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In A Chat With My House Help I Realised How Women’s Lives Are The Same Everywhere…

Posted: February 21, 2021

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Our discussion that spanned over an hour led me to conclude that irrespective of where a woman is born, she is always discriminated against without fail.

Kalai is an extremely effervescent, friendly and bubbly individual too often mistaken to be overtly friendly; however once you get to know her slightly better, you know how genuine she is. Her warm nature can sometimes overshadow the fact that she’s after all a maid and might be prone to carelessness that would obviously draw her some mild rebukes.

Most often we share our mid-morning tea and that is how I could draw an inspiration to pen this down.

Over one such conversation it was quite evident that women irrespective of their class are subject to similar behaviour, most of which is in the form of taunts, criticisms and judgements.

Body-shaming of women cuts across class boundaries

Kalai was quite vocal as to how her spouse frequently body shames her especially after her second delivery. Now that’s quite a similarity with women who are comparatively better off than Kalai.

While dusting and reaching out to difficult corners I noticed how difficult it is for Kalai to do so in a saree; on being questioned she’s quick to retort that it is her husband and mother in law who think she should cut on her post-delivery flab before deciding on a different attire.

Here there was not only a man who was opposing her but someone from her own tribe! Doesn’t that often happen to us in spite of that fact that we could be socially or economically ahead of Kalai?

According to sources 90% of women in India recognize body shaming as a behaviour that they feel threatened about. And unfortunately this is often exhibited by their close ones. Remarks like “You eat a lot!” “Check your weight”, “Is this still your post-delivery weight?” Such mindless taunts and humiliating comments are reason enough to break down a woman’s morale. Sadly our society and its people do not hesitate to indulge in such regressive behaviour. And as mentioned, these remarks aren’t the brain child of men alone women too target their own tribe.

Our experiences are similar

While growing up I have always been led to believe that I am sadly not good enough– be it my immediate family, extended ones, some friends, and even the men whom I have dated briefly. The constant pressure of proving that I could be anything but ordinary turned me into someone who would always be sitting on the fence. And this robbed me of my peace of mind and happiness.

So when Kalai dismissed her mother-in-law and husband’s comment as something ‘quite normal’, I could feel the pain that she was suppressing. It is a deep-seated notion in her mind that anyone who assumes an authoritative identity in her family could pass a judgement without an iota of remorse. I can resonate with her perception because I too once taught that an individual whom I assumed to have been in authority could judge me because the fault was in me. This thought sadly, remained with me for a long time.

Our tea time tete-a-tete suddenly brought back memories from afar and near, and these were anything but pleasant. What came back were countless instances of unfair deals that were handed to me over the years–all because of my gender. As Kalai rightly mentioned, an unmarried daughter is a liability, irrespective of the caste or the societal strata she is born into, telling me how at the age of 21 she was married off, and was expected to start procreating at the earliest!

I remembered how every family get together centered on my marriageable age and its concerns; my hapless parents could only respond when they found the questions worthy of answering.

When I did meet grooms, having been critically interviewed by the groom’s family, I was not spared of my complexion too. They disregarded the fact that I was more qualified than their son-all that mattered was that my skin tone was way darker than the groom in question; and that the prospective mother in law had to refuse the alliance lest I procreated a darker generation! Well, at 23 it sounded as ridiculous as it sounds now however it hurt so hard that it left an indelible mark on my mind and soul.

A question of privileges

More often than not when the entire society makes a hue and cry about some ‘so-called privileges’ for women ranging from a trivial one like a seat in the bus to a go ahead to work post marriage, it only goes on to prove how a woman’s rights are the mercy of others and not hers. No matter what her educational or financial status is in the society, her roles and responsibilities are pre-defined. Her character would still be measured by the length of her outfit or the depth of her neckline and her value would be adjudged as per the amount of seasoning she adds in her curries!

Kalai burst out laughing when I mentioned this as for her we belong to two different worlds– while I agree that I have way more privileges than she does, it would perhaps take a few more rounds of such discussions over tea for her to understand that the age-old, regressive dictums of the society spares none irrespective of their societal status.

The burden of being a girl child

It is ridiculously surprising how the roles of the fairer gender is pre-defined from the moment she is born; all she needs to showcase is love, warmth, more love and more warmth in spite of the humiliations, and dirt that is thrown at her.

According to Kalai it is sacrosanct for her daughter to take care of these guidelines laid down by the society and on the other hand it is completely fine if her son behaves otherwise- “for isn’t that how men are supposed to behave right Didi?” she asks. Unfortunately I had to put up a silent demeanour, for my thoughts and perspective might sound outrageous to her and it would thwart all those beliefs that women like Kalai across India are bred into believing. I wish I could talk to her about this.

As Kalai leaves for the day I am left to ponder as to what I would educate my daughter into believing is important. What the society demands that I do, or what a human being ideally should do in situations as these. I know what my call would be, my daughter would not be someone who is bred into believing that a perfect round ‘roti’ would define her true worth; she wouldn’t be the one who would need to justify her actions of carrying out a task that is right; she wouldn’t have to struggle to tell her story; she wouldn’t have to believe that the accountability of setting the world right is her sole accountability, and finally she wouldn’t be someone who would personify the idealistic woman that the society wants her to grow up to.

Our discussion that spanned over an hour led me to conclude that irrespective of where a woman is born she is always discriminated against without fail. And this comes from not only the men, but also her own gender. This perhaps is the saddest thing that a woman can ever face.

Published here first.

Image source: a still from the film Thappad

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