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It Doesn’t Matter if Those Tiny Shoes Are Blue or Pink!

It Doesn’t Matter if Those Tiny Shoes Are Blue or Pink!

“Phir se ladki hui he!”(You have given birth to a girl again). This was the first thing I heard, when my second child was born. The duty nurse walked in and placed her by my side. I was exhausted after the long labor and was bleeding excessively. I glanced at her, all pink and tiny, when a single tear drop slipped down my eye. I was happy. My baby was just fine.

Hubby and I were elated when we realized that our second bundle of joy was on its way. The nine months seemed too long for us three- and my first born just couldn’t wait to include her yet-to-arrive sibling, in her game of Barbie dolls. However, the elders in the family seemed a wee bit stressed. It began with subtle hints and soon moved to more direct ones that this time around, the baby better be a boy!

Hubby and I seldom paid any heed to these words, as the reasons seemed absolutely absurd to us. “You already have a girl,” they would say, “and another one would simply be an additional responsibility.”

Their want of a boy stemmed from the following thoughts.

  • With the number of rape and eve teasing around, there is an additional responsibility of protection of the girl. One always has to be on tenterhooks when they go out.
  • Continuing the family name and the task of doing karma is on the shoulders of the son.

Brushing away this absurdity, in our own privacy, hubby and I would draw up a list of names- both for boys and girls. It didn’t matter to us- whether those tiny shoes were blue or pink!

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On a cold winter night in Delhi, my second one was born in the Base hospital in Delhi Cantt.., when the duty nurse loudly made the announcement that it was a girl again. I gave her a meek grin at that moment, out of exhaustion. The elders in the family hardly had anything to say. The celebration was kept minimal and the air of disappointment was evident.

Back in the gyneac ward, as hubby and I sat admiring the new one, the duty nurse walked in and asked me if I was happy. Of course I was! What more could I ask for. My family, all of four, was complete now. She chuckled as she said,” You would be coming back a third time!! I have seen the world.” We both sat gazing at the door, when the intensity of her statement actually hit us.

This is probably the story in many households in our country, where a boy is preferred over a girl child, more so when it is the second time around. And this thought process is prevalent in every strata of society- doesn’t matter whether they are educated or not, doesn’t matter if they are in their 30s or in their 60s.

I probably consider myself lucky that my husband belongs to a generation where the gender of the child absolutely did not matter. I also consider myself lucky that despite the disappointment; the elders in the family came in terms with it and today are absolutely adorable grandparents to both my girls.

Yet, things are not the same for many other women in our country.  A girl child could actually spell doom for them, especially if the first born is already one.

Social campaigns have played a major role in changing mindsets and reduced the stigma attached to giving birth to a girl. Still the birth of a baby boy is accompanied by celebrations and the arrival of a baby girl elicits mixed reactions. What really needs to happen is a change at the grass root level, where we need to evolve new thought processes and advocate these to our next generation. It is only then, would we actually stop bothering, about those tiny shoes being pink or blue!

I shall leave you with a video that speaks volumes about the existing thought process. Brilliantly made by “Grey India”.

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Really Educated? #AtoZChallenge

Really Educated? #AtoZChallenge

rReally… Are we actually “educating” individuals, or merely “qualifying them”, piling on degrees after degrees? 

I bumped into Mrs. S at a birthday party yesterday. We aren’t really friends but have had a long association, professionally. A lady with a motor mouth, who seldom knew what diplomacy, was. And anyways in kiddo birthday parties, amidst all the screams and squeaks of children, her loud voice may really not bother you much.

It all started with someone complimenting my prettily dressed girls. “How cute little girls look in party frocks, shoes and shimmers,” he said. Mrs. S took no time to respond to this statement. “Girls would be cute and a pleasure now when they are young. It is only as they grow older would you realize the issues. You would have to keep a watch on where they go and whom they meet. And then the expenses you have to incur on them- spend on their education, later get them married, another expenditure on “Godh Barayee” (Baby shower equivalent in India) and later on her child. It is never-ending. I am glad I have a son.”

The group present just disapprovingly said, “Come on, things have changed”. And the conversation ended there. I of course was not really surprised. There are many such people in our society who think in a similar fashion. But here is what struck me odd. 

Mrs. S holds a Masters in English Literature and an MBA in Marketing from Patna University. With a double degree she worked as a high school teacher. So if this was the thought process of the “qualified” individuals of our society, is our education system actually in place? Are we actually “educating” individuals, or merely “qualifying them”, piling on degrees after degrees?

