Why does the brunt of tradition fall squarely on the shoulders of women? I am fortunate to have been surrounded by strong and compelling women throughout my childhood. But this is sadly still the exception to the norm in India. And lately, I am finding out, even among expatriate Indians.
It is natural that when you leave your country, it becomes dearer to you. I miss my family, the home I grew up in, the city where I worked at, even the plants I tended to. And as it almost always is with memory, I tend to paint mine over with an indulgent brush that removes all harsh edges and sharp corners. I understand why one might try to hold on to these parts of our lives and attempt to recreate them in new lands.
This notwithstanding, I cannot get my head around some things. A woman I know here has been trying to get her husband’s permission, in vain, to cut her hair. Another I know was told she would have to remove the nail paint she’d whimsically painted on her fingers, each one a different shade. She is a girl of 22. A child, in my eyes. She has also been denied the ‘permission’ to change her hairdo. Some men lay down the law in no uncertain terms. This is how things are, this is how I like them, this is how a married Indian woman ought to be. I didn’t think men were this backward, this blatant about backwardness, even in this day.
Today India celebrates her 66th year of independence. I don’t know what we are celebrating. When a man treats a woman this way, and the woman lets him, whom does one lay the accountability on? These instances are just a sample of little injustices that are endemic to Indian society. There are horrors that are wreaked everyday that I doubt I have the stomach to write about.
What disturbs me is my own powerlessness. Aside from talking to people, or venting to the H, I can’t get involved in other people’s marriages, other women’s lives. I have begun to feel the only things we can really do well are these: Be good people, raise kind children free from bigotry and prejudice, and keep our little worlds as ideal as possible. It’s sad to think I can’t change the world, because when I was a child I used to think I could.