Choices


“You know how sometimes you tell yourself that you have a choice, but really you don’t have a choice? Just because there are alternatives doesn’t mean they apply to you.”
― Rick Yancey, The 5th  Wave 

I titled this ‘Choices’ for the lack of any other title. These are just reflections of the last seven plus years that I spent rediscovering myself. This is purely subjective piece of writing. A large percentage of women, even in India, may take completely different steps and bring a change in their sordid lives irrespective of age but some of us are unable to. Mostly because of our own inner fears. Most of the times these fears are  based on aspects outside our control and sometimes they are just baseless but still take a grip on our psyche.

I have always been a drifter and always been ridiculed for it. Sometimes it hurt me deeply and at other times I didn’t care. As a young girl I would often dream of travelling to all the places I saw in National Geographic Magazine and the other books I read. I would dream up places too. Beyond stars and galaxies, beyond the known and unknown. The consistent aspect of each dream was a house. A small yet comfortable house which I would turn into a home. A home where I wanted to be in but never was in reality. I would include a husband/partner/lover as the other resident and yes, there were children too. It all depended on how lonesome or solitary I felt. There would always be a nice kitchen soaked in the warmth of winter sunlight but coolly shaded in summers. There would always be a small garden attached to it. There would be books, music, food, laughter and most importantly love. Other things changed time to time. At that time I never thought of living alone. I was too lonely already to long for more seclusion. Later of course things changed.

At that time not many people asked me what I would want to become when I grow up and I felt grateful for that but when someone did I said, “I want to become a nun or I want to become a trapeze artist.” Fascinated as I was by the world of circus artists. It was a fantasy I wanted to escape into. Of course all that changed once sense prevailed but the drifting continued and all I needed to do in the  future was find a haven away from the chaos.

During the middle school years every time when I  returned to an empty house, with the house key dangling around my neck in a black thread, return to cold meals and silence, I would cringe and envy the kids who had someone waiting for them at home, mostly their mothers. Of course, we were raised differently and there were no gender assigned roles in our house but I was young and grappling with many issues. I think I even cringed at being alone with my dad for various reasons. It was at this time the feeling of living alone began to grow. The dreams remained the same but there were no companions, no family. Perhaps a few friends who would visit but not cling. I was increasingly becoming weary of people around me. It was a complex situation where I wanted the company and yet needed my quiet space.  We didn’t go out for movies or attended family weddings/functions. Hardly anyone visited our house but we did sometimes go to my maternal grandmother’s house in Pune. Another place that I was very fond of for many reasons and yet carried a lingering fear in my heart about it. Someday I will write openly about it.

There were times I enjoyed the peace and solitude of being alone at home. It was a good change from the tensed, argumentative, stifled time when others were around. In some part of my heart I reminded myself again and again that I did not have a ‘normal’ home environment and vowed to give that to myself and family when I grew up.  It did not happen that’s another story though I did leave my job before I got married in hope to make my marital home the haven I had always dreamed of. The lingering thought of having a working mother and my constant loneliness as a young girl made me believe that only stay at home moms could provide the secure and loving home a child needed.

In my circumstances it wasn’t a good choice to be a dependent. Financial independence could have saved me a lot of hurt and humiliation. It could have changed the course of my life but then there are a lot of other factors that contribute to the kind of turns life takes. One can go on about the ‘Ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘would be’.

When I look back I see my life divided into slots of  about twenty years each. I am in the third phase now. Two major life changing decisions came at the age of 24 and 44  I got married at 24 and left my marital home at 44. The reason behind both was similar and yet different in some ways. I have written about both in other posts.

Seven years on from the second decision I find myself at the threshold again. Still not able to find a closure. Sometimes I feel I am a rider inside the motordrome or a silodrome with no safety harnesses. I guess the universe took my fascination of circus acts a bit too seriously and put me on this eternal side-show in his carnival called Life.

It is very easy to judge people for the choices they make. I think the only person who can judge is the choice maker. Only he/she can weigh the pros and cons of the action taken. Most of the time the decisions seem correct at the time they are taken and it is only later when we look back we see the hollowness of the choices made. Sometimes we can start afresh and at other times we can’t, no matter how much we wish.

The last seven years revealed some very poignant things.

It is very important to be financially independent from an early stage in your life. It helps build confidence and gives you power to control your life to a large extent. You may question my statement and tell me stories of happy stay at home wives and I do agree that if your partner/husband is caring and respects your decision to follow your dreams even if it is to keep home then it is worth every bit but that is not always the case. I saw the dream shatter and the lack of financial support left me nowhere. As the years passed I found it extremely difficult to acquire the job that would suit my ‘outdated’ academic or professional qualifications.

Also that ‘academic intelligence’ or even life skills sometimes do not guarantee real world success or employment especially if you over 45+ woman and looking for a career.  It is a personal experience about which I will sometime write in detail.

The second phase of my life was a struggle to  cope with a non supportive/cooperative marital family, raising children and trying very hard, against all odds, to make that house a home. It did not work. So, I put aside the idea of  living my dreams and put all my strength to see that my boys get what I did not. It was a choice I made. I was weak, emotionally and mentally. The strength to rebel came very late and with tremendous consequences.

The idea of love is very rosy but be very assertive about your self-respect and dignity. Do not ever allow the other person to take hold on you in any way just because you are in love. If there is no mutual affection and respect in a relationship then it would never thrive. Everything else fades away with time. Adjusting, compromising with yourself on various grounds in hope of a blissful haven is foolish. Unconditional love is a silly thought. There is no such thing. Every act of love seeks something in return and if one doesn’t love oneself one can’t expect love from others. Again, something I knew but never practiced. What you give to others is never enough and is often thrown back at you as an object that supposedly smothered them. Never give away all of yourself to anyone. Never.

I also feel that heartbreak is often good for you because you know exactly what you do not wish in your life.  Mistakes / failures are always very good teachers. Each failure, each rejection is a stepping stone to something positive so instead of crying over them it is always better to move forward and be grateful for the things that broke you so that you could collect yourself and walk much stronger and experienced. They teach you lessons that you need to learn, strengthening and resurrecting you in the process. It makes you reach inside and know yourself better.

No school or college can teach you what life does. Be attentive to it. The beauty of the human life lies in its fragility so don’t give it up or give it away. It is the real strength and power of being human to accept your brokenness, to put it all back together. To fill the cracks with gold of love and move on. Cracks are the wounds indicating you have suffered and have overcome that suffering. Something like Kintsugi . 

I spent years carrying the hurt in my heart and then one day I just let it go. It made all the difference within though the daily struggle to assert myself and live continues. Insecurity and discontent robs you of your peace and your health.There is nothing like travelling light and finding joy in small things rather than moaning over the past and the negative. Unfortunately financial instability or lack of money and a basic comfortable life in a space of your own can pull you back in that muck time after time.  The reason I suffer even now, even after knowing all this. It’s tiresome being a fighter all life long.

I’m essentially a very trusting person but the events of last few years have made me tougher. I am not cynical but careful than before. People who claimed to be well wishers back stabbed in such a way that I began to question the very essence of any relationship. It broke me but then I emerged wiser. Now there are a selective few I trust and the others need to prove their worth.

Each person and the environment in which he/she lives is different but one thing that runs through every situation is unless the men in your life (father/brother/husband/partner/lover/ son..) are enlightened enough to see you as a human being with a mind of her own who has goals and desires you will always be subjugated and remain unhappy and dissatisfied with yourself and others. To stop that you need to be strong and vocal about what you want from life and take full responsibility for your actions. I realized this very late in life. Many things were out of my control and irreversible by then. Never make this mistake of handing the pen in someone else’s hand. Write your own story.

I told someone to stay single and pursue the goals she had set for herself unless the partner is supportive of her blossoming. Not many agreed but darlings this is the only way to happiness. I support people who not to have children and also who decide to have them/adopt them or just sponsor a child. It is a choice they make. Why should one judge? We are very judgmental lot especially when it comes to the choices women make.

Patriarchy sees red when women make choices and that is one of the reasons why many of us have stilled voices. Also, our society is obsessed with marriage. It is time to look beyond pushing kids to settle down and have babies.

Women are “natural givers”, this is a concept taught by the patriarchal society. A woman has to think of others before she thinks about herself. ( If at all she dares to think.) We are made to believe that our very existence is for others. A girl is conditioned to this thought since childhood and the society frowns if she resists making her feel guilty and most of the give up her dreams. In each role she plays her glory is in sacrifice.

“Selfish” became my middle name the moment I decided to break those barriers. People often say women don’t want to break out of patriarchal mindset as they love to play victims or as an excuse for their life state or unwillingness to be decisive and take the hard path. Though I do agree that many of the women do that but it’s also true in many cases the lack of support system and financial instability can also hinder their movement towards a path they want to walk on. The hard path is harder than you think. At different social levels the choices differ and so does the ability to break free. Especially in the case of middle class, which has also now got segmented, women find it much difficult to step out. It’s easier said than done.

I think it is very essential to know and realize your worth not just as a woman but as a human being. As an individual.

Another thing that life revealed in last few years is, if you are in an abusive or an unsatisfactory marriage then take a stand as early as possible. If you delay then it would be very difficult at later stages. Not all natal homes are supportive and not every woman will find a steady income to support herself or children ( if there are any). Early decision also gives you enough time to make a fresh start if you need to look for a job to support yourself.  I spent twenty plus years in hope that things will improve but they did not. Don’t believe in the misconception that once you have children things will change for good or improve. No, they don’t and then children suffer too.

People often ask me, ‘ why did you take it for so long?” They say among themselves,”How could an educated woman with liberal thinking do this to herself?”

In our country unless you have a back up or a support system worked out it is lethal to step out and fight for your rights. If you think your natal home is where you’ll find solace, think again. It is very frustrating for many. I know because I am living it.

I had spent two major phases of my life struggling with myself trying to find who I am and where I am headed. Oscillating between what I was and what I had become.

