It Is A Crying Shame, India – Lets Make A Difference Starting Today


There is a lot I am genuinely proud of about being an Indian – how women get treated in India is not one of the reasons. It is 2012 now – not 1612. And look at what happened in the nation’s capital. A 23 year old girl got gang raped in the nation’s capital ! . As an Indian (especially as an Indian male) , I am ashamed. This is not an isolated incident – such incidents happen all too often in India. And it is a deep rooted problem with many dimensions. It needs a combination of top-down and bottom up measures by the citizens and the elected government to fix.

I was born and raised in the southern state of Kerala. Before I was born, my community (Nair) was a matriarchal one ( This is very atypical, and most of Indian families follows a Patriarchal system). Essentially women controlled the family and inheritance was via the mother’s lineage, not the father’s.
Men had to use their mother’s family name as their surnames. Men essentially could enjoy benefits in their life time, and the inheritance went to their sisters and the kids of the sisters. The primary reason for this system was that Nair men were warriors back in the day, so moms had to ensure stability of the family even when the male members were away in wars, or lost their life in battle. Women were well educated and there was apparently no issue on dowry, female foeticide etc. I would highly recommend reading the novel “Indulekha” by O.Chandu Menon. There is an English translation for the book – and it will open your eyes on how the society functioned at that time. The whole picture changed when Kerala Joint Hindu Family System (Abolition) Act was passed in 1975, the year I was born.

I know a lot of very strong women first hand, and they have all influenced me. My mom who only got schooling till high school was (and still is) a small business owner and made sure my sister and I got the best education we could get. Same with my mom-in-law who worked really hard to make sure her daughter was set up for success in her life. My sister did her masters degree, while also having a demanding career as a TV anchor, and then moved on to a career in IT. My wife who stayed home for first 10 years of our marriage (despite being eminently qualified to work as an engineer ) to take care of our little daughter is the sole reason I could focus on my job that needs me to be away from them for most part of the week. And they all had a middle class upbringing that valued hard work and good education. If they can do it – I am sure a lot of Indian women can do it equally well or better.

Discrimination between men and women in India starts even before birth. Female foeticide is so high in India that government had to pass laws to stop allowing doctors to even determine the gender of the foetus before a baby is born. Even with all the awareness – the ratio of male to female children seems still lopsided . I know couples who kept on having babies till they had a male child or two. What I never understood though was why several moms – who obviously are women themselves – showed a definite preference for sons and not daughters.

The discrimination continues in school – boys and girls sit in two different sections in the class. And at the first available opportunity, most parents send their kids to a “girls only” or “boys only” school. I went to a “boys only” school, and my sister went to a “girls only” school. I then went to a “boys only” Mechanical Engineering degree. Well, we did have one girl in our class – and I have the deepest respect for her for finishing 4 years of college with us boys, most of whom never knew what to say or do in front of her. The first time I got to sit next to a girl was on the first day of my MBA class. I haven’t been that stressed out ever – and I still remember sweating profusely when I shook hands with a girl in my class. I definitely was not prepared for a world where men and women co-existed. One of the biggest values I got from that MBA degree was learning how to live in the real world where men and women both are equal partners. It took me a few years into my career before, I got comfortable with the idea of being around women.

My female colleagues and class mates have shared similar stories of their upbringing and how it made life difficult for them. This is an easily solvable problem – let both boys and girls go to the same schools, and sit next to each other, and learn to co-exist and have healthy relationships. Of course it is not a magic bullet – but it surely will eliminate some of the problems that only arise because of curiosity.

Social belief systems cannot be changed over night by government regulations – reforms will probably take another generation or two. Over time, India has practically gotten rid of “sati” , child marriage, devadasi system etc. But it took a lot of time, and collective effort and leadership. And India has only benefited from that. That gives me hope that we can get better from current status quo.

India has strict laws against corruption. But that has hardly helped contain corruption. So while punishment for rapists and other abusers must no doubt be swift and just – such laws should not be created out of anger. In a country like India, misuse of laws is rather common place. Swinging the pendulum to the other extreme might not be the right long term solution. Laws must be made when people are peaceful, and enforced justly in all situations.

There is a definite part for the government to play in making this situation better. Safety of women should not be a matter of paying just lip service. Our constitution does not discriminate between men and women. Women should be free to travel, dress, work etc in ways they are comfortable with – and should not worry constantly on what trouble lays in wait for them every step of the way. Awareness and education needs to go hand in hand with strict enforcement of the law, and preventive security measures by government at all levels.

Curiously, not all problems faced by women are caused by men. A good case in point is sheer number of dowry related and domestic abuse cases where the mother in law makes life difficult (sometimes impossible) for their daughter in law. Or for a less drastic example – I have seen women humiliating other women in buses when they share a seat with a man, usually with the approving nods and looks from co-passengers.

One of the things India lacks in sufficient numbers is the number of women that others can look up to as great role models. The situation today is much better than say 20 years ago, and from what I have heard from elders – it is a LOT better than in their times. When Kiran Bedi became an IPS officer, it was an inspiration to every girl in the country. Several women made it to IPS after Ms Bedi, but nearly not at the same clip as men did. But over time, I seriously hope things will change. When I got my first job – maybe 10% of employees in IT were women. These days when I visit India, it looks 2X or 3X better, and I am heartened by that. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Which brings me to the political side of this problem. A lot of educated people in India have given up on the political process in our country. They either won’t vote – or they vote entirely based on party affiliation. For example, I have friends and relatives who will vote for the Congress party irrespective of who the actual candidate is. They also don’t care to hold their elected representatives accountable when they mess up. This needs to change. If India needs progress – its citizens should be an active part of the political process. We are miles away from that now. Now that social media has the ability to pass on messages to a large number of people, I hope we start seeing some good changes.

