Happy Independence Day: Freedom, inclusive India and combating poverty


Happy Independence Day. Today, August 15, India celebrates its 71st Independence Day but turn 70 as a nation. I remember the times I was staying in the hostel, Independence Day was something we looked forward to as students for we were treated to sumptuous meal and mouth-watering Gulab Jamun.  After all, Independence is all about celebrating our rich and unique cultural diversity, freedom of expression and the upholding of constitutional values as a nation.

 

It gives immense pride to be an Indian. But, at the same time, does it makes one a lesser Indian when we question events in the country that makes our democracy flounder. The idea of a secular nation tends to lose its sheen when we see fringe elements assaulting people in the name of the cow and when contrarian views are met with violence to nozzle our secular values and sense of nationhood.

https://www.maharashtrahscresults2017.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/How-To-Do-Best-Anchoring-On-Independence-Day-2017-School-Function.png

Image credit: Google.

There is one thing that comes to the mind when I hark back to the Independence Day celebration in India. I remember that after the sumptuous meal at the hostel, I took a walk at Churchgate when I was struck by images of a mother squatting on the pavement with a baby crying as the child was breast-fed and of small children begging or selling miniature tricolor flags at traffic signals when they should be schooled. There was no smile on the faces but battered with deception.

Are we truly an independent country when our children are begging at the traffic signal or a mother wearing torn and shabby two piece saree is not able to afford a pack of milk for her baby? It hurts us as a nation at a time when we strive to become a first world country. Inclusiveness should not be restricted on religious or caste lines or for that matter, the over abused secularism by political parties or putting India on the world map in the quest to become a super economic power. It’s about beating poverty and bridge the great divide between Bharat and India. Isn’t it a human tragedy that after 70 years we are still reeling from colonial hang over where children are deprived of education along caste lines or a woman is subject to sexual violence? There is a need for equality between sexes, respecting a women individuality and not label her with names.

These are real issues that the country faces and of course, we need to get away with alienating our fellow citizens in J & K and North East. Being Indian is about oneness as a nation. There are so much that we have achieved right from economic liberation in the 90s to our rich cultural heritage and the celebration of life, like in the movies. One thing that I like about India? There are so many. First, our spirit of oneness when a tragedy strikes and we overcome religious or communal lines to become one. Independence Day is one such day. Why not make everyday a freedom day and shorn ourselves out of label we give to others.? We can and should grow together as a nation, irrespective of our ethnicity, class or communal leaning.  Second, our democratic and secular values are still viewed as a model to the world and it is something that we should preserve. Third, we have always fought for what is right and the Nirbhaya mass protest is one example that seeped into our collective conscience.

On this Independence Day, I pray that we are able to overpower our differences and strive to make India a better nation every single day to preserve our values. Communal harmony, human dignity for every citizen irrespective of caste, class or gender, freedom of expression, removal of caste or class bias, inclusive economic growth, conquer infant mortality, combat poverty, strong laws against sexual crime, respect for women and the LGBT community. An inclusive nation is our strength.

Happy Independence Day

Jai Hind

V

 

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Interview of author, Dr Rachna Arora: ‘Laws are not enough to protect rights of women…’


Dr. Rachna Arora is the co-author of the hard-hitting, thought-provoking and socially relevant scholarly book ‘Indian Women and The Shaadi Conundrum’ along with Deepika Sharma which discusses role and importance of women in marriage, challenges faced in a patriarchal society and how to make a marriage work as a two-way traffic. A psychologist in private practice, Dr. Arora is the founder of the online platform focusing primarily on women empowerment, yourcounsellingcorner.com. She also hosts several platforms on Skype video/voice chat and mail. She has been at the forefront to empower women which gel with her profession and believes that women should assert themselves to make empowerment a reality. Passionate about poetry on her personal blog, Dr. Arora writes self-help articles to empower, motivate and inspire women.

She is an inspiration to many and me. It’s very rare to come across such a gem of a person and in this interview done via e-mail, Dr. Arora discusses at length on burning topics such as equality, sex in marriage, rising divorce and what makes a successful marriage where she makes insightful observations.

