- If I was raised to be fearless I wonder if I would have fought all the injustice and abuse I saw in front of my eyes more freely and fiercely?
Growing up in New Delhi, one of the first things I learned about the “world out there,” is that I have to be extremely careful because I am a girl. Although, no one told me exactly why, there was always the fear of being kidnapped and then sold off. Of course, Bollywood was replete with scenes about it as I started noticing how the woman is held, mishandled, slapped, raped, or even abused mentally by her own husband and in-laws.
Then, came the ads that showed the discrimination between girls or women and men or boys with portrayals that bore the seeds of stereotypes. I knew very early that I would be judged by the molds that had been shaped by years of conditioning. However, I didn’t think too much about it.
I was living a happy life with my parents, my grandparents, and my extended family and friends. But, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle things that pointed to the same – a boy and a girl are different. I constantly heard that money needs to be saved for a boy’s education and a girl’s marriage. It was common to be asked to sit in a particular way (the proper way). I was discouraged from playing “boy” games and behave more like girls. I found myself hiding bruises and cuts from playing cricket, hockey, soccer (football), and everything under the sun, literally!
One of the regular comments I remember is, “Don’t play in the sun, if you get so dark, who will marry you!” I also noticed how I was gently discouraged to think about pursuing careers in the armed forces, the police, being a pilot by suggestions such as ”why don’t you become a doctor in the Air Force?” Not everyone is as fortunate as me to get away with rebel behavior, but I vividly remember how I felt every time I was compared, commented upon, and contained.
College and work did allow me the firsthand experience of the “big, bad world.” Public transport was recommended as its safer than private taxis or autos. I still hold some reservations about that as I can recount the number of times I have had to save myself from groping hands and legs. Do you know how it feels? Do you know the feeling when you know someone is trying to touch from under the seat on the DTC bus? For non-Delhiites, it’s Delhi Transport Corporation. Yet, life goes on, life went on…. I got married and have been living in the Bay Area for the over 18 years.
Circa 2020. Has anything changed? In my opinion, not much. First it was Nirbhaya, now the 19-year-old Dalit girl from Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, gang-raped and murdered. When you read more, you come across other cases not even publicized by the media. But, I stop myself from thinking about the pain and anguish she must have gone through. I stop myself from thinking about the shame and guilt that the family experiences. I focus instead on why it has to be only the victims and their families going through hell.
I can only think of how I was always told to think what others think about me. How our families make most of their decisions based on what others have done. Never, ever have I seen the media question the family of the perpetrators about what they feel when they see their own blood committing such a crime? Now, I wonder if I would have faced those greedy hands differently if I was told that, “Be fearless, we will deal with whatever happens.” I wonder if I would have fought for all the injustice and abuse I saw in front of my eyes more freely and fiercely. I think the answer is Yes.
How can we help bring change? The netas, the news, or the abhinetas will not be able to do anything if we don’t change the way we raise our daughters and sons. We need to constantly feed them strength, courage, and truth. Truth is that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Girls are not better than boys, but they are not worse either. We show them that we all are humans first, then a gender. We teach them to co-exist, create, cooperate, and contradict all with a basic level of civility. We not only nurture their bodies and minds, but allow them to make mistakes, fail, and rise again.
God forbid if a girl has to face the reality of a man’s violence – she can continue the life she had without feeling any absence of respect, dignity, or status in the community. The shame does not fall on her, it is always on the man who trespassed the boundaries. We all need to understand that and accept it – soon! What we sow in our children’s lives today, we will reap in the society tomorrow.
Tanushree Samanta is an educator by profession and a music enthusiast on the side. She teaches elementary school children and believes in wholesome, progressive, integrative pedagogy. Tanushree is a strong supporter of Narika and works with them to fight domestic violence. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.