What is the relevant socio- historical background of Girls by Mrinal Pande?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The relevant social and historical background to Pande's work is that being a woman in Indian society is not easy.  Simply put, Indian society is configured in a manner in which there are more challenges in being a woman than in being a man.  This is the background that Pande invokes in the construction of her story.  The narrator is unnamed, a statement as to how women are denied voice.  One of the conditions that the narrator must endure is that she is not a boy.  While she is smart, inquisitive, and extremely skilled at both knowledge and getting into trouble, her mother regards her as a bother because she is not a boy.  From the earliest of ages, the girl learns that boys are to be prized and women are to be discredited for they are more trouble and are simply not as "treasured" as boys.

This is the social and historical condition that Pande believes is embedded in Indian culture.  The cultural stereotypes that enter one's mind about Indian culture and its perception of women flare up at this point.  The cultural conditions of burning women, beating them both privately and publicly, denying them educational opportunities, and ensuring that women's places in the domestic realm are intrinsic to their being emerge as part of the historical backdrop to Pande's work.  Certainly, not every woman has to endure these realities.  Yet, there is some  truth to them in Indian society. The prevailing Indian social order has challenges with how it treats women.  This is the condition that serves as the backdrop to Pande's work.

The notion of girls being treated as second class citizens from the youngest of ages is vital to the socio- historical background of the novel.  For Pande, the fact that the girl narrator is unnamed, treated in a secondary manner, and told that she is "not as good" as a boy are the cultural realities that help to establish much of the problems for Indian society's treatment of women today.  Even with the promise of globalization and the ascent of India as a world power in which previous barriers are being moved aside in the name of a larger consumer middle class, the issue of women's rights still needs to be addressed.  For Pande's work, the treatment of girls in a secondary manner makes it easier for society to treat them in a similar manner as women.

One need only be reminded of India's challenges with violence against women as testament to this.  Women in India are likely to have experienced some type of sexual violation.  Such an awful reality comes as a result of a condition in seeing women not as worthy of respect as men, a reality that Pande brings out in her story.  If girls are told that they are not as worthy as men, then these girls become women who must live in a world where men are told that women are secondary to men.  Rapes and sexual assaults in India litter the news cycles.  Women have to constantly be told to avoid eye contact in public, or not dress a particular way.  One of the last things said to the Delhi gang rape victim by one of her rapists when she sat on a bus with a male friend of hers was that "Only prostitutes go out with men at night."  After this, she experienced a gruesome violation and eventual death.This is the social condition of women in India right now.  Pande's work seeks to establish that the historical and social conditions that have placed a primacy on men over women, on boys over girls, has resonance in modern India today.