15 years ago
It was when I was pregnant with my first child when I playfully asked my husband, “we got married after dating for 9 years and our affair had started when we were in school. What if your child does the same?”
I had not mentioned if I am particularising about a son or a daughter.
But pat came the reply, “I would never let my daughter date anyone. I’ll kill that man who touches my daughter.”
I laughed and said, “How mean! And what if it’s a boy?”
He said, “You want me to give a virtuous reply? Or an honest one?”
I chose the latter.
“I would ask him to use condoms.”
It was a girl. Followed by a boy 3 years later.
My daughter was pampered by her father. I can guarantee that her father would actually not spare the guy who would as much as touch her.
All these years he could never say NO to her demands. But today I saw that very father trying to curb the most reasonable demand of hers. Freedom.
That night, a light-hearted discussion we had 15 years ago, popped up once again. Only this time, we had creases of worry on our foreheads.
“Tell her, she is 15 now. And there is a limit to what a girl can and should do beyond this age. Freedom, equal rights for a boy and a girl is all fine. But can we forgo our daughter’s honour and life for them? Once gone, can they come back? Or can these words bring you solace? No late night parties, no short dresses, no booze. And that’s final.”
Saying this, my husband threw today’s newspaper and the front page headlines seem to stress upon the urgency of taking that decision which until now seemed just outrageous to me. Today it looks inevitable.
New Delhi: Brutal gangrape and murder of a minor.
Me: Do you want to say I will let our son live his life the way he wants, and tell his sister to shut the hell up and stay inside?
Him: You can shut your son too if you want if it’s about setting an example of equality. But remember, only those who have something worth getting stolen, have to take the pains of keeping the house bolted shut. You can’t make the world change to good in a day, but you can lose all you have in minutes. I don’t have the guts to tell my daughter, Go, have fun, it’s your life, when I know there are barbaric wolves baring fangs to feast upon her at every corner. So it’s time you think of a stern solution before it’s too late.
Me: Is that a solution?
Him: That’s a resort. The last and the only resort. I can’t afford to lose my kids. Let them think me as their foe. That’s fine.
In a place like India where everyday, everywhere, everyone reminds you of the gender disadvantage (or advantage) you have, the hardest challenge is to raise a boy and a girl together without making them feel that one has an upper-hand in the society over the other.
I have always imparted my lessons to my children through stories. As they seem to absorb them well that way.
A story every night. A lesson every night.
But I guess, my labor of cooking up stories for them has increased now. Because from now on, the girl needs to be taught a different set of virtues. She needs to be taught where to draw a line and what horror she can face if she dares to cross that. But am afraid, she needs to take those morals raw. Without being accompanied with the humor and light-heartedness of a story. Because life for her is not as rosy and fantastic as bedtime stories.
Till now I had taught her how to make friends, how a smile can turn an enemy into an ally, how friendship can make life livable, lovable.
Now I’ll have to teach her how not to trust a friend, especially a male friend, especially after-hours, especially if he offers her a drink, especially when he asks her to drop her home after a late night party. Oh, but late night parties are now not meant for her.
Till now I had taught her that the whole world is a family.
Now I need to teach her how to identify a hostile/desperate touch even if that’s of a family member.
Till now I have taught her not to fight with her brother. Love him come what may.
Now I need to muster the courage of teaching her, that her own brother can show savage signs. Keep a watch.
Worse still, it can even be her father.
That’s the dilemma of raising a girl in a middle class family based in New Delhi, India.
How can I cook-up a story to make my daughter understand that even if her brother parties late, wears what he wants, does he what he likes, she is not entitled to do so, for her own good?
What could possibly be a plot for a story that teaches a girl that she is vulnerable at every step and every nook and corner of the very city she was born in and brought up?
That it is only because luck was by her side all these years that she was not abducted from the very road which took her to school?
That because of some good deeds of the past life, she has managed to escape the fate that hundreds of girls in this city encounter?
That anytime life can decide to show her the harshest, most painful part of a female life?
That a female life comes with a side-effect?
I have no clue, how am I going to tell all that to her. But I have no answer to the question a worried and withered father had just posed.
Can we forgo our daughter’s honour and life for phrases like Freedom, Equal rights for woman?