Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Looking Inside - The rot that began at home

Ever since the furor over the Delhi gang rape began almost a month ago, I have maintained a conspicuous silence about it. My first reaction to the issue was – Don’t treat us like Goddesses, porcelain dolls, or someone who needs looking after/protection, just treat us like human beings.

As a woman who has lived in many parts of the country and experienced many forms of molestation in all sorts of places (public transportation, cinemas, on the streets etc) to me the beginning of the real change was clearly to begin with my home.

I vowed to raise a boy who will respect all women – not just his mother and sister, but all women he comes to deal with or know, regardless of who they were.

Having said that, I began a journey of intense soul searching that led me nowhere. Here I was, living in a nuclear family, in a city where women are ‘safer’ than most other parts of the country, raising two children almost single-handedly, ensuring that my daughter grows up to value herself as the most important person in her life and ensuring that the son values the importance of the women in his life, having in a way, complete ‘control’ over my circumstances.

Repeatedly, my thoughts crawled back to my family – extended family (and we are a very large one at that) – to my cousins – brothers and sisters, to my sisters-in-laws, to my aunts and uncles who have often cited lack of ‘control’ over their circumstances that has led to their indulging in, participating, encouraging or even supporting (through their veritable vow of silence), activities that make me hang my head in shame.

I thought to myself, if the change has to begin with me, it has to begin with my acknowledging that my extended family (that encompasses my relatives from my father’s side) despite its urban living, its money and its (lack of) education has scant respect for women, either their own or others’.

I shocked myself when one day, it struck me that the reason why I was so shaken by this girl’s ordeal was simply because the perpetrators of the heinous crime seemed no different from the men in my extended family – those men who make their wives abort female fetuses, those men who beat their wives after drinking, or rape them in their bedrooms, those men who believe that a woman’s place is inside the home, who should not be out watching a movie with a male friend, or pursuing a career, who leer at women in skirts in a bazaar, but won’t let their wives wear anything but sarees, who pass lewd remarks about other’s sisters and wives, those men who want to overpower their women with money, violence and morality….those men existed, within my family.

The news of the birth of another girl child to a cousin who had previously undergone an abortion to rid herself of the female fetus she was carrying, became the impetus for me to write two open letters: one to the boys of my family (including the jijajis (brothers-in-laws) and uncles) and one to the women.

Dear Patriarchs,

Often in our interactions, I have been told off by many of you as being too ‘independent’; some of you have jokingly sympathised with the man who married me (not who I married) for his fate; many of you have inwardly, many openly denounced my thought process and expressed unhappiness, discomfiture and even anger at my so-called rebellion. Today I invite more of your wrath through this letter but by the end of it, I hope you realise why I am writing to you.

It starts with your words

My first objection has always been to the kind of language you use. The liberal use of abuses, aimed at mothers and sisters, even in a joke or regular conversation has always been disconcerting. Like most patriarchs of the family, the boys’ training begins young and by the time they are teen-agers the MC and BC words become part of their everyday vocabulary.

You claim to have respect for your women (mothers, sisters, wives) and yet, your tongue carelessly spills MC, BC abuses, night and day. That is because what you call respect is nothing but your misogynist and patriarchal outlook in the garb of respect.

Control is central to your being. Your mother follows the dictates of your father, you expect your wife to do the same. You marry your sisters off into families that have money, and power, but possibly no education; even if she is armed with a relevant degree and desires to work you will pay no heed to her desires. You give huge dowries to marry your sisters, to ensure their happiness; little knowing that money can only “buy” temporary happiness. But you don’t worry about that – because once she is married, she is the husband’s responsibility and she has to manage her own life, for better or for worse.

SO if she has to kill a female fetus to have a male heir (because her husband’s family and their values are just like yours) you won’t blink an eye, you won’t protest, you won’t even acknowledge her pain.  And why are you so uncaring and unfeeling towards your own sister? Because you will have done the same thing to your own wife! You would have her abort a female fetus for the male child, the heir who will carry the family legacy forward, which will ensure that all the riches you have amassed stay within the family.

You disrespect the women in your home by slaying an unborn girl child, by pressuring your wives to kill those unborn babies, and by watching mutely as your sisters do the same.

And if you do have an inclination to help your sister trapped in an unhappy wedlock (that you “purchased”) you will not empower her to walk out on an abusive husband, or ensure that you will support her, come what may. Instead you will continue to keep buying her happiness, with expensive gifts to the in-laws, molly coddling them, wishing that the problem will just go away.

You won’t allow your wives to pursue careers, to enjoy their passions. Just like your housewife mother (out of choice) did, you expect that your wife will keep your home uncomplainingly, raise the kids, respect your parents, and do whatever it is to be the dutiful wife (in your parlance).  

And your drinking – that takes the cake!

You will feel neither remorse nor shame when you make cheap comments about your own distant sister to her husband, thinking/assuming that when you drink, every third-rate remark you make (even if it about a girl from your own clan) will be excused or taken lightly. You will not desist from passing crude remarks to the friends of your wives; remarks about their bodies that speak volumes about the lack of values in your upbringing.

Your upbringing won’t stop you from raising a hand at your wife, or forcing her to have sex with you even if she’s not up to it. You will exercise the ‘rights’ of a husband every opportunity you get, because deep down you are comfortable in the thought that divorce is a taboo in our family; that your hapless wife (who has already been told by her family to ‘adjust’ and ‘compromise’) has no financial security and will therefore always be dependent on you; that somewhere, deep within, she accepts your behaviour (as she does of her brothers, your brothers and other males in the family) as ‘this is what men will do’.  She may or may not raise a ruckus with you in private about your attitude, but she will always choose to stand by you whatever your behaviour – either with her, her family or other women.

