Monday, September 02, 2013

No Country for Women

I grew up in Patna, while the city was going through its Dark Ages. I belong to an extremely devout hard-working family. Ever since I was old enough to comprehend things, I have seen Ma and Baba spend their days and nights getting us the right kind of education. They taught us independence in small ways. A fixed pocket money. Chores at home. Take the bus to school. Cycle our way to tuition. Watch our back. Be strong. Be capable.

I remember walking alone in my colony. I'd glance back every other minute just to be sure no one was following. Being followed was common place; the trick was to know if it was some colony ruffian who can be ignored or someone to really steer clear of. I remember entering an unknown house in my neighborhood, just to be sure that the man who was following would move on and disappear. I remember going for Maths tuition with my friends. We used to sit on the first bench and hear such lewd comments that concentrating on anything used to be tough. We complained. Sir threw them out. We were threatened blatantly right outside the tuition. They warned us that they will get us kidnapped ('uthwa lenge' was the parlance). I remember my best friend crying one day as she showed up at my doorstep. Two guys kept following her while she was on a rickshaw; saying things which could unsettle anyone. Some of us carried pocket knives and paper cutters. All this is what I am okay writing about. I am deliberately skipping on the more forgettable moments.

I moved to Pune for engineering in 2001. It was liberating. I could go for walks in the evening. I could sit alone at a place and read. People didn't understand my need to be alone. Probably, I was trying to reassure myself that this is how it is supposed to be. It is not always unsafe everywhere.

From then till now, it has been more than 10 years and I have stayed in quite a few cities. Traveled like a nomad. Became more confident and at ease as time passed by. But the irony of it all; I still watch over my shoulder every other minute. So strong is my need to be safe, that I take care of friends around me. No one should get too close to them. No one should unnecessarily brush against them. The Patna experience changed me. Changed all of us. We emerged stronger; yet weaker in an odd way. Not that other cities didn't have their share of such experiences, but with age came an ability to deal with these things better. Being extremely cautious became second nature.

It is not easy being a woman in this country. Imagine spending every moment alone outside with a nagging insecurity. For years. So much so that it becomes a habit. Is that lane too dark? Is that cab guy taking me through the right route? Is it okay to walk past that big group of guys? The questions are many; like a laundry list of checks that we do in our heads while we lead a day to day life.

Read yesterday that the main culprit behind the Delhi rape got off with a 3 year sentence just because he turned 18 a little late. Three years! For wiping out everything for an entire family, that man got three years. I remember the horror of being eve teased. It is not something that newspapers can explain or victims can convey. That one comment. That one brush against you. That fraction of a second. It gets etched in your memory. For a lifetime. You never really get over it. Time heals, but the next time it happens, everything just comes flooding back.

This post is not a generalization for all men out there. I have known and am friends with some of the most wonderful guys one can ever hope to meet. The kind who open doors for you and love you inspite of all things mad about you. I love my country, but this is not a country for women. This is a place where you get stared at. Where in a crowded bus stop, men are capable of undressing you with their eyes. Where the punishment for rape is akin to that of petty theft. Where women are afraid of speaking out because of what society would think.

You might think mine is an extreme story. But it isn't. It is almost every woman's story in this country. We try to not let it unsettle us. We choose to retain the good memories. Memories of classes bunked in school. Of holidays with the family. The class picnic where laughter bordered on the insane. Of fights with dada and the immediate patch-ups. Memories of random unexpected acts of kindness. The friends who made me stand taller. We choose to think of the good memories, probably because they are a constant reminder of all that is right with the world. Yet, India is not a country for bringing up daughters without losing sleep over it. It is definitely not a country for women.


Snaptrix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aswathi said...

I agree. And the true magnitude of the horror resonates through an incident. Not an incident, infact - a pregnancy. One of my closest friends had severe birthing complications – to the extent that the lives of mother and child were in danger. My friend and I, growing up, we’d faced the varying ways people can make lives miserable for women – the stares, the touching, the lewd comments, the Good Girl Vs Bad Girl propaganda, the restrictions on movement, thoughts, feelings. When she went into labour, when she screamed out her pain and when she finally, finally brought in a new life, her body ravaged – I was shattered that we had to suffer even this. Who ever sees the frontier between life and death where women’s bodies stand – to bring in life and nurture it, even as they are torn apart? And who sees the woman behind her body, who even by Nature’s ordain, has to fight to live and let live, even under the best of social circumstances? Till then, I never thought about it, how important it is that we are strong, happy and fulfilled. Yet, Outside, on billboards, on TV, in newsprint, on phones, in conversations, in the essence of our culture– I see women, reduced to the status of nothing; to be commented on about their weight, colour, hair, clothes, ‘morals’ because nothing better can be said about them right? Women are to be stared at, touched, grabbed, raped, ravaged, trapped, conquered, protected – because they are pleasure machines, to be consumed and discarded.

Modern Gypsy said...

I agree with you completely. There are days when I feel blessed that I have a husband who is supportive of my decision to not have a child - if it's a girl, I will spend every moment fearing her safety, if it's a boy, I'll spend every moment hoping he never eve teases, that he knows how to treat a woman with respect. Dealing with stares and men brushing up against you, with lewdness and catcalls is very difficult, and leaves scads that are deep and that never really heal. One wrong look from a man unleashes all the memories that time dimmed.

Anchal Gupta said...

I do not honestly understand the opinion or emphatic statement that India is not a country for women as it can be interpreted at multiple levels in various socio-economic-culturak contexts.
Firstly, it can be interpreted as a country so hopelessly mired in male chauvinism and patriarchal mindsets that there is absolutely no hope of any improvement in terms of gradual albeit concrete steps towards formation of an egalitarian society. But, this is not true as most of us might not realize but this is a fact that the number of rapes and other heinous crimes against women have existed since the last century but were under reported due to lack of reach of media and aware and responsible members of civil society till around 15 years back due to lack of technological penetration.

Secondly, we must realize that the distribution of such crimes has increased in the urban and supposedly more educated centers of our society owing to a once in an epochal clash of archaic conservative male dominated mindsets and contemporary egalitarian thought. Regrettably, it is all of us, and I must admit, more so the men in India, to take the blame for not reforming the mindset and socio-cultural ethos in the larger mass consciousness of our society through improved educational infrastructure that is critical to eliminate one of the greatest threats to providing women the position in our society that they rightfully deserve.

Then, lastly, while permanent structural change requires a long and painful process to be implemented especially owing to the diverse nature of our geography, demography and sociology, the greatest failure of our nation has not been in sustaining a culture of a disgraceful forced male domination but in the failure to establish a strong and efficient system of law and order which cannot act as a deterrent for flawed and potentially errant individuals and thoughts from transcending the mind to physical reality because this is the immediate change that is required.

We must understand that women in our country still are targets of savage mindsets owing to a complicated correlations between a burgeoning population, a skewed educational qualification metrics and a ground level almost non existent law and order system. While the third issue can be tackled inn the short term, the change of mindsets and cultural ethos in the hindterlands and less educated parts of the country might take decades.

But, I completely appreciate the author in baring her soul as to how she feels about her and other women's identity and security in the largest democracy on Earth. There is absolutely no doubt that I also personally have believed, lived and have been blessed to be related to and be friends with men who have never considered women in any way superior or inferior to women as the concept of equality and respect has been a basic pillar in defining human relationships. Shamefully, such cultural ethos only exist in certain pockets of our social structure and not in the entire social fabric of our society.

In essence, a thought provoking and soul searching article.