As a child, when I was told the story of Ramayana, I remember asking my father, that why was a pregnant Sita sent away to the woods by Ram, despite the agni-pariksha conducted. He answered:
At that time, it was a culture that women should not spend a night out of the house and this rule had no exceptions, and woman in Ayodhya would start doing this with the excuse and reference of Sita. In order to protect dharma Ram has to take this step and show an example of detachment to protect dharma.
I somehow failed to understand as to why the women had lesser rights of freedom than men, whatever era it is. Was being abducted her fault? Wasn’t there a better way to set an example in the society where the women could hold their rights and dignity?
Honestly, that kind of a “patriarchal culture” still exists and it is not disappearing any soon. Even today, I hear dialogues like – ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’ and parents telling their sons ‘why are you crying like a girl?’ It still leaves me wondering that why are women perceived/projected as the weaker sex. These impressions have put us behind the line for centuries now and today when we are striving to move faster, we are still pulled down by a feudal mind-frame. In fact, this kind of a mentality germinates into something called gender policing, which according to me, happens to be the root cause of any atrocity enforced.
We are constantly asked to refrain from wearing certain/revealing clothes because such attires could excite men, and they could end up doing something heinous. We are told at homes that no guy will marry you if you are so ambitious and career-centric. We are told that talking to so many boys and clicking pictures with them will be questioning your character. We are expected to return home by 10pm and if we fail to, we are labeled. Being friendly and outspoken indicates flirtatious and consensual behavior and being reserve and introvert suggests attitude and haughtiness. When a woman is promoted in her job, her equation with her boss is under radar and when she is given a work responsibility, her caliber is doubted. If there is a romantic relationship that comes out in public, it is the girl who faces the wrath and people start judging her. Women should abstain from smoking and drinking not because of health hazards, but because it doesn’t look good that women do so. Menstruating women cannot enter temples but criminals and fraudsters can drop thousands and lakhs of rupees in temple hundis. Our voices go unheard and our opinions are belittled. Our ‘no’ to something is forcibly turned to a ‘yes. If a girl is molested, it is assumed that she has passed some hints. If she is raped, then the girl and her family get shamed and the men walk around giving reasons of why they felt like raping her. Such hypocrisy! I think we have been all living in a bubble of single gender supremacy, and it’s time that we burst it.
I came across this really fascinating gender-education initiative called No Country For Women (NCFW). I was mind-blown by the ideology that these guys have adopted to make a real significant impact. It is never about candle marches, slogans and TV interviews. There is an inconspicuous ground reality which goes untouched, and that is what has to be unleashed. But what does it take to do that?
Deconstruct – Dismantle – Develop
Looks like a simple mantra right? Well it is, if it is first accepted that every sexual discrimination or assault or policing is rooted within a broader and a deeply-knit network of social imbalances. Once this reality is absorbed, only then can we start with D3 philosophy (ideated by NCFW).
It is essential that the archaic mindset of people is first addressed. We got to evaluate such ideologies which endorse the concept of gender-superiorities and bygone regulations. We then need to break down these beliefs and expose the assumptions that they carry. It has to be done, bit by bit, at the root level. And ultimately, we must look forward to nurture righteous, long term and effective solutions, which would not just focus on tackling problems like rape, female feticide, illiteracy, etc. but also throw light on the cause of these issues and address the symptoms of such occurrences. Perhaps all this sounds very theatrical and subjective. But again, there are initiatives being taken and impact being created. NCFW is one such. Their programs range right from school level to the corporate level, helping every stakeholder critically reflect what is being propagated in the society. The organization and its three leading ladies work on breaking free gender myths, stereotypes, policing, concept of consent and what not.
Personally, I feel very connected to actions like these. Everybody knows that there is a problem. But what is to be done and how is a big question mark. I recently watched this film called PINK which is a very realistic depiction of what exactly is wrong with our thought-process. The protagonist is found pleading guilty just for the sake of being a woman and acting like a normal human. The film gives jitters when one actually recognizes the iniquities that happen openly around us and we fail to act upon them. As a woman, I could relate to many of the incidents portrayed and the best part was that my parents walked out of the theatre with a changed perspective on a few things that we had disagreed earlier on. Frankly speaking, all my life I have been very fortunate because my parents have always supported my aspirations even if it meant going against the traditional family practices. But not every girl out there is protected and encouraged in the best way possible due to a lot of underlying biases in the minds of her family. I am not saying that nothing is being done about this.
Yes, there have been baby steps taken in the right direction by a few pioneers in this space. Today, we can really see that the promotion of education from the primary schooling is happening, against just issuing a reservation quota for women. We can see that our girls are striving hard and bringing medals and rewards in all disciplines. We see women conquering almost every sphere of life, definitely with the help of their progressive family members and friends. Husbands are encouraging their wives’ career ambitions and fathers are dreaming big for their daughters. Women from the rural areas as well have started excelling with the little help they come across. And this is surely an optimistic ride which will burgeon into a tsunami of change that will sweep the society for good. After all, it’s the many drops that make an ocean.
This write-up is a small dedication to every such woman who undergoes a struggling journey and to everybody else who can take one significant step to bring about change. After all, we hail from a nation where we worship the Tri-Shakti (Durga, Lakshmi and Sarawati). It is high time we restored not just the safety and security of every woman, but the integrity and power she deserves.