In solitary hours I would stare at the walls on the house of bricks that held me captive because I let it. Slowly I felt my energy depleting at all levels. Though I kept myself involved with children and work at home there was something that was so unfulfilling that it began to gnaw at me.  I did things to distract myself from the mess I was in and found ways to keep myself and boys as much out of it as possible especially in the first half of the marriage. My natal family knew of all that was happening but as they say, if you do not help yourself no one else does. No support came from there to give me courage to break the destructive cycle. I talked, wrote long letters ( boys think that may have been a stepping stone to my blogging  at later stage) but never found a solution or a helping hand.

I also believed that time will heal things and a change will happen. Time doesn’t heal. Don’t believe it all you have been told. Time simply crushes you, chains you, makes you its slave and whiplash you to obey its commands. The answers, the healing comes from either within or from elsewhere. Time just watches the drama and laughs at our misery . Time is the devil to whom we have sold our souls. It is the master, we mere slaves. Only an inner uprising can bring the change. Only that can create true love, true courage, true self.

Abuse ( mental/emotional/physical), is difficult to explain. Many women find is hard to break the cycle of pain and either reach out for help pr move out. They resign to their fates, a guilt, a painful silence that penetrates their bones and makes its home there. The fear, the insecurity, the distrust cripples them. It is very disturbing and depressing. In my case it showed very clearly in physical symptoms. I became a hypochondriac to a very large extent.

Friends were helpless too even if they understood the situation. Suddenly I realized I was alone in this battle. There are many well-meaning people who understand your struggle and encourage you to ” stay brave” but the intention of wishing well does not help. Action does. Not many stand up for you and actually help. The boys were growing up fast and the clock ticking. I had to take a step or fall forever in the quicksand that was sucking me in.

I realized that the only person you can change is yourself. People do what they want to do despite you telling them otherwise. I used to get affected by the undesired outcome, still do at times, but ultimately I found that getting affected by the result harms me more than anyone else involved and that made the difference. It is better to let go and leave people to their views and doings rather than fret about something not in your control. (Still learning)

Someone I admire told me about the universal law of attraction and the role of destiny. I do believe in universal energies but unless one resolves things within the universe does not help. Unless you try to do something to bring the change in your life no one else will do it for you. People can be very comforting and good listeners but no one likes all day whining especially when that is all you do.

I turned 50 last October. Completing 3/4 of the expected average human lifespan and I am worried. Worried about future.  It terrifies me to see that I have neither the security nor the funds for my old age. So, what did I do all these years, let’s say from age 21 to 49 (the working years)? Nothing for myself except a three four years of work from home job given to me by a “friend” as a “do a good deed” pack. I earned some money and experience no doubt but I lost a lot on personal front and then the job itself. As the person said himself,” No good deed goes unpunished”. Not his quote but Oscar Wilde’s. My punishment was to be thrown out of work when I needed it most. It was a crucial time for me and a few more years would have seen me through a lot of troubles. This is when I realized that once you taste freedom life is never the same again. Also, that without enough money for everyday sustenance every notion of freedom and living a life one dreams of falls flat on the face. When someone knows that you are looking for safe refuge more than anything else and at any cost they get you to do stuff they want. I will tell you this very important story one day soon.

Dependence is imprisonment and even though I know it I have very few choices. The ‘hard path’ that people tell me to take is all fine and dandy but my inner fears and physical, emotional health doesn’t allow me to cross the line once more at this stage of life. Now, in this third and perhaps the last phase of my life, I am again at crossroads. The choices are clear and very few unless a miracle happens. I do believe in them by the way. 🙂 You tend to believe in everything when all else fails.

A few of those choices will mean giving up on all that I worked on in last few years. Giving up on my ideals, my beliefs and to start afresh is scaring the wits out of me. I have to make a choice soon even if it means a complete turn around or shedding my skin once again to begin from the first step however hard and painful it may be.

Someone asked me why I decided to play the role of a homemaker when I was ‘educated’ and ‘talented’? Why didn’t I take up a profession, become a ‘working woman‘?

The answer is, every woman is a working woman. As for professional life or being a career woman, It was a choice I made and thought it to be correct at that time. I never imagined things would turn out the way they did.  I never imagined that the ‘home’ that I always dreamed about can only become a reality only IF I earn.

Sadly, everything hinges on money.  I have seen even the supposedly closest people turn away the moment they realize you have nothing much to give in terms of money.

This post is just a rambling to help me and maybe others to decide what course to take to make life worthy. I am seeking answers everyday as I battle with my fears. Will the patriarchy win? Will I eventually find my space? Will I find the closure? I tell myself I have been there before. Fought the war, for myself. Won it too. I keep the faith in the choice I have made now. Though I know the stanch feminists will disagree with it but then again I know what’s best for me in this difficult time. I have to correct certain things. I have to make peace with myself. I have to resurrect a bond I cherish. I have to end the search for a home for good. I have to find that space where I can make the choices without a finger pressing my jugular.

My heart is full but my mind tells me not to give up after coming so far. I have battled fears, depression, physical health issues, heartbreak, regressive mindsets, constant bullying, physical abuse and more at other levels. Still battling many of these. Being home bound for years has made turned me into a nervous, jittery person. I feel scared to take on the world as I did so naturally earlier. It has made me shrink into a non believer in myself. Crowded places make me uneasy, going in empty elevators, public transport scares me. I am not the person who didn’t give a hoot to troubles. BUT, I’m slowly changing that. It is a painful task but I am ready to bring myself back into the game.  I have constantly repaired myself and moved on with courage. I have a feeling now is the time to take that final call. Changing old patterns takes an effort and that effort needs immense strength to carry forward but I am not a quitter. I may give in many times but I won’t give up.

“Don’t ever think of me as “easy” “provocative” . I may speak my mind openly and seem to you like a “non typical Indian woman” but then you don’t know Indian women. It is time you changed your perception. I have scars from touching certain people in my life .. and
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Khalil Gibran

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The Pathbreakers – Remembering My Grandmothers


 

This is a  cross-generational and cross-cultural story of two immensely talented women born in late 1800s and early 1900s in two different states, communities, castes. I emphasize on these terms because in those times they hugely impacted the lives of people especially the women.  What makes these two women , my paternal and maternal grandmothers, special is their ‘non-conformist’  stance. They were ahead of their times and charted their paths irrespective of the brickbats from the highly patriarchal setup in which they were born and brought up. They inspired three generations of women in my family and many others whose lives they touched.

I wanted to write about my grandmothers for two reasons. As you read you will see the stark contrast between their lives  and the choices they made.  The one who got higher education and exposure settled into a homebound life and the other who was uneducated or less educated perhaps ( only home schooling if any) stepped out of her patriarchal home and lived an independent life on her terms.  Somewhere while listening about their lives the thought that emerged was that financial independence or education was secondary when it came to them taking a stand about their lives. It was an inner fire, a deep commitment to self and a strong will that led them to break the ‘codes of conduct and living’ that the society had imposed on them.

For one the family support  played a major role and for the other rebelling against the family worked.  As I look at their lives I see  a somewhat similar pattern in the next two generations of women. Here I mainly speak of my mother and me.

 

My maternal grandmother ( Aaji) Vardha Moghe

Aaji was born in early 1900s in a a middle class, educated chitrapur saraswat brahmin family. This community was known for its liberal vies in those times too. Her elder brother (20 yrs senior) was the principal of Pune Agricultural College.  He was the first Indian to hold that position after his British predecessor. Well known in the education system for being an excellent teacher he wrote a book – Aamchi sheti (Our Farming) – in Marathi for the indigenous  students.  Her younger brother was an excellent photographer and spent some years in the armed forces during world war 2.

Aaji lost her mother at a very tender age of nine and as sent to the only girls’ hostel, ‘Hazoor Paga’,  in Pune at the age of eleven. At that time her father was posted at Belgaon in the admin office of C.I.D and people used to come and consult him about English language as he had a very good command over English spelling , grammar and syntax.

After schooling my granny attended the prestigious Fergusson  College, Pune.  She did her M. Sc.( Botany)  from there at a time when very few girls opted for science as a subject (1926-27).  As a student she was often reprimanded  or punished for being too outspoken in her nationalist leanings. She was grounded once for  sneaking away from the hostel to listen to Mahatma Gandhi’s public lecture. She wore hand spun Khadi like many owmen of that time.

Her father was ostracised as he had employed a Muslim gentleman to teach Sitar to his only daughter Vardha, i.e. my granny. He did not care much about the unjust social dictats and continued to let the maestro teach the daughter.  In no time she mastered the art and began to play Sitar to perfection.

Following  the footsteps of her father Vardha joined the Young Theosophists and met her future husband there.

My Aaji Vardha Moghe on her wedding day, June 1929

Her marriage to R.V. Moghe brought much heartburn amongst her community as she had marrying a Maharashtriyan Brahmin. Now, those who are aware of caste and community system in India especially during those times will know how it enrages the petty mindsets of orthodox society.  I do not wish to digress in explaining that. The CS community looked down upon them as the CS  Brahmins were educated, forward looking and supposedly ‘liberal’. You can see the hollowness of their ‘progressiveness and liberal attitude’ through this example.  It was a love marriage arranged by the family. The first in our many generations perhaps.

My grandfather did his masters in both English and Marathi and was a good friend to Gajanand Jagirdar (actor/film maker), Achyut Patwardhan, socialist leader N.G. Gore and others involved in the Freedom Movement.

When Grandpa came to Varanasi in 1929 and joined  Dr. Annie Besant’s organisation as a teacher in the then Theosophical National Girl’s School and college ( later known as Vasanta College for Women, Krishnamurthy Foundation, Rajghat, Varanasi)  my grandmother came with him and that marked the beginning of yet another life changing phase for her.

She had a creative mind and was very keen to bring Science to the level of younger children’s understanding. When she came to Banaras she hardly knew Hindi but learned it in a very short time due to her determination and willingness. She then created worksheets for children of age 4-10 introducing the basic principles of science through everyday experiences.  Unfortunately due t othe burocratic ramifications these workbooks remained in MS form.

