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India Hates Its Women: This Mumbai Woman Bows Her Head In Shame

It’s official. Mumbai, masquerading as the exception in a country that boasts of daughter-in-law burning, honor killing, female infanticide and as of December, gang-rapes in metros, has been outed.

Yesterday, a young female photo-journalist was raped by five men while her colleague was tied up and forced to watch. This happened in the dilapidated, Shakti Mills compound where the two had gone to cover an assignment. Like most places in Mumbai, this one isn’t very far from a bustling area.  And note, this happened around 6pm, that nightmarish hour when an already overcrowded city explodes into rush hour. It would have been broad daylight too, considering yesterday was a sunny day.

What, what am I to say? The Delhi gangrape last year left us outraging and screaming. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I tucked it away and went about my life. My family got difficult to deal with in the weeks following that, constantly curbing my going out. I was working at that time, at a job that demanded long hours and traveling for about two hours either way. I told them about the safety precautions I take – using trains rather than lonesome autorickshaws & cabs, getting into ladies compartments only if there was at least one other woman in there. And beyond that, I shrugged it off as, ‘That’s Delhi after all, the rape capital of the country.’

Earlier this year, Kolkata’s Park Street rape case made national headlines. I shrugged again. After my only visit to Kolkata in 2011, I stopped buying into the notion of it being a city that respected women, anyway. I got unabashedly stared at, motorcyclists leered at me when I passed and in general I received the kind of unwelcome attention that makes me turn my nose up at the capital. I was a Mumbai woman after all. We didn’t do things that way in my city.

I’m shamed, shamed from my proud stance into submission now. The strength and independence I took such pride in, stemmed from believing that I lived in the only place in this country where a woman had a chance of living a full life with a career of her own.  No more. Mumbai, my beloved homecity, you let me down.

This is not a generic rant aimed at an amorphous idea of a place. My city is its people. It’s the police force, charged with protecting me and keeping my city free of crime and attack. It’s the civic authorities, holding responsibility for public spaces being clean, safe and accessible. It’s companies and offices, the nuts-and-bolts of India’s cash cow, bearing the onus of a safe, respectful world for their employees to be able to function beyond being warm bodies in office cabins. It’s other dwellers in this city, carrying the responsibility for being and nurturing morally sound human beings. It’s my friends and neighbors and family, treating me like I deserve basic human rights such as safety and independence and ensuring I get them. You’ve all let me down. You’ve let every one of this city’s women down.

I want to know about the five families that produced these men who perpetrated this act. I want to know who they are and how they feel about destroying the one ideal this entire country had. Yes, I hold them responsible. Bad people are created by the societies that breed and nurture them. I already know that we live in a country that shackles, abuses, gags and violates women. I also know that this same country encourages men to be self-obsessed, controlling without being responsible for, and simultaneously being dependent on and hurting women. Its festivals are a glorification of this subjugation of women. Its leaders get away with excusing human rights crimes on chowmein and victim blame. This is a country where men get away with pretty much anything and blame passes onto women. I really want to know what the parents, siblings, neighbors and friends of these five men are like.

I want to know this because this is what my fellow countrymen (and women) are like. I’d better start learning to accept their ways of life before they decide to punish me. This country doesn’t like a woman, especially one that believes she has the right to life and dignity.

How to be an Indian Women

How to be an Indian Women (Photo credit: Heavenhated)

Motherhood – The Great Indian Relationship & The Only One

I was watching ‘Wake Up Sid’ yesterday (ah, the joys of being master of your own time…a Monday afternoon movie with a friend!) when this thought occurred to me. I’ve complained long and hard about the Indian man being a perpetual mama’s boy. I also believe that this ingrained emasculated dependency comes from scores and scores of mothers who bring their boys up in the Mera Raja Beta (my son, the little lord) tradition. And hence I concluded that women have a lot of blame to carry for the inherent insufficiency of men in this society.

But yesterday I suddenly realised something else. The Indian woman is also brought up in a particular way, no matter what kind of family or social strata she comes from. She is groomed, trained and refined to be a mother. Motherhood is the one relationship that we are tutored in, right from an early age and educated by theory and by example. We are taught to mother our siblings, our friends and even our fathers and uncles.

