Sexism in India: Time we grew up

  • Sneha Mahale, None, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2015 19:44 IST

Team India was chasing 329 set by Australia in the ICC World Cup semi-final. A wicket had just fallen, and Virat Kohli had walked in to bat. Cameras caught a shot of his girlfriend, actor Anushka Sharma, who was cheering for him from the stands. Virat got out, and within minutes, Anushka was blamed for the batsman's poor shot. While some called her a 'panauti' (jinx), many abused her. Some even asked others to boycott her movies. While several netizens and celebs stood by the actor, this sexist attack stunned many.

In India, however, there were also women who weren't taken aback by this incident. Perhaps because they're used to facing sexism on a daily basis - at workplaces and in relationships - even in the most cosmopolitan of cities. "Sexism is very common in the field of litigation. You may have heard of the allegations of sexual harassment made by two law interns against former Supreme Court judges. The instantaneous reaction of most lawyers was, 'Hiring female employees is a headache. Let's just stick to males,'" says Arya Shah, a senior advocate.

Facing sexism?
Don't blame yourself for the situation. If a negative thought enters your head, counter it with positive thoughts. Tell yourself you can come out of it.
Approach someone you trust, like your parents, friends or well-wishers, for help. Don't hold back your emotions. You can also see a counsellor. Festering negative emotions can make one depressed or aggressive. In extreme cases, it could also lead to suicidal tendencies.
Dr Amrapali Patil, health management expert

At work
Others talk about how hiring practices are often different for men and women, and admit to being asked uncomfortable personal questions during job interviews. "At two interviews, I've been told that I was overpaid for a girl. At one place, I was asked about my marriage and pregnancy plans since they wanted someone who could commit for long term," says Mehak Sabat, a digital marketer. Incidentally, when this issue was discussed on Twitter, several users thought the questions were justified as "married women come with their own set of issues".

Devyani Khanna, a former sports journalist, says that she missed out on assignments in an all-boys team because her boss felt she'd be "distracted by the good-looking sportsmen on the field, and do a bad job of her assignments". She quit soon.

These are statistics that support their claims. India ranked 114 out of 142 nations on World Economic Forum's 2014 gender gap index. On economic participation and opportunity, India was ranked 134. Its female to male ratio in labour force participation was 0.36. It also had one of the lowest percentages of firms with female participation in ownership.

In relationships
And it isn't just workplaces. When it comes to relationships, women talk of how they've been denied certain freedoms because "they are not meant for girls".

"My ex didn't want me to drink because he said it 'doesn't look nice'. Guy friends were a no-no. The best part was that he was thought to be a catch - good-looking, from an educated family and a journalist," says Shruti Karnik, a media professional, who broke up with him soon after. Sana Khan, a research scholar in neurobiology, talks of how her boyfriend would not let her drive. "He said he would never get into a car that was driven by a girl because he loves being alive. He'd undermine my abilities, and he even voted against me during a race to become the sports club president because, and I quote, 'It's a man's job'," she says.

In 2011, the Thomson Reuters Foundation found India to be the worst G20 country to be a woman in. It fared worse than Saudi Arabia, the world's only country to forbid women from driving.

In focus
Politician Sharad Yadav drew flak for a sexist slur when he commentedon the skin colour of south Indian women.
There was public outrage after two lawyers made statements like, "In our culture, there is no place for women", in the banned documentary, India's Daughter.
There was an uproar after a politician called tennis star Sania Mirza "Pakistan's daughter-in-law", and thus, not suitable to be a brand ambassador for Telangana.

With several girls living far away from families or belonging to conservative homes, they feel talking about these situations with their parents is not anoption either. "I have been working for more than four years, and there have been many incidents when I have been bullied by my (male) bosses. Once, one even made an inappropriate sexual comment. I had joined that organisation just three months ago. I ignored it. But later, I left that job and moved on. I've not shared these incidents with my family, as India is still not a country where all girls have the freedom to live as they want," says Neha Khanna, a PR consultant in Mumbai.
(Some names have been changed on request)

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