We know you are shaken like all of us by the Delhi incident. We know you are angry, upset and outraged. We know you cried your eyes out and cursed those monsters out using every single gali you know. We know you prayed to all the gods asking them to help the victim and ease her pain.
We know you hoped that the courageous soul, who fought until the end, would beat the odds and come out of this. Unfortunately she didn’t make it. Like the rest of India, we know you are devastated. We don’t know how to console you, words fail us. We hope those monsters who committed this heinous crime will be brought to justice without any delay. May “Dhamini”s soul rest in peace.
“How could this happen? Is there no good left in this country? Where is this world going?” We know you keep asking yourself. While it is easy to put the entire blame on the monsters who did this to ‘Dhamini’, unfortunately the answers to your questions are not that simple. The entire country is doing a soul searching now: civil society, politicians, the judiciary, law enforcement, millions of Indian men, media, movie makers and others. Every single one of us must confront this.
Sadly, it took us this long, but we have reached a tipping point with ‘Dhamini’ and it is time for us to be introspective. It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be pleasant, but this is our last and only chance, if we want to stop another ‘Dhamini’ from happening. We have to be honest, sincere and brutal in our efforts and shouldn’t leave any stone unturned. That is why dear Aunty, we are here to talk to you.
Who are “we”, you ask? We are not strangers, you know us quite well. You talk about us every day. You are always in our business. Yes. You guessed it right we are the “Girls of these days” (“Aaj kal ki ladkiyaan”, “Intha kaalaththu ponnunga”). There are quite a few of us who want to talk to you, so let us get to it right away.
Dear Aunty, I am Mala. I live right across from your house. You are always nice to me to my face, but I know I am the divorcee that you and others in our neighbourhood gossip about. You know everything about me, my life and my schedule including when my boyfriend visits me during the weekend. You watch from the window of your house and call your friends, the moment you notice him at my door. “No wonder her husband left her”, you gossip without any hesitation. But Aunty, my husband didn’t leave me. I left him, because he used to beat me! I didn’t tell you this before, because I didn’t want to share my horrible past with anyone. I wanted a fresh start and that is the reason I moved to this neighbourhood. But because I am divorced and I have a boyfriend, you think I am a whore. Thanks to you and your gossiping skills, all the men and women in our neighbourhood, including the college students at the corner of the street think I am a whore. I feel very safe now.
Dear Aunty, I am Kala. I am your neighbor Mrs.Kumar’s daughter-in-law. We don’t know each other that well, but that didn’t stop you from asking me if I will be observing Karva Chauth this year. I manage a ten member team in a leading media house and my work is extremely demanding and stressful. I told you that work is very hectic and sometimes I don’t even remember what day of the week it is, so there is no way I could observe Karva Chauth this year (The truth is I never do. I don’t believe in the tradition of starving for my husband’s well being, but I didn’t want to get into all those details with you). When I said I was not planning to observe, you gave me a judgmental look and moved on. It didn’t bother me. Trust me, you are not the only one. But you didn’t stop there, did you? On the Karva Chauth day you saw my husband in the parking lot and asked him the same question. When he hesitantly said no, you said “Beta, guys of these days are very lenient. That is so cute! Uncle would never let me do that!” My husband came home annoyed and asked me why I should tell everyone in the neighborhood that I wear the pants in our house.
Dear Aunty, I am Sheela. I am your best friend’s daughter. I have friends. Lots of them. Both boys and girls. I play guitar in my high school music band. I hang out with my guy friends all the time. I bring them home sometimes. My parents don’t care. But you think I am a slut. Thanks to you, everyone in my mom’s circle thinks I am a slut. Last week when we all got together for Raj’s birthday party, his friends made fun of me about the number of “boyfriends” I have. One of them even sang “Sheela Ki Jawani” every time I passed them at the party. Before you know it, his friends, their friends and our entire small town will talk about what a slut I am.
Dear Aunty, I am Roopa. I am your nephew’s ex-wife. My marriage with your nephew wasn’t easy. Karthik wasn’t a bad guy but we had compatibility issues. Remember the time when elders in both families got together to resolve our issues? You said to my parents: “Please don’t get me wrong. Girls of these days are spoilt rotten. What is wrong with Karthik? Does he beat your daughter? Is he an alcoholic? He feeds your daughter three meals a day, buys her the stuff she wants. What more can a husband do? There is no reason for your daughter to complain!” Well, not beating his wife, feeding her and buying clothes is not the definition of a good husband in my opinion. Marriage is not about providing food, clothing and shelter to women. Maybe it was so in previous generations, but not in my generation. After you drew the line in the sand about what I should expect from my marriage, it became an uphill battle for me to explain to my parents why I wanted a divorce. My parents still think I was foolish and made a bad decision in getting a divorce. “You are the woman, you should have adjusted” says my mom.
