Tag Archives: gender

The Day After

It is the next day.
Pink pamphlets torn,
Full price mani-pedi &
Fewer floral messages
On my phone.

Their job has been done,
Their purpose served.
What more do you want –
A pat on the back or
For me to lower my gun?

Stop whining and playing your card,
Waving your flags fighting for a cause.
You have it easy at every turn on the way-
Climbing the ladder,
Sleeping your way.

Go back into the box I drew for you
Say the words I spoke for you
Feel the feelings I told you to feel
Give me your body,
To choose for you.

You are afterall defined by me
A wife, sister or daughter
Or a slut if you are free.
Come on my dear, don’t ask for more
You have a whole fucking day that I don’t.

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The hurt of being a woman and seeing the results of the U.S elections

I spent an entire day yesterday in sadness and quite frankly bewilderment. I was torn between thinking about writing this and wondering if it is my place to do so – considering I am an Indian citizen, an able-bodied, cisgender, Hindu, upper-caste, heterosexual woman in a same-race relationship where both of us are college educated, employed and come from privilege in a country that is going through its own tumultuous growing pains.

I am writing this from the core of my identity as a woman because that is the part of me that feels most beaten and bruised right now. I am at a stage where I am yet to get to thinking about how we will explain this to children in schools or at home because quite frankly I do not think I understand it enough for me to be able to explain this to anyone else with that level of conviction or hope.

I am feeling a deep rooted sense of disgust by how this win has legitimized sexual assault. It makes my skin crawl to read Nigel Farage’s statement which mocks at the idea of Trump being a sexual predator when he says, “don’t touch her for goodness sake” when talking about meeting with Theresa May. It is NOT amusing to hear this when you are a part of a group that experiences microaggressions each day around touch, consent and space. I am not saying that all of this didn’t happen before this election but it has now become the new “normal” and that makes me sick. I am appalled by how “guy talk” is now an openly acceptable defense for conversations that actually could be construed as criminal offense. I am extremely worried for friends who may now need to think of getting an IUD before January 20th

As someone ensconced in their own bubble of beliefs and values, I take full responsibility for not connecting with the other side and being blindsided by the ideological divide that runs so deep. But I definitely do not shoulder responsibility for signing up for this – I was ready to have arguments about pantsuits, being “emotional”, how being a woman doesn’t excuse you for corruption, on why anyone should not be expected to smile more to be “likeable” and more such. I was not ready to go back redraw the basics tenets of decency.

To all those in India who are reading this and wondering why I am taking all of this so seriously considering I don’t live in the U.S or to those who take pride in us electing Indira Gandhi and therefore do not see this as our issue – I am equally disgusted and sickened when Mulayam Singh Yadav makes comments on how boys make mistakes (while referring to rape) or when I hear senior members of the police force talk about how if during rape fighting back is not an option, it is best to lie back and enjoy the experience. It is just as bad when you express a political opinion not aligned with the popular view and the trolls immediately threaten sexual violence or begin the diatribe with body shaming, slut shaming or any form of abuse that belittles who you are as a woman.

I am not one of those who looks blindly to the West in aspiration on issues of gender but it truly sucks to be a woman and see all of this play out across the world in far harsher degrees than what it ought to be in 2016.

Fuck breaking the glass ceiling – it is back to feeling grateful if your body, your voice, your intellect, your being is respected as human and not some second rate “creature” and if you can escape each day feeling unscathed or a little less dirty.

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To Kausra

Dear Kausra

We met the other day at your school and spending those ten minutes with you changed a lot for me. I felt I owe you an apology and hence I write to you.

Before landing in Srinagar – J&K, I like most other people from India came with my baggage about what I thought of “Kashmir”. I was also excited about the Dal lake, shikaras, phirnis and unabashedly voyeuristic about wanting to know more about the conflict. When I exited the airport, I saw a sign reading “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” and right under that was a soldier with a gun. I was uncomfortable to see the army presence, I was even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that the fundamental right of freedom of movement is curtailed and most importantly I was acutely aware of how different my India is and how I had no business discussing how this part of the world should be “India” as well.

