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What does it take to be a woman ?

Something which I have thought about a great many times, from the time I could think, and for which the answers varied as widely as my experiences in life were.  I have travelled with this question, I have grown up with it, I have lived with this question, to now realise that the question itself is part of the journey.

But yesterday, something shook me up thoroughly. The cover page of Times of India, Mumbai Edition on 5th July 2007 had a photograph of a young woman walking through the streets of Rajkot, Gujarat in her innerwear.

Here’s her story : Girl of 22 years, had a love marriage and now with a baby of 8 months, living away from her husband and in-laws for more than 5 months. Complained about mental and physical abuse ( for dowry, and also because she gave birth to a daughter), and dowry harrasment to no avail. Tried self-immolation in front of the Police headquarters last week. No action taken by the police against the in-laws and husband. Did this protest walk to highlight her case. Got them arrested in a matter of hours.

I am quite impressed with the woman’s resourcefulness, and her pluck, though the police think she is mentally unstable …if you call an act of desperation to be one of mental instability, so be it. Only that we must term the irresponsibility and abuse of power that the police displayed as an absence of humanity which is already an established fact (that there are very few humans left in the police force ).

It was not the fact that she was walking in her innerwear or that the newspaper flashed it all across the town, that bothered me ( yes, it did bother me that the newspaper used her to sensationalise the news but thats another point altogether ).

This incident got me thinking about so many things.

The National Crime Records Bureau reports 6787 cases of Dowry deaths and 3204 cases under Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 for the year 2005. That makes it a total of 9991 out of 155553 cases of Crimes Against Women. A mere 6% . In a country of more than 0.5 billion women, 9991 doesnt seem to be a big number, does it ?

Yes, it does.

One, because statistics in this context is the biggest lie. It is the most convenient tool we use to hide behind when we need to trivialise issues.

Two, the socio-economic-cultural status of women in India at present. Dichotomy. Fueled by the overall economic progress, a section of the women have become more educated and more financially independent, thus giving rise to a feel of becoming ‘liberated’ ( yes, the cliched use). At the same time making us consciously forget the majority of them who still live in poverty, without education, without access to health services, without a right to decide when and how many children they want, without a right to decide who to get married to and when, without a say when their girl children get murdered….

This false sense of euphoria. Its scary. And worrisome. And frustrating.

Three, the most scary of all developments is the ‘glorification of old stereotypes’. This is the most convenient thing that can happen to both genders. Women feel gratified at the justification that external sources like TV and other media provide. There is not much disruption in life, and yes, change be it internal or external is always disruptive. So, we are actually regressing. The effects are becoming visible now. To the extent that there are schools coming up offering three months course on ” how to be a good daughter-in-law ” , ” how to be a good wife”. Stupidity and Hypocrisy breeding in our society. ( Am not sure if these are also financed by Ekta Kkkkapoor…but yes, she & her K-serials & Tulsi clones are the catalysts).

Four, the apathy and the incompetence in the system. India is afflicted with this cancer. And it has spread everywhere.

Women in India are still so far away from breaking a lot of the shackles and becoming liberated, in the true sense. But for that, we need to first know what liberation means.

I only wish that we would open our eyes soon.



  1. Those awful soaps with the crying women.
    whining..actually..I wish I was creative enough to make a caricature of them 😉

  2. santi, just before i came to ur blog i read an article on TOI where a couple tried to kill their just 2 day old granddaughter by burying her alive… we r supossed to be one of the fastest growing nations and when it comes to women we can consider ourselves in backward countries. “yatra nariyastu poojayanta, ramante tatra Deva”” (means where the women are worshiped/respected, Gods preside there) seems like something limited to books. i cry whenever i read some articles like this and i can feel their pain. well said…I am very scared to read newspapers every page, you will find atleast one such gory incident..I get deeply affected…Female infanticide and atrocities against the girl child is on the rise…And the state is turning a blind eye.

