The transformations that Indian women experience! Musings…
I took the Delhi Metro today after a longish time. It’s always an entertaining experience. The people watching especially. The ladies’ coach in particular!
Today, I was struck by the multitasking that women manage, or have to manage. In front of me, a newly married young woman was frantically calling home and no one seemed to be answering the phone. Finally, she got through to her domestic help (I think) and instructed her to put her washing out to dry (she had hand washed clothes than ran color and left them to drip dry in her bathroom). After this call, she was visibly relaxed. Another young lady was calling home to check on her guests who had clearly come in from out of town and were being given all sorts of assurances about her getting back home on time, taking care of some taxi arrangements, etc.
I was also struck by the many women who wore symbols of marriage in a very overt manner. Newly married girls wearing the traditional ‘chuda’, the red and white bangles plus gaudy clothing. Also prominent sindoor, toe rings, mangalsutras, etc etc. It’s cultural, sure, and nothing wrong with it. But then I saw these two sisters chatting. One was college going and dressed in skinny jeans, top and sports shoes. The older sister, just a few years older I presume, was in salwar kameez, bindi, sindoor, bangles and all the get up of a married woman. And I wondered about the transformation that she went through. Was she proud of it, embracing the tag of ‘married’ like young women in India are taught to? Was she proud, of being in the married people’s club, perhaps looking down on her friends who hadn’t managed a membership yet? Or did she just adopt these ways without thinking, because everyone did it? Did she, at times, long to slip into her jeans and t-shirt, did she rue the lack of choice?
I have been in those shoes and I’ve aspired to be the ideal daughter-in-law, the ideal wife, the ideal mother. I don’t know who I needed to, still need to, prove myself to. I don’t know what made me think I wasn’t already good enough. I’ve come a long way in being a little more comfortable in my skin. But I’m still finding the balance, and still processing the transformations that women undergo to just be women in our society.
One Billion Rising Gurgaon: Burying Misogyny and celebrating equality
It’s not always necessary to be morose, upset and angry to make a point. And we most certainly were not! Far from it, we danced and sang, chanted and laughed as we walked down Gurgaon’s mall stretch as part of the One Billion Rising campaign for gender equality and recognition of women’s rights.
Gurgaon’s citizens groups have, over the last couple pf years, matured into a curious amalgamation of interest groups, those who work for a cause and RWAs, ably aided by Facebook. Last evening’s event was called by Let’s Walk Gurgaon and joined by other groups, notably Gurgaon Moms. Unlike OBR in New Delhi, we did not see huge crowds and college students were conspicuous by their absence. Yes, the innovative format of the protest made a mark for those who attended.
Fashioned somewhat like a Mardi Gras parade, we carried a coffin with the intent to bury Misogyny, all dressed up in a celebratory mood replete with bandwalas, slogan shouting, drums and all the rest of it. We walked from Sahara Mall to DT City Centre on MG Road, crossed over to MGF Metropolitan and walked back to Sahara Mall. At DT City Centre, some volunteers staged a street play and back at Sahara, others did a really fun flash mob thing. Then we proceeded to bury Misogygy and give birth to a world of equal rights and respect.
We had tagging along with us the police constables, men and women, who were assigned to be with us on duty. They hadn’t a clue why we were doing this! Many onlookers watched curiously and seemed to be having fun as well. Nupur and me kept wondering what was passing through their minds. We almost decided to do an impromptu survey, but stopped short!
What I really loved about the entire event is the way it gathered momentum as it was planned. People, both men and women, volunteered their time and creativity and worked together to make it happen. It takes a lot to move out of the comfort of your routine and be out there, doing things, saying things, starting a chain of change. And having fun while doing it! To sum up, the message of the street play underlined the need to start the change with ourselves. That’s a great thought to take forward as we continue to advocate for a real change in social attitudes towards gender. Join us, the more the merrier!
Here are some pics that capture the event, all photo credits to Swatantra Chhabra Kalra who is a friend and fellow blogger. She blogs at http://swatantra-independence.blogspot.com/
For the videos of the event, please go to- http://www.youtube.com/user/f20films
Does Modi’s popularity mean giving free reign to communalists, misogynists? Shocking reports from a protestor at SRCC
There was much noise about Narendra Modi’s talk at SRCC yesterday. He spoke about development and used this powerful term to capture the imagination of students. Which is all very well.
However, there were protestors outside from what the media termed the “communist” section of DU. And they were treated shabbily, very very shabbily indeed. I may not have a huge case against Mr Modi per se, but if his leading this nation means we give free reign to all communal, misogynist elements in our society, we should all think really hard before we vote this man to power.
Here is an account from a girl who attended the protests, shared by a DU student and a friend of mine on her FB wall today. Prepare to be outraged, shocked, saddened….it’s not just the Kashmiri girl band Pragaash, it’s each one of us in danger!
