“And that’s when I first learnt about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of Supreme Being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.” – Terry Pratchett
I have been doing some deep thinking in the last little while and I came up with the concept that life for the typical brown woman is shit. No, the wording is not too strong – the only acceptable replacements are crap, faeces and dung.
How did I come to this mind-blowing conclusion? Well, I was just reflecting on some of the observations that I’ve made in recently and came up with it.
A headline today on NDTV read:“In India, using sex crimes to rein in women” talks about recent incidents in Guwahati, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata. There is much ado right now about making laws stricter – harsher punishments for those that molest women (right now, that is a bailable offence averaging around Rs. 1000). There are comments flying on ‘loose’ behaviour of women that push men in society beyond that edge. And the end result? Harsher standards on how women should live their lives – not wearing jeans, not having cell phones, not having social lives outside home and school. In a country where women’s health, education and rights are questionable on an international stage (India recently ranked worst country for women, for several reasons including: women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, exploited and abused as domestic slave labour, married off as young as 10 years old, and frequent dowry-related disputes resulting in women being burnt alive), our society thinks that the solution is putting more and more barricades on women.
We’re literally walking backwards.
Our society has its own notions and ideas about the rights of women. For many that means not being born. My friend works at a fertility clinic in Canada. She recently told me that she was astounded at the number of brown families aborting a child as soon as they found out that it was female. These are people who have tried for years to conceive and spent tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Sons are a boon, daughters a curse.
I pride myself on having grown up in a liberal household. My generation of cousins, most of whom are girls, are qualifying as doctors, dentists and engineers (I am the stupid business student). We face no pressure to choose certain careers, we were allowed to date individuals from different races, and we are allowed to drink. Our brothers were not preferred to us in any way. But still, being Indian, our society didn’t allow us to know ourselves as equal to men.
I was no older than seven when, while at my great-uncle’s yard adjoining his building, his neighbour fondled me. Thoughts of his touch still bring a strong feeling of nausea over me. I remember discussing it with my older cousin – I was confused and feeling dirty. She told me that he had done the same to her – she was nine. My younger cousin (five) chimed in with the same story. I remember telling my great-uncle. Nothing happened.
As I grew up, every year I would go to India. Even living outside the country, it was apparent to me that eve-teasing was something we had to live with growing up. It was part of being a girl, part of being a woman. A few years back, my cousin came back home livid – two men on a motorbike had grabbed at her as they raced past on a motorbike. In my aunt’s home, where one daughter was becoming a dentist and herself being an engineer aspirant, questions were raised about the short-sleeved T-shirt and three-quarter capris that she was wearing. No matter that it was 40 centigrade outside. She was choked with shock and tears – disappointment and rage welled up in her eyes.
We have come to see molestation as almost acceptable – “rape toh nahin kiya na?” Perhaps those that are killed in the womb are the lucky ones.
A few weeks ago a 17-year-old girl was assaulted by a mob of nearly 40 men in a crowded Guhawati street. A minister from Madhya Pradesh commented in reference to the incident “Women should dress in a way that they invoke respect in others. However, unfortunately women are dressing provocatively, which is leading to deviation in society”. He went on to say that such incidents are the result of blindly aping the West. He was echoing the thoughts of Mamta Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission of Women, as well as the sentiments of many other ministers and leaders across the country.
Statistics say that 4.4% of all reported cases involved provocative behaviour on part of the victim (sometimes, that meant just a glance). Most rapists do not remember what their victims were wearing.
As Indians, we know better: the way to stop women’s rape is by having them dress ‘less provocatively’. If that doesn’t stop it, let’s barricade them in the home. If that’s not a deterrent, we’ll stop their schooling. We’ll marry them off as young as possible … assuming we allow them to be born in the first place.
There’s little to worry about. We’re well on our way.
In 2009 World Economic Forum study on gender parity gave India a dismal ranking: 114th out of 134 nations. Only 77% of women are literate and just 23% are employed. UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report found that not only do 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India, but of its total contraception, 75% is done through sterilization with India’s women bearing the brunt of the procedure in 95% of cases. Every 30 minutes a woman is raped (keeping in mind that these are only reported cases – statistics say that 1 in 69 cases are reported. Few women muster the courage to lodge a FIR, fearing public shame, family dishonor, a gender-insensitive police force, rigors of medical exams to prove that the rape did happen and repeated cross-examination in court). Since 1971 when rape cases were first recorded officially, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) has registered a 678% increase in the crime.
But that is not the world I live in. As with everything in India, there are two parts to the country. I pride myself on being from a liberal family.
Yet all the women in the generation past have given up their careers to allow their husbands to pursue theirs. More qualified than their husbands, with doctorates and masters degrees, they continue to work mediocre dead-end jobs or be the homemaker. They tell me that they had graduated with dreams of changing the world – of being the top contributors in their fields. They had graduated with marching step by step with men. Now their husbands are executives of multinational companies and they are their backbone. They all tell me confidently that it was a choice – but the choice never was whether it was his career vs. hers. The choice was between her career and a broken marriage.
That was 30 years back. Today the world is different, women are seen as equals.
Canada 2012. A friend of mine suffers from low self-esteem. Her life is defined by whether she can get a good husband. Her brother has always received preferential treatment over her. In her mid-twenties, her family still dictates her curfew and doesn’t allow her to date. Yet there are expectations that she be married in a few years’ time. In desperation, she resorts to scheming behind their back to meet her new boyfriend. Her insecurity prevails her relationship: she doesn’t understand how this new guy can like her – she who, in a relationship previously, got cheating and criticism in response to her affection. How can someone love, even be attracted to her? She,who is good for nothing. Her friend is bubblier than her, another is prettier, yet a third who is more intelligent. All those friends have told her that this guy isn’t good for her: he was a man – and all she can think is: anything, God, anyone who likes me. But he leaves as hurriedly as he came – and she soon comes to the realization that anyone would leave. How can someone love someone who doesn’t love herself? She looks in the mirror to see a talentless, forlorn and fat person. At one point she enjoyed planning her future – she had plans to go back to school, but since then doubts have crept in that she isn’t worth investing in.
This isn’t the story of one person. Recently ‘Cocktail’ appeared on the big screen of Bollywood. There were two female characters for the questionably ‘attractive’ male protagonist to choose from. His present girlfriend, an independent sizzling woman who enjoys life – she drinks, makes merry and shows off her sexy legs. She also, without hesitation, supports a woman who has been shunned by her husband and stands by her through thick and thin. Her friend, in contrast, is a meek, salwar draping figure, whose pastimes are to clean, cook and pray. The former’s boyfriend falls head over heels for this meek friend – after all she’s the epitome of an Indian woman. They go behind their friend’s back to kiss and drool. And when it comes to the choice of his life, he chooses the meek and the vulnerable. His was an easy decision – the choice between beauty and the beast.
This is what we’ve chose to make of our women. Silent, sacrificing and insecure. Not only are they degraded and overlooked everyday but they are expected to remain mute in response.
I shout out to all the Indian women to wake up. I plead to you. Wake up and take control of your lives. Invest in yourselves. Make your own decisions. Understand your capabilities. Realise your ambitions. Live for yourselves before you live for others. Pick and choose the rules that guide you, rather than following those of our society blindly.
Become the spearhead for change in women’s rights. Show the world the way you want womanhood to be defined.
Don’t leave it up to men to uphold your rights for you. It’s not their responsibility – it’s not their fight.
By Riddhi Sen
2013 Blog Writer for Change Tomorrow’s World & The Wonders of Womanhood