Debolena Bose speculates about the notion of independence conferred upon contemporary Indian women!
“Ma, I’m leaving”, shouts out Tarun to his mom.
“Okay but don’t be late”, replies his mom.
“Fine”, says Tarun and he leaves.
“Ma, I’m going out with friends”, says Tarun’s sister, Hrishita.
“Oh! You, too, are leaving…alright…but when will you be back”, asks Mrs. Bhatt.
“In about 3 hours”, answers Hrishita.
“THREE HOURS! What will you do for such a long time?”
“Going for a movie, Ma. Please understand! The movie will take at least 2.5 hours. It will take us 15 minutes to reach the theatre and the same time to come back. That makes it 3 hours!”
“Do you really need to go for the movie? Why can’t you simply invite your friends over? All of you can sit around and chit-chat! That’s also a fun thing to do. Don’t you think so?
“Ma, it’s Friday evening! I don’t wish to sit at home. We chit-chat every day. Any way, I will be out for just 3 hours!”
“Listen, you have to be home before dusk. Do you understand? I don’t want you to be out in the night. And what kind of clothes are you wearing? The neck is so deep! How many times have I told you that capris don’t really suit you! Put on your black jeans.”
“Ma, enough now! I’m going! You’ve already delayed me by 20 minutes. In case I am late, it will be all your doing; not mine!”
“Rishu, I’m not allowing you to step out of home in these clothes. Go and CHANGE. Right now!”
(After a while) Hrishita comes back wearing jeans and a different top. “Does this make you happy?”
“Ya, this is alright! Now listen to me very carefully – don’t look at any boys in the neighbourhood. If anyone tries to speak to you, or even make an eye contact, don’t utter a word. Just move on. If you hear someone making catcalls, don’t retaliate. Also, if some passerby car stops by you to ask for an address, ignore that person and move along. Make sure the auto driver does not take you through those small alleys. Always take the road which remains crowded. Most importantly, how many of you are going? Are there any boys accompanying you?”
“No Ma! Sujata, Priya, Poonam and I – four of us are going for the movie.”
“Four girls ALL ALONE”!!!
“Ma, be reasonable. How can four girls be alone? We are four of us and we can take care of each other. Don’t worry!”
“Abhinav and Hritik could have accompanied you. Had you informed me about your plans earlier, I would have asked you brother to drop you off to the theatre! Any way, one more important thing – don’t befriend strangers in the movie hall. In case, someone offers you popcorn, politely refuse. And yes, COME HOME EARLY!”
“Yes Ma, thanks for the advice-cum-lecture. Now, if you are done, can I leave?”
So, how many of you have gone through this routine? Raise your hands! I’m sure all of you have! I guess this has now become a part of our cultural heritage. Just like we brag about our ancient monuments, art and culture, so can we boast about the number of Hrishitas and Mrs. Bhatts our country has created.
When I was 6 years old, my mom warned me about strangers for the first time. “Don’t talk to strangers”. “Don’t accept chocolates from them”. “Keep your eyes open, always”. By the time I turned 10, strange questions poured in – “Why do you have to smile at everyone beta? A familiar face does not mean that you have to smile brightly. You are inviting trouble. When you grow up, you need to have such a personality that people are afraid to approach you.”
Such questions and remarks are a part ‘n parcel of every girl’s life in India, starting from the prominent metro cities to the small towns. A girl has to be chaperoned wherever she goes, otherwise some invisible hands will grasp at her and tug at her virtue or pull it off completely. And, of course, since the family’s honor rests on their female’s virtue, it has to be guarded with utmost care!
India became independent 66 years ago. Yet, half the country is still under the throes of bondage! Yes, bondage it is! The captivity of half the population of the country is not represented by heavy iron chains or handcuffs, but something more subtle, therefore, more powerful and long-lasting – lustful eyes, a picture of unbridled animalistic instincts. In the largest democracy of the world, half the population of India can’t move about freely, whenever they want to, in whichever way they wish to, wearing whatever they feel like! If this is not a gross failure of democracy, human rights and civil liberties, then what is it!
What I fail to understand is that in a country where female deities are more revered than their male counterparts, how can such brazen acts of irreverence happen towards women? What are we doing about these acts? Most importantly, can we really solve this problem? Or, may be, we can pray to God for our safety every time we step out of the lakshman rekha of our home. If we are able to come back home with only a few catcalls and some lewd gazes, we can consider ourselves lucky! If not, probably we are paying for the sins committed in our previous birth!
If I am able to reach the age of 70 unharmed, perhaps I will go on some grand pilgrimage to thank God for keeping me safe!
Oh shit! Recently, there was some news about a 70-year old woman being raped by a neighbor! Ok, maybe I will pay my regards to God only when I have a tete-a-tete with him after death!