“Ragini Jha (a student present at the protest): “On 6th of February, there was a large protest against the invitation of and talk by Narendra Modi by SRCC Students Union, organised by various students groups and individuals. The road in front of SRCC had 3 rows of barricades on each side, some of which were subsequently broken. The Delhi police was extremely vicious in their handling of the situation, and were both highly sexist and communal. They passed lewd comments about women standing near the barricade, made kissing gestures and noises, asked women to come closer and talk to them. They also very openly stared and laughed at women in a way that was clearly sexual. When a woman student demanded that women police officers be present at the barricade as well to confront women students, she was told ‘aap aurat kahaan se hain’. Women were also told repeatedly to give up as they’re too weak to break barricades. Some women were told that they should stop protesting or they would be meted the same treatment as women in Gujarat in 2002. At the police station, women students were groped and felt up by the police when they tried to enter.
In addition to this the police also detained 8 protestors. ABVP students were allowed on the other side of the barricade, one even climbed the water cannon, but none of them were detained. This was despite them threatening students, particularly women, by saying things like “jo gujrat ke aurton ka haal kiya wohi tera hoga”. The police, after lathi charging students, laughing and joking as they did so, went on to drag students and throw them in the middle of ABVP and RSS activists, where they were further beaten up.
They were attacked by both ABVP goons and the police, who were supporting each other. The police were particularly obnoxious, whistling and winking at the female students (who were also groped at the Thana) and beating them (and the boys) up sadistically with lathis in addition to water cannons. The ABVP threatened them with Gujarat-like consequences – “Jo Gujarat mein huya vaise tujh me ghusa doonga” while brandishing a stick and similar things. Meanwhile the police were watching and laughing at the girls and other protestors and saying things like “kar le jo karna hai, kya kar payegi” and openly supporting the ABVP students, who were even dancing on the water cannons as they aimed at the protestors. The worst is that they would pick up some of the protestors (including young women) and push them into a crowd of ABVP goons who would then beat them. Some protestors were picked up and taken to the police station, and beaten up on the way (including on the head and groin with lathis). NONE of this shocking stuff is coming out in any of the news reports.”
My feminist journey: I have the power to change!
I’ve been a feminist for as long as I know. Even when it was not cool to be one and through many years when I didn’t know I was one! But even though I believed passionately in the concept of an equal world, and knew society to be hopelessly patriarchal; even though I could see strains on misogyny in people around me and would be irritated as hell with chocolate-faced boys in college who were innocent enough to believe that molestation did not happen in public transport- I had no idea that I was living my life as a victim of the patriarchal construct.
Don’t get me wrong. The men in my life have mostly been these wonderful people, probably more wedded to the idea of gender equality than most women I know. My father always championed the woman’s cause, advising patients to deal with gender-related problems with courage rather than ignoring the social and familial aspects of his patients’ lives, which would have been easy to do. In our marriage, Rahul has always treated our roles as a consequence of choice or circumstance than as dictated by gender. I genuinely think he would be happy to stay home and be a full time dad if I would choose to go out and earn the money needed to support the lifestyle we aspire to. These aren’t black and white issues, there are no easy choices.
But after spending some years of my life whining about having to work from home, being upset about restrictions on my mobility and stressing about bringing up my children, I came to the conclusion that only person standing between me and my aspirations is ME! I chose to believe what the world was telling me about the need for a woman to be a devoted mum to the point of squashing her own personality. I chose to see myself through the imagined perspective of my mother in law, stricturing myself for going out with a friend instead of putting my child to bed, or for going to the gym early morning and not being there when my children woke up; or feeling guilty about meeting a guy friend as a married woman even though my husband had no issues with this. In truth, I was happy in the roles I played as wife, mother, daughter in law, bhabhi, and I still am. But I did make an effort to fit into what I thought was the stereotype of all these roles in middle class Indian society. I was not saying- this is me, I am a good person, talented and sincere, caring and intelligent and you all should just accept me for who I am. Instead I was thinking- this is me, but that is what they want to see me as, so I ended up being someone in between, for many years.
When I began writing my blog daily in the beginning on 2012, I was aware of the need for change but was still this other person. By writing everyday, I forced myself to think about me, my convictions, the way I came across to others and what consequences my actions had. A new thought pattern emerged. One that put me in the center of my own universe, after a long long time. Long discussions with Rahul, arguments about the hurtfulness of being selfish, discussions about the complexity of marriage and the role of communication in it helped me wrap my head around the idea that one could be self-centered without being selfish. Possibly, it was possible! As a woman and a mother, I had to change the warped idea that I was at the center of the universe for my children, or my husband. Maybe I was, and maybe I was not. It did not matter! All that mattered was my happiness, my sense of satisfaction in what I did, my self-confidence in who I am- by being fulfilled I would automatically enrich the lives of those around me, simple enough! When I used this construct to think through my decisions and perceptions, everything else started falling in place.
