Archive for the ‘Men’ Category

Indian wedding

So far we have mainly put the blame for the obsession with the male child on the man of the house. But have we ever wondered why this obsession is so deeply rooted in our society?

There are mainly two reasons for it. A male child is looked upon as a seed,  when watered properly will give dividends in the form of a good job, flow of income, will bring in good dowry and also will support parents in their old age. A girl child on the other hand is a bad investment. Even if she is given a good education and takes up a job in future, her husband will have the right to her income. Second, on top of that no matter how educated and well-employed she is, the father will have to keep a large sum aside for her marriage celebrations. Even if the groom’s family do not expect a dowry they would expect the girl to have enough gold on her, expensive gifts for the groom’s relatives and needless to say a lavish menu at the wedding that would satiate the appetite of the baraati.

In a country where life is still a struggle for attaining basic amenities if such social norms dictate the future of the girl child, then it is inevitable that her existence will be in jeopardy right from the womb itself.

When I was discussing this with a school friend of mine he rightly pointed out that it is possible to stop this heinous practice of infanticide and foeticide if more and more women are empowered through education. I completely agree with him but I also feel that beyond education there is something called mindset. Women might have progressed in leaps and bounds in our country but when it comes to things like marriage, career and independence women most often choose to stay within the age-old societal norms.

I will give an example of the 1996-1998 batch of our Sociology MA class in Calcutta University. We were a class of 60 students of whom around 10 were men (left with no choice but to earn a living). Of the rest 50, around 10 wanted to have a career after finishing their masters and the rest 40 were already serving tea to numerous prospective grooms on Sunday mornings and the MA degree was an extra embellishment with that cuppa.

When I say getting over the mindset this is what I mean. The 40 girls in our class came from the best schools and colleges in Kolkata but what they wanted in the end was a lavish marriage and a perfect groom. Now, if their fathers perceive them as bad investments would they be wrong?

In fact, I even remember the first one to get married in our class was even upset that her father was not buying her the number of gold jewellery sets she wanted. “You know every girl wants to carry a lot of gold to their in-laws place,” was what she said. The words are still so fresh in my mind.

It is absolutely humiliating to think that we still believe the bride will get respect at her in-laws if she carries a good booty from her parents’ home. Why can’t we stand up and say respect us for what we are and not what our fathers pack with us?

I would say women in West Bengal and Kerala are in a definitely better position than their counterparts all over India. These are rare places where the girl child is as much coveted as the boy and in Kolkata statistics show more and more couples are opting to adopt girls than boys. But despite this trend you will always hear an odd father travelling in the public bus talking about saving for the daughter’s marriage and the son’s education.

But there are women who are busting this mindset and we need to congratulate them for that. A friend of mine put her foot down and cancelled her wedding to the love of her life even after the wedding cards were distributed to the guests. Why? Her to-be hubby and his parents turned extremely demanding just a week prior o the wedding. My friend said, “My father had enough money to give them the car and apartment they wanted. But I thought if this is the situation now what will happen in future?”

Accepted that not everyone has the guts to take such decisions in the last moment but one can do things that are possible. For instance a friend of mine and her husband funded their wedding and honeymoon and saved money by not having a wedding trousseau. These are small decisions but these do go a long way in how men/ to-be fathers perceive women.

I will end with a story that has always inspired me. A woman gave birth to her second child- a girl. Her husband and in-laws did not come to see her in the hospital because she had given birth to a girl again. She left the hospital with her two daughters and seared all relations with her husband. The mother went through all the hardships and brought up her daughters alone. The younger daughter went on to become Miss India 2009 Pooja Chopra.

I would say this goes on to prove that the future of women in our country largely depends on the decision women are taking in the present. Think about it!


Women protesting against sexual violence in Kolkata. (Pic: The Hindu)

We were a bunch of enthusiastic Sociology students attending a seminar on violence against women organized by well-known NGOs of West Bengal. Inside the auditorium, people were animatedly discussing ways of averting abuse on women, while the tea counter outside buzzed with talk about a certain Trinamool leader named Mamata Banerjee, who had done an unthinkable feat, the night before.

From the snatches of conversation I gathered that some women were being trafficked into the notorious red-light area Sonagachi when they were rescued by some NGO workers and moved to a police station. The head of the NGO had called the Trinamool leader late in the night, asking if she could help in organizing the release of these hapless women from the police station. Banerjee said that she would look into it and had hung up. Moments later, to the surprise and relief of the NGO head, she was walking into the police station to personally see to it that the women were not harassed any further and were moved to a safe haven. The year I am talking about is 1997.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the same Mamata Banerjee, who does not think twice before saying that the rape on Park Streetwas a “cooked-up incident” to malign her government. It’s easy to see that like all big stars – political or filmi – she has taken the easy way out by blaming the media for distorting her words.

I was wondering how could a woman, who was so sensitive to the plight of trafficked women, do such a volte-face just 15 years later. But I guess if you are constantly accompanied by half a dozen men in black safari suits with guns tucked in their holsters, you do lose touch with ground realities. So you take the easy way out again, put the blame on a woman, since trying to change the psyche of lecherous men in the state will be like trying to bend an iron rod with bare hands.

Frankly speaking, in West Bengal if you have not been sexually harassed in some way or the other it does not imply that you live in a safe environment, it’s just that you have been plain lucky. As a born and bred Kolkatan all I can say is, life for the fairer sex is a perpetual struggle. As soon as you step out of your home you constantly risk being groped, pinched, elbowed, lewdly commented at and if the time and situation permits your persecutor, you can be molested or even raped.

