That a female life comes with a side-effect…

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.

We argued,

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?

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11 thoughts on “That a female life comes with a side-effect…

  1. mywordworks says:

    Sad but true dilemma of our lives. I read it with a lump in my throat.

    • U knw Himani, I am sure many would disagree with this PoV, but it’s worth pondering over. We girls talk about having the rights to roam the roads freely at night, wear what we want etc. But ask a parent who constantly lives with the fear of barbarism on the apple of his eyes. For him all that matters is to keep his daughter safe. Even if that means locking her up. He wouldn’t care if his action abides by the ethics of being a parent. We can’t blame him for being unfair in insecurity. It’s like – only those who have something valuable need to bother about keeping the house locked. Beggars can chose to keep the doors ajar. Similarly, a girl may say, ‘Why should I stay in and why shouldn’t I party late? Why don’t you ask the guys to do the same?’ The answer is simple and straight. You have something to lose. Whereas the guys (generally) don’t have anything that’s worth stealing. I know those with savage intentions would not care what time of the day it is, what the girl is wearing etc. But still. A parent would always go to any length to protect his daughter.
      Thanks for reading.

  2. Wonderful thoughts and insights.

  3. “That a female life comes with a side-effect?”
    You have put it quite aptly. Its easy to talk about equal rights for women, liberalising women, etc. but for normal middle class women like us, drawing the line for our own safety is the best defence. Its not possible for us to change the mindset of indian men overnight. Girls, irrespective of their age, dress, behaviour, place, etc. are vulnerable. This is what i feel.

  4. […] Kiran Bedi, in an interview, had recently pointed out that “girls have to take extra care as they are biologically vulnerable”. Being a woman, I realize that since our childhood, we have been raised and conditioned with the same idea of being vulnerable – be it in a dark alley, a group of men/boys in a desolate lane, at late night parties, wearing “inappropriate dresses” (decided by the so-called members (men) of society), travelling in crowded public transport facing the occasional “brushing”, pep talk by our mothers about all the wicked things a man can do to a woman, etc. All this conditioning over the years, both at our homes and in our schools/colleges, made even me, think in a way I am expected too. Today, I feel ashamed that, in a few occasions I too have gone with the crowd’s decision of blaming the girl in such an event. This is because somewhere I have accepted that not following the norms laid down by society for a woman will make me and only me responsible for anything that might happen to me for disobeying them. I have been made to believe that – an occasional brush by a man in a crowded bus, obscene gestures and remarks by a man in a deserted place, turning away or bowing down my head on seeing a man peeing in a public place (when he should have been ashamed), eve teasing  – all are part of the ordeal of being a woman. On the flip side of the coin, we also have to give a thought to the fact that it is not easy for a parent to forego their daughter’s honour and life for phrases like Freedom, Equal rights for woman? So most of them go with what the so called society has dictated. ( […]

  5. Hi,

    I really liked this blog post. It was very special to me to be able to enjoy your writting and the story itself, while I also learn from your culture and reality.
    I’m sorry, but from the text I cannot recognize if this is fiction or not. So I am going to as you as if it wasn’t. I am wondering if you could write about the talk you had with your son about that same issue. In Brazil, a good part of the side-effect of being a woman, comes from this sentence you wrote: “I would ask him to use condoms.” We do not teach our boys to respect women.
    Do you think it is important for mothers to teach their sons how to respect women? How women who are out late at night, and wearing skirts are not asking to be raped? That they have the right to change their mind, even if they started kissing the boy? That… Well, so many things?
    I think I am just curious about the other talk. I would like to read it too… 🙂

    Thank you!

    Gustavo 🙂

    PS: Whenever you want, visit my blog:

    • Hmm.. I confess, I am a bit taken aback. But I appreciate that you expressed what was in your mind without hesitation. Perhaps, here in India too, men think the same way. If a girl goes out in skirts, she kind of becomes a public property. No I don’t advocate girls who wear provocative clothes. But the question is, how much is too much? Which dress would you call provocative? and who gives men the right to judge the dressing sense of women? I would definitely teach my son not to take any human being (man or woman) for granted. Respect is given to those who are higher in stature. I dont think a woman should be respected but she shouldn’t be exploited too. Tell me one thing – is there anything that men do because they like it and are punished by women for doing so? Is there anything in your culture that curbs your freedom? Are you discouraged and condemned by the society for a late night party, for wearing certain kind of clothes? the problem is the difference of society’s attitude for men and women. Share your views.

      • Hello, Priya,
        I am sorry to write so much about it, but it is just that I had a talk with friends about this issue here in my university and I was thinking about the issue when I read your blog post. 🙂
        I understand your point of view. And I agree with you. I mean, I also don’t advocate girls should wear provocative clothes. But if they do, it shouldn’t be their fault when something happens with them. Think with me: a man can wear any kind of clothes he wants, without thinking that he will cause a woman to attack him. Because they won’t. Maybe people will find him ridiculous, but he is not in danger. I believe men can, and should, be able to feel attracted to women, but not force them to engage in sex. But again, this is how the world should be and not how it is. I think I would also teach my daughter about how the world is. And how she should be ready to live in this world we have now… 🙂
        I also believe we used the word “respect” in different senses. I was talking about the respect you should give to any person, even if you don’t know the person. Not the respect we have for our priest or our father. In this sense, it can be translated into what you just said “not being exploited”.
        In Brazil, sexism is a burden for both women and men. Men are suposed to do some stuff and behave in a expected way. So, he needs to behave according to a set of rules. It is simple, actually: play soccer, never cry and have as many girls as possible will do the trick. I didn’t do very well on those things, when I was growing up, and it was very difficult for me. But even if you do fit the rolemodel, sometimes society will ask for more. If a man really likes his girlfriend and does not want to go out with other girls, his friends will call him gay. Only because he does not continuously proves his masculinity by betraying his wife/girlfriend. Of course this does not happen in public and in everyday life. But it does.
        From my experience, what a man can do is just to change friends. A woman, in Brazil, will not be able to change friends. Because the society is more homogeneous in judging women, that is for sure…
        Lastly, thank you again for the post. Looking forward to read more of your writtings. 🙂

      • Yes Gu. I am glad that you wrote this elaborate reply. Now I get a good hang of your viewpoint.
        I agree, we can’t change the society, in fact we need to change ourselves to suit the society. That’s the problem we all face, regardless of our country/culture.

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