Posts Tagged ‘women’

Years ago, my father said ‘What you read is a definition of who you are or want to become.’ Then, when I would not show him my writings, he was amazed. After all, it was an accomplishment. But that was the thing – as a teenager in India writing romance stories online – I could in no way conceive of sharing those with the people who knew me in real life. But sharing my most intimate imagination with strangers was okay because they would only judge the stories, not me for writing them.

It took me years before I even admitted to my parents that I wrote romantic stories and fan-fiction online under a pseudonym. That I even had a semblance of a following.  They were proud of me. They truly did not care that I was writing romance – and romance from a teens point of view is a different matter entirely – they were just that happy that I was creative and had found a way to spread that creativity.

Since those were their reactions, without reserve, it can be said that they had not internalized it into me that writing romance was something I had to hide. In fact, throughout high school, I had regaled my grandmother and aunt with stories I read in Mills n Boons books. They had always listened patiently, never judging me or the women in those stories.

So what went wrong?

In the 1990s romance in Indian media was an obsessive thing. Men would fixate on a woman – usually for her beauty, sometimes for her spunk and many times for revenge – and then follow her until she gave in and ‘loved’ them back. Some women were wrong for loving a man while others were wrong when they refused. It all depended upon the story the filmmaker had chosen – and if the man in question was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The judgement, in truth, depended wholly upon the man despite it seemingly being the woman’s decision and her character that was being judged.

And every single time – parents opposed this love. It could be mild opposition, it could be extreme, or it could be comedic. But oppose they did. Love was taboo. And unless you were lucky, it did you wrong. It is in this world and with these role models that I started writing.

To me, a rape attempt was a perfectly usable plot device. But it could only be an attempt because ‘a heroine never gets raped’ and ‘the raped woman always dies’. This was a me who was still unsure of how sex worked – and thought she knew what she was talking about when men ripped a woman’s shirt. Sure, the shirt needs to be ripped to rape someone – after all, don’t the villains always grab the pallu in the films?

The intrinsic misogyny went deeper than this.  In my stories, when the man cooked, it was because he was taking care of the woman. He was the progressive and perfect man. It never occurred to me that every person should be capable of something as basic as feeding themselves. When a man fell in love with a woman – I found it acceptable to write that he scowled at all other men who even looked in her direction. But he was good because he did not tell her to change her clothes – he just glared at everyone else. I never understood that him having to glare at other men because they were ogling his girlfriend painted a fairly creepy society – one where only the protection of a man kept the woman safe.

In my stories, women have been abused, raped and hurt. There is emotional abuse as well as societal and familial pressures. All of these are things I had never faced or seen in real life. Yet, if I re-read my work, it is scary how accurate I was.  So how did I internalize all of this to the point that my stories rotated around women overcoming all these odds and the men who helped, supported or led them? How could romance mean learning martial arts so that you are never helpless and raped again to a sheltered teenager?

Because that is the world I was raised in. After all, familial attitudes are not the only thing that shape us. We are shaped by everything in our surroundings. From the films we watch, the songs we sing, the conversations we are a part of, or the ones we overhear.

When I grew up – I was influenced by stories and media that said rape was bad. Where the rape victim died and the ‘hero’ took revenge for her ‘izzat’. But rape was never shown, or truly described. It just had a man biting the neck of a woman – if even that. That was then.

Now, we are surrounded by news of rape. We are surrounded by mass media that propagates an internalized misogynist attitude. From lyrics to plotlines, there is objectification of women everywhere. And the children growing in this scenario are the ones who will be holding the reins a decade down the line. Some of them will not even wait that long to show the effects of this environment. For example, there was news on how a kindergartener had been raped using pencils by her classmates. This is now.

We cannot stop reporting on rape and sexual crimes. We cannot remove objectification of women from all media immediately. After all, the media is only a reflection of us. But we can try to change the narrative. It is not sufficient any more to give or even show your values to the people around you. It is important to discuss things. The children need to see and hear discussions about these things and understand that while they might be surrounded by sexualized media – that does not make it correct. That while a popular actor is dancing to extremely sexist lyrics, that does not make the reality of those lyrics okay or even acceptable.

It is easier said than done.

Everything is easier said than done.

But we have to start somewhere.

Let us start with teaching our children, boys and girls, what is okay and what is not. And let us keep telling them again and again until they internalize what we teach them, and not what the world is forcing them to learn.

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People do not change over night. You do not, you cannot, wake up one day and choose to be different than who you are. But you can change over time, gradually, sometimes so slowly, that you are a different person even before you realize it.

That realization comes later, from a word, a gesture or a thought. And it is quite profound when it comes.

I am a very open person. Whatever is happening in my life is known to multiple people at any given point in time. If they ever get together, they can weave a very detailed tapestry of my life.

It is here, on my blog, that I have been more reserved. People find it easier to speak out anonymously. I find it easier to share with people I know. No more. I made this blog so as to speak out. The only thing that has truly held me back is what I read somewhere – that once the words are out, they do not belong to the author, they belong to every reader and the interpretation is no longer what the author thought, but what the reader reads.

