No place for a woman!

Here is a brilliant post by my friend and colleague, Hannah, on our company’s intranet blog.

Ok, another gang rape, should we say, a reported one? If I remember right, per a survey that outlook published sometime ago, for every 1 rape reported in a big city, almost 64 rapes go unreported in any of the smaller cities. In any case, I don’t want to dwell on rape, for there’s enough and much more to spare written on rape. After all, who doesn’t want to look the defender of a woman’s modesty (sic!)?

Some of the words that people use to describe the act of rape are painful, horrendous, injustice, heinous, outrageous, irreversibly damaged, etc. Simply put, all these descriptors are laughable or even expressions of our misplaced angst, because all of our responses are colored, or rather dictated by our feudal mindsets that want our women to be untouched sexually, except by the man who is socially sanctioned to touch her on the day (err…night) of their wedding! And, that’s not all. The marital bed might even be examined for traces of virginal blood the following morning by the mother-in-law, who is again a victim and a stooge of patriarchy. And, hence, virginity/chastity is something that the woman guards with her life, heart, soul, mind, body, etc. A woman’s mind is dwarfed or rather mangled (like perhaps a bonsai with constant pruning, trimming, and wiring) to think that she’s around just to row up into a beautiful young woman, who will be married off in her prime (read biologically just right to get pregnant) to a man her parents shall find, and she shall cook and clean for him and his family (and, of course, have a career if the man deems it fit or something to simply kill time or contribute to the family economy, if need be), beget him children, and raise them as chivalrous gentlemen or ladies like herself to continue this brilliant saga! Isn’t this outrageously horrendous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

A woman’s attitude towards anything and everything, be it her choice in clothes, career, stance, food, color, marriage, friends, etc., is influenced primarily by the societal expectations from her due to her biology. For example, even as a girl child is born, people start talking about putting money away for her dowry, make jewels for her, buy pink frocks, high heels, etc. Where is all this coming from? It comes from the basic idea that the woman is a womb, and hence everything about the girl child is only beauty (she will have to beautiful for her man), fair skin, dolls (because she will be a mother someday, so start planning even as she is in the cradle!), kitchen sets (she’ll have to cook and clean for the household!), and anything and everything that would firmly peg her to the house, kitchen, and pregnancy! Now, I ask, aren’t all these heinous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

I am not sure if there’s data to support how girl babies and boy babies DIFFER in their gyration towards violence or motherhood, irrespectively! Maybe they do too, but why should we as adults stand back and watch or rather applaud when your boy starts using expletives and thrash when the girl does the same thing? Why are girl children taught to cook while boy children are not? Is cooking done through ovaries, which is why men don’t cook? Why should girl children be taught to clean? Why should boys/men be handed out coffees by women every day? Do men suddenly become lame or crippled the moment they enter their homes? Or, is it the upbringing that makes Indian men take any woman to be a custom-made domestic worker, mother, and even a careerist (outside the home of course!). It just can’t get any better for Indian men, or can it? I ask, isn’t this a travesty of justice or a caricature of a just world? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

As a teenager growing in a metropolis like Chennai, I could never venture to the beach all by myself or even partake in the all-night parties that used to happen on the mount road on new year’s eve, because I, or any girl/woman, ran the risk of being gang raped! Even if the all-night party animals on that road came from ‘good’ families or on better days would be chivalrous too, wouldn’t think twice before actually getting down and having one helluva fuck, because such wayward women could, rather should be raped! Not only that, as a young girl traveling by public transport to school/college/work, I have been exposed to stares of all kinds (the approving, the disapproving, the disrobing, so much fucking more!!) and even harassment of all hues. And, believe me, the men guilty were anything like these ‘animals’(rapists) that all ‘good’ men of today seem to distance themselves from! These were boys/men who went to colleges like the ones I went to or even came from families who were our neighbors! Even today, as a grown adult, I can assure you that I don’t feel any less vulnerable while taking the public transport or am the only woman in a lift filled with men! All this and much more completely strangulate a woman’s very identity and crush/stonewall her into the bloody roles that patriarchy so confidently defines for her! Now, isn’t that horrifying? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

