Women of China

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While on a business trip this time to China, I could not help marvel as to why China is so far ahead than us-Indians. I am not even going into economic and geo-political point of view but restricting myself to the attitude of Chinese society towards its women.

I do not wish to enter the murky waters of numerous human rights issues plaguing China at present, but I am only restricting myself purely  to my observations of past one week in China as to how the Chinese society, be it in big cities like Qingdao or in small industrial towns like Zibo, treated its people, especially, women. I could not help feel sad for women in India when compared to the situation of women in China.

As I observed, women did all the work, that men would do. Over the course of one week, there was not a single place, where women were not employed and in many cases, did not outnumber. Lets compare both the countries:

Chinese women guard the airports, something that is confined to only security checks as far as women personnel in India is concerned. Chinese airports, in fact, do not have a separate enclosure for women security check and nor do women personnel confine themselves to checking women alone unlike India where separate screened enclosures have been created for women. This fact alone suggests that Chinese do not divide humans into men and women – gender egalitarianism indeed!

Chinese women drive cabs. Woah!!! That’s almost a cultural shock for an Indian. Driving taxi has generally been seen as a male bastion but China does not think so. Indian women, on the other hand, are not safe in their own private vehicles, let alone taxis, whether driving them or in the backseat. Indian society  clearly has a lot of catching up to do.

Then as we went to catch a train, we witnessed women ticket checkers in train stations and people complying with checks without any fuss. Can we imagine a situation in India, where women can safely stand and ask people to show their tickets and can we expect the people to quietly abide by the instructions? I haven’t seen women ticket checkers so far in India for past 25 years and that really sums up the situation here as far as this profession is concerned.

There were women working in large factories. They were handling large machines and feeding raw material stock in production units. The proportion of men and women was almost equal. Indian society, sadly, still does not see  women as strong enough to engage in factories and considers them, at best, suited for simpler “non-fussy” jobs. Even today, only a small percentage of women are encouraged to step out and compete with the world.

Work apart, women are not forced, either due to fear of reproach, unwanted attention or due to moral obligation, to wear a dress of their choice. It is still a distant dream in India for women to freely move about in public places with their own choice of dress. Yes, dress. Something people in developed societies will find it amusing. As many call it here in India – wearing a short dress is immoral and attracts unwanted attention. So, whose fault is it again. The one who is wearing or the one who is watching. Is it the dress or is it the eyes, which ogles at women and scans through their dresses, which is immoral. As one well known law-maker once said of rapes, Men will be Men and they will be naughty!! With a democratically elected law maker saying this in a public event, it says a lot about the twisted patriarchal mindset of the elected and the electors – together forming the society we live in. With this atmosphere, the women can never expect themselves to be safe even in a burqa. In China, on the other hand, I did not witness even a single incident of men ogling at women or women feeling uncomfortable at public place. Women in China wore the dress they felt comfortable in and not a single guy was found to be staring at them or making lewd remarks. Ask any woman here in India and she will recount numerous stories.

In sum and substance, problem lies in the mindset of the society at large, where men and women are still seen as two distinct species rather than one single specie. Indian society is unable to come out of this mirage. We Indians are still reluctant in allowing women to take up jobs, which “we” “feel” is unsafe for them and want to “protect” them. Firstly, the problem is “we” not the women. It is “we”, who have created this unsafe climate for them. Secondly, this “feeling” of the society is its own giving, largely due to the fact that the patriarchal society is deep-rooted with its twisted understanding about the role of women in society. We are so much in love with our past and male chauvinism that we want to hold on to our chest, without even applying our mind whether the tradition that was followed millenniums ago are still relevant today or not. I am not against the traditions that we have, which are based on sound logic and reasoning but blindly following a practice with seal of approval of a particular religion is only creating a bigger mess. Patriarchal society was required during the era of barbaric invasions, when society was on the lookout for strong men to fight, kill and die, with women handling families. That era ended thousands of years ago. Brains should have developed by now to understand the present times. Sadly, it has not. And lastly, as regards the duty to protect, the question is, protect from whom? the society? How will the society save the women from itself? Indian society has time and again failed to “protect” women in India, when frankly speaking, there should not have been a situation to protect someone.

China, on the other hand, due to its largely atheist population, is atleast saved from illogical religious commandments. They seem to have a concept of one society, one people. Though we may stand here on this side of the border and ridicule the Chinese for their language and their eating habits, but be as it may, their society in so far as governing itself, if not the world, seems to be pretty much developed. India, on the other hand, is not progressing but only regressing downhill on this aspect.

