Sunday, March 08, 2015

India's Other Daughters

I saw ‘India’s Daughter’ on YouTube the day it was released online. Despite the hue and cry it had generated, the video had a mere 103, 895 views, around 8 hours after it was uploaded. A Bollywood item number would easily have crossed a million.

The 59 minute documentary is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. It does not editorialise or pass any judgement. It simply gets everyone from Jyoti’s parents to the rapists’ parents to ‘bus driver’ Mukesh Singh himself to speak on camera. The viewer is left to draw his/ her own conclusions.

This is what I concluded after watching ‘India’s Daughter’:

1. Jyoti Singh was a very lucky girl. Although born in a traditional family, her parents had a modern outlook. They treated her ‘like a male child’ in that she was encouraged to study.

Her father said, “We sold our ancestral land in the village so that Jyoti could join medical college. My brothers objected but we did it anyway.”

Imagine the millions of girls out there whose parents don’t have this outlook. Their spirit is crushed so early that they don’t have hopes or dreams for themselves. The only future they have is to ‘get a husband’.

2. The Pati Parmeshwar (‘husband is everything’) mindset has crossed ridiculous limits. Many people are very disturbed by the statements made by lawyers defending the rapist. As ghinaune as those gentlemen are, one might say it is their job to defend their client – no matter what it takes.

If you have watched American legal dramas such as The Practice’ or ‘How to get Away with Murder’ you would see that lawyers have no ‘ethics’, the world over.

What really disturbed me is the statement made by the wife of one of the rapists. She said,” Without a husband I have no life, who will protect me, who will look after me… better that I too should die.”

Take a hypothetical scenario where the court acquits the man, this lady seems quite willing to accept a rapist and murderer as her husband. This is what her family and society would also advise her to do.

Instead of encouraging her to walk out on him and become an independent, financially self-sufficient woman. Educating her, giving her confidence and skills to lead her own life.

Because, you see, women have no life if they have no husband.

3. Education is not the answer (for changing the mindset of men). For women like Jyoti Singh the pursuit of knowledge equals freedom. The freedom to think, to have an identity, to stand up and be counted.

Jyoti worked in an international call centre from 8 pm-4 am in order to earn some extra money and pay her hostel fees. Jyoti benefitted from the new liberalized economy which created these jobs and did not care whether she was a man or a woman, as long as she was performing well.

But look at this scenario from the man’s point of view. At home, he is treated like a raja, superior to his mother and sisters. At work, he has to treat women as equals. This is not an easy thing.

It doesn’t matter whether the boy is educated at IIT or IIM. The sex ratio at these institutes is, historically, so skewed that it actually supports the theory that ‘men are smarter than women’. If someone installed a hidden camera in the boys hostels here is a sample of what you would hear:

At the beginning of the course: Discussions on vital statistics of various girls
At the end of the course: How X got a plum job only because ‘she is a girl’
(worse – ‘a good-looking girl’.)

You might dismiss this as hostel mein aisi faltu baatein hoti hain – youthful camaraderie and all that. But conversely, I have never heard discussions in the girls hostel about so and so boy got a plum job because ‘he is a boy’. (worse – ‘a boy with thick spectacles’.)

In fact said boy with thick spectacles but a very good salary slip will suddenly start receiving a hundred proposals. From parents of the very girls who would not give him ghaas throughout his school and college life.

Many of these girls will be highly educated but willingly sacrifice their careers to become ‘homemakers’. Nothing wrong in that, you say? The wrong bit is that there was never any question of who would make the sacrifice.

So how do we create that society where India’s daughters and India’s sons are different, but equal? The starting point is that women have to believe in themselves. Because unless you treat yourself with utmost respect, how can you expect that respect from others?

It’s easy to pontificate but hard to actually live by this principle. So let me share with something very personal: after years of dilemma and confusion, I took an important decision. I walked out of my marital home and start living by myself.

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with my marriage (by conventional standards). No alcoholism, wife-beating, etc etc. But there was silence, there was distance, there was loneliness. I could not maintain a fa├žade just for the sake of society.

A year later, I am much happier. Most people around me are not. Those who know, avoid me and thus avoid the topic. Those who don’t I rarely enlighten. Because I know they would rather see a woman stuck in a dead relationship than have the courage to move on.

Today, I choose to share my personal life on this public platform because I feel by not talking about it, I am ‘hiding’. Making my life-choice a shameful secret.

I am one of the few women in this country who has a voice, who has means to be independent, whose parents did not command ‘chup chaap waapas chale jao’. But somewhere I too have been mentally raped by society, to feel a little bit ‘less of a woman’ without a husband by her side.

I am India’s daughter – that should be enough.

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