What’s wrong in being called a daughter?

I’m one. And I take pride in being one. Just as much as being a mother, a woman, a wife, a person, a daughter-in-law, a sister.

***Rant alert***

There’s a lot of dissenting vibes that I am getting ever since the talk of Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughters started gaining ground. Now whether this film deserves the condemning it has garnered so far is a different matter. I don’t want to comment on something that I haven’t had a chance to watch. And going by the decision to ban it, I may never get a chance, which is something that I find utterly unacceptable.

Why the need to ban? Isn’t it curtailing one’s freedom? Are the deciding bodies exercising a democratic method of governance by putting such bans in force?

As someone who is perfectly capable of deciding what she wants to see and how she wants to perceive what she sees, the least I demand is the freedom to make that choice to watch what I want to and then decide whether I should dismiss the content or feel affected by it. Let me be the judge.

I know for sure that no rapist is ever going to evoke even a fleeting sense of understanding or rationale no matter how much he tries to justify his abhorrent mindset. All such monsters can evoke in me is searing anger and more anger and more. Their actions and their remorseless faces further reiterate how messed up they are in their thinking. How much of a menace they are to our society. So unmasking them and their views through a film can only go on to identify the disturbing mindsets and act as a mirror to other misogynists who hold similar demeaning views on women, so they can be tackled better, right? How is a ban going to help? Will it stop those criminals from harbouring such heinous thoughts in any way?

Anyway the post is not about the ban or the need to ban the ban!

It is about trying to understand another kind of objection taking rounds on the usage of the term ‘daughter’ while referring to the film’s title or the campaign . I frankly think it’s least of the issue to be concerned about. Yes I agree, a woman’s identity is beyond the roles she plays. What I don’t understand is the assumption that the term daughter or beti is being used in the film or the campaign to convey that a woman needs to be saved.  Each of the role a woman plays is integral to the life she leads and she needs to be respected for the role she plays. It doesn’t mean that she is asking to be saved or protected. I’m a daughter. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a woman. But I can take care of myself. I dont need to be saved or protected. But I demand that I am acknowledged for my presence and not dismissed as non existent in the society!

The fact is that there is a mindset which considers it completely acceptable to suppress a woman, snub her, irrespective of her being a daughter, a mother, a wife or a sister. Unless that reprehensible mindset is tackled appropriately and unless women are treated with more respect, how they are addressed is secondary.

Refer to me as a daughter, a mom, a woman or a person. Anything. I take pride in playing each and every role. But I command some respect for whatever role I have chosen and despite whatever.  Like any woman. I may go out wearing a saree or jeans or sleeveless shirt at stark midnight even. Do I stop being a daughter or a mom?

What about the mindset which throws the diktat at me and my sisterhood that we can’t live the life we do or roles we play on our own terms? If we do then we pay the price for it! Hah! Now THAT is the mindset that has to stop breeding!

Is banning a film or changing the way women are referred to, going to change the mindset that perceives them in a disrespectful manner? I doubt.

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Would you judge a person…

Who, barely a week after having connected with you tells you that he needs money urgently because his mother has had a kidney failure coupled with some other complications and asks if you could lend him some money for her treatment? And then in half hours time you see the person updating his profile pictures, replying to comments?

Would you judge that person?

‘Cos, I’m about to. And I won’t pretend that I am not hurt or feeling a bit let down.

Why, because for one, I expected that a situation as dire and critical as his mother’s kidney failure would have got him so worried that the last thing on his mind should have been to come on fb and share a holiday picture and reply to comments! This person in question, who had had me believe that he had quit a well-paid job abroad that he held for about 8 years to come back and care for his ailing mother, who messaged saying his mother was everything to him and that he needed the cash urgently by that very afternoon, seemed anything but hassled, to put it mildly.

I maybe wrong in judging him. This may just be his way to cope with the grief. Yet, this demeanor unsettles me.

Secondly, I was taken aback by the freedom with which way he approached me for financial help. Could someone be so desperate to see financial help from someone they barely knew? We had reconnected just about a week back.

He was my classmate who was hardly a friend back then, even though I always desired to know him better and be his friend. We were in the same class from grade 7 to grade 10 after which the he left the school. I had no contact with the person, never knew where he was, what he did. Neither did he bother to stay connected.

And now after more than 2 decades, he has emerged out of nowhere and put our rekindling friendship in an embarrassing situation.