You can check the book here. Along with Deepika Sharma, Dr Arora is also behind the website The Happy Women.

A woman should know her rights, be confident and empowered to voice out her opinion in a more assertive manner: Dr Rachna Arora

Dr Arora

  1. Your book, ‘The Shaadi Conundrum and the Indian women’ offer an in-depth analysis on various issues facing women such as the bride to be, caught in a patriarchal setup and longing for the husband’s unflinching support for equality in a marriage. What are the factors preventing women from getting an equal foothold in married life?

 There are many factors that prevent women from getting an equal foothold in married life. Ours is a patriarchal society, where women are constantly struggling with the issues of gender discrimination, inequality, bias, and stereotypes in all aspects of their (personal as well as social) lives. The expectations from men and women are very different where the latter are always stereotyped, judged and discriminated on the basis of gender.

 In our society, girls are conditioned from birth to be subservient to their future husbands and his family. It is taught that the ideal daughter-in-law is the one who takes care of everyone in the family and makes them happy. The culture of a bride coming to live in her in-law’s family is rooted in patriarchy, and all it does is to force the DIL to conform to the habits and expectations of her in-law’s family. She has to assume all household duties and domestic responsibilities and fulfill the role of a caregiver. Whether a woman is working or not, the household chores are deemed to be her duties, while nobody cares if the same is expected from a man.  There is always a pressure on her to adjust, follow, comply and obey everything that the in-laws and husband demand while ignoring and suppressing her likes and dislikes. Post marriage adjustments and pressure to fit into the image of ideal daughter-in-law eventually forces a woman to compromise on her self-respect and lose her identity, that further result in her lack of control in daily life with little or no involvement in decision making.

 Other reasons are low financial independence, expectations of dual responsibilities and depressed status in the family. In a family, women get second class treatment that makes them think that men are superior and it is a woman’s duty to serve men. Women do not get the same respect as men even if the women are highly qualified or are in a top class profession where they take critical decisions that impact the company’s operations. There are unjust expectations from women that result in a loss of independence. They cannot go out or meet friends and family without the husband’s or marital family’s consent. They are expected to sacrifice their career especially in a case where husbands work outside the city or country.  All these reasons give way to unequal footing for a woman in her married life.

 Moreover, the surrounding society mandates a woman’s obedience to her husband and her in-laws. Any disobedience would bring disgrace to both, the wife herself and her originating family, and might lead to the woman being ostracized and neglected by even her very own family and in her own home. This always makes a man superior and a woman submissive and never allows a woman to do things her way. With all these societal pressures, it becomes impossible for women to have an equal foothold in married life.

 But, here, I would like to add that now more and more women are taking a stand for themselves. Women are also moving away from the oppressive gender roles which required them to cook, clean, and shoulder every responsibility of the entire household. Now, more and more women are voicing against that regressive mindset. They don’t see their husbands as superior beings but treat them as equals. With education and awareness to back them, women are now breaking free of the rules that told them to stay quiet in front of a man. More and more women are becoming financially independent and don’t rely completely on their husbands, or anyone else, for survival. With this financial independence comes a stronger sense of self-confidence.

 If a woman encounters a relationship where she is told to conform to these archaic gender roles regardless of what she wants to do, she has to make the choice to say ‘no.’

  1. The issue of adjustment often crops up when the woman is the one to pull the plug while the husband seemingly faces no such thing. So far, why educated women cutting across social classes fail to adopt a practical outlook when her individuality is snatched the time she becomes a wife and daughter in law or her personal space is infringed, thus treating women as inferior beings?

 As I mentioned above, ours is a patriarchal society, where a majority of women are brought up and conditioned according to the stereotypical images and roles that discriminate between men and women. A woman is often raised up with the mind-set that once she gets married, she will have to adjust and sacrifice her needs in order to nurture and take care of the family and husband.  This gender-based discrimination creates a sense of fear and insecurity in women, making them psychologically weak. It also leaves a deep imprint upon a woman’s self-perception. They tend to internalize what society believes, imposes and dictates which results in low self-esteem. Due to these negative effects on their psyche, women feel incompetent to deal with unrealistic demands and expectations that are based on gender discrimination and stereotypical roles. A woman tries hard to fit into the mold created by society and refrains from going against those pre-defined roles due to the fear and insecurity of being rejected and disapproved. 

