WHAT AILS JUSTICE FOR WOMEN?

Changing times require changing laws. This week, as we write about the various spheres where changes are required in the Acts and Laws of our country, I choose to focus on laws pertaining to women in this article.

India is a largely male-dominated patriarchy, with a few matriarchal societies in the North-eastern, Southern and tribal belts. Going back in time to the days of the Indus Valley Civilization and the Vedic Age, we get to see women holding honourable positions in this part of the world. Though women were not accorded legal status, they were seldom caged within the four walls of their houses or subjected to inhuman treatment. 

However in the later ages, the status of women deteriorated. Women were subjected to menial manual labour, were considered as objects of pleasure and lust (though they were deified at the same time) and were treated as cheap means of income augmentation. Over the years, the gender disparity has only widened. 

Behind this widening disparity in this post-modern era, is the ever so skewed mindset of people (men and women). I was watching a documentary on Khap Panchayats (kangaroo courts that still exist in some of the North Indian states). The statement of one woman struck me. She said that ‘girls ought to learn to subject themselves to the diktats of men; if they don’t learn it the easy way and harbour vain desires of flying free, we know how to clip their wings.’ She was saying this in the context of a forceful separation of a couple who had eloped against the desires of the girl’s father and brothers. And mind you, she was no kin to that girl. What ultimately happens in such cases? Either the boy or the girl or both are subjected to public humiliation and/or killed. In instances where they succeed to escape, they continue to live in fear even after seeking legal help. Why have our laws failed to function in the true spirit of the letters of the legal provisions?

It was once thought by intellectuals that education is the answer to the ills meted out towards women. But, here are certain sections of people who have welcomed the literacy part of education without embracing the broader objectives and nuances of education. As a result, though today India’s literacy rate is decent enough for a still-developing country (74% as per Census 2011), the mindset of a hundred years before, still prevails.

There are two approaches to ensure that this mean treatment towards women changes. One is the preventive approach – change in attitude of society towards women, which would in turn prevent the injustices that they are subjected to. I’m not going to write about the change in attitude towards women in this article. That is a separate topic altogether. The other one that I will focus on is the punitive measures that our legal system fails to provide for the injustices meted out towards women.

Talking of laws favouring women, we have enough of them on paper. But the rate of their implementation is abysmal. The reasons are many – cumbersome unending legal procedures, politicization of cases, money power at work, lack of awareness and inaccessibility of the poor people to legal systems. It is of course extremely essential for the truth of events/cases to be ascertained before a verdict is pronounced; it is worse for an innocent to be implicated and convicted than for a guilty to be set free! But, it is also essential that the guilty be convicted and punished. Punitive measures not only ensure justice for victims, they also play their part in being deterrents to future possibilities of crimes of such nature.

I will give brief accounts of two incidents of injustices towards women which will drive home the need for punitive measures.

Case 1

A young woman was brutally stabbed by her husband in front of her four-year old son. She suffered 232 stabs all over her body. The number is no exaggeration because I have personally seen both the woman and her medical reports. She battled for life for three months in the hospital. Her life was saved, thanks to the doctors and the caring support of her parents. Today this young woman in her mid-thirties, bears the visible scar of a huge gash on her otherwise beautiful face. She is now forever dependent on a walking stick, using which she walks with a lot of effort. With no finances and a least supportive society, she lives in a perpetual state of fear. Reason – her husband who is in the lock-up but has already been out on bail twice has the money power to turn the tables on her, get their son kidnapped from school (which he has already tried) and to get the case closed by falsifying all allegations against him. She shudders to think what would happen if the courts rule in his favour and he walks free.

Case 2

This account is from a video which I came across in YouTube. The woman narrates how she was subjected to repeated sex-determination tests followed by termination of pregnancies against her will because her husband did not want another daughter (they had a daughter already). Unable to bear the torture, she took her daughter, started staying separately and filed for divorce. Well, sadly the story doesn’t end here. Even while the divorce proceedings were underway, the man visited her, pinned her to the wall and chewed off parts of her face including her nose. None came to her rescue hearing her shrieks! Her face is disfigured for life! The man roams around free, leaving her in a state of perpetual fear for herself and her daughter. Watching her story sent shivers down my spine.