To conclude, I have a firm opinion that China is way ahead than India as far its understanding of the concept of society is concerned and it will take atleast two to three generations to realize and few more generations to correct the mistake.

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“what will People say”

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If there is one phrase, which has unilaterally busted the dreams of millions and has made thousands of unruly horses, wanting to plunge into the debry, to instead meekly join the circus, it has to be

“Log kya kahenge” or “What will people say”

The loch ness monsters as they are, whom people have only heard of but never encountered; these mythological creatures are a stuff of legend, which have been passed off from generations to generations, percolating the fear of the unknown in the minds of coming generations.

Lets face it. Undoubtedly, every person while growing up has encountered this question every time he or she has even thought of deviated from ‘established norms’. The possessive, rather extra possessive character of the family, in turn, society which has evolved these ‘established norms’ do not allow a dreamer to dream or an artist to weave his or her creativity.

Millions of dreams have died a natural death in the process – unable to find wings. Though economic reality may be an important aspect, but even those belonging to an economically stable condition find it hard to find a way to go on their own.

Topping the list of ‘things to do”, where this line is most used is when it comes to marriage. I am aware that my dad will be reading this – So dad, just to clarify, its just a write-up…relax !!!

Marriage is undoubtedly a very important phase of life and over-protective parents of both groom and bride want to ensure that their children do not get a “bad deal”. Control of parents over their children is so strong that let alone choosing the spouse, the children can’t even choose their own career options or perhaps the dress they wear. Taking my own example, hypothetically, if my family were to today consider about my marriage, following objections may arise on a sequential basis (pun intended)–
– Inter-religion: “Get out of the house – Log kya kahenge??”
– Same religion but north-south divide: “have south Indian girls died that you have to go for North Indians..think what the society will say”
– Same religion – South Indian – but different state: “Why…can’t you find a girl, who speaks your language?? What will our community say?”
– Same religion – South Indian – Same state – different community: “Our community, which is the best amongst others do have girls – why favor other competing communities – find a girl in your community”
– Same religion – South Indian – Same state –same community – different Gotra: “beta, Gotras is a problem, hard luck!!”
– Same religion – South Indian – Same state –same community – same Gotra but stars don’t align

The ‘invisible people’ have so much say in your decisions in forcing you to leave your likings and go for what they think is best for you, though you may end up suffering all your life, but it hardly matters. If it works out – you get to hear-see we told you this will work; if it doesn’t, then you get to hear – “adjust kar lo….its all about adjusting”. Though both applies equally to an individual’s own choice of spouse- but fact remains that children are treated as children even when they are forty and are not supposed to be mature enough ever to take their own decisions.

Its not only about marriage decisions. While in school, every child that at some point of time must have been asked to quit wasting time on drawings, playing, singing and dancing and focus on getting Good Marks..else what will people say about below-standard performance!! There are a lot of dull boys and girls, only because of the concept of “all work, no play making Jack a dull boy”. Even Gurudev – Tagore recognized this in his Vocation – where he deals with ever changing dreams. How many children are allowed to decide their own careers – not many I guess. Can a child fathom to think about being a painter very early in his career instead of being an engineer or an accountant ? Answer again is ‘No’ as Sharmaji or Guptaji’s children became a successful engineer, doctor, blah blah and you should endeavor to become like him. And if a child still is adamant to be a painter – then more often than not – he gets a tight slap for not studying and solving the integer problem or understand process of photosynthesis. Societal expectations almost every time kill the budding dream of the child.

Little wonder, billion plus population has highest concentration of engineers, doctors and other professionals but next-to-nothing artists, sports personalities or world class singers and dancers or actors. And on top when a world event happens, we think to ourselves why India is not a part of it. We don’t let talent nurture and make are hell bent on making them “just another brick in the wall” but bemoan the administration for not getting more talent. Unlike China, administration is not going to pull out children out of the families and train them. Families have to loosen the grip on their children, which they cant do as children are seen more of “long term investments” who will increase the “goodwill” and “market reputation” of existing “brand-name” of the house-hold.

Now the vocation. Imagine a grown up boy or a girl going to college decides to start a music band of his own or venture into writing books or wishes to be a professional traveller or a photographer. Imagine him or her going to her parents and telling them about the idea. In all likelihood, first question will be how will he sustain his life, while his friends will make millions sitting in their cabins. Second would be again the haunting comparison with GuptaJi and SharmaJi’s children who have ‘established’ themselves and are now well settled.

