The diary of an Indian feminist


I have wanted to pen this post for a very long time…as long as a year, really. There have been pent up feelings, frustrations and thoughts that have steadily built up over the months but I have kept them away from this blog. Those of you familiar with my blog would remember my tongue-in-cheek post, ‘20 Reasons Why I Love Being a Girl’ and the furor it created after being dissected and misinterpreted by a fellow blogger. Now, I do understand her anger and motivation in selecting that post for analysis but the result went against intention. That is why; I have stalled till I was absolutely sure and had an objective view about the topic as well as enough examples (you will know what I am talking about soon). So there it is, folks; this is going to be an emotionally charged post. If you want to run, do so now, after all feminism in India is a tear-jerking affair.

I am a feminist and a pretty vocal one at that. I believe that India will develop only through empowerment and emancipation of its women. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I came out of the feminism closet (if I may use the term). There were many events and people who prompted this enlightenment but most important of all reasons must be my realization that if we women don’t speak up and help ourselves, nobody will. It was also a gradual realization that everybody wasn’t as open-minded as my family and that women outside my close circle were fighting abuse and inequality on a daily basis. Maturity and age did help me see that everything was not hunky dory and that I had to fight for my kind in every way possible. A change in scenery and society aka London also was an eye opener to the plight of Indian women. A year and a half in a society where women did not have to face eve teasing or curbed freedom and I knew I would not keep quite anymore.

5721_621121647902446_602245195_n
Now, I am not saying that western society has no vices but we do have a lesson to learn from them about treating women with respect. After all, a society is as good as the respect given to its women. Heck, even some developing countries in South East Asia have better gender equality than India!

I had not realized there was a feminist in me till some events that I am going to elaborate happened. I have been called a ‘man-hater’, crazy woman and one guy (a friend) went on record saying that if his girlfriend or wife talked like me he would definitely dump her! Other than rethinking the quality of my friends, it saddens me that educated, modern and well to do young men talk with such utter disregard to gender sensitivity. There is a need to educate young men and women of our country to change the patriarchal mindset that is dragging our country down and restricting inclusive development. The youth are our best bet. If we don’t mould them now, it will be too little too late for India’s women.

601399_10151628282323488_560050911_n

Now when I say gender insensitivity I do not just mean the violent rape, acid attacks and eve teasing that happen every passing day in the country. Much has been written and debated about them; a not-so-effective law has been brought into existence (leaving out marital rape & army rape which defeats the purpose of the Bill). The more urgent and common citizen’s duty at this juncture is to sensitize men and women on ‘soft’ issues that law makers or Government agencies cannot do on their own. There is no dearth of laws and rules to check violence or discrimination against women in India. Our problem unlike other societies is that the patriarchal, misogynistic culture in the sub-continent renders most of these laws ineffective. Dowry related harassment, workplace harassment, eve-teasing, objectification, unfair treatment; name it and we have it. You just have to skim through this page to see the magnitude of violence women are subjected to in India. http://news.outlookindia.com/items.aspx?artid=791408.

That is why, the mindset of our society that worships goddesses but victimizes real women has to change. So I’m listing some of these ‘soft’ issues that we, the youth, need to address and quick.

  1. Somebody told me “Women neglect their career after marriage and are responsible for their restricted freedom and financial dependency”.
    I thought the guy was making a joke when I first heard this. Remember, I was a young thing living in a world where loved ones had protected me against harsh comments and views, including those against my gender. So naively, but out of genuine curiosity, I asked him to elaborate. The explanation from him and other yuppie chauvinists was an eye opener that pushed me a step closer to becoming convinced that everything was not right with my world. Some of the arguments they used were: women misuse marriage to settle into a comfortable nonchalance about their career and to slack at work after having kids. I tried explaining very politely that certain types of Indian families ask girls to not work after marriage and many women voluntarily quit their jobs to run the household or mind the children for which the husband gives little or no support. All I got in response for bringing out the patriarchal problem was that life was much simpler when women were not working!
    Solution: Instead of blaming the woman (on top of everything else) of neglecting her career after marriage, why can’t men take equal share of the household work? Why should the woman bear the brunt of the system that raises men to put their legs up and watch TV at home in the evening while their wives slog in the kitchen after putting in eight or more hours of office work? This becomes very important if we consider how HR departments of companies look at the issue in the same way. Believe me, I work in a corporate setup and I have seen married women colleagues suffer stress if they juggle and guilt if they concentrate on their career. This is also one of the main reasons for the dismal number of senior women executives in Indian boardrooms.