The outrage in my view is in itself outrageous or even hypocritical, especially because of the sheer number of men who seem have unleashed their unbridled sense of shame at this! I ask, where are these men and women, defenders of a woman’s modesty or proponents of women liberation, when the women’s reservation bill gets shot down or women bodies are objectified in mindless fashion shows or movies or when virginity tests are conducted on women? And, how many of these men haven’t whistled at a girl, brushed against a woman’s body when the opportunity presented itself, or didn’t enjoy a rape scene? And, will this outrage be of this
scale if some men had gang raped a sex worker?

Where were all these people when the armed forces brutally raped and killed Thangjam Manorama? Where was the outrage when an entire village watched and cheered as the men of the village gang raped even the dead bodies of two women? I am sure it would be so much easier to distance ourselves from such things as ‘aberrations’ that happen in the hinterland! And, who’s going to utter or let out even a whimper when men rape men/young boys?

Our outrage therefore is very selective: our very core is shaken and we are spurred into action (as in people who don’t give two hoots about protests/demonstrations or who even denigrate such protestors as some misguided, lazy nincompoops) ONLY when the chastity of a ‘good’ woman is outraged. It’s of course a different matter altogether if she’s murdered for dowry, honored killed for marrying outside caste, is killed because of invasive fertilization techniques, is killed because of unsafe termination of pregnancy (for carrying a female child), is killed because she defended her home and land, is killed because she refused to do menial labor and wanted to study, or becomes a mental wreck being nothing more than a glorified domestic help at her own home all her life, and the like!

A day, a blog post, or even a bill may not be enough to change this situation, and any list of dos/ don’ts may not even make the cut! What perhaps is needed is for us to internalize the fact that all of us born are equal, and because of the psychotic mistakes of our ancestors (hope you all burn in hell, if there’s one!) we live in a world that’s defined by various levels and each level is equipped with its own brand of weapons to keep the rest down under. Perhaps, we need to educate ourselves about the working of our society and the brutality it hides under the grab of morality, virtue, chivalry, and the like. Maybe then, we would organize and interrogate ourselves about why we need to be outraged and what we need to be outraged about. I know, not many people will have the time for all this, because it means taking collective responsibility of violence, especially the systemic kind, and working towards a solution. And, that would mean giving up of the many, many privileges that the powerful in the society (the men) have enjoyed for several centuries now. However, it’s time for the women and oppressed men, the victims of the systemic violence, to organize and agitate along side in the long term. And, we can rest assured that our battle has just begun, and we have miles and miles to march before we can see a semblance of victory. Perhaps, our great, great grand daughters and sons might thank us for embarking on this journey.

On a side note, for all the privileged men, more than responding to something that’s so far removed from your immediate reality or doling out some pearls of wisdom on how women should conduct and protect themselves, please introspect! Walk that extra mile, be a human, be defined not by your biology, but by your humanity! Don’t define a woman or her role or her identity or her ability by her biology, but by her right to exist on this planet as freely and happily just as you do. Maybe then, all of us can be united against the enemy; patriarchy!

Freedom and Women

Sadly, as a society, we live by denial. A romantic lot that loves its women on a pedestal- A Goddess. Or in Ads where it is the primary concern of ONLY women to ensure clean toilets at home, sparkling vessels, stiff-clean uniforms for the kids, low-cholesterol oil to cook a tasty meal for the entire family and serve standing at the dining table, envy the sparkling white clothes drying on the neighbor’s clothes line, worry-sick over husband’s life insurance, feel disappointed that the evening date has gone for a toss because the hubby returns home tired simply because she did not nurture him enough with a cuppa Horlicks (ok, some drink or sun flower oil!) and such matters of earth-shattering importance. It is assumed that these are the most pressing matters on a woman’s mind. If by any chance she creates a ruckus over something trivial (and if you didn’t know, most of the issues she raises are trivial!), it is because she is PMS-ing. In fact this knowledge too is limited among us. After all, why should PMS-ing interfere with behavior? We surely have seen people (both, men and women) deny seeing such symptoms in their moms, aunts, sisters, grandmas..

