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Let's Stop Dragging Mothers, Daughters And Sisters Into Every Conflict

26/04/2016 8:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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From very early on in my childhood, I have memories of Indian men invoking the character of their adversaries' women--usually mothers, daughters, sisters--to settle scores. Through the palms my parents cupped protectively around my pricked ears, I heard irate men on the road scream of unspeakable acts that the recipients of their wrath committed with their own mothers and sisters.

In the more innocuous setting of middle-class living rooms, tales of (perceived) female misfortune were spoken of in cryptic, ineffectively child-proof conversations, accompanied by a great, slow shaking of heads, and an expressed inability to understand men who behaved "this way" towards women; didn't they have mothers, sisters, daughters of their own at home? (Really, these men, they actually had these marvellous entities safely tucked away. And all this time you thought men were just birthed by the air, you silly goose you).

When a naughty boy child tugs at his first pigtail, his female teacher reprimands him sternly, "What if someone did this to your sister?"

I found that 'eve-teasers' (a term I consider a despicable euphemism borne of our collective misogynistic psyche)--the street sexual harassers that proliferate everywhere--were rebuked in similar terms by law-enforcers and the women they targeted, with reminders of the frail and wonderful modesty of their own women.

And so we Indian women, through centuries of training, have fallen in deep complicity with this game. When a naughty boy child tugs at his first pigtail during play break, his female teacher reprimands him sternly, "Look here Rahul/Salman/Whatever," she says, "What if someone did this to your sister? Would you like that? Wouldn't it make you very angry and want to protect her?" And the little boy is chastened (in most cases, some resilient ones continue to tug at pigtails and other parts of the female anatomy as they grow physically into men).

Sadly, this censured little boy also immediately forms an association between the little girl he made cry, and his sister at home; he boxes them together as being female, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but he also adds to this realization the knowledge that these girls belong at home and most detrimentally, that they are not equal to him and in dire need of protection.

What if we direct abuse (if and when we really have to!) straight at the persons we are aiming for instead of targeting the 'purity' of their women?

Consider, just for a moment, how things could be if we approach these situations differently.

What if we direct abuse (if and when we really have to!) straight at the persons we are aiming for instead of targeting the 'purity' of their women?

What if we feel for those unfortunate in love or life, male or female, not because we too love and are related to others of their gender, but because we empathize with the unique, heart-breaking misfortune of a fellow human being?

What if we subject 'eve-teasers' to the same utterly unwanted, skin-burning, soul-ripping scrutiny (and worse) they direct towards women?

And what if we teach our baby boys compassion by asking, when they tug at pigtails, if they would like someone pulling at their own hair the very same way?

Then India's boys will grow into men, men who know that the hurt they inflict upon others is no different from the hurt others, irrespective of their gender, can inflict upon them, that the women in their lives are neither objects nor possessions. Men who will not need to invoke women to shield or stroke their own egos nor challenge those of other men. Men who will be secure enough in their masculinity to look women in the eye and consider them not less, not more, merely equal.

What if we teach our baby boys compassion by asking, when they tug at pigtails, if they would like someone pulling at their own hair the very same way?

So, not long ago, when I heard someone I held very dear explain to my father that he was sorry for the hurt he had caused me and could perfectly understand how my father felt because he too had sisters at home, I decided I would do my best not to mourn the loss of this special someone. Because he had a two-tiered system to equate my hurt with his sisters', and his own with my father's. Because all he did with those words was clarify he was simply relinquishing a possession, demoting my identity from his potential wife-to-be to what I was in his eyes when he first met me, my father's daughter. And though I am my father's daughter (and my mother's--it takes two to tango), and I might someday be someone's wife and another's mother, there is so much more to me than that.

And I hope one day, India will be able to see the not-just-a-daughter-sister-mother-wife, real, whole person that is me.

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