Sunday, March 17, 2013

Celebrating Girls, Celebrating Women

Thank you Women's Web for honouring me with a first prize!!!

I feel like a school girl now!wow and WOW again.

Women's web is holding a contest on Celebrating Girls, Celebrating Women. Details can be got here. 

The following is my entry for the contest. The offer of Flipkart vouchers for the winners was too good to resist. Moreover I have become too lazy to write. This assignment is a welcome one. So what if I am competing with a generation half my age! 

Looking back I feel that I had it lucky. I was born when my parents were traveling from Bangalore to Madras and my mother had to disembark at Jolarpet and check into the railway hospital to deliver me. My dramatic entry into the world made my father grant me the status of a heroine and he would never tire of repeating the story of my birth to anyone who was within hearing distance. I was his little princess. When I was a month old I had convulsions and as the story goes, my father, though a doctor himself, could not decide on the medicine and its dosage that could be safely administered to an infant. My paternal grandmother prayed that she would name me Padmavathy after the deity in Tirupathi if I recovered and soon afterwards my dad miraculously found a cure to my illness while looking up a medical journal. My grandma performed a “Sumangali Prarthana” when I recovered and my naming ceremony soon followed. I grew up without realizing that girls were considered unwanted in several families. We faced no such discrimination in ours.

As a child I was encouraged to speak out and stand up for whatever I considered was right. On one occasion the Principal of our boarding school punished me for something I had not done. She refused to listen to any explanation threatening to write to my father about the incidence. I wanted my father to hear my version being pretty sure that he would understand. I wrote a detailed letter mentioning the Principal’s refusal to allow me a chance to defend myself and gave it to my teacher to post. Since our letters were censored the Principal got to read the letter. She called me to her office and asked for my side of the story. When convinced she asked me if I wanted the matter dropped or if I would want her to post the letter. I replied that I would want my father to know about the incidence and if he felt that I was wrong I would gladly accept his verdict. She posted it just to see what my father’s reaction would be. However, she did add a note from her side saying that the matter had been resolved and that she wanted me to stay away from bad company and do well in life. If she had expected my father to scold me or advice me on good behavior she must have been disappointed. My father expressed absolute faith in me and added that he was sorely disappointed at the judgmental attitude adopted by the school. The Principal was highly appreciative of my parents’ trust in  me and even more surprised at the level of confidence I showed by depicting the episode truthfully and posting the letter through her.

“This is the kind of rapport I would want every child to have with their mentors” she added after narrating the incidence in the assembly. The entire school clapped for me. I was just thirteen years old then.

Years have gone by and today I teach undergrad students in a local college. I am afraid that even today girls face discrimination in their families and are considered a burden by their own parents. Just two days ago a young girl doing her B. Com in our college approached me saying that her friend was being subjected to mental torture and was contemplating suicide. The girl had been abandoned by her husband within two months of her marriage. That her husband was unemployed or that she was sexually harassed by her father in law who accused her of being a woman of loose morals when she refused to yield to his advances did not bother her much. She was more upset that her mother wanted her to return to her in laws and ‘adjust’. Her  mother was  worried about the future of the other unmarried daughters who would not get good husbands if she continued to stay with them after marriage. More so since her in laws were spreading rumors about her character and chastity. I could understand her mother’s point of view even if I did not agree with her. I asked the girl to remain firm and continue to concentrate on her studies. Suicide was no solution. She could earn some pocket money by teaching school children and/or taking up part time assignments. I told her that there was no need to return to her husband unless he found a job to support her and promised to stand up for her against his father. She had heard from reliable sources that her husband was planning to remarry.

Good riddance” I said. “It should be sufficient reason to put him behind the bars”.

I offered to talk to her mother if required. When she left I could make out that she had gained some amount of self assurance. I asked her friend to keep a watch over her and continue to instill confidence in her.

Although the status of women needs to improve I am glad that girls are reporting incidents of physical and mental torture. Instead of churning out spicy stories about their friends in distress, the youngsters are offering support them in whatever way they can. This in itself is cause for celebration. However, womanhood cannot be celebrated unless they realize their own worth and merit. A colleague of mine spoke of the lavish wedding she had planned for her daughter who was  a final year engineering student. She had set aside 25 lac for dowry and gifts for the groom. She would need another 10 lac for the wedding expenses and five more for jewelry and silverware. She claimed that this was the minimum that a well employed groom would expect adding that if she tried to bargain there were others ready to quote a higher price for the same boy.

I blame the girl and her parents more than the groom's family for the situation. I would certainly not want to marry a man who could decide on his life partner based on the price quoted by the highest bidder. The girl’s family wish to flaunt their purchasing power by making such offers and the groom’s family behave as if their son is up for sale (read auction). Bride burning and torturing daughters in law are consequences of the greed that is being fanned and nurtured by society in the name of dowry. Girls too have no qualms about letting their parents part with their life savings for their marriage and allowing them to depend on their sons for their upkeep.

I cannot help narrating a conversation I had with my co - sister 25 years back, She wanted to know if I had bought diamond ear rings for my daughters and advised me to buy the earrings fast since prices of gold and diamonds were touching the sky. I replied that I had no intention of investing in diamonds and their education was my priority. My co - sister insisted that no decent guy would marry them for free. I retaliated by saying that my husband's cousins (8 of them) had all married well placed men none of whom made atrocious demands. I too would be able to marry my daughters without the above mentioned piece of jewelry. If she quoted one example of a person who made dowry demands I could give five examples of those who did not. I can proudly claim that I was right and the question of dowry never came up at the time of their marriages.

Let the successful ones among us celebrate women and womanhood by all means. However, in our moments of celebration let us also remember that there are several women who need our emotional support to stand up for themselves.

This piece is my entry for -