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Shouldn’t our education system be focussing on bringing out better thought processes, so that something more positive could be done for the society at large? We need to make our whole education system effective to tackle mindset issues that are prevalent. 

That’s real education!!!

Should I really advice my daughter that there isn’t any difference in being a boy or girl?

Should I really advice my daughter that there isn’t any difference in being a boy or girl?

Sheela raised this question as we both scuttled for a seat in the crowded Delhi Metro. The one hour commute between Rajiv Chowk and Huda City Centre gave us enough time to share tidbits of our daily lives. “Of course you should”, I said. “Girls are leaving a mark in every field these days. Opportunities are aplenty and there should be no restrictions on the basis of gender”. “I thought so too”, said Sheela. “But off late I have begun to realize 100% gender equality is utopian and does not exist”. I was stumped to hear this from Sheela. I have always known her as an intelligent, well read and well-spoken person. An efficient mom of two kids and a feminist at times, she spoke vehemently about empowerment of women on many an occasion. But a statement such as this threw me aback.

Sheela continued without waiting for me to ask for a clarification.

“I grew up with two elder brothers. So tools, spanners and screw drivers co-existed among dolls, ribbons and laces in my room. My father always made me believe that there is nothing a girl cannot do that a boy can. And I believed this with all my heart and excelled in every activity as a student.

My first jolt however came, at the time of my college admission. I cracked the IIT-JEE with a fairly high rank. As my passion lay in tools and machinery, I decided to opt for the mechanical branch. And that is when, for the first time, my “progressive” thinking father questioned my decision. “Girls seldom opt for mechanical engineering. It is a boy’s subject. Why don’t you opt for electronics or computer science instead?” he said. I was surprised at my father’s words. He knew the workshop floor was my passion. Yet he restricted me from opting for it. Nevertheless after considerable coaxing he agreed. So there I was at IIT Delhi. In a class room of almost a hundred odd students I was one among 4 girls. Yes, that was the ratio 4:100 in mechanical engineering. But this did not deter me. I topped my semesters almost every single time.

The second jolt of my life came at the time of placements. The engineering based industries which were on campus for placements, did not prefer to employ girls.  Though this wasn’t communicated directly, the industries claimed there would be a lot of field work and such an environment isn’t at present conducive for a women employee. So despite being a topper, I could not get a job that I really had the passion for. I did manage to get recruited by a software company based in the USA, which made me forget my actual passion.

Entry in the 2011 CIPE Cartoon Contest by Indra Baatarkhuu from Mongolia
Entry in the 2011 CIPE Cartoon Contest by Indra Baatarkhuu from Mongolia

But the biggest jolt came after I got married.  Though Ajay was a loving husband and my in-laws caring, I realized after a few years into matrimony that there are unwritten rules and expectations specific to me. For example, the home front is always to be my department. So it is entirely my responsibility to ensure meals are on time, kids have had their tiffin, the laundry was done, the maid comes in, get the groceries, ensure children have done their homework, and do the other odd errands that spring up on a daily basis. Not that I cringe from taking care of home, but wish Ajay would share the load too.

Though my in-laws never openly discouraged me from working, yet every time I returned late from work, I was given hostile looks and a frown. It was different when hubby dearie returned home late from work. The thought was…well… he is earning for the family; hence he isn’t really expected to pitch in do the house work.  So I try to get home early from work, so that I could cook a decent dinner for the family, plan the next day’s meals and tiffin’s, get the grocery for the home, handle the maid, sit with the children’s homework and yes do the odd errands that suddenly spring up at home.

It is always like I have a double shift at home. I avoid work related travel and have had long career breaks to take care of family. All this has had a negative impact on my career growth prospects. If only we could bring up our sons to share the home responsibilities…. Till then I prefer not to teach my daughter that there is no difference between a boy and a girl.”

At that moment, the metro screeched to a halt at our destination. As we both gushed out onto the crowded platform, I let my eyes wander around at the sea of women waiting to get in- from young college students to independent office goers. I thought to myself. There are everyday struggles for each one of them. Sheela had a point. There still are gender specific rules, and stereotyped gender roles that prevail in society. Probably it is time we start to teach our young boys about the non-existence of gender differences.

The Red Spike Shoes

The Red Spike Shoes

The green trunk lay open today. It had been more than a decade, since it saw the light of the day.

