By Lipi Mehta:
One of the starkest observations of growing up in India is seeing how differently young girls and young boys are treated. Not just in our behaviours, but in our language and even in the way we think. Girls are told to be more ‘careful’ while doing everyday things like going to the marketplace or deciding what to wear. They are perceived as liabilities, as burdens and often, are brought up to be “married off”.
Moreover, in thousands of households across India, girls are unwanted. The phenomenon of son preference in India sees an ugly manifestation in this as well. To fight the decades of patriarchy that is at the root of this thinking, we need to make girls count as much as anyone else.
We asked our audience some carefully worded questions to gauge how they feel about the issue. Here are the responses we received.
53% said no.
12% said yes, if men behave.
35% gave vague responses, asking if men are safe, how we need to rid ourselves of the paranoia and so on.
Whether it be a marketplace, park or railway station, men and women should ideally have equal and safe right to public places. However, this is not the case in India and a majority of the responders agreed with that. What was interesting was that a few responders said that women can be safe in public places if men behave, which means that for them, there is a clearly established connection between women’s safety and men’s behaviours.
21% had a problem with using the words ‘kept safe’.
16% asked why men were not included in the question. Don’t they need to be safe too?
The rest of the answers were a mix of sentiments: Some felt that more men or ‘unruly elements’ needed to be kept under control rather than keeping women safe, and some felt that as “not all situations are same”, they need to be trained to be stronger physically and mentally.
We had asked this question for a reason and we are glad many responders had a problem with the words ‘kept safe’. A few of them pointed out that using these words ‘commodifies’ the woman, like you would ‘keep safe’ a piece of jewellery or something else. We saw a similar sentiment as we did with the previous question where many responses suggested there was a direct connection drawn between women’s safety and men’s behaviours. It reinforced how women’s safety in India is interlinked with various factors, men being one of them.
50% gave varied answers, ranging from 6 pm to midnight.
50% expressed themselves asking what is wrong in parents or anyone else worrying about the safety of their children. One of them said that asking girls to come home on time is “not asking for too much”.
We saw an interesting mix of responders for this question. Half of them were girls and half of them were parents or guardians. While the girls mentioned the times they are told to be back home, none of the parents mentioned a time but expressed other sentiments, such as how it is natural for parents to worry. Both acknowledged how society is generally unsafe for girls and one of the responders even asked a hypothetical question: If parents had to send a child to the market at 9 pm, would they send their son or daughter?
This was the question that evoked the most number of disturbing responses. One or two people said either yes or no, and one person said it is not safe for all genders.
There was a slew of responses that spoke about how most rape charges in India are false, how women are ‘manipulating’ and how women blame men for everything because they can’t do anything else. It was shocking to see this kind of backlash for a question the answer to which could have been pretty one-directional.
This entire exercise reinforced why we need to make girls count even more and why our responses towards patriarchy and son preference need to be much more powerful. Take a stand and let the Prime Minister of India know that you want a change in the policies, schemes, provisions, government resolutions that contribute to son preference and discrimination against girls.
Make your voice heard here.