These are not the only two stark incidents portraying injustices meted out to women in our country. Uncountable dowry harassment cases (many culminating in gory murders), marital rapes (which many of our political and self-ordained moral custodians think not to be made much hue and cry of), acid attacks, molest horrendous rapes/gangrapes followed by murders, slave brides, extreme domestic violence are some blots that many Indian women live with. Child marriages still continue to be societal practices in many villages. The dark business of trafficking girls/women to force them into the flesh trade thrives under the very noses of policemen. Men of certain remote villages have the practice of kidnapping or buying poor women from other parts of the country and marrying them so that these hapless women can be cheap sources of labour apart from satisfying their lust and tolerating extreme forms of abuse. (These women seldom escape, because they find themselves in different parts of the country – the terrain and language whereof they do not know much.)

All these persist, while we have ample constitutional and legal provisions in place, not to mention the National Commission for Women. Why haven’t our laws been deterrents to the ongoing injustices towards women? So many decades after independence, Indian women are still slaves to societal injustices. Few fight it out, others suffer silently – the poor being the worst sufferers. Why are there so many bottlenecks in the way of justice?

Preventive and punitive measures go hand in hand. While many of our NGOs, social activists and counsellors work towards preventive measures by ways of encouraging an attitude change, the punitive measures need to be stringent as well. The perpetrators of crimes against women need to get the message that they cannot go scot-free. Those with money and muscle power need to get the message that their support for brutes will not yield any result and that justice will ultimately prevail.

Violence against women is not restricted to India alone. It persists in all countries all over the world. However, the surety of justice, even if delayed is assured in many countries. The urgency with which investigations are carried out, evidence is sought for and the perpetrators taken to task is worthy of applause. The guilty know their fate once they are caught. In India on the other hand, various factors deter justice from being done. And this is what leads to the fearless propagation of crime against women.

Provisions for timely, stringent and sure actions against perpetrators of injustice towards women, coupled with increasing efforts towards changing the attitude of society at large, are the needs of the hour. We need strong investigative agencies – either public funded or private ones who would investigate atrocities against women, among other issues and go down to the very bottom of cases. Only then, dastardly  cases like burning women for dowry would stop being notoriously euphemised as stove bursting burns. We need impartial police who would not be bought easily by the political masters to hush up cases.

As we head towards another celebration of India as a republic, let our women feel assured to breathe the air of fearless survival. A wish and a prayer that women be seen with the same crowning glory that God created them to be!

 

 

ARE YOU A GOOD SAMARITAN?

A lone sojourner on his way from one city to the other was brutally attacked by hooligans. They beat him up mercilessly, looted his valuables and left him by the roadside to breathe his last. It was a scarcely treaded stretch of road and not many people passed that way. In a while, a priest came along that way. He saw the injured man. Not wanting to get himself into any mess, he took a detour and went the other way. The maimed man continued to battle for his life. In some more time, there came by another traveller who belonged to a respectable class in the society. He too saw the man and changed tracks. After yet some more time, another man who was not held with much regard in that part of the country, passed by. He saw the injured man and stopped on his tracks. He rushed towards him, bandaged his wounds, administered first aid, took him to the nearest inn and stayed with him the whole day to take care of him. The next day, he gave some money to the innkeeper urging him to take care of the injured man and that he would bear all the extra expenses on his way back from the errand for which he had to leave.

The third man in the above parable who helped the injured man has been nicknamed as the Good Samaritan (‘Good’ because of his good act, and ‘Samaritan’ because he hailed from a place called Samaria). And thus, the expression ‘Good Samaritan’ finds its way into common parlance in the English language.

