Where women fall,
There the grass grows.
Greener for the fertility.
Cut to pieces (sometimes cooked),
Where women fall,
There the grass grows.
Greener for the fertility.
In three days it shall be 8th March. Another Womens Day, that time of the year to do a reality check and assess just how much we have progressed in the year gone by. Yet my mind does not feel particularly positive infact it is experiencing a deep anguish. Anguish, by what I saw in the morning news just the other day. A prominent television news channel ran a story of a girl from Andhra Pradesh, a bride actually, at a mass marriage who was refusing to marry. She had her head buried in her lap, shielded by her arms, as she tried to prevent the groom from tying the mangalsutra round her neck and her father stood over her, slapping and pulling at her arms, trying to lift her head so that the groom could tie the mangalsutra.
Not so long ago the same television channel aired an expose again in Andhra Pradesh, of parents pimping their daughters and allowing them to be taken for days together to neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Goa by the ‘clients’.
And yet, I know that this is not anything restricted to Andhra Pradesh. The attitude towards women is not surprisingly similar in adjoining States as well. I presently work in Karnataka and I keep hearing stories from my colleagues about how their parents keep pressurizing and coercing them into marriage against their will.
Expectedly, the literacy rate of women in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is 57.45 and 51.17 respectively. Girls are married of at a young age usually in their teens or early twenties. She is not asked for her consent. The parents and an elder brother are likely to decide to whom she should be married off and when. The age of the boy really does not matter. The prospective grooms it seems is interested in just two things, the age of the girl (she had better be younger to him, infact younger the better) and the amount of dowry he is likely to get. The couple to be does not even see each other till after the wedding.
Recently a close friend of mine shared with me the story of his sister, who was married off at 16, a widow at 20 and dead at 25. It was only after she was married that the family learnt that her husband had been married thrice before. At 20 she learnt that her husband was a promiscuous man and had contacted AIDS, all this after an abusive and violent married life. A little after her husband died she learnt she was going to die too. “My sister had so many dreams and expectations in life, she wanted to do so much, she wanted to be someone. What wrong did she do to deserve this” asked my friend. I had no answer, except a deep sense of frustration and a growing sense of anger. How can we just sit by and watch so many lives lost, needlessly. How can we just sit and watch as so many lives are controlled by others, people who claim to be protecting them, and yet this claim of protection is such a hoax.
What seems more likely the case is that there is a tremendous objectification of women. Women seem to be as much an object as a ‘hot potato’ -and as worthless in the Indian context- to be passed on in a great hurry. At her parents home she is a burden, a ‘things that belongs to another to be kept safe until it is given to its rightful owner’. At her husbands home she is an object that a husband can vent his frustration out on and his family is welcome to follow suit.
Where does all this leave the girl herself? Does she have an identity, a voice, thoughts, dreams, hopes, expectations, desires, a spirit, a soul? Does she laugh, does she cry, does she have memories buried deep in her heart.
Another friend of mine told me how the girl he deeply loved was forced to marry another man by her blackmailing parents. Her mother actually staged a suicide attempt so as to extract her daughters consent. Yet another friend told me of this discussion he had with young girls in Bellary district about their dreams for the future. The girls listen to the facilitators sharing their hopes for the future but went silent when it was their own turn. After much prodding they replied that it was not possible to bring their dreams to fruitation and so they had stopped dreaming. “We don’t want to dream about what we cannot achieve” they said. Can you imagine the experience these children had lived through to be crushed, beaten and shaped into the state of acceptance they were in.
So many women’s lives are not their own to live and hope and dream as they wish. So many women’s spirits and souls are not their own. So many women’s minds and bodies are not their own.
For a while I thought there was a strong link between the degraded attitude towards women and the poverty from which they come coupled with the lack of education. Now I know better. The degraded perspective on women, the objectification cuts across all socio-economic and educational backgrounds, it’s a collective mind-set. And incase you think I’m painting some South Indian States black, let me assure you that the situation in all the North Indian States is just as horrifying. I was able to suffer Delhi, only for a few months. Their attitude to women (among other things) got so oppressive I began to feel stifled walking on the road.
Visiting an NGO on the suburbs of Bangalore I met up with little girls who had been rescued after they had been given up as devadasi’s by their parents. Imagine calling these innocent girls thrust into prostitution devadasi’s, if there really is a god (and I hope there is) wouldn’t he be choking on that one!.
Nothing new I suppose if the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women reporting that in Belgaum the sex ratio is 600 women to every 1000 men! And that in a village in Hassan she was shocked to find a school attended only by boys. It seems no girls had been born in the village at all.
The other day I read that Karnataka has 60 cases of acid attack victims since 1999. Because these women refused to reciprocate the love of a man, in insidiously planned revenge he bought hydrochloric acid, which is freely available for anywhere between Rs. 16 and Rs. 25 and threw it at her face, disfiguring it, damaging her body, disabling her and sentencing her to years of expensive medical attention and pain. The Government is still fumbling to come up with a comprehensive policy and implement it.
According to the recently published National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 59.5 % of pregnant women in Karnataka in the age group of 15-49 years of age are found to be anemic, an 11% increase from the last survey. It was also found that only 40% of those pregnant received folic acid supplements, which prevents development of anomalies in the fetus. Poor material health and lack of access to health care is the prime reason for the birth of children with disabilities. Another generation thrust into the jaws of lifelong struggle, pain and economic-social and political inequity. The decline in the access to food and healthcare is testimony enough to the growing poverty in the State and a reinforcement of the long held belief that women are the worst victim of economic inequity. Not surprisingly, the health budget of the State has been declined from 5.85 % of the total expenditure in 1998 to 3.73 % in 2005-06. A plot to ensure mass killings without a word of protest from the agency that is supposed to protect us.
In circumstances such as these it is important to understand the micro and macro linkages that go to maintain this state of hegemony over women. I do not know where one begins and one end, but coming from a family that has given me and my sisters complete freedom to choose and act, it was not until I began stepping and playing a prominent role in the larger social domain that I began to experience discrimination and feeling helpless against it. Back in the home every show of power and male chauvinism brought forth strong resistance, this mellowed my parents and ensured a slightly smoother path for my sisters. The resistance we exhibited also made us very independent and by and large self-made people with strong view and convictions we didn’t hesitate to view.
“See the boys will never interfere with you” said my friend Sammit once. “You don’t look like a victim, look at those other girls, they are so docile, they look like ready victims”. I still don’t quite understand what he meant but I know that a lot of girls and women are highly manipulated by their families. They are ‘broken’ into conformity in the quite privacy of their homes, by the persistent voices of their mothers and the angry growl of their fathers. Somewhere deep down I strongly believe that women are prepred to be killed, like the sacrificial lamb in their homes. If only the could have been made confident people, given the humane perspective of right and wrong, given a single rule on respect and disrespect, if they had been taught that come what may they have a right to live and must put what their heart tells them first, if they had been taught that it is alright to listen, and act according to preserve themselves, we would have saved millions of lives. Men would have learnt where to drawn the line, this society would have been a fairer one, healthier one, happier one. We would have had less to blame ‘the Government’ for. However, I couldn’t agree more if someone said this is a very micro view I’m taking but I’ll leave that for another day and comments from some reader.