  3. Hey first time to your blog through foodblogdesam. But I am impressed with the issue you have addressed and at the same time appalled by the horrific incident you depicted.
    You know finally I am happy that someone out there do think like me. And this issue is not just in India, though it is more common, but this is a global issue. Women are suppressed and abused openly, discreetly, in all ways.
    Have you ever women becoming a President of the United States, just think about it and what lies behind the american mindset. In that context India is one step ahead,we had one for almost a decade and she was a person recognised by 90% of the world. Women have been denied their basic human rights in most of the muslim countries but nothing has been done or will be done about it. Unless and until women themselves rebel and get their basic right for education, and that will lead to other achievements and progress.
    So just wanted to say keep up the good work.
    And I will be a regular visitor of your blog from now on.
    Hi Pintoo, welcome to Writing on the Mirror !
    I completely agree with you that suppression of women is a global phenomenon, and yes, the Arab countries seem to be much behind us Indians…Each country/culture has its own manifestations of this..and the degrees do vary in each. But yes, the West seems to be much more ahead of other regions, atleast in terms of awareness and culture.
    Education and financial independence are the only two ways through which we can make some change.

  4. women are women’s worst enemies. i best most of those giving this girl heck were women. i applaud her courage.

    women need to love and appeciate themselves and other women, and clearly many women are incapable of that. they revel in their doormat status an want to drag others down to the lowest common denominator (where they enjoy being).

    bee, when I was younger ( not that I am old now 😉 ) I used to think this…that women are women’s enemies…but now having seen a bit more life, I have come to understand why women turn against women, and why they behave the way they do….These women, do not know what else to do..their life has been lived based on the values which we suddenly question…and they do not have any other identity apart from this..the typical life they have led…so it is more of a survival instinct than anything else…
    and yes, I do agree with you that we have somewhere lost the aptitude to love and appreciate ourselves and other women….in fact, that is also one of the values that is hammered into us , that you must all-sacrificing, and never think of yourself, always be giving and not demanding…etc etc….that is the problem….
    There is a whole generation of women being brought up to enjoy this ‘doormat’ status..they dont even recognise that they are being treated in this way, leave alone resist it …!!!

  5. This news hurt me badly too! I still feel why a woman turns against another women. Why does MIL forget that she was a Bahu too at some point of time. Women are so independent in foreign countries and they can survive and lead a happy life even with less paid jobs. I guess that is because the govt supports them but Indian govt does not. There is so much corruption in Indian govt, oh God when will this end?
    The problem is not so easy, Lata…you have to understand where these older generation of women come from..the stereotypes are so ingrained in them, so much that it is part of their identity…and that is the crux of the issue…and they bring up their sons, reinforcing the same values…its a vicious circle..and only women like you and me, with conscious effort can make some changes !

  6. I saw this on TV, Santhi, it was so disturbing. poor thing, the expression on her face … i know of another case where the woman had to do this to get her family’s attention … I’m confused but I do think we need things like this to shake us out of our complacency, though!
    And don’t tell me about those serials – horrors! And they’ve bred this curious term – lady villains – rather an oxymoron, but telling one, don’t you think?
    yes, and now they want to portray that she is mentally retarded !!! I agree with you, sra, that we need more such incidents to shake us up. But on the other hand, we receive so many stimuli like the soaps, with the good bahu and the bad MIL or vice versa, that such instances lose their significance. What this girl has done, will be intrepreted for things like ” what kind of wife is she / what kind of daughter-in-law is she ” rather than the issue at hand – dowry, harassment, crimes against women, police apathy….that is what is happening out here.
    And yes, not finishing need some basic education when it comes to treating their counterpart…they are not only ignorant, they carry wrong education, and I am talking about the so-called ‘ educated ‘ men here…( I know there might be exceptions, but they are very few to make an impact ! )

  7. I wish there were finishing schools for men on how to be a good son-in-law, good husband, etc

  8. Hi, I read your material. U told first about that girl walking thru the streets. But u dint mention y she walked so. Do let me know.
    Mail –
    Riju, she did that to highlight her case of harassment by husband & in-laws…I have mentioned it below on the post

