Day 25: I’ll be your friend, only if..

One of the things you get used to living in Western countries, I shouldn’t probably generalize, but this has been my experience so far, is smiling at people you see around you.

When we first relocated to Bangalore, I found that I was becoming an embarrassment to myself. I would smile at people in lifts in the apartment, and then find myself being completely ignored. People would just look through you. However, some were very curious. Now, they might not smile at you, but they would ask you if you were renting. If you said you were an owner, the next question would be when you bought the property. In due course I came to understand that all that was part of the hierarchy of the apartment ecosystem. Sigh. The different types of categorization which would then dictate how they would be with you. You might get a few friendly nods if you were owners, may be not if you were tenants. I’ve heard that even maids are more likely to come to you for work if you were owners rather than tenants..

Although not everybody was like this, but I met plenty to realize that it might not be the norm, but there was more than a few to be called an exception.

In the UK, one of the places, I meet new people is at Daughter’s school. When she started Year 3, she moved from infant school to Junior school. Some schools are divided into sections like that. And all infant schools feed into certain junior schools. In case of daughter’s school, two feeder schools fed into this junior school. Before school started, we had certain sessions and were given information packs. This included the list of children in each class. We glanced through it to figure out which of Daughter’s classmates would be in her new class, and that was it.

On the first day of school, we were walking back to the bus stop(this was in the days before I got my manual driving license), and I smiled at another mother with her child, who was walking near us. She didn’t smile back or anything. Daughter waved bye to the little girl and I asked her if they were in the same class, and daughter confirmed that they were.
Suddenly, the lady turns to me and asks, ‘What is your daughter’s name?’.

When I replied, she says, ‘Oh you are ‘x’ caste, aren’t you?’

Well, you see, my daughter has my husband’s surname, which is also the same as his caste.

‘We are also the same caste’, she went on to say,excitedly, and smiling for the first time, ‘ I saw in that information pack!’.

I was flabbergasted to hear that! People still look for their ‘castes’ before deciding to be friendly. This lady did not even smile, before she figured out the caste equation!

Needless to say, I don’t have much to say to this lady. I still smile and give her a friendly nod, when I do run across her, but that is about it.

This whole caste thingy annoys me. I have been brought up in an environment where my parents always stressed on how things like caste are of no importance. My grandfathers, both of them, had different ideas for not naming their children with the caste names. My paternal grandfather was a Gandhian and felt strongly about equality of all sections of society. My maternal grandfather was a communist, who again believed in equality of all castes. The combined effect has been for us to grow up literally blissfully ignorant of the caste equation around us. It helped that we lived in a wonderfully cosmopolitan place where I’ve never heard of caste based divisions while growing up.

So I find this diffucult to come to terms with this slotting of people into ‘castes’ for various reasons. I have heard people assume that because some people of a particular caste is successful, ‘it must be because of reservation’. Or people trying to find out my caste because my surname doesn’t give a clue. But this was the first time, a person completely ignored me, showed no signs of being friendly, suddenly was bursting with friendliness as soon as she realized that we might be of the same caste!

Is it any wonder that caste based politics works so well in India? I could have understood this reaction had it been from a person in some village with no access to a different value system, but when you see this sort of attitude in someone who ought to know better, someone, who I assume is educated( or may be not), I feel sad. Just sad.

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Just some thoughts…

Very few amongst us would have been unaffected by the Delhi Gangrape, and eventually the death of the brave young woman, who tried so hard to stay alive.

Some like Hitchy, have written posts, straight from their hearts, and make me feel so hopeful, that things can’t possibly not improve when people think like this. It gives me so much hope.

The last couple of weeks, I have been travelling, and interestingly, came across so many subtle indicators of how the society thinks. Things which, at an earlier point in time, I would have just not noticed or would have ignored. This time, I reacted slightly differently to some of them.

– People who try to walk a little too close to you in an effort to get to touch. I was lucky it was in an airport, not in a shady road, so I just stood still and stared right back until he was forced to move away.

– People who refuse to reply to a question asked by a woman, would instead reply to her husband. Almost as if they could not stand the fact that a woman dared to talk when her husband was with her. I could actually feel their antagonism towards me.

– People who still believed that women had no business being outside their homes after dark.

– People who believe that without a man in their lives, women are totally, completely helpless.