She taught in the children’s school for sometime but her failing health (early  rheumatism )  and frequent pregnancies practically tied her to home and then to bed.  Despite of her ill health and restrains she had this wonderful sunny disposition and joy de vivire that she instilled in all her children and grandchildren.  I have some very fond memories of our time together and in times of hardships in my life she was the one who came to inspire me through her spirit.

Banaras, in those days was an epitome of Indian art and culture. My grandmother ‘s home in Rajghat was a hub for many cultural gatherings and meetings.  Many stalwarts from performing arts, writers, political leaders, thinkers visited the home of my grandmother .  Some very fine artists like Nandalal Bose, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, writers, musicians like Vinayakvrao Patwardhan, theosophists like George Arundel , his wife Rukmini Devi who established Kala Khshetra and gave a status to Baratnatyam, Leslie Holden, Mulk Raj Anand  etc. visited TS and often came to my grandfather’s home there.

She tried to encourage and instil in her six children all that she could not do due to her poor health.

There were musical gatherings in the house and she made sure, along with her husband, that her children find a wider horizon.

In mid sixties she and grandpa left Banaras for Pune and it is there my Aaji passed away leaving behind fond memories and a legacy that was carried forward by her children and their children.

The brightest thing about Aaji was her attitude towards life.  She had a strong personality and never complained or regretted about the events of her life.  It was always an onward looking, positive attitude.

She always found something good in everything and focused on that.

I remember my time with her in Pune and how I cherished every moment of those few weeks of summer vacation that I spent there. She still sometimes cooked and made fresh white butter for me even tough it was really painful for her due to her medical condition. There was an inherent quality in her that brought people of age groups and from all walks of lives closer to her.  I also remember the story telling  and music sessions that happened in her Pune home where everyone sang and created such a magnificent harmony among each other.

She lived life on her terms from an early age and that is what she imbibed in all of us.  I guess, being the eldest daughter, my mother got most of her positive qualities and now when I look at my boys I feel that  a latent energy that has run through the three generations on both my maternal and paternal side has shaped us to a large extent.

 

My Paternal Grandmother ( Amma/Dadi) Ram Dulari

My Dadi's only photograph.

Exactly opposite  to my Aaji’s life, here is a story of a woman born and brought up in strict ritualistic, orthodox land owning community of Uttar Pradesh in late 1800s and how she chose not to ‘confirm’ to the existing patriarchal norms and codes of conduct for women.

Born in a wealthy landowning Kayasth Srivastava family she was the daughter of a zamindaar who owned 12 villages, extensive farmland and mango orchards etc. My father always told me stories from that side of his family where there was no dearth of servants, coachmen, attendants, workers etc. Women were mostly home bound and stayed behind the pardah. They practically ruled from there but had no say in the ‘matters outside their periphery’.  The Boys were taught Urdu and Persian and the girls enough Nagri characters ( Hindi alphabets) to enable them to read Ramcharitmanas, write letters on postcards and read them if the occasion arose.  Cooking, stitching, embroidery of intricate designs, work with zari, salma sitara etc were learnt from elder women in the family.

All the girls were supposed to know how to present food artistically, for example, drawing floral/geometrical patterns on a plate of dahi vada or a bowl of kheer with the requisite spices , nuts etc.

Excellence in cooking and housework  was looked upon as a great asset in the kayastha families and was a matter of pride and honour.

Girls who were really keen to learn from the books would hide behind the doors of the verandah where boys were being taught and try to learn.

My  grandmother, Ram Dulari, was married off in her late teen which was supposed to be late for marrying a girl. Usually they were married off  much earlier than that.

My grandfather belonged to the same community of Allahabad Kayastha Srivastavas who were considered somewhat superior to  the other kayasthas. The kayastha community are supposed to be the descendants of Chitragupta  and are placed between Brahmins and Kshatriyas in the caste based hierarchy of Brahminical order. Because of their fluency in English and Persian this community was well places in higher positions during British times and was highly influenced by the Islamic culture too. It reflected in their cuisine and tehzeeb (way of life)..

My Grandfather was a graduate and a qualified Ustad of Persian and Urdu language. He had a good job in a British run Insurance company but he ran into an argument with his British Superior and slapped him hence lost his job. Those were the times of Freedom Movement and the atmosphere was always charged.

After losing his job grandpa earned sporadically from teaching the two languages as a tutor and held a few temporary jobs to feed the family . She was an excellent cook and women often gathered to learn from her. She was always consulted by women from the extended family and community during any social occasion like weddings or festivals.

Slowly in the later stages of his marriage he got addicted to drinking. My grandmother had several miscarriages and infant deaths before my father was born. He was the only child who survived. She somehow managed to run her home with utmost dignity but when the financial condition deteriorated the mother and son shifted to her elder brother in law’s newly built house. By then alcoholism had totally destroyed her husband, he could not support the family and stayed on his own.

Even though she was dependent on the brother in law she was never treated as poor relation. Grandma was respected by all and treated with dignity but she did not wish to remain a dependent  and that is when she turned to religion and took to fasts and rituals almost as a penance. Most women of her times in feudal set up had a strong bent towards religious activities like satsang  etc. It was nothing unusual.

Even in her fragile social condition she lived with a head held high. She refused to be led by the orthodox codes for women that her community and social position demanded and this would cause a daily rift in the house. The male members did not take this rebellious attitude nicely and always created a furore over these matters.

Every morning she would walk down to the Ganges along with other ‘ordinary’ women to bathe in the river and do her rounds of temples. The elders in the family highly objected to this but she remained firm on her decision and continued to follow her heart. No women from  upper middle class families were allowed to go about the town like this. Going to bathe in the river was not considered ‘proper’ for a woman of her stature. Even though the men raised objections none had the courage to go against her. It was her personality and approach to life that made her stand out among other women.

My father was in college during this time and everyday arguments made him quit advance studies and take up a teaching job so he could take his mother to live with him. She had never asked him nor spoken to him about this but she took a stand and decided to leave the family house and shift with him to the other end of Allahabad in Naini. The brother- in –law’s family tried to persuade her to stay back but  her decision was final and she stood by it against all odds. For some years she continued to stay with my father, her son. My dad was in his 30s and still a bachelor so the ire was not just for the mother but for the son too. He had past the marriageable age and that was not right.

In her new abode my granny lived her life as per her wishes. She had already cut the shackles which had caged her but something was still bothering her heart. She wasn’t truly independent. She mentioned to my father that she no longer had interest in running a household and wishes to renounce everything. She went for a yatra ( a pilgrimage) and from there wrote to my father that she won’t be returning home. It was unthinkable for a woman in those times to leave her husband, her home and her only son to live on her own somewhere and pursue what she wanted but she found the true liberation she had always sought.

On her return she stopped at the outskirts of Ayodhya in an ashram though she neither followed any sect nor became a part of any religious group or followed any saint  or Guru. Her pursuit was not a religious one but a spiritual one.

She built herself a small Kutir ( a small hut ) and lived there as a sanyasin (ascetic). It was a choice she had made.

Although she lived in the Ashram compound she never took advantage of the facilities there and did all her chores including fetching water for which she walked quite a distance and went up and down the steep stairs. The Ashram staff was always eager to help but she refused unless something was totally beyond her.

She had two sarees and a few utensils which she had bought from her earnings. (she did not take a single thing from the house she left).Before leaving for the yatra she had handed over a locked truck to her sister with the instructions that it was to be given to her son’s bride or if he never married she should open and do what she pleases with the contents.

Mom tells me that the sister never even opened the trunk to look what was inside and it was only brought out when ma visited her after marriage. The key was handed over to her and ma opened the trunk. We still have some of the beautiful embroidery work and a few other things including a few ornaments of hers. A treasure we cherish. For a long time that black truck remained with us until rust ate it up.

My father often visited and supported his mother to some extent but mostly she fended for herself. On many occasions she stitched and embroidered the clothes of the idols in the temples and was paid either in cash or in the form of food which she accepted but never demanded.

She never went back to her husband or family and devoted herself to the prayers and simple living.  Members from the extended family pleaded to her many times to come back but she refused.  She had chosen her path.

Considering the kind of background she came from it is hard to imagine how she adapted herself to this lifestyle. For someone who was brought up in the lap of luxury and then married into yet another comfort zone it surely must have been an act of immense courage and strong will to live the way she did.

During her last days she fell sick but continued to look after herself. The Ashram management informed my father of her grave health and he promptly visited only to be turned back after a week’s stay. Her time to leave the body had arrived and she wanted to be on her own. Within a few days of my father’s leaving she passed away peacefully and was cremated by the Ashram people as per her wishes It was then my father was informed to come and collect her meagre belongings and wind up the place.

I never met my paternal grandmother nor did my mother but my father and all the other relatives from his family speak very highly of her and with great affection.

She was a woman of substance. Many people who knew her thought that she was extremely headstrong and got what she wanted to be done at all costs but most of the times these things were positive in nature. Some even thought she was unlike her two other sisters and this very headstrong, obstinate nature of hers led to the drift between her and my grandfather but then women were always condemned for speaking out their mind. Whatever the case, she never took anything from anyone and lived the way she wanted to.

While she stepped out to pursue her way of life my maternal grandmother chose to stay  within the family structure and bring the change from there. It was mainly because of the different cultural and socio-economic environments I believe. There were no similarities between the two except that they chose not to adhere to what was imposed on them. Perhaps if I go to my ancestral home and find out more about my paternal grandmother some more facets of her life will open up.

Both women refused to confirm to the usual set of norms dished out to them, both found a way to nip them and keep the future generations free from the tangles of that skewed system. Both women had a ‘sun inside them’ as people who knew them remarked. It was mainly a flame lit from the inside out that radiated in their remarkable persona.

When I look at the lives led by mom and me I see a pattern, I see where we are coming from, our struggles, our abilty to deal with the hardships or the failure to face them, our non-conformist outlook and the rebellous nature. I see that in my children too. There is a flow of latent energy that has helped us shape our lives in a certain way. This strong energy has come all the way from these women I believe. I also feel that this generation of women had much more inner resolve and strength than the next two generations. I wonder what the reason is.

