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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
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