Friday, 01 May 2015 08:06

A girl’s day in Delhi Metro and beyond

 I was leaning my head against one of those glass-frames between which the metro seats are placed and he was standing on the other side of the glass barrier. He started tracing the airport line on the map of the Delhi metro printed on the glass and his finger stopped right where my face was, just the glass in between. I looked at him and there he was shamelessly making kissing sounds at me. He looked as if he had just graduated from holding his mother’s hand in the women compartment of the metro. Am I cursing myself for not having chosen the women’s compartment to travel in? Not right then because I was astonished by the act of this young 12 or maybe 13 year-old-boy. And we call these types of behaviors as “animalistic”, “brutish”, “bestial” etc. but in contrast to animals, human behavior is shaped by environment rather than instinct. Whatever the biological differences between males and females, it is the culture of a society which exerts most influence. And to top it all, as I was getting off at Chhatarpur, the boy yells “Chinky” at me. “Ah superb!” I thought to myself. He could have well just gone ahead and cupped one of my breast because all he’d get is 3 years in Juvenile Correction or probably less or probably just be let off the hook. I’m reminded of a comment my friend made, that the only two women who would feel safe in Delhi would be Sheila Dixit and Sonia Gandhi. Well, big thanks to the Indian Government for making all their women feel “so safe”.

So if 12 or 13 years old in India were going around making kissing sounds at women or yelling racially discriminatory terms then there’s something terribly wrong with our culture and the kind of society and environment our male children are being raised in. The socialization into gender roles in our country is warped. The media portrays men and women in their traditional roles further justifying men’s aggressiveness, promiscuity, etc. and also portraying women to be of coy nature and with utmost loyalty towards their pati parmeshwars. And also empowered women wear skimpy clothes and are portrayed as shrews, do not have husbands hence they sleep around and they also do an item number or two in the movie. I read this article published by Forbes on how Indira Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo) feels why women can’t have it all, she doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges that so many professional women struggle with today. Also at the session organized by the FICCI Ladies organization held in July 2014, she talked about how tough a work it is to look for balance in a male privileged society. And the way Bollywood or K-serials portray women who are at the top is demeaning to the kind of hard work and effort it has taken for women who have actually accomplished it. 

Now we all know that racism is deeply rooted in the human proclivity to draw a line between “us” and “them”. But what it is that fuels this is the difference in outward physical appearance. And we are a country that has been colonized, so to a certain extent we experience inferiority complex when it comes to the Anglo-Saxons or any foreigner for that matter.  But then again women from western countries are considered easy because there’s a belief equally held by Indian men and women alike that these foreigners have no values i.e. “sanskaar” or concepts like “izzat” or family honour or the sanctity of a Bharatiya nari. But in reality it’s completely absurd to take a woman’s behavior out of its cultural context. Human cultures are diverse and endlessly variable and human behavior is never universal. This unnecessary judgment is also extended to women who dress in western attire because then they are assumed to have western values, openness to sexual advances (whether wanted or unwanted is just out of the question), in conclusion just assuming that all behavior henceforth corresponds to that of the “white world”. Indian women are not compelled to certain behaviors but if they choose to be less coy or wear western attire then it goes against the biological and social dispositions. Here’s something interesting that I heard about a certain actress who wore a short fitted dress in a song scene in a Tamil movie, my Tamil friend quips in,” She’s obviously not Tamil, Tamil women don’t wear such clothes”. Most of us are so culture-centric that we think one’s own culture is more superior to everyone else, one’s society’s women are more “decent” and “well-behaved” but of course we can still rape them if we want and then throw their bodies off in gunny sacks. So what is the problem? Is it in between a woman’s legs? By embracing ideas of equal rights, equal pay, etc. are we opening up our legs and welcoming unwanted advances? Or by holding onto “sanskaar” and “shudh” ideas of “bharatiya nari” are we closing them up only for them to be forced open and render ourselves helpless to rape?

When I walk from my hostel to Madras University, I’m covering as much skin as the Tamil girl walking in front of me but in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and the Tamil woman behind the counter at the bank with her mid-riff and back revealed in a saree is showing more skin than I am. But drape a saree over me and I’m stared at like I just tried to eat cow dung off the street. We should understand race and gender as simultaneous forces. Northeastern women suffer from disadvantages because they are “chinky” and because they are “women”. Each inequality reinforces and multiplies each of the other inequalities. Problems stem from, gender X race rather than gender + race. The interplay of race and gender is shaping my life and every other northeastern woman’s life. My whole life has been about fighting cultural stereotypes and gender disparities. We all know of Arvind Kejriwal’s oath and what he has promised for women security in Delhi but it needs better understanding, more attention. Because out of the number of women sexually assaulted in Delhi, most of them are northeastern women. Because diverse culture demands diverse responses to common problems with culture/cluster/group specific respectable engagement. Ethno-centric presumptions should be challenged because I am a northeastern woman and I’m not open to every kind of sexual advances. We humans operate in the presumption that all of us experience the same world. We forget that our understanding of the society will differ from theirs. The reality is different and our subjective understanding of the world fails us.

Read 41 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 September 2018 09:02

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