 All these reasons prevent a woman to take a practical outlook and refrains from voicing out for equal treatment and rights in marriage. The other major factor is the thinking of log kya kahegein (what people will say). Society plays its part by labeling a woman as a failure when she pulls the plug to marriage. She is scared of voicing out her opinions and expectations, as she believes that if she says no or expresses her opinion, she will be portrayed as bad bahu (daughter-in-law). That’s why most of the women try hard to fit into the image of good bahu and keep living life as inferior beings.

Other factors like the lack of support from parents, and society make it difficult for women to stand against unequal treatment. Our society looks down upon a woman who speaks her mind or expresses her opinions. Many women want to challenge this mind-set but the above-mentioned reasons and many more factors hinder her from adopting a practical outlook even when her individuality is at stake. Even well-educated and financially independent women go through this and are forcing themselves to live with it.

 3. You have referred to the Nielsen survey which is telling on how 87 percent women are prone to depression and 82 percent lack the time to relax. Moreover, the different case studies sadly show how women have very less say in decisions regarding their lives and on being made the scapegoat and the decisions taken by the groom are often tilted in favor of his family regarding her career choice. Do you think it’s the right time to bring a law to prevent such atrocity or the woman should be more assertive putting things in perspective before marriage or is there more to it?

 Definitely, a law will play a very big role in preventing any unjust treatment that women are subjected to, once they get married. Despite there are several laws in place in reference to women rights in India, the majority of women suffer in silence.

 So, what I feel is that only laws are not enough to protect the rights of women, rather it is the women who need to be more assertive to communicate before and after marriage. A woman needs to voice out what she wants from her life and communicate the same to the groom and his family. Parents need not make marriage a goal for daughters and women should also refrain from pinning all hopes from her partner-to-be.

 Parents should be mindful and conscious while raising their daughters so that they will grow up to be confident and empowered women, who will be aware of their rights and responsibilities and will not try to fit into the stereotyped image created by society.

 An approach to deal with this problem is provided in our book. We have dedicated an entire chapter, “Before You Say Yes”, in which we have suggested things that every woman need to consider before marriage and how the woman should go for marriage. A woman should know her rights, be confident and empowered to voice out her opinion in a more assertive manner, both in pre and post phases of marriage.

 We have also given tips and suggestions for women to cope up with the challenges of the married life and to self-empower themselves to live a happy and fulfilled life.

 4.  Sex remains an important factor for a healthy married life as rightly pointed out in the book. But, the dichotomy lies in the fact that in many bedrooms there is often a lack of sexual communications among couples that should go beyond having children. Also, how do you see recent surveys such as India Today special issue pointing out at how women demanding more in terms of pleasure or sexual experimentation can help in making a marriage blossom in a beautiful manner?

 Sex definitely plays an important role to make a healthy married life. Lack of sexual communications among couples is mainly due to lack of sex education and the topic itself being a taboo in our society. Women often refrain from taking initiatives. Even the educated women think that it doesn’t look nice if they talk more openly about sex. As mentioned in our book, “Many women in India seem to be in a denial mode when it comes to their sexual needs and preferences. They do not feel empowered to demand that the partner should provide pleasure in ways that they prefer.”

 I definitely see the survey as an eye opener for women, as sex is a necessary pillar of a healthy relationship, it makes the emotional connection stronger with their partners. So women should learn to embrace and express their sexual desires. Discussing and taking initiatives will definitely help a marriage to blossom in a beautiful manner.

 5. In our country, women are often treated as outcasts looking at female infanticide or sex selection at birth which should worry us all. Moreover, something which I feel very strongly and close to my heart is how women are treated badly during menstruation period where she is not allowed to participate in rites, for instance. Drawing on your professional experience, what do you think should be done to overcome such issues in modern India and how can we raise awareness where the odds are stacked against women?