    Remind me again why we need feminism

    Remind me again why we need feminism

  2. The ‘women are the weaker sex & should be protected’ syndrome.
    We come across this kind of chauvinistic behavior day in and day out, in real life and reel life.  You see, as one of the tweeple I follow effectively argued, these chauvinists can never see a woman as an individual and have to assign the role of a sister, mother or daughter to justify their righteousness in ‘protecting’ their ‘honour’. It is an irony that these are the same elements that treat women like livestock or kitchen maids.
    Solution: Leave us alone! Teach the women around you that they don’t need to be protected and that they are capable of doing it alone. Meanwhile teach the men that crucial something called respect and that honour doesn’t lie between a woman’s legs.254936_620275797987031_326727205_n
  3. A friend’s girlfriend told him that she will not change her surname after marriage and he flew into a self-righteous rage. Now again, this is a twenty-something, highly-educated, well-to-do couple that we are talking about. This is one instance that proved to me without doubt that being educated does not necessarily mean that the individual is civilized! My advice that his girlfriend was first an individual and had every right to decide on her surname was met with cold stares by guys and girls alike who suggested that she should join his surname to her already existing one. When I said that this wasn’t really necessary, I was told that people like me were responsible for Indian culture dying a slow death.
    Solution: Seriously, what’s in a name?!549995_621885947826016_1779928663_n
  4. The fact that in the fight to equality, women increasingly imitate men and do not think about becoming better than them.Sometimes I feel that the entire debate for women’s rights is skewed with women not recognizing their unique abilities and blindly imitating men and being satisfied with the outcome. Often, we forget our uniqueness and pander to what the patriarchy dictates, aka grab the few bones that the very system in question tosses at us.  It is the same rationale that makes men say “We are all for emancipation of women but you can’t/shouldn’t do that”. It is the idea at play when a man or a woman calls a feminist (male or female) a man-hater or expects a woman to bow to societal roles.
    Solution: Have ambition, ladies(like one of the tweeple who made this argument said)! Do not let the society bring you down.  No, I am not asking you to hiss and rant. All I am asking you to do is to hold your own and not allow anybody to dictate what and what not your gender allows you to do. And all you gents out there; understand and support this and the world will definitely be a better place to live in. Remember, it is all about mutual respect.598645_622363474444930_319751020_n

In summation: Right from sexist comic strips to item numbers and bollywood Dabangness to advertisements, there is a growing need for young men and women in India to wake up to the realities of the Indian gender disparity and do our bit towards improving the situation.  We don’t need to jump thorn fences or cross hell fire; just respect the women around you and do not cut off their access to basic rights or opportunities. Out of respect and equality will stem a new ‘developed’ India free of the shackles of gender violence. This, my friends, will be the India that can be called a superpower.

P.S: Not all feminists are ‘man-haters’. There are many of us who haven’t given up hope yet. 🙂

All images in this post are from Gotstaredat. Follow them on FB/Twitter to support the cause.

Advertisements

What Independence Day means to me


As the nation celebrates its 65th ‘tryst with destiny’ I cannot feel the pride and happiness coursing through my veins as it had for all these years. I just feel fear, hopelessness and frustration. 65 years and we have only achieved half of what we could have if we had wholeheartedly committed ourselves to development and efficient use of the country’s considerable resources.