I had been wanting to write about them since a long time but there is so much more to their lives that I can describe.

Often when I am faced with some life changing decision I try to seek some solution  by thinking about them.  Today we give so much importance to education and financial independence but here are these women for whom these things were secondary.

Can a woman in today’s time truly liberate herself of the age old bondages or was it easier in those times?  How much has our society changed in this span of time? Has it become any better for women? Is the so called ‘modern woman’ truly liberated?  There are many questions that come to mind as I write. I also think what step my paternal grandma would have taken if she had not chosen the spiritual path. Were there any other choices for her? Are there  any for us unless we are economically sound? Does social stature affect the perspective and the choices made? How far have we come today?

As the world celebrate women’s day today I think of women who are marginalized, who are struggling everyday for a life of dignity, fighting for daily bread and butter, fighting misogyny, fighting for equal rights, safety and security, fighting the psychological fear, struggling just to exist peacefully, respectfully in a world which still treats them as commodities if not anything worse.

It is an uphill task for us.  It is an everyday struggle.  To live, to breathe, to be.

If it hurts it is not love #Violence Against Women Awareness Month #October


She was 23 when she married for “love”. As a girl she felt the lack of  “warmth” even though she wasn’t stereotyped for being born a girl. Caged and distraught by the environment she wanted an escape . Unfortunately that escape to freedom chained her for good, emotional and mental abuse, marital rape, seclusion from social life to an extent, discontent due to financial dependence, emotional blackmail, continuous verbal and emotional onslaught by in-laws and no support from her husband became a way of life with her. For years she “ADJUSTED ” and tried to ” mend the relationships” that actually had lost meaning. It weighed heavily on her mind and reflected in her deteriorating health until one day  she decided to break the shackles and face the consequences .

She knew that however life may treat her it wont be as bad as before. It was time to change, the path she carved for herself was rough but her spirit could not endure more indignity. This is the true story of Tara (name changed). One can ask hundreds of questions about WHY it took her so many years to take that much-needed step especially when she was aware of her rights and educated ( not just literate) . I guess sometimes there are no answers.

One may say , what crap, it is just a question of how badly you want your freedom and dignified life .  Sometimes it is easier said than done. Sometimes it takes more than just courage and will to do what is “right” .

Emotional abuse starts from the time you sense the first sign of contempt, rejection.It starts as birth and continues at every step where ever a girl is restricted, curbed, violated in any form, undermined, ridiculed or is wrapped in the blanket of ( “social sanctions/ moral norms/ duties/codes).

It starts when she is assigned to play roles that of a daughter, sister, wife , mother DIL and much more.

It starts when her own identity is pushed way back and get buried under the “socially accepted” way of life.When Her voice is muted.

In many cases of DV centuries of conditioning, controlling, traumatizes and intimidates the victim and the lack of support system forces her to either isolate herself into acceptance or drives her to take her life.

The deep-rooted sense of “guilt” of being born as a girl, of being “a burden” weighs heavily on her psyche and is continuously nurtured by the society saturated by Misogyny. Violated for “being born ” starts the emotional abuse.

October is VAWAmonth and let me share the  #VAWMonth and #VAWAM you can aslo add your voice HERE  and Here 

Emotional Abuse and marital rape are often not discussed and are pushed under the carpet.Despite the unwillingness to recognise marital rape as a crime, the fact remains that it is prevalent throughout society. Women’s bodies are outraged, regardless of their educational qualifications, class or status.  Even after the outcry and awareness of laws women seldom shed the inhibition and lodge a complaint or simply walk out of such abusive relationship. This is because cultures worldwide discourage their women from openly discussing sexual matters, let alone within marriage. Most women don’t even think of rape by their husbands as marital rape. Sex is considered obligatory and taboo. The bitter medicine called ” being a good wife ” is pushed down the throat of women, the code of conduct set by society;  to serve and never to “wash dirty linen” in public ; forces them to endure the pain, mental/emotional trauma,  sexual dysfunction, physical injuries and much more. { LINK }

It is a myth that only uneducated or rural women are the victims of abuse. I agree that many women are raising a voice against DV and talking that bold and much-needed step to walk out of such abusive marriages but still a lot more is needed to be done. I feel that forcing a girl to marry someone against her wishes or under the pretext of ” we know what’s good for our daughter ”  is also a form of abuse and should be stopped.

What has changed for Indian woman as she enters the second decade of the 21st century ? Violence against women is still widespread and is increasing day by day.

Do women lose human rights after marriage ?

If rape is a crime then why marital rape is still not considered as crime under IPC?

Is it not discriminatory to call an act “an offence”  merely because of the difference in person committing the act?

What is the justification of differentiating between women who are wives and other women as far as the offense of rape and violence goes ?

The 172nd Law Commission report had made the following recommendations for substantial change in the law with regard to rape.

  1. ‘Rape’ should be replaced by the term ‘sexual assault’.
  2. ‘Sexual intercourse as contained in section 375 of IPC should include all forms of penetration such as penile/vaginal, penile/oral, finger/vaginal, finger/anal and object/vaginal.
  3. In the light of Sakshi v. Union of India and Others [2004 (5) SCC 518], ‘sexual assault on any part of the body should be construed as rape.
  4. Rape laws should be made gender neutral as custodial rape of young boys has been neglected by law.
  5. A new offence, namely section 376E with the title ‘unlawful sexual conduct’ should be created.
  6. Section 509 of the IPC was also sought to be amended, providing higher punishment where the offence set out in the said section is committed with sexual intent.
  7. Marital rape: explanation (2) of section 375 of IPC should be deleted. Forced sexual intercourse by a husband with his wife should be treated equally as an offence just as any physical violence by a husband against the wife is treated as an offence. On the same reasoning, section 376 A was to be deleted.
  8. Under the Indian Evidence Act (IEA), when alleged that a victim consented to the sexual act and it is denied, the court shall presume it to be so.
We are still waiting for the change.
I often read this reports and wonder that in a country like ours where minds are governed by skewed traditions, orthodox norms etc, does having a legal provision really help?
The refusal to acknowledge of the extent of violence women suffer within their homes, or the insurmountable hurdles they face when they try to use laws that contradict each other, their implementation and their inefficiency  is something on needs to think about .
There are trillions of reports, articles, cases that one can quote but  an average Indian woman’s story of abuse (Physical/metal/ emotional) continues and those who step out (with exception of few ) find themselves hanging in an abyss due to lack of proper support system.
Tara took some bold steps.
She refused to have any physical relationship with her husband without HER consent.
She refused to be treated like a slave or a property though it stirred a hornets nest in her marital home and created further discord.
She made it clear that she would not be party to any forced ” duty/ order that she is “expected to do / obey” as a DIL / Wife .
She realized that she had not only lost her voice but also her self-esteem and confidence in self. Born in an open-minded, educated family she had never heard or seen such stone age behavior and after giving her best to them and shedding her skin to “Adopt” their ways , she could not bend any further. The man she married in the name of ” love ” gave her wounds which scaled her soul. Being tied to the Apron strings of his mom He could never stand up for her. The  time had come to decided whether to break or to stand up straight and walk out with what ever was remaining. She decided to do the second.
The first reaction she got was ” why after so many years ? It took you more than 20 years to realize that you were being reduced to dust  and you can’t take it ? Well, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.
After earnest attempts to ” make things work” ( a Utopian dream) , She decided to Give Up and Not Give in . She left.
She is termed as deserter having no respect for “social moral values”. Mental and Emotional violence can extend beyond the  abused when abusers accuse family of girl of”ruining her marriage n keeping her “against” social norms. Her family is labelled as ” conspirators to her foolishness” and looked down upon by in-laws for ” supporting her when her ideal place is in her husband’s home “no matter what” .  Her husband feels she has abandoned her children for some vague notion of ” dignity” fueled by feminists and friends.
The in-laws  feel that if “her wings were chopped timely” she would not have “dared to do” such an outrageous thing but for the sake of society and their heartbroken son  they would shut their mouth and abide by her wishes IF she returns “Home” . Husband agrees.
They feel her it is improper and shameful to act in this fashion. A woman needs to learn to keep everything inside her and “adjust” no questions asked.
She should serve her husband and look after “HIS parents ( not hers of course ) for it is her duty to do so.
Social seclusion is essential because too much mingling with ” advanced women/men”  poisons the mind as in her case.
To keep a woman from going ” astray ‘  she needs to be broken financially so No Job and No Friends esp Males.
Rules, traditions, customs , sanctions , code of conduct , religion , rituals are to be followed without a word.
Mother in law IS  Law .
She has no other identity than her husband so she should be  gracious and be condescending.
All this and more applies because this is not America , this is India and this is in our culture so abide by it.
  TARA Disagreed. 
She was fortunate to have a supporting family and friends who were ready to help But how many women have this considerate,caring system to help them fight the injustice ?
Many women are not living their dreams because they are living their fears.
Isolation, restriction, guilt, humiliation, denial, continuous controlling and criticism, lack of empathy, love, companionship, shattering of a dream of ” a life long relationship based on mutual respect” breaks the victim. Emotional, mental tortured is hard to explain due to lack of  ” solid evidence” .
Emotional Abuse comes silently most of d times camouflaged as “love,betterment,moral duty,guilt,emo.blackmail,marital rape. Silence helps it breed and dig its claws deeper.
In our country ‘thinking’ for oneself is not encouraged. It’s always conformity&herd mentality. The  moment a woman begins to voice her thoughts she is condemned, ridiculed & told to shut up. If she rebels , her condition is even worse.
Does that mean we keep suffering ?
NO, trust me it is better to raise your voice and make your life worthy than suffer and reinforce the fact that women can be used as objects and treated like an old newspaper.
This is not an essay on Domestic violence it is cry of a muted heart which has found its voice .
Related posts : 

Custodial Rape : Where could this girl have disappeared?


http://www.vakilno1.com/bareacts/indianpenalcode/s376.htm Section 376- Indian Penal Code. Punishment for Rape. 