How we all wish for the helping hand of a Good Samaritan in times of need! How we all yearn during rough patches that somebody would stop on his/her tracks to attend to us! Even if you are a very independent person, there would’ve been hours where you would’ve silently longed for assistance.

Being ‘people-centric’ comes with spontaneity to many, but not to most. Why don’t we focus on people more than what we do for ourselves? What holds us back?

  1. Individual personality traitsAltruism doesn’t come naturally to all. Some are simply less altruistic and so paying attention to the needs of others is not a dish on their menu. However, altruism is an attribute which if cultivated results in a lot of good to society. Then there are some who are timid, shy and docile to intervene in the lives of people around them. There are others who are too self-centered to shift their attention from ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ to ‘them’ and ‘others’. Certain others are apathetic – they just fail to perceive the needs of others and make any sense of them.
  2. Bystander phenomenon – How many times have you passed by a scene of accident telling yourself that some others would step in to help the victim? This is called the bystander phenomenon in psychological terms and is present in most of us. We stand by and watch events unfold without stepping in to make a constructive difference, by convincing ourselves that there sure would be someone else who would offer assistance to the needy person. Most of us refrain from philanthropy for this very same reason, harbouring the notion that others are contributing towards that end.
  3. To avoid getting into trouble – The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 aims to provide protection to those who expose wrongdoing in government offices (in India). With such an Act in place, may people would have come forward to help the government machinery to function better. Sadly, this doesn’t happen! Rather, those who open their mouths find themselves embroiled in endless controversies causing them and their families untold miseries. People who help roadside accident victims, or the victims of mob violence or communal riots or eye-witnesses who volunteer to testify in courts of law end up being harassed and surrounded by endless controversies. Moreover, most people do not wish to get entangled with the seemingly unending and cumbersome legal procedures. The first person who offered assistance to the victims in the infamous Nirbhaya case and willingly volunteered to testify in the court of law has lost his private job because he had to make numerous appearances in the court leading to long periods of absence from work. So it is not simply a lack of will or motivation to help that prevents some from being people-centric, but the price that they end coughing up that makes them decide to keep away from the mess.
  4. ‘I am not affected’ – Many people turn away from helping others because they are not affected. ‘As long as I and my family are not affected, I need not bother’ is the latent thought process of many people. There are a few personal life experiences which open our minds to shed age-old notions and dogmas and be more helping towards certain sections of people. Some people whose houses get submerged under flood waters or shattered by earthquake are quicker to empathize towards similar others on later occasions. But till they go through a personal experience, they do not bother to budge.
  5. Mental schemas and societal stereotypes – In the parable mentioned in the beginning of this article, may be the priest who hesitated to help the injured man was afraid of defiling himself with blood or with a dead body in case of death of the man (there were strong rules of purity and defilement among the priestly clan in that culture). Taking an example from the caste system in Indian society (which is still quite vivid in rural India, though it is dissipating in most urban settings), people belonging to upper castes do not give access to water to those belonging to lower castes even in the scorching summer conditions. Though the Constitution makers incorporated Article 17 to abolish the practice of untouchability, it continues to raise its ugly head in various forms. Caste barriers, racial prejudices, religious and ethnic discrimination accompanied by the fear of excommunication stop people from focussing on certain others.

Most of us would find ourselves in one or more of the above mentioned categories (or even in some others) as to why we are less focussed on others. For some, it may even be simply a busy life schedule with hardly any time for self, leave alone for others. No matter what be the causal factors, all of us would definitely agree that we are not always ready to attend to people at all times. Mothers would agree that it causes them immense discomfort when guests pop in just the evening before their children’s exam. With all traits of efficient hospitability, it still becomes a grave dilemma to choose guests over helping the children with their lessons.

While ‘choice’ would continue to be a deciding factor, there are two golden principles that arch over all.

