On Being A Woman – Year End Post


It has been over a month now since I wrote anything here. I am not really in right frame of mind. Anger and pain has made me numb. Excuse me for this rambling and just ignore the errors for now.

kuch alfaz ab bhi seene me hain uljhe

kuch girahen abhi bhi khulni hain baki

hain sawal kuch jinke dhoondhne hain jawab

hain jawab jinhe ab bhi hai sawalon ki latash

Sometimes I feel my life is like an exquisitely embroidered shawl. Richly embroidered in vibrant hues which people see and appreciate but it is I who feels the inconvenient knots and tangled threads of its inside.  When anyone says “I understand how you feel” I say “No you don’t”, you possibly can’t imagine how tough it is to be a woman in this country, to struggle each day, to fight for survival. To live here is an act of bravery and then you see what ultimately happens to the brave hearts who dare to dream of living a life on their terms. What are these terms? you will ask.

 

The terms are – Dignity, honor , equality in all spheres of life, a right to LIVE as a fellow human being.

 

” Ha!, you say, don’t talk about these philosophical  terms that feminists quote. You have all that you need –  security, food, shelter, money, a husband to” look after” you, what else do you want? What is this about dignity and crap? Your dignity is within the four walls of this house. It is in your hand to preserve and protect it. Don’t listen to these so-called “committed/progressive women” these “feminists from women’s Organisations” they will try to lead you astray, they will break your home and fill your head with shitty ideas that will only take wrong decisions.  Dress”modestly” . It is because of these “dented, painted disco going women” that all these cases of rape and molestation happen.Stay within your boundaries, follow traditions and norms set by society for their women, know your duties and follow the moral code. If you do all this then only you can give good values to your children. God has been kind to you and given you two boys. Thank God for not burdening you with a daughter. Don’t talk to the neighbors, make only a few friends (although we don’t see the need of it) and mind you they should not be men. You are a married woman and your commitment is only towards your husband, children and in-laws. Your parents? Their son will look after them, it is his job not yours. Now you are part of this family and nothing else matters. Remember that silence and patience, tolerance and abiding to the wishes of your husband is the utmost priority in your life even above your own self for that self is also now His and not yours anymore.

Do you get what I am saying ?”

 

“Well,  yes I do see it. I followed it like an idiot for a major part of my life and screwed it. Now I intend to trash your “Codes for an Indian Woman” and chart my path make my own rules, take my own decisions, Live My Life.”

 

“What? Then you are not a good wife, daughter, DIL, and mother, you are not even a good woman. See, this is what happens when women are let loose. When they gain access to public spaces and get exposed to things like Internet. This is what corrupted you. Now your head is filled with all those lofty notions of independent living and all the crap about women’s rights. Mark my words, you will suffer, realize your mistake within no time and come back on your knees.”

 

***

“If that is what you think, Shame On You.  I do not wish to be labelled as a “Good woman” by Your Standards. I will sell myself if I have to and live under the open sky if push comes to shove but I will not give in now and will not come back to this prison with invisible bars and barbed web of rules designed to keep me in hold all through my life, that’s a promise.”

2011 saw emergence of a new Me.

Many women are not living their dreams because they are living their fears.

 

