We are doing it wrong

“No, there’s fundamentally something wrong with the way we bring up our Indian boys…” Finally an Indian who says it like it is. Thank you Shahrukh Khan. Two instances in recent times that have thrown light on the plight of women in India – the Satyamev Jayate episode on female infanticide and the God awful and most unfortunate Nirbhaya rape case – has led to consistent hue and cry about Indian women being disrespected in their own country, city and homes. And while we have many regressive idiots (men and women!) in positions of power making all kinds of statements, Sharukh Khan’s interview in today’s Bombay Times gives me, an Indian woman, a little hope. Admitting there is a problem is the first step to finding a solution and making a change for the better.

Monkey see monkey do. To some this may just be another cliche. But apply it to what a child sees at home through his growing up years and it’s no surprise so many Indian men think it’s ok to disrespect and often ill-treat women. How many times have you seen your dad, uncle, friend’s father or just some acquaintance’s father speak rudely to his wife? How many times have you heard a man tell his wife not to interfere when business is being discussed? How many families do you know of where the woman has transformed herself over the years to become the wife her husband wants? Children see all of this and it impacts their way of thinking; their outlook towards the other sex. Even in families where there are siblings (sisters and brothers), how parents treat each other dictates how they will treat members of the opposite sex in adulthood.

The woman’s place is in the kitchen. Another cliche? But one that still stands true in most parts of our country. Some may argue things are changing in urban India. But statistics show that female infanticide is far more prevalent in cities than in small towns and villages. Rural India is what makes up most of this country’s landscape and not much has changed there. Apart from the girl child being murdered at birth, girls are married off young and against their wishes, women are glorified maids and child-bearing machines. Is it still surprising that Indian boys grow up thinking it’s ok to harass and objectify women who refuse or seem to refuse to adhere to the norms laid down by a regressive society?

As for cities like Delhi or Mumbai, it is only a minority from our generation who believe and practice gender equality. In most families parents still hold on to the culture they were brought up with; they still follow protocol they were taught to adhere to, they still stick to traditional gender roles. Most boys from such families have rules for their sisters, girlfriends and wives. Any woman not adhering to these rules is considered to be of loose character and is asking to be disrespected and objectified. Yes, its always the woman who is asking for it. Men will be men. It’s us women who should not provoke them. Really?!!

A woman is a woman’s worst enemy. One more cliche and one more that could not be as true as it is when applied to the stereotypical mother-in-law. Times are changing and the cruel mother-in-law for many is just something from our saas-bahu serials. But for many it’s still a reality. How a mother could ask her daughter-in-law to abort her child just because it’s a girl is beyond me and will always be something I cannot fathom. But what is worse than a cruel mother-in-law is a prejudiced mother. If a man abuses his wife, does his mother step up and admonish him? I’m yet to hear of such a case. If a mother hears her son objectifying some girl from his class in front of his friends, does she walk up to him and slap him for disrespecting another woman? It is her behaviour towards her husband that eventually sets some of her son’s expectations from his wife.  It is a mother who makes her son believe that the men of the family are to be placed on a pedestal and the women must serve them for life. Yes, all this may sound very arhchaic, but here’s one small example – many times the mother will stay awake waiting for her son to come home and have his dinner. I don’t know of too many cases where the same is done for her daughter. She’s a girl, she knows her way around the kitchen, she can serve herself.  If you are a married couple living alone in the city, just observe what your maid does with leftover food. She will ensure the husband gets fresh food while she will offer the leftovers to the woman. Why? And this maid’s son in all probability will treat his wife as subservient.

It may seem like I’m blaming our parents for everything wrong with us. But families, parents, culture and traditions in each individual house teach a child how to treat another human being. If there has to be a full stop to rape (at least those committed by sane, literate men), domestic abuse and other crimes against women, parents have to teach their sons to be kind and gentle towards girls. We are fighting against an entire society’s mentality. The change has to start at home.

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