Published in: The Daily Star on March 11, 2015

THE International Woman’s Day comes every year with new campaigns, new tag lines, new slogans and newer pledges. Every year, there seems to be more men endorsing women’s rights. Every year, there seems to be more men waking up to a ‘new’ reality that women too need to be upgraded from the ‘sub-human’ category to the category of a ‘human’ being. How does one explain how a woman feels during these times when a woman does get special attention?

My morning on March 8, 2015 started with watching the documentary, “India’s Daughter”. That morning, with a cup of coffee in my hand, I shut the world down and indulged for sixty minutes. Jyoti Singh, a 23-year old was gang raped in a bus in Delhi on December 16 and died on December 29, 2012. It’s a tale of a pain endured by the parents, and the confessions of an accused, Mukesh Singh. Mukesh looks at the camera and says that while being raped, a woman should be quiet and not fight and he argues that Jyoti would have been alive if she hadn’t fought back as they would have then dumped her body somewhere and she wouldn’t have suffered organ injuries. The defence lawyer, A.P.Singh, goes even further saying that he would burn his own daughter if she had done what Jyoti had done, which was to have gone out with a male friend in the evening. The most shocking reaction comes from none but a woman, the Minority Affairs Minister, Najma Heptullah, who sided with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and blamed the previous UPA government for allowing the film to be made. This was a clear case of a man against a woman; a woman against a woman; and a government against a woman. The list could go on. But, luckily, in the meantime, a private television channel sported a black screen with only a picture of a burning candle with the typeface of “India’s Daughter” during the slotted hour and had just carried the views of the viewers scrolling at the bottom. Kudos. Media always finds a way of fighting back in times of crisis. Like it did, on June 24, 1975 when Emergency was declared in India. In protest, on June 28, the Delhi edition of the Indian Express on June 28 carried a blank editorial, while the Financial Express reproduced in large type Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where the mind is without fear.”

While I finished watching the documentary and shared the link with a young woman, she responded by saying: “But that’s India. We are a lot better off here.” I gaped in disbelief. If we have failed to tell our young generation what the picture of torture and abuse in Bangladesh looks like, then we have failed our own faith. As per the data of Ain-o-Salish Kendra, in 2014, 707 women had been raped; 81 died; 99 of them fall between the age range of 7-12; 35 are under six years of age. 27 were sexually abused, out of which 13 were murdered and 14 committed suicide. 262 were killed in domestic violence. 163 were killed in dowry related issues and 11 had committed suicide. If we have not yet told our children that there is a black act in this very country of ours, known as Colonial Era Evidence Act of 1872 which gives every rapist a chance to be “innocent till proven guilty”, then the fault lies with our own voices.

Every time we read about a rape, an abuse, if we don’t react to the news and leave it only to organisations to compile the data, launch the movement and watch it tapering off and occasionally gaining steam, then the real cause will only slide into the shadows and the face of the evil will never register in the hearts of any of our children. Maybe we could raise black flags on our places of residence every time we read about a rape? What about running a blank spot in the electronic media just for one minute in protest of the barbaric episodes every time they happen? What about telling our own children in spite of having 9 million women engaged in agriculture, 3 million in readymade garment sector, 9 million homemakers, 9000 media and entertainment workers, 70,000 bank employees, 65000 teachers and 5000 women in high places in service and industry sector, in this very same country, responding to an ICDDRB survey, 89 percent men surveyed in rural areas and 83 percent in the urban areas reported that it is “ok” to mildly beat (mriduprohar) a woman?

It is the same land where many like me woke up to a dreadful photograph printed on this very English daily on March 8, 2015. The picture was of two battling female politicians in Bogra, pulling the roots of each other’s hair out in order to be seen ahead of the other in a political initiative. By the afternoon, amidst all the marches and programmes in the city, another incident had taken place: a particular political party had just announced their nomination for the male mayor and ended their munajat by praying to be freed from the “clutches” of the two women in and out of power.

Luckily we have Nadia Sharmeen in our soil, who had just been awarded the International Woman of Courage prize for her bravery during the Hefazat-ridden times in Dhaka a few years back. Nadia was severely beaten up, hospitalized, and had lost her job with the private channel that she was covering the consignment for. Nadia is not only my hero, but she stands for millions of women in this country, who cry in private and brave a smile in public. She stands for many of us who have multiple hats to wear, many roles to play and cannot afford to be portrayed in distress. Speaking of which, someone right outside my door is waiting for a document to be signed while I shed my tear, hide it, wipe it away and camouflage my sadness with a smile. After all, a woman cannot afford to be seen sad in a professional environment. Being a woman is not easy; being a partner is hard; and being a professional woman is the hardest, just because it’s really not a world where a man stands up for a woman; it’s truly a world where most of Us live for the Man. Commendable initiatives like ‘HeforShe’ will never be translated into reality unless we run persistent campaigns to be transparent with our own problems, and by being in constant touch with our own expectation and pain.

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