  9. I heard that it’s the educated women in India who get abused the most and never complain about it.I agree with Bee, women are worst enemies of women,always pulling us down instead of supporting like Crabs!!!It is sad that girl has to strip to get some attention but she did achieve her goal too!:))
    Asha…the educated women in India also face lot of abuse along with their lower-income counterparts…however, the worrying part is that the educated women remains mute, whereas you would expect her to be a bit more courageous. There is a dilemma she faces, whether to adapt to the values that is ingrained in her, or to rebel with the new ideas and ideals she has learnt in her life…that is where I feel media is the biggest culprit..instead of supporting her in choosing the right ways, they use their power to reinforce regressive ideas now…they should be banned..I wish there is a PIL against such serials

  10. I applause the courage of this female!!!!! It needs some courage to take a step like this! I agree with your point…… women have nothing to do anf hence they will back fire on other women. Just because they have suffered from something they want others to suffer as well!
    Coffee…its true, most of these women who treat others badly are not uneducated/illiterate..they are just letting societal pressures define them…

  11. Santha- most interesting article for me, as an American man, to read! This kind of treatment of women is most culturally foreign to me, yet there are still shreds of oppression that remain here in the states.
    I think that since both the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s and the “economic liberation” that has gradually taken place here since WW2, have slowly changed things (yet, I think, the roots of women’s liberation here could be traced back to the suffrage movement of the late 1800’s); it’s a long process involving many generations. And really it doesn’t eradicate that traditional “domestic” role- there are some women who still prefer it- but it does open up options which at one time were thought of as quite radical!
    These days, it isn’t uncommon for women to have an equally-important career as their husbands- or to do so and remain single. On the flip-side, one hears of families where the woman is the main “bread-winner” and the man stays at home to care for the children and the house. Perhaps it is odd, but that scenario goes hand-in-hand with these changes of “other options”.
    What is sad though, is to think of very intelligent women who are interested in studying furthur (and attaining a degree) than they are “allowed” and instead become a piece of property- a veritable slave to their husband and his family. That is quite, understatedly, chauvanistic and not at all in harmony with nature. After all, none of us would be alive without our mothers!
    New examples definitely need to be proclaimed; if not immediately for themselves, then for future generations of women all over the globe. So, I commend this “Lady Godiva”…
    Hi..It is true that we have come a long way since the times of domestic slavery,but it is also true that we are not completely free from the shackles that bind us…Like you mentioned there are families where women are the sole bread winners…and the interesting fact here is that if you closely look at the lower income group, you will find that this is the situation in most houses…however, it is not projected as such..the man, who is mostly a labourer, may or may not fend for his family because of alcoholism, gambling etc…yet, these households are not recognised as being supported by the women of the family…India is in a transitionary phase, but we need more than this to bring about a cultural and attitudinal change…

  12. Hello:

    As a western woman living and working in the east, I can tell you that I have experienced sexism in both places, but hearing this hurts my heart on a deeper level for Indian women, our sisters, who must suffer lives with this kind of pain. I am so glad that you are speaking about this and I hope you will continue to do so. I’m afraid the only hope we have as women is to raise these issues and as someone suggested, do something ourselves. It’s absolutely no good to wait for your rights to be given to you. You could be still waiting when you finally close your eyes. If there is one lesson in life I have learned it’s that. As a woman you can’t afford to wait for anything to be given or done for you. You must somehow summon the courage, as this brave and admirable woman has, to take your rights. I wish she had not tried to harm herself but I understand the desperation she must have felt to do so, and I think she takes her place as a hero along with her forefathers like Ghandi who realized there is no change without the actors to make it.

    I send my love to this woman and all like her and to you too.
    Hi Vegetablej, I agree with your point completely…The onus of bringing about any change in such situations is on us…and more so, on educated women with financial independence…but it is in fact, sad to see that such women become the target of suppression and discrimination more often..we have been witness to such actions so often…

  13. I wish a day comes when the men have to give dowry to women to to get maried

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