1. Jamie Furlong

    Hi Jaydei,

    An interesting and well written article. I commend you on bringing this to the public’s attention and I only wish more Indian women did this.

    However, unless you have done something proactive about the situation then you have demonstrated the fundamental problem of the central issue: all talk and no action.

    If you truly believed in fighting for the cause of equal rights then wouldn’t you adopt the stance of women of the 60s and 70s in the west who went out and fought for their rights?

    I have no doubt that women have discussed the problem of inequality for time immemorial but, like women throughout history, you have merely talked about the problem. In the scenario above, what one thing did you do, physically, to change the situation?

    If you truly believe in your thoughts then act upon them.

    Do so, and you might surprise yourself at the level of support you garner, not least from people like myself and my wife, but also from people closer to home too.

    Don’t act upon it and you’ll just be another woman who talked about it but never did anything.

    • Jaydei

      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately there are far too many battles like this that I would need to dedicate my life to to make a ´physical change´; Children who don´t have enough food, misguided education systems which are no better than an assembly line, mistreated animals, and a whole host of environmental problems that I care about deeply. I do believe, however, that writing is a powerful way of provoking change. That change happens in the minds of people and no amount of policies or external revolutions can measure up to a true mental revolution of each individual.


      Thank you also for the support 🙂

      • Jamie Furlong

        Indeed, where do you draw the line? How many battles can you fight? And yes, the thinking has to start somewhere.

        My fear, however, is that the words will not be followed by action; I don’t think we will see women’s rights in India in our lifetime. To put it in perspective, women have had the vote in the UK for less than 100 years, and only in the last 10 years are we told that they have broken the glass ceiling, and that little factoid is contested often.

        The philosophising is great. Women need to read this kind of writing and they need to feel inspired to do something. I just want to see that ‘something’ happen.

  2. Jaydei

    It’s nice to know how strongly you feel about this. I believe that the change is slow. It comes about with education and empowerment from enough people who also think similarly. Unfortunately, the higher economic class gets more exposure to these ideas than the lower ones.

    I would like to know though, what you mean by ‘something’. Women already vote. In rural areas with NGOs they take up important social developmental roles..They actively participate in environmental campaigns. And if the media is a reflection of anything, speaking in terms of south indian movies (Tamil especially) the woman is no longer a servile obedient character who resigns herself to accept all the atrocities her husband commits. While there are some which try to push that idea of a woman as most cultured and ideal etc, there is now space for other voices where when attacked, she fights back, protects her man (instead of the other way around), and portrays an intelligence as she leads teams. I think things are changing, and there are good signs…

  3. Jamie Furlong

    I’m not familiar with Tamil movies (though we do use a track from Easan for our weekly podcast – http://www.followtheboat.com/ftb-podcasts/) but I would be interested to know in what context these women are portrayed. It’s very easy to portray a woman as powerful in her own home or her immediate community, but how many Indian films show powerful women in white-collar jobs, as businesswomen, in politics, as police chiefs or as scientists?

    You are spot on with your point about educating the lower economic classes. Look at Kerala: the highest rate of literacy and the lowest birth-rate (1.7 I think currently). That is no coincidence, that is education in action. In the UK we have a problem with teenage pregnancy. Many of the mothers are from a ‘lower’ economic group, or only educated to a certain level. I have a friend who is a regional midwife and she says the same about the situation in the UK: education is key. These women need to be educated so that they feel there is ‘a way out’. If a woman is brought up believing she will be married or pregnant or both by the time she is 14 because that is what her mother and grandmother did, then she will do the same. If, on the other hand, she is watching a Tamil movie where the hero is actually the heroine, and the heroine is a ass-kicking scientist who gets the job done, then this can only help.

    Going back to our original discussion over on Subh’s blog, and with everything we have discussed so far: how does the fault of the predicament of women in India lie half in women themselves, as you originally stated? Perhaps I am answering the question for myself by making the point that no one did anything about the situation you wrote about above. It was ‘discussed’ that the boys were going to get the same talk, but it was never ‘acted’ upon. If women are not going to act on the situation above, but instead only talk about it, then you are right, that is your own fault. It was up to you to do something about it and you didn’t. How hard could it have been to have insisted on a dialogue with your headmaster to bring this issue to his/her attention? How difficult could it have been to get a group of students together, maybe even some male friends too to demonstrate solidarity, knock on the headmaster’s door and insist on bringing the subject up with them? Did anyone do this?

    My point is summed up very simply with an old idiom: actions speak louder than words.

    • Catalina c/Corazón de Melón

      Jamie, your purpose is good and I admire you for taking action when it is due. But, you have to consider that every person is different and not everyone will react the same way you do. Also, you cannot project YOUR Western values in a different country with a very different culture. Besides, even though being educated is an ideal outcome, having a population with degrees does NOT mean they are more successful in their lives. Education can open people’s eyes and everything, but that does NOT mean one necessarily has to reach the higher education one can afford or get the highest paying position out there to be worth admiration, because you INDEED CAN be a housemaker or even a taxi driver and be happy and wise. And, education can be implemented in many ways, even in oral form. Besides, in “developed” countries, one can clearly notice that giving priority to education and joining the labor force don’t necessarily have the best outcomes. You can see a severe lack of human connection between people because all they do is think about is staying ahead of the game no matter what, when it is not demonstrated anywhere that that is what will bring actual fulfillment and satisfaction to one’s life…despite whatever society says.

