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Halfway house

Halfway house
Someone very wisely told me today that there are two Indias. One where a Wing Commander Pooja Thakur leads the Inter-Services Guard of Honor, represents nari shakti in front of Barack Obama and another where one of Nirbhaya’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, says in an interview to documentary film maker Leslee Udwin that, “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’ clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”

And the biggest democracy on the face of this earth goes right ahead and asks TV channels not to broadcast the documentary India’s Daughter that has Singh’s interview in it. The government condemns it. It is that easy. And condemning doesn’t take too much effort.

Rajya Sabha MP Javed Akhtar lashed out in the Parliament against the ‘hypocrisy’ of the ‘Indian’ mindset as he said that he was happy that such a documentary was made because now Indian men would know that they too think like rapists and their mindsets needed immediate change. Lok Sabha member Kirron Kher spoke about tackling this problem from the grass root level while Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan said that women didn’t need crocodile tears.

Enough has been written and talked about how the rot runs deep and to potentially fix Indian mindset education is key. 2015 and counting, the fight just seems to be getting harder, the need to scream gets louder.

This article isn’t about the documentary, or about the protests for or against it. It is about women and whether we can, today on Women’s Day, say that we feel safe and happy being exactly who we are. It is about dichotomies that are stark and still so horribly in our faces.

While some women go about breaking those metaphorical glass ceilings, there are snide comments about how her plunging cleavage or an affair with a senior must have landed her a plum post and raise. While they talk about empowerment, every parent is made to feel inadequate and irresponsible if their daughters are unmarried at 30 or if they are married and do not have kids. “A woman’s worth is her marriage certificate,” says author Sreemoye Piu Kundu. Both education and upbringing is done with the single focus in mind that a girl must ultimately become great
marriage material. Slim, fair, not-too-tall, convent educated, respects elders and knows how to cook,
non-working – throw in your own preferences to this glowing list.

Each and every women reading this won’t need to look into their neighbour’s houses to find this ‘truth’ – they too have been told at some point in their lives that if they don’t learn how to cook and how to clean, how would they ever make a good marriage? The faults run deep. When a colleague complained about his dirty house, I told him – “Get marri...”. I immediately felt ashamed of what I suggested and that the response was involuntary and immediate – we are decades deep into this cesspool of patriarchy. Yes. Even us ‘educated’ ones.

In a response to this comes a ‘war cry’ of a bio-data of Indhuja Pillai, the techie from Bangalore, who is definitely NOT a marriage material. Her blog post got a million views and a good bunch of marriage proposals. She declared that she was, “NOT a womanly woman. Definitely not a marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever...” and was looking for, “...A man, preferably bearded, who is passionate about seeing the world. Someone who earns for himself and does NOT hate his job. Must be flexible with his parents, also means, it’s better if he is NOT a family guy. Extra points to the one who hates kids.” Internet called her the coolest groom seeker ever and women went to bed happy that night.

But there are only that many Indhuja Pillais and that many more Jyoti Singhs in this country. So many decades, so many perception changes and here we are in 2015, looking back, wondering where we stand. For every two steps forward, there has been a step back. Mindsets have not changed yet, but yes, they are evolving.

“We are regressing, not progressing,” feels Kundu. “The battle is still the same, we still face the same demons. If our feminism is worth so little that a documentary is a threat to it, then how has it changed? Your womb still decides your destiny,” she says.

To say that we have achieved nothing over all these years would however be wrong. There are men like Ravi Mittal, founder and CEO of dating site QuackQuack, who did his bit by running a campaign that aims to break the Indian marriage stereotypes – since all Indian women are still only as good as their marital statuses. “The pressure of arranged marriage and illogical reasoning to get married is quite common in Indian culture. My sister got married when she was 21... I too was not spared,” says Mittal. His site offers people a chance to get to know each other better before deciding to take the plunge – not a regular in Indian society and frowned upon by ‘elders’.

“I am increasingly convinced that perceptions about women are becoming harsher and more
conservative in India even as some privileged city women (miniscule in number in reality) appear, through representations on social media and general heightened visibility, to give the impression that women enjoy greater freedom now. Perhaps the reasons for this increasing conservatism lie partly in this, a backlash from an inherently-moral and risk-averse society that is appalled at what this ‘visible evidence’ reflects of ‘us’ as a ‘nation’ – an evidence that is skewed in numbers anyway, since majority of Indian women are still locked into all kinds of strictures, some even self-imposed, that serve patriarchy well,” says Professor Brinda Bose from the Centre of English Studies, JNU.

The country has women who are taking charge of their own lives and bodies, choosing not to marry even post 30, deciding not to have children and living their right here and now. The country also has women who are choosing to marry, have children and prioritise family over career. The feminists rue the latter, patriarchy – the former. Any club is a problem.

“The few visibly-liberated women will always be aberrations, and always be viewed, sometimes secretly, sometimes blatantly, with distaste, if not horror. In any case, as I said, visible evidence of liberated women in certain circuits is not proof of any real progress at all in a country where khaps are an everyday unremarkable occurrence…” adds Bose.

To be truly empowered, it is important to be equal first. While it will be very easy to target reservations in schools, colleges and universities, or seats in trains and buses – and say that if you truly want to be treated as equals then women should not depend on such ‘facilities’.

But truth be told, the ‘fairer’ sex still needs more ‘facilitation’ in this country than any caste or tribe. For how long, one may ask? Till the day a liberated woman is no longer an aberration.

“Women have never had it easy, but what sets the modern woman apart from her predecessors is her determination to level the playing field. In comparison, previous generations of women were more complying about rules, at work and at home, that undermined their equality. Not that feminism is something new. Contemporary feminists have tended to be less reactive. In fact some women groups of today actually count on men as their allies, and this level-headed approach to securing equal rights is a positive development,” feels Sminu Jindal, founder of Svayam and MD, Jindal SAW Ltd.

The cliché goes – a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. That step has been taken, there is hope, there are war cries and there are head-strong, brave and stubborn women who will not let patriarchy break them. There is still however - a very long way to go.
Jhinuk Sen

Jhinuk Sen

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