 Even in modern India, women are still struggling with these age-old taboos and practices that are demeaning to them. The most important thing is to educate the society about such issues and bring awareness to common masses. To educate people about menstruation and eliminate the myths surrounding mensuration is very much needed. There should be an authentic source of information otherwise people will keep on passing the misconceptions and myths to the next generation.

 In the absence of proper educational material, girls get confused and become hesitant to talk about it. The taboo nature of the subject only makes the situation worse. So the most important step is to properly educate young girls about menstruation. It is must to provide accurate, accessible, and clear information.

 So what I feel is that we can overcome such issues and raise awareness in modern India through social campaigns. Social media has a great role to play in spreading awareness about menstruation. We need more social media campaigns to educate and challenge the stigma and taboos around menstruation.

 Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in overcoming the cultural taboos.

 6. One of the most interesting things in your book is the Dos and Don’ts for a happy and successful married life. Why do you think there is a lack of dialogues in a marriage where things are done from the point of view of the groom’s family when the irony and fact remain that a girl has left her family space to adapt to a new ‘social environment’?

 It is an irony in our society that a woman is expected to leave her home and things are done from the point of view of the groom’s family. The reason is somewhere the same, ours is a patriarchal society that gives this benefit to groom and his family over the bride and her family. Most of the people prefer to marry in a traditional way, with the consent and involvement of parents. Courtship periods are very minimal. In all this, girls are by far the most vulnerable party in a marriage, whether it is a fully arranged or a love marriage.  Their parents and elders take the decision of choosing the partner for them and they have to cooperate and marry a person who is a stranger in most of the cases. The less educated, poorer, and rural Indian women are the ones that are subjected to a fully arranged marriage and they have no or minimal voice in choosing their husbands. Marrying this way is associated with lower levels of communication with the husband even on trivial things as how to spend the household’s money or big decisions like when to have children. They have very little autonomy and need to take permissions for most of the things, even to visit their parent’s home.

 7. How do you explain the rise in divorce rates in our society and do you think couples should think well before taking the call to get married? When we speak about compromise in wedlock, it should be a two-way traffic, right?

 There are social as well as personal factors for the rise in the divorce rate in our society.  An increase in the rate of divorce is an indication that this social taboo is being challenged and the stigmas attached to it are being broken. Earlier, many people chose to stay in the marriages even if it is a loveless one and continued to suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with divorce. But, not anymore. Living in a loveless marriage is not advisable, but where the differences are trivial and can be sorted out without compromising the individuality, it should be the way forward.  Earlier, people believed more in fixing the relationships, rather than breaking them completely. Nowadays, people believe that they are capable enough to live by themselves, or without their spouses. In a fast-paced society, people have become more self-centred, lacking patience and are reluctant to compromise. With the advent of globalisation, people have become independent. The lessened influence of family also results in a greater reluctance to compromise. Many times, when couples enter into the institution of marriage their main focus is on what they get out of it rather than what they will give.  So when something goes wrong or not happens according to expectations, they get disappointed as the real picture is different from the imagined one. In today’s generation, intolerance is increasing and they want instant gratification. They put their personal interests before each other and instead of working out little differences, or put more efforts into a relationship to fix the issues, they prefer to move on. There are also many couples who give up on their relationships after trying for a very little period of time.

 There are more serious reasons for rising divorce rates like marriages were arranged with the giving of fraudulent information, dowry demands after marriage, abusive relationships, one partner is drug-addict. Nowadays women are becoming more aware of their rights and have stopped taking abuse (in any form – mental, physical, emotional, social) as ‘normal’. This is something that I feel is good as now women are finally standing up for themselves.

 Yes, it is an essential that couples should think well before taking the call to get married. It should be a must for couples to consider all the important aspects, discuss all things, have an authentic, and detailed conversation and communicate their expectations about married life before tying the knot. Realistic perspective towards marriage is a must. Otherwise, when a woman or man enter into a relationship with unrealistic expectations and build some fancy view of marriage they are surely going to get disappointed when they get to see the true picture of how marriage really looks like.

