I want to spark a change

“Hey Seema! How are you?”

“I’m good Canary, always good.”

With this Seema, the most beautiful girl in my school, went sashaying past me. I was 14 and very impressionable. I used to look at Seema as she stood in her group of admirers. She looked as if she was unaware of her stunning looks, dressing sense and aura. But it was not the case. She enjoyed all the attention that came her way, all her fans and followers. She set the standard for beauty in the school and most stupid girl like me wanted to be like her.

Then time passed and we grew up. But Seema’s influence on our minds never quite lessened. Even in college, while I would be deciding my dress for the fresher party or annual day, I would wonder if Seema would approve of my choice. While making a choice of which course to take up, I would wonder if Seema would think it is cool. The extent she influenced me and my decisions was something that really surprises me now.

But the most surprising ting happened recently. After school I had deliberately cut off all contacts with Seema. The reason was no matter what I did, it never used to be enough for her and I somehow realized that no matter how hard I tried, she would never consider me a friend. So, thankfully, I started maintaining physical distance from her (even if mental distance took a long time). But last month, after a lot of efforts from some of our batch mates, our school organized a reunion bash.

After almost fifteen years of passing out, a lot of us assembled in those same corridors that used to seem to daunting and scary once. We went back and met our teachers, caught up with each other and secretly palpitated a lot on whether our batch mates thought we had done well in life or not. In between all that noise, celebration an nostalgia, my eyes kept looking for Seema. I had prepared myself to look totally nonchalant in front other and make it obvious that her judgment of me no longer affected me. But even after looking for around half hour, I could not see her anywhere. Finally I saw two of her closest friends, Gia and Kanika, both being the only beauty queens who could match Seema’s style in school and hence deserve to be her pals.

“Hey Gia!! So good to see you after so long.” I hugged Gia trying hard to look normal.

“Hi… Canary right?” I don’t know if she was pretending or she had actually forgotten me after school. But I decided to let it pass.

“Yes! How are you?”

“I’m good man! And you? What are you up to these days?”

“Well, I work with a multinational company as a senior manager. How about you?” Meanwhile I smiled at Kanika too who smiled back.

“I’m married with a daughter now. I also run a small jewellery design business from my Sainik Farms home.”

“That sounds lovely. Hey… can’t see Seema anywhere, where is she?”

“Oh, she can’t make it.” Kanika said.

“Oh, really? That’s sad. But why?” I asked.

Kanika hesitated a bit and then said, “Her in-laws and husband don’t like her stepping out of the house much. She normally stays indoors. Plus she has three children so her hands are full anyway.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.” I was a bit surprised.

“Yeah but it’s not so bad. Her husband is really rich so she doesn’t have any reason to complain as such.” Gia said.

“Yeah, but she is quite the prisoner Gia. She has no freedom to make her choices or decide what she wants to do. They take all her decisions and she just has to quietly follow them.” Kanika raised her eyebrows.

“But she is toally used to it now. It has been fourteen years.” Gia said.

“Fourteen years??!!!” I almost chocked.

“Yes. Why?”

“Did she… When did she…”

“Her dad anyway wanted her to get married as soon as she finished school. They married her off as soon as she turned 18.” Kanika looked at me.

“What? Really?” I looked at both of them in turns.

“Yes, that’s how it is in their family. Plus she was so pretty that her dad was always anxious. So we all knew they will get her married off very very early.”

“Oh…” My mind was racing.

“Anyway we should be going now Gia. It is quite late.” Kanika looked at her watch.

“Yeah, nice seeing you Canary.”

“Same here. Take care, both of you.” I was lost in my thoughts as I saw them both walking off.

It was not that the news was earth-shatteringly new for me. During college and work I have seen enough strange things, to not be surprised as much anymore, but despite that I felt lost. I imagined the beautiful Seema sitting at home all day, looking at her expensive furniture. I imagined her confined mostly at home with her family coming in and out. I don’t think she would mind it much, considering she never knew another life. But I still can’t help thinking what it could have been if she had tasted the world. If she had had the chance to experience different things, make choices and travel. Would she have still preferred to live and die in a golden cage?

East and West

It is said that in ancient India, women enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. They were sages and seers. However, today, as you drive along any major road, most hoardings advertise fancy gadgets that Samsung and Apple are offering you, exotic holidays you can take the click of a mouse, foreign luxury brands that are so accessible now that you don’t know whether you’re in Mumbai or Manhattan. Information, services and luxury is available so easily that the India of even 50 years ago would be shocked today. But irrespective of all these external changes or so-called advancements, our society hasn't progressed much with time.

Even today, people expect girls to be married and go off to their ‘own’ home. Even today, in many households, girls are taught to be submissive and obedient. They are directly or indirectly told that their rightful place is the kitchen. Widow remarriage is still frowned upon. Divorced or separated women are looked at with so much stigma and hatred that it forces a lot of women to stay on in abusive or damaging relationships. Inter-caste / inter-religion marriages are still a matter of a lot of controversy and you can just Google “honor killings” to know what I mean. According to a global poll conducted by Thomson Reuters, India is the "fourth most dangerous country" in the world for women and the worst country for women among the G20 countries.