Isolation, restriction, guilt, humiliation, denial, continuous controlling and criticism and  lack of empathy, love, companionship, shattering of a dream of ” a life long relationship based on mutual respect” breaks them. Emotional, mental tortured is hard to explain due to lack of  ” solid evidence” . 
Emotional Abuse comes silently most of the times camouflaged as “love, betterment, moral duty, guilt, emotional blackmail, and 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.
Two years have passed since I cut those silken chains and  moved out to rediscover myself as a woman , as a person, as a human being. I had to pay the price. I had to leave my boys behind.
“What kind of mother is she? So insensitive and unconcerned, so selfish.”  I still hear it but in hushed voices.
Emergence of new woman who can defy everything that binds her and yet be happy is a painful, uphill task.
Today when I sit and look back I know I was privileged. I had friends who stood by me like a rock, I had patronage to be economically independent in some way after a gap of 22 years. I had a family to go back to though it was a halfhearted acceptance.
It is easy to say what took you so long? It is easy to say ” Hang in there, everything will be fine”, it is easy to sympathize but it takes immense courage to hold the hand of someone who is defying and rebelling against the system. I was privileged in more than one ways to have people with such strength.
I owe it to them as much as I owe it to myself .
 If anyone thinks it is selfish to think about oneself, to dream, to have desires then so be it.
I am selfish. I can’t deny the love I am supposed to give myself. It would be utterly dishonest to do so and if I am dishonest to myself how will I ever be honest to others?
I believed and hoped my boys understood. They stood by me.
They did not have a choice.
They said nothing.
It is tough to be separated in such manner. The guilt ate into the fiber of my being  day and night. It still does. But I had to make a choice – To live or to exist. I chose the first.
I have a lot to thank for, lot of people to offer my gratitude for helping me be myself but the battle is not won yet. Even after two years I   have one foot in the past and one in present. Sometimes I see myself at the periphery of a void at others I feel absolutely thrilled by what I have achieved in last one year. I have been able to break many mental barriers. It has been a productive year in many ways but still something is amiss. I have not been able to completely shake off the layers that hide the real me stirring and quivering underneath in want of  release. A lot remains entangled and knotted not just due to the rotten system we are part of but also because of my own failing to regain the confidence and courage. I am still a sucker of emotions, still vulnerable to the core, still seeking approval when I shouldn’t.
I took the step in direction of change but it seems like a move from a smaller prison to a larger one. A little more space to breathe and move about but still confined. It makes me question my decision. I lose my footing and begin to slip back. It scares me to venture into a society where every moment women are violated, sometimes so brutally.
Physical rape is just one aspect of VAW, the society we live in and are part of strips the female of their species  of a dignified life from the time she is conceived. Some live through the horror of it till they cough last and some are spared that trauma by getting  murdered in the womb itself.  There is only a small percentage that breathes the free air and lives as desire.
As we step into another year my thoughts are with all the women who are facing a challenge to free themselves of the chains that bind them, who are daring to break the silence despite of the risks involved, who are struggling to make a place for themselves  within the culture of violent subjugation and male dominated power structure around which everything revolves and in which women die many times over every day. Most of the times unheard, unsung. There voices stilled. I am thinking about the lack of a support system for those who have the spark to stand up for their rights and fight against the system.
I am not just thinking of women’s rights and gender violence but also about  gay rights, racism, casteism and coexistence which doesn’t exist in our society. I am thinking of equal opportunities, paid employment for women ( just 14.5 %paid employment as compared to men speaks volumes about the structure of our society. 2 million women lost their jobs in last five years), basic education,  basic hygiene and medical facilities. I am thinking of children and the crimes against them. Earlier too there have been catalyst who have shown harsh light on the stinking rotten interiors of our society. Earlier too there have been movements against every damn issue which is shoved under the carpet, How many more ? ? How many wake up calls, How many lives cut short before the change finally occurs?
Will there ever be one single day when a woman will feel safe in this country and breathe easy? When her security and self-respect will not be ground to dust? Will we ever be rid of our sexist culture? Unfortunately when I ask these questions the city that comes to mind is the city in which I have lived for more than forty years – the national capital Delhi.  Not a single moment of my life I have felt secure here. Fear has been a constant companion since I began to move out in public spaces. Fear of those so-called “protectors”. It started when I joined school and continues till now.
As I write this last post of this year I am wondering what lies ahead for the women of India, for me as an individual.  I know it will take a lot of effort and time to completely overhaul the mindset of people to bring some much-needed positive changes but I can begin with myself and my life. It is a rough path that I have chosen but am not giving up. Ever.
Here are two brilliant articles for you to read and ponder upon as I take your leave.
He says among other things,” Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.”
(TRUST ME IT IS TRUE)
And
The problem is us  by zigzactly
I have not been regular with my posts but I know you will understand. In a struggle to find my footing I have to sometimes give priority to other important issues that I am dealing with. Thank you for supporting me in all good and bad times and for encouraging me by reading and commenting. I appreciate it very much.
Do something constructive in the coming year.
Have the moral courage to Defy what in Unjust. Don’t be a performer.
You can view all the Previous Entries about being a woman and other social issues HERE 

GBE2 Week #64 : Hidden – A veiled Life


Her fate was sealed the moment she was born. The Chador that wrapped her, grew with her infant body. Layer after layer it hid her slow painful journey into womanhood, chained forever to her home and hearth,  by norms of society and religion. She was born to serve and submit.. Serve  and submit to the omnipresent men of her clan. In silence.

She was one of the few who survived birth but her voice was stilled for life.  The muffled cries of her infant sister dying a forced slow death still woke her up in the middle of nights. Unlike the so called emancipated, literate, liberated urban women, her life was tied by invisible ropes that rubbed against her soft flesh and left wounds that scarred her being.

She ceased to be human the moment she “came of age”. The menstrual blood brought with it emotional and physical abandonment. It also brought a sudden realization of turning into a “woman” who had, a body “to be kept hidden”, tongue which was just a purposeless mass of flesh, heart which would in long run become a vault for unmet dreams and desires and a mind which was considered “non-existent” and which only worked behind a camouflaged screen of darkness.

Suddenly she shrunk under the chador which had taken monstrous proportion since her infancy days. Her life was no longer hers.  A marionette whose strings were pulled and pushed by the men in her household and extended family.  Shrouded in mystery of her gender, modesty, pleasure, shame, pain and drudgery she carried her body through the lonely barbed web of rules designed to keep her in hold all through her life.

She was still in better position than her aunt, barely a few years older than her and a widow, who had to continuously protect her “unguarded, dangerous” body till she is lowered into her grave safely, a daunting task in a society of vultures ready to pounce on any slice of flesh that they can lay their eyes and hands on.

Deep buried and hidden under layers her body and voice stirred and quivered in want of release but never reached the climax. Considered unfit for any function but marriage, childbearing, housekeeping her entire being came out from the hidden depths during the dark recesses past the midnight silence.  Lying next to a snoring satisfied husband or alone, she  freely roamed around the courtyard and beyond the threshold into the unnamed, unknown lanes and streets like a alley cat.

Suddenly the landmines erected by society to prevent her from deviating from specified gender roles forgot to explode as she stepped on the prohibited terrain.

Not swathed in black from head to toe in the age old dirty chador that hung near the main door, she set the woman in her free. Reclaiming herself. Night after night.

In those intimate hours with herself she would try and familiarize with the contours of her body, feeling that fervent rush which knew no outlet in her forsaken life. Many times she would slip into the veranda, dressed in nothing but a thin duppata, which made her a bit comfortable with herself, throw her bare arms in the air and watch the night sky with two bright starry eyes, letting the breeze flirt with her.

Imagination would thrown open the doors and windows which usually remained bolted. Walls that had risen brick by brick around her segregating and secluding her would collapse in a heap, making her vulnerable and alive. She would create and recreate the stories told in the midst of giggles and laughter by her city cousins.

Before the first light of dawn, hidden in the safety of the darkness she would dare to live a life she imagined. Strange that the very darkness that engulfed her in daytime became her saviour at night.

This post is written for GBE2 WEEK #64 (8-5-12 to 8-11-12): Hidden

Inspired by Tamil writer Salma’s book and Kamla Das( one of my many muses)

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