Sunday 18 October 2015

What is it like to be born a girl in India?

I read a very well written editorial piece yesterday in the Mint titled 'What is it like to be an Indian Muslim?'  A fairly well written piece, the writer had me do a double take when he concluded with the following:

"..It is a fine thing to be male, middle class and Hindu in India. Even in a deprived part of the world, one is privileged.."

I did not think too hard into that until last evening when I was driving back home. But to explain that, let me rewind a little.

The very fact that I am writing something titled thus, seems inappropriate to the hilt. I consider myself lucky and privileged, to have been brought up in a family that does not differentiate between boys and girls. They actually wanted two girls and we decided to fulfill their wishes. We grew up with equal opportunities, being told we must make a mark in the world and with freedom that millions don't have.

Unfortunately, this differentiation is so deeply entrenched in our belief structure that it shows up when you least expect it. When I was driving home at the extremely respectable time of 9:45pm, I found myself urging the car to go a tad faster, lest I receive an sms asking where I was and when I would get home. I usually make it a point to get home by 10pm if I am driving alone or else try to get a friend or a friend's brother/dad to follow me home.

Take a minute to think about that. I am 33 years old, yet I or my family does not have the confidence that I can spend a languid night out and come back when I want to.

I do not remember any guy I know being asked a similar question, with the same intention. If a guy is asked what time he will get home, it is either from a logistical point of view (does he have the keys to enter?) or that you'd prefer him to come earlier to spend time with you. But it's never he 'should' be home by 11.

'Should'. The connotation that I tried to understand one day.

Now that I work in an office set-up again, I get free to go out only by around 7:30-8. Take Delhi distances and traffic, which means that wherever I wish to go, I will only reach by 8:30-9. And I should be home by 10...which means I should spend only 15 minutes at the place I plan to go to?? Ridiculous much??

To understand this 'should', I sat down with my parents recently and asked them why they felt so uneasy if I were to come home late. Safety was the obvious point, which I agreed to and said I'll keep something in the car, download an app, msg them where I am, when I leave and be followed if it is beyond 10:30. After a little hesitation, my extremely-modern parents also let it slip that it doesn't seem 'nice' if girls are out in the night. Ok then. Let me reiterate. I am 33, fairly balanced a person, have friends who are equally so and whom my family 'approves' of, when I go out, if I go out, I'd probably go for dinner or to a new place opened up; yet, if someone saw me out with my friends (in an extremely respectable place) at 10pm, it would not seem 'nice. I wonder what those people would be doing there if it is not a place I should be at. I also wonder if the same point would have been put forth if it were a guy who was out for drinks with his pals. It wouldn't.

I am extremely privileged. I do believe that. However, if such an incredibly deep bias rests inside us without us even realising it, imagine the unseen shackles other girls live with, girls born into families that are not even a fraction as modern as mine is. Ponder on that as I make plans for a movie in the afternoon today...because you see, a night show is out of the question. 

5 comments:

Saurabh Chawdhary said...

I usually put it in a more blunt way - Ours is an inherently sexist society. Honestly, I don't like (hate) the sound of it but going by definitions this is so not untrue.

This is the sad state of affairs. This sexism is so deep seated that some of us don't even accept that it exists in subtle forms. At some point growing up I had this mindset of what's nice and not-nice of our girls. But after being exposed to other cultures I realized how ridiculously sexist the attitude is.

Of course safety is a big concern, but then arguably this threat has been created due to the very effect it is creating (i.e. the deep seated sexism).

I don't know how this cycle can be broken but accepting that this is a form of sexism (gender discrimination) is the first step.

Here is an interesting work done by some YouTube artists to cheer you up :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MOFxlynwqw

Quiet Girl said...

First time here! Enjoyed reading this. When i got my first real job in India, I was 22 and i had my own apartment and friends coming over and wento to work on my own, hailing autos etc each day ...my parents let me do all that since they lived in a different country. I had all the freedom i wanted... except, the indian aunties and uncles felt it their responsibility to keep tabs on me..LOL! My neighbor downstairs ALWAYS knew when i came home really late... which was after 11pm.... i dont know HOW she knew , but she did... even when i was really quiet. Sigh. Its so hypocritical in India, when there are so many unwritten rules in society of what exactly a "nice" girl does and doesnt..and yet, some men enjoy those girls and then turn around and want a "nice" girl, thereby suddenly reducing the original nice girl to not a nice enough girl..SMH

Harnoor said...

Saurabh - I loved the part where you admitted that growing up there were certain things you were made to believe defined a 'good' girl. Yes, what I feel is that it is ingrained in the way we bring up our children, and unknowingly so, we create a society that focuses too much on 'containing' women, than educating the men.

Quiet Girl - Thanks for dropping in. And I know what you mean. I'm a bit tired of the constant policing too...mostly uninvited.

Anonymous said...

I simply love your attitude. But, being a father of two girls i always feel that our society is biased and women are always at a disadvantage. I support women being independant and that's what i would love my daughters to be, but i am concerned that they have to carry the burden of societial pressure..a sad thing. So i try to teach them to balance their aspirations... thanks for writing such wonerful article.

Harnoor said...

I do agree about the societal pressures bit. We can close our eyes to it, but it takes more of a struggle for a girl to become an independent and opinionated individual in India, than it does for a boy. We parents can make a difference and hopefully achieve the balance you are talking about.