I will always be proud to be a woman.
The news of the Connecticut shooting, only a few weeks old, saddened all our hearts. We lost innocent victims that didn’t even get the chance to experience a proper childhood, let alone, a full life of other blessings that people, alive today, may take for granted.
We were all marveled by the news of the teachers and the woman principal that dedicated their lives to education of young thinkers. One story that particularly touched my heart was about Vicki Soto, a 27 year old teacher, a bright and beautiful woman, who wanted to make a difference in the lives of her students. And she did just that by saving their lives, a true hero and a manifestation of all the bravery and goodness that you can find in a person. She was a true angel.
Now, I always remember Vicki when I volunteer with children as part of the Reading Partners organization. I volunteer for the simple reason that I love kids and I would adopt them all if I could. The fact that I help kids with reading and speaking skills is nothing worthy of mention but the collective work of the organization surely is and this is true for any group that works together to bring change. Reading Partners helps young students to improve their critical reading skills, a simple yet necessary development, that many kids are still struggling with, putting them at a great disadvantage with their classmates. At the particular time and day that I volunteer in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I see many women, from all walks of life, passionately dedicate their time with the elementary school kids. Even the program coordinator is a woman. I respect men and I’m sure there are men involved with this project and other noble projects that help our community. Regardless, I know that if, god forbid, any mentally unstable individual was to come and threaten these kids, Vicki will always be our inspiration.
Speaking of unstable minds, there was another shocking development a few days ago, of an aspiring medical student, 23 years old, being brutally raped and tortured by a gang of men in New Delhi. It brought my blood to boiling rage once again and I’m sure it did the same for many others which is why we see the people of India fighting for women’s rights in every headline. The actual description of the incident was as inhuman as it could possibly be. But it is incredible to hear that the medical student is not backing down. She continues to fight bravely in the hospital because she wants to live. And this attitude speaks wonders for how we should live our own.
She is my age. It could have been me. It could have been your sister, your friend, but she is more than our relationships to her. She is a woman with just as many human rights as the rest of us.
India is finally revolting but it took a woman, dressed in “appropriate” clothing, coming from a social activity of a watching a movie, at the hour of the night deemed “acceptable”, with a male companion we would have hoped was for her protection, to go through so much suffering and violence along with her friend and ultimately get dumped on the streets. I wonder if she had been abused at another hour, in another location, would we finally have had the sense to react the way we should be doing now? That thought disturbs me far more.
What about the ongoing rapes of the women in the adjacent neighborhood in Haryana who have been crying wolf since God knows how many ages? What about the one lady whose father was murdered for fighting her case but her words were, “I couldn’t save my father but I will continue to fight because I don’t want other women to go through the torture I did”? Or the young girl openly molested as the media was watching in Assam? Or others in the rest of India and the world?
We may come across people that deeply hurt us in our lifetime. They may abandon us, divorce us, even verbally abuse us. I grew up with the philosophy to forgive those who hurt us, move on and be a stronger person than before. However, how can anyone forgive such horrid instances of getting raped, tortured and almost killed?
I am sick and tired of hearing statistics that show that rape isn’t as prevalent if you look at it from a percentage of the population in this diagram or that there are uneducated hoodlums settling into the cities that cause such crimes or advice about doing XYZ to protect my own integrity. Having grown up in Delhi, getting lewd remarks was a bare minimum. Getting groped by strangers also happened to me twice. I am sick and tired of being silent and polite just because I am a woman.
After moving to the States, I feel safer. I can travel on my own in buses and trains and trust that I will be ok. I recently took some self-defense classes in New York City as a precautionary measure and discovered that all of the fifteen women in the class with me had been or were experiencing some form of violence from men. Three of them had male stalkers. Five of them had been assaulted even with a male companion.
I felt like an anomaly for all the wrong reasons.
The female instructor, who had been trained in judo and karate for a decade, taught us how to use our instincts, shout, use pepper spray, bite, use our elbows and any open hands and feet to kick, punch whatever we could do to fight. And then what? To eventually get the hell away from our attacker as soon as possible. If a martial arts expert like her was telling us that, then what chance does a regular woman have to protect herself?
The Indian authorities are suggesting guns for women but putting any harmful object in the hands of the public can be easily misused, especially by the attacker. They say to increase the police force and station them in women’s colleges, near metros, markets etc. This reminds me of the time when my friend and I were casually walking during the day in the “posh” GK colony in India several years ago. A car without a license plate approached us and a man inside groped her and tried to get her into the car. As we repelled, the men in the car harassed us with sexual remarks and finally sped away. A police constable luckily observed all this from far away and started running after the vehicle. He was only armed with a ‘lathi’ stick. We urged him to take further action but all he said was, “Rehne do na madam, rape thoda nahi hua hai iska” (Leave it madam, it’s not like she got raped!)
One of my favorite movies, Jab We Met, has another brilliant instance where Geet, the Kareena Kapoor character is running after the hero and asks for the help of a policeman who just flounders his time around and doesn’t do anything. But the scene that really scares me is when she is stuck on a train station with no place to go and a gang of men start harassing her. Even the station master calls her “khuli hui tijori” (a woman is like an open treasure for the men to take). If it wasn’t for the hero in the movie, she would have either been kidnapped by the man on the motorcycle who mistook her for a prostitute or surely raped by the workers at the station. That scene is shown with a humorous twist but she would have easily been another nameless victim whose case would have never reached the courts.
All these examples further cement my understanding that women, not just in Delhi but all over the world need to keep defending themselves till we don’t have a revolution in the mentality of sick minded men and women who perpetuate the notion that a woman is inferior. And for us to achieve this, we need to keep aside our prejudices, our social classes, and any other man-made differences. We need to continue helping each other as one race of humanity, the only kind there is.
I know about a close relative who is suffering from an incurable disease. He has to be hospitalized often for his treatment, sometimes for one day, sometimes for many days altogether. But he is always flanked by three people to be there for him whenever he needs help. His mother, his wife and his daughter. It wouldn’t matter if the hospital didn’t have enough space for those three, they would sleep on the floor to stay by his side every night in the hospital. On the day of the snow storm in November, he had to reach his hospital in the City for a specific treatment urgently and 911 couldn’t help because they would only take him to a local hospital. His daughter took out the car in the blinding whiteness of the snow, the mother and the wife carried him in the car and got him there in time.
All these women, Vicki, the medical student, the woman from Haryana, the family of this man, and many others, they are all my heroes. I know I can continue to appreciate life because women like these exist.
With all the recent news of natural calamities, bombings and killings in Middle East, shootings and stories of injustice dampening our view of the world, I urge you to find the goodness in the world, believe in it, and don’t just sit there, but be a part of it in whatever shape or form you can be.
After my fair share of self-introspection from disheartening/life-changing experiences in the past and present, I am content with what I have and I no longer ask for any favors from God. But if I truly asked for one last one, I would pray to him to please bless me with a daughter.