Think about it. We watch our mums manage the entire gamut of activities concering something as basic as clothing for the men. Shopping, washing, drying, ironing, darning, sewing, discarding and replenishment. They even construct the ‘look’ for the men in the family.

Growing up in a liberal family as I did, I was still taught to make beds and clean when I was about 9 and cook when I was 13. I was also taught to watch for the moods of daddy (and grandfather on those native vacations) and be mindful of them. I wasn’t discriminated against or restricted in any way. But in addition to my education in maths, science, social etiquette and life skills, I was also taught to accommodate and take care of men. This was also down to the fact that I may not always be appreciated for my good work, since ‘it didn’t occur to them’ or ‘he’s busy right now’ and such other things. I was resentful of this for awhile but in hindsight I realize it was a sturdy survival kit for the hard knocks of disappointment and indifference that would inevitably come in life.

Contrast that with a boy who is praised for every achievement, fawned over for doing things as per normal and most importantly soothed and pacified when faced with disappointment or difficulty. No wonder he ends up a la Sid in the movie, bewildered and clueless when faced with rejection or failure.

I was particularly struck by one scene in the movie where Sid goes to live with his slightly older friend Aisha for awhile after walking out of his house in a huff. At the end of the first day, she comes home from work to find the neat little flat that she works hard to maintain, all in a mess. With no little irritation, she nevertheless gets to cleaning it herself. And then on learning that Sid hasn’t eaten all day because he doesn’t know cooking, she cooks for him as well.

I understand that doing nice things for each other and being supportive are an integral part of every relationship. But it just seems to me like as Indian women, we are brainwashed into doing too much. The movie may have intended to be about the coming of age of a young man, the maturity of a different relationship. But I found myself thinking, that all Sid did was to substitute one mother figure for another. As for Aisha, even while she worked hard to establish herself as a modern, independent woman, all she ended up doing was being a surrogate wife/mother character to yet another man. Her independence and value as a human being was finally expressed only by her satisfactory fulfilment of one task – taking care of a little boy.

I’m coming to think that we don’t really know any other way to treat men. Motherhood is the only relationship we understand. So beyond the frivolity of socialising, we end up being surrogate mothers for our men, even ones that we are not romantically involved with.

I don’t mean to sound condescending to men; indeed I find myself guilty of this kind of behaviour. When I was in a relationship with a Delhi guy who was in Mumbai to study, I remember being astonished at how little he knew, how handicapped he was by his lack of basic survival skills or even social etiquette. I’d organise meals for him, manage the maid (in conjunction with the girlfriends of the other guys who shared his flat), wake him up for interviews and lectures, figure out his clothes and even pack for him on his visits home.

I also remember an official trip I took to another country, with a colleague. He sat next to me at work and we were pretty pally. As we checked in and waited for the departure announcement, he handed over an assortment of papers and said,

You take care of these. You know how to. I’ll just make a mess of it!

I grumbled of course but I realised he’d just end up misplacing his passport or converting his money into wrong currency. So I arranged his papers by the dates he’d need them, filed the rest away carefully and put them away. Then I organised his money into different sets, told him how much to convert, how much to retain and in the end took over some part of it so he wouldn’t misplace it. At the end of the week, I also had a detailed account of what he had spent and what he would need to convert back. Considering he was an MBA, who had lived away from home for over 6 years, I really think he should have learnt to do all this. But by his own admission, girlfriends had always taken care of such things for him. In retrospect I wonder what would have happened if I had just left him to flounder.

I’ve spent enough of time raving about the inadequacy of men but I wonder now whether I’m part of the other half that actually facilitates this. We’re both mass products of a great social machinery that churns out only one relationship between a man and a woman – motherhood. We seem to be unable to treat men as equal human beings with their own minds so we end up either mollycoddling them or being fearful of them; either way it is a relationship of bullying or resentful servitude. Instead of kicking men for not being able to do things that they weren’t anyway trained for anyway, I’m wondering how do we break out of this behaviour? Is it possible for women to learn new ways to treat a man? And do so without being disgusted of men or giving up on them?

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