I am sure if a poll is run on the women of West Bengal on the abuses they face everyday, the answer in the affirmative will be a record high. But, of course, at the end of the day, the onus of being safe lies on the woman. If she can’t ensure her own safety then in the quest for justice she runs the bigger risk of being mentally molested by the police, the court, by the entire system.

Life in Kolkata has become such that women are becoming immune to the abuses that are perpetrated on them by unknown men because chances are, you end up in a bigger soup if you try to protest.

I am talking from my own experience here. I used to walk down SN Banerjee Road from the metro station to reach my office. The first day someone groped me I tried to raise my voice against him. Instantly I was surrounded by around 50 men, who asked me to point out where exactly I had been groped. Seething and embarrassed, I walked away.

What did I do to survive? I became more cautious. I always carried a file that covered my breasts and dodged the elbows and the hands with a precision that only boxers in the ring develop. I was successful this way for months till one day I was talking to my friend on the mobile and I was distracted. Result? Someone pinched my derriere. Reacting to my muffled shriek my friend asked, “What happened?” I answered, “Nothing! Someone pinched me.”

I realized that after being exposed to the abuse on Kolkata streets from my teens, I had finally become immune to that strange touch that used to initially feel like electric shock passing through my skin.

After I read about the rape of a widow on a train on the Ahmedpur-Katwa track, my mind travelled to my eventful train journeys both on local and long-distance passenger trains. During my college and university days if public buses were my nightmare, after marriage, when I had to travel to my in-laws’ home in Ichapur on weekends, I realized the groping men on the locals could give their counterparts on the Kolkata buses some stiff competition.

Trapped between hordes of men in an overwhelmingly-crowded compartment with my dupatta going in one direction and bag in the other and hungry hands trying to get into every curve of my body, I felt like a gladiator trying to win the fight but there was always a lion, who got a piece of me.

I decided to bow out of the arena and shifted to the women’s compartment. The incessant cacophony of the women fighting amongst themselves now felt like music to my ears. I was trapped between unknown sweaty women but there was a great sense of relief in it.

It was one such train ride when I had boarded a crowded ladies compartment from Sealdah at 10pm. After a hard day’s work I had dozed off in my seat. When I opened my eyes I saw the entire compartment was empty and there were four men sitting opposite me with a gaze that made me freeze with fear. I was about to call my husband from my mobile, who was in the next compartment, when one of them shifted to the seat next to me. Then they were all pretty puzzled to see me smiling. They followed my eyes and instantly started chatting amongst themselves like I did not exist.

The reason for their changed attitude and mine was my husband standing at the train door. He had seen the men boarding the ladies compartment and had jumped in behind them. That day I realized how fear actually felt and how lucky I was.

Now coming to long-distance train travel. My friend and I were going to Delhi to appear for the entrance exams at Delhi School of Economics and we were accompanied by her father and elder sister. Late in the night some men boarded the compartment and started making their bed on the floor. When uncle tried to explain to them it was a reserved compartment one man placed a shining dagger next to him on the floor and went off to sleep. Needless to say none of us slept that night. At the crack of dawn the men left the train without snatching our luggage, without forcing themselves on us. Luck was on our side again.

After I read about the Park Street rape, my mind went back to the innumerable nights spent at Tantra, the happening disco at Park Hotel. Yes, I was always there with close friends, who dropped me home later. I never accepted drinks from unknown people, although I did strike friendships there that I cherish, but you can say I was always extremely cautious. However, one particular night, I don’t know why, I threw all caution to the wind.

There was a private party at the Park Hotel banquet which I was covering from the newspaper I was working for at that time. The party promptly shifted from the banquet to Tantra. We had the office car with us but my colleagues wanted to linger on the dance floor. I was worried that my mom would be awake waiting for me, when this businessman, whom I had been introduced to earlier in the evening and had done some polite talk with, said he was leaving for his home on Ballygunge Circular Road – which was pretty near to my home on Garcha Road. I didn’t know him at all but I asked him for a lift. He readily obliged. I asked another journalist, I had met the same evening, if she would like to come along, dearly hoping she would. She joined us.

We got into his car parked in the basement, thanking him profusely for the trouble he was taking. It was 2 am and the car rolled into a deadPark Street. The gentleman stopped his car in front of the Park Hotel gate and said, “I have to pick up a friend.” The alarm bells started ringing in my head but I was glad that the other lady was in the car with me as if she would be the knight in shining armour if the men tried to get fresh.

The man, who jumped into the car, looked moneyed and sloshed and wasn’t in a state to converse. Then our lift-giver proposed that he would drop the lady at Gariahat first and then it would be my turn. I started hyperventilating hoping this was not a ploy to get me alone in the car. The lady got off at Gariahat and I continued. I could have got off there and hailed a cab. But I could not because a woman alone with a cabbie at 2am was an even more dangerous proposition than being in a car with two men- one sloshed and one apparently gentlemanly. I was safely dropped home. I was third time lucky.

But not everyone is. Women’s harassment in Kolkata is on the rise because some men have realized they can get away with it. After years of groping and elbowing and looking the other way and denying it if they are caught red-handed, these men have finally mustered the courage to go further. The rape on Park Street only proves that.

Mamata Banerjee would do well if she changed her stance on the case. If cases like this are dealt with an iron hand a lot of women might be saved from their daily ordeal. Isn’t it high-time the beasts hide in fear and we roam free?

PS: Does Didi know the meaning of International Women’s Day? I would have loved to ask her.

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