By Lata Jha:
In F.R.I.E.N.D.S, arguably the coolest show there ever was, a character who comes back to work after maternity leave finds this ageing, dapper guy (whom she later falls for) having taken over both her cabin and her job. While she isn’t manhandled or pushed to the ground and left to weep by herself, like you would imagine would happen in a bad, Hindi film, the boss gently tells her of how the guy ‘came to their rescue’ once she ‘left’. Now, nowhere in the world can I imagine this happening to a man. That he comes back from a vacation (with a complimentary painful delivery) to find a woman, or a man, for that matter, having replaced him.
Life in India is not that simple, on the other hand. Women, though, having come a long way, still find themselves, more often than not, on the margins. Everything they do is a novelty, worth discussion, not something you’d smile and let pass, without a thought, as just another part of life. This is why I find the idea of women and their rights still kind of skewed in our country.
And not just any ordinary woman like you and me. Super models find themselves tied to contracts according to which they cannot marry, or have children till they remain affiliated to a particular brand or company. While of course they are perfectly free and more than welcome to fraternize with men in the industry.
The entire issue about air hostesses not being allowed to have kids still remains etched as a preposterous memory. And why just those blink-and-miss mortals? The queen herself, Aishwarya Rai, was slammed by a section of the media and the industry for herÂ unprofessional-ismÂ when she decided to have a child and could consequently, not do a film.
I think somewhere, as a society, we feel we’ve done our women a favour by allowing them to break moulds, step out of the house, work and have a life. Which is why, the idea of extending to them the same rights that a man gleefully enjoys in his workplace seems absurd to us. C’mon, I mean, we let them give up the veil, didn’t we? They work, and we’re even paying them. Now you want us to respect them as well? Too much, right?
That something like maternity leave translates into better breastfeeding, maternal and child health is not something we consider. And then we complain of malnutrition, and other problems when the kid grows up, not knowing that seemingly ‘big, insurmountable’ obstacles like these are still rooted in ridiculous stereotypes.
Not having been able to close this gap between what is absolutely natural and normal for a man, but a rarity and what would be a certain achievement for a woman, if it ever happens, is what is saddening. I’m not talking of women ruling the world. I just hope we can understand how important it is to accord them both the same rights. Exactly as important as the fact that it takes both for civilizations to flourish.