When it comes to women’s issues in India, what affects me endlessly is the plight of urban women across economic and social statuses. Educated or uneducated, rich or poor, women face strange discriminations in the psychological hierarchy of the masses. When resistance comes as a conscious choice, you might battle it and win it too. But what if it is so deeply embedded in the system that the offenders don’t even realise that they aren’t being fair?
Every year many people leave their villages and come to the cities for better standards of living and to earn more money. Our cook, Asha, who was married off to a remote district of Maharashtra returned to the city after a few months with a much older husband. “He doesn’t know any work. He sits idle at his home and others taunt him for not helping in farming. They abused me for being his wife, as if I chose to marry him. I tried to get him to work. But he wouldn’t. So I brought him here. At least I will earn and gather some money instead of eating what others throw at us disrespectfully. He can’t even cross the road of his own. But here I will force him in a way I couldn’t at my matrimonial home,” she told me. Of course her in-laws didn’t appreciate that courage which prompted her to take a decision and move out in search of a life of respect. People came from her village for their selfish purposes and told her how they cursed her for taking away the “son of the house”!Another maid, Jaisree, had a different story to narrate. Mother of two girls both above 16, she was trying to conceive again expecting this time she would be lucky to have a boy! Jaisree wasn’t like any other usual maid. She was an entrepreneur by heart. For anything that a house might need, she always had a solution. Ask for a carpenter or plumber or cook or masseur, she knew someone who offered such services and took her cut for helping them find work. “My husband doesn’t give me money,” she said. “I have to raise my girls all alone. They are growing up now, they want to study further, they need to be married off. I need more money. If I have a son, then the husband will pay me the expenses.” I remember her fantastically explaining her charges for every work when she was hired. She knew before me what all she might be asked to do daily, weekly and monthly. So there were monthly fixed amounts and there were variables too. I quite appreciated her transparency and the way she attached value to her work, all for fair deals, not a rupee extra quoted from the ongoing rates of the society. She knew the rules and loopholes of the society by heart and anytime I had an issue, the lady would tell me how to approach it or whom to talk to. Literally she purchased the loyalty of her employer. I felt it took courage and confidence to live like that. Within eight months she had two miscarriages. “If you want a healthy baby, then stop being desperate,” I advised her. Her eyes told me, she couldn’t wait. What if…? I dared not ask. But she answered anyway. “We all have to take some risks in life!”
Explaining to her that her husband was a prejudiced, myopic idiot would be a futile exercise. So I stopped. But I couldn’t stop thinking how the attitude of men and the superstitions limiting them were a constant threat to progress. I thought poverty and lack of education lead to rigidities. But I was wrong.
Superstitions and prejudices have least to do with education or economic status or social standing. Sometimes these vices are inherited and practiced as a family ritual; else they are picked up as a substitute of hope during weak moments and then the weakness continues forever. How do I otherwise justify a foreign educated Adhyayan Suman believing that his ex-flame had done “black magic” on him and that she was a “witch” who mixed “impure blood” in his food! The frustration behind a failed relationship is understandable. He may have really been in an abusive relationship, as he claims. But should that mean that an ongoing controversy be utilised to demean the ex-lover, that too so tastelessly? Isn’t that guile? I also heard the interview of his parents, one of them being a reputed celebrity by his own right, trying to defend the statements made by their son! Years of showbiz and ultra-modern lifestyle could not educate them to walk beyond those primitive mind-sets. And that is sad.
I doubt whether there would be anyone in the urban world who believed in whatever Adhyayan Suman said. But there are certainly many, who enjoyed his interference in an already bleeding controversy. No woman activist has yet slammed a legal notice at Adhyayan Suman. Perhaps, our political machinery would laugh at this too and say, boys will be boys!
At rural and remote belts, people are restricted from breaking through the existing ideologies because they have an entire community to fight against. Logic or education wouldn’t work there. Only force would. But in a space where certain notions are so deeply rooted that people don’t even understand their constraints, perhaps the urban grace doesn’t make any difference in the attitudes.
People then use their sophistication and education to justify their actions. Just like Shekhar Suman did. Just like A.K. Sharma, the defence lawyer in Nirbhaya case, had infamously blamed Jyoti Singh for her rape because she was “outside” home till late in the night.
With such elements rampant around us, leading lives of repute and luxury, women empowerment through urbanisation would be too impaired to offer a better mental and physical health in the near future.
Koral Dasgupta is an author, academic, columnist, art patron and Founder for a storytelling platform called #TellMeYourStory. She is an advisory member with the Censor Board for Film Certification (CBFC).