Today, we are again excited with the idea of celebrating International Women’s Day. We are good at celebrating days; we celebrate Republic Day and watch and applaud soldiers, sailors and airmen smartly march by and then forget about them for the rest of the year. We organize talks, fashion-shows, sing-song sessions, and car rallies to mark the IWD and then clap our hands and get it over with. The fact is that our apathy towards women is as enduring as our display of faith in thousands of gods and goddesses.
About a decade back I was browsing an issue of the Time magazine. There was a nine-page article about Risk or Extreme Sports in the United States. It fascinated me to read that an increasing number of Americans were turning to BASE (an acronym for Building, Antenna, Span (meaning bridge) and Earth (meaning cliff) jumping and such other sports wherein the chances of death or grievous injury are nearly as high as standing close to targets in a firing range. “The US”, the article read, “has embarked on a national orgy of thrill seeking and risk taking. The rise of extreme sports like BASE jumping, snowboarding, ice climbing, skateboarding and paragliding is merely the most vivid manifestation of this new national behavior.”
It got me thinking. The USA is a country wherein human life has become so secure and convenient that its citizens have to think of ways and means to get out of the dullness of being the best in the world. But what about poor countries like India? Despite our much touted spectacular GDP growth we have more poor people than anywhere in the world. We tend to forget this fact when we celebrate important days – Republic Day, Independence Day, Holi, Diwali, Children’s Day and Women’s Day. In India, one does not have to indulge in any extreme sports to get the thrill of brushing against sure death in routine daily activities. Travelling in the suburban trains of the most cosmopolitan city in India would bring one as close to the Maker as, say, a roof top bus ride in the hilly roads of Himachal. That one is alive at the end of the journey is as much a miracle as the discovery of gods’ statues drinking milk! Travelling on the foot-boards with the body balanced precariously, crossing highways and railway tracks, crossing raging streams without as much as a life jacket and working in mines and factories without a semblance of safety equipment are some other extreme sports Indians indulge in everyday.
You can die in India by visiting a holy shrine since a stampede can be caused anytime. You can die by drinking liquor and even taking medicines since you can never be sure whether these are spurious or not.
So when wealthy newspapers and publications celebrate womanhood by organizing fashion shows and car rallies nothing can be more disgusting. Women of substance? These must be the miniscule per
centage of Indian women. Here are some of the risk sports Indian women indulge in and let’s not even pretend that we shall have these sorted out the moment we give thirty-three percent representation to women in our Parliament. These would if we can be naïve enough to believe that since, all these years, men were represented in parliament it has solved the problems of the common man and made his lot better.
Training for adventure sports in India starts at a very early age. The newspaper of three days back, 4th Feb 10 that is, brought out the rape of a three-year old. And that’s a case that has come out in the media. What about thousands of girls who are victims of child-abuse every day? The statistics are that the incidence of this extreme sport is forty-nine percent in our country.
In the past, the most popular risk sports for women had been a game called Sati. Both young and old could take part in it (like it says in Indian matrimoni
als: ‘age no bar’). The only qualification was that their husbands should have left them for heavenly abode. Hardly anyone came out alive, but still it was more popular than bungee jumping and had greater social acceptance. Even after 63 years of independence many women still are forced to participate.
There is an equally adventurous sport called Dowry. Indian women qualify for it as soon as they get engaged. The risk in this game is even greater than Sati. In this, a wom
an and her parents, or in-laws and relatives deliberately put her in a situation wherein she would constantly get the thrill of being beaten, immolated or hacked to death. We have laws against domestic violence but these have made women as secure as, say, laws against dowry.
We can argue that both Sati and Dowry may not be as popular sports for women as in yesteryears, but we have to admit that in our great country (Mera Bharat Mahan) stripping women naked in public (or otherwise show them their place) has continued with the sane vigour since Mahabharat days. Indeed, a few interesting variations have been added over years such as making them drink urine, throw acid on or smear their faces or letting their families, especially young kids, watch the spectacle. This sport has been taken up by even so-called forward – looking organizations trying to protect the Indian women against the ills of western civilization.
At one extreme, in India, we have a Rakhi Sawant or even Vijayraje Scindia being in the news for sharing a kiss in public (the Indian media just loves this kind of news); at the other end we have the vast majority of them being oppressed on an everyday basis and still not making news. It is because that it ceased to be news long time back.
In India, one really enduring adventure sport can be called ‘Just Being a Woman’. After my father died in a jeep accident, my mother stays by herself in a village called
Kandaghat in the most progressive state in our country called Himachal. What did the neighbours do to lessen her sorrow? Well, they encroached on her land and generally made her unwelcome in her own place! My repeatedly approaching the authorities over years had no effect until I painted the scenario of similar things happening to their own mothers! I am now assured by all concerned by a phrase that is used everywhere in India: “the law would take its own course.”
The state of my birth, Punjab, is no better. In Punjab (which I always thought was an intellectually advanced state), a few years back when they found female foetuses having been discarded in a well, they publicly acknowledged how Punjabis hated the girl-child. In Rajasthan they still kill female infants and a few years back in Bihar a father sacrificed both his daughters to bring good luck.
To end the list of adventure sports in our country, let’s examine the most popular for the lone girl. It is called Rape. It is as savage and brings as much pleasure to Indian men as the Afghan sport ‘Buz
Kashi’. The woman gets the choices of keeping mum, going to courts and being derided, face ostracism for having incited the man (more often, men) (we had an elected representative of people in Goa who said that recently) to indulge in it, and lastly ending her life.
So are the authorities or elected representatives or media the only ones to blame? As Indians, a few years back, in the most cosmopolitan city in the country called Mumbai, we watched the rape of a woman in a railway compartment and did nothing about it.
So, how do we celebrate the International Women’s Day? I think the first thing is to acknowledge that gimmicks like reservation for women in parliament, talk shows, car rallies, fashion shows and the like are NOT going to make a BIG difference. I was privileged to hear Dr Abdul Kalam on a similar issue. His solution was to strengthen the family system, the bedrock of our society. All agencies, the government, the media, the judiciary must support this and do not let it become a minority group. How can we love Bharat Mata if we do not respect our or someone else’s mata?
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