history · Life in India

Why I Am In Love (And Rightly So), With Humayun’s Tomb

I have always been very clear about my love for Humayun’s tomb. Why a tomb, a place for death, you may ask? When Akbar built the place, he did so to commemorate his father, who died a rather tragic death after falling down the steps of his library. Why then, do I find so much peace and love for the place?

IMG_20170903_180948517_HDR.jpg
Opening my eyes to this view.

This Sunday, I decided to sit in front of the tomb, in the lawns, and contemplate my emotions for the red-and-white structure, which has enamoured me ever since I came to Delhi more than seven years ago. Writing an ode to Humayun’s tomb will not be enough.

When I walk around the tomb, I can see the past – the grandeur of the Mughal empire. The red walls, through their coldness, speak to me of the love of a son for his father. Nothing can go wrong here – wherever you look, you can see the blue minaret or the white dome – white, a symbol of such peace and tranquility. If you take a book and sit in the lawns, a lovely wind blows behind your neck, as if soothing you and blending you into the peaceful existence.

Thousands of people visit Humayun’s tomb every day. But, once I am there, all I can hear is the sound of the wind and the birds. All I can see is the tomb, standing in all its grandeur, beckoning me to be calm and think only good things.

IMG_20170903_181222627

Monuments span beyond time and religion, for they belong to everyone, yet belong to no-one. The Taj Mahal may be a symbol of love for the world, but Humayun’s tomb is a symbol of peace and tranquility. When I play a song in my mind and walk around the monument, I feel a spring in my step, a twinkle in my eye. All my troubles wash away and I can only see the expanse of the red walls in front of me, as if telling me that life is way more beautiful than I can imagine it to be.

Which is why I will always love Humayun’s tomb, and rightly so.

 

Advertisements
Life · Life in India · Opinionated

Which State Do You Belong To?

Which state do you belong to? – is the most common question faced by me, every time I meet someone new. Till I was 20, I used to answer – Mumbai, the city, not the state, Maharashtra. Somewhere, deep down my heart, I knew I was more a Mumbaikar, less a Maharashtrian. Now, 5 years later, I don’t know what to answer. My constant shuttling between the two cities Delhi and Mumbai and my ancestral lineage from West Bengal have confused me beyond my understanding. I am no longer too Bengali to be called Bengali, no longer too familiar with Mumbai to call myself a Mumbaikar, and definitely don’t know much Marathi or Marathi culture to identify myself as a Maharashtrian.

For the longest time in my youth, I vehemently denied being a Bengali. I hated to associate myself with Communist, monkey-cap wearing, Sreeleathers-loving stereotypical Bengalis, even though I had an upbringing consisting of Gelusil and Boroline, two of the most Bengali things ever. I didn’t want to associate myself with any stereotype, hence I preferred calling myself a Mumbaikar – I could easily identify my Bambaiya-hindi, night-life loving characteristics with the city and inadvertently be identified as someone ‘cool’, someone who came from that city of lights, colour, fame and Bollywood.

Secret Guide to Mumbai - Mumbai Fashion - Vegan Fashion Blog - Places o Visit in Mumbai.jpg

It’s a weird world out there for people like me, who grow up in a different state from their ancestral one. Most of the time, we learn little of our culture, and unknowingly, try to hold on to it tightly without admitting it. I belonged to the same crowd. I loved Bengali food, Bengali culture, Rabindrasangeet, et al – yet refused to identify myself as a Bengali. Yet, emotions hit home ground the most when a dear friend from Kolkata called me a ‘fraud Bengali’, for not knowing anything about the Bengali culture, according to her.

I tried fitting very hard into every city – thinking every city is the place I can claim to be from. But, eventually, I realized, over time – I made friends not with people who were from a particular culture like me, but because we had a certain intellectual framework that appealed to our sensitivities.  My best friends are Sindhi, Syrian Christian, Malayalee Nair, Bihari and Baniya, all radically different from each other. Till 20 years back, it was unimaginable to befriend so many people from so many varied cultures and religions for my parents. Yet, this happened because I became part of a new cultural revolution – the Indian who is cosmopolitan.

I identify myself as an Indian more than anything else now, because I can’t see myself ‘fitting’ in anywhere, yet ‘fitting’ in everywhere. I don’t hate it when people tell me I remind them of a ‘stereotypical bong’ who says “ish” when she’s disgusted. I love it when people like the different facets of my personality and link it to my very Indian identity.