 And definitely, when we say compromise it should always be two-way. It takes both of the companions to adjust, sacrifice and compromise when the need arises.

 8. Recently celebrity author, columnist and former actor Twinkle Khanna publicly said that before getting hitched to Akshay Kumar she did a thorough research on his family’s health history. Considering that a celebrity couple has endorsed the need for tests, do you think couples in India is ready for such a thing before getting hitched which is a step towards positive, healthy and modern outlook to marriage?

 Yes, definitely it would be a step towards good health and a modern outlook with respect to marriage.  Health screening should be essential for every couple before marriage as it helps in preventing a lot of health conditions that may arise in future.

 However, in our society people enter into this lifelong union without adequate knowledge of their partner’s health status. There are many instances where women contracted HIV through their husbands which could have been prevented if people had known the importance of getting an HIV test done before marriage. Premarital tests may help in this regard. The knowledge of the future partner’s health status gives a choice to make informed consent and it also enables a couple to seek proper medical care early to prevent unnecessary stress and burden after marriage.

 But I really don’t think that our society is ready for it yet, as it is still entrapped in age-old norms and customs. People in our society do not understand the importance and necessity of getting health screening before marriage. People get offended by the very idea of it. But at the same time, it is very much needed as I really feel that everyone has the right to marry a healthy partner. And, it will also help the couple to better prepare for the future that lies ahead. In recent times we have seen progress in our society and our younger generation is more aware and progressive in their thinking. I am hopeful that with awareness our society will embrace these healthy practices soon.

 9. Considering how legally complicated it is for a woman to take the husband’s surname after marriage and the fact that wearing mangalsutra is a personal choice, what makes us self-appointed guardians to decide what is morally right for a couple?

 Ours is an intrusive society where everyone has the tendency to keep giving bits of advice and suggestions without even being asked. Here, people are more interested in others’ life and everyone has suggestions on how the other person should live. People have questions and advice for not only couples but for everybody, be it a single, married, sportsman, businessman, student, teacher or parents. Even the people who do not have any prior experience or expertise have advice and suggestions to offer. Our society is filled with such self-appointed guardians who are naturally inclined to offer unsolicited advice. So, it is the mentality of people that we cannot change and we have no control over it.

 So, what I recommend to all couples or anyone who gets unsolicited advice is to simply choose to ignore it if it is something they do not believe in or if it goes against their values. It is very much in our control on how we respond to unsolicited advice that actually is bothersome and stressful at times. But the recipe to save from unwanted suggestions is to be yourself, we should not get too much bothered by what others have to say, as we are not here to make everybody happy. As long as couples are happy and satisfied with whatever lifestyle they want for themselves, and do not allow people to intervene in their lives, society eventually loses its power on them. 

 10. Finally, what makes a successful marriage?

 A successful marriage takes hard work and strong commitment from both the partners. When people enter into the institution of marriage they should have a clear perspective towards marriage. It is not something like it is projected in the media. Life after marriage is not only about happiness all the time, rather, in reality, it also brings with it many challenges, responsibilities, struggles, ups and down. So, to make a marriage successful, a couple needs to work on it so that they can go through life’s challenges without negatively affecting their relationships.

 To have a harmonious relationship and overcome the hard times’ couples need to be willing to work through the challenges of life together. There are many factors that make a marriage successful but mainly it depends on deep friendship, mutual respect, trust, and gratitude. Both husband and wife should be sensitive to each other’s feeling and needs.  One should not try to overtake the other. Unless they maintain mutual respect for each other and be ready to discuss vital issues, they will not find a solution. So, to have realistic expectations from each other is a must. One should be willing to accept what he/she can’t change and accept their partners for who they are, which is essential to make a marriage work.

 According to renowned psychologist John Gottman, there are three things that work for successful marriages, treating your partner like a good friend, handling conflicts in gentle and positive ways, and being able to repair after conflicts and negative interactions. 

Youth ki Awaaz: Celebrate Equality and not Tokenism


Hola people,

I wrote this piece on Youth Ki Awaaz on the International Women Day, ‘Celebrate Equality and not Tokenism’ and you can write an excerpt below. Click on the link to read the full piece.

