-the world as I see it
It’s a rainy Thursday night. I’m making my way home from the theatre after watching the movie ‘life of Pi.’ I loved the movie – the cinematography was out of this world and just like all the reviews had mentioned –it was a visual treat. As you must know, the movie is based on a book which goes by the same title, written by Yann Martel. I have wanted to read the book since 2002 when Martel won the Man Booker prize for it. The story was based on an Indian character and seemed refreshingly different (I wasn’t aware at that time of Martel’s supposed ‘inspiration’ (read plagiarism) from ‘Max e os felinos’ written by a Brazilian author). Well, I finally got around to reading the book in December, about ten years later!! I’ve noticed I have this bad habit when it comes to reading books – there are some books that I really want to get my hands on but I never get down to reading them until I hear that they are being made into movies. I catch a glimpse of the trailer on youtube and then think to myself “Wow, this is something I’d love to see, but I’d rather read the book before I watch the movie.” I don’t like reading a book after having watched the movie- your imagination is killed, you see things just the way they were in the movie and your mind refuses to substitute those images with new ones. You’re reading the book but instead of entering into a magical world you feel like a mere muggle – unaware and unable to appreciate the magic that’s going on around you.
Anyway, back to the life of Pi –the movie pretty much stuck to the story line in the book. As I walked back home, a thought crossed my mind – here I was, a 23-year old making her way back home after watching ‘Life of Pi’ and my heart went out to her- the same age as me and the victim of a crime of horror unparalleled. She had just watched the same movie – a movie which tells the tale of how a boy survived against all odds- he braved the tempest and somehow managed to sort-of-tame a Royal Bengal tiger -an animal that could have made minced meat out of him or swallowed him whole without a qualm. She got into a bus, the most common and preferred form of public transport that you use once darkness begins to fall. It was there that she encountered animals of an entirely different nature- ones that couldn’t be tamed, ones that resolved not only to destroy a human body but to tear down its spirit as well. Today it’s more than a month since the incident has taken place and all I can hope for is that her soul may rest in peace and that justice may prevail.
According to the media, this crime has shocked India and rocked the very ground that we Indians stand on. Personally, I wouldn’t use the word ‘shocked’ – the heinousness of the crime was shocking, but the crime itself was not. In India, a rape is just one among the many other crimes against women. No doubt it is one of the worst but that doesn’t justify foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, bride burning, dowry, sati, molestation and the likes. As a woman in India, you learn the word ‘compromise’ even before you know how to spell it or know what it even means. Maybe your family doesn’t impose any restriction on you, that’s where the society comes in to do their job of moral policing. Coming to the compromises we make as women, there are so many instances, and it has been ingrained in us to such an extent that some of us don’t seem to realize that we are making compromises after a while. Let me point out a few of them – you are okay with the fact that you need to be home before nightfall, otherwise, if something untoward happens you are to blame, at least partially. You only venture out after dark if you’re with family or with a group of friends. You are resigned to the fact that if you use public transport, itchy hands will somehow find their way to grope you and if they don’t, it’s your lucky day. If you wear a skirt/shorts or a dress and somebody whistles/ hoots/ catcalls, you silently wish that you had worn a sack instead, although in your mind you know that the sick perverts will look at you in the same filthy way even if you’re clad from head to toe. Most college campuses have block timing restrictions for girls where a curfew is imposed on you. That’s right, we are made to feel like Cinderella, but of a very grim fairy tale, with a much earlier deadline. It is said hostel block timings for girls are meant for their own good and for their own safety (in a ‘free country’). It is common to see a lot of girls from poorer families stay at home and do household chores either in their own homes or in other people’s while their brothers go to school, play with other kids in the neighbourhood and have a good time. If you’re a girl who wants to study further and make it big in life, you will have many people tell you how you won’t get a husband or how over-ambitious you are. Then you have dowry, don’t even get me started on that concept. If I had to list out every case, this post would run into pages. So I am going to stop with these.
I have a Canadian friend who was my classmate during my Master’s. She is equally interested as I am, in women’s rights issues. We would spend a lot of time talking about issues related to the treatment of women in India and in other parts of the world. She herself had been to India on a project to build a hospital in one of the villages and told me that she had quite a tough time there because travelling as a single white woman can be quite hard. We attributed the status of women in society to the deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset in the Indian subcontinent. I then remembered learning about the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya, which is in North-Eastern India that has a matriarchal society and we decided to do some further digging and see how well this system worked. Apparently it works quite well – women inherit property from their parents, they are the head of the family and are the bread-winners and decision makers. But don’t let this mislead you into believing that all is perfect in this world. Crimes against women, although to a much lesser extent, are prevalent here too. Most men are particularly unhappy about the fact that as opposed to being the lord, they are lorded over. They resort to violence and masochistic means to make their displeasure clear. A couple of months ago, India got voted as the worst G20 country for a woman to be born in. Many Indians (including me) were flabbergasted and particularly indignant about the fact that we were ranked lower than Saudi Arabia. I discussed this with a friend of mine who has lived in the Middle East and she told me – “In Saudi, women are kept in a cage, but in that cage they are (mostly) taken care of.” Then came the much-publicized gang rape a few months later and more discussions with family and friends ensued. One of my friends told me “The situation in India is not that bad. It’s fine”. “Excuse me, but what do you mean by ‘not that bad’ and it’s fine compared to what?” I interjected. Technically we live in a democratic society, but we don’t enjoy freedom in every sense of the word. Some people have this argument that every country has its own issues – the U.S has a whole lot of problems with regard to gun violence and rapes happen everywhere in the world. Another one of my friends told me how in Japan, chikan is common where organized groups of perverts swarm and grope women on trains during rush hour. A recent survey in South Africa revealed that one in four men have committed a rape at least once in their life time. I am not denying that women are at risk everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t make the current situation in India okay. When it comes to the safety of women and their basic rights, we definitely have a problem, and the first step towards solving it would be to acknowledge the very fact that there is a problem.
Coming to the solution – is there even a solution??? Only time will tell. In the beginning we started out with “let’s fight for women’s rights” but now I think it’s more of a “let’s fight for human rights” campaign. Some people say “women should be allowed to carry weapons, women should learn self-defense” and the rest of us say “men should learn to control themselves”. Maybe we should be saying “everyone should just be human- live and learn to let live”. One of my friends says she hates being called a feminist, she feels the word defeats its purpose – it is like this term that says women are the weaker sex, so they need help and assistance. I would like to go with Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichleri’s idea that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
So what is the point in my ranting or pointing out the flaws in the system, I need to do my bit too right. With that in mind, my bucket list has the following additions – try and help out a less fortunate girl with her education at some point in my life, come to the aid and stick up for some girl when she protests about someone groping her or harassing her, work with NGOs that deal with issues relating to welfare of women and children. Finally, I hope that things will get better and the prospect of ‘India shining’ doesn’t remain just a dream.
P.S: From the extensive media coverage, some of you might be under this impression that all Indian men are dirty rotten scoundrels. Well, let me make it clear that there are good souls out there too and it wouldn’t be nice to label them all the same way. I was impressed by the men in skirts video. We also have to acknowledge that sometimes women themselves demean other women by bringing up their sons with ideas of them being supreme and also engaging themselves in the harassment of their daughters-in-law or by passing judgement on how other women lead their lives.
This is not a battle of the sexes, it is a movement to end injustice.