India’s Daughters

This week once again, two of India’s daughters made it to the headlines for reasons that were very different. One is no more with us, but her story of courage and grit lives on through numerous incidents that dominate the headlines every morning. Now, of course, once again, through a BBC documentary made by Leslee Udwin that was scheduled to be aired this week, but having been banned in India, will no longer be shown although there has been a telecast in the UK ahead of the Women’s Day. People are protesting, and in huge numbers, celebrities have not minced words either in their vehement protest against the ban.

Protest by a private news channel against the ban on the BBC documentary, by showing this still shot for almost an hour.
Protest by a private news channel against the ban on the BBC documentary, by showing this still shot for almost an hour.

 The other is a 23 year old who has inadvertently become a poster girl for thousands of young Indian women who yearn to rebel against arranged marriages and make their own lives. 

In the light of what appears to be a living reality facing Indian women today, both cases symbolise the fact that no matter what comes in the way, despite the overpowering indictment of female repression in the country, women are challenging the status quo and fighting back, unfortunately, sometimes even at the cost of their lives.

Leslee’s film INDIA’s DAUGHTER tells the story of the short life, and brutal gang rape and murder in Delhi in December 2012 of an exceptional and inspiring young woman. The rape of the 23 year old medical student by six men on a moving bus, and her death, sparked unprecedented protests and riots throughout India leading to of a change of mindset. The film also probes into the social backdrop against which this most brutal and shocking incident took place three years ago and questions the mindset as well as the values which spawn such violent acts to finally make an optimistic and impassioned plea for change.

This is what every politician and leader should have questioned today. It is something that bothers each right-thinking individual in this country and yet, why did it have to be someone from another country to come down and ask these questions and show us the futility of putting these criminals in jail when they could talk of women’s morality with such a warped view of right and wrong. Given the chance, all four convicted of Jyoti’s murder could well be repeating their crime over and over again. Isn’t that something that should concern us all? Why does jail only restrict criminals? Why does it not rehabilitate them instead?

Yes, there are some examples of people working to reform jail inmates but sadly they are very few in number. Agreed that changing a mindset is tough, but it has to be done.

One cannot be putting moral police everywhere to stifle women’s freedom in today’s age and time and restrict them from leading a normal life when criminals are allowed to go scot free. What kind of a country are we living in? Where is our basic human right? Where is our safety? Who cares about women? In a country where one Indian woman is raped every 20 minutes, these are very important questions which somebody somewhere has to answer.

We have all being shocked by the strings of rapes and murders that have followed since the Nirbhaya episode. Nothing seems to deter the detestable remorseless creatures of our society. Every other day, we read about such heinous crimes taking place all over the country, and we are no less mortified to read or hear of statements by our leaders and so-called social reformers citing girls wearing “jeans” and “short skirts”, “roaming the streets after 7pm,””going out with unknown men” being prime reasons for the brutish animals of our society to let themselves loose on their unsuspecting preys. But what about the countless incidents on the rise where the victims happen to be little girls, innocent babies or  toddlers? Worse still, can they answer how elderly women in their fifties and sixties become hapless victims to such violence and brutality?

We cannot deny the deeply ingrained culture of female repression in India. For all its brutality, and its resonant symbolism, this is the case to ignite furious demonstrations, which in turn has been violently suppressed by riot police. Jyoti Singh came from a humble background. Her life was an attempt to break the cycle of  poverty, lack of education and a culture which privileges boys but does not know how to cope with a young generation of emancipated women who want to free themselves from the clutches of a patriarchal society and decide how they would like to live their life. Memories of those who were close to her suggested a shining embodiment of new aspirational India.

At a point in time when there is a huge outcry surrounding Leslee’s film, a quiet rebellion has been brewing up, only to surface in a most unexpected manner. It has come in the form of a matrimonial advertisement by Indhuja PIllai for her self, making the nation sit up and watch how a 23 year old “speccy dork” of a “tomboy” has decided to go about searching for a beardy macho man (who does not like children and is not close to his family) to spend the rest of her life with.

Her advert has become a war cry on behalf of many young Indian women, most of whom are still expected to marry a man their parents choose and be a housewife with limited ambitions. Without going into the details, let me add that with this advert,  Indhuja has suddenly emerged as a poster girl for thousands of young Indian women who are ready to challenge the stereotype and go against arranged marriages. And not only that, they also want to have a say on how they want to live their own lives. Kudos to Indhuja. Good for her and her kind. We need more women like her!

This spirit of rebellion against the dictats forced by a patriarchal society is all the more prominent when we find in a survey by a Bangalore NGO, that, 87 percent of college students agree that women should accept a certain degree of violence and 51 per cent believe they should focus on housework and child-raising. Ironical enough to mention here that more often than not, many of the assaults reported in recent years have been against women trying to assert their personal freedom.

After her advert has rejected the gender stereotype and she has staked her claim to a life of adventure on her own terms, Indhuja, who is a 24-year-old “growth catalyst” at a Bangalore technology site, has now become a champion of hope for hundreds of women like her, who do not wish to be defined by what others think they should or should not do.

It is heartening to see people relate to this and connect it to the bigger problem that India is facing today. Why do we stop short of questioning what is wrong in our society? Why does our culture reek of patriarchy, inequity and narrow-mindedness towards women? Women have had increasing economic and professional freedom so it’s inevitable at some point they will want personal freedom too, and the right to choose. The need of the hour is to fight back all such elements within society that point fingers at the woman when she tries to assert her identity and economic independence.

It is heartening to see that this generation is standing up for what they believe in and declaring that marriage is not for them. I will wait for that day when all the girls of this country will stand up for themselves and declare that marriage is no longer their sole destiny.

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