As Bindiya moved her hands into it, she felt a dull sting. A smile crossed her face.  She picked it up delicately, as though a tiny infant lay in its folds. The cloth that wrapped it had faded away, what once must have been a colorful piece of apparel. As the layers unfolded, her treasure stood bare in her hands.  It was in perfect condition. Memories of those bygone days came flooding to Bindiya.

The Junior National Athletic Meet in Delhi, 15 years back was Bindiya’s first taste of success. With the prize money of a few hundred Rupees, she purchased a shiny red spike shoes. This was her medal, for winning the 100 meter stretch, leaving almost all her competitor’s way behind. At the age of 19, Bindiya had her goals in place. The Asian Games and the Olympics next. The spike shoes would serve her well.  At their humble home in Dadanpur village, Bindiya announced her future plans to Baba and Amma. The reaction was cold. The doors closed shut for Bindiya.

Three months passed by and Bindiya was married off to Nandkisore, a prosperous farmer from the neighboring village Sabili, in Haryana. For Bindiya, this meant, settling down into matrimony, taking care of home, and producing an offspring for her husband. Her life went behind the veil. And so did her dreams and aspirations. Her spikes lay wrapped and hidden in the green trunk, never to feel the ground beneath, never to see the sky above.

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But today, as she sat on a charpoy, under the tree, Bindiya saw herself in Meera. Her twelve year old daughter was racing through the fields. Having inherited Bindiya’s slender long legs, Meera had the perfect running form. All she needed was encouragement, guidance and training. And Bindiya was going to be there for her. Not as an authoritative person, not as a dominant parent, but as a friend and guide to encourage her to soar to greater heights, and live her dreams

As dawn broke every day, in the lush green fields of Sabili, Bindiya was there for Meera, teaching her the nuances of athletics. For Meera, it was perfect training under her mother. And for Bindiya, it was liberating. She was underrated and fearless once again, as her feet caught up with those of her daughters.

And soon enough the big moment arrived. At the stadium pavilion, sitting with her fingers crossed, Bindiya saw her little princess, with the red spike shoes, whiz past her competitors. A tear dropped down her eye. Meera won her selection into the Junior National Athletic Meet to be held in Delhi. And Bindiya had taken that first step again, towards her dream.

Meera hugged Bindiya. It spoke volumes.

Pads Against Sexism

Pads Against Sexism

The recent campaign in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, has caused quite a furor.

It was the sanitary napkin campaign, in protest against India’s patriarchy and rape culture. A group of students calling themselves ‘Periods’ had messages written on sanitary napkins. These were then stuck on walls all across the campus. The scribbled messages were clear- to break society’s taboo on speaking about menstruation, bring about gender sensitization and the stigma of those raped or molested.

The protests were drawn in line with the international ‘Pads Against Sexism’ campaign that was started on International Women’s Day (March 8) by a German woman named Elonë Kastratia. Elone had messages against rape and sexism written on sanitary pads, sticking them at public places in Karlsruhe in Germany. What inspired her was a tweet that said “Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods”.

The campaign however saw disapproval from the university. Jadavpur University set up a three-member fact-finding panel to probe the matter, as it was considered to be socially unacceptable. Similar protests were seen at Delhi’s Jamia Milia earlier that had led to four students being show caused.

The campaign got me thinking. What was the university basically against? Were they against the messages? Were they against the protest? Or were they against the use of a Sanitary Napkin as a medium around the campus?

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Menstruation is still a taboo subject among the progressive masses as well.

This taboo strongly prevails across societies. Almost all women across India are often told to maintain some sort of seclusion during their cycles. From abstaining from religious activities to visiting a temple, the whole episode is considered as something impure or dirty. This is despite the knowledge most people have, that menstruation is a sign of a healthy body. It is a part of humankind and cannot be alienated to women alone. In the bygone ages, in an era where the modern sanitary napkins weren’t really available, seclusions must have been purely to avoid any sort of embarrassment for the lady. It would also have been to help her relax and maintain a certain degree of hygiene. But under the present day context, such seclusions are really unwarranted for.

How often have we noticed parents squirming in their seats when there is a sanitary napkin advertisement? Not wanting their child to watch it, they are quick enough to change the channel.The discussion on such a subject is almost always a no. It is a taboo.

Despite removal of all the sanitary napkins from the campus within 24 hours of the campaign, the students of Jadavpur university have raised some valid questions.

  • What is socially acceptable and what is not?
  • Is the sanitary napkin not acceptable?
  • Is menstruation not acceptable?
  • Or are women as a whole not acceptable to society?