 

Who Gets Raped http://www.dancewithshadows.com/rapes_india.asp

 

 

I am sharing a post by Indian Homemaker titled Where could this girl have disappeared  Please read  and copy the matter for signature campaign petition to President Pratibha Patil  from Jeanne’s comment on the post. Forward to all in support of this teenage rape victim. 

 

Where does a rape victim go for justice when her “custodians” turn into ” violators” ? This isn’t the first case where a rape victim( a teenager in this case)  is raped again in police custody. Expect a police officer to humiliate a rape victim, be foul-mouthed, discourage or blame her and even rape her.

A farmer’s teenage daughter gangraped  in Mahoba, UP, has disappeared after she was raped by the Station House Officer Deepak Pandey in the police station, Times of India reported ( LINK )

When the senior officers of district polic did not offer any help the family then approached a lawyer and sent complaints to the Chief Minister, Director General of Police and the National Commission for Women.While chief minister Mayawati and the DGP didn’t act, the  NCW directed the district police to get the complaint probed.Additional SP, Mahoba, R K Pandey probed the case.

On Friday,the victim was summoned by the police and sent for a test. As the victim was slated to appear before a magistrate the next day, she was directed to stay back at the Mahila Thana.On Saturday,the family came to know that she had disappeared from the police station.

So where has she disappeared ? I wonder if at all she is alive. 

Cases of custodial violence against women are horrifying reality of  this democratic country governed by “rule of law” . It is very intimidating when one reads of increasing number of such reports. Be it eve teasing or dowry harassment or rape women are too scared and hesitant to even lodge a complaint or to approach “men in khakhi”.

Here is another  { LINK } to a report where an under trial is gang raped in police station.

and yet another “attempt to rape ” and murder of a minor girl ( LINK  )

I believe that the reason we hear about so many of such acts of violation of human rights is because the police feel that wont be held accountable and punished even if the truth is revealed. So they torture (mental, physical, emotional) , rape, kill at their will. It is just the power of strong over the weak and suffering. Flouting the basic right of a citizen and violation of human dignity. No women is safe in any village, city or state in India.

I cringe at the very thought of the mental agony of being violated inside the four walls of a police station under the shield of uniform and authority.

Here is a LINK to what Kavita Krishnan has to say.

Crime against women are on an increase and according to reports one woman is raped in every 18 hours in Delhi. The perverts who commit such crimes like rape many a time get away due to their ” connections” .Delayed justice , harassment by police, social shame and lack of support system are the reasons most cases go unreported and here we are not talking about marital rape which is still not considered a crime in our country. Rape cases are under reported throughout India and in only 6 percent of cases of rape and molestation strangers are involved, in the rest the accused is known to the victims.

People in power have always used it as a tool to sexually molest women. Abduction, assault, rape, murder is commonly done using power as a tool and if these people who are supposed to be provided help turn monsters then women in India  have a very bleak future as far as safety and dignified living is concerned .

 Bhawari Devi had been fighting for justice since 1994, she was gang raped by five men in front of her husband on  22 September 1992 for stopping a child marriage. A FIR was lodged and it was only after two years that a case was registered.  (  LINK TO THE CASE ) . Bhawari Devi was missing for last three weeks. Now it seems she was murdered. A complaint for rape and murder was filed against the accused minister of water resources Mahipal Maderena on 20th September 2011. 

She was the torch-bearer for women’s movement in our country and dared to raise her voice against the sexual assaults on women.  Though everyone remembers the name, few know that even 14 years after she was gang raped by upper-caste villagers for attempting to stop a child marriage in her village, Bhateri, about 45 km from Jaipur, this “icon” still hasn’t got justice and now possibly murdered. She was pioneering an ANTI RAPE Movement which helped so many other women but unfortunately not her. The political blame game has begun. ( LINK ) I hope She is alive and justice is delivered. ( LINK )

Reminds me of Aruna Shaunbag , Maimun and the Shanti Mukund case ( LINK )  These woman never got justice .

I hope justice is not delayed for this Dalit girl and culprits punished. Expecting police to be sensitive seems too far-fetched a thought.

The bottom line of rape is…a sense of entitlement, power and oppression, among other things and it needs to End.

Related Link https://tikulicious.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/rape-blame-the-rapist-not-the-victim/

Walk the talk : Crumbling relationships, Social networking, Eve teasing and other things


His silence conveyed that something was majorly wrong. I was in no mood to have a heavy conversation. The rain drops were still shimmering on the freshly washed leaves and the eastern sky was seeped in a rosy hue.

It was becoming uncomfortable.

“Alright , what’s eating you?”

“I could have fucking strangled him with my bare hands If Only I could know him. I had a fair idea but that hand had no face. ”

” Huh?” I was instantly reminded of a post on eve teasing by Ideasmithy called The faceless hand in the crowd.   Had he read it too?

I waited for him to go on. The park was empty so we decided to walk the talk in the serene evening.

He narrated how a hand appeared in a crowded metro and began to grope, touching , pressing his female companion’s body. No , she wasn’t “dressed provocatively” and did not do anything to “entice”  the pervert.

I listened with contemplation.

“Why are some Indian men such perverts?”

“Good Question but it is not just Indian men. Maybe the number of sexual abuse / street harassment or eve teasing  are more here but the situation is as bad as anywhere in the world I guess.

I too have experienced it many times and trust me it doesn’t end on the streets and it isn’t just about physical touch. I have seen the lust in the eyes, in the gestures , in the comments and much more. However I may be dressed I am conscious of those stares, I am conscious of the hidden agendas and the underlying meaning in their conversations or offhand remarks.

Are you aware that it’s not limited to real world , that sexual harassment is rampant on internet and by unsolicited phone calls? Have you heard of Sexting ? ” I asked

“Yes, irrespective of age, from school girls to elder women, some men are relentless. All they see are breasts. Filthy animals, they strip you naked with their fucking eyes.” He fumed.

“Ah! Don’t insult the animals my boy.”

I remembered how one day the autowala kept staring at me from the rear view mirror and deliberately applying the brakes and entering pot holes and puddles on the road.  He kept turning back and staring with a twisted smile on his face. As I sat stone faced not really ready to take up the issue with him on a lonely long road.

“accidental touching/ rubbing/ pushing ” is a common thing which women experience all the time in public transport , crowded streets/ markets etc.

Do we ask for it ? Is it what we wear creates the sudden sexual urge in those men?

What utter crap.”

He told me how he had seen a gang of boys whistle and pass  lewd remarks at a mom and daughter duo on a busy market lane in Patel Nagar. They were “modestly” dressed and were walking back home from school. The girl must have been 10.

“Unfortunately eve teasing has become such a universal phenomenon that we don’t even regard it as an issue. It is crazy to think that women are always at a wrong place, wrong time, in wrong clothes and in wrong company and they initiate sexual crimes ” He said reflectively. I agreed.

To think that a doctor can dare to touch and feel your private parts in the pretext of examining is unimaginable but it happened on protesting he simply expressed that ” a little ‘ fun here and there is good for healthy mind, body and soul” Bloody sucker . I wanted to smash his balls then and there but somehow managed to get out of the freaking clinic unable to collect my disoriented thoughts and shocked to core. I wonder how he runs his practice and was I  the only one to be sexually targeted. I know of a case at Spinal Injury Hospital where a pregnant lady was abused by the doctor in the same manner. Too scared and ashamed she just decided to forget the ugly incident.

It was getting late so we left the park .

” Is it because of crumbling relationships that people indulge in revealing their dark secrets to strangers on social networking sites?” He asked matter-of-factly.

I was taken aback by this sudden change of topic. It’s true that social networking sites have become a comfort zone for people troubled in their relationships and life in general. chatting , talking to unknown faces behind the screen maybe helps in some way to lighten the heart but then there are incidents where this so-called ” sharing and bonding with virtual friends” leads to ugly consequences, harassment and blackmailing. I have been there seen it happening to some people I know.

I told him we will talk about it some other day but he was not giving up. He had seen me struggling to keep at bay the advances of those “available” men who went by the display picture and wanted to be “Frands” thinking that every woman is easy and on a lookout. They take the networking  for dating sites and endlessly keep pushing till you want to hit them hard. A writer who found me among common friends requested to be added. After sometime he pinged on chat and asked for an evening out with him because he liked my name and found me intriguing . When I refused point-blank he stated that its good to” explore and discover each other”. I found it disgusting that a person of his caliber could stoop to such level.

We were nearing home and the young man was still in a reflective mood. “The whole scenario sucks. Be it home, workplace, streets, malls, markets, public transport, net women are not safe anywhere damn it.” He shook his ahead. I was glad he was awakening to the basic core issues that were eating up the society. I had seen him tackle some with great effectiveness. It made me feel good.

“Men too suffer ” He said .

“Yes, especially those who tag along in life holding the pallu of their mom’s sari. Those adult babies who can not think, act without permission and support of their mommy dearest.” I  said with bile rising in my throat.  “Let’s drop it. Some other day maybe.”

“Umm, No, I meant this abuse stuff. men too suffer at times but they suffer in silence. Maybe that is one reason the social networking sites become their ground to find comfort and solace.” ” I am not saying that justifies for what some creeps do but all men aren’t bad after all.”

I laughed. “Spoken like a man”  I said. “Well, you do want to protect your tribe.”

“Naah, I know each of us is targeted due to some assholes who nothing but burden on this earth. and it agitates me”.

I felt for him. He was struggling with a lot of issues. “It is sometimes not about gender, it is about mind-set and power. It is about how open we are. Being modern is not just copying West, it is about  being fearlessly yourself , it is about looking at things from a larger perspective and mainly looking within.”

“We will continue to talk more about it. I think this walk the talk idea is good.” .

He smiled. “I guess so. I hope the solutions to these things were as easy as talking about them. We talk a lot. ”

Profound.

I knew he had a lot to talk about . So did I. I  have seethed about various issues lately. From bomb blasts and our precariously hanging lives, sexuality, LGTB, relationships, this ridiculous obsession with body image and “beauty”, the moral dilemma and much more.

