By Anwesha Dhar:
In October 1993, I was born in North Point Nursing Home, Calcutta. In August 2012, Farah told me that I was wasting my time trying to teach her and the rest of the girls of my class at the orphanage. In October 2012, a fifteen year old girl was shot in Pakistan for promoting education. Two years later, in October 2014, she was announced to have won the Nobel Prize for Peace. It is now December 2014, 2:30 AM, as I sit typing this story of triumph and defeat, struggle and courage that comes with it. It is part of an incredible story; the story of being a woman.
I was overwhelmed by the immense responsibility this story entails. How could I write this story? We know it – word by word. We know it all, we know the words – ‘liberty’, ‘violence’, ‘rape’, ‘shame’, ‘decent’, ’dowry’, ‘burden’, ‘feminism’. How can I ever describe how scary it is to be a woman, to be reduced to a lump of mass and being judged and ogled at everywhere I go? How can I ever describe how wonderful it is to be a woman, to not give up, of having the courage to face these eyes, to scream and fight? Every day is a story. Unsung stories of wonderful women. I find it most ironical that a woman who performs the most daring act of nature, of giving birth, should be subjected to choosing to give birth to only a son. In India, the practice of sex selection results in the loss of nearly 6 lakh girls every year.
What compels one to exercise such choice over the sex of their foetus? Is it fear? Is it shame? The answer is far more complex than that, perhaps more that I would be able to articulate.
When I was in my first year of college, someone asked me, “Anwesha, are you a feminist?” I replied with a curt, “No”. Later, I sat and thought about it. Why had I said no? I had this mind-map which placed feminism among the foul things in our society, one that must be subverted, condemned. However, I didn’t know why. It was sometime later that I realised what had happened. I was an educated girl, one who was raised by a single mother, who believed in equality between genders, who vociferously fought anyone who said something slanderous about the female sex. And yet, here I was, shying away from ‘feminism’. I saw a lot of people do it. I realised this was beyond me, it was something I was a part of. It was patriarchy.
When we live in a patriarchal society, we often internalise a lot of diseased values of the society without realising it – we internalise the male gaze. Fairness creams profit by showing confidence to be related to being fair in advertisements, especially for girls because fair girls are considered to be marriageable. Matrimonial ads read “Wanted: a fair, slim, medium height, homely, convent educated bride”. Television serials show women toiling away at home, clad in saris, taking care of everyone, drawing a rangoli or two. Any diversion from this is crime. The body metamorphoses into a monstrous entity. However, whether on this side of these ‘norms’ or that, we are never quite seen as human. Death becomes easy, elimination becomes justified.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act was devised in the early nineties with a view to curb gender biased sex selection. However, the aftermath remained as brutal as ever. A law can only do as much as try to stop things – it is for us to identify the malicious, insidious play of patriarchal forces in to the society, to de-condition, to purge ourselves from the many infected teachings of these forces that we have imbibed. We girls, we woman, are born to lead wonderful lives. We are wonderful. Dare we strip nature of such a powerful creation?