The one thing that I did notice that most people did shy away from openly blaming the victim. I guess the massive outrage has, in some ways, if not completely changed the way people think, has made them rethink, just a wee bit. Of course, we will still have our share of painted-dented and India-Bharat quotes, but then, not everything can change in a jiffy, can it? Then again, had women been a vote bank for our politicians, I can’t help feel that things would indeed, change in a jiffy. Of course, a lot of the measures might just have been token measures but still, they might be slightly more sensitive.

India has a strange way of making one feel optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. And in a lot of ways, it feels like we are part of a massive change which will make history – fingers crossed.

Return to India by Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan’s memoir of her family’s Return to India process, after living in the US for about 20 years. I knew I had to read to read it as soon as I came across it. To add to it, Smita, heavily recommended it on one of my posts. I just had to get hold of it.

Shoba charts her journey from the time she first started to dream about going to America. Her parents are horrified at the idea, and try everything to stop her. Fate, finally, had it’s way, and she made her way to America as a student, with stars in her eyes, all set to live the American dream.

America gave her opportunities that she had dreamed about. She had come to America to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, but ended up a full-fledged art major trying to do a master’s in sculpture, For Shoba, this was the essence of America’s opportunities.

As Shoba immersed herself in America, she also develops close friendships with her fellow Indian students as well as her American friends. Living her new life, the experiences of being a student on grant in America, studying subjects that excited her, finding funding and help in the most unexpected places, washing dishes to make some money, Shoba is content. Somewhere down the line, she gets married – a traditional, arranged marriage to Ram.

From her happy existence in America, her perspective on living in America starts changing after she became a mother. She slowly started thinking about the ‘India Question’, with more and more of her friends and people around her talking seriously about moving back to India. The country that she had fought to leave, was now, beckoning to her. The culture and society that she had once tried to avoid, was the one she started trying very hard to inculcate in her daughter. There are some hilarious episodes mentioned of how hard she tried to make her daughter ‘Indian’. She calls herself a ‘born again Hindu’, when she drags her family to the temple, she had never before visited, or tried to wear a sari the whole day, for a month, just to make it familiar to her daughter. In her own way, trying to bring India or being Indian, closer to her American born and bred daughter.

While she was passionate about moving back, her husband Ram, was more resistant to the idea. He was less bothered about the parenting worries that Shoba had. She was quite worried about how to parent her daughter, the American influences worrying her tremendously, while her husband believed that with the right values, their daughter would be fine anywhere. They had their discussions, their disagreements, and their concurrence on the ‘India Question’. Finally, after a few years, things fell into place and they did indeed move to India.

So, how did I find it? I really enjoyed her perspective on life in America(or abroad anywhere, for that matter). Her observations of how people behave, some reject India completely, while others become born again Indians. The way she herself changed after her daughter was born, is quite interesting to read. In some places cliched – just the way, we have heard of NRIs behaving, and in some places interesting.

When I started reading this, I couldn’t help wonder if I would find similarities in my situation with what she recounts, but I have to say, her situation, and her reasons for moving back were quite different, so I did not really relate to her story much. It was just reading her story than reading a story that I could totally relate to. Probably because we had not lived abroad for so long, nor had we ever planned to live abroad. Returning to India was a given for us, rather than a ‘question’. Also parenting worries of the sort she had, somehow, does not bother me. Influences of all sorts, would be there in any society, in my opinion. My daughter’s childhood cannot be exactly the same as mine, even if I went back to the town I grew up in, and did everything my parents did. But that is entirely my opinion.

An interesting read, in some places very cliched, but pacy and gripping all the same. The way her priorities changed over the years with changes in her circumstances is very interesting to read. I would recommend it to anybody who likes memoirs although I think I enjoyed her first book – Monsoon Diary more. Would I recommend it to someone who is relocating/planning to relocate to India? I don’t know. Mainly because I could not relate to it at all, but perhaps if you are in a similar situation as her’s you might relate and enjoy it much more. Other than that, as a memoir, it is an interesting read.

Doing our bit

This post has been selected for Spicy Saturdays 🙂 Thank you Smita and BlogAdda! And Uma and Shilpa for letting me know 🙂 I missed it completely!

Bangalore has in the news for the wrong reasons lately, rubbish collection being one of them.

