I respect women. I actively participate in candlelight marches for rape victims. I write Facebook posts supporting women's empowerment and liberation. I project myself as a man of the changing world and try to embody its evolved approach towards women.
I strongly believe that no woman deserves to be attacked or humiliated for any reason: not for the clothes she wears or for how late at night she chooses to be out. She is still the same person with the same dignity and self-respect that she is at noon or midnight, in a mini-skirt or sari. These are my views. Yet, when I introspect and look into the depths of my heart, I realise I don't believe enough in my own beliefs.
When after a tiring day at work, I make my way back to my home, I sometimes go over my own convictions, which I often relay passionately to other people. But have I convinced myself enough? As I knock the door of my home and see my mother's face, the confusion lifts and I get my answer.
I am a coward.
"I am a man who waxes eloquent (with full sincerity) on women's liberation, but finds it difficult to practice what he preaches in his own home."
I am a man who fears everything. A man who waxes eloquent (with full sincerity) on women's liberation, but finds it difficult to practice what he preaches in his own home.
When I reach home late at night and don't find my sister there, I start calling her, asking her whereabouts and when she will return. I stare alternately at the wall clock and door until she comes home. It gets worse. Sometimes, I ask my mother to adjust her sari more modestly when she goes out and I am uncomfortable when my love's top has a low neckline or threatens to reveal her midriff.
To the outer world, I project myself as an open-minded person. I tell the women in my life that they are free to do what they want, as and when they want, but deep in my mind and heart I don't feel the same. I do not try to restrict them from doing anything but I do keep a careful watch on their actions. I know this might be wrong and irritating for them many times. They might get upset with me or even feel embarrassed by my behaviour. Yet, I cannot help myself because I know what the men on the street are like and that I cannot exercise any control over them. The only thing the men out there need is an excuse. I really don't want the women who are a part of my life to be that excuse.
That there is a mindset problem in India is well-documented. Irrespective of how much we learn, we see or we practice, we men tend to have an inflated sense of self, a feeling of superiority just by dint of our gender. We find it challenging to accept that a woman can be better than us or outperform us. Even the concept of equality doesn't sit quite right. As a result, many men feel that it their duty towards their gender to bring down women a peg or two, reduce them to victims.
I too am a man residing in the same culture, with many of the same influences. I am the same guy who, along with his friends, stares at a "hot" girl walking on the road. But of course I won't lose control of my mind and body and force myself on a girl. I know my limits. I too have a family and when I see them, I take my limits in a more serious way.
"Sometimes, I ask my mother to adjust her sari more modestly when she goes out and I am uncomfortable when my love's top has a low neckline or threatens to reveal her midriff."
Life is a complete cycle. The way I see society and the opposite gender is the same way society looks at my home, my sister, my mother and also at my love. This realisation makes me fearful. It makes me mend my actions and my way of looking at the world.
I don't think that women will ever be truly empowered until men are. Until the way we think changes, our progress will always be incomplete, the road to equality half-paved.
But right at this moment I am a frightened man. I am frightened of society. I fear for my family. To deal with that fear I keep tabs on them, stop them from doing certain things, stop them from going to certain places and stop them from going out after a certain time. This is not because I think they are weak, but because I want them to be safe. I love them, I care for them. I can be open-minded and embrace every definition of freedom out there, but deep inside I know I cannot change because my love and fear for them will not let me. If this makes me a coward, then I am one.