While stereotyping and being judgemental is part of being human, I also think it’s important for people to move out of their comfort bubble and see the world, because we Indians need to realize that the beauty of cosmopolitanism lies everywhere. Not ‘fitting’ into something conventional isn’t a bad thing. In the US, we have a half-Puerto Rican, half-Ashkenazi Jew entertaining us and he is currently touted as the next Michael Jackson. He’s none other than Bruno Mars. He’s a product of globalization and cosmopolitanism. Booker prize winning writer Arundhati Roy, who wrote The God of Small Things is half-Malayalee and half-Bengali. Yet, her understanding of Kerala’s culture in the novel is unparalleled.

It’s a wrong notion that if one leaves their state or marries outside their culture or identifies as someone else, they lose their culture. I know that deep down in my heart, some things about me will always remain Bengali. I know that even if I marry outside my community, I will never stop identifying myself as a Bengali. I will always celebrate Durga Puja, not Navratra. Because that is MY festival. There are certain traits I have latched onto, vowing to never let them go. Not because I like being Bengali, but because these traits define me.

bengalicultureb_blog

Yet, I hold on to my identity as a Delhi-ite and Mumbaikar ferociously too. I know my rich experience of a Mumbai local parallels that of a Mumbaikar, I know the roads of Delhi as the veins in my heart. These two cities are the mothers that taught me how to live life on my own, and I latch onto these identities too, albeit “shamelessly”.

I know there may be many confused folks like me out there. My surname is mistaken to be my identity on many occasions. I know who I am, but I don’t know whether I can fit into any classified identity. I can’t fit into that one bottle, for I am that free-flowing water, that can assimilate into any bottle you put me into. I can sing a Bollywood song with my friend from UP, I can dance equally madly on a Tamil tune with my friend from Hyderabad, appreciate that Bhojpuri song my friend croons, or eat momos with my friend from Manipur, loving to hear her complain how stupid it is when people can correlate things like momos with the North-east without knowing anything else about the region. I want to visit other regions of my beautiful country, assimilate more in other places, distorting my identity to the extent that even I can’t figure out myself where I fit into anymore.

I want to reach that state when I don’t identify myself with any caste, any region, any community anymore. Right now, I am that Bengali who speaks the language, but can be spotted with a Premchand novel in a metro. I am that Maharashtrian who grew up in the state but can’t speak Marathi. I am that Delhi-ite who knows all the party places in the city, but can’t tolerate the city at night. I am that small-town Durgapur/Navi Mumbai chick, who knows her world is just within a small city, where everyone she meets knows her.

It’s time we celebrate the plurality India is. Celebrate that Mallu who speaks Hindi with the heart of a Dilli-waala, that UP girl who loves Mumbai and identifies as a Mumbaikar for the freedom the city gives her, that Sindhi who speaks Punjabi, that Marathi girl who prides herself in knowing Gujarati and Tullu. That Indian who prides himself/herself for belonging everywhere.

Our complexities define us as the modern Indian who can move beyond barriers, accept each other as friends because of the thoughts we harbour, not because we pledge our identity to a certain community.

Which state do I belong to? I don’t know, guess I play for Team India now! 😀

indian-flag-photos-hd-wallpapers-download-free

history · Life in India · Opinionated · Politics

Partition, 1947: My most brutal tryst with history

Many people ask me why my eyes well up with tears when someone talks about India’s partition with Pakistan in 1947. They don’t well up in the spirit of nationalism. I cry because 15th August 1947 is the day my grandparents, with millions of other refugees, moved to India from East Pakistan. With the declaration of Independence, in a flash, their land was divided; one land became the land of the Hindus, the other became a refuge of the Muslims. They spoke the same language but were divided on the lines of religion. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people were killed in the ensuing partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

partition-5

We tend to take history very lightly and never realise how ever-lasting an impact it can have, on our lives. My grandparents grew up in present-day Bangladesh, spending the majority of their youth in an era where there was no distinction between a Hindu and a Muslim. Partition changed that. All of sudden, that Jafar or Sayeed or Mohammad was your enemy, not your friend. It’s funny how drawing an invisible line can divide people so much.

