A couple of years ago, when asked, what I truly want to do in life, I had replied that I want to work for the educated, independent women (including me) who believe that they are empowered, but are deluded because discrimination, abuse and misogyny are issues they experience (to some extent or the other) in their daily lives. Often issues like domestic violence, physical or verbal abuse, dowry or discrimination are attributed to a different socio-economic strata, but I strongly believe that such practices well exist within our homes and in most cases we choose to either deny or ignore them.
Recently, I read an article on social media on how a highly qualified, working woman tolerated domestic violence for 10 years before she finally spoke up against her husband. My heart goes out to the pain (I can’t even fathom) she endured, but the other pertinent question here is, why did it take her 10 years? Not just her, for many of us, why does it take time to voice our issues?
I would say, there are 3 kinds of women – one, those who understand the issues and immediately raise their voices (often termed as “home breakers”); second, who understand the problems but try to adjust till the end, to keep the family together (I would say, most of us fall in this category); and third, the ones who don’t even realize they are victims, they think women are meant to be treated with bias (similar to the “sati savitris” of our daily soaps).
The major problem is with this second lot – women who tolerate injustice (in whatever form or extent) for the sake of family peace, societal image or children’s future. Reflecting on this issue, I feel the major reason for this is the way we, as women, have been “conditioned” to think since childhood. Our families, our education system and the society at large, all have major roles to play in our conditioning.
First, we see our mothers and grandmothers continuously adjust to everything for the sake of peace within the family. Then at every instance we are told that girls should adjust, we are ones who keep families together, it is uncouth for girls to protest and fight, and the never ending list of things we cannot do because “we are girls”. Then as we grow up, and are about to be married, our parents teach us that we should learn to adjust to everything in our new home, never do anything that will cause them shame, this new home is our only address, and we should do everything to keep up the family name and pride. So, the bridge to our home, our very home where we spent so many years of our life, is suddenly broken and we realize that henceforth we are on our own. Even if some make an effort to share their problems, parents send them back asking them not to overreact, because these are trivial things and “sab thik ho jayega“.
If your look at our education system, most of us have been part of a structure, where questioning is unacceptable, where rote learning presides. It is unfortunate that our abilities to critically think and analyze situations are slaughtered. If our education system did not invest time and effort in teaching us self-worth and self-respect, then I am sorry, that is not education, that’s merely literacy. Our degrees do not hold any importance, if they have not taught us to question normality and aberrations, to stand up for our rights, or to value ourselves.
The society also plays a critical role in our decision making process. By the way, let us not forget that we form that very same society. We mostly behave in the same inquisitive, insensitive manner when it concerns others, but expect a “more compassionate and sensible” approach when it happens to us. Societal image and family name, come before our self-respect in these cases. Is our reputation and fabricated image making it difficult for us to break-free?
Also, isn’t the process of breaking free still far from conducive, for a woman in our country? The questions that she has to face, those strange looks, the fight with the judiciary system, and the time taken to get justice (if at all), are few of the added hassles in lieu of freedom. Even if some women come out of abusive relationships, they choose hibernation; they hesitate to share their past experience, and there is always a hush-hush factor. Why? That’s because the society labels them as losers.
Some women also attribute their silence to their children. They say, children need a complete and happy family for proper development, hence they tolerate everything. I would say, ask yourself, is your family truly complete, truly happy? What is the environment that the child is growing up in? If it’s your son, he will learn that women need to be treated with contempt; if it’s your daughter, she will believe that being disrespected is the norm. So, we need to think twice because we are defining the “new normal” for our children.
I strongly believe, things will change if we start with the family. I remember, just before my marriage rituals were about to begin, my mother walked up to me to say, “..love everyone, treat everyone with respect in your new family, but never compromise on your self-respect; we are there with you, you can return home any time if you are unhappy”. That’s been my biggest strength. How I wish, more parents told this to their daughters! It’s also heartening when in general discussions my mother-in-law emphasizes on taking a fair stand if ever conflicts arise between me and my husband. I wish parents told their sons to treat their wives with respect and love, to support their dreams and ambitions, and to value their individuality. Let children not grow up in environments of hatred, violence and disparity. Their impressionable minds carry forward what they experience at home.
This change will not take place overnight, but the process has to start. The seeds need to be sown now. My request to all of you, as parents (or would-be parents), give your child the right education (read, not literacy). Education is the biggest tool that can liberate us. Also, be the right example for your child. Let your child know that compromises, adjustments, tolerance, sacrifices at the cost of dignity, should not limit a woman’s world. More importantly, as women, let us garner courage to support ourselves and other women to stand up against disparity and injustice. Let us at least make a start – big or small. Remember, we are not empowered only if we have degrees and earn a salary. Let’s not live in our world of delusion, let’s us strive for true empowerment.