In one year, I have been able to take more decisions towards my career, been able to start practicing the arts I love, spend time with my children without over-analyzing things, been able to read more, travel more, observe more, write more- in general, I have become a far more productive and happier person.
The trick is not to be trapped in the stereotypes built around you. To analyze them objectively and identify what makes you happy. The idea is to be a fulfilled, excited, energetic person who contributes to the world around.
Today, I am a more informed feminist. I am confident about my strengths but also careful to try and not fall prey to the patriarchal construct I have imbibed through my life. I have the power to educate, the power to influence and change myself and those around me even as I practice consciously the tenets of empathy and tolerance, justice and equality.
Verma Committee report kindles hope: Let’s fan the flames!
Most, if not all reviews of the Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law in the context of gender-related safety and sexual offences, declare it to have seized the moment in proposing changes that could have far reaching impact if implemented. It is indeed a hopeful sign for all those of us who have fretted and worried, stood in protest, and hoped to hell something will happen of the momentum of activism and sheer anger that our nation’s citizens unleashed post the Delhi gang rape.
To sum up the report’s positives, rape is now defined within the context of sexual crimes as any act of non-consensual penetration, while sexual assault includes all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Marital rape is very much recommended to be within the purview of this criminal offense. The committee recommends that marriage cannot be offered as defense and is not relevant to the matter of rape. A huge step forward for the country this would be, if implemented.
Much praise has come in for the committee’s inclusion of people of all sexual orientations in its recommendations. This broader view of dealing with sexual crime as perpetrated against any citizen regardless of gender or sexual orientation, in my opinion, is really relevant in making this issue universally relevant and not just about women’s safety. For the inclusion of a gendered perspective in our society is necessary so that we all evolve to be more sensitive citizens and so that we deter criminals of all types.
Further, the recommendations of increasing the punishment terms of rapists from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment is a balanced one; the report rules out both the death penalty as well as castration and this too sends out the right signals about India’s position as a humanitarian democracy. I have been really disturbed about the baying for blood that has been a strong strain in protests post the Delhi gang rape and am heartened by the Verma Committee recommendations.
Police reforms and the amendment of AFSPA, in which sexual offences in conflict zones are specifically addressed, are other positives that deserve mention.
Of course, we can take the cynical view and despair about whether these would be implemented. However, this is precisely the reason why the activism must continue. Not just women’s groups, but all concerned citizens must speak out for the need for legislation to prevent sexual exploitation. This, along with physical planning measures to increase safety in public spaces as well as support groups to help victims speak out and tackle sexual crime in their lives, are the way forward, certainly. For once, I would think the Opposition wouldn’t really have objections to most of these recommendations.
So friends, don’t let the fire die out. Speak, protest, write, do what you have to do and we can together hope for a safer India!
Can women have it all? Who can? Aug 19, 2012
“Can a woman have it all?”
It is a statement that infuriates me no end. Can anyone have it all? No, right? So it’s a stupid question. Yet, the perception is that love, riches, power and fame, in no particular order, constitutes ‘all’. That love can be substituted by sex and happiness, whatever that elusive thing is, plays no part in this construction further muddies the myth of ‘having it all’ for me.
It upsets me that the rhetoric around compromise is assumed to apply more for women than men. Is not life a negotiation of compromises and priorities for each one of us? Is it not about recognising opportunities and choosing which ones to take and which to let go?
At certain points in their lives, men and women feel their disappointments bitterly. At others, they feel let down, either by themselves or by others. In this, perhaps men are wont to take responsibility more often for their losses, while women might tend to blame it on others. That goes with the territory of patriarchy that we accept around us, especially when we question if women can have it all!
I wouldn’t want it all. I couldn’t handle it, I’m sure!
Satyamev Jayate: Can so much reality shake Indians out of their stupor? May 6, 2012
I missed the first episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate this morning, but when I saw it trending on twitter and the sort of overwhelming response twitterati was coming up with, I had to watch! I am not a TV watcher at all, so its a big deal for me to stay up just to watch a TV show! Now, this better be good…
Just finished watching. It was good. All the right elements- well-researched, a tear jerker, Aamir’s humble attitude….Yes of course, as the twitter folks said, it is commendable that he’s putting his star power behind issues that matter, using his fame to change attitudes and influence personal decisions. I can actually imagine, in today’s Bollywood obsessed India, some guy (or woman, shocking but true and not an aspect Aamir dwelt upon!) actually refraining from female foeticide because Aamir Khan said it is a despicable thing to do.