My grandparents each faced different scenarios during partition. My maternal grandparents moved with their family to Calcutta, without facing much bloodshed or violence, but heard many stories during their stay in refugee camps in Tollygunge. They met India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who promised them a better future post-Partition, but being the youth of the 1940’s, all they got was a brutal displacement from their home; a forced uprooting from their own country, that suddenly came to be called East Pakistan. They picked up the ruins of their lives and started life from the beginning, from stark poverty, with unemployment and homelessness staring them in the eye. Being accepted as Indians was the first big task for them, which it shouldn’t have been.

image036

My paternal grandparents, on the other hand, saw bloodshed. My grandmother was a zamindar’s daughter, and zamindars were known to be wealthy and oppressive back in the day. So, it was no surprise that the first thing that happened after partition was the burning down of their house. Peasants drove them out of their home, ran after them with knives, almost killed them. Violence shouldn’t be meted out to anyone, rich or poor, for it leaves a lifetime of scars, that never, ever heal. My grandfather, on the other hand, was lucky. He was in Calcutta at the time of partition and was just heading back home, when he saw people heading to the border with knives, shouting Hindustan zindabad. He went back to Calcutta and never looked back, ever again.

Violence was there on both sides of the border in 1947. Hindus killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus. My maternal grandmother once narrated an incident of a Hindu girl in her locality who was kidnapped by her Muslim acquaintances during partition. She was raped and put on a charpai (bed) outside their home, naked, and was raped by every man coming into the house, whenever he wanted.

Many women disappeared during the partition, were raped, maimed or killed. Those of my grandparents’ Hindu friends, who decided to stay on in East Pakistan after partition, faced an even greater amount of violence during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. It seems like violence refused to leave their generation.

150629_r26683-1200.jpg

I feel saddened that the 1947 partition of Bengal finds little mention in our school books here in India, as compared to the 1905 Bengal partition, which we all know about, as it gives us an opportunity to diss Lord Curzon, a rather temperamental and racist British Governor-General. Unfortunately, even in popular discourse and in history courses in college, the 1947 partition of West Bengal is given lesser importance as compared to the partition on the Punjab border.

Narratives on partition need to be told, for they show the extent of brutality humans can reach in the name of war, and its discussion might motivate many of us to not repeat the same in the future. Bengal went through two partitions – 1947 and 1971, and both need to be documented to give voices to those people who faced grave injustice.

When I was a kid, I heard a distinctive term in West Bengal for people like me – Bangal. People who migrated to India from East Pakistan. In passing jokes, I was referred to as a ‘non-resident Bangladeshi’ by some people. I was even asked by many if I truly ‘felt’ Indian and felt any attachment towards my grandparents home in present day Bangladesh. It’s absurd that I can be expected to feel attachment for a place that may very well be submerged now.

In the present day, I have even been asked whether my grandparents ‘migrated’ during the Bangladesh Liberation war, even though I have told these very people that my father was born in the 60’s in India. Somehow, there still seems to be a doubt and disbelief in some people till date as to whether those who came to India as refugees do harbour a sense of nationality. As if living across the border all of a sudden demoted us from Indians to refugees, who were given asylum in India. The truth is, we do feel ‘Indian’, because we know at what cost we got it, as compared to other people.

Yes, I did feel that pang of pain when my maternal grandfather talked to me about his home in East Pakistan, about how beautiful it was, and how he flew kites there with his friends. I did get that feeling of despair when my paternal grandfather talked about his friend in Bangladesh and lamented not being able to meet him before he passed away.

My dad once narrated a story to me about his grandmother, well into her 40’s during the partition, who recollected so much violence on a daily basis that she used to wash her clothes even if the shadow of a Muslim fell on them.

I don’t hate Muslims. But I hate that period of history that divided us to the extent that we killed our own friends. I hate that independence that wrought so much conflict onto my family. I hate having paid the price for it, and for still paying the price for it, through the weird fear that arises in me whenever someone mentions Pakistan or Bangladesh.

No, Independence didn’t come easily to my family and millions of others. We paid a price for it. Many in the mainland of India don’t understand that, and it’s saddening that our discourse of history fails to address the unheard voices of 2 million people killed and displaced in this brutal event.

home_main

As a child, whenever I asked questions about partition, my grandparents never answered. I only got access to any information in their mental archive when they spoke about the event themselves. Recollecting the good memories, they never let the bad ones overpower them. Sometimes, I felt very sad that they couldn’t go back to their hometown. Now, I am even more saddened by the fact that they died with their last wish unfulfilled – to re-live their childhood in their homeland once again. I always dreamt about growing up and taking my grandparents to Bangladesh, seeing those streets they grew up in, those stores where they got their food, that beautiful sight of the river Brahmaputra that they grew up being mesmerised with.

It could never happen.

There was an ad brought out by Google around three years back. About two grandchildren in India and Pakistan who got visas for their grandfathers to unite the two friends many years after partition. The ad may have touched many, but it failed, like so many other discourses, to address the violence both grandfathers must have faced while crossing the border.