To cut a long story short, some of the landfils that used to be used for dumping garbage have been closed and the city now has limited space to dump the garbage. Finally, pushed to a corner, the BBMP, declared that garbage needs to be segregated at source. That brought out groans from some and delight from some(like me).

In our appartment complex, segregation was already being practised. Or atleast, the association has been trying very hard to get the residents to segregate and dispose off their waste in a eco-friendly manner. Not everybody follows them, of course, but at least the processes were in place. So when the government made it mandatory, it felt great, because now, people would have to follow the rules.

But, sadly, despite all this, from the look of it, people seem to be complaining, upset about the ‘extra work’, and trying as far as possible to avoid it. To be honest, I fail to understand that. I’ve been segregating waste for a while now, and not because I was forced to do it, but because I saw the sense in doing it. Admittedly, things were easier in the UK, because the infrastructure provided for such things was better. Just before moving here, we had to throw away so many things. Usable stuff we gave away, others went to the local waste management site, where there were all sorts of bins provided. From non-recyclables, paper, cardboard, construction site waste, electronic waste to garden waste. It was wonderful. I had never thought I would say that of a waste management site, but yes, it was really wonderful. We made countless trips there, carrying loads of carefully segregated material, to be dumped at the relevant bins. And both husband and I felt good, having done what we could do. It was tiring, but fulfilling.

For everyday waste, every house is provided with it’s own non-recyclable waste bin, recyclable bin and garden waste bin, so the process, really is quite simple. I would segregate the waste, and when we step out, just pop them into the relevant bins – which would be picked up by the council, once a week, or monthly, depending on the kind of waste it is.

Despite the ease there, I still knew people who did not feel the need to segregate- because it was too much effort. Who thought that we were crazy to worry about things like landfills and environments.. I guess it is people like that here as well who really refuse to make that extra effort. We might not have fancy facilities, but the truth is that we really don’t need fancy facilities. We just need to plan where to put our waste. Some apparently claim that it is the BBMP’s responsibility to segregate the waste, after they’ve received it – because we pay some garbage tax. That kind of reasoning is beyond me. How can we expect the workers to go through the garbage and then segregate it? We find it so difficult to just put the garbage in the relevant bins, but we expect others to go through the garbage to separate it. Right. Makes so much sense, doesn’t it? And there are some who say,’But not everybody is doing it, so even if I do it, it won’t make a huge difference’. What do you even say to that? It’s funny to see how many reasons we can come up with when we don’t want to do something.

We have a water problem in the place that we live in. Water gets delivered by tankers and the quality is not the greatest. We can’t use the regular water filters, only the ones with reverse osmosis works with this kind of water. I was clueless about the whole working of the filter. After installing I realized that a lot of water gets wasted during the filtration process. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting so much water going to waste, so I catch that water and use it for watering plants, mopping, cleaning the balconies etc. It works, it is a bit of an effort, but I schedule my water filtration in such a way that I am around to catch the water in buckets. I was talking the other day with a lady who was involved with water conservation in the apartment’s association, and she was mentioning that most people just let the water go waste. We don’t have water meters in each apartment, so it’s easy to ignore the water getting wasted – after all everybody’s paying for it – not just me! As another lady said, people refuse to do anything unless everybody is forced to do it.

The concept of ‘Doing our bit’ seems to be non-existent. ‘I will do it only if my neighbour is doing it too’, seems to be the concept in operation.

Is it any surprise that our cities are in the state that they are in? When we refuse to do our bit, but expect that everything else needs to be in perfect order, clearly nothing ever will be. Because it has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? And if not in our own homes, where?

Antharjanam: Memoirs of a Namboodiri Woman by Devaki Nilayamgode

I came across this book last year, when I was in India, but could not get hold of it. Since then it was on my must-read list of books.

The book is an English translation(by Radhika Menon and Indira Menon) of a Malayam book written by Devaki Nilayamgode, a 75 year old Namboodiri woman. She recounts the life of a Namboodiri woman from childhood. Namboodiri women are called, ‘Antharjanam’, which literally means, ‘People who live inside’. After the age of 6 or 7, Namboodiri women are confined indoors, and not seen even by their own fathers or brothers. Those days, it was common for only the oldest son in a family to marry within their caste. The other sons would do a ‘Sambhandam’ with Nair women, and the Nair women and their children would continue to live in their house and not in the Namboodiri illam. It was common for the eldest sons to practice polygamy for various reasons. There were instances where a man on his death-bed would marry a teenager. Illams traditionally would have unmarried girls, married women and widows of the Namboodiris.