 

Every March 8, we celebrate International Women Day where we pitch for change in the way we view women and tweet with hashtags for equality or respect and share massively on Facebook. Isn’t it time for us, men and women to move beyond mere tokenism and implement the changes that we want to see? Certainly, it demands a change in our mindset and courage to be able to stand for our women, against our elders, or for that matter, let her bloom as a human being.

I want to narrate what some of my female friends shared with me. After she got married, one of my friends told me how her in-laws tried to impose their cultural practice on her taking into account that both she and her husband belong to different castes. She gathered her strength and put her foot down. Really! It’s one thing that we fail to understand that a girl has left her home and parents to adjust to a new life and how we stifle her individuality by enforcing such ridiculous and stone aged practice.

Read the full article here.

Women and prejudices: Matter to ponder on Int’l Women Day


Maya is a divorcee with a son and works in an advertising agency in Mumbai. She parties hard, binges on alcohol and is a chain-smoker but at the same times dote on her son. She stays late at work so that her son is not deprived of anything in life. Maya is a subject of male jokes in office and rumors that she sleeps around but she couldn’t care less as she has reached a stage in life where nothing affect her existence. She is the new age woman and mom and is very comfortable being a woman.

In a village faraway in Uttar Pradesh, Shabri is resigned to her fate and lives for her two daughters in the small hut with her husband, a planter who gets drunk every day and beats her to death. She willingly comply to her husband’s physical and sexual violence to protect her innocent daughters. Often she thinks, What was I born as a woman? Perhaps to atone for the sins of my past life. Shabri is repeatedly raped every night as Ravindra came home drunked as he burns her leg, hand and back with his cigarette. Once, he brought a prostitute home and started having sex in front of the daughters who were scared to death. As Ravindra took a bottle to hit their daughters, Shabri couldn’t contain her anger and snatched the bottle fro his hand and hit her husband hard on his head. Ravindra’s body lay still on the floor and the police came and handcuffed Shabri. Nobody knew what was the outcome of Shabri and her two tiny daughters.

Tamanna, a journalist, book author and social activist in Pakistan was shot dead by religious extremists. She visited villages in her life time to encourage girls to study so that they break away from the shackles of society and carve a niche for themselves. She fought against all odds so that young girls break free from the traditional male’s world and free themselves from religious bigotry and urged them to fight fundamentalism. One day, religious extremists found that their doctrine was slipping away from their hands and gunned down Tamanna who was reaching her flat in Rawalpindi back from a seminar where she unveiled the hypocrisy of fundamentalism.

This is the plight of women in  a society living in a society mired by patriarchal pre-established norms where the voice and progress of women is viewed as a threat to the existence of man. The gang rape of Nirbhaya has shocked the whole world and this has not prevented rape in a society where women are increasingly viewed with suspicion, subjected to harassment and violence. There are some places where women do not have a voice and are defenseless because of rules established by Panchayat and religious extremists. It’s not better in the corporate world where men has to take orders from women and trust me, the men do not take it kindly at all. Behind the back of the woman, these men will spread all kind of rumors. You name it, you get it..she must have slept around to climb her way in the hierarchy, she smokes, drinks and parties, she is a slut. It’s revolting when men so easily point out at the number of men a woman has dated over a life time or slept with and she is looked with contempt if she is a single woman who lives alone or is in a live-in relationship. We are living in a society smeared with hypocrisy in the way we deal with women.

Let’s take a look at commercial sex workers and how they are deprived of basic human rights. They are repeatedly harassed by the police for money and subjected to violence and no one came up with laws to protect them. I mean they are citizens of a country and they should be dealt with in a humane way. These are some of the changes that one need to dwell upon as we celebrate international women day. Isn’t it ironic that we worship women form in temples but we never shy away fro harassing a woman and calling her names. Perhaps, I am one of the rare men who believe in equality which I think must happen to prevent violence. It’s a plea for a better and fairer society.

Happy Woman Day

V