We can hope for a tiny bit of change if we first start acknowledging there is a problem. The problem being that the definition of freedom is different for women from that of men. What would you define as freedom for a woman today?

To me, true freedom is

– not in being able to stay single because you want to. It is when you don’t have to put up a fight to stay by your decision and are not judged based on your status – single, married, divorced, live-in, anything!

– not in a woman being able to go out and work at odd hours or even reach home safely. It is, when the parents, parents-in-law, or the spouse don’t welcome her with hostility and guilt-trip her.

– not in a husband sharing the household chores, but only when it is not done as a ‘favor’.

– not in just being able to report an abuse or rape, but only when the guilty are punished instead of guilt-tripping the woman.

– not in just being able to study in a co-education institute or work in a male-dominated environment, but only when you don’t have a moral police telling you when to leave, how to dress, whom you can work with, when to call, when to receive one and from whom.

– not in being able to drive your car or ride on your bike, but when a collective society does not make a loose, irresponsible comment of how women can NEVER get this one thing right.

– not in a man ‘agreeing’ to stay nuclear post marriage, but only when the woman is not expected to fall at his feet and worship for bestowing such a huge favour on her!

– not in women and men co-existing in an environment, shouldering similar responsibilities, but only when the cliched, sexist jokes, supposedly funny, ceases. Not because I think it lacks in humor (it does anyway!). Its just the extent of irony in those and the sheer mockery. Yes, we still find it funny that a man cooks a meal in some homes. A tiny cut/bruise/late attendance at work by the man, is attributed to a good thrashing from the wife. The only good sense that prevails here is that the one relaying the joke is aware that it can only be a joke.

And am not even talking about the serious physical abuses and offenses here! Some of us just get lucky.

A conversation with another parent last evening is the trigger for this post.

Take this poll and tell me if its the mom or the dad who mostly signs the progress report of a child.. And do let me know if there are reasons.. Like, its been a convention that the dad/mom signs, or because your dad signed yours, you want your child’s to be signed by the dad/mom, or the mom/dad signs because she/he is mostly out of station, or its an opportunity for the dad/mom to get involved in the child’s academic progress, etc… And would be nice if you can get your friends to take the poll too 🙂

Sexual abuse awareness

In an earlier post, I’d mentioned about a flyer distributed in Vyas’s school on ways to keep themselves safe, cautioning them on signs of sexual abuse. A similar flyer was circulated this year too by and here is the online version:

Click to access children-eng.pdf

And while on the subject, I thought I’d share an experience I had about 4 weeks back, something am still having trouble getting over with!

On my way back from work, I prefer to walk home from the bus stop where I alight, covering a distance of appx. 2 kms. The other alternatives would be to hop into a share auto or another bus. It felt good to walk that stretch in the evening. The last 3-4 mins stretch is through a pucca residential street where kids are usually seen riding a bicyle and people are seen chatting in groups, and quite a few cars and bikes are parked on the road as most houses on this lane do not have a built-in car-park.

It was around 7.00 PM when I was on this road when my FIL called on my mobile to check where I was (a norm because of the unpredictable traffic jams in Chennai these days). I answered the phone and on my other hand were a book and a bag. And then it came- a hard, intense, violent slap on my back by a speeding motorbike with 3 guys on it! I lost my balance and the mobile, book and bag were strewn on the road and I almost banged my shoulder against a parked car. The bike was not in sight the next second and I only heard a distant vrooom! I had a throbbing pain where the slap landed for hours after that. But even after days of this episode, the pain I still feel within is worse. How much ever I wish that the goons should have met with a deadly accident in the next turn, I know that it would not have happened and instead there would have been other women and younger girls who have been subjected to this pain or worse!

