Nupur Ghuliani, SBI Youth for India fellow, who is at Kherwada, Rajasthan, writes about her experience of the fellowship.
Being from Delhi, a city I love for the record, but also a city notorious for its instances of crimes against women, I am very alert to say the least especially while using public transport. And as an SBI YFI fellow, public transport is my lifeline, the only way I get anywhere close to getting some work done. So here I was completely in control of my breath, painfully alert to every touch, every stare, onboard a public bus, when from the corner of my eye I see a pair of eyes trained at me like a predator’s. As per my personal set of rules, I looked at him and began the Stage1 ‘stare-back’ counter attack. With this counter attack, the enemy generally gets embarrassed and looks away. At least in 90% of the cases. In case of the other 10%, I have to eventually look away, a little shiver in the pit of my stomach determined to put my pepper spray to good use if need be. So cut to present, this man is slowly reaching the 10% category with full 2.7 seconds into holding my stare and then he clears his throat and says – ‘aap baith jaaiye please’ (Please sit down). I remember smiling to myself and making a short mental note (Lesson#1) – when a man here stares at you for too long, he probably means to offer you a seat.
Another such incident where I ended up having a full-fledged friendly conversation with a man on a jeep made me realize that I really need to rethink my pre-conceived notions about my interaction with people. Lesson #2 – when a man here asks too many questions, he’s probably fascinated by your urban origins; curious to know what brings you to his tiny town.
And then again there was another incident. As we crossed one house after another in the untamed wild landscape of Kotra (a tribal block in Udaipur district), some of the houses had a bunch of lines written in Hindi on their façade. Having last studied written Hindi in class 10, I shamefully accept that my Hindi reading abilities were handicapped by sheer lack of practice (though due to the continuous interaction with villagers coupled with designing and creating stationery in Hindi, my skills have improved manifold ever since). Anyway, as I crossed some of those houses, I happened to read the first sentence of the two written, it said:
Apni bahu betiyon ko baahar na jaane dein
(Don’t let your daughters and daughters-in-law step out)
I was horrified. How could these people be so brazen about their orthodox misogynistic views? This, when hundreds of us in the cities are standing up for women’s rights, trying hard to deconstruct gender roles and mouldy stereotypes?
These thoughts though intense lasted only for a few moments, right till I was able to read the next and last line:
Ghar mein hi shauchalaya banayein
(Build a toilet in your own home)
What looked like an oppressive instruction had now assumed its actual role that of being an advice to protect women from relieving themselves in public, that of guarding a woman’s dignity.
It opened my eyes to how short-sighted and assumptious we can be.
These incidents one after the other made me realize that I know this place and its people only as much as the village women here know about selfies. So let’s keep the stereotypes at bay.