  1. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you – You expect others to attend to you in times of need, do your bit to attend to theirs when they need you. Identify the needs of at least those in your immediate periphery and reach out to them. Remember, needs of people are not always material, physical or external. Also, those in need may not always call out for help (just as you don’t, on many occasions). Just put yourself in each ones position in your immediate circle of loved ones and have a grip over some area in which they would desire you.
  2. Value others above yourselves – The moment you value someone above yourself, that person becomes the focus of your attention. And, you would definitely not shift your focus from those others who fall within the range of your radar. The Bible teaches – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Let’s start small. No matter what be the reasons – personal, societal or systemic that prevent us from focussing on people around us and their interests, it is wise to make a conscious attempt to turn the floodlights outwards and then gradually increase their intensity for greater coverage.

 

THE GIFT-BEARER’S GIFTS

Carrying armloads of gifts uncertain,
Wrapped in glazing wrappers,
Someone knocks at the door,
As the clock ticks away . . .

 

What a warm welcome
The gift bearer receives
With open arms, beaming smiles
And hugs galore!

 

Gifts uncountable
Roll onto the table
Some small some big
Hardly can anyone wait for their pick

 

With excited squeals
All scramble onward
Eager anticipation
Givings way to mixed gasps

 

The wrappers are ripped apart
And strewn across the place
As all behold their gifts
Some with smiles and some with tears

 

Some hold prosperity in their hands
While for some a pile of debts to be cleared
Some united in marital bliss
While some hold a severing chord

 

Some hold happiness and success
While some have in their hands sadness and failure
Some cradle a new born
While some hold another year’s waiting

 

As the gift bearer beholds
The mixed expressions
He assures of joy in the midst of grief
And tranquility amidst unrest

 

The gifts that the year has brought forth
Do not promise prosperity and success for all
Yet there is available abundant Grace for all
Assuring victory over situations strong or dull

 

The Sender of the gift bearer
Is God over all
In His hands lie the reins
Of one and all.

DISCARDED TISSUE PAPER

When I found the love of my life, the rest of the world didn’t matter to me. He was my new found world. He was my present and my future. He added meaning to my life. Our hands together were enough to spin strands of gold for the path that lay before us.

And, he thought similarly too. For him, I was his queen – his friend, motivator, honest critic and an ever-loving wife. People held us as an exemplary couple. ‘A marriage made in heaven’ – said many. We soaked in all the compliments with wide smiles. Our loving bond strengthened by the day.

The gifts of this loving union are our two munchkins – yes, I still call them munchkins though both are in their twenties now. Our love for each other grew with every passing year that we spent with each other. We understood each other so well! And, we had made a pact with each other to agree to disagree. So . . . there weren’t intense quarrels between us. Of course, we argued in plenty – two different beings after all and numerous life situations to encounter! But, all our disagreements and arguments ended with one conceding to the other. Sometimes, it was me and at other times it was him.

Life moved on. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, passing away of loved ones, work stress, tantrums of children, low finances, fevers, pleading cries of the kids during immunization, mood swings of each other and not to mention the night snores (he snores a lot and I had such a difficult time putting up with it initially, though we laughed about it every other morning) – we dealt with all of these quite well.

Let me narrate a couple of episodes.

It was his father’s sixtieth birthday. We had arranged for a grand destination celebration. My father-in-law’s favorite color is yellow (I still remember). We had got the place all decorated in yellow – yellow flowers, yellow ribbons, yellow carpet (which was really hard to find), chairs draped in yellow covers and yellow tapestries. It was my idea. My father-in-law appreciated it so much that he went on talking about it for days together. He even went to the extent of dedicating a song for me that evening, the ever-loving daughter (yes, he never referred to me as daughter-in-law) that I was.

On another occasion, we had been to a New Year Eve’s party hosted by some of his friends and their spouses. We had been married for ten years by then. During a game of Truth and Dare, he was ‘dared’ to flirt with a ravishing lady in the crowd. He looked at me and then at the others and said, ‘I accept defeat. I admit . . . I’m not a daring person. Twenty four hours a day is still less to flirt with my girl’, as he put his hand over mine. I still remember the tender look in his eyes that evening. My blushing cheeks didn’t go unnoticed by those present around the table!