I am embarrassed to tell you that reading a couple of books and editorials I thought I understood what your daily life looks like.  Nothing prepared me Kausra, to live sharing the surroundings you grow up with each day. Waking up listening to gunshots of the army doing target practice or being stopped for checking in the middle of the road or even that flurry of panic, thinking of sudden firing that is happening 1 km away from where we stood – Kausra, I do not know how you do it.

Your school teachers tell me how girls in your village are not confident, very quiet and not participative in class. Your school principal congenially told me about how girls are generally reticent. The boys in your class overcompensated for your silence. You looked down with your head bowed when I asked you a question. I accepted your silence for your shyness. But when you stood up and shared what you thought in a shaky yet confident voice, I saw some bit of myself in you.

I do not think you are shy or “under-confident” or reticent. I do not want to make any more assumptions on your behalf. But if my three days can leave me without words to describe what I am feeling, I empathise how speechless you must feel seeing what you see day in and day out. If I were you, I would bow my head down too. It is just easier to find answers within than look outside to spell it out for everyone else.

I am sorry Kausra for being one of those many strangers who trapeze into your life thinking you should open up and start “sharing” your life story.  It is again the same mistake of thinking that you are waiting for this amazing miracle from outside to save you.  It is absolute bullshit and you caught me on that one. You owe me nothing.

I hope you and I can become friends some day. I think we would hit it off quite well – I saw you snigger about my haircut to the girl beside you. I would have done the exact same thing! 🙂

Till then,

Much love

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An open letter to an aunty

My dear aunty

This letter is not just to you but to all the women like you who strongly believe that you know better about how I should go about leading my life and sadly go share your valued opinion with my mother as well.

I read your letter today first thing in the morning as I was reading my Sunday morning Hindu and it forced me to put everything aside to share my thoughts with you.

You lament about how mothers in their quest for giving  girls independence and financial security have not taught them the beauty of being a woman. Sadly aunty, I think my mother and many mothers have done a wonderful job of teaching us not just about independence and financial security but also about not defining our beauty of being a woman by only being married or having children.

Your reason for writing this letter is a sense of disquiet that you experience that somewhere down the line, there would be a generation of unhappy women spending their time in guilt, if not regret. I appreciate your concern for all of us but let me alleviate your pain by telling you that most of us do not feel guilty currently and most probably will not be regretting our choices in the future. We choose to live life on our terms and feel strongly about what we believe in. We work hard to build our careers and find them extremely fulfilling, we are single or in relationships by choice and not because we are nearing 30. We have very different expectations from our lives than what you had from yours and sadly, the only guilt we experience is the guilt of not being able to help our parents from feeling bad once in a while when an aunty like you comes home and asks “still not married?” or “isn’t she already 30, when will you become grandparents?”

You talk about our amazing risk taking abilities and our capability to make a mark in the economy. The decisions we make in our jobs are clearly thought through, based on data or experience with us driving the process to achieve outcomes we desired in the first place. So I request you to credit me with the confidence that if I can shape the economy of the country or drive profits up for organizations on a quarterly basis, I can definitely make life choices to take on “additional burden” as you put it.

When you hear me say “I am not ready for marriage or having children” what I am trying to tell you is I am perfectly happy with what my life offers me right now. Please do not insult your intelligence or mine by comparing the decision to have kids to crying on the first day of school. I am aware of the consequences of my choices and more importantly what it would change for me. I am aware that if I choose to get married, you will have an opinion about me not giving up my career to relocate and be with my husband. I am aware that even after having a child when I go back to work, you will still have misgivings on me leaving my child behind or not breastfeeding long enough.

You talked about how one can balance work and home life or prioritize the most important things in life. I know for a fact aunty, that you would never write a letter to your son to take a break for 6 months or be a stay at home dad to help me manage my career. Even if the poor guy makes this choice out of his own free will, chances are you would berate me and him for not doing the “right thing”.

So aunty, I am pretty convinced that irrespective of the choices I make in my life you will have something to be unhappy about because I do not live within the parameters you defined in your head for an appropriate life that a woman should lead.

Lastly aunty, there are some of us who want to have children more than anything else and even at the right time in consultation with our biological clocks. But sadly, there are complications which make medical assistance of IVF necessary. Needing modern medicine’s assistance is not a sign of failure or a sign from the universe that I am paying a price for placing my needs above someone else’s.

