Tag Archives: India

A to Z Blogging Challenge : W is for Women’s Day and why does it get so many mens backs up

 

I have never celebrated womens day in a personal way. Not because I don’t beleive in it, but because for me in my personal journey of empowerment, one day does not always significantly matter. That being said, I don’t doubt the enormous significance of this day, and definitely use it to express solidarity to all with other women I know, to individualls, to people who are driving social movements as well as personal journeys of empowerment.

 

I was therefore a bit surprised to read on my FB page about some men complaining about womens day and how women are getting too empowered these days. Now I know social media forces me to read some arguments I find really stupid or crass, or some downright misogynist comments, but mostly I have learnt to ignore them. I pass over stupid comments which say stuff like women can prosper only if they dont sabotage each other, and as long as mother  in law and daughter in law cannot get along how can women prosper. I want to challenge these people to think deeper about the arguments they are making, to understand certain underlying issues which mediate relationships between women as well, but I dont have the energy to have these arguments on Facebook.

 

This year, I read something far more disturbing. Someone had shared the story of a man, who committed suicide, because his wife had complained against him and his family for dowry and even threatened to complain against his father and brother for rape. According to him all these charges were false, his wife was not happy with him and wanted to torture him this way. And he felt as long as he lived his family would continue to suffer, and therefore decided to end it all.

 

This is truly a sad story and if it is true, I really feel bad for the man and his family. But this article I read went on to argue that for his parents, womens day is now a bad day because it took away his son. It is laws like Dowry prevention act which drove their son to suicide. It is a bad law which is being misused by women.

 

Now blaming women’s empowerment or progressive laws for this mans issues is mind boggling. I am sure dowry act  or the domestic violence act can be misused, but a far greater concern is how underused it is, how despite there being so many issues of dowry harassment or domestic violence, so few reach the police and still fewer are pursued by the police. I am sure even laws relating to homicide and murder can be misused and falsely accuse someone, but surely we are not protesting against their misuse, why then do we need to protest so much against something which acknowledges womens issues and tries to reach out to them. Even on the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, I remember attending a talk on this by a senior HR person who spoke about how they implemented these policies in the workplace, and how he was proud that not once has it been misused to frame someone falsely. I told him it was great that no one was falsely accused, but was he really sure it was being used fullly. Was it being underused? He had no answer for that, he had no way of even knowing if his policies and redressal systems could be underused.

 

I am, in my own way, a feminist, but I am the last one to say the feminist movement has solved every issue. We have a long way to go in truly understanding lived experiences of every kind of women and including them within our ideology. But at least I thought we had acheived the step of convincing the world that women were entitled to basic human rights. But have we really, if every progressive legislation (never mind that these legislations are very seldom progressively interpreted or implemented)is challenged because it has a potential for misuse.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : N is for New Years all year around

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 16 N

 

I remember reading a humorous essay by PG Wodehouse on how one could practically celebrate New Year all year around because different cultures had different days marked as New Year. I think Wodehouse’s point was that if you celebrated New Year with drinks and if you wanted to celebrate New Years of multiple cultures, you would end up with a bad hangover pretty much all the time.

 

Now he was not familiar with India probably, or he would have wondered how we ever stay sober with our endless New Years within the country. Just for me personally, I think I celebrate four new years in a year. I celebrate January 1 as New Year. I dont care if right wingers think it is not Indian culture, I am quite happy to observe the event. Then there is Ugadi (which is New Year as per the Lunar Calender, and is observed in the Southern States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). I grew up in Karnataka, so I follow this practice. Closely following that is Tamil New Year (which is New Year according to Solar Calender, followed in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala). I am a Tamilian, so it makes sense to follow this. And finally, I have lived in Gujarat for the last five years, and  the Gujarati New Year comes much after all these (almost in November, right after Diwali). I may not be sufficiently acclimitized here to know what are the customs of Gujaratis are, but living here, I definitely acknowledge the day and greet people.

 

And I think I have covered only a fraction of New Years celebrated in India. I still dont even know what is the New Year according to a vast majority of the population.

 

Thankfully, customs around New Year in India dont always involve drinking. The most delightful custom, according to me is to cook something sweet, sour and bitter on the day, to acknowledge that in our lives, we need to have space for all three kinds of events. So more new years means more opportunities to gorge on sour mango jam, payasam and roasted neem flowers. .

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : M is for mentrual tabboos in India and living with discrimination

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 15 M

I dont know why, but suddenly menstrual taboos in India is getting a lot of virtual column space. Practically every time I log into facebook, I see someone posting something about how menstrual taboos are demeaning to women and how it is time it stopped and what not. Or alternatively how menstrual taboos are deeply scientific and how ancient hindus knew a lot of science and we are better off following whatever they say.