If you ever meet any senior citizen from Bengal or Punjab, remember one thing – we Indians owe our Independence to their sacrifice, for what they gave up for their country. Till date, many of them and their children are asked if they feel ‘Indian’ enough. Acceptance into their own country, earlier just another state; but after 1947, a whole new country altogether, was an injustice inflicted on them. We should never forget the service they did for our country and always remember the sacrifice of those who died on both sides of the border.

Debates on genocide in India surround those events that took place in the 21st century. It is time we accept the price paid by so many people for our freedom today, so that every child, like me, knows the brutal tryst with history we all had. The Partition Museum project in Amritsar is one step in that direction, but it still needs to incorporate the voice of the Bengali people.

This article isn’t meant to be a treatise. And I know my experience in a household that faced partition is different from most people. But I also know that I grew up in a country for which my grandparents paid a price. And I can never forget that. And I am no lesser an Indian just because my grandparents were refugees. Because without their displacement, India wouldn’t have existed. The creation of India demanded their sacrifice, a price they shouldn’t be paying for, even today, by being asked for their loyalties towards the country.

partition-4

feminism · Life in India

Hello Dowry-seeking (and giving) educated Indian parents, I welcome you to witness a 21st century female

(this article will be shifting from dowry seeking to dowry giving people, transgressing the thin line. But the context remains the same. Read below with caution)

Dear Dowry-seeking (and giving) Indian Parents,

Oh come on, don’t pretend you know taking dowry is a crime. Aren’t you proud of your son who is going to make you malamaal (super-rich)? Aww, you cute people, look at you all going red like a beetroot! Please don’t be so happy at my revelation, the fact that you can read this means you’re educated na? That’s a great thing! Because I am going to say things you don’t want to hear. I know you want to shut me up, what kind of upbringing have my parents given me- they haven’t taught me that being a girl I need to be submissive, quiet and accepting of everything that happens to me? Of course they have! My parents have given me all the sanskaars in the world to kick ass. Don’t worry.

Aren’t you the same people who educate their daughters (now that they are born you have to educate them right, if you don’t, people will think you’re conservative rural class people), and then don’t care about whether they are doing well or not? Aren’t you the same class of people who think that just getting a degree and getting a job suitable enough to find a good “match” for your daughter is the way to go? Oh yeah, and you also prepare your fixed deposits ever since your girl-child is born- akhir dahej ke paise hai (dowry money). You look at the news and curse those lower class people who take dowry and then negotiate with the boy’s family on how much the amount of the “gift” should be.

Oh dear educated people, why do you even distinguish yourselves from the lower-class, uneducated people? What’s the point? After all, you think the same way. Did I offend you? Oh, I am sorry, I am a woman, I should mind myself, shouldn’t I? I need to respect my elders? Plus why the hell am I bothered with what’s happening in your family, after all its your ghar ka maamla. What problem do I have in life, why the hell do I want to throw my brand of feminism on everyone.

Yeah, you’re right. I should really shut myself up. Because nothing is going to change you people. You all claim to be educated, in certain cases religious people, but can not fathom the fact that a woman’s primary function in life is to not be someone’s wife. That she is a human being who should be taught to have her own aspirations in life isn’t a choice. If she doesn’t study, you would rather let her be, because she anyways just needs to pass. Even if she studies, you don’t allow her to take tuitions far away from the house, because girls of good “households” don’t go out that often. You will try your best to compell your daughter to get an MBA if her bachelors degree is not that great, because if she isn’t working, then how will you find a good groom for her? Everything is about marriage, isn’t it? Everything around a woman is concerned around her primary reproductive function.

It is not uncommon for parents to start worrying about their daughter’s marriage as soon as she completes her education and secures a job. Why not? She is settled, isn’t she? Now you can find a nice little boy for her, and get rid of your responsibility. That she can turn around and exercise her decision to stay unmarried or pursue a career or marry someone isn’t an option.

Keep up the good work folks. The Indian government alleviated you all in the 70’s and 80’s into the middle class so that you can all do exactly what you saw in your generation. Then don’t educate your sons or daughters na. What’s the point? When there is no difference between you and an uneducated person.

You all will decry rape, but you will, because its something that concerns your daughter’s and families honour. It is not uncommon for people to say, “thank god she is married, I don’t need to bother about her anymore”. Why not, daughters are born out of thin air, not the womb, their importance is much lower anyways. A sperm is not needed to produce a daughter. All you need is some bad luck, and hola! you have a daughter.

