To be a woman

It has not been a very easy time here in India these last
few weeks . The heinous crime perpetuated on a young girl and her subsequent
death has shocked, shaken and shamed everyone . Everyone I know , including
myself , has been left carrying  the load
of the weight of this collective guilt on our sad shoulders. Oh ! that we could
have let something like this happen to one of us and ours.

The dastardly act itself , the fact that it was committed
on the roads of a city where it’s citizens were up and about and still had no
clue about it and could not stop it and the sheer inexplicable hatred and
unimaginable venom in the hearts of the perpetuators .

In India we supposedly venerate and worship women in the
form of various Goddesses .  Knowledge ,
Wealth and Shakti  are embodied in the
form of the goddesses known as Saraswati , Lakshmi and Durga. Woman as the
fount of all knowledge , the giver and preserver of wealth and the one who
possesses the Power to both create and destroy .

The birth of a daughter should be welcomed as the
manifestation of the blessings of one of these Goddesses.

Sadly though, in many parts of the country , the birth of
a daughter is considered a curse and a crime as bad as the one that has shaken
us , is perpetuated by the very families daughters are born into , sometimes
even before they are born into them . Their life snuffed out . And then , if
they do survive the attentions of their own family , it is not long before the
family they are married into begins the hellish dance of destruction in their

To go back to the shocking gang rape of the young medical
student and the  brutal assault on her
boyfriend, the media , the spokespersons for various social groups, political
parties , key opinion leaders , celebrities , actors and others have all been
clamouring for all kinds of actions and been leading protest marches and
meetings in all major cities. The Social Media sites are inundated with
individual opinions demanding prompt action, speedy trials , effective
implementation and enforcement of newly created laws . The death penalty even ,
for the rapists . The role allotted to women in most Indian households and
society is being questioned , the portrayal of women in art and cinema is being
bemoaned .

 Just one thought keeps going round and round in my mind .
Can we stop to look at the background of the young men who were responsible for
this act? These were not middle aged , repressed men . These were almost
teenagers . Can we try and see what is lacking in their upbringing, what drives
young boys to so much mindless violence ? 
Is their self esteem so low that they have to resort to forcing
themselves on unarmed , unprotected victims . What power are they drunk on?

And then , why are our law enforcers the way they are ?
Be it Policemen or Immigration, Customs and Security officers . How can we
bring a change in their way of thinking ? And then, can we also accept the
responsibility of being those who vote our leaders into power ( i hate that
word ) and somehow work with the government to ensure there are safe public
spaces for everyone in our country?

The week that has seen all this turmoil and shown up in
frightening real time how unsafe women are and how unprotected , for that
matter , any given segment of society that is perceived as weak and therefore
victimised , strangely enough was the week I was in the same region ,
conducting support group meetings in the Northern states of Delhi, Rajasthan
and Gujarat in the West.

I actually set out to share something very special ,
something that made me so proud to be a woman , a woman in India where despite
so many challenges , be it in a big city like Delhi or in a village in the
deserts of Rajasthan or a little town in rural Ahmedabad , women were coping
not only with their lot but with the diagnosis of cancer and all that it
involved . And coping in such a manner that it seemed to me there was a new
avatar evolving right in front of my eyes . The avatar of the Indian Woman who
was stepping out of the restrictions placed upon her and taking responsibility
of herself , for herself ; not the mother or daughter or sister or wife
dependant upon the man in her life to give her her due. But this strong ,
vibrant and confident person taking control of her life and finding her voice
and place in her world , living , along with other ills visited upon her, with
cancer and living that life with dignity .


Bhikhabai , whose smile never left her face and who was
so delighted to add our blue Maximize wrist band to the many bracelets on her
wrist ; who came up,to the podium , held her uncovered  head high and shared with the 300 strong
predominantly male audience , how she practiced good adherence behaviour ; how
she  never let her work in the fields
come in the way of two things . Her attention to her children and her
medication . She said she would bathe and feed her children , see them off to
their school and then come to work in the fields to earn her daily wages . When
asked about her medication , which she had to take everyday , at a particular
time , in order to keep her leukaemia at bay, she smiled a brilliant smile and
showed me her saree pallu , into the corner of which she had tied her capsule ,
ready to be taken after her frugal mid day meal of millet bread and some dal.


 Then there was
Indira , maybe 30’years old  , who
hesitated for just a second , before coming up to the stage and in a voice as
clear a Temple bell and with a countenance as bright as her blue saree ,
mesmerised the audience with her faultless rendition of bhajan after bhajan (
devotional songs) . She sang in the popular and well known genre of the Dongri
, poignant and at the same time filled with the certainty that the good Lord
would not turn a blind eye to her travails . 
She spoke of how she used prayer and her prowess with the art to
channelize her grief and worries and how she was now immune to any privation
she may have felt at any time . She said she never felt alone or vulnerable or
abandoned . She was filled with strength and courage and not only led her life
in dignity but encouraged and led groups of other women and girls to follow
their hearts and their vocation and seek solace and fulfilment in this glorious
art form .

There was not one dry eye in the auditorium and no one
even moved till Indira finished her complete repertoire of the prayer songs .


If Indira worshipped and found her unlimited strength in
her celestial Gods , in the auditorium at Jaipur’s  Sawai Madho Singh Institute , there sat
Yogita , tall, statuesque  and radiating
confidence and happiness. She begged to be allowed to come to the microphone
and share her story . She spoke of her fear and hopelessness when she was
diagnosed and if we thought this was a story of abandonment and untold misery ,
we were mistaken . As she spoke of her victory over the disease and her life
now as a survivor , she called out in the audience to the one person who was
responsible for taking her by the hand and putting her back in the path or
recovery , who gave her love and respect and dignity . Her husband. She was
bursting with pride and gratitude as she introduced her husband who had stood
by her fighting alongside her , her fears and the attitude of family and
society when her cancer was diagnosed. 
Yogita swore she was not alone in her fight and was ready to face any
challenge that may come in her way. She had all the support she needed by her
side in her adoring husband .


I cannot conclude this note without sharing brave Rama
Bai ‘s testimonial. Diagnosed five years ago , she has not let cancer come in
her way and has gone about running her household and caring for her family of
sons , daughters in law and grandchildren . She manages their modest household
with the meagre income her sons , who are daily wage earners , bring and says
she finds joy and comfort in caring for her family. As she speaks one can see
her shyness and hesitancy fall away and the mantle of proud confidence settle
on her shoulders which straighten just that bit as she talks of her visits to
the hospital . She wants to be strong and healthy so she can see her
grandchildren grow to be young adults . I ask her about her husband and she
looks up, throws back her head and laughs , her veil slipping back to reveal
her grey hair and her careworn face . But the smile does not leave her face saw
she says , in full hearing of the by now adoring audience . ” Who, that
wastrel ? That lazy man? Who needs him ? The lazy man is of no use to me nor my
children. He turned his back on his responsibilities and I am now the master of
the house !!!


Glean what you will from this …all I can say is all
hope is not lost.


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