Those were the days in which he was slowly climbing up the career ladder. We had many sacrifices to make for each other and for the family. He always acknowledged how much I encouraged and supported him

I was twenty seven and he was a month more than twenty eight when we had married. Our munchkins opened their eyes in this planet at an interval of four years, two years after our marriage. Parenting wasn’t easy. It isn’t even now!! But, we both played our parts well, though his work didn’t give him the luxury to spend a lot of time with us.

As I juggled between work and family, his absence started to become quite conspicuous. We . . . talked about it. His answers didn’t satisfy me. But, I left it at that. Gradually, our monthly date nights became infrequent. Since I was overworked with job and family chores, I often lazed over the thought of dressing up and going out to parties. He dissented my disinterest. But then, he too wasn’t available when I had less work or was in the mood.

One night, our argument intensified. The words we hurled at each other weren’t pleasant. No abusive words were exchanged. No fist fights or throwing things around. But . . . suppressed expectations were expressed in enraged tones. For the first time in sixteen years of marriage, I slept with tears wetting my pillow. He didn’t put his arm around me as he always did  to pacify me when we went to bed after an argument.

I felt . . . something break within me. What I didn’t realise that night was that it was the beginning of the end! We lasted five more years. His constant neglect for me (though he continued to be a doting father whenever he did spare some time), broke me. I realised that I failed to attract him any more. Well, two child-births and the daily juggle between work and family had taken their tolls on my youthful looks. 

With his attention drifting away from me, I thought I was being unjust by being in his life. After all why would a man come home to a wife who interests him no more! He had reached the top of the career ladder by then. He was a successful man. And, he still looked young and attractive. ‘Maybe, that’s why he no longer likes me by his side,’ I thought. I was too pent up with unspoken emotions.

And then, one morning during one of our high-pitched arguments (which had begun to become frequent) he shouted out loud, ‘I am sick and tired of you.’ I was speechless. I felt the ground slip from beneath my feet as he voiced my apprehensions.

We finalized our separation two months after that.

I spent my fiftieth birthday with my children – my first birthday after our separation.

It has been four years since.

I have moved on. My children are my world now. It was difficult for them to understand and accept the separation. But, they have come to terms with it now.

He has moved on too. He has remarried. His wife (how much it aches my heart to call someone else as his wife is known to me alone) is young, beautiful and successful. Recently they celebrated their daughter’s first birthday. He had invited our children too. I encouraged them to go. They like visiting their father and paternal grandparents and I have never wanted them to cut off ties or harbour bitter feelings, though it still is a bit awkward.

I saw the photos and the videos of the celebration. His smile was just like the one he wore during the blissful years of our marriage. His father, now seventy six, hailed his wife as the best daughter (he didn’t address her as daughter-in-law just as he never addressed me that way).

They all looked happy. It was a normal family celebration. Nothing seemed amiss.

As I sit looking at the pictures controlling my tears from gushing out, I ask myself, ‘Did none of them miss me during the get-together? After all, I was a part of their lives for twenty one years – more than two decades! Is it that easy to forget someone who has been a part of your life – who has been a part of your laughter, tears, sicknesses, worries, failures and successes? ‘

I feel like the discarded tissue paper. We look for a clean fresh tissue paper to serve our needs. Once it gets soiled, we lose no time in discarding it. Do we ever remember that discarded tissue paper again?

Divorces and remarriages are rampantly becoming the norm not only in advanced cultures, but also in conservative societies. What was once looked at upon with raised eyebrows is widely encaptioned as a ‘laissez faire’ survival strategy. Though both the separated partners deal with their shares of emotional baggages, it is often more difficult for that partner who chooses not to get into another relationship after the separation. More often that not, it is the woman who gets to deal with the litany of emotions upswelling within her. This holds true for all classes of people – from glamorous movie stars to the middle-class homemakers. 

