Every other day, we come across articles on how hundreds of unborn babies are killed in remote village areas for being, well, females.
We also read controversies on rich, powerful, upper-class women, getting beaten up by their romantic partners. Domestic violence. A common feat.
However — what we do not read is the story of a common girl. Her journey of becoming a middle-class woman. Why is it overlooked? Are these households perfect? Are these women the epitome of independence?
The answer is no.
Sexism is so common in India that I classify most of it as “casual” sexism. Girls are used to being treated differently than boys. It’s mundane. The question is where does it all start? Or better, where does it all end? I’ll try to throw some light on the former, in this article.
Let me take an example.
Meera, a six-year-old is playing hide and seek with her twelve-year-old brother and their guest, Sid. They are family friends. Sid’s family — his Dad and elder brother — are laughing, chatting with Meera’s Dad on the sofa, while the ladies bring one delicacy after other, from the kitchen, to serve them.
Sid’s Mom is also a guest but she’s helping Meera’s Mom with the cooking. This embarrasses Meera’s mother and she goes to look for her daughter. Meera is asked to go join her mother in the kitchen and help her with the dishes. She’s annoyed. Irritated. But she doesn’t say anything. The child peeps out of the window, watching her brother and Sid still playing, as her Mom asks her to go serve them snacks. She is jealous. Mostly, confused.
It’s a small thing. A simple chore. But, it’s a huge realization for the little girl. Slowly and steadily she’s coming in terms with how this works. The unsaid rules. She helps in the kitchen. Her brother gets to play. No questions asked.
Meera is a child. But, why is Meera’s Mom - an adult - being unfair?
The answer is she does not know. She is oblivious of her behavior cause this is how it is. The same realization enveloped her when she was young. And, her own mother when she was young… The chain goes on.
We need to stop this chain. Break it and understand.
Why was Meera’s mother asked to work in the kitchen and not the fields, as a little girl, you ask? The answer is just sad. It is because she was being trained to do the very thing she’s doing today with Sid’s family — serve them.
Ever since she was a child, she was being prepared for the day when she’s to show up with handmade delicacies, dressed pretty, when the groom’s family comes over to ask for her hand in marriage. Meera’s Dad liked her instantly. She was shy. Spoke less. Cooked well. Educated enough to teach their children. She’ll make a good housewife, he thought. The families agreed. Dowry was paid. And, they were married. She was happy. I will take good care of my family, she told herself.
Meera’s Mom was an exceptional student at her little government school, with a bright future ahead but any further education was forbidden. “Men didn’t like too educated women, in my time. So, your grandpa asked me to stay at home for good,” she’d later confide in Meera.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying devoting your entire life to others is bad. What I’m trying to understand here is — was she given a choice? Is this the life chosen by her? Or more importantly, does she even understand why exactly is this wrong? Did she try? What does her submission indicate?
The answer is simple, she never asked these questions, she is convinced this is the best for her and she is determined to pass on the same teachings to Meera.
There are thousands such Meeras in India.
The seed is sown since they were children. The life inside their home forces them to accept these subtle but grave differences and it affects their outlook on the outer world.
So, when they grow up and face sexism in schools, colleges, at work — they settle. That’s it.
They don’t speak. Don’t bother to. The very realizations which dawned upon them as little girls through various incidents had also enveloped their little wings. They probably don’t even know they have the ability to fly.
Even when they try to speak up once in a while — they are spammed with articles of the atrocities faced by either the extremely poor in villages or the extremely rich women in metropolitans — and suddenly their problems seem small. Insignificant. They dismiss the idea, surrender to the circumstances, and again, settle. DO NOT SETTLE.
When we settle. We lose.
We need to help these women. Crippled by the patriarchy that creeps in all Indian households. Our culture has failed them. Their mothers. Their grandmothers. For generations.
We, have failed them.
Sexism begins at home.