What makes people capable of such malice? How does a person capable of this filth have a night of peaceful sleep? How does inflicting physical pain on a unsuspecting fellow human being produce any pleasure?

After a tyrst with a stalker, I have been careful on the road. Sexual abuse in crowded places like buses, theaters, bus stops, railway stations etc is quite common. You’ll find scopophilic morons in such places. Few things to watch out for:

1. Ogling is a very common form of sexual harassment. Its sad to see some small school girls subject to this torment very often, specially in the buses. They’d find it difficult to express discomfort and are often doubtful of the intent of the abuser. Constant awareness lessons in schools will be of great help.

2. Watch for morons walking up to you and hurl themselves on you or feel-up where possible.

3. Stalkers who will pretend to accidentally step on your feet from behind and attempt bottom pinch/slap, or brush shoulders.

4. Its a really really bad idea to attempt getting into a bus when there is a crowd trying to get in at the same time.

5. Advancements made by an acquaintance- a relative or such- is not unheard of. I, for instance have had the bad fortune of listening to a 40+ year old moron, trying to tell me that hugging is the American way of saying good-bye or hello, in my early teens. I had sense enough to tell that neither he nor I was an American. Later, some whistle-blowing among our relatives kept the fellow at bay!

6. Watch out when you are walking on public roads after sunset, specially if there are many 4-wheelers parked. While you run the risk of being whisked away if there aren’t people, the parked vehicles also shield the abuser from view of common junta on the road like it happened in my case. By the time you pull out the chilli/pepper, the guys would have vaporized!

7. Being nudged from behind in theaters/auditoriums is common too.

Am trying to think of ways I could have avoided the mishap. Not answering a phone call on road does not seem convincing- goes against the ‘walk as you talk’ marketing:) Never to walk down that road feels like a surrender (but that is the truth. i have not taken that road since then)! The hubby said that I should have shouted like crazy to seek some attention at least. Maybe. But I was taken totally unawares (yeah, I know all such instances don’t always come with a warning. still….) and was too shocked to react.

There must be many more preposterous ways of harassment. Do share some tips to avert such encounters, or do a detailed post on your experiences please. Feels cathartic to have shared it here, like having offset some load. While I would like to believe all is well with the world, a closed introspection has a different story to tell.

The sinner!

IndianHomeMaker started this tag on listing 10 things you have ever wanted or done which your gender is not supposed to.

Well, Life_Refactored has tagged me in his post on the gender stereotype. Thank you sir!! The big truth is that I conform more to the ‘stereotype’ than not! Still, here is a small list of things where I think I ‘beat’ the stereotype.

1. Did not cry during my wedding:) I was so busy enjoying my marriage that I even failed to notice one of the priests disappear! My partner did his best to induce tears, but nay! ‘Kutthu-kal’ (or Gundu-kal), he said:)

2. With a 7-month pregnant belly, took the front seat next to the driver in a speeding ambulance that was driving my dad for an emergency scan, with my husband in the rear, attending to my dad. He was left worrying about 3 lives! And I ‘offered’ my father’s body during the last rites with my uncle ‘proxy-ing’ for carrying the pot and lighting the pyre as I was still pregnant.. Wish I’d done that too..

3. The expenses during our courtship days were shared! I foot the fuel or restaurant bill once, and the next time its him. Unromantic I know, but that is how it is:)

4. I shop for clothes or jewels rather quickly. And mostly shop alone!

5. Did not wear any make-up for my wedding.

6. Dealt with a group of 5 (40 + something year old) drunken bastards calling themselves well-wishers, mustering courage to throw them out. Verbally.

