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How To: Respect India’s Daughters

Shubh | January 12, 2017


December 2016 marked four years since Jyoti Singh’s brutal death and shamefully, January 2017 marked the horrific mass molestation in Bangalore. This is in remembrance of such incidents and a reminder that we have come far but we have a long way to go.

I come from a country where the earth is called “Maa” (mother);

Little girls are worshipped during Navratri;

The highest form of power is represented by Goddess Shakti;

And where, the revered Hindu holy book is called “Geeta” or “Gita”–  a feminine name.

But it is also the country, where girls are seen as sexual objects and public property.

Mera Bharat “mahaan” (My India, the “great”) takes it upon itself to “teach girls a lesson.”

But a lesson for what exactly? For wearing regular clothes? For being out after dusk? Or for just being born as a girl?

In its benign form, that lesson takes the form of chastising girls and societal conditioning of “Good Indian Girls”. In its most brutal avayar, the lesson is delivered as incidents of molestation, abuse or rape, usually by men.

It’s been brought to light repeatedly that rape starts in the mind. Javed Akhtar expressed his anger in the parliament over the rapist’s words in ‘India’s Daughter’.

I’ve heard the same kind of things in this very place…it’s good that this documentary was made. Because finally crores of Indian men will know they think like a rapist! And if they feel dirty about it, they need to change their thinking!”

Rape is not an auto-response of the human body. It’s not like breathing, or reaching out to scratch an itch, or getting goose bumps when cold. It’s a learned action. Rapists or criminals aren’t born. They are made.

So who makes them?

Let’s take a look at Bollywood or Kollywood or Tollywood or “Indiawood” for a minute – the staple entertainment in India apart from cricket.

There have been so many strong female-centric movies recently – Queen, Maardani, Kaahani, Mary Kom, Gulaab Gang, Dangal … erm…well…… did I mention Mary Kom.. but how much do we remember to take the lessons with us?

What about the popular music that the nation listens to – played from clubs to gaons (villages)? Gorgeous actresses with their more than suggestive dance moves in songs like:

Perhaps, tongue in cheek but perhaps, not appropriate when the nation listening takes it as permission to have too much fun with women. The non-item songs aren’t any better; with some male leads uninhibitedly aching to trade barbs or “gandi baat” (dirty talk) in order to woo a lady.

These songs become popular as they are set to catchy tunes, and more shamefully, become anthems at weddings, clubs, parties … and increasingly heard on ringtones, reinforcing and worse, normalising the same message time and time again .

But let’s not just blame “Indiawood” – let’s take responsibility whether this is more deep-rooted, whether our historical practices that have a strong hold over how women are perceived.

Don’t get me wrong, tradition is meant to be honoured but as society evolves, there are certain practices that we should honour. But when a practice goes against basic humanity, what is the value in honouring such a practice?

There are practices which continue in parts of India, from a time before that is continued in the name of tradition – whether it meant burning a widow alive on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre (“Sati“), or drowning a new-born girl in milk, so she is reincarnated as a boy. Or even forcing an abortion after the gender test – because it’s a matter of shame to have daughter.

Yes, these practitioners are the hypocrites who worship Goddess Lakshmi to enter and bless their homes. But when the human goddess takes birth in their home, they want to kick her out. The irony.

Statistics of female infanticide are alarming, with a shortage of 3 million girls in just the past 13 years. Imagine totalling the number for the past century!

Adding to this hodgepodge of misogyny, are the countless preachers reinforcing and misconstruing ancient texts for the sake of power and influence. And even more are blindly following without question – a dangerous combination.

Especially since some of these construed texts state teachings like:

  1. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.”
  2. Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.”
  3. In case a woman tears the hymen, she shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey.”

Feel the rage burning within your spirit? Trust me, I understand. But, here’s what the original version says

  1. “The society that provides respect and dignity to women flourishes with nobility and prosperity.”
  2. “A woman who is kept constrained in a home by noble men (husband, father, son) is still insecure. Thus it is futile to restrict women. Security of women would come only through her own capabilities and mindset.”
  3. “A woman can choose her own husband after attaining maturity. If her parents are unable to choose a deserving groom, she can herself choose her husband.”
  4. “Those who rape or molest women or incite them into adultery should be given harshest punishment that creates fear among others to even think of such a crime.”
  5. “A daughter is equivalent to a son.”

Wow. What a difference eh?

How did it become a  norm to believe girls to be lesser than boys, forcing child and arranged marriages, and having a dowry system. Even if it was a norm in the past, why are we embracing this today?

Today, when girls live in fear of violation of their personal space and humanity, and believe it is their fault for behaving “loosely” or with “Western Values”.

The change in thinking has to come from each house – from each mother and every father. While every Indian parent of a girl fears for her safety when she leaves the house, every Indian parent should be equally worried about their son’s thinking about women. Every man who has a sister, should think thrice before he catcalls vulgarities at another man’s sisters. And even if she stands alone in this world, his mother, sister or wife should wash  his mouth with soap – because it could have easily been them standing alone.

Turn the mindset of “teaching girls a lesson” into a mindset of educating men that girls don’t need to be “taught a lesson”. Instead of going out to fight the rapists in jail, people need to fight the rapists in their minds, and in their homes.

Eventually, we will stop manufacturing lecherous men and blindly devoted women. And then India will understand that the Sheilas, Munnis or Bablis in “Indiawood” songs are just women doing their job.

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Fascinated by the natural world, Shubh loves spending time outdoors. You may also find her scribbling away in her little book, thinking out loud or greedily staring at cake. For more of her musings, check out her blog - Junglewoman. Other articles by this author



Jan 15, 2017
Kavita Mehta says:

Exactly! Men need to stop get a free pass on the pretence on raging hormones…

To add on, that stalking women till they say yes crap is the a huge bollywood problem. Just start making movies where women say no and it stays a no for the rest of her life and the guy doesnt take revenge for her saying no.

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