The author recounts her own childhood in a prosperous illam. She grew up in a prosperous illam, and yet her childhood felt almost inhuman. The hierarchy is clear right from the beginning of life. A girl child was never welcomed with happiness. She talks about how they did not even have a comb to brush their hair. Nobody cared about such things. She talks about how her mother never encouraged her or her sisters to have any sort of freedom, as that would not bode well for a life where they would have to live under the shadow of others. Rituals, traditions and rules, made their lives. Some of the things she describes are heart-breaking. Namboodiris could get polluted by getting touched by other castes. During deliveries, Nair women would be attending to the Namboodiri women, so after the delivery, the first thing the poor women had to do was go and have a bath in the pond, to purify themselves. Already weakened by the delivery, they had to make their way to the pond, have a bath before they could be rest at all. As Nilayamgode mentions, nobody spared a thought that often the water would be muddy during the monsoon, and having a bath in that condition might attract infection in the already weak women. Traditions were the most important thing, so had to be followed.

The plight of the widows were particularly sad. They had to pay for the crime of having outlived their husbands throughout their lives. Nilyamgode’s mother was a widow, the third wife of a Namboodiri, but she was respected for her abilities, so she had a slightly better life. Education was practically non-existent for women. Devaki learnt how to read and write, and that was about it. Her sisters started reading books that their brother would slyly pass to them, and that was their only source of reading. It was only when they came in touch with their sophisticated Nair cousins that they realised how different their lives were. The Nair girls would be well-groomed, well looked after, and would even treat the little Namboodiri children with affection – something they never got from their mothers or fathers. She recounts how they would give them pieces of soap, which was treasured and used sparingly to make it last longer.

Fortunately for Devaki, the family that she married it was very liberal and socially progressive. By that time, social reforms and movements had begun. They were focussing on educating women, widow re-marriage, encouraging the other sons of households to marry within their caste.

Nilayamgode writes about how her book will be the last of it’s kind, because change has ensured that there are no longer problems that are restricted just to the Antharjanams. That life today is so much better than it had been a few decades ago. The book brings to focus how much of change has happened, and how change can happen when communities decide for themselves that things have to change – when the change happens from within. Most of the change that happened in the Namboodiri community was because people themselves realized that things have to change in their society. When the society convinced their widowed sisters to remarry, educated their daughters, and encouraged their wives to take control.

I though I was shocked because I grew up in a different time. My mother started reading this book, last week, when she was here, and she was as shocked as me. She had an inkling about the lives of the Antharjanams but had no idea how different it was. My grandmother would have been 86 or 86 now had she been alive today, so around 10 years or so older than Devaki Nilayamgode. They would have grown up in villages quite near by, in families of similar financial capabilities and yet Ammamma(and her sisters) was an educated, empowered lady. So much of variation in lifestyle just because they belonged to different castes.

Isn’t it wonderful how time and progress has brought it to a point where today, everything else being equal, there would be no difference between me and a Namboodiri girl?

A wonderful book. A must read.

Breaking the cycle..

… Or to be more accurate, why breaking the cycle is so difficult..

Our friend Bikram raised some questions in his post here, and I thought I’d try to answer.

Bikram questions ‘The mother-in-law knew how his son was treating the daughter in law , yet she did not say anything Rather she was calling up the Girls father to give more, I mean WHY.. Did she go through the same when she got married and came to the family..

Let me explain with an example. I met a young woman here. She must be in her late twenties or at max, her early thirties. She grew up in India, but got married to an NRI who was 34 at that point in time. She was 18. She says her parents had no plans to get her married but when the proposal came up, it felt like a good one. She has three children, and lives in a typical joint family type of environment, here in the UK. One day we were talking and she started telling us about how tough it is for her. She works, but once she is home, she is expected to be the obedient, dutiful bahu, making tea for everyone, clearing up. It might not sound like a huge deal, but as she says, if you end up spending 45 mins for having a simple cup of tea- it becomes a big deal. Especially in a country where she has no maids or anybody to help out. If she fancies a cup of tea and makes it for herself without checking with the rest of the family, it is considered quite rude. A small example, but it affected her badly enough for her to share it with us. Then she went on to say, ‘What can I do, I can only wait for when it will be my turn to be the mother-in-law’.

