Being a woman. In India.

This is not another one of those “men- bashing” posts. Seriously. After all, being a woman and writing about a man has become dangerous territory in India nowadays. And being a man and writing about women- bhaiyya, dimaag kharab ho gaya hai kya aapka? (trans.- have you gone crazy dude?)

Ever since the brutal Nirbhaya case in December 2012, India and particularly Delhi, has come on the map. Rapes used to happen before, too. But this case made the public and police realize that women were not properties who were to be raped, they were people. And the realization came after one of the most brutal rapes in the history of the 21st century for which India should be ashamed of. And it is. Our men are now labelled rapists, and today, if any man in India stands up to say anything even remotely ‘against’ a woman in an urban sphere, he can risk the outcome of a harassment case filed against him.

But, on the other hand, things have still not changed for women. Tarun Tejpal still got away in court for committing digital rape. And why wouldn’t he? He learnt to play the law against itself.

I am a student studying outside India, and I have had to face this question – is it safe to be a woman in India? Statistically, India is not the country with the highest rapes, Sweden is. But yes, India is the country where the most brutal rape currently remembered by people happened. And I find it difficult to explain that being a woman in India is not difficult, but it is a satire life plays on you.

Being a woman in India is easy if you can learn to play by the “Rules” (what are these rules? There are too many, and too many are broken, so no one will ever know).

Liberation recently for women has become a campaign against being a “housewife”. Why not, most of us have seen our mothers sitting at home, cooking day and night for the husbands and children. Cleaning the house, washing everyone’s dirty linen, and what not. But there are a lot of women who do ‘sit at home’ by choice. Unfortunately being a woman in India today means working outside the house. Harbouring the same mentality, I went to a small city for a work- related research. And I realized that feminism as a term changes for women as you change the city. I still remember one of the women, wearing her salwar kameez dupatta around her head, telling me- the fact that I can wear a salwar kameez is liberation for me. When I see Akshara (a Hindi TV serial character) on screen managing the family with ease and also working side by side and helping the family business – makes me realize how great being a woman is. A woman can handle everything with so much perfection. I want to be like her.

For a urban woman like me, just out of a feminist college, where theoretical feminism talked about burning bras and shunning the “concept” of “constructed feminity” to harbour an individualistic identity, this seemed strange to me. I then went to a small slum area in Delhi to continue my research, and the woman I met there started praising her mother-in- law. In her words, “my mother-in- law was the most independent woman ever. She always advocated that I learn to manage my time. She used to help me manage the household chores so that I could go out and work. She told me that women had to work, because being completely dependent on a man would get one nowhere.”

Mother-in- laws, in general are considered, according to “stereotypical” portrayals- conservative individuals curbing the freedom of their bahus (daughter-in- laws). Some women themselves uphold patriarchy, since they have themselves been ingrained so deeply with patriarchal thought processes. But seemingly, this doesn’t seem so. There are free thinking women in India, but maybe their free thinking doesn’t correspond to the Western notion of feminism.

If we try and implement a Western model of feminism in India- what will happen? Nothing. The society will talk even more. The biggest loser in a live- in relationship in India is a woman. Even though the couple wants to get to know each other better and the girl is exercising her own rights over her body, it is still a problem. Because a live- in girlfriend doesn’t have the same ‘status’ of a wife, but is only in a live- in for sex. But what about marital rape? Nobody can answer this big satire on a woman’s life in India. I am called a ‘good girl’ by a lot of people because I don’t drink, smoke or come back home late at night wearing a short dress, from a party. And of course, because I don’t roam around with 10 men. But, what about a smaller town where actually doing all these can result in a tragic outcome for a girl, because men around her aren’t used to seeing women doing these things? Be it a village or a town, a girl is always the slut, isn’t she? And her parents have to always bear the burden for her ‘shame’. It’s like being born with the umbilical cord never cut. Your actions always have to be connected to your parents.

I am a believer in Western feminism. Because without western feminism and the rise of awareness about a woman’s rights, we would never have had feminism in the first place. But I believe it is wrong to assume women in India are not feminist and do not realize they have certain rights of their own. There are a lot of women advocating the need to give them the freedom to whatever they want. But the older generation is still around, and they have grown up seeing different changes in women. They have come to accept the fact that women need to be educated, but if a Western woman’s identity is thrown on them- it will be difficult to accept – that’s the irony of being a woman in India.

Life is a satire for a woman. And sometimes, for a man too. There are many men growing up to believe that women are “subdued, calm and retrospective”. But a woman is a mentally complicated person, she is someone who gets affected at the slight movement of a hand. Not because women are sensitive, or irrational, its because women get affected by their past. And every woman in India has been affected by what she sees around herself. That is why some women are unable to recognize a good man in front of them, because they have seen too many lecherous ones in the first place. There are nice men out there, men who will offer to give a lift to a girl to make her safely reach home. Men who will listen to a woman’s endless rants about her troubles because he loves her. But women have seen too much to be a certain type of ‘dream girl’ anymore. Its a tiredness that sucks you when you enter a relationship or even become friends with a man. You know you’re damaged, you have seen too much, heard too much, ascribed to too much to even conform now.

It is very difficult for men to understand women. And vice versa. And individual cases differ for Indian women. I have seen urban, educated women wanting to give their in- laws a son to “gain acceptance within the family” and I have seen women from the so – called, most conservative belts of India having girls and the family celebrating. I have seen women wearing sarees to showcase their Indian identity, women wearing hijabs to not conform to the identity of being a “Western woman”. Everywhere feminism has a different definition. And it is wrong to think that women in India are subdued creatures, or are just rising up now for their rights.

Life is a satire for an Indian woman. One the one hand, it is easy to be a feminist, on the other hand, it is heart- breaking to see theoretical feminism facing difficulties in implementation. I want to, like every other woman, run to a village, campaign against the panchayat for women’s rights. But what about those situations where women would not want to conform to my form of feminism. For them, education is liberation, not wearing jeans. But the thin line is always looked over, and of course, our villages are the most “backward” places for women.

There is a need to know a woman in India to do something for her. Rapes, domestic violence and torture arise because men are given the right to do what they want to do to a woman. But we need to understand where this is happening and why. Not burst out at every Indian man we meet on the street thinking he is a man with a rapist mentality. I feel sad for the men, but I feel even sadder for the women. Because a day will come when two contrasting forms of feminism will look at other other and shun themselves. And that is the day being a woman will become a tragedy. Being a feminist in India doesn’t mean making the man do the housework, or not having children- no. If men or even some women think this is what has become of feminism in India, then they are mistaken. Being a feminist in India means exercising your own choices – if a woman wants to not work and sit at home, that doesn’t make her a lesser feminist. But yes, if she advocates sitting at home and still making the man do all the household chores, then that is just torture. You wouldn’t want a man to do that to you, don’t do that to a man, either. But it is wrong to assume men in India are not feminists, or all women are subdued creatures. India is formulating a very different version of feminism. Just because an Indian girl says she wants to have children, doesn’t mean she is trying to state that having children is her primary function in life. No. She wants to be a mother and is exercising her right in being one – there is nothing wrong in that. But I don’t think understanding a woman will be easy- especially one living in India.

Because, it is difficult to be a woman, but trust me, our life is an even bigger satire.

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