My words hurt, don’t they? But what is more hurtful is the way you perceive women. Just because you don’t beat up your wives or forbid your daughters from going to school doesn’t mean you’re “progressive”. Just because women are different physically than men, doesn’t mean they should be treated differently. Oh well, what’s the point of telling you all, you anyways belong to the backward class brigade. Oh no, I am insulting the backward class. At least they are openly conservative.  You people are of the crowd who say, “We are very progressive”, and then inquire about a woman’s virginity in the marriage “arrangements”.

If your daughter isn’t motivated enough to study, the fathers don’t bother- they have a son, who has to DO WELL. Put all the pressure on the son, the daughter is anyways gonna get married and move away. Pressurise the son to do something for the family, because he has to support the family. (also qualifications + government job of son is directly proportional to dowry amount). Post the marriage of your son, you will seek solace in the arms of your daughter, but you will take help from your son. Your son will light your pyre, he is the reason for your ascent to “heaven”.

The hollowness of my society doesn’t fail to astound me. It is extremely saddening to see people like you. And you know its more hurtful when folks like you butt into the matters of your relatives and other people who have daughters and keep inquiring about their marriage. You even keep your eyes and ears open to find a good boy for your daughter, you keep asking others to look for good “boys”, to whom marriage will be a social status for the family. You even force your daughters to get in touch with these “eligible bachelors” so that they can catch a big fish in the net. So smart na. If not arranged marriage, then arrange a marriage.

The current conversion of dowry to “gift” is so convenient. Instead of cash, now parents ask for fridges, ACs, bikes, cars, etc. And its an accepted norm. Even if not specified, it is assumed by both ends that something will be provided on the day of the marriage. Some of you even conveniently time your request, asking for a “gift” right before the day of the wedding.   After all, it’s all for the girl itself!  Now which girl’s parent would want her marriage to break up a day before the wedding? If that happens, she will never find another match! Look at you blushing in glee. Of course, you know that. Smart asses you all have, don’t you. So, when I say you’re buying a legal prostitute for your son, does that anger you? Why shouldn’t it, this is a transaction for buying sex for your son, isn’t it?

Beloved parents, as much as your children love you, don’t think they are fooled by your “conservative” bent of thinking. And unfortunately for you, today women are becoming educated in the right way. And they talk. Much to your dismay. Leave your sons unmarried folks, because one day a woman like me might just become a victim of your machinations, but will not be put down by your daily nonsense. If you think your methods will carry on for generations to follow, then I am sorry to say uncles and aunties, this is the 21st century. We have better things to do. And your daughters obviously don’t want their daughters treated like garbage bags. But then, you all are caring, you will pressurise your daughter to produce a son after marriage to please her in-laws, won’t you? Ole le. And you think that’s so adorable ain’t it. You’re fulfilling your duties as a parent even after marriage.

Hoped you loved my letter and I am assuring you there will be more to follow 🙂

Jai Hind.

And please don’t watch the new All India Bakchod video on marriages and laugh your asses off if you can’t get the satire. Idiots.

Life in India · Opinionated

Being and feeling Indian at the same time.

I once had the fortunate opportunity to talk to a famous History professor, one of India’s most eminent historians and a pioneer in the field of Ancient Indian history. She explained to me the concept of identity, and how India as a country is still struggling to let go of its colonial identity. Indians still love to identify with a ‘White culture’, a subconscious identity of a ‘white supremacy’- which is actually bringing India to a more subordinate position with respect to the West.

It is difficult for Indians to accept that we still haven’t cut our umbilical cord with the West, especially Britain. Despite having successes of our own, we still consider the achievements of Indians in the West as greater than ours. Some households don’t adhere to such thinking, but the majority do. There is still a big obsession amongst the population of moving to the ‘West’ where life is much simpler, and money is more.

But do the dynamics work that way? Is living in the West that easy?

A. People living abroad benefit because of currency exchange rate, not because they earn millions of dollars more than the local populace.

B. Indians aren’t the ONLY intelligent race in the world, and we aren’t the only ones running the world.

C. Life in the West looks beautiful, but apart from the higher standard of living, the problems of poverty, housing crisis, etc. still remain, and will only go if one is an educated Indian with a degree that has a value in the Western market. Otherwise most Indians are actually local shopkeepers (a stereotype- but it’s a hard truth!)

Indians are instilled with the belief that we are a hard-working bunch, who are bound to succeed in a foreign country, because India doesn’t provide us opportunities. India has a population crisis; India lacks technological innovation; social customs shackle the populace- etcetera, etcetera.

Despite all these concerns, there has to be an understanding that those who “cannot escape” from India aren’t unsuccessful or in any way menial as compared to those driving a Volkswagen in the US. Firstly, buying cars in the US is easy. Almost everyone owns a car, and the cars are higher range models than those of India- because India has to pay for high import taxes, and because of our weak currency, the cost appears higher. The econometrics and situational conversion of economics should be the course of our understanding, not some random observation without any thought or provocation of the mind.