I was stunned to hear that. Surely one would think that she would try to break the cycle rather than have it continue? But then I realized that, for her, it is just a fact, an accepted reality. As a daughter-in-law, she has to accept what is given to her, and she has to wait until her son gets home a DIL before she gets to throw her weight around. She does not think of breaking the cycle because she has accepted the system for what it is.

What horrified me, was just a statement of fact for her. Why? Because that is the system they have been brought up it, that is the system they are familiar with. They don’t see a problem with it. A boy will bring home a wife, while a daughter will be sent away. I have heard this justification from so many people.

Dowry is justified too. People think that it is perfectly legitimate. These days it is termed as ‘gifts’ which the girl’s side gives ‘willingly’. I don’t understand why gifting is only the woman’s parents prerogative? Then of course, people will explain that a daughter is going away to her ‘real home’ so her parents would like to ‘gift’ her things. That to me is the root cause of this whole thing. The imbalance in society which is brought about by the concept of a male child being ‘apna’ and a female child being ‘paraya’.

The system is also the reason a parent dreads the birth of a girl child, dreads the day they will have to shell out huge amounts of money to get her ‘married off’.

The only way the evils like sex selective abortions, dowry etc can be eradicated is the system itself changes. If both sons and daughters take up the responsibility of looking after their parents, if parents of daughters are not left destitute in their old age, if a daughter is not taught that no matter what, once she gets married, her marital home is her home, and not her parental home.

In fact in the program, in both the first and the third episode, we had women expressing how it is so horrible for a parent to have their married daughter coming back home. It broke my heart to listen to that. I can’t even begin to imagine how helpless they must have felt. Where could they have gone? How could they have walked out on their marriages when all that has been drummed into their heads is that their parental home is no longer their home?

The moment that stigma goes away, we will find a lot of women comfortable about standing up for their rights. When they know that they will not make their parents unhappy if they land up at their doorstep. When women understand that they don’t need to accept everything that is thrown at them. When they are brought up with the belief that no matter what, their parents will always be there for them. That they are no ‘paraya dhan’.

To keep a child safe

I am a helicopter mum. A paranoid mum some might say, but I worry. I worry about a million things when it comes to daughter.

A lot of times, I am asked why I read books related to child abuse, when they are so painful. Yes, they are painful, they are horrific, and they affect me really badly. But most importantly it tells me that I have the responsibility to ensure that daughter is kept as safe as possible. They remind me that abuse of all sorts happen in environments of all sorts. Books like these jolt me out of complacency. They make me worry, and they make me take action to ensure that I do what I can to keep daughter safe.

It used to worry me that so many Indian parents that I know, refuse to accept that things like this happen in India. They believe that it is a Western thing, something that doesn’t happen in our culture.

Husband and I are very, very careful in this regard. Daughter knows about the good touch/bad touch, and we keep asking and reminding her every so often. Just because you never know. In India, a lot of people consider me, too protective. I don’t lose sight of her in functions, I ensure that one of us is keeping an eye on her, we don’t allow people to take her ‘to the bazaar, just like that’. We insist on going with her. It’s not about not trusting one person – it’s about not setting a pattern. I would rather be safe than sorry.

She did go out for a sleep over once, but now, I feel worried – I feel I shouldn’t have sent her – she was fine – but what if she weren’t? What if something had happened. I don’t know. It worries me and scares me.

I know I can’t control everything, but at the very least, I can try and talk to daughter, ensure that we have a clear communication going on about everything, and educate her to protect herself, be confident and be in a position to stop any behaviour. And know that we are there to help her in any situation.

As my Dad says, ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. That is all that we can do, isn’t it?

And hopefully after yesterday’s episode on Child Sexual Abuse on Satyamev Jayate, a lot of parents out there, would too.

The Right to Education

Some thing most of us take for granted, but is out of reach for so many of our fellow Indians.

Every since the Supreme Court ruling judgement upholding the applicability of the Right to Education Act (RTE) even to unaided schools, has come out, I have been reading up articles, opinions, blogs related to it. I have an added interest because we are moving back  to India this year, and I wanted to understand how it would affect us.

