On The Other Side Of Silence: Being An Unwanted Girl Child

I was an unwanted girl child. I was born on the corridors of a government hospital after my mother writhed in pain all alone, on a cold January night. Except for the kind doctor who delivered me, no one was there to comfort my mother as she got ready to give birth to her third child: a girl.  My father slapped my elder sister in anger after the news of the arrival of another girl reached home. He and my grandmother wanted another son as was the norm. The society wasn’t happy with just one son. They wanted more.

My brother aged ten, came to the hospital next morning with clothes and food for my mother. He was angry with my mother as he wanted a brother as well but as soon as he saw me, his eyes gleamed with happiness, he held myself in his arms and said that I am too adorable to be thrown into garbage, something he might have heard elder people say.

The patriarchal head of the family, my father didn’t touch me for six months after my birth, but came around slowly and started liking me. He said I am too happy a child to be ignored. I was indeed a happy toddler; I didn’t know the unruly ways of the world I was born into. My mother did everything to give me more than she could afford. She sewed designer clothes for me out of old sarees, knitted fancy sweaters with her own hands. When I refused to eat normal food, she cooked special gajar-ka-halwa (a sweet dish made of carrots) for me every day. When her husband or mother-in-law taunted her for spoiling a girl, she ignored the remarks and spoilt me more, with dreams and desires of changing the world.

I hated my father for a long time but I have forgiven him for many things in the last few years. I now understand that even men are victims of patriarchy and my father might have been  a better person had he known love . He lost his father when he was thirteen, and was weighed down by the responsibilities of a widowed mother and two unmarried sisters. He had to take a loan of three hundred rupees because he didn’t even have enough money to cremate his dead father. He lived in poverty with no support and the only word he grew up with was “responsibility” for being the “man” of the family. I know, I can’t excuse the misdoings of my father just because he was poor or unloved but I believe forgiveness is more important for my own peace of mind than carrying around the weight of hatred.

I wrote “To Be A Woman” in a fit of rage a few days ago. I was angry because I found myself helpless, unable to help these women who were related to me. I was angry because right from childhood I was exposed to this cycle of misogyny and discrimination and in spite of being all grown up and educated I wasn’t able to break this cycle of abuse, not even for women who were suffering in front of my eyes. And in the recent days as the news of rapes of small children, of women, of religious fundamentalists who supported rapists became common, I was aghast, to think that we live in a world that hates its women. What else could be a reason for the amount of hatred women receive in the form of physical, mental, emotional attacks?

The government in a knee-jerk reaction amended the rules overnight and brought in harsher penalties for crimes against children and women. But do you really think that rape is a criminal problem and giving death sentences to rapists is going to deter them. Even if it does, what is the guarantee that these laws will be executed properly? There are well enough sanctions against rape of a minor but when a 16 year old girl in Unnao was raped by a lawmaker she wasn’t even let to file an FIR till her father was murdered and the case was taken up by the media. Even after the accused MLA was booked under POCSO (which has stringent provisions to arrest the accused as soon as a case is filed) he wasn’t arrested till the High Court interfered in the matter.

To be honest, all kinds of attacks against women feel like more of a societal problem. What with a man killing his pregnant wife for not being able to make round chapatis or a man throwing acid on three girls for rejecting his proposals for marriage?  What about a father killing his daughter in the name of honour? Or for an uncle to rape his 4 month old niece as an act of revenge?

I was reading this report where a rapist felt remorse for his act as the girl he raped was no longer a virgin and therefore will find no one to marry her. He was “kind” enough to offer that he would marry the girl he raped, once he finishes his sentence. The man wasn’t feeling remorse for raping the child but for taking away her virginity and making her “unsuitable for marriage”? I don’t know what type of death/life-imprisonment sentence would change his thinking? And of the millions of people, men and women both who always think of girls as liabilities and not humans.

I needed to add my own story in this post because every time I hear of women being abused, of girls being killed, or female foetuses being aborted I am reminded of my own past. I am alive today because my mother went against her own family, even though she had no moral or financial support. She delivered me alone, brought me home, educated me, and made me able enough to see big dreams. In the process she even managed to change my father’s thinking who now holds me dear and encourages me to follow my dreams.

Discrimination against women thrives because we all believe that it isn’t occurring to us. We sit at our homes, read news in the morning and forget all about it till lunch. We force gender identities on our children. We buy pink for our daughters and blue for our sons. We gift barbies to girls and giant trucks to boys. We ask our girls to be back at home before dark but we never ask our sons where they were all night long. We blame the clothes of a victim and carry out rallies in support of rapists. We enjoy movies that glorify stalking and objectify a woman’s body for publicity.

I have been guilty of doing a few of these things too. But this is what needs to change.

Men aren’t born violent biologically. They are conditioned by family, schools, peers, and media to be hyper masculine and exercise their power on women, the “weaker”sex. Even women are made to believe to be subservient in front of men and to control their own daughters and daughters-in-law. The society needs to bring a drastic change in its attitude towards women. Gender sensitization classes at all levels of education system is required along with self defense classes for women. The whole value system needs to be overhauled for the rise of a new generation free of gender biases. A lot needs to be done and it needs to be done now for it would require generations to change the culture that has been prevalent for hundreds of years.

And the first step in this direction is to break your silence. If you are a woman who is tired of being subjected to discrimination or a man who is crushing under the weight of patriarchy, and if you are able enough to fight, you have to find your strength and begin now to change your surroundings, your family, and yourself. Start now, before it is too late.

I am alive today because my mother found the strength to fight for me. Be the strength for someone who needs you. Be the light to guide the world. And in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in the world.

