Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How To Live Your Life As A Woman In Calcutta: A Constructive Guide

If I had to make a list of, say, a hundred things that were wrong with our nation at the moment, I think the one that would top my list would be how conveniently, tragically and openly women are treated as second-grade citizens. Like there is a twisted hierarchy which places us on the tier well below the one reserved for the males of our species; and not only are we meant to stand on this tier and be alright with being society's predetermined denominators, so to speak, we are meant to adhere to certain rules and regulations that our more evolved males have set aside for us, with a smile on our lips and grace in our step. We must be lady-like and elegant, no matter if there are lecherous men salivating and staring at your bare legs as you head to a party, or taxi drivers that choose to check you out instead of the traffic through their rear-view mirrors, or not having the freedom to wear boxer-shorts in your own home lest that tempts the house-help into doing something dark and unspeakable.
Oh yes, the pressure is always on if you're a woman. 
You may be having a horrible hair-day, a crampy stomach, an endorphin dip, or just a bad hangover, but none of those things are big enough to exempt you from the demands of being a lady. 
This morning, I began my day on a rather sour note. As I sat with my faithful black cup of caffeinated goodness and flipped through the pages of today's newspaper, my eyes fell upon this ridiculous article which spoke of Kolkata Police's latest take on how to avoid being raped in the city.
I urge my readers to grab a copy of any of the city's leading dailies and check out the bizarre list of instructions that our dear cops have deemed worthy enough to be listed down and followed by the women of the city. 
However, for your convenience, I think it's only fair that I enumerate some of the choicest of these, verbatim. Here we go:
-DO dress decently;
-DO avoid late nights;
-DO walk in well-lit and frequented areas;
-DO be well behaved;
-DO stay in groups;
-DO avoid traveling in a crowded bus or train.

[Before I begin my (very) constructive criticism of what can only be defined as something that eerily seems to be straight from the Dark Ages, I must also point out how Kolkata Police also advises us ladies to carry pepper-spray with us at all times, practice self-defense when needed, and to be street smart].

I suppose as a young woman working and living in the city, this 'instructive' piece of information aims to make me feel safe and looked-after; if for no other reason, then simply for the one that at least the city's police force is thinking of us, tier-two folks, and that they do wish for us to behave ourselves and not invite trouble. I suppose it should be some kind of consolation to know that we aren't an entirely ignored segment of society, and that once in a while, we are thought of.
To my fellow second-grade citizens of Calcutta I would like to say that it is best for you to hide those satanic legs beneath cotton sheets or denim pants- the baggier, the better (you don't wish to reveal the true shape of that evil derriere that you own, do you?). Cover that mischievous cleavage and shield those fleshy arms under opaque dupattas. There is no need or urgency to demonstrate to the world how young and sassy you are. No. That is indecent. We must behave well; we must not laugh too loudly in public places, lest that attracts attention or entices our respected males' eyes and loins. We must move about the city in huddles, never alone; because we, like lepers, must mingle solely with our own kind, just as we have indirectly been instructed to do. Dingy, poorly-lit streets are not for us to roam, and the night is not ours to explore. No. We must stick to exploration while the sun is still up and while we are still allowed outdoors. It does not matter if due to one of the numerous taxi strikes in the city, we are being forced to commute to work by bus; we must not use the bus. It is crowded and reserved for use exclusively for men. We do not deserve to go to work on such days, because of course, we wouldn't like to impose ourselves or find our sweaty, harrowed selves in that crowd sticking to a male member and causing them any discomfort, would we? No. Imagine the indecency and audacity of such an act!

Ladies, I suppose all that is left for us to do is accept our stature and social-standing. 
No, we shouldn't be teaching our sons and brothers and uncles to control their hormones and behave like civilized beings. We shouldn't be teaching school boys how their female classmates are also humans and do not deserve to be treated any differently. We shouldn't be condescending or critical of music videos on the telly which objectify women and restrict them to being mere sex-objects to be played with and lusted for. We shouldn't raise our voices against men who rape you with their eyes on a daily basis when you walk to work or to the grocer's, nor be vocal about the lewd comments that are directed at you when you step out on the streets with a bit of make-up on.
These are things that our honourable police force forgot to add to their enlightening and helpful to-do list.
Add them to your own list and find your life becoming a whole lot easier to lead. Be decent and well-mannered, and above all, don't write sarcastic, suggestive and inflammatory articles such as this one if you wish to live in Bengal. 
By tomorrow or day after, I may have some goons lined up outside my house waiting to attack me for this appalling display of my silent, snarky disobedience, but that's alright. I'll use my pepper spray, practice self-defense, and remain forever street-smart just as I have been instructed to be by Kolkata Police. I think that should work, shouldn't it? 


  1. The fault lies at so many levels:
    1) Guys - for their deprave sense of superiority and entitlement to a girl. Degrees and high salaries are all but paths to the glorious culmination of a "trophy".
    2) Parents - for utter inequality of treatment meted out to their daughters vis-a-vis their sons, mostly to heed to insidious customs/traditions related to "what would 'they' think?". But for even those who treat their kids equally, there are broader factors beyond their control that make them risk-averse for the safety of their daughters. It becomes a vicious cycle.
    3) Ministers, Police (official and moral), Religious gurus, et cetera

    It is plain cruelty. Suggesting these silly steps of dressing well, avoiding late nights, et al is merely taking a path of least resistance, without tackling the bigger issue of how to get this clear into guys' minds - "Neither disrespect women nor reckon them to be on a higher pedestal. Consider them equal."

    P.S. 1 - This is well-written. I wish we lived in a world that precluded writing this in the first place or using a safety device. And I hope this does its bit to create a flutter of the proverbial butterfly.
    P.S. 2 - These are "on an average" statements that entail the risk of stereotyping. Also, "not all men are like that" is as silly and irrelevant an argument as "not all Germans during WW2 hated Jews" - well some of them did, and look what they havoc they wrecked!

  2. Thanks for reading and appreciating this little piece Ankur.
    While one can write such words and hope to maybe bring some positive changes, the sad truth is that there is no 'proverbial butterfly' at all in our country. I can't even imagine this changing, and when someone as optimistic as me says that, you know it's a bad state of affairs.

    1. I wish I could have not agreed with you.

      Though the independence "provided/allowed" to girls in terms of education/work/etc has been increasing for the better, the depravity of man's mind has kept up with it (if not outpaced it, with objectification becoming so brazenly acceptable nowadays).

      I had hoped something would change after the 16th Dec incident. But the only people it affected were those who were good at heart at the first place, or social experimenters.

      Maybe, only in the extremely long term can we hazard to have hope of a change if any.