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That Heaven of Freedom, My Mother

My daughter is nearly nine years old, and I think about what lies ahead for her, over the next several years. I mean, everything is possible, on a spectrum from leering to making comments to groping and all the way to the horror the six scums inflicted on a young woman in a Delhi bus. Everything.

I think about that, and I feel almost physically ill. I know about some of those things, because … well, let’s look at it like this.

One question to ask in the wake of this Delhi atrocity is — is there a single Indian woman who has never had an unpleasant encounter with men, involving one or more entries on that spectrum I mentioned above? I don’t know any such woman. I challenge you to find one. But asking that question only gives us a second one to ask as well: is there a single Indian man who can honestly say he has never indulged in one or more entries on that spectrum above?

I know I can’t. And that’s why I know, very personally indeed, about some of the entries on that spectrum.

So if I want my daughter to be safe as and when she grows to womanhood, that’s either a hopeless fantasy or — I have to think if I live in this country — an ideal we can aim to reach. The greatest tribute we can pay to the young woman who suffered that nightmare in that bus is to work towards a time when, a place where, it will never ever happen again, to any other woman.

We may never arrive at that splendid promised land, but we can take the road that leads in that direction. The road, after all, is the point.

And we can start on that road right now, with a code of conduct each of us will follow, every day, all the time. Here are just five excerpts from my own such. You can use them yourself, or think of another code for yourself. It may be different, but here’s the thing: follow it.

> I will not pretend to “worship” women. I will treat them, simply, as my fellow human beings.

> I ¬†will not let my sense of masculinity be defined by how I “protect” women. But I will stand up to those who seek to intimidate anyone, women included.

> I will not think of women, or things they wear and use, as “weak”. I will not taunt a man for his weakness by calling him a woman.

> I will shun families who welcome a son with joy, but a daughter with sorrow, or at best, indifference.

> I will raise my son and daughter as equal in every respect; even more, and to the best of my ability, I will raise them to be strong, caring, thinking human beings in their own right.

There’s plenty more to say on those lines, but that’ll do for a start.

My dream, in following such a code, is that every woman in my country has the security and freedom that every man like me does, that every man like me assumes is simply the way things are. It’s what Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, in a speech that’s now viral on YouTube, called “bekhauf azaadi”: the freedom to live without fear. And in following such a code, I yearn as Rabindranath Tagore once did: Into that heaven of freedom, my father, but my mother too, let my country awake.
(Dilip D’souza is a a writer and journalist)¬†

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