Friday, January 4, 2013

Shadows and smoke

Being a woman is hard. Being an Indian woman is harder still.

I am not a hardcore feminist who demands that 'history' is 'her story' too (which is etymologically incorrect) I am, however a person raised in a household that has a strong matriarchal sensitivity. I have been raised to give my opinion in matters that I find pertinent to me or close to my heart. Never have my parents shown preference for my brother over me or treated me with a callousness that stems out of indifference and ignorance.

There have been times in my life when I have discovered that equality to be specious. As I grow up, I am supposed to take my place in the kitchen with my other cousins on family functions while my male relatives discuss cricket and politics while lounging on the sofa. My female relatives are highly qualified professionals, but still they have to cook, wash and clean after the others.

This is tradition, they say. I refuse to accept this. We tilt the balance in favour of males with precisely this kind of attitude. Traditionally, women were supposed to cook while men took care of things outside the house. But that is hardly the case today. Women work and become financially independent but still, according to the tradition, they are stuck doing all the jobs. Lest you assume that I am against housewives, let me assure you that I am quite of the opposite opinion. I do not think that keeping the house is inferior to working outside the house. Being a housewife can be an immensely wonderful career with great rewards. But the financial independence, which is inherently linked with the feeling of liberation is absent in this case. A woman should be a housewife out of choice, not compulsion.

A working woman is a marvel. She juggles her office and house with a surprising dexterity and sleight. But she is still stuck in her traditional role.

One of my professors, while explaining the orthodox gender roles, gave us an example. He told us that though he and his wife arrive home at the same time, she is the one who makes tea. This struck me deeply. Women have not budged from their roles and the expectations of the society have not changed.

 I think that a housewife should be paid by the other members of the household. One of my friends vehemently opposed this statement. She opined that the things one's mother does is out of love for the child, and how can one put a price on love? But I think that to make matters easier for GDP calculation and giving dignity to the career of a housewife, this is necessary. We need to transform it from drudgery to a vocation. Of course, this is not possible in most households. But the thought (and the possibility of it materialising) can shake awake even the most orthodox of husbands and make them help out around the house. One day, I would like to see the woman longing around watching television while the man is busy in the kitchen. That would be the true stamp of equality.

Another thing that we have always been warned about is stepping out of the house late. For guys, this rule is relaxed and almost non-existent. In a city like Pune, I can stay out alone till 11, more if I am with friends. But as we have been reading in the papers such is not the case in the rest of the country.

'Damini' would have been just another statistic, but the media lifted her and people cried out her name from the roof tops. The stigma of rape is lessening in a way. People are discussing it as an important issue plaguing the country, instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it never happened. What kind of life is it when a girl cannot step out of her house after 7? Why shouldn't she? The society has robbed her of her right to watch late night movies, hang out with friends, walk along a deserted road without the fear of being molested! These might seem petty things but the idea of being closed up in the house night after night suffocates me. But at the same time, the world outside seems like a hungry, savage beast waiting to prey on innocent girls who dare to step out of the house.

Rape is not an expression of sexual desire gone wrong. It is the symbol of power of the rapist and subjugation of the victim. It is an act of violence. It is monstrously wrong to say that indecent clothes, outgoing nature or being alone out is the reason for getting raped. No woman deserves this. She has not 'asked for it'. It is not consensual sex gone wrong. When she says 'no', it means 'no'. When are all the men going to learn this?

I was going home today in a public transport bus. My stop was the last and the conductor was a young, shifty, chatty man who had been asking me personal questions during the entire ride. I had turned my head outside the window in an effort to prevent any communication. By the time my stop came, only two people were in the bus besides me. It was barely seven in the evening and the vehicle had been plying on a busy road. But still, I broke out in a cold sweat. I clutched my cell phone in my hands and kept calling people. A fortnight ago, I would not have toyed with my phone. My heart would not have been hammering and I would have relaxed against the green foam of the seat instead of sitting ramrod straight and alert.  

We live in unfortunate times.


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