I was walking up the stairs of a hotel venue for an event when I overheard this and couldn’t stop myself from turning around to listen. A mother of a girl, about 5 years old, was telling another older woman about how the boys she was playing earlier with in the residential colony wanted to run. And when she tried to join them they told her that she cannot run because she is a girl. The girl seemed distraught at being discouraged by her peers. And her mother was trying to tell her that she can do what she likes and being a girl had nothing to do with it. Since they knew I was listening to this, I reassured the little girl that girls can do anything they want and she shouldn’t let anyone tell her otherwise.
Even though this was just a passing incident, it did stay in my mind even weeks later. I thought the world has progressed. Women are equal. Girls are educated just like boys are. At least the modern educated parents are teaching their boys to treat girls with respect, as equals. Where did these little boys learn that girls cannot run because they are girls. From the grown ups around them, obviously. I felt something break inside me - I think the hope that I had of change in attitudes for girls at least from the generation of these kids.
I am sure these are the very parents who tell their boys not to cry like a girl. And then when these boys and girls grow up, we complain about boys treating girls inferior and committing crimes against them. Who taught them that girls aren’t worthy of equal respect? Sadly, even parents from better income and education don’t seem to be creating a level playing field let alone ignorant and less educated people from less fortunate economic backgrounds.
So where does the change start? Actually, nowhere! A woman’s/girl’s status remains where it was. Yes, we have more freedom today. But we also have ruthless rapists proclaiming that girls alone are responsible for rapes. You step out and you deserve to be physically violated just because you are a girl. And your place is to sit at home and take care of everyone. You walk out at night and you risk becoming another Nirbhaya. Worse still, a nameless victims lost in the pages of police case histories.
Yes, we have better education and almost equal opportunities. But we also have parents telling their boys that you can run while a girl your age cannot. We are hammering home the difference between genders even before kids probably understand the difference. We have already laid the foundation for these little girls to grow up and begin their fight with the system and society to give them equal rights. Which they are never going to get, anyways.
And I feel this deep prejudice about girls is a part of the DNA of our civilization. And there are seemingly harmless ways in which it manifests itself but nevertheless adds to the bigger picture. To me, even a seemingly harmless comment on a woman’s mood swings just because she goes through hormonal changes (even though her outburst might have nothing to do with being a woman) is an example of it. It’s like she is not a human at all. Just a gender going through vagaries of humour that the female race is generally wont to.
Even today, it’s a girl who leaves her parents to live with her husband and his family. And before I hear dissenting voices about what a shit load of crap this allegation is, I’d like to say that I am yet to see a husband pack his bags to live at his wife’s! No matter how independent a woman is, she is the one still torn with guilt between home and job. Men have been a huge help, no doubt. But I guess holding ourselves responsible for keeping a perfect home and proving ourselves in our career seems to have been ingrained in our unalterable DNA too.
And while I was still ruminating about all this, out comes the controversial Nirbhaya documentary rams right into the face of rigid mindsets. At the outset, I am no legal, social, diplomatic expert to comment on the right and wrong of the making of the film. I am looking at it from how I felt watching it. And how it connects to my existing thought process. My first reaction was a deluge of questions: why would anyone want to rake the ugly past of the incident and make a documentary? Why? And why would the parents want to recount and relive the ordeal just because someone wants to make a film? Why...oh why would you give voice to a murderer masquerading as a rapist who should have been silenced by now for his fiendish crime?
Prima facie, the film looks like a very balanced view of putting together all aspects of the story speaking to all the people involved along the journey. But in hindsight, I am pretty sure it is a well orchestrated, craftily put together film to show exactly the stereotypes we are trying to fight. The abject poverty of the rapists (India is still a poor country), the cringe worthy, regressive views of the lawyers (India still treats women as inferior citizens) and the worst is the rapist mouthing the rapists’ anthem (deliberately stereotyping a rapist?) - women shouldn’t protest, the victim should be killed. And the dignified, aspirational parents of Jyoti Singh providing the perfect contrast to rapists who lost the battle of poverty while they tried to rise above it by educating their daughter. (a daughter, no less! Here, the emblem of changing India was brutally raped and killed. Can anything else sell better in the international market?)
(The documentary not just gives him an opportunity to speak but he becomes a popular news item and his views are proudly aired on every mainstream and social media. People criticized him but nevertheless brings him into the limelight and that’s not good news)
And this whole exercise just seemed to reinforce, globally, exactly the mindset and attitudes we are trying to fight. So you can cry hoarse about today being Women’s Day and the whole spiel that goes with her diverse, selfless roles. But the die has been cast even in the minds of young children that girls cannot run like boys. And it will always be derogatory to do thing #LikeAGirl. And that's why we need one day in a year to glorify women and give them back some self-respect, acknowledge their contributions through the year and make them feel valued. Because we go back to our narrow mindsets for the rest of the year.
Nothing has changed since Jyoti became Nirbhaya.
Nothing has changed since Jyoti became Nirbhaya.