Life of a girl/woman in India, and the World!

The documentary ‘India’s daughter’ is being banned by India and I think it is a terrible idea. It is high time, we look at the way we treat woman in our society and change our ways. It seems to me that the compelling reason for the ban was to stop the west from defaming India. There is really no substance in this argument. The Director has explained adequately and the parents of Nirbhaya have seen the movie and they were moved.

Every society that I have interacted with, has been patriarchal and remain so as of now. Historically, this could have been due to the biological fact that men are physically stronger than women and are expected to protect the family, mostly from other men and occasionally from nature and animals. It is perhaps changing at different paces all over the world. I have travelled extensively in many parts of the world and lived in South and North India and Midwest USA for more than a few years. Western world seems to have changed sooner than the east. South India has changed more than the north. However, these generalizations are no guaranty that women are safe from patriarchal men anywhere in the world.

Our Ramayana portrays Rama as the ultimate king who sentences his own wife Sita and sends her out with two young kids as the Queen should be above suspicion. Rama knows she is not guilty. There was no need to prove the guilt in a court beyond reasonable doubt. After all, Rama won her in an open competition and Sita never had a choice. The values were indeed different at that time and I am not pointing this out to pass judgements. That was the way of life as described and she did not complain. Even in modern law, I am not sure if anyone can be prosecuted, unless the victim or someone else complains. Now even a Prime Minister or President can be taken to court unlike in the days of Rama.

Before, I give some more examples from Indian history/mythology, I should recollect the autobiography of a successful physical chemistry professor from the USA, which was published in 2014. He mentions about his mother, who was expected to be a housewife in 20th century USA. Order in society is helpful if everyone is respected, knows their duty and does their part. That would be an ideal situation which is just not practical. We do need a rule of law which ensures that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

I remember two of the successful movies in Tamil, Thaen Nilavu (Honey Moon) and Uyarntha Manithan (Honourable man). In the former, a greedy husband attempts to kill a wife. The wife is saved by some tribals. The husband is tried in a court for murdering his wife. In the climax, she shows up in the court and tells that the husband was innocent. I was shocked. The movie of course shows the husband to be remorseful and they live happily ever after. All is well.

In the later movie, a rich lad loves a poor girl from a village. His father does not like it and arranges for her to be burned alive in her hut. Later on, the lad agrees to marry a girl found by the father and leads a normal life, once in a while saddened by the past. I was at a loss to figure out how this title hero is called The Honourable Man! The movie does not show anything about this crime. No complaints, cases, sentences, no nothing. The poor girl’s fate she loved a man she cannot afford and paid the price.

When I was in the USA, I saw a Japanese movie by chance, Tampapo. The movie is largely about Japanese way of life and eating noodles. It did not have a major story line but shows several incidents. One of the incident was stuck in my memory. A husband, working in an industry has a phone call from home. He is informed that the wife is unwell and he should reach home soon. He rushes home in Tokyo traffic. He sees the wife lying down in the hall and two kids sitting next to her and staring at her. He tells his wife: ‘But, we haven’t had our dinner yet!’ The wife manages to get up, go to the kitchen and fix their dinner and falls down dead! Movie goes on to show something else in the next scene.

I have heard numerous stories from the mythology, some of them became movies, about dutiful wives. One such heroines was ‘Sati Anasuya’. She was the greatest of all dutiful wives. She carries her husband, who could barely walk, to a prostitute. The husband was not just able to walk but otherwise fit. He wants to visit the prostitute and his desire is his wife’s command. You see now. Men being physically stronger than women may have led to this arrangement of convenience all over the world. However, thanks to the laws or customs that developed, even in this case, the wife has to not only obey the husband but carry him too.

We have several old Tamil movies with titles which can be loosely translated as: ‘The husband is the only asset for a wife’ (மணாளனே மங்கையின் பாக்கியம்), ‘Husband is the most revered God’ (கணவனே கண் கண்ட தெய்வம்). We have proverbs in Tamil which tells the girls from a very young age: ‘Even if it is a stone, it is your husband; even if it is a grass he is your life-partner’ (கல்லானாலும் கணவன் புல்லானாலும் புருஷன்). We have proverbs favouring a boy over girl: ‘Even if he is short, he is a boy’! How can we stop using ‘proverbs’? Can these be banned?

Thirukkural, which I admire for the most has one Kural often quoted to tell women how to behave: When the wife, who does not pray to God but treats her husband as God, asks for rain, it will start raining (தெய்வம் தொழாள் தன்கணவன் தொழுதெழுவாள் பெய்யெனப் பெய்யும் மழை). In a way, the dependence on the unpredictable monsoon could very well explain the fatalistic attitude that is prevalent among ourselves.

If all these sound like tales from a distant past, we do have some in India living today in that past. This has no doubt led to a conflict between those who want to break away from the shackles and those who feel secure in the confinement. I only hope everyone realizes the importance of treating all human beings with dignity and respect.

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