This is a piece I wrote for SheThePeople as a year-end article in 2018. I was going through the article and realised that unfortunately, not much has changed for women’s safety this year either. How long will this struggle for our basic rights continue?
As we sign off for the year and spend the last week wishing everyone in our networks ‘Happy Holidays’ and finally snuggle under the blankets with cups of hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies (coz we all have *that* box left over from that Christmas Party which we accidently missed serving the kids, don’t we? What?! Am I the only one!), I can’t help but reminisce over the year gone by.
At the face of it seems like the year went well for women. We had some landmark judgements by the Supreme Court like Triple Talaq getting revoked, Sabarimala doors finally opening to women, Section 377 decriminalising homosexuality. The MeToo movement took mammoth proportions of its own with many women finally coming out to speak against the heinous crimes committed against them. Bollywood finally came of age, and gave us strong women centric movies like Raazi, Hitchki, Manmarziyaan and Badhaai Ho. Women sportspersons like M C Mary Kom, Hima Das, PV Sindhu broke many a barriers, and stereotypes, giving us new role models to look up to. So we should be happy…. right?
Women’s Safety Rights
Honestly lot of what has happened is still on paper, and not in practice. And LOT is not in paper either. Women’s safety has become the biggest concern world over, and more so in India. The conditions just don’t seem to be improving whichever the Government. There are more and more gruesome cases of rape in news every single day. Honestly, there are nights I don’t sleep, thinking about why and how I will raise my girls in this country. Or for that matter any country. Which city in the world can I confidently say is safe for women? Where there is no fear of getting raped or trafficked if you return home late at night from work? If you know the answer, please do tell me. I will relocate there with my girls. Faster than you can ever imagine.
Marital Rape Law
Now why this law has not been passed is something I never understood. A woman in marriage can never say ‘No’!? Sex in India is always consensual between husband and wife?! Supposedly it should be, but is it? Or must she consent to sex every time just because she let you put sindoor on her forehead? And her ‘No’ will suddenly have meaning because she is married (because of course before marriage it surely doesn’t!) Every Indian male gives utmost respect to his wife? And please don’t even get me started on Domestic Abuse. How much more blind can the law makers be? The only reason I can think of why this law doesn’t exist is because women are grossly under–represented in Indian Judicial system and Politics. I do agree the line is thin, and most cases difficult to prove. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have laws the protect women who might be subjected to forced sex day-in and day-out in the name of marriage right? Time we open our eyes. And protect our women.
Me Too Part 2
So we had many women who came out, and finally spoke against the men who might have subject them to all kinds of atrocities thanks to the tremendous power they held due to their positions. Bollywood actors spearheaded the movement with confessions coming out of the closet, sometimes after years. There were many who questioned ‘Why now?’ My opinion is at least they finally came out. But for every one woman who came out, there would be many others who would still have maintained their silence for the fear of being judged. ‘Log kya kahenge?’ looms bigger than the cause that women will finally feel safe in their workplaces, colleges, schools and other institutions, if all the stories came out, and perpetrators were sure they would be punished for such acts.
I too did not speak out even though I wanted to say so much, and consider myself a staunch feminist. I had been groped many a times as a young girl, the most shaking incident being one where the said groping happened in Bhool Bhulaiya, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. I was just 16, had gone for an International level interschool competition, and had no idea how sick the mindset of people could be as Gujarat where I born and brought up was a comparatively safe place. I still remember that I just stood there not knowing how to react. I did not scream. I did not call anyone. I did not cry for help. I just froze, scared to react, and scared to think what would happen if someone knew. Never once did it occur to me that the guy may be punished. That’s how sure girls and women are that they will NOT get justice. I have kept this on my chest for 20 years now. Ah, this feels good. And hope it gives strength to all of you who haven’t spoken out yet. Please do it. The incident could be small or big. For the sake of your daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, friends, girlfriends, colleagues. Let the nasty men know they will be named and shamed for these seemingly ‘Aisa toh hamesha hi hota hai’ acts.
Aisa kabhi nahi hona chahiye. Period.
Job Discrimination and Pay Inequality
Despite all the hullabaloo around making organisations diversity friendly and inclusive, and innumerable Return to Work Mother Programs in the industry, I still feel there is a lot to be achieved in this arena. There is a definite job discrimination between a MAN who has two kids versus a WOMAN who has two kids applying for the same job with same qualifications. I have personally faced this time and again as I was trying to get back to a corporate role after a break. I might be the most qualified candidate for the job, but somehow the fact that I had two breaks overshadowed it all…I had two kids people! It kinda doesn’t happen ‘on the job’! Time and again, the same question gets asked in the interview, ‘Why did you take a break?’ Somehow ‘to be with my kids in their growing years’ does not cut the picture of a go-getter who is ambitious and can achieve her goals, let alone the organisations. The skills acquired of multi-tasking, time management, communication, negotiation and still having the drive to get back up on my feet doesn’t count. Let us not even talk about why there is lack of women in leadership. You can see above why. Because we penalise mothers for being with their children and taking care of their families. Because we make the working ones feel guilty of leaving the kids with a caretaker. Because a woman can never have it all. A stay-at-home one is non-ambitious and a working one is an aggressive bitch. Of course, a man can have career and family. Where is a question of balancing it all for him? It doesn’t exist because in most cases, he doesn’t balance. Did I hear always ‘a woman behind every successful man’ quote somewhere in the background? Well, it’s true! But can women do it all? I would like to believe so!! We are the superior beings after all! Just centuries of beating has made us forget what we are worth. I am sure there will be many mothers reading this piece who would agree with me. Let us be each other’s strength sisters. Let us build each other up.
Women’s Health Awareness
After watching PadMan, I felt Thank God! Finally we are talking pads and periods in this country. I think there is sheer ignorance and tendency to shove under the carpet anything related to women, especially women’s health issues – menstruation, child birth, hormonal changes, PCOD, menopause and more. God forbid if you ever even mention mental health issues like Post-Partum Depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, menopausal changes or any other issues which might require a visit to Mental Health Practitioner for one to get better medically. Of course we are always bitches because we are always PMSing! Throughout the month apparently! I think I was born PMSing! Why would we need a psychologist? Women are supposed to be calm, in control, well- mannered, sweet angel like creatures who are versions of God himself right? How can they have depression? Or anger issues? You must always be happy. And never talk about these things… like never ever… Otherwise someone will call us mad. Centuries ago such women were branded as witches. I believe these witches must be the first feminists of the world. Who dared to speak? Who dared to question? And they were burned. Not very different today, is it?
I think I have ranted enough for this year, and must leave some for the next too. So even though a lot was done this year, we have a long way to declare any year ‘The Year of Women’. At least the ball got rolling for making our surroundings a congenial, women – friendly, safe spaces, where every woman can think and behave freely. We still have a long way to go so that she can be reassured that she would reach home safely, whatever the time of the day.
So, with hope in our hearts, let us usher in the New Year with a silent pledge to try to challenge these societal stereotypes, keep breaking barriers and make this world a better place for our coming generations – both women and men.