By Sweta Ojha

In your little black dress, In your company of male friends, In your fearless moves, In you leaving the house at hours abused. In your independent tours, In your house of bachelors aloof. In you and in me , provocation strives. Yet a one year old is victimized. Perhaps , the diaper used is wrong […]

via You and I provoke his mind. — Sweta Ojha

The empowered martyr

When watching the character portrayed by Priyanka Chopra in दिल धड़कने दो, I felt a sense of familiarity. I have met this personality before. She is smart but confused. She is too sensitive, is hurt by the insensitive remarks made by the feudal males around. Forever overshadowed by a dominating father and later a passive aggressive husband, a mother who does not think much beyond her social circle and a mother-in law who has I-have-this-ailment-dialogues for every occasion, where can she express herself, where can she let her hair down? Her only outlet is her brother who understands without the need for words. She has everything, a husband who can provide for her, a job, she goes out of way to be supportive to all, but she is still the “daughter” and the wife who has to bow to everyone’s wishes.

No, this is not a film review. This is about this character, this person who a lot of us can relate to and maybe find within us and around us. And whether she is really empowered. The famous dialogue “I allow her to work so she is empowered” is so clichéd yet a fact we encounter daily. I kept on thinking about it long after I came back home. We made fun of it. “I allow you to make tea”. But the reality remains that you and I have heard this before. The world is changing. But the old world, with its own charm, had its own nasty viewpoints some of which still linger. I have heard my MIL remark “हम नहीं allow करते तो तुम कुछ नहीं कर सकती थी”, many years back. No, I actually respect her a lot, she comes from a generation where she was a pioneer in many respects having worked most of her life while most of her peers just cooked, slaved around at home and expected the same from all  बहू’s  around. I get the feeling that she says it more to herself, convincing herself that is the case and therefore holding her head high in front of the-esteemed-mom-in law-circle.

One of my friends from school days, I still remember, stayed right next door, when I would go to her home in the evening, she would be making chapatis for the family. – we were maybe in class VI at that time. Her mom would sit around not doing a thing. This girl, barely in her teens, had to make 40-50 chapatis before she was allowed to play with me. And if she resisted, her mom would give her a tight slap in front of everyone with dialogues like “चूल्हे में झोक दूंगी”. I have no idea where she is now and did she carry the same baggage in her next phase of life or she has changed. Would she be able to say No to her husband or she would remember that slap and comply.

My dad was a dominating husband, at times he would treat my mother pretty shabbily. She was a working woman, but had no say in any kind of decision-making in the family. She hardly ever had money to call her own and at times had to hide money from her husband in order to meet her social responsibilities. There were times when she would devalue herself so much, and declare she was dumb that is why her husband would treat her so. She could not even buy a saree without seeking permission. A generation earlier but I can see the similarities between her and this character portrayed by Priyanka. She would do great in her job, everyone would admire her, except her own family, who would treat her like dirt.

This is not about being a woman, it is about treating human beings with respect, not changing the level of respect because the person is a female.  My maid in Delhi would come to work beaten black and blue by her drunk husband and I would be more upset than her. Tell her, Let us go to the police and she would refuse. She said she had nowhere to go. I told her I’ll give her shelter, she still refused. She would laugh with a black eye and a broken tooth but still go and give all her earnings to him. Many educated ladies I know are in the similar boat- don’t have anywhere to go. So they deal with the sufferings- not silently any more- nobody does a Nirupa Rai, they fight, they suffer and they comply. I feel so strongly that females must be financially independent as far as possible, so when you have a strong need, you can step up for yourself and call it quits and move on. Priyanka needed an anchor before she could take the step. But are we so weak? A person I am very close to, is unhappy in her marriage, but she has a sick child and is not qualified enough to earn. So she survives in a loveless relationship with a husband who only comes home to eat and sleep, 7 days a week and gives her money to run the house and feed the family. Yes, he does provide for her. Maybe she should be happy in her silent suffering.

In Maharashtra, a lot of women work. And support their husbands. My maids earn more than their husbands and sons but still undergo the torture of being beaten at times and when they fall ill, there is nobody to look after them. But the social stigma still remains, the सिन्दूर  has to be there, the husband must be fed, even if they go hungry. Remember the character played by Sridevi in English Vinglish. Wasn’t that a classic example of a similar case. Someone who is gently smothered, unintentionally, who wants to break free, but within her social bounds. You need a will of steel and a heart of gold to be that and do that.

The biggest problem with us women is that we do not give ourselves the respect we deserve, we do not speak up for ourselves. In our mind we are still the commoners or slaves and our husbands and sons’ the Kings and the Princes’. The day we realize we are all equal, the world will be different. By treating your male counterparts as superior beings, we are not doing a favour to them. We are sending them the wrong signals and just when they get used to it, we will blame them for not supporting us in household work or other needs. But then kings don’t do that. Is sacrifice the way of expressing our love or our gratitude in being provided for?

Recently a woman employee in my office resigned. In a strange manner. Her husband called up to say she is not coming to work any more. When she was called, her husband picked up. She would not even come to the phone. After a number of discussions, she just came and said I can’t work for personal reasons and refused to elaborate. I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances that compelled her to take such a step.

And how we love to make sacrifices and tell it out loud. We will eat after feeding everyone else (I do that too). We will not say No even if we have a headache. we will leave our jobs to accommodate the family. Someone I know has been cribbing her ever since I know her- All my life I am sacrificing for my husband and my children and I have done nothing for myself. Why didn’t you? If you had the will power and strong desire to do something for yourself, nobody would have stopped you. Being a martyr and blaming others is the easy way. India is a free nation, we don’t need martyrs any more, voluntary or involuntary, even empowered ones.

A contrarian view on Gender Bias

A contrarian view on Gender Bias

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.