My choices are my own and the regret or guilt if it follows will be mine as well. I am willing to bear the cross of my actions and I think you should be ok with it too. So please do not write a letter to all daughters asking us to reflect on our choices and feeling bad about what our mommies did with us.  Our mommies did an awesome job with us and we are thankful and awfully proud of them as well!

So I suggest you make your peace with my life decisions, move on in life without worrying if I will be old, wrinkly and angry with the world. I see it more as your style than mine.

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Lack of choice between government and private schooling in India

The Indian education system like its society is heavily stratified. While, the standard segments remain government schools and private schools  – with private schools further segmented into government aided or unaided, with the proliferation of unrecognized low cost private schooling there are more fuzzy lines creating differential access for varied socio-economic groups.

As per the ASER 2012 report,  at the All India level private school enrollment has been rising steadily since 2006. The demand for private schools comes from the perception that the governments schools do not deliver on providing an acceptable quality of education to children which would in future provide access to different pathways of opportunities. This perception is so engrained that a parent says “My child goes to a private school” with a sense of pride of being a good parent and making the right choices for his or her kids. Parents choose to send their children to even unrecognized private schools, often at a considerable financial sacrifice.

The all India enrollment data by ASER 2012 says that in the age group of (6-14 years) for both boys and girls put together the private enrollment is at 28.3%. But if we break it down to age groups and gender there is a clear pattern emerging. In the 7-10 age group 31.7% of boys are enrolled in private schools as compared to the 25.3% of girls in the same age group. In the 11-14 age group, 31.3% of boys are enrolled in private schools as compared to 24.8% of the girls. This indicates that with the increased trend of private enrollment, there is an over representation of girl children in the government schools. This is because with the rising costs of education, the parents are making a choice of sending the boys to a private school (perceived to be of better quality and providing higher opportunities) and the girls to a government school (perceived to be of lesser quality) to ease the cost pressure. Simply put, which child would you bet your money on – metric being ROI and the girl child being seen as  “paraya dhan” (someone else’s wealth – reference to girls having to be given away to another family in marriage) gets the raw deal.

When one compares learning levels, there is a steady decline across arithmetic and reading in government schools and the rate of decline (though persistent) is lower in private schools. This is not to say private schools are doing much better, but socio-economic-educational background of children’s families, parental aspirations and additional support for learning contribute majorly to their better performance. Yet, fact remains that the learning gap between government and private school children is widening. This widening gap may make the private schools look better, but in an absolute sense it is important to note that less than 40% of Std 5 children in private schools could solve a simple division sum in 2012.

While all this time we were talking about the low cost private schooling options, there exists also a middle level of private schooling in which have entry exams for admitting students, interviews for parents to see if they meet the unspoken criteria of social level of the school and the school fees around 2000-8000 rupees a month. There are also additional costs of school uniforms, trips, coaching classes or individual tuitions. At the top end of this spectrum is a small section of elite, global Indians whose children also go to private schools but with PTR closer to 15 instead of 30, swimming pool and horse riding facilities, international field trips, personal laptops for each student and teachers who are trained from across the world.

The clear sorting of schools on basis of social and economic class has led to distinct groups of students in each kind of school as opposed to a socially mixed institution. Also, for the elite it is not just a choice based on frustration with quality of government schools. There is an inherent ambition to be exclusive and maintain that level of social distance to ensure one’s place in the top of the pyramid of the hierarchy of classes.

When the Supreme Court ruling upheld the Right to Education Act which makes education free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 14, and requires schools, including private ones that don’t receive any public funding, to set aside places for children from low-income families, there was an outcry from parents as well as private schools which felt burdened by having to share the responsibility of educating less privileged children alongside other privileged children.

It is very well to say that government needs to get its act together instead of passing the buck, this is just a small percentage which does not make any impact in the larger schemes of things, children from “those” backgrounds face a lot more psychological issues when put in middle and upper middle class schools and a child’s schooling needs to be aligned to his or her social needs.

The conversation on choice and quality is always seen synergistically but the minute you throw equity into the equation, quality comes in question. Why is that? Why is equity seen to detract from quality? Aren’t we just hiding under the cloak of “quality” to continue to remain insulated from social reality and exclusive?