We were still hanging out in the parking lot when he suddenly caught hold of my hand and said, “let’s go have an ice cream”. I love this kid. 🙂

“Two things I want to know by the way” He said concentrating on the small round pebble he had turned into a football.

One –

‘Why didn’t you teach a lesson of a life time to that motherfucking doctor? and

Two –

Is having a close friend of opposite sex after marriage  such a turn off  especially when this institution of marriage sucks( I agree to this but then can one generalize this) ? Is it infidelity to open up to someone other than your legal partner( don’t know if I liked this term but it tickled me no doubt)?  Why is it that a relationship crumbles so easily and two people who swore love a few years ago can’t bear the sight of each other now and for good reasons”

Those were two too many questions.

“We will talk about it”, I said.

Sleep did not come easy to both of us that night. The questions burned like embers.

One thing was clear. In days to come we were going to have a lot of walk the talk sessions. Sometimes it is better this way.

Story Of A Pathmaker and My Search for a Space


A great scholar, academic, feminist, pioneer in women’s studies in India and a leading figure of the women’s movement in post-independent India Dr.  Vina Mazumdar or vina di as she is lovingly known  is an inspiration for all of us.  It is always a joy to spend an evening with her listening to stories from her life. When she narrated the story of her pishima ( bua) I instantly thought of sharing it with all of you and she was more than happy to grant me permission. A woman of great determination and courage.


The time was somewhere in early 1900. In the middle of inky East Bengal ( now Bangladesh) night a door opened and closed in silence. A  young Hindu Brahmin woman aged sixteen, covered from head to toe, breezed past the winding lanes and by lanes of the village where she had come as a child bride.

She walked seventeen miles to reach the river. The river listened to her hurried footsteps with rapt attention ready to carry her to away from her wrenched life as an abused wife of an ill treating husband and his family. Grateful to be a part of her courageous escape to freedom and dignity. With no formal education she defied the system where men did not know how to treat their women.

An old  Muslim boatman sat dozing near his boat. She woke him gently and requested him to row her to her maternal village . As fare she offered him her gold bangles. He asked no questions. Under the night sky he rowed all night while she, exhausted and drained from her efforts, fell asleep.  Each enveloped in silence of their thoughts.

Before the slumbering sun woke up they reached the destination and he took her to the house of her father. She spread her shawl in the open veranda and lay there waiting for the dawn to break. He sat nearby watching over her .

In the morning her father opened the door to find his daughter at his threshold with an old man.

The boatman folded his hands and said ,” I rowed all night to bring her to you.  Here are the bangles she gave me in lieu of money. I want you to promise me one thing before I go that you will not send her back to her husband’s home and take her in and will not thrash or ill treat her. If not , then I will take her to my old woman and keep her with us as our child as Allah has not blessed us with children. ”  He  also told her father that his daughter’s unhappiness must have  been truly unbearable to make her do what she did.

Her father promised the old boatman and then only after a lot of insistence he took one bangle and said, ” I will never sell it. It will stay around my old woman’s hand so she can draw courage from it and in that way from her.”

The young lady stayed at her father’s place and no one in the house ever talked or questioned  about her past.  Vina di recalls how she came  to know about the details of pishima’s life later through her mother and elder relations. She passed away when Vina Di was barely five years old but the enigmatic presence of pishima remained to guide many generations of girls for years.

For a woman to say that she will fend for herself if her brothers did not care for her needs was unheard of and a bold statement for those times.

A  young bride of all but 11 years ( Vina di’s ma) came to the house from the interiors of Burma’s jingles and instantly the sister-in-law took the girl under her charge. The new bride learned all about traditions, customs, social ethics and much more from her and worshiped her like a Goddess. She became the little bride’s friend, philosopher and guide.

The  new bau had tremendous desire to study and the sister-in-law made sure she was tutored by her younger brother-in-law(who was actually elder to her)  against all the traditions. This created a huge controversy in the household. It was intolerable conduct for a young bau to be taught by a brother-in-law seven years senior to her. Maybe it was pishima’s conviction, courage and determination that made her defy the norms and have her way.

It was amazing to see a fiery young woman in those times to first leave her abusive husband and then within five – six years take charge of educating new bride of the house ( just a few years her junior) and other girls.

Years passed every woman, child drew inspiration from this brave woman who could defy  all social norms and break herself away from the shackles that usually bind women and keep them confined to the interiors of male dominated society. By ensuring education for the new bride , pishima began to quench  her own thirst for learning. Vinadi’s ma would read to her about various topics.

Both women developed a strong bond in that process. It was beginning of a campaign  to provide formal education to all the girls of her household against  resistance from the elder men of the home. She made sure that the girls were put in school  no matter what.

Although she managed to put all her nieces in school , in her absence the elder men ( mainly fathers) promptly took them out and that interrupted the studies. The younger generation which included Vina di and her sisters got uninterrupted formal education just because of sheer determination of  the pishima and vinadi’s ma, who supported her sister-in-law in her cause.

By 1920 pishima ( as she was fondly called) had acquired a reputation for being an ardent supporter of women’s education. When a new school for girls came up in the area she persuaded  local families to send their daughters there. She was an enigma and the fact that her social unexplainable status posed no hurdle in getting her way with people around her was something remarkable.

The families were hesitant to send young girls without an escort and pishima , with a wet towel on her head, collected a group of about 20 girls and escorted them to and fro from school each day.

She died in 1932 and everyone from the local girl’s school including old and new students , staff and principal came for the funeral. Many became pallbearers as a mark of respect to her and helped carry her body for cremation.

It was remarkable and extraordinary to see the women who themselves never received any formal education  start a revolution and have strong views on women’s education and other issues. They saw education as a tool to widen the mental horizons and social concerns. Pishima was a part of Vinadi’s childhood, and, perhaps, left an indelible mark  that helped propel her into the struggle against gender violence of later years.

You can read the entire true account  here A heritage of Heresy Within Tradition

******************

As I listened to Vinadi or ma as we call her , I wondered how many middle class or lower middle class women have that courage and such fortunate circumstances to rebel against the existing norms of this society, to boldly spread their wings and take a flight to dignified living.

Circumstances, especially lack of a back-up support system, comes in the way of many women who are either financially dependent on their husbands or are emotionally bound by the guilt of moving away from the so-called ‘rulebook’ for married women that has been instilled in them since their birth. In fact this whole conversation made me think of how a woman right from  birth is assigned her roles and given  initiation in a moral code of conduct which she has to abide by all her life.

When I talk of women I talk about them in general. There are many who have moved away from such bondage and live an independent life but when I look around I still find the deeply ingrained guilt factor combined with smothered desires and unfulfilled dreams.

I have seen how girls who played in their mother’s kitchens  later spent their entire life caged within those very four walls. Their dreams and enthusiasm consumed by the same fire that warmed their hearts as children.

As they grow up, even after basic formal education, they become part of the grind especially the non working women.

Financial independence is a must I feel now. Having given up my job to become a homemaker by choice at that time proved a wrong decision in my case.

It is strange how a woman becomes a nomad if her limit of ‘adjustment’ and ‘endurance’ crosses its mark in her husband’s home. It is strange that the very house where she grew up in ‘unconditional love and care’ becomes inaccessible to her. It closes its doors to its very own daughter leaving her to discover her own path once their duty of ‘marrying her off’ is done.

The home where she goes with the man she dreamed of spending the rest of  her life with  becomes her cage. The few windows become her only contact with the outside world . Restless, caged within the four walls of her own emotions and restrictions and of those imposed on her she looks at the piece of sky and cringes from within with a mixed emotion of longing to fly free and her own constrains and inability to do so.

For those who have a little more opportunity to spread their horizon it remains a problem. It is frustrating to see the open door and the still no power to cross that threshold for various reasons including lack of monitory backup and a roof over her head to begin with. Why?

Why are we afraid to take our chances?

Will it be worse than what we go through in a mindless existence that drains us of our own life as a human being ? Is it the fear of losing it all?

Or

Is it that years of home bound life makes us weak and unsure of what the world may offer?

Why is it that parents, siblings turn away their eyes (even some of the most radical ones , who talk of women’s rights and social reforms) when it comes to their own daughter / sister?

Where is such a woman supposed to go? What are her options? Isn’t it not difficult for her to fit into the ever-growing , rapidly changing and much advanced society and make her place ?

I remember my house help telling me one day ,” we are lower class and poor women but better off still” . I asked her, how ?

She replied,” we can go work at people’s homes, do anything and earn to support us because no one will give us a second glance but when women like you and many more need to break away and find a source of income after years of subjugation and dependent lives , they are helpless and lost.”

” They don’t find jobs easily, living day-to-day becomes difficult for them and in anticipation of that fear they remain buried in that coffin called “sasural” . ”

I watched her, trying to control my tears and was happy at the same time to see how enlightened she was.

Most of what she said was true.

Considering that I too am looking for my place of dignified living and don’t have a concrete backup or financial independence, the conversation stirred something deep within.

All these questions and many more haunted  me all night after my evening with Vinadi (ma) . Am still unsure and looking for a direction. Although I give a hoot to so-called social morality it still is a big issue to find my rightful space to live and do what I wish.

My mother, unlike many, understands the  dilemma and hurt. She is ready to support and take me back in her fold if needed and still there is a void. The very fact that she is in her eighties and living on a pension in her son’s home makes it difficult to take action on her own.

So, even if the mother daughter relationship is good it is marred by circumstances which are not in control of either for various reasons.

I have always wondered, what does ” see the bigger picture ” means? What is the  measure  of endurance ?

What is the limit of  ‘adjustment ‘ and where does ‘compromise ‘begin?

I ask these questions to people around me, people who give me advice to hang in there and try to make it work . I don’t really get any worthwhile reply.

Why is it that a woman is only  loved and appreciated, nurtured and defended from hostile forces by her so called family till the time she doesn’t lift her head and open her mouth ?

Why is it that when the question of a woman’s self-respect, dignity and freedom to live her life comes  people turn their faces or give a blank look as if it is a thing unheard of ?