Let me clarify, that I have managed to secure admission in one school in Bangalore – not the school that I wanted – but the only school which had vacancies for Grade1, which indicates that most schools are completely full. I am happy to go with what we have got, with the hope that daughter will be fine, and where ever the school lacks, we will be able to pitch in and support her. My choices were further reduced because I did not want to opt for schools that ask for donations – as far as I could.

Now, going on to this RTE debate. I am not entirely sure where I sit on whether the 25% quota is a good thing or a bad thing. Clearly education is a fundamental right, and it is sad that so many of our children go without education. And something definitely needs to be done about it, I am just not completely sure if just reserving 25% seats in private schools is right or even enough.

In order to understand the statistics better, I was trying to look up information. According to Wikipedia(not always the most accurate, so if you have more reliable sources, please can you let me know? Would be really grateful), 80% of all schools in India are Government Schools. That makes the government the largest provider of education. But here is the interesting part, despite 80% of schools being government schools, 27% of the children in India, are being educated in private schools. Which begs the question, are the existing government schools being utilized to their full extent? Are they being monitored? Are there parameters set to figure out how the schools are performing.

My daughter goes to a state school in the UK here. We pay nothing for her education – not a penny. We could easily afford private education for her, but chose not to,mainly because good state schools are comparable to private education – at least in the primary years. Of course, all state schools might not be great, just as not all private schools are really good, but we’ve been fine, thankfully. Here, only about 7% of the children attend private schools. Since then, I have also heard of the ‘snob factor’ that is there in private schools, and it makes me happy that my daughter is not in an environment like that. I am happy for her to be in a more inclusive environment rather than a super-privileged environment. Of course, there have been times, when I wonder if I were too idealistic in my beliefs, but so far have been convinced that the school she is in, is great for her.

There are all sorts of state schools, and one thing I have noticed here is the accountability of the teachers, the staff. The fact that there are independent agencies like the Ofsted(click on the link, and you will be able to see how they work), which review and rate schools. Schools that are not performing to the expected standards are evaluated and the govt takes measures to ensure better performance. If I wanted to find out how the school works, I can find full reports with all the information I might need. Some schools still don’t perform as well as others due to other factors that affect it, but at least we don’t feel as cynical as we do about the Indian govt.

I would have been delighted if I could send my daughter to a state school in India as well, but clearly, that would be out of question for a variety of reasons.

If the real reason children do not have access to education is the lack of seats in government schools, then I would entirely agree that private schools need to do their share of giving back to the society. For some reason, it feels to me that the government is shirking its responsibility of providing education to every Indian. I would have been more impressed if it came up with a methodology to bring up the existing state schools to a level where every parent would be happy to send their child, rather than make it a refuge for parents who can’t afford better. After all, not all government schools are bad, why can’t we try to get all our schools to an acceptable level?  I do believe that some states have better govt schools than others. What stops us from replicating their success? Political will, I suppose. The RTE act itself has a lot of good guidelines in regulating the school conditions, but why have no measures been chalked out yet, that the government would undertake to ensure that schools run at the minimum acceptable standards.  If along with improvement schemes to the existing state schools, the government also included the 25% quota, I, as a parent, would have been very happy. In the current scheme of things, I can’t help feeling that this is more of a quick-fix measure, which might not really make a huge difference in the years to come. A law can only do so much. Law enforcement is as important as drafting a sensible law, in my opinion.

As for the  ‘class divide’ question which a lot of parents feel concerned about. I feel that the class divide needs to go. It might not go in a hurry, but things might change if our children grow up without the class divide in their minds(and if we try not to put these things into their minds). If they learn to accept that their friends come from different backgrounds, and just having more money or a more plush lifestyle does not make a better or worse person. I think it would do our children, a world of good, to be able to the person, rather than the packaging.

So what do you think about all this?

PS: I’ve mentioned again and again how wonderful daughter’s teachers are! And when I see adverts like this, I feel like teaching! Along with RTE, I wish we had a campaign to encourage people to go into teaching. After all, most of us will have at least one teacher, who left a lasting mark on our minds..

Edited to add: Check out this campaign by HT.
http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dv7rPAa0gKqw&v=v7rPAa0gKqw&gl=GB

When old is gold…

We had a get together last Saturday. A fun and delicious dinner with friends, made spicier with an interesting discussion.

