So a politician dismissed it as a New Year eve's norm. So a few hundred people said that girls wearing such clothes, marking their presence at a place beyond the confines of home at such hours actually invited trouble. But why are we so surprised? Isn't this how an average Indian thinks? Yes, it is.
The incident of mass molestation in Bengaluru, a city ranking high among India's most educated ones, and the indifference of the officials, brought back memories of my exchanges with several abused women robbed of their basic rights as a human being, let alone as a daughter-in-law, a wife, or a mother, in Kolkata, a city regarded by many as the cultural capital of the country.
While researching material for my book, The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dahati Pawakah, I met a 26-year-old educated woman in Kolkata running pillar to post in search of justice. Five months into marriage and Pallavi was kicked out of her matrimonial house, and left empty-handed on the streets. The police refused to lodge her complaint. The inspector condemned her attire — jeans and a short kurti — and told the father escorting his traumatized daughter: "Your daughter is too modern to be wronged."
The government official had an eye for her jeans, but chose to ignore the bruises on her feeble silhouette. But Pallavi wasn't the only contemporary woman rejected by the 'guardians of Indian culture' on account of 'unacceptable' lifestyle and outlook.
My research also led me to Sangeeta, an IT professional married for over a year, who was abandoned by her husband in the first trimester of her pregnancy. She didn't want to get the police involved in her "domestic affair," and instead approached a Nari Kalyan Samiti established with the aim of welfare of women to recover the Stree Dhan misappropriated by her in-laws.
"I walked into their office hoping they would help me salvage the articles of my Stree Dhan and other important documents held forcibly by my in-laws," she said. "But I was taken aback when the receptionist measured me head to toe and commented: 'It's almost impossible to believe that women in corduroy pants and streaked hair are getting sabotaged by in-laws'. Her vacuous judgement of my character, based solely on my clothes and hairstyle, implied that I was fabricating facts. 'Girls like you do not deserve the security of a household. You will never find contentment in the regularity of a domestic life. You had invited this misfortune upon yourself, who is to be blamed?,' she added after learning more about me, about my job that entails long hours of work and a lifestyle that takes me to clubs often," Sangeeta recollected.
People call out women for fabricating anti-dowry cases under Section 498A. What would you say if I told you that there are officials at the police stations who manipulate brides to write an FIR that would make for a strong 498 A case and aid the officials in milking the situation? Yes, this happens.
These were just a few of the many instances that incited me to pen down The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dahati Pawakah. The responses I received from various literary agents and publishing houses were bewildering as well. I was told this book won't fly off the shelves, for it lacked the familiar weak protagonist a reader could sympathize with; the very fact that Meera, the central character of the novel, embodied no traits of the shaken heroine from your favorite soap opera who easily garners your sympathy, could prove fatal for the book; readers might end up disliking the headstrong protagonist.
Nevertheless, I had all my trust placed on my book for it narrates reality, and chronicles the challenges hundreds of women lined up at the court gates, awaiting justice, put up with.
It breaks my heart when readers now email me to confide in me that they identify with Meera, that they are tired, not of the fight presented by life, but the judgmental eyes hovering around them constantly. The mindset of an average Indian has not progressed an inch since 1947.
We are still unwelcoming of the modern Indian women with the courage to decide for herself, we detest paving the way for the woman trying to reach an ascertained destination, we hate her guts. And we lack the spine to concede that we are wrong.
(Names changed to protect privacy.)