The Road Not Taken

As a woman I am constantly aware of threats lurking around the corner. I was told by my mother not to venture unescorted in the dark, to always travel in groups, not to talk to strangers etc. I relived these fears, overtly, covertly, every time a strange man walked upto me. Nobody thought this self inflicted curtailing of personal freedom was strange. After all, the world was a bad place and you had to take precautions to protect yourself from danger.

Last night, I was chatting with my 12 year old niece. She's at the threshold of womanhood, discovering life and forming her opinions. She' was telling me how she spent her vacation time at home. Like any other 12 year old, she was sent on errands - to buy groceries and vegetables at the shop next door.

At some point, the conversation turned to how once, when she went to the supermarket, this boy approached her and asked which class she studied in. She ignored the guy since he was 'a stranger', and walked past. Then she went on to say that if she was walking alone on the road, and she spotted women my age or her mother's age, she tried to keep close to them. Finally, she narrated an incident that took place a few weeks ago. It was dark and she went to the supermarket. On the way back, at about 10 feet distance, was a drunk, who leered at her and said ' hey...you're all alone'. Frightened, she raced back home. She concluded the story with 'But it was my fault you know. I should not have gone out when it was dark'. My heart broke when I heard her blaming herself. Life seemed to have come full circle. And not in a nice way.

When I argue for women's rights, people say that things have progressed so much that we should now be fighting for 'men's rights'. The world has changed and women now rule the roost. They say women have become heads of state, they've traveled to Antartica and even flown into space. No doubt these are splendid achievements. But what about when a 12 year old learns - without anybody explicitly telling her and through her own experience and observations - that she needs to curtail her personal freedom to ensure her personal safety - as generations of women before her have done?

Between self and ambition lies a long road fraught with obstacles. Braving obstacles on life's journey is par for the course one may say. But women, it seems, are not even permitted to make that journey! After all, it maybe dark, deserted or full of strange men! If 'anything happens' you have only yourself to blame. The earlier you learn that, the better. Age 12 is a good time to start.

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9 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. I read this post a couple days back... but could not respond earlier...

    It is indeed sad... and we feel a sense of déjà vu. The more we 'progress' the more things... atleast some things... remain unchanged.

    Even girls as young as 1-2 years are unsafe... What is this world coming to???

    "If 'anything happens' you have only yourself to blame."

    Yes... that is what the society preches and perpetuates. Even victims of rape, molestations are blamed for having brought it upon themselves... by their 'behaviour' or due to their 'attire'.

    How does one explain newborns and toddlers as young as 1-2 years and even the elderly (60 and above) being raped and molested with impunity??? Sometimes by their own kith and kin???

    There is a conspiracy of silence there...

  2. This is another thoughtful post. While I cannot personally relate to the trials due to my own gender, I can certainly feel a sense of empathy. We have a long way to go before we can claim "equality" for all humankind.

  3. Its already 10 days...

  4. Deepa says:

    Roshmi: Guilty as charged my dear. Gimme some time. Muse on summer vacation!

  5. AMODINI says:

    Nicely said. All that talk on how "progressive" we are is just hot air when you get down to the basics, as in : Can I even walk down the road, unafraid of an assault/molestation ? It seems like a simple thing to do but EVERY desi woman I've met has told me that she has to curtail that bit of herself. American women friends who visit India are appalled by lecherous Indian men. I wrote about it in one of my posts too : http://reviewroom.blogspot.com/2006/03/being-myself.html

  6. Deepa says:

    Amodini: followed your link and read your post. Nicely written. Public spaces in India are indeed very unfriendly to women. And younger women are more targeted than older. Naturally - fresher products attract more attention! But again, perhaps older women able to deal with it better. At my age, I feel more able to confront molesters than I used to say, 10 years ago.
    I wonder when this will end. IF it will end. We keep talking about educating women on their rights. What about educating men on how to treat women? Is it even possible?!

  7. Zephyr says:

    I came to your blog read some posts and found this one. It is very well written -- it shows a deep insight into a child's mind, I mean a girl child's mind. For no matter how far we progress, how rad the clothes the girls wear changes, how her lifestyle changes, the underlying fact of her feeling insecure remains.

  8. Deepa says:

    @Zehpyr: Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. Hope you will visit my blog again.