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All odds are stacked against me as a woman, a woman in India. At every step. But I need to keep going on for all of us. We all need to keep the flames burning, undeterred.
When I walk the dogs at night, and I see a pair of headlights approaching, my grip on the leashes automatically tightens, I pull my tee lower than it already is, and the heart beats a bit faster. I feel fear. Mostly unfounded, but a raw instinctive fear.
Last night was darker than usual and I could see a silhouette approach from the other side. The grip tightened, back pulled straighter, couple of more frowns added, and a clammy fist balled up. As the person stepped nearer and out of the shadow I saw myself in her. Both of us instantly relaxed, gave each other a relieved smile and went our way. As women, fear is a constant.
A friend’s status update expressed angst over non-availability of safe spaces to go for a jog. A simple morning jog. Every time she saw a girl go around the track there was a group of men passing comments.
I feel helpless. And angry. Outside that very stadium, somewhere there is a hoarding screaming ‘Beti Bachao, Beti padhao.’ Another slogan, another scheme, another budget allotted. Result – not a single track for girls to go run, be free. Schemes come and go, yet women remain where they were. They go back to the corner after the photo –op, or being a glossed-over statistic.
On a recent trip to Himachal, I saw this cuddlesome, confused puppy who kept rolling over under his own weight. Over a cup of sugary sweet tea I asked the villager if the puppy was his and where the rest of the litter was. “There were two girls and one boy. So the girls were thrown in the river,” he said taking a sip of the now tepid tea. I put my cold cup down, controlling my voice, “What? Why?”
“Tch. They hadn’t even opened their eyes. Yahan aisa hee hota hai. Female ko kaun rakhega?” (It happens like this here. Who will keep a female?)
I left the room. I needed air. And something to distract me from the tears that were welling up and the scream that was building up.
The females in other species are fairly balanced in their roles. But trust the humans to spread their hatred to other species too.
The eyes were not even open yet.
Their fate sealed because of their gender. Submitted to ice cold water and a smash on the rock because they were girls. Numb hopelessness engulfs my heart. What is the point of all the screaming and shouting? A new born puppy is flung in the river, and all I resent is the person who called me the ‘feminist-type’?
For what would you feel when you see rows upon rows of abandoned babies – all girls, some with their faces chewed up by animals that found them in the bin?
At the time, my mom was heading the State Council for Child Welfare. We were visiting her work place which was in the same building as the home for abandoned children. And there they were. That explained the recent creases on mom’s forehead. Every crib was like a crushing blow, knocking the breath out. The last room left me gasping for air – that’s where the two slightly older girls were – one was found in a dustbin with her face chewed up and the other had been thrown out by a moving vehicle.
My son was with me. I held his hand a little tighter. “Would you have thrown me if I were a girl?” he asked, his voice choking. I tried to get a word out, but the nothingness held my throat. We just hugged.
Whenever human beings have decided to benefit from any species, they have spelt doom for the female gender. Cows top the list with being put on the pedestal – they are worshipped, milked to death, made to have calves every year for that milk, and then left to die on the roads.
From puppy mills to baby mills, females of the species are products – use and throw.
I have a student who is bright, won the best athlete award and volunteers readily for everything. Last year she was confident of getting in to the police force. She had cleared the written paper. She couldn’t go for the physical fitness exam though. I wondered why.
A few months later, when the college reopened, there she was. Pregnant. She saw the shock on my face and said, “I had no choice. They told me they needed a baby and would give my college fees only if I had a baby.” To me that sounded like rape. “Make it all worth it, okay? You can’t give up.”
Some days it feels like I am on a hamster wheel. Running endless, pointless circles, losing breath, drowning. I, the educated, successful, vociferus, strong woman, am nothing but a hastened heart beat on a dark road, a gulp and a tear on a puppy’s grave, a clenched jaw and a frown on a running track, and a purposeful walk in the market with eyes cast firmly on the path.
