Yes, it may be the 70th year of Indian independence, but we have a long way to go before we call ourselves free.
Even as India celebrates its 70th year of independence, many argue we still have a long way to go before we can declare Indian streets safe for its citizens – especially its women. What are the things that they still can’t claim independence from? What are the things they would want to be able to do more freely? Let’s hear what a few women have to say.
Independence from being under constant threat on the streets
Women are still asked not to go to secluded areas, to travel in pairs or, better yet, in groups, and not to go out after dark. When will this mindset change?
“I am a 37-year-old working mother in Gurgaon,” says Manu Rampal, “and I have to get home from work after 8.30 pm in Gurgaon. But my husband insists that he come pick me up from work. If I at all take an Ola or an Uber, I am asked to travel with trusted companions. I want independence from this constant fear of being unsafe and constant monitoring by my family.”
“I stay in Noida,” says Neha Khamboj, “and though I know the city well, I am not allowed to take cabs beyond a certain time in the day. I can go to parties, but only if accompanied by a male companion; I can go to movie halls but only those that are in well-populated areas of the city. I need freedom; where is it?”
Independence from violence
Domestic violence, road rage or sexual assault. Name it and women are vulnerable.
“I see girls usually walking with their bags in front - even when they are travelling by bus, shared auto or the Metro. Even I do that,” says Gurgaon-based Neha Kaushik. “We never know when we’ll have someone molest us or grab us. Why do we have to live like this? Why can’t women in urban India have freedom from the constant fear of being raped, molested, hit, burnt or abducted?”
Independence from being judged on the clothes I wear
Yes, India may have gone global, but in our mindset, we are still in the dark ages. Women are still judged on the dresses they wear, and are constantly reminded that they are “asking for it”.
“Why judge a women on the length of her dress? Do you judge men when they wear shorts, instead of trousers? Why then should we think so much before we wear something?” says Rohini Jha.
Independence from the social pressure to marry
No sooner do women hit their twenties than they are started to be pushed towards marriage. How is 20 the right age to marry?
“Let me have a say in this crucial decision,” says Rohini Kher. “Getting married doesn’t mean I am any more settled. If anything it’s throwing me into the unknown, at a time when I may not be ready to handle it. I want the freedom to define what marriage means to me and when I want it.”
Independence from the familial/social pressure to handle the kitchen
Women are not equal to the kitchen. Full stop. They are not two sides of the same coin. Just being born a woman doesn’t make us come with pre-programmed skills of being able to handle home, work, in-laws, kids, the kitchen - and everything in between.
Deepanita Joshi, an Indirapuram-based working mother, says, “I want society to see beyond this patriarchal mindset. When I am ready to share the family’s financial burden, why can’t I expect others to share my kitchen burden too? This Independence Day I want freedom from working in the kitchen.”
Independence from being judged as a bad driver
Women drivers. Yes. Some of you may shudder at the thought of encountering one on the streets, and some of you men may pass a snide smile to your other privileged male friends at the mention of one. Sorry to break your bubble, but not all women are bad drivers. Just like all men don’t know how to fix a light bulb. We are not genetically programmed to be bad drivers, it just goes to a specific skill.
“I attract surprised looks from everywhere the moment I take my SUV out for a spin, says Rashmi Desai. “And no matter whose fault it is on the road, the blame always comes down to the woman driving. I want society to be free from the prejudiced mindset.”
Independence from the sole responsibility of raising kids
A mother should be dedicated to her children 24x7. Why only the mother? Why is it only her responsibility?
“Why should a mother be blamed for the poor upbringing of the kid? Kids are the responsibility of both the parents. Can we please have freedom from these useless social norms?” says Alka Chhbara.
Independence from clichéd professions – and the expectation that women will give up their job after marriage
Families often discourage women from being too ambitious in life, as they will later have to take care of her family, her husband and her kids. Yes, still.
Rupa Vohra, a Noida-based designer, says, “Far too often, women are just taught to believe their sole purpose is to raise a family and to take care of kids. Career is good, but not important, they are told. We are forced to let go of their flourishing careers after marriage. I need independence from this mindset.”
Independence from the thought that women are less than men
Women may hold important designations in offices, but are still discriminated against.
“I hold an important designation in an RWA, but when I won, all anyone had to say was I may well have to give this up soon, as I won’t be able to run around so much!” says Suhasini Haldar. “It’s not a woman’s domain, let a man handle it; you can take responsibility of the cultural activities, they told me. I still can’t believe I heard those words from people who have known me as a hardworking, efficient woman. I want freedom from this thought that we women won’t be able to ‘handle it’.”
Independence from the thought that women are a liability
“I live in the capital, but when people tell me that I am a liability to my father, my husband, and later on in life, my son, I just end up feeling sorry for society. I want to tell them that we women can handle ourselves, look after our parents, stand by our husbands and raise our kids. I am an independent, whole person in myself. I am not a liability,” says Kavisha Anand.