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Last week my father was hospitalized. I have no brothers and I’m his primary caregiver. His condition was serious, and things could have taken an ugly turn had I not acted promptly and efficiently. But there was no question of that. To act promptly and efficiently is in the nature of things for me.
I’ve always lived in a woman’s world. What do I mean by a woman’s world? I mean that there was never a time when I depended on anyone except myself to do my work. I’ve always done not only my work, but also the work of everyone around me. Education, health, social security, everything that the government of India is supposed to do, I do, for myself, and for many others. And yet, my father, after he became well, thought he was complimenting me when he told my mother, ‘She’s not our daughter, but our son.’
I have learnt all my enlightenment values from my father. He’s a liberal of a kind rarely found these days, and he was certainly a pathbreaker in his time. And yet, even he believes that calling me a man is high praise. My reaction was one of revulsion. I don’t think of myself as a man or woman, but merely a parcel of skin, bones, muscles and blood, a being that eats, breathes, procreates and thinks. And when I think, I choose to do so to the best of my ability, in a manner that helps me achieve my goals. By doing so, I serve myself and the people around me. And yet, in the eyes of society, there is still something remiss. I’m an incomplete being, and can never be complete, in life or death, because I do not have the Y chromosome.
All around us, the message we get is that we are women first, foremost and always. One of the questions that is doing the round these days, after the unfortunate Delhi rape incident, is whether Indian cities are safe for women. My answer to this is, Indian cities, if they’re unsafe for women, are also unsafe in general. The kind of man who touches a woman inappropriately and against her will is the kind of man who’s undesirable to have around, who’s a criminal on all measures, not just on the measure of abusing women. He chooses to direct his criminality towards an easier target, the woman. She is physically weaker, but with so much changing in society, even this is going to change, how we treat our bodies, how we strengthen them to withstand force.
Criminality isn’t just about illegal acts, it is also about the desire to retain retrograde and convenient attitudes. In a district in Haryana, girls were forbidden from going to school since the boys harassed them along the way. A more enlightened attitude would have been to restrain the boys, keep them under lock and key, until they learnt how to respect the unwritten laws of society. Unfortunately, our society is a long way from such enlightenment.
I am what I am today because of the kind of upbringing I had, where education and self-reliance topped every other consideration. I’m an asset to society because I can think on my feet, fight my own battles and have the competence to help others. There are millions of girls like the one I used to be, with stars in their eyes, the desire to be Modesty Blaise and make a mark in the world. Society owes them the resource to follow their dream.
Today’s changemaker that we’d like to highlight is Prajnya, a Chennai based non-profit trust that works on research and education on peace, justice and security. They have a strong focus especially on issues of violence against and safety of women in India. Their research has included areas such as the documentation of the contributions of women to Indian politics, media and the social sphere, and safety audits that measure how safe the city is for women (and specific groups of women).
Prajnya is also involved with Hollaback Chennai, a movement to raise consciousness about street sexual harassment, which is too often brushed away as ‘eve-teasing.’
A volunteer run initiative, Prajnya is one worthy organisation that can do with your support, especially since research driven organisations in India get very little support – and without data, interventions for empowering women cannot be successful in the long run. Consider donating in cash or kind, or volunteering with them.
Pic credit: sajbrfem (Used under a Creative Commons license)
Beyond Pink writes on women's stories in urban India. They could be real or
Very valid point. It is actually offensive when someone tells you you’re “like a son to them” or “you’re as good as any man”. Why should we be complimented at all when we do something that is historically “men’s work”
It reminds me of my revulsion to Subhadra kumari chauhans “Khubh ladi ‘MARDANI’ wo to jhaansi wali rani thi”
Why a women warrior is not a woman like fighter why omly mard like?
Very true and relevant in this age. I have heard such comments too especially when a girl helps her parents in physical work. I see technology playing a greater role in empowering women. If not for such frequent communication through blogs, we will not know that there are many women who are thinking on such lines and are also criticised for the same.
It is a very good thought about the boys need to be locked up till they learn to respect girls. I recently read an article in the following link where in the article talks about parental upbringing. (http://www.yokibu.com/communityspeak/2013/are-culture-and-values-gender-specific/). But the comments received under the article reflected the still rooted patriarchal attitude, where many men seem to trivialize the pains of women, and requesting the women to expect change slowly….the very mention of women’s problems seem to make them presume it is misandry, rather than assertion for a person’s basic rights. They jump in defense for their own gender, rather than seeing the atrocities committed due to wrong attitude and upbringing. Hence it gets passed on through generations.
It is also the more a surprising fact that many women bloggers also write it…”yes this issue is a problem, but surely many men are changing and we have to be patient…etc”. But what is the cut off for patience…and then why the change should be slow? When the men expect women to change her entire personality and make adjustments, just within a few weeks of her marriage…..can the women also not ask…”yes, I will change slowly,please have some patience….”. But anyway why does she need to change at all, when both she and her husband need to make some adjustments to have a comfortable family routine, instead of expecting the entire change from the women.
I think the parents of sons need to instill more value-education than keep policing their daughters so that she does not ‘dishonour’ the family. When the parents are focussing on their daughters, they may not know, the sons may actually be bringing disrepute to the family, by smoking, drinking, abusing drugs, raping a woman….
But why bother, when ONLY daughters can bring disrepute and not sons?! Whatever he does, he is the one who is going to take care of the parents in their old age, so let us not antagonize him. Rules can be enforced to the girls as she is the brand ambassador for Indian culture and values, both within and outside India. I spoke without understanding that culture and traditions are only for women and not for men. Forgive my ignorance…..(the last para is meant only for the ego-stuffed men who cannot take any sensible comment which goes against their age-old belief systems).
Very true. One point that women should also understand is – there is absolutely no need to be proud of she being called a man/guy because the whole identity of a woman dies when they are made to represent the opposite gender. Women should boldly disagree when somebody appreciates/degrades them saying she’s like a man/guy. Be bold to tell them you are one proud woman who wants to act human in any situation and does not want to shy away for the reason that society will demoralize you.
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