Published in India Currents
I saw the documentary, India’s Daughter. I did not want to see it; I was wary of an outsider judging India. But my curiosity got the better of me.
Shall I tell you why, watching the film, I cried? If I told you that I cried for Nirbhaya, the young woman who was brutally gang-raped in New Delhi in 2012, it would be true and also untrue. If I told you that I cried for the perpetrators’ hardened apathy, born out of neglect and poverty and deprivation, it would be only partially true. If I told you that I cried for a society where people live in such inhuman conditions that inhumanity becomes the norm, I would be telling you the truth but also not quite the truth.
Shall I tell you that I cried because I felt powerless?
Shall I tell you that I was supposed to rule the world? My father certainly told me so. But he and I were ahead of our times. So that when my husband demanded a dowry, my father felt pressured to grant it, even though I begged him not to. So that during the few years that I was married to my first husband, I felt a deep sense of disrespect and distrust toward him.
Shall I tell you that when I divorced him, I did not tell my parents the reason, because I did not wish to burden them? Shall I tell you that when my brother heard of it, he said that he felt sorry, not for me, but for my husband?
I do not want to tell you all this but it keeps bubbling up inside me.
Shall I tell you that my mother, a modern, ambitious, and intelligent woman, nevertheless subconsciously favored my brother?
Did she coddle him because, like most boys, he was colicky and fussy? Most certainly! Did she pamper him because as a baby he had been hospitalized with diphtheria and nearly died? Of course! Did my parents, even my progressive father, cater to his demands for special foods like sheera and rosogolla because they were afraid for his life? Perhaps!
In later years, even after he began to look like the Bournvita boy, did they give him more food than they gave me because of some subconscious conditioning?
I do not know.
Shall I tell you that being a woman who is hardworking and capable and tenacious and successful is not easy? That I have been a focus of resentments for years? Shall I tell you that if the roles were reversed and I was the man and my brother the woman, life would be unremarkable? Shall I tell you that powerful women are made into witches and burned at the stakes?
I suspect that almost every woman who has looked at her life in the wake of the Delhi rape of 2012 has realized that she has not lived up to her potential; that either she has made less money than a man or been denied promotions or, if she is more successful than her husband, been abandoned for a younger model. Or she has simply been denied her inheritance, which is still passed only to male offspring. Hence the outrage. The rapes are just the symptoms. The causes run very, very deep.
Shall I tell you that twice in my life I have been in mortal danger in Delhi? The first time was decades ago, when I was living in India. I had gone for an interview for the position of a Probationary Officer with the Bank of India and stayed with my favorite uncle. The interview was miles away and the buses kept crawling, never making a stop. The job would be my ticket out of my life as a dowry bride; I had to go there. So, when a man asked me to share an auto-rickshaw, I agreed. But when he began to waylay me, I shouted, I threatened. I worked my big mouth. I survived.
The second time was in 2008, when I had arrived in Delhi after signing off my parents’ property to my brother. My nephew was supposed to pick me up but he never arrived. I took a taxi to a hotel I knew nothing about. The driver waylaid me. I shouted, I threatened. I worked my big mouth. I was saved.
But that is not what I really wanted to tell you about.
What I want to tell you is this. I signed the property papers because I wanted my dying mother to be happy. I signed the papers because I wanted to show my brother that I loved him. I believed that my sacrifice would prove to him beyond doubt my loyalty to my family.
When no one showed up at the airport, I did not immediately realize that I had served my usefulness. It is only now I realize that I had been discarded, just as Nirbhaya had been thrown out of the bus.
That is why I cried when I watched India’s Daughter.