7. Threw an ‘eve-teaser’ off balance when he attempted a ‘bottom slap’. He missed and instead his hand brushed against my dupatta. I gave him my dupatta and asked if he wanted to take it! A blockhead of a fellow!

8. I shamelessly oust men occupying ‘ladies seat’ in a bus.

9. Detest a public ‘show of love-and-affection’ for the partner. Despite sharing the workplace, we hardly bump into each other. I have never once been to his bay nor has he.

10. I don’t ‘nag’ my husband, specially when he is traveling out with his friends. He travels with his friends and I with mine. So we breathe peace:)

That said, I can be more easily stereotyped than fitting into the ‘sinful’ gang:)

I’m most comfortable in a saree or a salwar, like to wear elegant jewelry, love to cook, burst into tears of volcanic proportions when hormones wreak havoc. I am scared of getting behind the wheels and trust my partner the best. Am not comfortable on a pillion ride with anyone else other than him and maybe am old fashioned:) But that’s me and am comfortable in my skin!!

Now, I tag Rajendran, Lavanya, Jaya, Umavythi, Aparna, and Suganthi

Women and work

A couple of years back, a senior colleague in a responsible position, during a casual talk, observed that a lot of support systems need to be in place for a woman to be able to pursue a career. This statement has somehow stayed with me and I was impressed with the unflattering, matter-of-fact tone with which he made the observation.

It is very encouraging when there are men around you with such sensitivity, who not only make the work environment women-friendly and ‘light’, but also give a gentle pat on the back every now and then to convey that all is well, ensure that (if in their means) opportunities are fairly distributed based on merit and not gender, empathize with the women on a trapeze and see that petty politics do not get in the way of a woman’s growth. All these without much ado.

Compare this with another kind who think twice about recruiting young women just out of college because marriages and babies come in the way! The types who do not spare an opportunity to take a woman on a guilt-trip for not staying late into the night to complete an assignment, or take a call from home! The ones who cannot pass up a note of appreciation without acting as if they have bestowed a favor. If such people are not thwarting woman’s progress, what are they doing?

Girl, Woman, Mother

I sent up a silent thanks to my parents for letting their two daugthers bloom into mothers and live to see the world ‘celebrate’ Women’s Day!

Something inside me turned on reading this poem by my sis!

Girl Child

    Compulsory imprisonment in the gaol called womb,
    Undeserving definitely,
    Yet no voice in uproar.

    The day of release announced,
    Creation of Tiny Mother known;
    When arrival assured, milk from creepers ooze!

    Merely a-day-old Mother,
    Her tears run in parallel streams
    Her lullaby termed ambiguous.

    And finally the day of doom postponed
    For the arrival of Unholy Monk.

    Oh Monday, How unfortunate!
    He clutches her pale tiny fingers,
    She’s dazed; Her long lashes flutter. . .

    Her pale pinkness hides behind blue
    As though poisoned sugar in purest milk.

    A loud cry let out by the mother
    In reply, the Girl Child lets out her breath. . .

    Mankind! Don’t nip her as a bud
    Or, you have murdered a mother.

    -by Nithya Chander

The rag-picker

A narrow road from my office leads to the main road. It has a few shops and houses and there isn’t much traffic. As I was walking out of the comfort of my office, I saw a small shabbily dressed child running around with a stick in one hand and a big plastic bag on the other. He must have been around 3 or 4 years old. I smiled at him but he blushed shyly and turned away. A few yards away from him were two old people – rag-picking. They seemed to be the little boy’s grandparents or care-takers!

The boy suddenly yelled out to the old woman saying “yen amma odi pochi” (translates to : my mother ran away), and giggled! The rejoinder from the old women was worse. She said, “neeyum odi po. andha odugali dhaane unnayum pettha” (which loosely translates to – you run away too! after all you were born to that ******)!” My jaws dropped. A tiny little kid announcing the news of his mother’s elopement like some movie to be telecast on TV and a 50+ year old women venting her frustration at a 3 yr old child! The gap between our world and that of this trio’s is so wide that I doubt if it will ever be bridged! I felt the divide even more as I stepped into my home to cuddle my little ones, unwilling to let them out of the tight embrace….

