The last day in the month of March. The month of International Women's day. The month of "India's Daughter". The month that ended with Deepika’s Video by Vogue; and I have a small story to share about why I am still skeptical about the future of mentality against women in this country. (Considering it was also the month when Anushka Sharma was blamed for India's performance in the World Cup Semis.)
So, circumstances were such in the last few months that I found myself heading a committee of around 20 young (mostly freshers) Engineering Graduates, mostly male. The interactions started of well, thankfully. For more than two months, from their joining to the end of our project, the general rapport of the committee was lots of fun and friendship. I mostly felt like the lucky, very loved and respected big sister to them. With some, they'd constantly come to me for advice regarding girlfriend problems, to discuss personal matters, to discuss options about their future like next jobs or further studies, to borrow money and so on.
Considering they were freshers and had never worked anywhere before and were suddenly put in extremely difficult circumstances at sites, most of them went out of their way to complete the tasks assigned to them and I considered myself very fortunate to have been able to command that kind of respect, regard and support from the boys. (I sounded a little like Azharudin in my head with that). And I can seriously vouch for the fact that the support shown to me (or at least perceived by me) was definitely reciprocated manifolds, since my concern for their betterment, their hardships and challenges during the projects, their well-being and safety, their relationship problems and their future was truly extremely genuine.
Then something rather funny happened. These boys came back from their assignments and the general level of fun and camaraderie continued for another week. Everyone had stories of hardships to share tinged with lots of fun and laughter. But every basket has to have their share of rotten apples and the ones from this basket also returned one day. The good thing about these rotten apples from my basket were that before they all left for their assignments, these two never really were interested in this basket and hence never really spoilt anyone in here. This ensured that the basket remained fresh and un-spoilt at least till the end of the assignments and so that went well. Then the rotten apples came back and this time mingled with all the other apples in the basket.
Here is where the story turns.
The rot started spreading in the form of an idea regarding money. And where money is involved the "boss" gets blamed because, hey, the boss has money and it is his/her duty to share it! Who stops to think that he/she is as much part of the system as they are and has no say in the distribution of money; at least I had none. Well, without getting into more details, the rot spread to a point where they all stopped talking to me. Just like that. I walked into the office one morning and found them all huddled together away from me and the hostility was palpable. Not one word. Not one question even from the ones closest to me. Nothing. Just silence and cold war.
Okay. Misunderstandings happen. Stupid ideas spread. I was hurt because there were at least 3 or 4 among the 20 who could have asked me anything or clarified this before launching the war, but I still took it in my stride. Fights are normal in any relationships. We get angry at parents, at siblings, at the closest of friends. That was okay. They would get over it, I figured.
What I hadn't vouched for was the realization that I wasn't their family or sibling or even friend (No matter how close a few of them were to me). No. I was a "woman" who hadn't helped them in some manner they thought I should have. And they were angry. So what is the easiest, most cowardly thing to do when a bunch of 15-16 boys gang up and get angry at a woman? Disrespect her as a "woman", of course. Talk about her cheaply. Talk about her morality and character. Call her a whore. Call her a slut. Every time you get together and get drunk, make sure all dirty jokes turn to her. Even involve people who have nothing to do with her or this committee into the joke, because hey, when you are insulting a woman, the more the merrier. New heads, new insults, new jokes, more laughs.
Of course, the mistake was mine. It had to be. I am the woman here, after all. I was even told by certain superiors that the problem was that I was always "friendly" with the boys. (you can imagine the connotations behind that). It was my ‘not being "boss" enough’ and being more like a mentor and friend that caused them to turn. Aaha! Why hadn't I thought of that. Because if I had always treated them as a "boss" should (I think their definition is more "Hari Sadu" when they think ‘boss’), the boys would never ever say anything bad about me. Hmmm. How stupid of me to not think of that.
Anyhow, the point here is “Respect” and "Decency". Would they have done this if the person they got upset at was indeed their mother or their sister? They could get angry, not talk, show their temper in whatever manner, but would they disrespect and insult and make dirty stories and basically brand her a whore? The point is simple. We teach our boys early that if they are angry at their friend who is a boy, no matter how angry, they must try not to get into a fist fight. Try (even though that is just impossible to expect, but hey as a parent we will always try and hope) not to use abusive language, try not to lose their temper but to talk it out, solve, walk away or whatever else non-violent. But do we, consciously, teach our boys that if they are angry at a woman, no matter how angry, they simply shouldn't brand her a whore, shouldn't immediately think the best revenge is to sully her “character”? (That word is in quotes because Hey! I don’t even want to get into the whole ‘“moral character” of a woman’ thing right now) No, we don’t.
Yes, we probably teach our sons early on that women are weaker so "You shouldn't hit a girl" (I am not so sure that when put like that, does that teaching do more harm or good). But do we simply teach our kids that the reason why you shouldn't hit or abuse or call someone a slut is not so much about Should" and "Shouldn't" as much as it is about Respect for another being and just decency? That anger, no matter how righteous, doesn't give you the right to be indecent and disrespectful and potty mouthed and abusive?
Yes, we need to teach our boys that it is just NOT OKAY to rape. Yes we need to teach our boys that it is just not okay to force or abuse. Yes, we need t teach our boys that it is not okay to eve-tease. Yes, we need to teach our boys that it is just not okay to get back at a girl by being cheap about her. That is as below the belt and as easy and cowardly a revenge as it gets anyway.
In one word, in order to get to all of the above, we simply need to teach our boys the concept of respect and being decent about their anger as well.
You may get angry, upset, you may disagree and argue; you may start a cold war or an open fight, but, no matter what you do, you cannot get cheap and disrespect another human being. Keep your anger clean. If we can only teach our boys this simple thing. To fight fair. That's it! Give another person enough consideration and yourself enough respect to learn to keep your fights fair, isn't that easy?
And till we don’t, and till we have educated, young, smart engineering graduates who actually justify this action as “Hey, when guys get together and get drunk they talk shit about girls. So what?” (Yes one of them actually used these exact same words to one fellow who actually stood up against what was happening), I remain very skeptical about the quality of “empowerment” women are going to get in this country.
P.S Incidentally yesterday was the last day for these guys at work, last day to work under me. Leaving behind a skeleton staff of 2 guys, the rest left yesterday. They say well begun is half done. Thank God for that. For the fact that the beginning was nothing like the end. At least things got done well owing to that. But it wasn’t a happy sight. It wasn’t a happy feeling that things ended in this sour note after the way they had begun.