On the morning of the 20th Jan 2017, as I was reading the news over breakfast, I read about a 12-year-old girl gang-raped by her teachers. She was the daughter of one of the teachers in the school. It disturbed me for a while and then I moved on to the daily chores. Between that moment and my preoccupations, afternoon arrived. Over lunch, a German colleague who was curious about her new Indian colleague popped up a plethora of questions. ‘Did you have a love marriage or did your parents arrange for one?’ ‘What happens if you don’t find someone? Do your parents, anyways insist on finding the right guy for you?’ ‘Do your in-laws approve of you living alone in Germany?‘ ‘Is it safe for females to go out?’ ‘What happens if you have pre-marital sex? Do you tell people or hide it?’ ‘Can you remarry when you are divorced?’ These were complex questions to answer.
Somewhere in the whole conversation, I did not want to sound like somebody who criticized India and made it out to be the worst place for women. So I took the constitutional route, emphasizing that even if socially you find many things awkward and oppressive, India guarantees constitutional rights. How stupid could I sound in defense of the country that shaped my identity! I could feel myself struggling to give her the right answers.
I am lucky to be born in a family and married in a family that made my life easier by being non-intrusive and supportive in equal breadth. I did not have to oscillate between the moral dilemmas of Indian womanhood as often. But it is not as simple as that. I guess many – from siblings to relatives to parents to husbands to boyfriends to neighbors to strangers – take it for granted and preach on a manual of ‘a good charactered’ life. Everybody else seems to know what is best for you, but you! The cacophony of these social messages feeds the psyche with a vicious cycle of guilt, self-doubt, and self-deprecation.
She finally said, ‘It must be really tough being a female in India.’ It just hit me hard and all my struggles flashed peering through ‘the thick-skin’ – my conditioned immune system. I could not agree more with what she said. To live a life of freedom and prioritizing personal choices as I have, a female needs to be thick-skinned against the whacks of all these opinions, judgments, remarks and attempts of abuse – physical or emotional. In the life-long struggle between succumbing and fighting, breathing and suffocating, resisting and surrendering; one has to be thick-skinned to find their own voice as a female. Some do but many don’t. And yes, it is true. It is tough being a female in India. Married or single, widowed or divorced, young or old, virgin or non-virgin, menstruating or menopausal; we are always navigating as if life itself wasn’t tough enough.
And then at night I open my mailbox and see this video shared by my husband…”Pinjra” (The Cage).
“एक और मेरा माज़ी है जिससे मैं बेहद नाराज़ हूँ| आज़ाद मुस्तकबिल की चाह में जाने कबसे बेकरार हूँ| ये पूछती हूँ अक्सर इस राह पर पहुँचने पे, क्या मैं कोई ख़त्म हुआ इंतज़ार हूँ? खुद की ज़िन्दगी से मै क्या वाकई वफादार हूँ ?” (From the video Pinjra: A short movie)