It’s all very well that a woman of Indian-origin landed up in the hot seat in one of the most powerful countries in the world. I mean, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it? What’s the surprise there, I wonder? The fact that she is of Asian origin, brown skinned, or a woman? (The latter I suspect, but I only speak for the millions of Indian women in the land of her ancestors for whom this victory is as hollow as Donald Trump’s reaction to Biden’s win!)
Don’t take me otherwise. I have all respect for Ms. Harris and her efforts to shatter the glass ceiling and all. But the flooding of my social media, post her ‘inspirational’ win, with articles on how women can ‘make it big’ in a man’s world, or how no dream is too small makes me want to cry out in frustration: does it really matter? No matter how big we may want to dream, the fact is, in a society as regressive as ours: there can be no dreams! Dreams are, after all, only possible when you are allowed to live. When at every corner, every step, lives and voices of thousands of girls and women are snuffed at the drop of a hat, dreams of any kind are just a lie.
Right from the time a girl is born, the mourning begins. I still remember when I had just given birth to my son more than a decade ago, there was much merriment and mirth in the house. I was showered with much love and was reveling in the attention when my much older and wise editor remarked: “Enjoy it while you can. It would have been much different if it was a girl!” And that right there pretty much sums it all up.
From the time she is born, a girl is nothing but paraya dhan. That is, if she is lucky to be born at all! Even today, girls are still murdered in wombs. And if they manage to survive, their choices are dictated for them. Education is an option; the right belongs to the son. Campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save your daughter, educate your daughter) remain confined to the letter, not to be followed in spirit.
After all, what use is an education? Isn’t it far better to learn household chores that will ensure a good bride price at least! If you are lucky enough to receive an education (and luck plays a big role) it is still a long road to building a career out of it. That is not to belittle the thousands of women who have, despite the odds, managed to – but at a high cost, I suspect. Today, there are many who choose to focus on their careers or chosen vocations only to be chastised for their choices. Thirty and not married? That’s blasphemous! Marriage after all is the ultimate cloak of respectability and acceptance for a woman. For a man? Nah!
Ask the millions of married women in the country. Even after marriage, the choices a woman faces are not hers to make. Her biological clock becomes the scrutiny of every nosy Parker – in the family and outside. A woman must procreate and then, only then will her existence have meaning and be complete.
And God forbid the marriage turns sour. Does the woman have a choice to walk away? Seldom. A woman in a bad/abusive marriage often does not receive any support – even from her own parents – to end the relationship. And the onus of making it work also lies on her. For someone who has seen abuse from infancy I shudder to think of the trade-off. More than often when I was growing up I have seen my own grandmother, beloved though she may have been, advising my mother to go back to her husband no matter what. And she did. Like million others to live morbidly sad and pitiful lives. Trading off their right to dignity and happiness just to keep up appearances and satiate societal definitions.
Standing up and saying no is unthinkable. No, a woman must never challenge injustices because after all, our grandfathers, fathers and brothers have been venerated for centuries to be the upholders and protectors of a woman’s identity, her financial freedom and her izzat!
A woman must find a way to fit into the patriarchal system. Then the rewards are many. Oh yes, choose to not rebel and you are a beautiful, loyal and dutiful wife or daughter, a domestic goddess, a devoted mother, caring, and sacrificial wonder woman! If not, you are labeled mercilessly and witch-hunted. Because patriarchy and misogyny is so deeply ingrained and normalized in our homes, where it all begins. Oh yes. Make no mistake. The evil breeds amidst us, taking multiple forms of abuse – hushed and unspoken of.
As I write this, a major part of the country is busy celebrating Bhai Dooj, another regressive tradition that celebrates ‘brothers’. Sisters across the country are preparing their brothers’ favorite foods and purchasing expensive gifts in return for their blessings and protection. After all, a woman’s existence is dependent on their benevolence; a fact I am reminded of often.
So, I come back to where I started. Ms. Harris, while you may well be on the way to achieving your dreams, it doesn’t inspire me. I will tell you what will. When one of us can finally be able to stand up and say a big, fat resounding NO without being judged or ostracized by the rest. For, it is only then will we be able to begin to dream.