It is interesting to live in an unusual habitat. One gets to meet unfamiliar people who often have interesting perceptions about you and your affiliations. These perceptions, often flatter, annoy and amaze you.
In the past one and a half month, I was mildly pleased when someone noted that the Indian GDP growth rate has been flourishing, and responded with, “Not as well as China though”. And when I heard that Indian software developers are unmatched, I thought, “Yeah, certainly so”. But then there was the, “Do you have elephants in all your streets?” to which I responded saying, “probably not, even if you inhabited the Sal forests of Jim Corbett”. And then of course when I heard, “Whether ancient Indians had the capability to transform into snakes?” shortly after we finished watching Sridevi gracefully hiss in ‘nagin‘ on youtube, I was just a tad short of yelling out, “What!”. Instead I simply stared, flabbergasted.
A recurring theme of questions, though has been the state of women in India. Most of them related to their safety, and some about their subservience. These were the difficult ones to answer. Back home, I would frequently engage in heated discussions with my friends where a sense of anger and disgust regarding the state of affairs which is common us all. This was, however, was the first time I felt ashamed, for it felt like I needed to answer to someone outside. So, the first time I was asked whether women are really unsafe in India, I reluctantly admitted that as a society we had indeed failed to ensure safety for women. Things were getting better, just not fast enough, I added.
I do admit to checking out country wise rape statistics, later, something I had never done before. It felt strange. Almost like I was preparing a defence for someone who I knew was guilty. Also it seemed incorrect to approach a problem by comparing how much worse off your neighbours are. But while I was doing that, I realised something Adichie sums up really well in her talk about ‘multiple stories’ and their significance in building complete understanding of something which we are not familiar with. We cannot judge anything effectively without context. And it is sad that more often than not, we are unaware of the remaining context. We could blame the media here, but despite their inadequate self- regulation and race for the next viral phenomenon, media personnel respond to what they perceive is in demand. There must be something wrong in the way we choose to access information, for even when it is available in heaps, we fail to obtain the truth, or more so discern it from trash. But since it has turned global attention to the issue, it makes me think, why not now? If we are going to make this debate, now seems like the perfect time to discuss patriarchy and how it affects the vulnerable gender.
Recently, when someone asked me about how women were unequal in India, to my own surprise, i confidently answered, “Ofcourse, but it is a global problem and the least we could do is to acknowledge it.” Except, I only could say the first part out loud.