- Posted August 26, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
The Secrets of the 'Modern' Indian Woman
'As an Indian woman, I have learned that there are things in life worth fighting for. I have faced harassment in all sorts of ways; I've been groped, been exposed to in public, stalked and attacked twice when walking on the street. But despite all these experiences, I refuse to give in. I feel my life is worth fighting for. There are two sides of India I witness everyday: One, the deeply chauvinist, unsafe India that is portrayed in the news. Two, the beautiful India that I relate to when I think of growing up, my family and friends here and the lovely memories I have of living here.'
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
I've often been asked, over the years, what it is like to grow up a girl in India; how does it feel to live in a country that doesn't really value your life at all? Do you do everything your parents tell you to? Will you be alright with being a housewife? Is what you are doing acceptable by society? Aren't girls brought up very strictly in your culture? Why do your brothers get the freedom you don't? Why are you so scared? Sometimes, these questions anger me. Sometimes, they amuse me. But mostly, I wish people would simply just let me be.
The truth is I’ve never really cared enough for these questions. Now, I understand the danger in holding back the answers. So here it is. Here's what all of you wanted to know.
Do you want to know I think of fear? I will tell you about my first experience with a tuition teacher. I was around nine or ten years old. He was assigned to teach me math over the summer. He was probably in his late twenties at the time. I can't recall. What I do remember was that my parents didn't know that I didn't study at all. Every day, all that he did was try to put his hand up my skirt, and stroke me. He would tell me that he could do something that will make me feel really special. That whole summer, those two hours felt the longest.
Do you want to know what makes me angry? I will tell you about the time I realised that these incidents were all too familiar growing up. For as long as I’ve known, my friends and I cannot count the number of warnings from our parents, relatives and friends; to cover up, stay safe, be careful around men. Nothing, I remember, ever seemed to be in our favour. Or maybe I will tell you about how my college enforced a dress code after a girl student was attacked by a man at the bus stop, instead of helping her file a complaint. Or the times I’ve heard close male friends tell me that they want to marry a ‘modern yet traditional’ Indian girl.
Do you want to know what I worry about? I will tell you about the utter hopelessness of trying to change people’s minds; aunts who bicker about how you’re not married although you’re 27, landlords who will not give out their property on rent to ‘single, working women’ because they think you don’t have morals, men who stare at you and grope you because they think it’s their right to do so, the fear of public spaces, and relatives who think that you’ve got no hope of finding someone to love you because you’re dark skinned.
Do you want to know what I think of courage? I will tell you about my friend who decided she deserved better when she was forced into an arranged marriage, abused by her husband and abandoned by her family when they found out she was pregnant. She was 21. She went through an abortion with no emotional support, put her only savings into studying abroad, found great job and is now happily married.
Do you want to know why the word ‘love’ makes me smile? I will tell you about how my father once bought me a t-shirt that said ‘when the going gets tough, call Dad’ to put a smile on my face during my first week at college. Or about how when we came home, we knew my mum would've cooked us exactly what we liked, no matter how unhealthy. Or how my cousins were the first real ‘guy’ friends my sisters and I had, and how they never once left us out of a cricket game, or climbing trees, or playing video games. Or how I’d spend hours talking and laughing all night with my sisters and find that we still don’t run out of conversation.
Do you want to know why I never gave up? Because my parents fought against all odds to make their four children, all of us girls, to have a liberal education that would give us the freedom, most importantly, of thought. That everytime I was told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, everyone who I truly cared for in my life over the years; my parents, my brothers, sisters and my friends, always told me that I could. And never once gave me a chance to doubt that.
Do you want to know how a small-town girl like me came to live and work in the city? Because I believed my life was one of promise. As did the people who mattered to me. I absolutely refuse to accept the life that the society around me dictates. It wasn’t an easy journey. But then, whoever said that it’d be easy?
So you want to know what it is life to be a girl in India? It’s difficult. Plain and simple. It’s a battle everyday; against a system that works against you every single day of your life. What makes us, millions of Indian girls, so special, is that we’ve come a long way. And we’re still surprising ourselves; finding new strengths, overcoming our weaknesses and trudging forward no matter what. In reality, we are just so many young women struggling to break free of these labels, fight and change things for the better.
The truth is there isn’t a day that you don’t wake up without those fears in your heart. Yet, there isn’t a day you don’t wake up and embrace how beautiful it is to feel alive.