if at all I have a man in my life, he should be a 'friend' and not a 'provider,' 'protector' or a 'boss of my life' who would decide or even influence my decisions of life. I was gradually turning into a 'true example of a liberated woman.'

Did you always think of being what you are today? Or, do you think destiny played its role?

Frankly speaking 'NO!' I had not thought of this during my childhood, teens or even in early youth that I would be leading such a life. I had a deep desire to join an unconventional career such as Journalism or Creative writing or Film/Dramatics, Production/Direction etc., but couldn't rise above the constraints I faced in my life. I, probably, lacked courage to protest against my family when my family members didn't allow me to do certain things. This is my big regret in life. When I see how our PM left home to achieve whatever he wanted I become self-critical as to why I didn't do it. But again you see, a woman in a patriarchal society faces such constraints. A man can lead a life of a wanderer, sleep on a foot path etc., but a young woman can't. Ultimately, I did it, but quite late in life. If I had done that earlier, my life would have been different, I suppose. Call it destiny or whatever you want but there are forces above your control which determine everyone's life to some degree.

What motivated you to think in this area and succeed in this field?

I was lucky to get some excellent teachers during my school and college days. They were excellent not only as teachers but as human beings which had generated in me a liking for teaching profession. Moreover, I knew I was a good communicator which would enable me to become a successful teacher. I also wanted to continuously grow in knowledge which was possible in an academic environment. Also, by becoming a teacher one gets an opportunity to influence the new generation through one's ideas and actions.

Who has been your inspiration/mentor?

I may not be able to mention anyone in particular as a Mentor but quite a few people have inspired me. Writers like Amrita Pritam, who showed courage to live by her own norms, inspired me; woman of substance like Sushma Swaraj also has inspired me. Even great spiritual luminaries like Gautam Buddha, Saint Meera, Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inspire me.

At what age did you feel the quest to reach for spirituality?

I don't have any Mentor as far as my profession goes but I consider Lord Krishna, Sai Baba, Meerabai as my Role-Models for my spiritual life. There have been times in my life when I had completely lost zest & purpose of life. I was so much cowed down by the adverse circumstances that I had been overpowered by despair, lost confidence in my own self and abilities. During such times reading Bhagwad Geeta, life stories and teachings of Sai Baba and Meera helped me not only to regain my lost courage and confidence but also gave me a 'true insight' to penetrate this worldly veil of MAYA and look beyond it to comprehend the true meaning of life.

What was the most challenging situation that you are proud of having faced and overcome?

Coming back to India after staying 10 years in other countries (Botswana & U.S.A.) and re-establishing me professionally, as well as socially, when I was also facing financial challenges as I had taken a few wrong decisions which cost very dearly to me was a challenge. Moreover, after 10 years my country was not the same as I had left it in 2000. Moving from one college to another, one city to another, facing problems typical in self-financed colleges was quite tough. I came back from foreign countries because I was tired of living a lonely, isolated life there. I thought that in my own country I would lead a happy life with my own people but after coming back I realized that destiny was once again playing its part. I couldn't find any good job in my own hometown and had to wander to different and distant places like Kutch leading the same lonely & alienated life.

But I am trying to take it positively. If God has sent me here, then there definitely is some purpose behind it. God wants me to learn some important & vital lessons of my life. I have got a very good college & Management is quite positive towards me. They expect me to develop the college and give enough autonomy & resources to do it. My first achievement was that I could get the college accredited by NAAC, which was pending since 2007. I brought a Diploma Center of IITE. Thus, I am trying to find satisfaction in such achievements.

What do you think played a prominent role in achieving this position?

My earnest desire to develop my potential to the fullest and prove my worth & abilities played a prominent role and, of course, the appreciation given by the college Management and cooperation of my colleagues.

Challenges faced by today's men are less compared to those faced by women. What do you think about this?

I fully agree to this statement. A woman has to struggle at least double if not more to achieve the same as men. Man is considered competent just by virtue of being a man. If at all he has to prove something, it is his incompetence. In case of a woman, it is exactly the opposite. A woman is considered 'incompetent' because of being a woman. She has to prove her 'competence' to get recognition or acceptance. What are the roles that you are playing right now? (Personally and Professionally)

I am playing the role of a Head of an academic institution, and socially, I am playing the role of a daughter. But above all, I am playing the role of a Human Being. And all the time, I try to remember that these are roles, not my true self. I must not identify with these roles so much that I forget who I truly am, a 'spirit' which is pure, complete and eternal.

Your message for our readers

My first message to all the readers, men or women is 'Do rise above your Gender Identity.' Being fixed in your gender identity will limit and restrain your full development as Human Being. Do boldly try things which are not considered 'appropriate' for your gender and find answers yourself whether they are really appropriate or not for your gender, and if they are why they are.

Try to cultivate a penetrate insight to understand why certain things happen to you in life. This will reveal to you your purpose in life and the lessons you are expected to learn in life. Without any doubt, being in the company of spiritual people or reading spiritual literature will help you a lot in this regard.

Thank you Dr. Sarla! It was my honour to interview you, and I hope you'll keep inspiring our readers every time they read your story. Thank you for imparting your precious time for our 'IU e-magazine'!
On a scale of 1-10, how inspiring did you find this article?