My countrymen are more worried about protecting their religion and culture, even if it means beating up women on the streets and pointing fingers at other communities at the slightest provocation. (Just read all the comments below the story. Girl gang-raped by 8 men, dumped near Agra highway) The politicians are only worried about filling their deep pockets and getting re-elected even if it means looting the tax payers money. Massacres have been committed for the sake of religion; education & healthcare are a joke in rural India and politics has become a dirty word. If Mahatma Gandhi had seen a glimpse of this India, he would have suffered a heart attack!

It worries me that we are oblivious to our potential as a country and choose to accept all these significant hazards to the nation’s growth as a part of life. Did the clerk at the Tashildar’s office ask for a bribe? Well that’s how the system works. Is the public transport a mess? Adjust karo. Did the police refuse to take down your complaint against marital rape? It’s your fault that you are not doing your duty as a wife! I am tired of all the explaining away we do to stay in the comfort zone. Its time we stopped adjusting!

So this Independence day I will mourn for an India that could have been. The history that could have been written, the progress that could have been made. I am not a cynic… just a hurt citizen who is afraid my country will go to the dogs. Period.

Also read Being Indian: Independence by a fellow blogger.

India at the London Olympics


London 2012 has been the best Olympics ever for India. With a total of six medals – two silver and four bronze – India has put its best foot forward this Olympics. Why am I, a non-sports enthusiast blogging about this? Well, this last week has been a very proud one for me.  As an Indian student in London I have had some very special moments this Games when my country bettered its records and gave me a reason to walk with my head held high.

Biggest ever Indian contingent at the Olympics 2012

I have seen the stupendous support and sponsorship that the British home team has received in the lead up to ‘the Games’ as it is called here. In addition to the world class training facilities, this kind of support and fanfare has gone a long way in ensuring success for the team. When I juxtapose this with the kind of luke-warm response India gives for any sport other than cricket, it doubles the respect I have for the Indian athletes who pursued and gave their best shot at various non-cricket sports. These athletes who are pretty much overshadowed by the cricket craze gripping India making it neglect its own national game, have given me a reason to stop and think what cricket and its commercialisation has done to Indian sports! A couple of articles I found that voice my thoughts on the subject.  Cricket, Cricket, Cricket! Why? , How cricket has killed other forms of sport , Why Just Cricket?

This post is a dedication to all those athletes who represented India at the Olympic Games and the six who won even in the face of inconsistent judging and bias.

Gagan Narang_Men’s 10m Air rifle bronze medallist

Mary Kom_Women’s 51 Kg boxing Bronze medallist

Vijaykumar_Men’s 25m rapid fire silver medallist

Saina Nehwal_Badminton Women’s singles Bronze medallist

Yogeshwar Dutt_Men’s 60kg Freestyle wrestling Bronze medallist

Sushil Kumar_Men’s 66 Kg Freestyle wrestling silver medallist

And a pic of the cute little mascots, Wenlock & Mandeville in Diary milk chocolate to celebrate the victory 😀 (and they tasted yum).

Wenlock & Mandeville

It has been an amazing experience to be here in London during the Games and watch the lead up to it and the whole event up close and personal. When I made the decision to take a year and a half of sabbatical from work and move to the UK for a Writing degree this was something I had not considered but now that I have seen the Games in its entirety, I can only say Woah… What an experience! 🙂 I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. 🙂

Bangalore to London 2


Four months after moving to Kingston it has finally dawned on me to blog about my ‘first impressions’ in this London borough by the Thames. (Am a whatever! I know…) As the prologue has already reached my readers, (those of you who have read the post Bangalore to London would know what I am talking about) it is but natural that the story should continue. So here goes…my usual commentary with some pictures all from my first week in Kingston. 😀

 I arrived in Kingston bent with approximately 50 Kgs of luggage on a Saturday night on the 24th of September. I had never crossed the Indian border before, let alone set foot in the UK and I had no idea how I would locate the University Halls of Residence or whom I would call if I did not find it. Luckily I found a black cab at the airport, the famous taxis of London driven by know-all-the routes drivers and the cabbie after much consultation of maps and discussions with colleagues over the radio managed to put me on the doorstep of the Halls in record time and without any haggling. I was already smitten by London and the town of Kingston.