But the most important thing Aamir said today, the one thing that struck me, is that we really need to believe that we are the change. The onus of India’s problems is on us, on each of us, and it is we who have the responsibility and the power to make the change.
What’s bringing India down is not the dysfunctional government or the corrupt babu; the real problem is us, for taking things lying down, for always passing the buck, for never taking initiative, for being passive citizens. We need to change that within ourselves, we need to reassert our right to live in a fair and just society, where everyone has equal opportunity; to live in well-governed cities and villages, breathe clean air, afford the basic necessities, live with dignity.
For any of us who have stepped outside India and visited developed nations, it’s not the glitz that dazzles us any more. We have plenty of our own in India now. It’s the fact that every citizen, however poor, can rightfully expect to live a dignified life. When we return, we are shocked to register that back at home, we have learnt to live without the basics. It makes my blood boil to live in an address where property prices per square foot are through the roof, but the road outside has no street lights. But we say nothing! People would rather lose their dignity and leave town than report a rape to the police for fear the victim, their daughter or wife or daughter in law, would never be able to live a life of dignity again! And we say nothing? This list can go on. We need to find a way to make ourselves heard and change will come!
That would be Aamir’s true contribution. If Satyamev Jayate can be a conduit to capture the voices of India’s people, not just as statistics, but as footage, as letters, as outpourings of thousands of people who want to see the change, be the change, it would have done its job! Hopefully, the ‘last mile connectivity’ that the program offers in the form of support to NGOs that work for the causes he takes up, will also make its impact. Bravo Aamir, for subtly showing Indians that we’re sleeping while the nation falls apart, and then showing us how we can save it! Done like a true showman by changing the rules of showbiz once again!
Mixed feelings of delight and disgust @ World Book Fair, Delhi- Feb 28, 2012
So I finally made it to the book fair today, with mum. It was heartening to see the sprawling, enormous fair spread over many halls bustling with families, kids in tow. With nani and mumma wanting to buy kiddie books, we headed straight for Hall No 14, where the children’s book were supposed to be.
However, instead of seeing colorful story books and delightful fantasy, we were confronted with rows and rows of stalls displaying:
1- Bizarre, technical books and charts that would help your child practice cursive writing, read the alphabet better, learn the tables better, learn names of fruits, vegetables, animals and so on and so forth
2- Knowledge enhancing category of books ranging from plain boring to creative, curriculum related to the extra knowledge and trivia variety, many many books on science math and general knowledge particularly
3- E-learning software- We saw a screen with a voice that drones “billi, c-a-t cat, this is a cat”, with the picture of a, well, cat! We saw a stall where smart execs counseled (read gave them the spiel!!) parents about the merits of giving their children more exposure via their online programs, CD-ROMs etc. The parents looked completely zonked as if they were getting life’s gyaan and the kiddos were knee-high in most cases!
The sight of the above terrified me today. What are we wanting to turn our children into? What is this crazed competitive society we have created where kids barely out of diapers are expected to fill scores of cursive writing booklets and fill color into outlines of various objects and toon characters till eternity; then move on to solving puzzles, go through personality development modules, memorize general knowledge and trivia by rote, do math using a confusing array of techniques…and much, much more? Why are parents so paranoid? It’s not that these books and technologies aren’t necessary, but the sheer volume of labels, brands creating these had me stumped and the quality was mostly questionable, at first glance, with some exceptions of course.
I spoke with a sales manager with one e-learning stall who was giving me the ‘kids need exposure’ story. Kids already have so much exposure, I told him. What is wrong with growing up with less aids and more creativity using simple things like blocks, books, free art? Isn’t it all, ultimately, to sell your stuff? He gave up and grinned and waved me away! I was, in his head, the crazed, irresponsible parent, bent on leaving my kids in the dark ages!
Another thing that disturbed me was the emphasis on math and sciences and precious little focus on the social sciences, life skills, all round development for kids (the personality development modules did not inspire confidence; again, they looked like a con job to me!). After seeming to have come a long way, we middle class urban Indians are still stuck in the ‘sciencies are best, artsies are the losers’ trap..very sad indeed.
Lastly, the children’s fiction I saw confirmed my fears that we live in a firmly gender-divided world, from about age ten onwards. Except for classics like Ruskin Bond and Kipling, the new books were (mostly) geeky and techy and macho for the guys and flowery pink ‘n purple for the girls. Utterly disgusting, to say the least!
The stalls from Katha, Pratham, National Book Trust and some others were a saving grace and we managed to haul up a bunch of delightful books for both Udai and Aadyaa. The Indian publications are real value for money; the foreign ones often not worth the crazy prices!
As for us, we feasted on the Rupa and Penguin stalls and came home loaded with a satisfying haul of books for the entire family 🙂