I leave you thinking …. along with a few snapshots of my favourite campaign messages.

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The Vanishing Brides of Haryana

The Vanishing Brides of Haryana

“All names of people have been changed to protect their identity.”

Rewari is a small district in the south of Haryana, around 50 odd kilometers away from the National Capital. I met Balbir Hooda and his wife Poonam Devi here. Richard and I were out on our weekly field trip when we met them. Courteous and extremely hospitable, the couple invited us over for lunch in their modest home, overlooking a paddy field. Haryana is blessed with cattle wealth, and this was visible in the lunch served. Hot parathas (handmade flat bread) soaked with homemade “tindi ghee” (clarified butter), with a generous helping of vegetables and lentils. Haryanvi meals are almost always finished with a tall glass of buttermilk popularly called “Chaaj”.

Afternoon siestas are mandatory after a meal as sumptuous as this. Low lying “charpoys” are laid out under the tree. A cool breeze sways across, rocking almost anybody into deep slumber. I sat on a thick straw mat with Poonam Devi inside their home. Women seldom venture out when men folk were around. Poonam opened her heart out to me. It’s been five years since Kisan, her son, had reached the marriageable age. However the couple has been unable to find him a suitable bride.

What was the problem? He seemed to be a good looker (I had a glance at the family photograph nailed to the wall) and was employed in the factory floor of Maruti, in Hisar. Poonam Devi also hinted to me the acres of land her family had ”amassed” over the years. So why was it so difficult to get a bride? “Achchi choriyaan milte kahaan he aaj kal”(where do you get good girls these days), she said in chaste Haryanvi. She continued, “Girls these days are not like how we used to be. We used to leave our village only once when we got married. After that we worked for our husband’s family all through life. Nowadays girls leave home before marriage, to work in cities such as Delhi and Faridabad. They never return back to their home town.” Poonam Devi’s reason for not finding a bride made no sense to me. I brushed the conversation aside for the moment. As we got back to Delhi that evening, I put my thoughts together and did a bit of Google reading. The problem may seem small – of Kisan not having found a bride. But there are underlying issues that needs to be addressed

  • The skewed up sex ratio

Census 2011 reveals a sex ratio of 879 for each 1000 male in Haryana, well below the national average of 940. Here is why. Over the years, there have been rampant practices of sex selective abortions. The repercussions have trickled down and boys of marriageable age now face a deficit of brides within the state.

  • Caste above all

I wonder when this would leave our country. When I asked Poonam why she wouldn’t look at a girl from another community/caste, she raised an eyebrow. She would prefer Kisan to remain unmarried than marry a Dalit, or for that matter anybody outside the Jat community.  How would she answer the Khap Panchayat if he married a Dalit? She was aghast at this very thought.

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  • “Importing” from another state

In the recent years, brides from not only the neighboring states, but as far as Tripura and down south Kerala where being wed to Haryanvi boys. The term used for such brides in the Haryanvi vocabulary is Molki and Paro. Molki means bought for a price and Paro means from across the state. Poonam was fine with this, however the girl had to be from an upper caste.

Richard helped me get in touch with Mr. John Oomen of Kannur district, Kerala. He said, “Haryana Kalyanams (Haryana Weddings) are rampant in Kannur, similar to the erstwhile Arab wedding, where young brides were packed off to live with old Arabs, for paltry sums. Girls from economically weaker sections are married off to boys in Haryana for sums as low as Rs 20,000-Rs. 40,000”. John and his NGO, “Sahayam”, try to identify such marriages to ensure there isn’t any force or trafficking. What John says is the problem is when these young brides are forced to say that they are doing it on their own will.

For most of us living in urban households, such bits of information is nothing but information. We read about them or come across it on television news. And that’s it. We probably do think it over at that moment. But sooner or later we let it slip out of our minds. The common thought is, it happens in Haryana. They killed their girl babies, hence face a bleak future. It is the government who should be looking into this. What could we really do?

An earlier blog post of mine, 4 Main Reasons Why Indians Prefer a Son speaks about the rampant presence of gender bias in many people around us. What we should probably do is understand the underlying causes, and bring about a whole new thought process within ourselves. Today it is Haryana importing brides from another state. Let us not reach a situation where we Indians are importing brides from another country !!!

Linking with : http://www.writetribe.com/write-tribe-pro-blogger-challenge/ and yeahwrite.me/nonfiction-writing-challenge-203