I had been expecting to walk into a cold, drab, colourless, hateful town and I was naturally taken aback by the greenery, beauty and the order around me. I am a hardcore Indian by heart but I should admit I felt…relief! Clean and green just as I liked it and add some order to it (orderly traffic, neat roads, no haphazard parking or crammed rows of buildings) and I am sure to fall head over heels in love with any place that could boast of these three things. Maybe it’s the effect of growing up in a little, unpolluted town or maybe the effect of living in an overpopulated, chaotic city for the last three years, but the result was there to see.  I loved Kingston and I was ready to ignore the absence of rainbow colours of an Indian city. The weather did not bother me too. It was still summery in September and I felt at home.

The moment I checked in and was shown to my flat I crashed out. It was like in a Tinkle story- the traveller who arrives someplace after a tiresome journey to find a nice little room and immediately he pulls out a sheet from his bag and crashes out. Well that’s exactly what I did. I was knocked out flat flat for more than ten hours and when I opened my eyes it was nearly ten the next morning. I showered, called up family and decided to go out for breakfast and explore the town. But not in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the ‘adventure’ that day.

I met a flatmate and following her instructions walked to the bus stop nearby. If the previous night I was smitten, then that morning I was madly in love with the place. My Halls are in a campus called Kingston Hill and though I did not see any hill nearby, it did not take me long to realise that the campus was a conserved area, bordered with woods and teeming with squirrels and birds. I walked with a spring in my step to the bus stop and waited for a bus, got into a trademark red double-deck when it arrived and only then realised that I did not have change to pay. All I had were notes of 50£ denominations and just as expected the driver exclaimed ‘50 pounds?!’ when I presented it to him. I got out of the bus red-faced and decided to walk instead. I had been told the town centre was a 20-25 minute walk away and I trudged along taking in the fresh morning air. That’s when I started getting a creepy feeling down my neck. Something did not feel right. I kept walking but I was not sure if I was going the right way and that’s when it hit me. There was nobody on the street to ask directions…not one soul!! Nearly eleven on a Sunday morning and the main road in town was deserted. I almost freaked out…was there a curfew of some kind or something that had happened in the town I wondered. But I was not sure and hurried past closed storefronts and houses with no signs of inhabitation. There weren’t even any vehicles on the streets, only buses and a few bicycles.

Then I came into the town centre and finally saw some human beings… It felt like I had come out of the theatre after watching a spooky movie. 😀  I was plain stupid and had not realised that people took weekends seriously here. I found a sandwich bar and bought some coffee and breakfast and as I sat eating on a bench in the town square I saw people slowly emerging, first in ones or twos, then in crowds, women pushing buggies (prams), children skipping about, men with families… I could see the town literally ‘coming to life’. And then I heard the music, a violin playing and I went after it…following the sound around the square till I found a street musician playing in front of the mall and people stopping to listen to him… That did the magic. It all felt strange and I was still homesick but I had been won over.

Then on it has been a rollercoaster ride. There have been the lows when people have been rude to me, when I had problems catching the English accent, when I had to go through the tedious (for weird old me) process of making friends etc etc but there have also been the highs such as the pure pleasure of learning new things every day, the kick I get out of exploring London, the peace in the mornings while I wake up to the strumming of a guitar etc etc. It’s nice to be a student again and it’s nice to have all the time in the world to do what I want to do- write.

Sometimes I do ask myself whether I did the right thing in quitting a well paying job, spending a ton of money for a ‘phoren’ degree and coming to live in a strange country amid strange people. But then I remember this saying (Audrey Hepburn’s I guess) “The most important thing is to enjoy your life, to be happy, it’s all that matters.” As long as I am happy with what I am doing, I guess am doing it right and that’s all that matters while I take life one step at a time.