      And, changes DON’T have to necessarily be physical because every change in this world starts with an idea by a person who questions what they see. When this person let others see their point of view and make them question their own actions, awareness will be spread and just then action will be taken. But everything is a process, and some people even have to take big risks or die to set an example.

      But, please, DON’T project your cultural values over another culture. This same kind of thinking is what have caused the major atrocities in the world (colonization) just because the colonizers wanted to “civilize” those who “couldn’t see” the “great” things they were “missing” which they were willing to “enlighten” them about. So, what if a woman is happier wearing a Burka or being a housemaker?? WHO is an outsider to tell her WHAT she really needs and wants? Every person has very specific likes and dislikes. This said, people should try their best to try to open others’ eyes, especially when they are subject to injustices, all without trying to impose one’s cultural views on it.

  4. Jaydei

    The movie I was referring to was 7am Arivu where she is a scientist; smart, organised and authoritative. There are others where women are portrayed as engineers or doctors but I agree the strength of these characters is still not at the same level as most western movies. But the strength of a woman isn´t necessarily always in doing the jobs men do. Indeed, a change would be to respect her and her role in everything she does. To respect her mind, her body and decisions.

    I meant that the teachers who lectured us were women themselves, forcing upon us a stereotype which was inherently patriarchal. The men had nothing to do with what they said to us. Does the blame for inaction fall upon me even though of the 300 odd girls of our batch I was one of the only 2 who spoke up? I think at some level, yes. I could´ve pushed harder once I realised it was never going to happen (with the boys). But I hope you will appreciate the odds of anyone saying anything at all in that system. In an education system where teachers must be feared and apologised to and students almost cower in fear and there is so much mistrust on both sides, it is not a conducive environment for an open dialogue. A teacher once yelled at me for questioning her methods of disciplining her class by saying ´you have the audacity to question me?´ I had never heard that word before. Another time I was called arrogant, another word I´d never been associated with until that point, because I had referred to a younger teacher by name instead of ´ma´am´. But that is no excuse, had it occurred to me to push harder, or if anyone had even talked about it enough to suggest it, I would´ve.

    • Catalina c/Corazón de Melón

      I totally see your point and fail to understand how he cannot see it. When there’s threaten of retaliation by someone in a position of power, it’s simply hard to take action. Whoever has been in that situation KNOWS that, and it actually doesn’t matter whether one is Western or not. On online forums you will see hundreds of stories where the students can’t do much when the authority figures get enraged with them specifically. And, going back to the topic, the older women clearly are playing a fundamental role in continuing the old ways by promoting ideas that seek to subjugate women to specific standards that will eventually measure their value in society. These same women will mistreat and abuse their daughters in law when their sons (if they have them) marry them BECAUSE they, despite being women themselves, THINK a woman needs to fit certain criteria to be worthy. And it’s actually the role of the mother in law in Indian society one of the major reasons of abuse of women in India. But when at least one of them recognizes her own struggles and life experiences in the new women who join her home and/or family, and thus starts treating her with affection and respect, just then she will break the vicious circle.

      And another REAL change, in this case, starts at home. For now, spreading awareness and trying to make people question their actions is more than fine I guess. One doesn’t have major responsibility in changing the world or the way others think. However, taking into account that Indian culture gives much importance to family, I think the most powerful changes will come at the moment a woman marries by standing up to the interfering in-laws with determination and trying to have as little intervention as possible when it comes to raise her children in a way that she can treat their sons and daughters equally while firmly opposing to RECEIVE and give dowry, because you will be forming the generation of tomorrow.

      Actually, I think Indians should create awareness campaigns to teach the mother-in-laws how horrid dowry is to their own gender.

    • In the first semester of my PG, the man who taught us Business Communication deliberately passed crude comments about the female gender, while the women in the batch, all 300 of them, sat silently.

      The men in the batch would guffaw loudly everytime he passed a lewd comment about women. Not only that, he approved of male students passing similarly distasteful comments during class presentations. In two weeks, the atmosphere in the lecture hall had degenerated so much that a male student made a class presentation comparing women to beer bottles.

      I lost my temper, stormed out and complained to the college’s management. I threatened to leave the college if the faculty was not reprimanded. All in vain. Not one student stood up in support. While many students found the teacher’s behavior inappropriate, none had the courage to back me up when I complained to the college’s management.

      The teacher backed down and behaved himself for the remainder of the program. I have no doubt that he returned to his old ways with succeeding batches in the following years.

      For the duration of the course, I was regarded as an outspoken firebrand, gossipled about and ridiculed behind my back. Well meaning class-mates tried to counsel me. “This is India, such things are normal here. A woman has to adjust and not make a scene.”

      In Indian educational institutions, students are expected to conform and keep their own counsel. The sexism and disrespect for women is so deep in our society that women like you or me are always outnumbered and overpowered.

      Your recalling your experience with those female science teachers made me think of this unpleasant episode many years ago.

  5. Jaydei

    Thank you for your comment. I also appreciate the views you have on this topic and that you feel as strongly about it. It is quite heartening.

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