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On the Other End of Silence is a new category on my blog that focuses on gender issues where I am inviting posts from everyone who is willing to contribute. If you have something to say, whether personal or fictional, positive or negative, a rant or a suggestion, you could mail me your entries at pseudomonazz@gmail.com(Contact). There are no rejections, and no prizes, no rules and no word-limits, just a platform to voice your opinions.

Disclaimer: The above post is my own story. And yes, I don’t think all men are trash.

 

To Be A Woman…

I think I need to write today,

For I saw a woman with a broken spine,

And an unsound mind,

Talk about her daughters,

Who were beaten up for dowry.

I think I need to write today,

For I saw poverty, in its feminine form,

Passing on from generations,

Women going through cycles of abuse,

Neglect and exploitation

Only to be reminded that they are nothing

but machines to produce children.

I think I need to write today,

For there is nothing else I can do,

To reassure a woman and a mother,

That there is light at the end of this tunnel,

For I see no light.

It is a dark world out here,

This is no place to be a woman.

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Today was one of those several days when I was again left speechless, helpless and just disappointed with the human race. Growing up in a small town and having most of my relatives in villages I have heard of several stories where women were beaten up, by mother-in-laws, alcoholic husbands, their own sons, daughter-in-laws etc. I have heard of women giving birth in jungles. I have heard of women losing their babies or dying themselves while giving birth because the roads were blocked and the hospitals were kilometers away. Many of these women are my distant sisters, aunts, nieces, women I have known.

And countless others are suffering every minute, every second of the day.

I met a woman today, in her late fifties; she fell down from her terrace and broke her spine. The family being poor kept her at the village for a week, hoping her to improve on her own. Finally a relative who is slightly better off asked them to come to the city and see a doctor. The doctor wanted to conduct an immediate spinal cord surgery. All relatives collected money and somehow the surgery was done but it would take years for her to do anything on her own, plus they can’t afford physiotherapy. Plus, the woman doesn’t remember anything beyond that incident. She is having some trouble with her nervous system.

Turns out she had some mental health issues right from the time her first two daughters were married off because both were harassed for dowry and beaten up by their husbands and mother-in- laws. She blamed herself and their poverty for the condition of her daughters. She was too scared to marry off the third one but her condition improved when the third daughter found a good family and was happy. Slowly even the first two daughters were doing okay (which means gave birth to sons and the physical abuse stopped)

Finally when all  the things were looking to fall into place, baaaaam, she fell down the terrace.

Now the third (happily married) daughter is looking after her. The other two daughters aren’t yet informed that their mother is injured (for they won’t be allowed to see her anyway so why trouble them). She has no sense of the present world; she just stares at people, talks absurdly, claps midway, and lies down on her bed.

And in this one family I saw so many wrongs I could do nothing about:

*A woman in need of physical and mental health facilities but too poor to afford it.

*Woman who needed to give birth to four children, 3 elder girls and the youngest boy, (well, the youngest is always a boy.)

*Women beaten up for dowry.

*Women having no rights over their bodies or any choices (not even a choice to see their ailing mother), accepting domestic abuse as their destiny.

* Women treated as nothing but a baby making machine (a son making machine more specifically)

And what am I doing?

I am writing a blog because my privileged, upper caste, middle class, highly educated and qualified ass is too lucky to rant about these things on the internet.

I feel disgusted with myself.

I don’t wish to belittle the troubles everyone faces at different points of time in their lives but don’t you think all this is just too much for a single person? And why do such things happen in this world? Why aren’t we concentrating on humanity above everything else?

The world is just too disappointing. Especially for a woman.

The Little Girl Who Has Gone Away

I didn’t know her. She was born after I left my hometown. But I knew her dad, her uncles, her cousins and everyone else in her family. I never saw her that is until I saw her pictures all over my Facebook feed: pictures of a dead girl, raped and tortured, left to die in a jungle.Her body was in the jungle for five days and no one found her… neither humans nor animals in the jungle. And that picture is engrossed in my mind since that day.

I was in the same town when I was seven: that was seventeen years ago. Seventeen…the number of years she would have lived to be my age but she didn’t. Instead, she was brutally murdered. I have no intention of glorifying the death of a little kid. All I want to do is to get these feelings out of my mind. I don’t want to imagine the seven year old me going through everything she did.

What is it that make humans turn into monsters? How psychopaths who rape kids, people who molest girls on roads, uncles who sexually harass little kids stay amongst us yet manage to hide their intentions? How do we tolerate such things? Do we think that it could never happen to us? At least I thought so, until this time. Yes, I do get affected every time I read about a rape, I discuss it with other people, I curse the criminals, talk about the inefficiency of police in our country, and in another two- four days I forget about it, until the cycle starts again with a new case. But it isn’t the same this time. Is it because she was someone I knew? Is it because I never thought that such a thing could happen in my small, peaceful town? Was I thinking that Uttarakhand being devbhoomi ( the land of the Gods) is above these things? Well, I  guess I was wrong.

If there is something that is above everything, it is evil. Sexual crimes exist every where, whether you are roaming alone in a dark street or you are inside your house. Any person, regardless of his/her age, class, caste or nationality could be a molester, a psychopath. You need not be wearing a short dress to invite unwanted attention, even 7 year olds get raped. I can never understand what goes inside the mind of a molester, what makes them do what they do? Why is it that evil prevails over sanity? I don’t know if anyone could ever answer these questions for me but I know that time and again I’ll be forced to ask these questions. And every time I’ll hear about a new case, the pictures of this girl will cross my mind taking me to the small town where I once lived safely.