Women are objects

Your remarks, your looks, your behaviour are indicative of the deep-rooted malaise of our society that is confined neither to caste nor class. We will go to a temple and bow our heads to a Goddess, BUT in our homes and on the streets, we will objectify women, disrespect them, even kill those unborn girls!

Do you realise now that you have turned out to be no different from those six men who raped that girl on the bus? This horrific revelation is the reason I write to you today.

All of you, my dear brothers, brothers-in-laws and uncles, please remember that there is a little girl growing up in your family (yes, the one you didn’t kill, the one who was allowed to live) looking at you, your demeanour and your behaviour. One day she will break the vicious circle that has entrapped her mother and the women before her and question you on your misdoings. Today you are not answerable to me, but I hope you have your answers ready for that day of reckoning.

Your truly,

My dear sisters and aunts,

Yesterday I got the news of the birth of her second girl. It came as a shock because I am aware that she had already aborted one child a few months ago because it was a female. This time, did the sex determination test go wrong? Or did she decide to keep the baby, whatever be its sex?

Knowing what she has often said about the importance of the male child in the family I daresay it’s the former. And my heart goes out to her, not because she gave birth to a girl, but because she will have to have a third child for the coveted boy (yes, despite her two C-sections and the impending danger of a third delivery).

This educated (MBA degree holder) is not alone. Her older sister, perhaps the only one in our generation (so far) to have three children, was compelled to have the third after the birth of two daughters, and after aborting one or two female fetuses. Another sister-in-law went through the same ignominy twice, thrice (I’ve lost count) before she conceived the male child.

I have grown up with all of you my sisters (and my feelings are on similar ethos for my bhabhis as well) and I cannot for one moment condone or even attempt to understand how all of you, women with good, sound education, can accept or live with the status of no-grade citizen inside your own homes.

Your husband’s families don’t let you grow as an individual, chances are that you have given up the dream of working despite your MBA or CA degrees to conform to the family’s wishes; husbands beat you at will, rape you in your bedrooms; you are forced to abort your girls; you are mentally harassed for dowry and related issues; your parents can never stop fulfilling the ‘demands’ of your husband and his family; you watch as your drunken husbands and brothers misbehave with other women (maybe even your own sister), make fools of themselves, get into needless brawls, spoil relationships, and yet, and yet, you call yourselves happy.

As a woman, my heart bleeds as I write this because I know that when confronted, the truth will be distorted because as a clan, as a society we are used to lying to keep up charades. “Happy family” – the biggest entrapment known to Indian society especially us, the middle class, has obscured our sense of right and wrong.

I know that you’ve often been coerced into toeing the line. You have succumbed to pressures –from fathers (this is what girls in our families do; protect our virtue/honour/family name, etc.), from brothers and now from husbands (for very much the same reasons as your father).

Your sense of adjustment and compromising becomes so intricate a part of your lives, that you begin doing the same with your sons, forgetting where to draw the line, pampering them as the ‘khandaan ka chiraag’, forgetting to change the warped value systems of the clan that they are growing up with, forgetting to teach them to respect women, forgiving all their insolent and uncouth behaviour with their wives (or even with you), overlooking their flaws and focusing on protecting their male egos from all and sundry.

Your daily lives are filled with homely activities interspersed with regular intervals of retail therapy and although I know how important money is, can it make up for the loss of one’s dignity?

Or are you in a ‘comfort zone’ having become exactly like the mother-in-law you cannot stand – giving explanations and justifying the abortion of your own unborn child (because a boy is necessary for furthering the ‘vansh’)?

Do you, like your in-laws make every frail attempt to camouflage the loss of the baby as an unfortunate miscarriage, an act of Nature, not of willful murder?

Can you raise a girl (yes, the one you didn’t kill) inside that home where you face discrimination?

Will you teach your little girl the same values you were imparted (or have imbibed) – adjust, compromise, don’t complain, get beaten, get raped, abort that unwanted girl child?

Do you honestly believe that wearing diamonds and expensive clothes, driving luxurious cars, living in palatial homes, can actually NULLIFY the disrespect meted out to you?

Do you desecrate women who lead happy lives as individuals? Or do you envy them their freedom, their choices, their free spirits?

Do you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and smile at the person you have become? Or do you dream of the girl you were?

Ask yourselves these questions and seek the answers my dear sisters. Don’t hide behind the mountains of rules the males have raised just to rule over you. Don’t impose those rules on your daughters and daughters-in-laws.

Learn to decipher between your will and your willingness and their impositions and assaults.

Learn to say NO – Follow your passion, pursue that career, hangout with your friends from college without the guilt, give birth to the child borne out of your love.

Learn to fight back – Kick him if he beats/rapes you, call the cops, call your friends/well wishers, call the media.  

Learn to protect – not just the child you brought into the world, but that baby who found its home in your womb, and whose only wrongdoing is her sex.

Learn to raise a boy who will respect all women. Let him break the cycle of patriarchy and misogyny and became a man who respects and loves all humanity, including and ESPECIALLY women.

Learn to appreciate – the beauty of life, without having to whip out your wallet or flash your diamonds for it.

Learn to demand – your rights as a HUMAN BEING.

Empower your daughters, empower your mothers and mothers-in-laws, sisters, sisters-in-laws, empower yourself.

In hope and prayer,

Your sister,