Saturday, 29 December 2012

A comment on Indian culture

One day earlier this month, I found a stream of visitors landing on my blog. This was surprising for I had been neglecting my blog, had not posted for weeks and was used to seeing only one or two visitors stop by. Feedjit and Flagcounter informed that they were from Denmark.

The next day, I had an unusual friend request. It was from a young man from Denmark, a student in a business school. I discovered that my blog was part of a curriculum designed to teach the young students about culture. A creative teacher had based a set of questions on my blog.

My blog is titled the india of today for I meant to post about things that bothered and amazed me about this land. But posts that are unfavourable far exceed the positive ones. And my first reaction was – Oh! what a negative image of India I must be giving out. My blog was all about sexual harassment, the violence women face, about rape, the horrendously stupid judgments given by our judges, men in authority who made idiotic pronouncements about women, while this land I called home had much more to offer... its rich arts, its spiritual heritage, its cuisine, its freedom to speak out, which we the people so zealously guarded. Was my blog, a comment on Indian culture?

My blog is a long rant against the system and the way it affects me as a woman in today's India. Had I been living as a brown skin woman in Europe, it might have been about race. For on my very first trip there, the few hours that I spent in Amsterdam, I was made very conscious of the colour of my skin by a shop assistant at a food kiosk, who despite repeated requests did not attend to me.

My earliest recollection of something not being right in being a girl in India was when I found my aunt crying at the birth of my sister. A third daughter? How unfortunate! was the refrain from relatives and neighbours. Why were daughters unfortunate? It was something I would learn as I grew in a middle class north Indian family. As a growing girl who travelled by public bus to get a college education, as a young woman who went out to work using public transport, as someone who had to work late at the job I chose to do, I was wary of sexual harassment every waking moment I was out on Delhi’s streets. I could not let my guard down. As a mother, I have tried to raise my daughters to be conscious of this daily violence, be aware of its dangers and to be safe. As a mother, much of my effort went in training them to survive the city, the system.

This is what concerns me today as an Indian woman. The mindset of our politicians, our police and our judges horrifies me no end. For it curbs my movement, it stifles me, it prevents me from being free. The way female foetuses get aborted here, the manner in which the girl child is treated by the family, the control Indian men feel they should exercise on women, the commodification of the woman as a sex object in our films, in the raunchy item numbers, the moral police that go around slapping women for being in a bar or enjoying an evening out with a friend, where children even babies are raped. Was this contemporary Indian culture? And as I debated….

Another horrific gangrape happened. A 23-year-old medical student was brutally raped while her friend was beaten up by six men in a bus. They felt they had the right to question the couple as to why they were out! And then they were thrown out of the bus and left to die. It is amazing that not one of the six men felt that they should not be behaving in this fashion. Not one of them made an effort to stop others from commiting the crime. After their heinous act, we are told they went about their normal routine, showing no guilt, no remorse.

But this time something snapped in Delhi. Its young girls had had enough and were not prepared to take it anymore. And they came out to voice their protest, to demand justice for the medical student, to demand that our politicians, the police and the judicial system acts… With these young school and college girls were middle aged women. Even a 70 plus I know braved the cold winter to register her protest at India Gate. And there were a large number of men, who are fed up of this crass apathy towards dealing with one of the most serious problems of our times - verbal and physical violence on women.

And yes, it is sad but true that this violence, this ill treatment of girls and women personifies contemporary Indian culture.

But the new Indian woman, the middle class, the educated, is not prepared to take it any longer. She is forcing society to act. 

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