Friday, December 16, 2011

Tackling An Assault - Physical,Verbal or Emotional

Being born a woman in India has its own fabulous set of advantages - but when have we ever harped on the advantages when you can whinge about the disadvantages?

I fancy myself as fiercely independent and capable of taking care of myself. But years of being told that as a woman, I need to be more wary than were I a boy has somewhere left its tell-tale marks on my psyche. It isn't debilitating, but there is a niggle when you find yourself in unknown territory - somewhere at the back of my head a feeling of inadequacy I'm not a man.

Maybe it's a sum-total of our lives- my small-city upbringing ( You can't call Kochi small town, can you?) dictated that I was home before 7, dress codes of what could be worn and what shouldn't even be attempted was unspoken ( can you imagine that in the late 90s, very few girls in my class wore sleeveless kurtas while taking the bus to college, and jeans was like an occasional indulgence with oversized shirts borrowed from our brothers), I wasn't seen loitering anywhere near the male-dominated watering holes of the city ( Point to be noted - its only recently that lounges and pubs have appeared, long after I left the city. Till then all that existed where those multi-coloured, garish bars that you wouldn't even turn and look at), went for movies even with family early enough to be back home by 8.30!

So what was the lesson inherent in all this? Its a big bad world out there, you have to take care of yourself when alone and be inconspicuous and part of a group when with family so as to not draw unwarranted attention to yourself. Why? Because you could never trust the intentions of the unseen man out there - he has not been told to fence his thoughts and intentions to women of his circle - just about anyone is fair game. Our ideas of morality and permissibility came circumscribed - there was even an unspoken code on which men from the family qualified as safe escorts on evenings out.

That was about growing up, When I moved out of Kochi, first to study and then due to work, I realised that the big bad world my parents protected my life from was in fact, more sly in unseen ways.

The smiling stranger who was your colleague could turn out to be your stalker as my friend found out - for over sixteen years, she has been at the butt of his stalking - messages, marriage proposals, threats, dirty innuendos - you name it, she has seen it all. The landlord who takes unholy interest in the comings and goings into your apartment by asking neighbours to 'keep an eye out'. The anonymous 'well-wisher' that my cousin has is a compulsive mailer, the spouse, the boss and family and even a few of the family members are on the receiving end of messages that 'reveal' how promotions have been achieved so fast, so high, while leaving hardworking people like the 'wellwisher' on the fringes, unappreciated and unseen.

Every day seems to require you to wear a mantle and a shining armour - the armour shined not your specification but that of the society around you. Why do we have to constantly present certificates of being good and therefore warrant immunity from having to live a life strictly curtailed so as to avoid these kind of harassment? How can others get away with passing random judgements and enjoy the salacious thrill of malicious gossip sticking on to our personas like pesky post-its?

We speak of equality, but mentally we need to be treated as equals - you throw mud, I throw a mountain back at you. Beware! And there are thousands out there. Strangely, I think my generation (in the Indian context) is at the cusp of once-restricted always unsure upbringing and an all-permitted, no holds barred adulthood.

What it leaves in its wake is a duality - of existence, thought and action. I want to rise above it, be able to debate why things are the way they are and how to tackle issues that are not of my creation nor my responsibility. How can I be held culpable?


  1. Hey welcome back!Good to see you updated on my Google reader.Thoughtful post.Its gonna take a generations to reach the point of equality in their minds.Get back by telling yourself that you are superior when such people cross your path and most importantly act the same to make them feel inferior.They may revert back with vengeance but some may back off actually.I have experienced that.
    Keep writing!Good to see you:)

  2. Sharmila: Wonderful to hear from you, it is great to connect again. It is when you start blogging again that you realise what was missing when you weren't. In India, unfortunately, we have extremes - extreme likes, dislikes, even reactions! So if you talk equality,you are a bra-burning feminist, if you talk of retaliation- you are a man pretending to be a woman. There are far too many stereotypes and I hope it doesnt take too many generations like you fear for better sense and appreciation to prevail.. :)

  3. i think in india, attitude towards women can get down right dirty...abroad (i dont know...but im guessing most men are the same maybe not so obvious)its funny... indian religions have devi's given equal importance to the male gods... stories which prove that male and female gods(energies, as i like to call it) cant exist without one another...but these lessons when it comes to normal mortals take form of "whoever is physically stronger can get the shit away with anything"

    an ambitious man will get a stay at home wife, who is supportive, pamper his ego, be a maid in the mornings and a whore at night...but what about a woman, who has her own dreams and hopes? god forbid if she has a personality of her own...then she is a threat to the society...esp. to men who are ambitious..

    in some places of north india a woman is expected not just change her surname, but also the name which she has grown up with..!!! what is that other than trying to break down the person in her so she can be moulded to suit her husband's life.

    ok i better stop now.... my bp is going up..i can go on and on about this....:) good article deeps..