Finally there is a lot we can all do as individuals. Without waiting for government or someone else to do the right thing, we can all start to practice being better to women. Let us send our daughters to co-ed schools and colleges. Let us make sure we won’t marry our daughters and sisters to morons who ask for dowry. Let us use our savings to give our daughters and sisters the best possible education, in lieu of the most expensive wedding. Let us work on helping the women around us feel better about themselves and about other women. And let us show our sons and brothers by example on how a civil society really ought to function. And by all means let us heavily penalize people who treat women with disrespect. And let us elect candidates who share our values.

PS : Today is the third anniversary of my blog. I tried really hard to not type up a depressing post today, but in the end could not justify posting this even one more day later.

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12 thoughts on “It Is A Crying Shame, India – Lets Make A Difference Starting Today

  1. RIP brave girl..rape laws are begging for change in India..how many more deaths, suicides by victims before action is taken. Hope her death will demand and secure laws and actions to sensitize the mentality in a country where women are to be regarded as Durga and Shakti.

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  2. Two things I can think as part of bottom-up solutions
    1. In the big metropolitan cities people live individual lives without even knowing the neighbours. Hence no one on the streets know you or can monitor you unlike in villages. Hence there should be something like a ‘Community Policing’ which should be performed voluntarily by keen and angry people in the society for ex. people who are currently protesting on the streets instead of venting out all their anger in just a day or two they need to channelise in a proper way and preserve the anger longer in order to monitor/police their neighbourhood.
    2. Parents and elders in the family should teach their sons and daughters about the equality of men and women a and reduce the ‘Sexual Repression’ the exists in the society. However Indian families cannot digest the western ways of raising their kids wher they allow their kids to have sex in the next bedroom and the only suggestion they give is to use protection. However India is a big country with lots of diverse cultures and people with different financial backgrounds hence doesn’t matter how much care we take these incidents always happen. These efforts may only reduce few rape cases but they will still keep happening. But still if we can at least add a drop of water in an ocean it’s still worth it.

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  3. Hello Vijay- You have nicely mentioned all the important facts about this topic. I avow the attitude towards this.We, in India, claim proudly that we are an ancient culture, we worship women in the form of Durga or Shakti.
    We have our vociferous forums of women at national level, we have various joint action committees across the country wanting to empower women. We are eager to install women as
    Panchayat leaders and wish to provide a quota for them to become Parliament members. Alas, all this is but tokenism and does not hide the ugly fact that modern society forgotten the real respect for the women. We are slowly losing our culture and people to educate this is become scarce this is the problem in all the corners of the world. The only hope to retain this in little lies in parents and education.

    Keep posting good.

    Siva

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  4. Once again vijay well said in Ur blog as usual, I will bring to Ur notice things happening in kerala, when u open the news papers that is Manorama, mathrubhumi what u see prominently is PEN VANNIBAM &sSTHREEPEEDANAM, I don’t know how to translate it , even small girls aged 10 are victims in kerala, it is so depressing that I don’t read it , I v lost count of the number of cases reported in kerala and the villains in many of them are step fathers , uncles , cousins and in one case my memory is correct as I told u I don’t read it in detail a elder brother, so where is this society heading , we boast of a literate state and what I meant to say was delhi case is not isolated even in kerala it is happening , I think one reason for this is alcoholism and the rottenness of values in society.
    Legal system is also to be blamed , Nw in the heat of the moment all saying we shd fasten the legal system and give exemplary punishment bt once the dust settles down it is back to square . Prosecution is weak and often the victim for fear of society doesn’t purse and it helps the accused scot free , we need a strong punishment like the m
    The Middle East , very depressing

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      • vijay kerala in that period and nw it is totally changed , even living here permananetly i find the diff very difficult i think that is what generation gap is bt i am afraid what the scenario will happen , as i told u alcholism , mobile revoulution all things wrking negatively , porn clips available in mobiles plus intoxication making it dangerous society to live , legal enforcement plus a summary trail will only curb it

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  5. Vijay,

    I was rather expecting this post. Since few days it’s all in 24/7 news and I was shocked when I read the complete details in the newspaper.

    Regarding the Laws I guess India has enough of them but the implementation part remains a big question. The standards that Judiciary has set are low barring isolated cases.

    In my personal opinion if we could make our children educated, different from being just literate, and they pass on the same values to the next generation the battle is won.

    Society as a whole is very dormant and we expect that the Government which we elect will do everything. Although India has enjoyed a single party rule post Independence to large extent but then the results were not that great. Largely the problems faced by people at the grass root level persists in large numbers.

    Today we do see lots of women in our professional but still if you explore the rural infrastructure, there are grave issues as you have already mentioned. If we as a nation has to progress in this 21st century the onus would rather be on us as a combined force as to how we take it forward.

    Finally, many congratulations for your Blog’s anniversary and hope you keep the fire burning.

    Regards,
    Harshit

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