And this incident reminded me of what my sister wrote a few years back on seeing another tiny rag-picker:

    Dear rag picker

What are you made of
Dear little one..?

I saw you by the lane
squatting near the pile of waste

Busily fishing for iron pieces
With a long cane, enough to touch the earth,underneath.

It touches me deeply, I am wounded to witness,
The true color of life, yet, I know its real!

The bright ray of hope in your eyes
As they sparkle with each iron particle found,

The entire pile you sell for a meagre penny
And then feed your half-dead family?

When will this end? Will this?
Can I carry you away, far away from this bitterness..

Are you soldered like iron,to be this,
Tell me, what are you made of, little one?

-by Nithya Chander

Sunitha Krishnan & her TED Talk

As I sit to write, words fail me. The imperfections of the world as Sunitha Krishnan sees it is in stark contrast to the ideal, picture-perfect world we think we live in. In a world where we have KCRs demanding a map be changed, we find little innocent children and unsuspecting women losing their entities with no ground beneath their feet. I shudder to think that trafficking, sex slavery, and child abuse is such a huge racket and her account is chilling! Her TED talk has left me numb, in tears, in shock and total disbelief! It seems so unfair to revel in luxuries while there is a world out there that is fighting for a basic right to live well!

Do listen to her TED talk if you have’nt done yet!

Her blog:

To Sunitha, I would just like to say this: Sorry and Thank you….

Women’s Day Out at Yelagiri

Some laughed at us, few mocked at us, while some others sincerely dissuaded us. But we had made up our mind and were all set to make the trip. And what a lovely trip it was. The month of May is hot anywhere in South India and some ‘regulars’ told us that the weather at Yelagiri sucks big time during summer. The big idea was to ‘dump’ the men-folk (dads and spouses i mean) at home and have a get-away of our own. Not that anyone would have missed us. On the contrary, it must’ve been a break they were looking forward to, and we ladies were magnanimous enough to LET THEM BE:-) We were 6 ladies and 4 children in addition to a nice driver.

We had hired a Qualis and started very early on a Friday morning, carrying a light breakfast, plenty of water, some games and books for children, cameras, plenty of money, some medicines just in case..The Bangalore highway towards Vellore is like a neatly stretched-out ribbon. Our agenda had just one item, and that was to just chill out and enjoy. And that we did and after 2 full days of ‘peace’, returned home wishing that the trip had not ended!

One, the weather God pleasantly surprised us by being doubly nice and other folks back at work or home could hardly believe it was Yelagiri-in-May. Two, the resort was very homely and quiet, with very hospitable staff, and three, the food was simple and clean and they cooked based on what we ordered. This custom menu went well with the kids too and there was hardly a cranky moment. The only disappointment the children had was a strict NO-NO to their request to bathe in an artificial water-fall in a park. The water was not clean and was re-circulated. Children forget and forgive very soon and that makes them extra-sweet…

Our trip to Yelagiri
Yelagiri at its best
Here are a few pictures from our trip, clicked by the ace photographer from our group- Jyoti. She also doubled up (and still does) as the best friend of all the 4 chotus in the group! While a 2.5 yr old Harish kept asking his mom, JC, ‘amma, Jothi enge’, the then 5 yr old Vyas called to her saying “Jyoti and deepa! Why are you locked up in this room? Come lets play cricket. You will bowl and I shall bat”. Little Hemant and Diya discussed camera angles and other ‘grown-up’ stuff..

Let me know if you have seen Yelagiri like this! For those who had bitter experiences with this place, all we had to say was, “everything around nice people turns out nice:-)” and derived a lot of kick out of it:-)!!

PS: Was not able to embed the ppt. View it full screen..

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