Even kind of clothes or hair-dos are not spared. I face it all the time. I wonder how girls in India would be feeling. Their dressing sense is more watched than boys. Little more than 2 inches of hair on my head is sufficient for my parents to immediately send me to barber – “look at your ‘long hair’ – what will people think of jungle-boy type of hair!!” Girls, I’m sure would be in a worse situation – what is this dress – just knee length?, hair untied?, Going at night? With Boys??? Though parents ask these things, but to be safe, parents fire their guns from the shoulder of “other log”, who would be asking these questions!!!!

Watching sports on TV sometimes gives me a complex sometimes as I see people far younger than me becoming global icons with enough wealth, which I would not be able to make over my entire life under normal circumstances. Thank God, Sachin Tendulkar’s parents didn’t do Log Kya Kahenge sequence. Else poor lad would have struggled with Pythagoras theorems and linear equations at an age, when ruthless fast bowlers were struggling against him. He was exceptional, alright. But the point remains that he was not made to move according to the diktat of the society. Child had a talent and talent was nurtured.

But unluckily, not every child gets that change to understand and develop its talent. Though talent may be there, yet the society conspires to sap out that talent and make that child “another brick in the wall”. For millions of other child geniuses, the process of falling into the trap of corporate life starts from nursery itself – Though in childhood, the phrase is not used directly, but subtle variations like “look at Bunty, Chintu, Golu….how brisk they are, how stylish they are….dont you want to be like them??” are used, which convey more or less the same message. In the process of becoming like Bunty, Chintu and Golu, the poor kid forgets who he is. If this wasn’t enough, the barricade now moves on to studies – and this is perhaps the phase of life (since it lasts for good 16-18 years of a child’s life), that blasts the inherent talent of the child into bits and pieces, as the kid from Kinder garden itself it taught what to become after 18 years.

The immense joy of writing, painting, playing, singing, dancing, exploring new fascinating things get relegated to what is now technically referred to as “Extra-Curricular activities”. Why so? Because the society will not approve of a wannabe singer, painter, dancer, who will never get a good pay to sustain his own life. I am not saying talented people should not become engineers or doctors or lawyers but are they able to showcase their talent in being a engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. Making millions is not a talent. Even dumb-asses like me can make them. It’s the bringing forth the inherent talent and creativity, that adds value to life, which matters more. Sadly most of the parents are unable to recognize and nurture the talents that their children may have.

Being a society, comparison and living as per expectations of society is a norm. No one wants to be a pariah. But that term ‘pariah’ has been taken too seriously and used so widely in our society that it has been applied almost everywhere, on all occasions. Parents though want to protect their children from the hardships they faced, but in the process also cut the wings of their children to try things out on their own. It is this protective, rather over-protective society, where if a person wanting to try out something new, if deviates even by 0.0001% of normal standards of society, he will have to answer atleast a 100 questions to convince people of his decision. In most cases, he will give up after 10 grueling questions.

But when individuals do things on their own, despite the severe backlash and come out on top, it is these People,
who were saying No, come and hug you first. If you end up marrying someone you like, these Log are the ones in the starting of post marriage dinner reception queue.

Thus, what I personally feel is (though for variety of reasons, I may still fall prey to Log Kya Kahenge Syndrome), is to listen to Kishore Kumar, when he sang as thus in the movie Amar Prem and do your own thing:

Kuchh toh log kahenge, logo kaa kam hain kehna
Chhodo bekar kee bato me kahee bit naa jayey raina
(people will keep on saying, their job is to say; leave such loose talk, let not the night pass on these things)

Kuchh rit jagat kee aisi hai, har ek subah kee sham huyi
Too kaun hai, tera nam hain kya, sita bhi yaha badanam huyi
Fir kyo sansar kee bato se bhig gaye tere naina
(such are the rules of nature, that every morning has an evening; who are you, what’s your name; Sita too was humiliated; then why are you crying for what the world says)

Hamko jo tane dete hai, ham khoye hain in rang raliyo me
Hamne unko bhi chhup chhup ke aate dekha in galiyo me
Yeh sach hain jhuthe bat nahee tum bolo yeh sach hain naa
(people who nag us, saying we’re lost in our dreams; I have seen them coming secretly in the lanes that I am in; This is true, not false, you tell me, isn’t this true?)