I, the woman, am the same as all others despite all the difference of education, language, race, economic independence, and more such markers. We are linked by fear, by our destinies being controlled, by our choices being limited. All girls. All puppies. All cows. All females. Our gender, Our nemesis.
We are also linked by anger. Despite the numb hoplessness, the fear, the tears, the anger keeps us going. Every cell in body sometimes tells me to fall in line, to give up. But the fire refuses to die down. That student of mine came to me later and said, “I am not giving up. You just watch. The baby can’t stop me. She will join me.” She and many more like her are the flame keepers.
Another flame bearer is a student who lives in a village nearby, who was married early on and couldn’t continue her education after school. A few years later, she joined our college. She funds her education by taking tuitions. She helps with office paper work.
During one of the sessions she told me that her entire family had been against her when she started teaching since all children from all castes came. “My mum-in-law asked me to bathe and wash the bedsheet which I had spread for the kids since some of them were from lower caste.” I stopped working to look at her, hear her clearly. She smiled and said, “I told her to wash it if it bothers her. She stopped taking food from my hand. I didn’t bother. Hum nahi rokenge toh kaun rokega, ma’am?” (If we don’t stop this nonsense, who will?)
These women, scattered across all walks of life give hope. The two students refusing to give up, the little girls fighting for their chance at life, the puppy a friend rescued from the river and fought the village for – all of them are the torch bearers. All we need to do is light our own torch, spread the fire. Perhaps, we can make it easier for the next generation of flame keepers. What we fight for today, will change lives tomorrow. That hope keeps me from falling in to the dark hole of numb hopelessness.
And so the fist balls up. Yes it is clammy, and if you were to look closely you’d notice a shiver. But I will give my best blow if I have to.
I will walk my dogs after dark. I will try to save the next baby girl and the puppy.
The girl who just folded up further away from the road because of those cyclists whistling? She will turn back to find me flinging a stone at them. I might miss. But I will always hit back. I will not give up. We can not give up. For each one of counts on the other to keep going, to relentlessly fighting back, to keep the flame burning.
Image source: YouTube
Dr. Tanu Shree Singh is a parent to two preteen boys, a lecturer in Psychology, and has a keen interest in the area of Positive Psychology. Most of her theories of bringing up children, however, read more...
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I huffed, puffed and panted up the hill, taking many rest breaks along the way. My calf muscles pained, my heart protested, and my breathing became heavy at one stage.
“Let’s turn back,” my husband remarked. We stood at the foot of Shravanbelagola – one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage centres. “We will not climb the hill,” he continued.
My husband and I were vacationing in Karnataka. It was the month of May, and even at the early hour of 8 am in the morning, the sun scorched our backs. After visiting Bangalore and Mysore, we had made a planned stop at this holy site in the Southern part of the state en route to Hosur. Even while planning our vacation, my husband was very excited at the prospect of visiting this place and the 18 m high statue of Lord Gometeshwara, considered one of the world’s tallest free-standing monolithic statues.
What we hadn’t bargained for was there would be 1001 granite steps that needed to be climbed to have a close-up view of this colossal magic three thousand feet above sea level on a hilltop. It would be an understatement to term it as an arduous climb.
Every daughter, no matter how old, yearns to come home to her parents' place - ‘Home’ to us is where we were brought up with great care till marriage served us an eviction notice.
Every year Dugga comes home with her children and stays with her parents for ten days. These ten days are filled with fun and festivity. On the tenth day, everyone gathers to feed her sweets and bids her a teary-eyed adieu. ‘Dugga’ is no one but our Goddess Durga whose annual trip to Earth is scheduled in Autumn. She might be a Goddess to all. But to us, she is the next-door girl who returns home to stay with her parents.
When I was a child, I would cry on the day of Dashami (immersion) and ask Ma, “Why can’t she come again?” My mother would always smile back.
I mouthed the same dialogue as a 23-year-old, who was home for Durga Puja. This time, my mother graced me with a reply. “Durga is fortunate to come home at least once. But many have never been home after marriage.”
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