A General Manager working in an enterprise in India may not be earning in dollars, but his work is no less than that of a manager in the US/UK. In fact, he may be working more hours, primarily because the system is yet to develop fully and being a developing country, the effort has to be put in more. It is unfortunate that Independence has created another class of ‘babus’- those who have made their lives in the West, and now come back to India to reap benefits of the conversion rate, and command the same respect that a White man once did.

My message is more for the educated man/woman, rather than the knowledgeable one. The ones with even a simple understanding of economics or even social situations will know why I wrote this today. I know I don’t want to land in India and have people kissing my feet because I landed from “abroad”. Locations shouldn’t determine success or command respect- that’s where we, as Indians first went wrong, and still haven’t learned from History. India is a superpower and a cultural supremo in itself – it’s time we leave our obsession with being ‘white’, because we aren’t – and we should never try to be something or someone we never are.

It is time middle-class Indians start treating their local heroes with respect and stop obsessing about our ‘foreign’ relatives, who apparently have a better sense of style, speak better English, and are more knowledgeable than us, because they hold the passport of another country. Being knowledgeable or fashionable or commanding respect has to be a state of mind- an acceptance of our confidence. We didn’t achieve Independence to run away to another country- we achieved Independence to make our country the place people would want to come to. Collectively we have to build this society. If a student or employee of an MNC wants to come back to India, he/she isn’t committing a “blunder”- he/she is simply not giving into the societal pressure of becoming a “white” person and wants to do something great for India, than someone else. Collective acceptance and collective attempts at development will make India into the country we desire. It has to begin from us. We can’t expect the World Bank to come and do it for us.

Indian Woman's Musings · Life in India · Opinionated

Liberation v/s Security

Ever since the telecast of the ‘Vogue Empower’ video of Deepika Padukone, women’s “liberation” has become a strong point of argument, analysis and debate. There are those who hated the video, others who loved it. There were some who found the video ‘liberating’, others who considered the video encapsulating – a wormhole into which women are pigeonholed and classified as beautiful creatures who should be bound to certain traditions.

But more than the whole controversy around the video, especially the lyrics- what is more baffling is the concept of liberation. What is freedom? Does freedom mean liberation? Can/Should an actress like Deepika Padukone define liberation for an Indian woman?

I once went to India Gate in Delhi at night with a friend. We were in the car, planning to get out, when a group of guys entered the car beside ours, and all of them kept their eyes glued on me.They kept looking at me, as if they had never seen a woman before in their life. While heading to India Gate, I felt “liberated” and happy that I could exercise my choice of travelling at night with a man in a car in a city like Delhi. But once I reached there, my liberation paved its way to insecurity. Even though those men were in the car beside mine, I still wanted to leave and go to a ‘secure’ location. My decision to feel free actually made me feel scared. I exercised my choice, but my choice made me repent.

This whole contradictory stance of society, especially Indian society, where women’s rights are an issue, but women’s security isn’t – is costing us dearly. While we have protests on the road, magazines writing about women’s rights, laws being enacted over molestation and laws being deliberated on marital rape- who can guarantee cent percent ‘security’ for every woman in the country?

While a Deepika Padukone teams up with Kapil Sibal and Homi Adjania to make a video on women’s empowerment & women’s right to exercise their “choices” – how far can we go with simple idealism? After all, there are some women out there who do get an opportunity to exercise their rights, but regret it because their rights have exposed them to the dirty side of society that prides itself in subjugating women to subordination.

I am not saying that Deepika Padukone is mistaken in making such a video. She is an actress, she needs publicity, she wants to stand up for a cause in her own way. I don’t blame her. We all are here on this planet, following our dreams, trying to set examples.

But this whole problem of security still bothers me. For a woman, security doesn’t mean having a man around like a bodyguard. Security has multiple levels – one can feel secure alone, secure in a crowd, secure without a crowd. But this feeling of security is lacking everywhere. I, as a woman, feel scared to walk into Chandni Chowk wearing a skirt. I can exercise my “choice” of wearing a skirt and entering Chandni Chowk, but can I feel liberated when I do that?  I can’t, because liberation doesn’t mean a guarantee of security.