That brings me to mothers. Mothers who stunt the growth of their sons by tying them to their apron strings. My husband has one. I have  first hand experience what it does to men who are never “allowed” to grow up and how they waste themselves in the very hands that once taught them how to stand up and take those first baby steps. The very son she claims to dote upon is not allowed to blossom . His life is one big guilt trip if he as much as says one word in support of the woman he married by choice.

Why do these men ever marry if they have to spill tears later when their mothers wail, ” she stole my son” ?

Hostile , unreasonable ,  jealous,  insecure  and emotionally charged she makes life hell.

Do I ‘adjust’ because she is elderly like my own mother?

Do I give in and let things be just because for 20 years I could not muster courage to step out and say ENOUGH ?

Do I need to take in the vitriol and deliberate malevolence  all my life for a ‘mistake’ I made in marrying her son?

Why do women want to control all the time?

I find it difficult to understand this attitude.

I find it difficult to swallow that a man is weakened and manipulated  to such an extent that his whole life becomes nothing but a twisted entangled mess shoved inside a small hole beyond which he doesn’t want to step.

It will be covered it another post.

The wounds these women inflict on other women do not heal.

Conditioned by society these women are tough to handle and the men who grow up under their shade even more difficult to handle.

I even found that those so-called “open-minded” men who would otherwise scream freedom for women are curled up inside when it comes to taking a stand for their own sister or female relation.

It cuts me to the quick when emotional and mental abuse is not understood and talked about mainly because there is no physical  evidence of it.  It is not even considered abuse and one is told not to create a hype and these things happen in all relationships.

It hurts when marital rape is shoved under the carpet and becomes a taboo topic. When women of all people sympathize but shrink from supporting the woman who goes through it.

How do you define marital rape? , I was asked by a close relative.

I explained and she felt I was being egoistic, stubborn and denying the basic right of physical aspect of marriage by refusing any physical contact.

Who determines the pain and humiliation of a woman who goes through it? Who draws the line?

If I do, why is it that people find it difficult to digest it?

Do I have to barter myself for the dignity and self-respect which actually is mine?

I know many women are seeking answers to such questions about their lives.

I am numb now. Ahead of me there is blank space . I have to pavé my path and I guess it will be a lonely battle. The turmoil deepens with each day. I wont give up or give in but what course I will take remains undecided. The questions are looking for answers. Even I am.

I know my voice was stilled .

But

In this silenced voice lie the stirrings of an awakened heart, buried this long in drunken slumber.

The article also appeared in Talking Cranes , Social site for women of South Asian heritage .

UPDATE – Dr. Vina Mazumdar passed away on May 30, 2013.

Zubaan books published her memoirs – Memories of a rolling stone 

DWI Part 1: Roses and Thorns


Read the introduction here

After considering a lot I have decided to include the first part of Sonya’s Diary as snippets from memory lane.

One

Slumbering sun , cloud cover, silence of early dawn and I .  Waking up in a warm cozy bed in a house full of loving caring people , great food , laughter and total relaxation is what my aches for and here I am in my granny’s home in this beautiful city. The touch of black leather cover and crisp white pages is sensuous.  It will be difficult to kill  virginity of this diary with blue-black letters so I will use the color of blood -Red at least for now.

Red is also color of love they say but life is not just bed of roses , there are sharp thorns that draw blood at the very touch.

Why did he gift me a diary ? Who will read it anyway ? Is it safe to bare your deepest darkest secrets , desires ? Was there a glint of mischief in his eyes or do I become delirious the moment he walks in.

Anyway today is the first day of freedom. I guess mom and I shed our polluted skins and breathe free here. I know some rainy day I will open the gutter and spill the muck on the sidewalk only to make space for more but then it is better than it overflowing and rotting.

Today nothing of that , only celebration of yesterday’s fragrant little adventure. I am still warmed by that touch. Stolen kisses are sweetest but missed kisses uff they throb like hell. Christ ! heart flutters are all good but that ice-cube sliding down your spine is erotic.

Why do people confuse love with sex, passion, hunger, lust and desires or it just that it is too confusing to decipher ?

I don’t know but these moments of pure bliss are right here and never to return . I know we will part ways .Society sucks. Might as well become a tree in autumn. Leafless, bare.

Twenty years of age and still longing for a man’s company . My life is more mundane than any other. Curled up inside I go through it splitting into many fragments at each moment. so many identities so many me. Mom understands but rest of the family , they say that this is no place for dreamers.

One such dreamer is shifting under her skin somewhere . I wonder where she went . Haven’t seen her in ages. No contact. Inseparable school friends separated for life. I miss you T.

Time to leave the bed. You go undercover my secret sharer while I follow the aroma of an early breakfast . Being pampered is a bliss but I know someone is going to screw it all. Hawk eyed monsters ready to tear your flesh at the blink of an eye.

I will meet you everyday before the sun rises from sleep and spills the wine across the sky. Clumsy fool.

********

two

Sorry babes I was away from you for so long. you see I am not used to scribbling my scatterbrain thoughts each day.  it has been a wonderful stay till now. Outing , traditional food, fun and laughter, music and theater and most of all his company. The two-day break to L was all I needed. Tomorrow I will go back to home but before than I want to dwell on something here. Heart is like a butterfly delicate, vibrant , pulsating with life but wayward.

Let me tell you about me. I am going to be 21 and still no sure of what course my life will take. Am a traveler by heart who is stuck at one destination for the lack of courage and resources . A part of me wanders all the time and then gets kicked in the back by reality to curl up inside the insecure, foolish me. Damn.

First love came to me with social bondage. How I hate this double-faced society but then what is can not be altered. Not at this stage. So I go with the flow and leave behind one precious part of me to follow a path which I am sure isn’t meant for me. Why am I taking it ? Because I see no other way now.

He questioned me at night under the moonlit kadamb trees.

“Do you love this guy , this so-called boy friend of yours  Sonya ? ”

I guess so” I had replied.

Not really committing. Yes would mean I love N less which I don’t , Only if there were no social norms. Sigh!

He wasn’t giving up. “Are you wanting to marry him for any other reason than love? You have life ahead . You can still pursue a career  in French or do something else. He doesn’t seem to be your kind of person. Are you rebelling against something, family, suffocation at home or society ?”

I wanted to scream Yes I am . I am getting into this relationship to escape myself, this restlessness, home environment , You, damn it  but  I denied and kept a brave front and talked and talked about this man in my life. I wasn’t convinced myself what could I say to him. Why didn’t he stop me ?

And that’s here I am sitting tucked in the warmth of the blanket , eyes brimming with hot tears scribbling madly. Knowing I will read and read again and the thorns will draw more and more blood. That is why I hate diaries . I know now why he gave it to me . Sort yourself out Sonya  and if you can’t then God save you girl for I am weak hearted and can not give you anything more than those precious moments of ignited passion and unfulfilled desires.

You Fool . What have you done.

It’s  late and the sky is full of little asterisks shimmering softly.  My bags are packed , my home town holds keys to my dreams and nightmares. Let sleep heal. I am going through two opposite emotions of love and disappointment now. Hate ?  don’t think that’s a right word. I know the other heart is suffering more than me. To let go  for apparently no reason is tough. These memories will be food for life time of  hurt and pain .

********

…………..to be continued



A salute to Two Brave Indian Women


The Aradhana Ruchika story

In a country where social evils like stove deaths, rape, child marriages, female infanticide, witch hunting, dowry killings, honor killings, marital rape and much more loom large, crime against women is rising like never before. The voices of the helpless victims are subdued, and justice is delayed and denied in most cases.

Many women, little girls go through the trauma of abuse and violence ( physical, mental and emotional), quietly resign to the fate and keep their mouths shut in fear of male dominated and directed social norms.

In this kind of country when a woman rises above all this and shows her courage and determination, it is a proud moment for us.

How easy it is for an influential officer or a politician or some highly placed male to twist the criminal justice system in their favour. A patriarchal system which denied justice and drove a young molested child to commit suicide in isolated grief, harassed the modest family and for 19 long years managed to keep the molester sheltered. It failed Ruchika Girhotra just the way it failed Bhanvari Devi, Jessica Lal and Priyadarshani Mattoo.

19 years ago, Ruchika Girhotra , a budding tennis player, then aged 14, was molested by then IG of police SPS Rathore. When Ruchika lodged a complaint, she and her family and friends faced a barrage of threats and intimidating actions that her family was forced to move out of Chandigarh. False cases were registered against them, Her brother was beaten black and blue. Family suffered humiliation in the hands of powerful police personnel. The school expelled Ruchika on grounds most unjustified. How can a girl of 14 year be called ” loose character” and expelled ? Some questions need to be asked to the Sacred Heart school.

Her molestation was just one aspect of the story, the bigger one was Ruchika and Aradhana’s complaint against the IG. Their raised voices were crushed by Rathore’s pulls in the system and his advocate wife’s efforts in saving her criminal husband. In any civilised society He would have sentenced and strict action taken but not in our democratic India. He played with law , a mere puppet in his hands and had the guts to pose smiling to the cameras. He was even promoted to the rank of DGP by the then chief minister. What is this if not a mockery of our system . Rathore manage to delay a simple open and shut case where there was an eyewitness for nineteen long years. How did he manage that, one must ask. Why was Rathore allowed to transfer the case three times to three different cities to suit his own will and disposition? If it takes 19 years to deliver a judgement in such a simple case what can be expected in other cases where there are no witnesses except for the traumatized woman? It’s obvious that there was a nexus between police, politicians, lawyers and judiciary. Our severely flawed legal system is a plaything in the hands of rich and powerful.The rich or the powerful – like Rathore with his top cop connections – get off lightly while common citizens like Ruchika , Aradhana and many more bear the full brunt of a legal system

Is not it shameful that the 150-year-old law relating to sexual molestation, short of rape, of a minor prescribes a maximum sentence of only two years, as against 10 years for rape. Isn’t it time to shove this age-old law system and bring in the new laws which grant justice quickly and order fitting punishments to the criminals?