I have been depressed for nearly two years. It was a slide downhill ever since I got married. Discussing my marriage is not what I want to do today. But I learned a lot of things. I finally ‘grew up’. I lost the naivete and innocence I had had – without even realizing it. I was a shiny penny who thought the world only reflects yourself back to you. I learned that is not the case – and that I am a fool who trusts and loves too easily.

I am old school in all the wrong ways in a world which has moved forward. It sounds like so much self-justification but I am not listing my crimes or what was done to me. I have now felt real loneliness and I would never wish it on anyone. I have felt unrequited love and I hope no one has to go through this.

And I have changed. Today, I ranted on facebook:

To everyone wishing a #happywomensday and using said wishes to define women: a woman is a woman is a woman. Period. Its biology, not a mental state of being. Get over yourselves. I am a woman and I can celebrate that even if I am the worst excuse for a human being. Being a woman is not about being strong, managing family, having kids, having ANYTHING specific in fact, except ovaries (and not even that if you are trans). I will not celebrate getting out stronger when faced by problems, being the gentle and kind one. I refuse. Being a woman does not mean taking the high road. I am so so done with that.
Okay, rant over.

Because I am done. I changed. I am stronger, and it might be good in the long run – but I miss that innocence which I had. I miss my belief that the world was a genuinely good place – and that everyone has good intent, even if their actions do not match. I may have been a fool – but ignorance truly was bliss.

I have great friends. I have a very loving and supporting family. I have a doctor who listens to me. I have people who are willing to put everything aside and be there for me. I have that and now I know just how lucky I am to have it. I know that I was in situations where I could have been in real danger, except I was lucky that the people with me were decent human beings.

It is not about men vs. women. It is not about birth parents vs. in-laws. It is not even a husband vs. his wife. It is about nothing except fighting your own battles because no one else will do it for you. It is about growing up – because ignorance might be bliss, but at the end of the day, ignorance will only ensure that someone fools you.

I have grown up and it is today I am realizing that I have also grown a lot stronger. I knew the words, but now I finally believe: My happiness is my responsibility. My life is my responsibility. The world owes me nothing and it is up to me to make the best of the life I have been given.

I plan to keep growing, keep learning. I will not regain that naivete, but I will rebuild my belief that the world is a good place. I have changed and change is neither good or bad, it just is.

The Indian Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to Indian citizens as follows:
(i) right to equality,
(ii) right to freedom,
(iii) right against exploitation,
(iv) right to freedom of religion,
(v) cultural and educational rights, and
(vi) right to constitutional remedies

Please note that these rights are for ALL Indian citizens. Gender, race, religion and even age, do not make a difference when it comes to these rights. They are the FUNDAMENTAL rights of all Indian Citizens.

The reason I am repeating it over and over again is because some people seemed to have forgotten this recently and might need to reacquaint themselves with the basic core of the Indian Constitution.

When broken down to the basics, the Constitutions treats all citizens as the same. Every aspect of it that in any way makes a distinction among these citizens is not because the Constitution sees them as different, but because they are the ones who are different from each other and the Constitution is trying to give them fair and equal treatment under the law.

Please note, that these fundamental rights include the right to an education. Everyone and anyone who prevents that, by word or deed, is unconstitutional. It can be the people banning girls from studying, the people who employ children and prevent them from going to school – I am sure everyone can think of at least one example of this. Did you know that a few centuries ago it was thought that the more a woman read, the less her husband’s age would be? And this was a belief held by many Hindus. It’s a surprise men aren’t dying out like flies after a HIT spray these days, considering how many have highly educated wives.

I digress. Back to the point in hand, we are all equal as per Indian law. In fact, there is a whole section devoted to ensuring basic human rights to ‘aliens’ as in foreigners while they are on Indian soil. So, the Constitution even ensures that ‘aliens’ are treated as humans. If actual aliens ever show up, we are prepared. And I am not kidding when I say this.

We are lucky to have a Constitution, no matter how lengthy, which tries to cover everything under the sun. It is a living document – with the use of the judgments of the courts, especially the Supreme Court and the Amendments made by the Parliament – it has done its best to stay up to date with the times. We are lucky, and if we do not use it well, then that is on us, not the Constitution or even the Judiciary.

All of this leads to my main point. Since we all equal under the law, and since there is a surprising amount of homogeneity that we have come to expect from the law when it comes to our dealings with it – why should we think it should not extend to personal law?

If there is a property dispute and the people belong to different faiths, they expect to be treated equally. Same if there is a breach of contract. Then why should women (or men) who want a divorce be treated differently just because of their religion? Everyone has heard of how easy it is for Muslim men to divorce their wives, but do you have any idea just how difficult it is for the wife to get rid of a bad husband? And, if she wants to re-marry her husband, she has to first marry another man, sleep with him (consummate the marriage in nicer terms – but why sugarcoat reality) and then divorce him. Only then can she remarry her husband.

