Today, I was off to collect my car from the service centre and I could not help but notice the stark difference between walking on a street in London in the late evening and walking on a street in Jaipur before sunset. In the past five months of living in London, walking has been a primary means of commuting. You walk around if you’re sight-seeing. You walk to the tube station, the coffee shop or wherever you need to be. But in India, and more specifically Jaipur, I’m not much of a walker. I never could understand why I detested walking here when I was very comfortable walking in Calcutta and London. It wasn’t the lack of a pavement or uneven roads that bothered me. It was the people I saw, watching me, that were the problem.
I often don’t realize that my country is not very women-friendly. We’re conditioned from an early age to avoid the eyes of people. We’re taught to look away when a man stares and to pause on the side if he comes plodding through with utter disregard for your personal space. We cover up, walk in groups and ignore the numerous stares. And after five months of utter anonymity on the streets of London, it was hard for me to not notice the stares. Some of the men on the streets will sing bawdy tunes or poke their friends in the side so that they too may notice you. It’s pervasive, ubiquitious and possibly ingrained in their DNA. It’s revolting and shameful.
This is not the first time that I’ve been out on the streets alone, but it is the first such experience since living elsewhere. I find it even more frustrating because there’s nothing I can possibly do to change this. Yes, I can sensitize the people around me. But the people who taught me to be independent and to follow my dreams are not the problem. The people who objectify women and believe them to be possessions are the problem. The men on the streets who ogle are – more often than not – men who cannot wrap their heads around the idea that women aren’t an alien species. They’ll objectify you because they can’t be bothered to see you as human beings. And just how do you – or I – teach these people to behave differently?
My country is quaint in its contradictions. These contradictions are what gives it character and a distinct personality. However, not all of our contradictions can be romanticized or even accepted. How we treat our women is one such contradiction that needs to be dealt with. I’m not going to go on about how we idolize women and yet brutalize them. By all means, if that’s what you wish to read, google some articles that deal with such examples. But there’s more to this contradiction. We’re a changing nation. Girls are being educated across all stratas of our society. We’re letting women of all castes, creed and economic status enter the workforce and we’re doing it in spades. We’re trying to do better by our women than we did a decade ago and that’s great. But why aren’t we realizing that to do good by our women, we need to do right by our men and recalibrate their brains? Why are we not targeting the crux of the problem of changing the behaviour of the men of our society? How do I play a part in this change?
I have a new found respect for women who deal with such men on a regular basis. But to have this realization on the very day we’re supposed to celebrate womanhood is humbling. There is tons more to be done. And I don’t think that simply sensitizing the men I know is going to be enough. There has to be more. There must be.