  4. one more thing...i read somewhere the unit (i forgot whats the exact word for the pain unit) is 45 for a normal man...a woman in labour goes upto 57....

    i guess this answers for itself why women generally tolerate other nonsenses ...its because it hardly matters...we know better:)

  5. Hmmm...Interesting, Jo, that's a very interesting trivia. I guess the post resonated with you, :)

  6. I'm from kochi and totally agree with you..I love my city but I hate it for being unsafe for women.Not safe in terms of verbal and physical assaults on women.

    I ended up not wearing jeans while travelling in bus and eventually avoiding buses altogether.

    I don't get turned on when if I see a guy with six pack abs standing in the bus stop or when I see a man's legs under his mundu.Then why should a man get an urge to touch me when I am wearing a skirt?

  7. Psych Babbler: lovely to reconnect with you :) writing is cathartic but often when life and mundane existential angst takes over, blogging becea the first lamb to be sacrificed! But lovely to reconnect :)

    Blue Lotus: shared contexts makes empathy and understanding sweeter, doesnt it? Keep reading when ypu can and Kochi will keep peeping time and time again :)

  8. Gender equality is just a pretty word used loosely by everyone at every opportune moment with little thought. In reality, what exists is a cosmetically designed idea of one, a bubble ready to burst at the first sight of the shiny tip of a needle. I think of myself as an independent woman but its also true that i deal with such similar situations day in and day out and i am forced to take a deep breath, back down a little bit and assess what i need to do next - something which is acceptable by the society. There's a lot of premium placed on being 'non-controversial' and at the end of the day i will try to be exactly that by trying to stay well within the line the world around me has drawn for me.. Which leads me to think am i really what i think i am or am i mocking myself when i think i am an independent woman, free willed and free spirited?

  9. Very existential questions those. Not just about being an Indian girl and thereafter a woman. But also about the inherently hypocritical Indian ethos. Respect the woman. Worship them. Then go ahead and enslave them. suppress them. Molest them. And I dare not carry on. I have a mother, four sisters, a wife, two daughters and a few friends.

    Nice to see you back in action.

  10. Well put, USP..:)Its refreshing to hear men accept and understand what we are trying to vocalise about a situation that leaves us balancing on a thin line - neither conservative, nor liberated enough..Even more, I don;t know how we can go about creating a society where there is awareness and the willingness to not feel the need to dominate and assert masculinity for the sake of preserving an erstwhile bastion... Nice to reconnect with you! :)

  11. you are right and as long as the mindsets dont change nothing will... but what is important is the onset of the conflict which will resolve hopefully for the better

  12. I used to read ur blog long long ago..but somehow had forgotten to follow it, n now I rediscovered it, glad about that..n m following you now :)

  13. Magiceye: Pertinent fact foreseeing a conflict is equally dangerous..

    Ana_treek: I love your name..:) And since it is so unique, I remember you well.. Am glad to know you love reading what I have to say..:)

  14. Hi, hopped over from IHM's and really liked your blog. Subscribing :-)

    1. Thank you for the lovely words scribblehappy...Hope you do enjoy the blog, would love to hear from you.

  15. You are right when you say “good” women have their freedom to choose what they wear, who they talk to and what they say severely curtailed. Yet, being “good” doesn’t guarantee immunity from some badly behaved oafs. Their brains are in their ... (A “good” woman won’t say it :) Such brains start ticking overtime at the mere sight of a woman, even if she is in the dowdiest of clothes and talks only to other women. The best course of action is to be good if you want to, but be sensible and be prepared – perhaps a martial arts skill, a pepper spray, yelling at offenders if you are in a crowd, no wandering off all by yourself in certain areas...