Then, of course, there is the Hindu Act. A marriage is a ‘sacred bond’ as per Hinduism which lasts for seven ‘lifetimes’. So the laws governing divorce are really stringent – no matter the reasons for said divorce. But, did anyone give the memo of ‘sacred bond’ to the husband and his family? The Supreme Court recently had to pass a judgment that a daughter-in-law could not be treated like a maid by her in-laws. They had to pass a judgment about this because that is how sad the condition of this ‘sacred bond’ is in our country.

How about equality – if a wife has to live with her in-laws because that is a ‘pious bond between son and parents’ – yet leave her own family for her husband – let’s make marriage illegal? After all, a daughter is the same as a son right? And what of people who only have a daughter(s)? Their daughters leaving them for a husband should definitely be illegal. After all, all offspring should be held liable towards taking care of their family – not just the one gender. And what if that daughter, who is an only child, does not earn? Should it not be mandatory then for her husband to financially take care of her parents? In fact, it should be mandatory for him to treat them as he does (would) his own parents.

Or you know maybe we could have communal housing with the families of the bride and the groom living together. No? If he cannot live with her parents, he has no right to ask her to live with his, especially when they treat her like ‘in laws’ and not a member of the family.

You remember all those movies where the heroine says ‘Is ghar me meri doli aayi thi aur yahan se meri arthi hi jaayegi’. But frankly, why should one die rather than leave? Life is the most precious thing on this planet. Is a husband mightier than life? In that case, why are there no stories of a husband granting life to his wife? All the stories are about the wife saving the husband – just look at our mythology – every fast possible – a woman keeps for the long life of her husband. Let me know if there is even one time that a husband has to stay hungry for the long life of his wife.

I digress, again. I think the point is that we finally have things going in the right direction. We have people raising questions and not getting killed for it (for the most part). We have people trying to bring about a change. We have a judiciary that is standing up for the people. Let us make full use of it, just in case we lose this chance. Let’s speak up, let us make people hurry, let us help them open the road – one that will eventually lead to us all to possess our fundamental rights in actuality.

 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I have no idea where that proverb initially comes from, but I do know it has been there for a few centuries. For good reason.

At their very heart, I do think that most people believe they are good – whatever form of good they believe in – and that their actions are correct.

They might, later on, realize that they made the wrong choice and feel remorse, or might not. But, the cartoonish villains who revel in their ‘evilness’ are not really all that common. We do have psychopaths and sociopaths, but then they fundamentally do not feel right or wrong. Even Hitler, I believe, must have thought he was doing the right thing while committing genocide. But just because he thought it right, obviously, does not make it right in the least.

With such an obvious example, I should be able to rest my case. Except that is not all that I am talking about. The general public, thankfully, does not get to commit genocide. But, they do commit violence on a micro scale. We do it. All of us.

Don’t believe me? Indifference and apathy can be just as cruel as actual cruelty, and words can cut just as deep as a knife – not to mention hurt far longer than any physical wound.  Here’s a few things to think on:

  • When was the last time you paid attention to the people who serve you – gave them a smile or even a thank you? Waiters, porters, ticket sellers – all those people who make your life easier?
  • When did you last protest when someone was being mocked for what  they had no control over – their looks, their education, their hometown, their color, their gender, their accent? Did you ever stop how you would feel in their place?
  • When did you say a word when your family/friends/associates last did/said something sexist/racist/classist?
  • When did you last question the conservative practices around you that degrade women? Did you ever stop and ask why a biological process that is the reason we are growing (at a rather alarming rate) as a species makes women impure? Yet the same women might have to face hell if they do not have children?
  • Did you ever tell someone that to treat someone as untouchable is not just harsh and cruel, but inhuman? After all, we are the same species. There is no stamp on our bodies at birth that makes one better than the other.
  • When did you last speak out when gender instead of merit played a role in the decision of someone’s future?
  • When was it that you spoke out against anything that you thought was wrong? Anything?

If you did speak out, thank you. You and those like you are the reason we have made some progress as a species, as a society. If you did not, try. It is hard. You will get hurt. But maybe, you will be the reason someone else will not have to face the same situation.

I know you mean well. We all mean well. We all can feel when something is not right – even if cannot put our finger on it immediately. I know it’s uncomfortable and so so hard to stand up for yourself, harder still to do so for someone else.

But isn’t it time we did so?

That 10 lane highway to hell is definitely paved with good intentions. After all, intention does not amount to much. It is your actions that count.

To be honest, I do not truly believe in Hell or Heaven. I think that what we sow, we reap in the here and now. While eternal fire may hurt terribly, facing the same hurt that your sent someone’s way does have a ring of poetic justice. It is a lesson brutally learned. And to be very honest, usually that brutality is well deserved. I guess that is the circle of karma.

I do not think it should be just about that, though. Maybe it should also be about being better people. About being humans in fact, not just Homo sapiens. Maybe if we step up, the next generation would face different problems and not be bogged down with the ones we were too cowardly to fix.