 

Being an Indian woman from a conservative family, I am fully familiar with menstrual tabboos. I have faced my share of them, and right from puberty during my monthly ‘time’ I was not supposed to do stuff which I otherwise do. Now if I describe what the taboos were, it may sound awful and inhuman, but actually it was not that bad. After I read up a lot on feminism and started seeing these taboos as something demeaning to the essence of women, I resented them, yes. But the people who were imposing these taboos were my own family, people I loved. No matter how strong my resentment, I somehow complied because in the larger scheme of things, this didnt seem worth fighting over.

 

And of course no matter how much I claim that I dont share these taboos, I would still hesitate to walk into a temple or even a public pooja during that time. It is not just me, friends of mine, who were bought up in more open settings (without so many taboos) still hesitate to walk into temples. Maybe it is an example of how we are complicit in our own discrimination. But no matter how comfortable we were in our private prayer settings, going to a temple was somehow not OK.

 

But my most major insight about the experiences were that I railed against them for what they meant, but that was at an intellectual level. In actuality I was quite compliant of what was expected of me. Sometimes I even enjoyed the fact that I didnt need to do household chores at that time. Taboos which were inconvenient for me I railed against or did not follow, but things which didnt affect me negatively, I simply followed them or even benefited from them.

 

This is perhaps one of the truly discriminatory experiences I have actually faced (I may have faced discrimination as a woman, but nothing so obvious). And when I think about it, I am stuck by the fact that despite understanding the discrimination, I have not blown hot about it. I have subverted some aspects, accepted some aspects and moved on.

 

I am not trying to say people who are discriminated enjoy it, just that their experience of it is much more complex than simple acceptance or denial. I have observed similar things in my workspace where I have interacted with leaders of sex worker collectives. One of the primary steps in empowerment of sex workers is helping them value and respect themselves and not internalize the notion that they are doing something ‘bad’. But I have seen this is rarely an either or situation. Sex workers can accept that they are not fallen ‘women’ that theirs is a job like any other. They can even take pride in it. But their acceptance is not always complete, it is always a journey towards greater acceptance of themselves.

 

Maybe this is what a lived experience of discrimination is like. You rail against it but accept and subvert it in your own ways. And perhaps emacipation itself is also a personal lived experience, as you gradually throw away or subvert more of the discrimination

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Identity and culture

There are a million blogs on how North India is different from South India, stereotypes of both groups and a general lot of breastbeating on both sides. It makes you wonder how Indians ever became global citizens, when they have so many hangups about their countrymen.

This post is not about any of those stereotypes. Rather, I would like to look at how one assimilates into another culture. More
specifically, how my husband, a South Indian, born and bought up in the north, reconciled the differences. I dont know if this is true for
everyone, I dont know if this is true for North Indians who lived in the south, but here goes.

To start positively, he is someone who can genuinely straddle two cultures. He does not wrong foot anybody, no matter if we are in the
heartland of Punjab, or deep down south. He is mostly sensitive and aware of cultural differences. He is also at home in either mileu, and now that we live in the north (or at least live in a place along with a lot of north indians), he is quite comfortable in most social gatherings, whereas I still remain the outsider.

But along with this comfort comes an almost compelling need to conform. To conform, not only by speaking good Hindi or showing onself to be aware of North Indian customs, but conform to the north indian stereotype of what is expected of the south, by exoticizing even simple south indian food items. He does not try to hide the fact that he is from the South, but he simultaneously
highlights what he feels the North Indians value about the Southerners and tries to overcome those traits, which he thinks they
criticize or make fun of.  

I know dosa and idli are the most popular South Indian items for a North Indian, but most people are getting more cosmopoliton and may even be aware of items like rava idli, or sevai. But if ever we are inviting North Indians home or cooking for a group which
includes North Indians, my husband immediately says make idli or dosa and sambar because that is what you are expected to do. Hey, I may not want to do that.I may want to go with a more traiditional recipe like upuma kuzhakattai (which even most south indians have forgotten probably). And why do I need to conform to their perception of what I will cook.

Similarly with Hindi. I speak passable Hindi for someone who has spent very little time in the North. I probably make grammatical
mistakes, but I make myself understood. The only person who finds fault with my Hindi is my husband.

Not just mine, he also finds fault with my one and a half year old daughters Hindi.  Both of us have a policy that we will not intervene in
her language learning, and stifle her natural curiosity by constantly correcting her. She is free to learn through trial and error. But
while I see him allow her to make mistakes in Tamil, Telugu or English, he immediately corrects any mistake she makes in Hindi.

I wonder if this is tied up with a long held notion from  his own childhood – that no matter what, he should never speak wrong Hindi,
because that will make him the outsider in the  north  And to end with a stereotype, considering many North Indians don’t even know the different South Indian languages and cannot even utter some South Indian syllables (try saying Kozhikode correctly), that really is a bit too much. 🙂

 

Identity and Culture : How does one assimilate into a different culture

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