Hot topic these days. People all around talk about gender bias at work, home, feticide and other unspeakable atrocities on women in India. With everyone giving their unsought opinions on issues faced by womankind, let me try to put across a different unsolicited perspective.
I was born in a middle class household in the 70’s. I had a brother and all of our family friends were similarly sized with a son and a daughter each. I did not know what gender meant, for a pretty long time, till I crammed my std VII Biology textbook. All of us played together, boys and girls and there were no taboos. Nobody ever told me not to play with boys or to learn sewing because I was a girl. I remember street-fighting with boys, sitting on them and pummeling them and my parents just indulged me – बड़ी होकर गुंडी बनेगी.
My first encounter with gender bias came, unexpectedly, from my dad, who believed and told me categorically- Girls are not good in Math. In his mind it was absolutely clear that he wanted his son to be an engineer and daughter to be a doctor, as traditionally planned during the 80’s. Me being a rebel and because I only wanted to do what my bro did, told him I want to be an engineer. He laughed at me. I was incensed to limit, so much so that I went to school and started sitting for the Math class, without letting him know. He came to know close to 2 years later when he had to sign my board examination form and declared- you are going to fail. Always up to the challenge, I took the exam and not just cleared but with pretty awesome grades. Since then, my dad has never dared utter a word about something girls cannot do.
I did face gender bias in College since in my state, girl education was virtually free, and I did not have to pay any fee. I did not ask for that bias and my dad was amply able to provide for my education, but I am just thinking about the thousands of others who would have benefited by this. Subsidized education was a perk I enjoyed, being a girl child in Rajasthan.
Always used to travelling everywhere alone, my next encounter with gender bias was when my dear MIL insisted that somebody drop me and pick me up if I had to go someplace. Nooo! I can manage myself and I feel restricted if I have an escort. But for the initial couple of years post marriage, she did unto me as was done unto her. Once she realized that it is impossible to keep up with my frequent travels, it slowly ceased.
My MIL also believes in the fact that the woman of the house must cook and pamper and spoil her husband- the way she does. Her exact words were “रोटी तो औरत को ही बनानी पड़ती हैं चाहे कितनी बड़ी नौकरी कर लो”. And she is the live example. But she was also the one who suggested I hire a maid for cooking, looking at my work hours. Yeah, in Indian households, the husband expects the wife to cook and clean and serve while he enthusiastically watches the sports channel or comments on the how badly the government is functioning. But did that make me a lesser person? In fact, me and my husband have divided the chores- he manages investments and bank work and travels and credit card payments, insurance and all the related things my feminine mind cannot even begin to fathom. I so much prefer the cooking and cleaning and shopping and teaching- I can manage that quite well, not sure if I could digest my hubby’s culinary efforts. (BTW, if I ask my husband to even give me a glass of water- my MIL still complains – मेरे बेटे को काम बोला!)
Another strong example of gender bias in my family is that I earn more than my husband and everyone is pretty cool with that. There has never been a question around the man-of-the-house syndrome and my husband still comes home and watches TV and hogs the remote while I prefer to read a book. (and I am the unpaid driver too)
Domestic violence! I freely use my hands and words to hit my husband dearest, whenever he threatens to go to “पत्नी-पीड़ित मोर्चा” and when I am in a good mood. Of course we fight, and I am an equal contributor and partner in crime so why should I complain? And when I am ill, I have never seen my husband leave me for a wink. For better or for worse..
When I used to drive my Scorpio out on the Noida streets, I have actually seen people fall off their 2 wheeler’s because they can’t imagine in their wildest dreams a woman driving a SUV. Gender bias?
Workplace discrimination! There was this guy who told me he cannot work with a woman boss. And I reminded him “The best man for the job is a Woman” He resigned soon after. But then that was his problem, not mine. I get paid – fair and square – and sometimes so much that an organization had to hand me the pink slip to reduce cost. That is what happens when you are too good for your own good. Some people prefer to face the bias- I had this young girl in my office come and complain- My manager asked me to stay late, but I am a female! Seriously. When you expect equal pay and equal opportunity, working equally hard is a responsibility that tags along.
Is it a man’s world? Sure enough. But in today’s urban Indian world, a lot of us are emancipated enough. As an author interestingly wrote (not verbatim) – If women could reproduce on their own, the need for men in the world would diminish and by the theory of evolution, they would get extinct.
On a more sober note, as anyone who has ever stayed in Delhi would know, there are morons on the road who paw you and pass lewd remarks and you are powerless to do anything about it. Nothing is worse than the violated and sick feeling you have, when a two-wheeler runs past you, an arm pops out, touches you and the guy disappears in the night. When you are twenty and one, these things happen and they happened to me as well. What did I do? Nothing. You just move on, put it behind, and hope that someday they would be punished. But I am definitely not planning to ruin my life for those percentage of people who don’t deserve a major mention.
A lot of people, my close friends and family, my relatives and co-workers are people who have helped make this world a better place for me. Some of my best friends are men (not that I have a bias against women) This time, this century, urban India is a good place to be. Like Dickens put it “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…” I am not shutting my eyes to Nirbhaya and other calamities that happen all around me, but for every such case that happens, remember that there are also 1000 others who have never faced a major bias. And hope and believe that tomorrow the ratio will just get better.