He tells me that he works for a software company, his wife works in a reputed multinational, also that he will be travelling to the US soon to meet his sister. So then if he is earning well, his wife too and he has a sister living abroad, not to mention the ‘friends’ he once said he was in touch with and very close to, why would he need me, a mere acquaintance to lend him money? Unless the picture he has drawn of his hunky dory life is a facade.

I try putting myself in his shoes and wonder what if I were to be in a desperate situation like that. Would I be comfortable seeking financial help from an acquaintance? And I find myself realizing that I would have probably not been comfortable asking for such a help from the closest of my friends or family members, let aside an acquaintance. Anyway, I hope and pray such a dire situation never arises in my life.

Perhaps I am analyzing way too much into all this. But I can’t help wondering if I have been taken for a ride. If a trust has been broken..

Auto-rickshaw wala

The bus stops in front of Bikaner House.

Its almost midnight.

Way past the ‘decent hour’ for any woman to be out in the city.

I alight after a thoroughly enjoyable 7 hours of journey from Jaipur. Right behind follow my almost-6-year-old daughter and my mother.

We walk a few steps looking around for the best mode of transportation that would safely take us home. We have barely made it to the exit-gate, in comes a herd of auto-rickshaw drivers encircling us..offering us to drop us home. “Madam, kahan jaana hai?” “Auto mei baith jao”

We have another 20-25 kms of travel yet to cover to finally reach home.

Each of them has his eyes firmly fixed on us.

Right then, a flurry of thoughts come hitting me like a curse,“So which one of them would end up molesting us tonight?”…

“What if one of them drags us to a deserted land and rapes us?”..

“Which one of them would eventually succeed in looting us..and killing us?”

No sooner do these thoughts creep into my mind than I clutch my child tightly and hold on to my mother protectively.

I look around to see whether I can find a cab for us instead. Yet again the crippling thought seeps in.

‘What if the cab-driver ends up knocking us off?’

“Dont be crazy”, I tell myself. There has been no untoward action by any of the auto-rick drivers that drives me towards such thoughts.

None whatsoever.

Each one is merely doing his job of convincing us, persuading us to sit in his vehicle so he can earn his bread & butter.

Then why worry?

Brushing those thoughts away, I, along-with my mother and daughter get into an auto. My mother, the firebrand that she is begins to argue with the driver about the outrageous fare he quotes.

Paranoia hits me yet again and I urge her to stop provoking him lest he harms us in any way. I keep chiding her,” Stop it Ma, this is not a safe time and place for two women to get into scuffle with a man. We still have a long way to reach home”. Of course I tell her this in Malayalam. I dont want his ears to get what I am saying lest he thinks we are helpless and an easy prey.

All through the auto-ride I am alert.

The auto-driver is driving at the perfect speed. He is cautious and minds his own business.

Yet. Every time there is a sharp turn or a delay in taking a turn my heart skips a beat.

Every time we reach a dimly lit road my heart skips a beat.

In my own crazy head I prepare and plan to fight him in case he brings the auto to a stand still in those unlit roads and tries to come at us.

Nothing of that sort happens.

We, then, reach a well lit road. Vehicles plying either side continuously. But not a single soul in sight.

I wonder out loud to my mother about cities like Mumbai where people freely move around till past midnight with no fear of safety. Or so I have heard, correct me if I am wrong.

Wistfully, I wonder if I can even imagine a similar scenario in my own city. I wonder if I ever will get to associate my city with safety and security without a shudder or cringe.

On the way I spot two girls standing at the side of a road, perhaps waiting for a cab.

Our auto-driver swiftly turns to give them a look.

And my scary thoughts go on an over-drive again.

“What did that look convey?” “Did he see prospective passengers in them?”. “Did he hope to fetch them and earn some more money and retire for the day with a content heart?”. Or. “Did he have any lustful intentions brewing in his mind?”

As these thoughts play havoc in my mind, I realize that the auto-wala has safely brought us home. I pay him and walk in to the safe confines of home with my daughter and mother.

All of this sets me thinking….

Is this what my city has come to mean? Is this the city where I was born? The city that brought me up, made me stand up on my feet? The city where I didnt care what I wore, but today I stand the risk of being blamed for my dressing if I get attacked? The city where I didnt have to think twice before venturing out, irrespective of the time or day, but today I have to keep my guard up even in broad daylight? Is this MY city where I stand the risk of being blamed for getting molested because I went to the bar? Because I wore a skimpy dress? Is this MY city where I am forbidden to move around after 8 PM lest I get raped?

Is this MY city where I dont even have the freedom to walk freely as I please?

Never have I felt so helpless and unsafe in my own city.

Happy Independence Day BTW