I don’t want to sound like a “meek woman” craving for security. After all, there is the police on the road, there are  feminist men out there who want to protect women from the bad elements of society. When I complain too much, there are people present to tell me, “stop complaining and learn martial arts”, “carry pepper sprays”, “punch the guy in his balls”. I am aware that sitting and crying for something won’t change anything for me. But I want to understand how the whole argument of liberation will guarantee me security in India. How will it? I don’t have the answer, I am simply asking a question. Maybe some day someone will be able to provide me a constructive answer that can lead to the bridging of this gap.

Till then, Deepika Padukone can keep making her videos and Bollywood can keep churning out its item numbers – Bollywood actresses never really have to worry about walking on the streets on a daily basis anyways. And those who haven’t seen the Vogue empower video- take a look at it.

Indian Woman's Musings · Life in India · Opinionated

Why I can’t sleep after seeing India’s daughter

On 16th December, 2012, a final year Physiotherapy student was brutally raped in New Delhi. Brutally. The rapists not only gang- raped her, one of them also inserted an iron rod into her vagina, pulling out her intestines. They threw her body out onto the street, but she still survived. She battled for her life for 13 days, finally dying and saying these last words to her mother, “I am sorry.”

Am I angry? Yes. Have those who raped her been brought to justice?? No. The world hasn’t allowed India to forget this incident. Indians have a very short memory, scandals are scandals for a month, and then disappear into oblivion. But this time, people didn’t forget. They got out onto the streets, and the whole issue became a criticism of Indian society’s outlook towards women. I have grown up being told that I shouldn’t travel alone at night. Why? Because there is a possibility that I might get raped!

I remember talking to a friend about molestation one day and she told me how her experience of molestation made her feel so violated, even taking a shower couldn’t wash away the feeling of disgust. I just tried imagining how a rape victim felt. Death seems like the worst thing to happen to humankind. Not death, but dying while living is the worst thing to happen to humankind. And the structure of Indian society is such that once a woman gets raped, her life is finished. She is walking corpse.

Sex is a difficult topic in Indian society. People don’t want to discuss it, but we still are the second most populous country in the world. Simple life events like menstruation are treated like a disease. Menstruating women aren’t allowed to enter temples because they are ‘impure’. I don’t understand how we can consider ourselves a cultured society. What kind of a culture do we have? Where some places we have kanya puja (girl-worship), another place dalit women are treated worse than animals.

When the Nirbhaya case happened, I remembered reading the newspaper and imagining, for two seconds, if it was me in her place. It could have been anyone that day. But it was a young girl, aspiring to be a doctor, who was her parent’s only source of support. And it had to be her. I have stopped believing in religion. Because no God, Prabhu, Allah, Mahavira or Christ was there to save her that night. She was raped in the most brutal way possible. There are worse rape cases around the world, but India needed to learn a lesson. After 60 years of Independence, what have me managed to establish? We don’t even have 100% literacy. Our Ministers are themselves convicted of crimes. Despite having a woman Prime Minister, did we manage to topple US when it comes to Women rights? What do we have to be proud of, apart from our engineers running Microsoft and Google? Could those engineers save Nirbhaya?

India’s Daughter, a documentary on the 2012 rape case is made by a British lady, and a rape victim herself Leslee Udwin. A lot of people might be sceptical to see the video, given Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire, which made India immensely unpopular. The Indian government banned the video, stating that it might create a culture of ‘fear’ amongst women.

My question is plain and simple- Why are we running away from the reality? We know our society is screwed up, men have a mis-conception of power. Men in smaller cities grow up believing they can OWN a woman, they have a right over a woman because they are a MAN. If a girl refuses a man’s love proposal, he can throw acid on her, so that she can never be with another man. If a woman speaks out of line, either her father or her husband will thrash her. If a girl in a village decides to wear jeans, she will be eve-teased by the local men. And if she walks out after 10 in the night, men will rape her, irrespective of her being 15 or 50.

We have a culture of male misogyny. We have a culture of sexism. We don’t have a culture at all, we have a screwed up conception that we have culture in the first place. All those politicians claiming that India is “pure” because we aren’t like the West, aren’t they the ones watching porn in Parliament and sleeping with prostitutes, or forcing young women to sleep with them because they are politicians?

While watching this documentary, I couldn’t bring myself to face Jyoti Singh’s mother. We collectively failed her a society. We have failed her. Plain and simple. Even if she had lived, she would have been crippled for life. It doesn’t matter which government was in power back then. The Sheila Dikshit led UPA or anyone else. The fact that something like this could happen and the perpetrators not be hanged immediately, is the collective shame of every government. AAP, BJP and UPA. Everyone.