Dear Aunty, I am Swetha. I am your daughter-in-law. It is not news to you that I don’t cook. I am not good at it and I don’t like it. Your son likes to cook. I run errands and do other things around the house. When we both work late, we eat out. It works for us. We are happy. But apparently you are not happy with this arrangement. Every time you come to visit us, you tell your son how your heart bleeds to see him cook while his wife relaxes and watches television. (Really?) You tell him that I run all over him and I am a total bitch. Your son and I end up arguing and he tells me that his mom was right: I am a bitch.
Aunty, we know it wasn’t easy for you. We know you struggled at home and at work. You had no choice, but to wake up at four in the morning, cook and feed the entire family, pack their lunch boxes before you left home for work. We know sexism was alive and well at workplaces during your time and you put up with nasty men throughout the day. You came home in the evenings, to a hungry mob and had to get back to the kitchen immediately. Unless you were ill, you never got a day off from the kitchen. You had no spare time, no hobbies and no friends. You didn’t get any help from Uncle.
Your in-laws scrutinised you more because you choose to work. You had the extra pressure to prove that you were capable of balancing work and home and that you were a good wife and a good mom. Even though you worked and brought home the money, you never had any control over the family’s finances. You needed your husband’s permission even to buy a saree from the money you earned. You never got the credit for being a breadwinner. We know how hard it was for you. We applaud your strength, your perseverance, your patience and your compassion. We seriously do. You and other women of your generation have made things easier for us.
Fortunately, things are changing. Many women of these days are not slaves to traditions and customs. We try to live by our terms. We follow our hearts and pursue our dreams. We get married when we want to and to who we want to. We have a say in when we want kids and how many we want. We don’t cook if we don’t like. We don’t slave around the house all by ourselves. We ask that our husbands share responsibility and some of them happily do. We don’t stay in marriages if we are not happy. Things are changing!
At the same time, believe us when we say this, our lives are not easy either. We still battle every single day, like you did in your times. Sexism and misogyny are alive and well in 2012. We are ridiculed, harassed, judged and disrespected at every turn. When horrible incidents of sexual or other forms of violence happen to us, we are told we asked for them. We are told that we dare not step out of the boundaries imposed on us or face dire consequences. We are called names like Bitch, Slut, Whore, Brat, ‘Not proper’, Arrogant and many others.
Aunty, that’s why it hurts, when we hear similar things from YOU. Even in ‘Dhamini’s’ case, you said, “I wish for her own safety, she didn’t go out that late with her boyfriend.” For you 9 pm was late for a woman to be outside her house. You have said in other rape cases that if the girls had been “proper,” things would have turned out differently. You claim that women in your day dressed properly, behaved properly and carried themselves with dignity. You say “girls of these days” don’t. You say things like this when we stand up, when we speak up, when we defy gender rules and when we demand equality.
By labeling us, by calling us names, by dismissing us, you create an impression in the society that women who didn’t live like you or suffer like you, are not noble women. They are the “Others”. They are not you. They don’t deserve the same respect you do. May be you are just treating us the way, your mother, mother-in-law or your aunt treated you, but this vicious cycle can’t and shouldn’t continue. That is why we are here to ask you to stop. Please stop this culture of moral policing. For once and for all. You owe this to ‘Dhamini’, you owe this to us and above all, you owe this to yourself.
Please come to our side and join the fight.
“Girls of these days”.
Disclaimer: “Dear Aunty” has been used based on a real discussion the author had recently. It is not intended to cast older women as the ‘enemy’ or exonerate ‘Uncles’ (read, men) from their role in perpetuating gender stereotypes.
Shridhar Sadasivan is a writer, blogger and co-editor of Orinam.net, a LGBT resource website run by Chennai based online-offline group Orinam. His latest work is part of Queer Ink’s LGBT anthology: Out! Stories from the New Queer India. Shridhar is not a woman, but being queer he deals with patriarchy in every turn of his life. Like many in the LGBT community, he is an advocate of women’s rights and writes about women’s issues frequently. His twitter handle is @ShriSadasivan