This is not just restricted to the rural area but extends to the so-called urban civilized world. Even here the so-called educated people behave with gruesome savagery and unbelievable ruthlessness when it comes to matters related to women even in their own families. They cannot accept equality of man and woman, and are not prepared to give women the basic safety, security and respect that is needed for her normal sustenance.

We may keep blowing our own trumpet and calling ourselves superpower, but our society and its mindset is still highly archaic and regressive. How much the mindset has far outlived the time period it was suited for, you can easily see from December 11 Supreme Court ruling on Gay sex and marriages. But that is a different story.

what we need to do is to tear the facade of progressiveness that India tries to put up in front of the world. Eloquent speeches are given on how we our culture is rich, accepting, vibrant and most of all set in democracy. But the truth could not be farthest from this. We are actually a culture of voyeurs who rape and throw acid on women the moment they show a streak of independence, because it makes us insecure.

What I would like to change around me is this mindset. I know it is very tough and cannot be achieved overnight. But I also know that change needs to start somewhere. The recent Delhi win of the Aam Admi party has showed us that our society is ready for a change and for me that is a very encouraging sign. So below are some of the changes I would like to bring around me and how.

Time for change

What? Start at the ground level. And this means empowering women.
How? By educating them, making them aware of their rights and safeguarding them. As we all know, educating a woman means educating en entire family so I want to start by making flexible education accessible to all women in the country. There need to be face to face classes available at different time slots, use of technology to reach out to more women and distribution of paper and electronic material which they can access when comfortable. This obviously also means making technology accessible to women even in the remote areas, letting them benefit from the advances that the cities are making in terms of computers and internet.

What? Make a girl child welcome.
How? Incentivize families that have daughters. Give benefits especially to families below the poverty line that have daughters.

What? Not let the legal system be abused against women.
How? Make laws gradually balanced for both men and women. And now just do lip service but actually enforce these laws, rigorously and strictly.

What? Clearly communicate laws and punishment in cases of crimes against women,
How? Domestic Violence Act and Prevention of Child Marriage Act seem to exist only on paper. Despite their presence, these things continue to happen brazenly. What is required is their propagation. A lot of rapists and acid-throwers do not know that law is becoming sterner against them. I want to put up the message at prime locations, announce it on TV and radio – basically let the culprits know that the government is with the women and would not accept these ghastly and inhuman crimes against them. This even includes crimes like honor killings. 

What? Stop child marriage. Give those little girls an opportunity to live their childhood and their lives.
How? These instances seem to occur more in rural areas so it is important to take action against anybody using the guise of religion or society to get away with child marriage. And again, educate educate educate. Spread the message about the ills of child marriage.

What? Stop female feticide and infanticide.
How? There are approximately 20,000 female foeticide cases per year in the state. So families need to stop discriminating against girl child and think before killing an unborn. Take action against doctors that facilitate such activities. Make the education, health and other requirements of a girl child available at highly subsidized rates or even free when possible.

What? Create a safe and civilized workplace. Especially in the light of the recent Tehelka scandal.
How? Tighten the workplace laws in favor of women. Creation of an equal opportunity law.

What? Bring women to the forefront by having them in prominent positions and roles in society, media and industry.
How? Pratibha Patil may be known as one of the most ineffective presidents in history but just being the first woman to hold such an important office, she unknowingly led a great change. Indira Gandhi, of course, set precedence long back. I want more women to take up such positions to emphasize the fact that women are equally, if not more, capable, hard-working and deserving of such responsibilities and accomplishments.

What? Given them sanitation, health and education.
How? Around 70.6% women in the state including adolescent girls are anaemic. If this problem is tackled then we can also check maternal mortality. I want to spark a change here by creating separate schools, hospitals and public toilets. Also creating information centers where modern technology is used to give fast and accurate information to women walk-ins. Volunteers for this will b sought from educated women across the country because I am extremely sure that there are many who want to help but don’t know how. Since I work in a multinational IT company, I have loads of female friends around me who are excellent in software programming and other technological skills and would love to pitch at these information centers.

What? Make them physically stronger and prepared.
How? Provide free / subsidized self-defense classes so girls can handle cases of attack.

Thanks a lot to Stayfree for creating this platform where women bloggers like me can voice their opinion and be heard. This post is part of the Stay Free & Healthy Day campaign being run by them. Soon, there be will a health camp organized where efforts will be made to change lives of women. Don’t forget, the first step to improving health begins with knowing about your health! Begin the journey to a healthier you through their EXCLUSIVE ‘Healthy Me’ tool! You can also go to this link and get anaemia testing done at exclusive rates. 

Image courtesy: www.commercialappeal.com, www.dld-conference.com, bidasweden.wordpress.com, www.bbc.co.uk


Apt Images, excellent description and undoubtedly visionary thoughts... I am glad that i happened to be at your blog. This post hooked me. Would love to visit for more.

Best Wishes

Canary said…
Thanks so much Priyanka... your words really mean a lot..
you can try their healthy me too, it is pretty good!
looking forward to reading your blog now.. :)
Ankita said…
Hey Canary!

congrats for inning the first prize!

u r on a roll!!
Canary said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Canary said…
Thanks so much Ankita! Many congratulations to you too my dear :)
and thanks for informing me abt this - else would have had no idea :)

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