We all have daughters, sisters, mothers. Would we ever submit them to this level of horrendous violence? India doesn’t need an anti- corruption movement right now. India needs radical change when it comes to making the country safe for women. That can be done even without educating people. It doesn’t need a educated man to know that women need to be respected, it needs a human to know one. By “safety” and “respect” I don’t mean, like the lawyers in the documentary said, keeping women at home. I am unable to sleep because I know if I ever land in India after seeing this documentary, I can’t trust the cab driver driving me home. I can’t trust the local shopkeeper. I am scared, not just for myself, but for my daughter. She will grow up in such a world and society where being a girl is the root cause of all problems.

Teaching women Taekwondo or giving them pepper sprays isn’t the way out. It is easy to hand a girl a pepper spray and teach her to use it, but when ten lecherous men try to gang rape, they can simply overpower you. Why doesn’t the government accept this harsh reality and make policing stricter? Why can’t we go on the lines of Singapore, where every rapist is given capital punishment?

The United Nations has been advocating that India rid itself of capital punishment. But what has the UN to say for SUCH a heinous crime? Such a heinous rape? Ban Ki Moon or Barack Obama, if you’re listening, please put yourself in Nirbhaya’s place and re-live the rape. Lets see where your advocacy for revoking capital punishment goes. It is very easy to read a legislation in the UN, much more difficult to do something for those hundreds and thousands of women getting molested and raped everyday.

I don’t care if the rapist was a juvenile. It’s been over 2 years, why haven’t the rapists been hanged? Did the UPA government, for vote politics and show business give those people a death sentence? And then we say lets make India safer for women? kahan se safe hoga! How?? If those rapists aren’t hung openly in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, if their penises aren’t castrated and their intenstines taken out, then what kind of justice can we even espouse for Nirbhaya??!

Buddhism and other religions advocate that revenge is wrong. But we need revenge. It has been too long that Indian women have taken molestation and rape with a pinch of salt and moved on. Changing cities for a rape victim won’t reduce her trauma. Young girls who are molested don’t forget the molestation experience for life.

India has a golden opportunity. It can change things, become an exemplary example for other nations. But all Narendra Modi’s government cares about is NaMo’s image. Listen to me BJP, putting women in Parliament isn’t the solution. Rid the Parliament of people who pass comments like, It is the woman’s fault. Don’t blame Bollywood and it’s item numbers for rapes, discipline the people YOU elect into the Parliament who pass statements like, “it’s in men’s nature to rape,” “chowmein and mobile phones cause rape.”

The rapist showed no remorse while saying that they raped Jyoti Singh because she stood up to them. Even if the argument that Leslee bribed him is true, why is he even alive to say these things? He considers his case as no exception. It is not education that we need, we need the goddam men, the politicians to go to the villages, and start hanging all rapists from the nearest tree. India isn’t Europe or the USA, we can’t go around trying to impress the Western world and show them that we have Ipads and the newest technology in our country. A country which can’t safeguard its women can’t call itself a democracy. And women don’t need men to safeguard them, women need the society to support them.

Pre- marital sex is a taboo, any woman in a live-in is a slut, a widow or divorcee is the perfect person to be harassed for sex, because she isn’t a virgin anymore. I am not saying such mentalities are not present in other societies, but India now has these glaring into her face – these are cracks that have been exposed. And we need to change. Hinduism isn’t about purity of the woman, all those RSS activists or renowned personalities like Katju who claim to know everything about a woman, should put themselves in Nirbhaya’s place. I can’t sleep, eat or think after watching the documentary. Because I know a few months later I will be going back to a country where I will be scared, every day will be a battle for me.

And the saddest part is- there are women who support their husbands/sons who are rapists. Love for your kin is fine, but if your kin murders someone, you are also a partaker in the crime. Crying for your kin’s fate or blaming it all on the girl is cowardice. This is where our society has come to! I know that if I am ever eve teased in India for wearing shorts, everyone will blame me first. After all, its the basic right of men to stare and comment, isn’t it? Wearing short clothes is an invitation for rape! For how long will women take the blame?

All mothers – especially those with only sons, I urge you to please make your son watch this documentary. All I can do is write right now, but you can make a difference. Make your sons sit there and realise the extent they can go to if they wield the power granted to them. And schools should make this documentary compulsory viewing everywhere. This video is a slap on our democracy, our facade of “culture”. I don’t care if India has hundreds and thousands of achievements, as a woman I think every achievement is baseless because India isn’t a country for women. Its a soul less society today. And I am ashamed to call myself a woman from India.

I can’t sleep. Sleep won’t come to me anymore. Because I know that while I am sleeping peacefully at one corner of the world, another woman is getting raped in my country.