The choice really isn’t a choice when it is known that certain schools are barely able to deliver what we would believe to be education.

References:

  1. Manabi Majumdar, and Jos E Mooij, 2011: Education and Inequality In India: Classroom View 
  2. Pratham Foundation, 2012: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) – http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER_2012/fullaser2012report.pdf
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Sexual assault – banana leaves and thorns

With the media being cacophonous over the recent gang rape of a young photojournalist in Mumbai it is hard to not just beg for numbness just to escape their empty indignation. Every time such an incident occurs there are debates on fast-track courts, police conduct and consequences in the form of castration or even the death penalty. There are candle light vigils, a few silent protests and then we all go back to our lives making sure the women we know text us the taxi number they get into late night or stay on the phone till our friend reaches back home from the airport.

While it easier to fix the externalities and pretend to solve issues, it seems to be much harder to get people to acknowledge the deep seating misogyny and inequity that lies embedded in our psyche. Of course when one is talking to the press or the media at large or for the sake of an ideological debate the question of “why was that woman in that place after dark anyway?” or “when we know such things happen, the women should just try and keep themselves safe?” would be blasphemous. But walk into a home with daughters and you will hear “Do not go to that place by yourself, its better to be safe than sorry” or “you wear a skirt like that you are asking for trouble” or worse “If someone is staring at you or says something lewd, look away and walk fast to a crowded place. Do not engage in a fight. You do not need to prove anything to a stranger. We all know you are a strong woman.” When I hit puberty, my grandmother told me a pretty graphic story of how if a banana leaf fell over a thorn or a thorn fell over a banana leaf, it is the banana leaf which would tear. Her basic point was to tell me to stay away from boys because whatever happens I am the banana leaf and I would be damaged goods either way.

Yes, I know parents are only trying to protect their daughters and wish for a life without the pain and fear of being molested or assaulted. But what is the message that we are sending out to our children at large. The answers lie below.

The Quality Education Study was commissioned by Wipro Foundation and Education Initiatives first in 2006 and then again in 2011. It was conducted in urban schools considered to be good quality education institutions. In terms of values on equity, diversity and sensitivity, it was observed that there is a deep rooted bias against the girl child even in students from families which probably belong to the educated and higher socio economic strata of the society. This was exhibited by nearly 43% of children in elementary school expressing that if there was a choice to be made, then it is better to educate the boy over the girl because educating the girl in the long run could only be a waste of resources. Also, 15% of girls in 8th standard felt that ‘girls are burdensome to their parents’. Though 15% may seem like a small number, what we need to remember is that this survey was conducted in the better quality urban schools identified for better and sensitive learning environments. This can only lend a perspective on how deeply this bias is ingrained in our social structure itself.

And this, is in urban metropolises like Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and not a small gaon in the northern part of India as stereotypically assumed when discussing steep gaps in gender equity. If we go a step before schooling, right at conception and birth of a child we all know the trend of euphemistically “missing girls of India”.

So where are we heading. We are soon going to have a population of 250 million young adults (as per UN population division prediction for 2025) who will be unemployable. One can only understate the kind of social unrest and issues it would be bring.  There is a statistic which says in 90% of the cases of sexual assault the perpetrator is known to the victim. I believe in the coming years that will change simply because I believe that sexual assault is an assertion of power and dominance. I am not glossing over child sexual abuse or women assaulted in their homes or even assaults that happen to women at work places. But I definitely do see an impending social crisis of “educated” (with enrollment being high and dropouts declining over a period of time, there will be more people who complete the so called schooling experience and believe themselves to be educated and entitled to a job) men who grow up believing and seeing women being treated as second-class citizens, not being employed and feeling the need to compensate their sense of masculine power. This I believe will result in assaults on any woman who is seen to be “overstepping her boundaries” – known or unknown.

The only resolution I see to this is a complete overhaul of the way we project the very idea of man and woman. This needs to begin in schools, in media, in popular cinema and lastly our homes. The reason I put homes at last is because I strongly feel that the ingrained notion of inequity between male and female which has existed for years will not change on its own accord within homes unless represented and explained from the outside.

