Born and brought up in a small town tucked away somewhere in Jharkhand, my gender was the most important part of who I was from the day I was born! For, I happened to be the youngest among six siblings, five of them daughters, in a Sikh family with its own rules in patriarchy.
Thank God, there was solace in mythology. I would often hear people tell my parents or my parents tell people that Goddess Lakshmi has showered them with wealth and prosperity, somewhat as a consolation. But holding on to just one Goddess with five daughters was not enough. So my parents added another to our list — Goddess Saraswati — giving all of us good education.
But even in a household full of women, I would feel vulnerable among men on the periphery — uncles, cousins, drivers, cooks and sundry male helpers. Even as a six-year-old, I felt like a woman in a man’s world.
Later, in boarding school and college years, I was shocked to discover that many girls had horror tales of groping and molestation by a close relative, acquaintance, domestic helps or complete strangers in the safety of their homes, school or public transport even as little kids. It is pervasive, almost like a part of a woman’s lifecycle.
Do five or six-year-olds, snugly inside their homes and schools, not dressed provocatively, too invite trouble as some self-styled moral guardians of our society in the BBC documentary on Delhi rape victim would like us to believe — that women invite trouble by venturing out of homes late and wearing “indecent” clothes?
Now that I work late hours as a journalist, the “inviting trouble” remark of a rapist and his defence counsels seems all the more outrageous! As we brush shoulders with men in boardrooms and newsrooms, we too, like them, meet late deadlines and do so without guilt of immorality.
We do no wrong in going for an innocuous late night dinner or movie lest a predator decides it is time to teach us a lesson.
And to all ML Sharmas and AP Singhs out there, who can put our gender to trail for misdemeanour, please look around to see sexual harassment happens irrespective of the time of the day and what the girl wore.
It also defies class or stereotypes. I have felt safe in most unlikeliest of places — speaking to men in a patriarchal Haryana village late evening on an alleged molestation case — and unsafe even when talking to some so-called well-bred and “accomplished” men.
So before telling us, India’s daughters, on what’s acceptable as right behaviour, tell your sons what is not acceptable. That and nothing else would make this world safer for daughters, yours and mine. email@example.com
(The writer is assistant editor with HT)