Discrimination thrives in a lot of forms, especially in our country. It starts right from birth; in Punjab, my hometown, people have a preference for a boy to be born in the family. If a girl is born, wives are shunned by their husbands and families, or their in-laws refuse to meet because they are ‘not happy’ for she birthed a girl instead of a boy. When I hadn’t studied reproduction or genetics at school, I despised how the birth of boys was celebrated by distributing sweets to relatives and neighbours but the birth of a girl child was followed by a period of mourning.
A child’s psychological development starts quite early, sometimes, before the age of two years! A girl faces the continuous reminder that she is not as loved as her brother, that she is missing on something, and is a misfortune and burden for her family. After a long period of continuous fights in my mind trying to find solutions to create a safer space for girls, I decided that I had to start with myself. The choice of studying aerospace engineering in the stark opposite corner of my country created a ripple in my parents’ social circle, everyone asking them to not to send their daughter so far, which my dear parents readily refused to comply.
Starting from the day of my counselling at the university, I was told that aerospace engineering is hard and not suited for girls, ‘why don’t you opt for something like computers? it is good for girls!‘. However, I wasn’t shaken by these frivolous attempts made by people and wanted to follow what I had yearned for so long!
Life at the engineering school was no different, the curfew timing for girls hostel was much worse than boys hostels where almost no constraints applied. The idea for the university was to promote growth for all students but practically the free, creative environment was snatched from almost 50% of the students. If you are late for some reason, you are treated like a person guilty of a crime and threatened that your parents will be informed that you weren’t here. There were incidents of harassment on campus, but they were quickly buried by the authorities for they wanted to protect the ‘good name’ of the university.
It wasn’t only my campus life that was compromised but academics too. There were male professors who would ask you to fetch things just because they wanted to feel their power and seek your submission. This was where it got tricky, such complaints about professors weren’t acted upon much, and the female students wouldn’t want to risk their grade sheets by calling their behaviour out.
During my internship at a small hobby aircraft company, I was told by the owner of that place that “dealing with an aircraft engine is not like cooking.” That stayed with me for so many years even after I finished that internship and got the certificate. I used such regressive remarks to fuel my journey towards my goals and gladly I have been successful in doing so. But, if given the same situation today, I would answer right back to the face of whoever tells me such discriminatory things.
Turning harder and tougher with time I am told that I am stubborn, have a lot of ego, and am a girl gone out of hand. Today, I fight back whoever blames the rape or domestic violence victims, treats someone poorly because of their gender, caste or religion, perpetuates old systems of superstitions related to dowry, menstruation, and other derogatory acts. I answer to people twice my age and reiterate to them that they need to reconsider their beliefs; I make people question. Like all women, being harassed many times at public places in India, I have developed zero tolerance towards it and stand against the harasser for myself or anyone who needs help at the moment.
Apparently, we worship girls like goddesses in our country but we deny them the rights that even a simple human being deserves in a free country. We don’t want to be treated like queens or goddesses and live at someone’s mercy but to be treated as an equal, respected human being who is free to choose the direction of her life. It shouldn’t be a privilege to reach home safe every night, to be able to work for your favourite job, marry the person you like, wear what you feel comfortable in, eat or drink what pleases you. It is a human right that is being denied to half the population of our hugely populous country! A truth that millions of women are living with, building anger every day.
It starts with every young girl, every woman, every mother and grandmother, either you stand up today to get your rights or you tolerate the life you have and leave the same for your daughters.