Lindsay Pereira: Whose Women's Day is it anyway?

Mar 18, 2017, 08:43 IST | Lindsay Pereira

As many as 200 women train in self-defence in a session organised by Delhi Police in collaboration with World Vision India on the occasion of Women’s Day. Pic/AFP
As many as 200 women train in self-defence in a session organised by Delhi Police in collaboration with World Vision India on the occasion of Women’s Day. Pic/AFP

My week began with a number of WhatsApp forwards and text messages wishing me a Happy Women’s Day. This wasn’t a surprise anymore because I have made my way through life with most people assuming I’m a woman until we meet and they then struggle to hide their surprise. It’s what happens when your parents give you a name that isn’t exactly gender-specific. The messages I received didn’t make me happy though because, as a teenager with waist-length hair (a story for another day), I was given a rather unique opportunity to understand just how important women are to Indian men. I came to the conclusion quickly that they weren’t particularly important at all.

What I learned the hard way, all those years ago, is that living in India with any attributes that may be construed as feminine makes you a target. It allows men of all ages, across social strata, to treat you like a piece of meat, to stare at you and comment on the shape of your body, or rub against you until they find out that you are not actually female. I was a slim young man, which didn’t help. The catcalls would cease only when I turned and revealed the distinctly non-feminine shape of my jaw. On local trains, I was groped almost daily, by men who stupidly assumed I was a crazy woman trying to enter the general compartment. No one refers to it as a compartment solely for men, but women who dare to enter are still given a non-verbal dressing down, especially during rush hour.

To cut a long story short, I find the idea of celebrating Women’s Day hypocritical. Offices now routinely send out roses or inane greeting cards to female employees on this day, presumably because this gives HR personnel a break from their otherwise important duty of emailing birthday wishes or ‘Thoughts For The Day’ to colleagues.

Brands and products pay a premium to advertise on television channels that choose to showcase women-centric content, convenie­ntly ignoring the fact that our Central Board of Film Certification recently refused to grant a filmmaker permission to release a film on the grounds that it was ‘lady-oriented’.

When was the last time any government, at the state or Centre, did anything positive or progressive for women, apart from a few token sops doled out as PR exercises before a budget or election? One can argue that no government has done anything special for men either, but no one I know is aware of Men’s Day, so that’s beside the point. Take something as essential as a commute, which continues to be fraught with danger for women across India.

Governments put out apps and allocate guards on trains in metros, but no one really cares about how any wom­an travels outside our larger cities after 6 pm. The fact that our Capital continues to be dangerous for women after sunset in 2017 raises no eyebrows. Half a decade after the gang rape in Delhi that shook us all, little on the ground suggests that the women there are comfortable travelling on their own after sunset.

We don’t even acknowledge issues like domestic violence, let alone marital rape which, according to one of our many honourable ministers, co­uld not be made into a criminal offe­nce in India because of illi­teracy, poverty, religious beliefs and the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. Then there’s the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill, also referred to as the Women’s Reservation Bill, which has been discussed and debated for approximately two decades. Introduced in 1996, passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it continues to languish simply because of a lack of political will.

Sex determination continues to be a problem. Around 19 aborted female foetuses were found dumped near a stream in Sangli, Maharashtra, a few days ago. How does it make sense to celebrate Women’s Day in a country that simply brushes these issues under the carpet instead of working towards genuine reforms? I continue to think about my life as a teenager with long hair, and what it made me deal with on the streets of India’s most developed city. If it was that bad here, how much worse is it for women outside? What can they say?

International Men’s Day (yes, it exists, obviously) is supposedly celebrated on November 19. I don’t think we need to celebrate it here either though, considering we live in a country where every day is pretty much a day reserved exclusively for men.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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