For women in India, gender based discrimination, violence and disparity is something that is taken as normal and we, as a woman, are used to it right since when we are born.
Forget careers, jobs, marriages, interestingly, even diets are planned based on gender. In Gujarat, pede are distributed when a boy is born and for a girl-child, the families distribute jalebis, as it is a sweet of a lesser “class & standard”.
In Odisha, it is tradition that a married woman is not supposed to eat chicken and egg. I have witnessed so many neighbours not letting their girl-children have milk as they think their sons need more nutrition. And here, I am talking about all service class, educated people.
Fortunately, having been born to parents who empowered me in every aspect more than they did my younger brother, I was always shielded from this kind of discrimination, at least at home.
No matter how many times, my relatives tried to impose that I should become a doctor as it is a good “line” for girls to pursue or that I should get into academics as it is suitable for my gender, my parents always stood beside me and defied all of them.
And what resulted is a confident, independent girl who not only condemns any sort of gender discrimination, but has the guts to stand up and speak out against it, with grace.
There’s Always A First Time
My first-hand encounter with discrimination came with my first job. Because till I was in school and college, I had been either a witness or someone who had lent her ears to listen to others about this.
Having secured my masters in Mass Communication with high distinction from a renowned university of India, I was all set to make my mark in the field of journalism and editing.
The daily that had offered me a month-long internship was my first employer. Packing up my big dreams, I set out to traverse 900 kms to start a journey unknown.
After the first four months, the under-grad resident editor of the daily told me that I don’t belong to the same fulcrum as other freshers working in the media and that I would soon crack the pinnacle.
However, all of a sudden, things turned sour.
Clueless, I spoke to my peers and colleagues about it and was told by someone, “Do ghante daily bitao sir ke kamre mein, sab thik ho jayega.” (Spend two hours every day in his cabin and everything would be fine).
I had almost decided to quit as the working environment was getting more and more incorrigible day by day. Then, the moment finally came when I put in my papers after working there for almost a year. I still vividly remember the exact incident which helped me make my decision.
I was confronted by the same editor for having selected a particular news item as the lead story of the city page that I was responsible for editing and laying out. The fresh budding ethical journalist in me was nearly strangled by his words that followed my staunch argument about the news being relevant and deserving that space.
I was told that our management had affiliations with a particular political group and hence, I would have to take it down. I took it down after telling him, “Aap nahi chhapoge toh koi aur chhapega” (What you would not publish, somebody else surely will).
Shifting my base to the capital city, I shifted my profile to communications consulting as well. The night before my first day at a new job, my then would-be boss asked me to accept his request on my Orkut account.
I happily acquiesced and he messaged me, “You have beautiful eyes and a divine smile.” I did not know what and how to respond. Pretending to take that in good spirits, I replied, “Thanks”.
Things were going okay till one fine day, just because his “mood” was not right and a meeting did not go as planned, my boss irritably said, “Ladki ho, primary teacher bann jao koi Koraput jaise jagah mein” (As a girl, I’m better off being a teacher in some primary school of a backward area).
Although he apologized to me profusely ten minutes later, but the words are still engraved in my heart. It still gives me the kick to do better in my career and life, come what may.
I landed another job in a few months and moved on from there.
Being An ‘Over-smart’ Woman
Working with myriad clients thereon and some other consultancies as well, I secured myself a lucrative permanent position in a Navratna PSU.
That interview, however, is something that I would take to my grave to carry forward to my next life.
I was asked some very personal questions like – when I plan to get married; if it was soon or not; being a girl, how good I am with staying late at work; would I be okay doing media rounds, et al…
After joining the company, the initiation procedure included a full-body check-up. The moment I landed in the ultra sound room, the lady physician asked me if I was married. When I asked why she would need to know, she said that if in case I was pregnant, my employment could be cancelled.
During my two year stint in that government job, I faced discrimination and sexist remarks numerous times. When I would point it out, I was given the “zyada hi tez hai” (she is too over-smart) line.
By the way, some people still look down upon women who wear jeans/pants to work and interestingly, women, too, actively endorse these mind-sets.
My current employment is with one of largest corporate groups of the country and among those thousands of sexist encounters that happen to me and other women colleagues every day, the brief to the empanelled creative agencies are also sexist in nature.
In a recent meeting, a male colleague of my team briefed the creative guy that the project is about youth and the youth of the country is represented by males; hence, there should be a “mard” (man) in the depiction of the logo that was to be designed and in the branding that was being conceptualized.
Lastly, I just want to say that if every woman in this country starts documenting the discrimination they face in their lives inside and outside their homes, the entire universe would be too small to store that data.
And this is certainly not an exaggeration. Ask any woman.