We need:

  1. A structured program to teach about gender equity in schools which means our teachers need to be trained on this as well. No longer just about health and nutrition and micro financing for girls but about being equal in homes, society and the rights over one’s body. No longer just for girls but for boys also. Not just a passing reference in a Social Studies lesson but structured modules with contextually relevant content and a participatory methodology to implement. We cannot have a male teacher scoffing at the content and chuckling while talking about the idea of women being equal nor can we afford to have a female teacher sighing saying all these are meant for books.
  2. Conscious development of content portraying women as equals which does not mean a woman has to be portrayed like a man to prove the point.
  3. Moving away from gender stereotypes in popular cinema will go a long way in shaping future ideas. This would include removal of lines like “asli mard hai to maar ke dikha” (if you are a real man hit me) or even ideas like “ladkiyan aise hi hoti hain, na ka matlab haan”  ( girls are always like this, when they say no they mean yes) or random acts of the male protagonist slapping the female protagonist to get her to see his point (more on this later)

These changes will not yield results tomorrow or in the next year (for that we need to fix our judicial system, police and enforce consequences) but it is about time we consciously start building the future minds and thought processes not gender neutrally but with appreciation and acceptance of diversity and equality.

P.S: I am not saying all the men in India do not value women or all families are plagued with the differential treatment of boys and girls. I am positive that there are homes where things aren’t this way, there are men who value women and respect them. But I am sorry to say that the scale of the issue sadly does not accommodate for these aberrations.

 

 

 

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Foolishly surprised

Sometimes you are surprised. Surprised by the depth of conversation, by the impassiveness with which the truth is spoken or by the naivety you hold thinking of yourself as the protector.

Along with our regular curriculum, I began conversations on Gender Equity in my class. It has been less than a week and I am surprised by own students. Today we discussed the difficult topic of female infanticide. I was very worried about how I am going to explain this to my students. How do I tell my 8 year olds that such a barbaric practice exists or the fact that there are people who do not value all children equally? These were the questions in my mind on my bus ride to school.

I began the conversation by saying that there are homes and families where a girl child is not welcome. There is sadness and no joy for she is seen as a burden and not hope. There was sudden murmuring and I saw a lot of raised hands. I could not fathom what all these students have to say at the same time. And that is how the stories began to pour.

Malini was the first to speak on how her mother laments and curses her every day about how having two daughters and no sons. Then Aravind spoke of how his father was very sad when his sister was born and would come home drunk everyday to squarely blame the mother for this misfortune. Stunned by the openness of these students, I shared the sex ratio in India of 933 females per 1000 males and asked where are the remaining girl children. Tippu quietly said “They dead, Miss”. Roshan and Karan spoke of their villages where the new born baby girls are buried in the farm the reason in their words being “girls so much money give marriage, too much tension father mother do not want”. Santosh said in his village an old lady sees the stomach of the woman to tell the sex of the child and even grinds some leaves to give the mother if it “feels” like it is going to be a baby girl. Divyadarshini spoke of how even if the child is not killed, the parents and extended family continue to express discontent. She knows this because when her brother was born her grandmother gave so many gold chains and rings to her mother but when she was born her mother got nothing because she did not deserve a prize for after all giving birth to a girl child. And every birthday, Divyadarshini’s mother is told how she could have done better.

When I was 8, I had the luxury of not knowing. It saddens me that my children have experienced the pain of feeling unwanted firsthand. It hurts to see such all knowing 8 year old eyes. It makes me so angry to think of those parents who willingly, unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly make their children question the value of their very existence.

When we ended our conversation today with how girls and boys both need to be loved and cared for and how it is not a mother’s wrongdoing for giving birth to a girl child Jayarani, one of the quietest girls in my class raised her hand to ask “Miss, mother also girl then why miss mother no fight for her girl child?”. I had no answer to give her other than telling her that she needs to be much stronger than those mothers and fight for what she believes in.

Devika, Divya, Fathima, Thulasi, Malini, Jayarani, Meenakshi, Thrisha, Nandhini, Srija and millions of other children deserve better. We need the change to happen. We cannot wait for times to change. It has to happen NOW and I see its beginning in 26 pairs of resolute eyes.

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