Amidst all this, Aradhana, Ruchika’s best friend and eyewitness to the case, single-handedly fought for justice for Ruchika difing and braving all odds and ends.

Here I would like to share a link to the blog post by my fellow blogger and friend IHM Let’s wipe the smile off his face

It is worth reading to know the details of the case. All the material in the link is copyright of IHM.

Aradhna made sure that Ruchika’s case would not be wiped out from public memory. The ghost of the young tormented Ruchika rose again with the dawn of new year. Aradhna and Ruchika walked hand in hand in childhood and shared a passion for music and tennis. It was the love for this game that drove them to the Tennis grounds on that fateful day when Ruchika was molested.

16 years after the death of Ruchika, an eywitness to the crime Aradhana, now 32 is still fighting for her long gone friend, trying her best to get justice for her dead friend. In the times when no one throws a second glance at a road accident also, this brave heart is leading the crusade for a justice long denied.

Her’s is a story of rare courage and loyalty. A story of a woman whose testimony convicted Rathore, even though for six months only. Her brave efforts have set the wheels moving once again and hopefully this time the country will not have to bow her head in shame over some faulty judgement. We see a ray of hope now and hope that her efforts will bring the culprit to justice.

I salute this brave woman who has stood by fearlessly to set an example to hundreds more to come out and raise their voices against the men who think they can keep the law in their pockets and get away laughing.

All those who support justice for Ruchika please go to the link, read and sign the online petition. Justice for Ruchika

All those on Facebook please join the cause

This is how you can help

Rukhsana Kausar : A story of exceptional courage

In the beautiful sleepy valley of Kashmir a young 18-year-old village girl fights and kills dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander when he attacked her home in Rajouri, a district in Kashmir. Sher Bibi is what people of Rajouri call Rukhsana.

Her exceptional courage is worth saluting. In times when girls her age dream of clothes, boys, parties and fun, this brave heroine of Kashmir stood firm to save her home and village from a terrorist attack.

On the chilly night of 27th September three dreaded LeT terrorists woke the family of a daily labourer Noor from their sleep. A loud banging made Noor open the door to find his brother held hostage at gun point by the terrorists. They were on a big mission in the valley but as the police was on their heels they wanted a refuge.

They forced entry into Rukhsana’s house in Shahdra Sharief, Rajouri district, about 20 miles from the ceasefire line between Indian and Pakistani forces, and started demanding food and shelter. On denying the terrorists became violent, slapped her brother and started beating her parents. The brave girl could not see her family being tormented by these hardcore terrorists and she snatched the AK47 from the man in a fraction of a second pushed him against the wall and hit him with the butt of the gun several times. Showed presence of mind she injured him with an axe lying near by and killed him on the spot with his own gun. She rushed out and fired some rounds in the air not knowing how to hold and operate an assault riffle. That wounded one of the other terrorists but he managed to run for his life.

Hardly aware of her heroic deed of killing one of the most wanted terrorists Rukhsana remains a simple village girl. Felicitated by the village folks, government and other agencies she has been recommended for gallantry award.

Rukhsana was as appointed a special police officer in J&K police force for her act of bravery. She feels that the terrorists are not invincible and if everyone shows some courage they can wipe out the terror that reigns in the valley of Kashmir.

He courage and fearlessness is exemplary for the govt. which has failed to wipe out terrorism and restore peace in the valley. people of villages around Rukhsana’s home are filled with a new found courage and are ready to counter any such attack but the girl and her family lives in fear of a counter attack. Though her family is taken to a safer place, there is a dire need to take some stern measures against the rising terror attacks.

Both Aradhana and Rukhsana are an inspiration to all the women out there. Their stories reflect the true power that every Indian woman holds within her.

A message for all to stand up against the prevailing crime and injustice. To shed the inhibitions and fears and join hands , raise voices and fight till each of the social evil, crime and injustice is wiped out.

Let us work together for a change. Become the change we want to see.

This post is a salute to both the brave hearts.

Cross-Posting IHM’s blog ‘Not just a pair of Jeans ‘


I always get late for posting every Sunday but good things always come with time :).

Introducing today IHM or Indian Home Maker , one of the finest bloggers, my inspiration at many times and a fellow woman writer. She writes about every woman, social issues, our culture, social eveils, daily life and much more. I love the way she raises issues agaist gender bias, girl child discrimination, even about men and the problems they face.

It is worth visiting her blog The Life and Times Of Indian Home Maker, a title I love.

This is one of her favorite posts which even got selected for Tangy Tuesday pick
In her blog post Not just a pair of jeans she says ,

A man in Haryana beat his wife in the market for wearing jeans while shopping with her parents.
Why was it such an issue?

He said she was wearing jeans.

Do you know what that means?

What was his fear?

Isn’t it clear?

Jeans symbolise more than just what she wore!

Tomorrow she could ask for more?

Ask to keep her girl-child?

Education and a right to work?

This didn’t please the jerk…

CLICK THE ABOVE LINK TO THE POST AND READ ON.. you will stop, think and ponder.

Thank you IHM for enriching our lives and touching many others. Cheers to the woman power!!!

Witch Hunting : The Dark Indian Reality


Place : A sleepy village in the state of Chattisgarh in the largest democracy of the world, India

Time : Just past midnight

A woman rolls on the floor of her small mud house making vague noises and shaking her head. He hair disheveled and clothes barely covering her body. She shudders in uncontrolled frenzy and the entire household watches her ” playing” in fear and silence.

The village elders are informed and she termed as a “Dayan”witch. All the village folks gather with sticks and stones, beat her to pulp and tear her clothes. Stark naked , wounded both physically and emotionally, she lies like a dead animal at the village square while the villagers gather wood to burn her alive.

This is not mediaeval Indian story. It is reality of modern India where women considered to be witches are brutally tortured, beaten, stripped and killed in the name of witchcraft. These women considered to be bad omen are held responsible for failure of crops, epidemics, diseases,low birth rate, and many other things which bring so called bad luck to the village.

Most of these women are either single, widows, aged women and mainly women who are unprotected and closely related to the accusers. Witch-hunting is one of the most brutal forms of violence against women. Most of them are forever ostracised from the society with terrible consequences.

Witch hunting is prevalent in many of the Indian states like chattisgarh, Assam, Orissa, West Bengal, rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and some of the north- eastern states. Bihar alone accounts for a major chunk of witch hunting cases. Mainly the entire tribal belt of India suffers from the humiliation of this social evil. Acute poverty, little or no access to the most basic health care, education and sanitation are some of the factors leading to witch hunting. In these circumstances, superstition gains a force of its own. Bad crops, death in the family, loss of a child, persistent illness or drying up of wells or any such reason paves the way for this evil–problems are many but the solution remains the same: locate the witch responsible for the problem and punish her.

Socio-economic factors such as land-grabbing, property disputes, personal rivalry and resistance to sexual advances are mainly the reasons for such killings. In the male dominated society if a woman inherits land from her deceased husband is asked to disown the land by her husband’s family or other men. If she resists, they approach the Ojhas (traditional village doctors) and bribe them to brand her a witch.

Apart from this there are some other factors that lead to killing of innocent women by branding them as witches. In some cases women who spurn the sexual advances of the powerful men in the community are labelled and tortured in the name of witchcraft. That’s one way of settling the scores.

I came across Brinda Karant’s article on witch hunting some months ago where she explains the subject at length. Brinda is General secretory of All India Democratic Women’s Association(ADWA) and has worked in the field of women’s rights for a long time.

Some Issues In The Struggle Against Witch-Hunting

Do click the link to read more.

Many women who are strong willed, assertive and speak out their minds are seen as threats. The easiest way to eliminate them is to brand them as witch, humiliate and kill. The options left to such women are little. They are either forced to abandon the family and property and run away, commit suicide or are brutally murdered.

In Jharkhand witch hunting has increased in frightening proportions. Many of the adivasis ( tribals) kill women termed as Dains( witches) by the local village doctor called the “Ojha”. The tribal believe in spirits, ghosts and witches and lack of education forces them to do heinous acts against these women. A sick child dreams of four witches and names them. Village elders search for such women and publically parade them naked, their faces smeared. They are tortured, beaten black and blue and beheaded in full view of the entire village .No one speaks against the crime in the name of faith.

The police records record 984 women being killed in 19 districts since 1991 to 2008. Among them 242 women were killed in Ranchi district, 178 in West Singhbhum, 60 in East Singhbhum, 34 in Saraikela-Kharsawan, 127 in Lohardaga, 100 in Gumla, 39 in Simdega, 60 in Palamu, 18 in Garhwa, 10 in Chatra, 15 in Hazaribagh, 16 in Koderma, 15 in Giridih, 6 in Dhanbad, 12 in Bokaro, 16 in Deoghar, 11 in Dumka, 14 in Sahebganj and 11 women were killed in Godda district (omit). The crime enjoys the social and political patronage in the states of Jharkhand and several parts of Bihar etc as there is as much faith in witch-hunt as there is belief in gods. There are no real statistics because mostly the crimes go unreported.

There is a law against witch hunting in almost 28 states but it too has its drawbacks. There is still no central law against this barbarism. Less than 2 percent of those accused of witch-hunting are actually convicted, according to a study by the Free Legal Aid Committee, a group that works with victims in the state of Jharkhand.Most of the time women are unaware of the law and although there are many NGOs like Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC) working for the this cause, there is still a long way to go.

Witch hunting leaves children orphaned and in my opinion it is one of the most atrocious crimes against women.

The cause of witch hunting is the patriarchal system and it’s been there for centuries now. To prove the authority of men, they suppress women, who resist against the system.

Men use weapons like witch-hunting to get rid of women they fear. In the Adivasi communities, it is largely women who are considered to have an evil influence and thus capable of being witches.

There are some fundamental questions I want to raise .

why is it that only a woman is a witch and man a witch hunter and spirit healer?

Why there is still lack of basic amenities like health, education and social awakening in remote parts of India?

Why can’t there be a central law or at least a strict law to prevent such acts of barbarism?

For How long women of India going to suffer in the the name of faith and under the pressure of male dominated society?