I am a proud feminist. To anyone who tells me that I’m not a feminist, or that being a feminist makes me unattractive, or that feminists are man-hating sexists themselves, or that me being a feminist is a phase—leave me alone and go suck it. I think every woman should embrace feminism and understand the meaning and importance of it. Women need to be at the same social, political, and economic level as men. Men should encourage women to vouch for themselves, not dissuade them from standing up to their rights by telling them that feminism makes them butch. Be feminist, boys and girls; be proud.
The reason I start with this is because grave things are happening in my country and it’s not okay. India is at a precipice. We want to embrace feminism and we want it to change our lives for the better, but we are so afraid of it. Why? Why is it so scary that a woman can want to do things for herself? Why can’t a woman be as selfish as a man? Why must she follow her husband’s beck and call; or her father’s, or her son’s? Is a woman not her own person? Why—when we talk about the brutality of rape and the blatant disrespect for a woman’s body and her decisions—do we ask men to think about their own daughters and sisters who could be facing the same horrors they are imposing on others’ mothers, daughters, and sisters? Why are women only viewed as “mothers,” “daughters,” or “sisters”? When we ask men to stop rape, the reason shouldn’t be, “Because she is someone’s mother/daughter/sister.” When we ask men to stop rape, the reason should be, “Because she is a citizen with the same rights as you, and the same worth as you!” Hindu Goddesses are treated with utmost respect and veneration. They are equal to all the Gods. But at a more human, mortal, real level—where women are the goddesses, and men the gods, born equal in honor—why do men feel the need to assert their dominance? What threatens them? What kind of audacity makes them believe that we women need to be taught a lesson from them men—men who hurt and hurt and hurt, stopping only when it’s too late? Do not stop asking these questions; not now when we are striving for a better, safer future for women, not later when we are progressing but not there yet, and not later yet when we are given everything we’re fighting for now—because once we stop asking questions and stop pushing, things fall apart and revert.
Some misogynistic men might ask me to stop complaining, saying that I’m overreacting to the situation. Men and women might tell me that I have no right to talk because I am not a victim. But I am. Every woman is a victim even if she doesn’t know it. Once you see the gender norms entrenched in our society, there’s no going back. Show them to everyone! Show the world that rapists in India think that women who go out with boys need to be taught a lesson. Shout to the world that devout Hindus in India want to force marriage upon couples that confess their love for each other on Valentine’s Day. Women can’t wear what they want, women can’t talk to the people they want, women can’t be successful—can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t! What a load of unbelievers. We can do everything and more.
When I was in 9th standard, like every other student was, my parents enrolled me into tuitions. I went to tuitions for Physics, Chemistry, Maths, English. My 9th standard Physics tuition teacher was this traditional Gujarati fellow who made me angry for the first time as a girl. And for that, I thank him. We were discussing the marks we got in a Physics exam from school, and I didn’t do that well compared to my classmates (who in the tuitions, by the way, were all girls). He looked at my paper, then looked me in the eye, and said to me, “It’s okay if you don’t do well. Your mother is dentist, and your father is an engineer. They’re rich, they’ll get you married to some rich doctor.” An educator, told a girl of 14 years of age, to stop bothering with studying, because she won’t need it to take care of herself—a man would do it for her. The anger that surges up in me when I remember this moment is … insane. The embarrassment I had felt, and the shame of being so humiliated in front of my peers—what level of haughtiness does a man have to have in order to be able to say this to a teenager? Thankfully, I have always had a lot of confidence and respect for myself, bordering on narcissism and egotism; I didn’t let this bring me down too much, and I focused on hating that “teacher” forever. However, this isn’t the only account of educators belittling me because I am a girl. I recently met my 10th standard Chemistry tuition teacher when he came to my house to teach my brother. I had to engage with him in a conversation because I was the only one at home and my brother was late. I was talking to him about college, and how much I hate organic chemistry, and my career aspirations. I told him that I wanted to study oceanography. His reaction to that was, “How will you get married?” Yes, thank you, sir, for telling me that the profession I want my life to revolve around isn’t suitable to your archaic ideals that involve women as wives and mothers first, and professionals later.
In an effort to show the world just how extreme gender inequality in India is, and to show solidarity with victims of rape and sexual assault, Leslee Udwin made a film about the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, also called the Nirbhaya case, where a student was gang-raped for being out at night with her boy friend. The documentary, titled ‘India’s Daughter’, gives away the real name of “Nirbhaya”, includes interviews with the rapists who are now on death row, and shows videos from the protests that followed the Nirbhaya case. The film does a very good job of portraying things like the motives of the rapists, public anger over the lack of punishment for rape and sexual abuse, and the government’s way of dealing with peaceful protests among other things. The documentary includes interviews with the victim’s parents, and a close friend.
The documentary perfectly shows how much the victim is blamed for being raped in India. How much hatred do you have to have in your heart to say that a girl who went out to watch a movie with her friend in the evening deserves to get raped because she had it coming? It is so painful, so hurtful, so angering to listen to the rapists, and their lawyers talk about women as if they have no value as human beings. But none of this is anything that hasn’t been said before. We have known this; the documentary has given us more substantial proof, and made us realize that these thoughts aren’t just limited to people below the poverty line. Educated lawyers are of the same opinion—they have a lot of power and that’s scary—their mindset unfortunately has the potential to impose the wrong kind of change.
So the public is angry about how the thoughts of the rapists will manifest and increase after the documentary has been aired. There is so much negativity in the film—so much violence and horror. But there is also so much positivity. The victim’s family is so beautiful. Coming from a poor background similar to those of the rapists, Jyoti Singh was adamant in her belief that women could do anything. She had aspirations and she followed them. Her family, however traditional, had incredibly modern views on who their daughter was going to be. They never stopped her. When people try to blame the rapists’ behavior on their upbringing, they have to remember that there are people who come from the same places who don’t resort to unethical means when they don’t understand something. When the men see that there is something wrong with their ideology, and that it is being defied, they slip into a violent method of protecting their ideology. They blame the women for something they can’t understand—they don’t understand that women are equal to men, they don’t want to understand it and so, they resort to rape and domestic violence to try and keep things they way they know them to be.
We might pride ourselves on being a tolerant nation with our multitude of religions and cultures living side by side in relative harmony, but it is shameful that fifty percent of our population has to still live in constant fear of what the next day might bring for them. We cannot call ourselves tolerant until women are granted the same opportunities as men, are given the same hopes and dreams as men, are offered the same pay as men, are respected the same as men, and feared the same as men. We are women. We can do anything, and we will rise above this bias and represent an equal, tolerant, secular, wealthy, prosperous India.
This is a link to the documentary.