courtesy Subhrajit Basu
  • courtesy Subhrajit Basu

"One is not born a woman, but becomes one" (Beauvoir)

From childhood every little Bengali girl is made to memorize the rhyme “bor asbe ekhuni niye jabe takhuni” (The groom will come and take you away in a while), while the little boy is encouraged to explore an imaginative and intellectual ‘brave new world’ through careless expeditions and adventurous errands. The absurd discrimination is apparent in the lessons taught by parents and teachers. The girl is preoccupied with protecting her ‘chastity’ and ‘honour’ by observing ‘proper’ dress code and performing a mute role in the tightrope of religion to maintain her ‘balance and calm’. The 'forever cautious' movements define her as a limp seeking a crutch to hang on some ‘perpetual guard’ at any cost -- the only condition which earns her the ‘good girl’ image.

Now if a woman gives vent to her angst then she is a ‘crazy hysteric feminist’ who has lost control of the ‘composed self’ which defines ‘womanhood’. So, here goes my histrionic speech about reclamation of my identity as I speak to myself and make me stand on my feet amid series of devastation and despair, and resolve to stand up for something worth-accomplishing. My battle will go on inside to stand up and be firm on the principles which I care for.

In Indian society there are countless reasons which confirm the obsession with a male child, which include safety and security of a girl from drooling mouths and scanning eyes, but most importantly the financial and religious advantages that a boy child brings into the family, the economic security to the parents in the old age as the girl is 'socially appropriated' to desert her natal home after marriage and gradually it extends to embrace the world beyond death. Thus in Bengali Hindu families the rituals which begin with birth and continue upto death exclusively prefer a male child. From Rakhi, Bhaiphonta (wishing well for a brother by applying chandan in the forehead and the mark is believed to close the door of every plausible peril), Jamai Sasthi (when the mother-in-law fasts and cooks every (im)possible stuff for the son-in-law), Upanayan (thread ceremony) which is reserved for a Brahmin male child, leading to the last rituals, followed by the funeral of parents. Women are given a role to support the menfolk without expecting to reverse or revise those customs.

It created a kind of fear-psychosis in my mind from childhood and I struggled to prepare myself for resisting this imbalance. I thought much about the celebrated concept of loneliness of unmarried women who feel helpless if they are unable to find a partner. But it did not hold water. I decided to adopt a girl and raise her (which I plan to do sooner or later) and thought to marry only if the other person is prepared to accept the way I am. I started despising cooking as it is a way to please the prospective groom with culinary skills. I protested against correcting my dental flaw as the doctor insisted me with the assertion that it would not help me in hooking a good husband.

I defied traditions and tied Rakhi on my sister’s wrist, on my own and that of the lady teachers. I fought for wearing jeans, played cricket and carom for a long time in a male dominated zone, went for inter-school sports, drill and marching and yoga competitions. I reviewed all marital rites from my uncle who arranges marriages, but can only find to my amazement that it is full of rituals like Kanyadan ( a property to be handed over to another family), lajahoma (offering puffed rice into the fire to confirm that the parental tie is broken) and smearing the head with a permanent mark to announce to the world about the wife's faithfulness, performed under the hegemony of ‘self-proclaimed upper caste’ Brahmins. Interestingly, on the other hand, no boy is ever asked to show some concern and responsibility towards the bride's parents throughout the ceremony as it is his ‘success story’ where he enters like a prince and snatches his 'rightful share' from the temporary guardians and shift her to the 'permanent' home (yet some men grumble that marriage terminates their freedom!). Even, a son-in-law is not expected to spend much time in the wife's parental home as it raises social anxiety about the constructed 'masculine prototype' and it is a common belief that he is overpowered by his wife if he continues to visit frequently and stay there for some 'extra' days.

And thus I became a feminist throughout the journey of my life.

I became a feminist when I was seen as a body-bound emotional fool easy to be groped and scared I became a feminist when I had to make way through the slang and slurs in the public transport I became a feminist when daily passengers ordered me to opt for a ladies compartment I became a feminist when I saw the lascivious hands coming out from the coaches and their dirty gestures towards a single woman traveller I became a feminist when people told me 'you cant do it because you are a woman and women are fragile' I became a feminist when I had to return home at 11pm for studies I became a feminist when I could/could not thrash, slap, kick and abuse the perverts I became a feminist when I could not bear the sexist sick jokes made in a 'lighter vein' I became a feminist when I found the little girl struggling against her father for not wearing purdah, which is not a conscious choice but rigid patriarchal imposition I became a feminist when the woman working as a domestic help sent her son to the school and daughter for washing dishes and later an untimely marriage. I became a feminist when I realized the least botheration about women being stripped, harassed and paraded nude, regularly raped and molested. But I could not save my skin as with each dishonour my skin bled as if I was flayed. I became a feminist when I started taking charge of my life and became very much protective about my freedom to think and subvert religious dogmas which have made me a woman and laid down instructions about what I am not supposed to do. I became a feminist when they said 'there is no space for feminism in India where we value tradition and moral codes rather than a person's autonomy' I became a feminist as an alternative to the institutionalized silence and for not aspiring to be a masochist

A friend's mother used to tell me apprehensively "you appear to be so jolly but I wonder how long it will last as every girl is destined to go through a very tough phase when all smiles disappear". I always laughed away the heaviness in her words as I decided to be happy amidst hopelessness....

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Girls Transform the World 2013.

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Comments

Dear Sutanuka,

Your story is wonderful. Your conviction is great and its is hard to defy the encultural ways of life. In India in the Hindu cast system and women place is questionable.

I pray that you keep strong and continue to fight for equal rights for all. All humans are equal. Only the deeds makes us different in the sight of our creator.

Looking forward to see how you progress through your life. Share it with me through this forum and wish you all the best.

In friendship Amei

Thank you for your support and encouraging words. I consider my life to be in the making and I am open to life-long lessons. I dont believe that God has created men and women as unequal but we have sustained the dichotomous binary through socialization and internalization of patriarchal beliefs. I derive my strength from powerful goddesses like Durga, Kali, Saraswati who have made a niche in the male-dominated culture.

Best Regards,

sutanuka

I live in my convoluted mind....