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To Be A Desi Girl

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A desi girl is very unlike Priyanka Chopra in Dostana.  She doesn’t shimmy her tiny waist in a diaphanous sari or wear tiny clothes to work.  If she dares to, she knows she will cause a riot.  Instead you will find her in the Metro, assuring her child she’ll be home soon.... as the hard-as-balls executive that everyone is petrified of.... the pampered girl who dreams of Virat Kohli in her dad’s sedan.... the grim looking woman who cycles to work every morning to support her alcoholic husband.  It’s tough to typify a Desi Girl.  


In case you are wondering whether this is yet another rant about what a bad deal it is to be a woman in India – let me assure you it’s not.  Agreed, it’s not easy being a woman, especially in India.  We have to deal with gender bias, violent attitudes that are becoming evident in appalling statistics of infanticide, rape and diverse forms of discrimination - nourishment to education, health, labour and dignity. We read about her in papers, see her in the neighbourhood.  The husband who doesn’t work yet lords over her, her annual pregnancies for the sake of a son.  We feel incensed at the injustice of it, try to knock some sense into her and try to help her as much as we can.

To be frank, I’ve had a sheltered upbringing.  My parents didn’t mourn my birth; rather they were overjoyed despite my incessant crying that would keep them awake for nights.  Neither did they take me to a clinic in Indore for a sex change surgery.   But I knew my Maa yearned for a son.  You will get married and start a family of your own.  It is the son who carries the family name.  Six years later when my brother was born she let out a sigh of relief.

Society sets gender stereotypes that we are expected to conform to.  While I played mostly with dolls, my brother played with toy guns.  Despite having parents with a broad outlook, I grew up with Sit properly, have you been beating your brother again, don’t laugh too loudly, your skirt is too short, you argue too much.   I argued that household chores be divided equally between my brother and me.  I fought when I was told I couldn’t go for a movie with my gang of guy-friends.  I didn’t talk to Maa for days.

Even though we had working parents, it was Mom who took care of the family and the house.  Dad did help her with odd jobs, but the responsibility to feed the brood was hers.  We never found it odd when she took the smallest helping of the ice cream cake.  We blatantly presumed that she took pleasure in it.  But she was no Nirupa Roy. When it came to running the house, it was she who called the shots, the one we approached when we needed anything and petrified of when we didn’t do well in exams.

Years later as I run my own household, her influence still lingers on.  When a friend remarked that she unintentionally imitates her mother when she cooks...  from the way her Mom cut the veggies or fruits, to the flavors she added.  So when a woman of the house has such a subtle and strong influence on each member of the family for a lifetime, who needs women’s lib.... I found myself nodding in agreement.

 So is the Indian woman really in need of liberation? By accepting it, are we not conceding that we are but caged animals in need of emancipation?  Many of you may argue that women in rural belts are treated no better than animals. Well, I have seen instances of independent women from lower and uneducated class in small towns like Varanasi, who run their own business, making glass bindis and go door to door to sell them.  Wasn’t it a quarry worker’s daughter who made it to a top law school?  The success of the Milk revolution hinged on the tenacity of the village women in Gujarat.

Emancipation is but a state of mind.  We need to believe that we are strong - that no one can tie us down with expectations, disappointment and greed.  We have to get rid of the poor me mentality. Why accept it when you can fight it?

Of late, feminist movements have gained momentum in response to insensitive remarks aimed at shaming women flaunting their sexuality. Boobquake, slut walk movements spread like wildfire and sparked off debates word wide.   Indian women joined in too with Reclaiming the Night and Pink Chaddi campaigns.  As Delhi gears up for Besharmi Morcha (a desi version of slut walk), I am surprised by the cynicism that precedes it.  A general criticism being that it does not address the main concerns of the large majority of Indian women, the rural or the urban poor: female foeticide, child marriage, dowry deaths, khap panchayats etc.

I feel the condemnation is unwarranted – true that the Morcha draws attention to the concerns of only urban women but if a so called empowered class can’t raise its voice, then who can?  As Anil Dharker has so rightly pointed out in Look at the intent not the dress...Women are expected to cover themselves not for their own protection but to protect men.  Protect men from their libidinous nature.  Protect men from themselves. Men, in effect, have conveniently surrendered their responsibility for their own behaviour; taking refuge in the age old logic she asked for it.  Its high time women started refusing to take the blame for the criminal behaviour of men. Look at me, I’m not asking for it.

It shames me to read that India is the world's fourth most dangerous country for women, sharing disgrace with Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan and Somalia.  This despite the fact we have a fairly comprehensive range of laws around women's rights.  So why is it that the fairer sex still feels unsafe?  The trouble lies in weak implementation of laws fusing with antiquated customs.

I am aware that one morcha with women parading in their itsy bitsies and shouting slogans is not enough to change archaic mindsets. But how often do we have women coming together for a feminine cause?  Instead of dismissing it as just another gimmick, why can’t we provide the movement the wholehearted support it deserves?   Isn’t it high time we said enough is enough!  To be able to stand up to that uncouth man who thinks leering at boobs is his birthright…  Strong enough to give him one tight slap…. To be able to stay out late without anxiety stalking my mind….I seek freedom from being judged…I seek freedom from fear.

And it is not women who are in need of emancipation but men who think of the fairer sex as mere playthings to be leered at and groped.  Isn’t it time you grew up?


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What a thoughtful post! A

What a thoughtful post! A great style of writing!
Great Job Ms. Purba Ray

Good one Purba..& so true

Good one Purba..& so true

Fantastic article Purba,

Fantastic article Purba, loved it and agree with you totally. If men say, 'She asked for it' by dressing in a provocative manner, they are being gracious enough to give her what they presume, she is asking for silently, but when she says NO verbally, why don't they listen to her then?
Why should women be afraid to wear anything they like and go out at anytime they want? It is a free country and all are equal here.Men who grope should have their hands chopped off and leering men should be blinded, maybe then they will learn to respect women.

Hi Purba, I just posted a

Sulekkha's picture

Hi Purba, I just posted a comment on your article as a guest. I just wanted to add that your post is a very hard hitting and excellent post...loved it.


Lucks aka Sulekha


Well its really hard to go with statistics when the situations that you have just described have to be looked at objectively. Fortunately there is nothing in your article that me as a Desi woman has gone through. Our cousins/brothers did help in household chore as much as my father and husband does and I have seen similar situations in my close circuit as well. Then again that's just my close circuit and you are right to point out rural India and the multitude of places in which atrocities that happen are not something we see in our everyday lives. Gender change in children is to my opinion the grossest sin that has ever been committed. All said and done - it is absolutely true that we should all join hands and really do something that changes the status quo of gender in equality... Thank you for sharing this with us.

Thank you for your wonderful

Thank you for your wonderful comments, appreciate it.

@ Sulekkha....Do men need a reason to grope or leer? Choice of attire is simply an excuse to absolve themselves of any responsibility.

@ Guest...A woman plays an important role in influencing her children and inculcating the right values in them. Our kids emulate and learn from us - so why not try to be a Mum they can be proud of :)

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