Some of us ended up discussing Feminism, and as is usual, there were a lot of views. Predictably most of the men felt that it was ‘unnecessary’. I have to say rather proudly, that I have a feminist of a husband – he was only man who openly supported us girls 🙂

While a lot of things got discussed, one which I wanted to analyse here was ‘History’.

Just because historically patriarchy seems to be the norm, people seem fine with accepting it as the best thing. I was told a lot of times that we, women need to understand the ‘history’ behind it. And if it works, why are we trying to break the balance. The question for me is, does it actually work? What was difficult to get most of them to understand was that it works only for some sections of society. If it were working, we wouldn’t need to change it.

Also, the fact that the Western world followed patriarchy is always thrown in for added measure. It always makes me laugh that most people who would deride ‘Western Values’, have no problems with using the example of patriarchy in Western Society as an excuse or a justification.

So going back to the issue, I was surprised to see how vehement the men were in opposing any change to the current situation. Most of them were ready with examples of women torturing men, with women abusing dowry laws, citing these, as reasons why men have more to fear than women. Nuclear families, of course, were the worst example of low-life, the moral corruption that women getting powerful, is leading us to. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that the people spouting all this are all NRIs who are most certainly not staying with their parents.

And of course, most of them saw nothing wrong with women being considered ‘paraya dhan’. It was natural, was the claim. Girls leave the house, and the boys bring their wives into the house. Perfect, according to them.. What if there are only girls in the family.. Well, that is of course, unfortunate… but what can be done. ‘Sex selection, perhaps?’, I had to ask!

I wouldn’t have worried if these were views expressed by our parents’ generation, but when my generation is so vehement about it, it makes me wonder if education, makes any difference at all.. It made me want to send the IHM’s blog to open their eyes to what women(and men) go through in our society. I wish I could explain to them how patriarchy shackles both men and women. But sometimes, people don’t want to listen, they don’t want change because it works for them at the moment.

You know what was the saddest part? At the end of the night, I was taken aside and told that all this talk of women empowerment is of no use. You can’t change anything.There is a reason society evolved like this, and we should know better than try to upset the apple cart. If at all things have to change – they will change by themselves!

You know what, I was sad, but not for us, women. I was sad for people who thought like this. Who refuse to accept reality, who think that by closing their eyes to it, they can pretend that everything is fine. What a sad existence, don’t you think?

Why every little helps..

Deeps’ post and this post on Women’s Web prompts me to write on this subject again.

A lot of times when I start discussing the topic of the condition of girls in India, I get that ‘There she goes again on her feminist track’. The thing is,whatever I say, I feel that it is not enough. It will never be enough – until the date that people stop this yearning for a boy. It will not be enough until people stop treating girls as the unwanted sex. Until a girl child is welcomed just as much as a boy child is. Until people stop saying things like, ‘Pehla bacha ladka ho to santhusthi hai’ – this was said to a friend of mine.

How will mere words help, people ask. Well, I think, words help in its own way.

For one, some people accept it as part of culture. Having seen the boy child preference practiced all around, they take it for granted. They assume that it is normal for grandparents to love grandsons more than granddaughter(I have come across people claiming this- educated people, by the way). So when they hear/read people talking about the injustice, and the why it is so wrong to shun a girl child, they might turn a deaf ear initially, but slowly, I think it will make a difference. One of the people, who used to loudly proclaim how her son was the favourite of his grandparents, has now toned it down. She is now careful not to mention things like that in public again. Probably after she realized that not everybody thinks this way. Hopefully her thinking might have changed too.

I have seen this happen right in front of me. While people might not change their thinking right away, they might start to understand that culture is not a justification for everything.

The same goes for dowry. The more people talk about it, shame it, publicly, and stop treating it as part of our ‘culture’, the more likely it is to die away as a custom.

I am so vocal about this, that nobody in my friends/acquaintance circle dares tell me to have another child to have a boy. Somebody I know told a friend of mine to try again, maybe this time she might have a boy. Only to be told on her face, that she doesn’t care if she has a boy or not – she is happy with her daughter. That was the end of it.

Will all this talking make any real difference. I think it will. I think it makes people think – even if it goes against what they have always seen. And even if one person rethinks what they have grown up with, it makes a difference, don’t you think? At the very least, they might think before speaking in front of vocal people like us, some may remember not to let subconscious discrimination enter their actions, some might go even further.. From the place that we are at – any progress is better than no progress, wouldn’t you agree?