Relationships are delicate!  The next time you look at a discarded tissue paper, think of that deserted wife (or husband) who has been tossed into lonesome corners. Spare them a thought and instead of being judgemental, let your souls be sensitive to hear the imperceptible cries of such despondent hearts.

 

(Disclaimer: The narrative is based on those women who find themselves ‘unwanted’ after marital separation. This is neither a personal account nor based exclusively on any particular person’s experiences.)

 

ERUPT – XII

“Wh . . . What are you doing here and at this time?,” blurted out Rex with a bewildered voice as he opened the door for Reeta to step in. He hadn’t imagined in his wildest dreams to see her again in his cottage. As she stepped in, he peeped out behind her to make sure she hadn’t got any reporters with her.

“I came to thank you,” said Reeta with a crisp voice, devoid of any emotion. “I can see that just like everyone else, you have watched it too,” she continued to say glancing towards the television which was still ON.

“I’ll fix you some coffee. Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable,” said Rex showing his hand towards the same chairs where she had sat watching the waves and sipping ginger tea, the day he had brought her to his cottage first.

As Rex proceeded to his coffee maker, he couldn’t make much sense of Reeta’s visit.

‘After all that she has told the public, she probably can’t ever go back to her house. Does she want shelter here? I have to be careful. These high profile people can change colours any time. Or is she here to make me fall for her? She has an emotional vaccuum within her now and after all that she has told about feeling safe here, she may be looking to win my sympathy. Help me God! What do I do? How can I be of help to her without inviting trouble for myself?,’ Rex muttered to himself as he fixed two cups of coffee.

The sea was calm that night, symbolizing the uncanny calmness that Reeta felt within her. She sat in the same chair. But, there was no view of the sea as it was a dark moonless night. Two days before, she had been in the same place. The sea was rough and noisy then, and so was her heart within. Her life had seemed to be crashing again and again as were the waves on the shore that day. Today however, everything was different. The sea was calm and so was her heart within. Probably, the sea was acknowledging her feelings and reflecting them.

“Here you go, Reeta, if I may call you so, now that I know your name,” said Rex with a wink placing a tall mug of coffee before her. “By the way, you said some good things about me while answering to that reporter. I appreciate your kind words. Umm…mmm…let me share a slice of my life with you,” he continued without giving her any opportunity to speak. He was determined not to give any space for her to leap into his life.

“You know why I picked you up from the sandy beach that night? Well, of course, you know! I had told you,” said Rex with a laugh and a wave of his hand as emotions visibly swelled within him. “But, there’s more to it. Fifteen years ago, my sister . . . my only sweet younger sister . . . was swept away by the waves into the bottomless sea. It was a winter afternoon and she was lying lazily on the sea beach when a huge sudden wave swept across and pulled her in, along with the flow of current. No one could save her. It happened so quickly. I was right here inside this cottage and ran out on hearing the cries of people only to find her scarf nestled on a nearby rock. There was no sight of her. Perhaps, the scarf was her good-bye gift to me!,” sighed Rex wiping off the tears that streamed down his cheeks.

“Her name was Riva. She was twenty, then. And when I saw you that morning lying unguarded and unconscious, I felt a compelling urge not to let some sudden wave sweep you off without your knowledge. Another brother should not lose a sister, was what occurred to my mind instantly,” said Rex raising his voice suddenly.

“Of course, I don’t know if you have a brother. But if you have, I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you alive,” said Rex blowing his nose into a tissue.

Reeta sat motionless letting every word of Rex sink in. She had finished her coffee and had placed the cup on the table, this time carefully. Rex’s words seemed like a fairy tale to her. She had never witnessed such love, an orphan that she was!

“Remember, the mug that crashed to pieces that day when you were here?,” asked Rex with a sudden tinkle in his voice. “That belonged to Mary, my late wife. A pretty petite cheerful woman she was! We were married for twelve wonderful years. Three years back she developed a rare skin infection. I never thought a skin infection could take life. But, it did. It has been two years since my Mary left me. I loved Mary and so it never occurred to me to look at you with lust when I held you in my arms and brought you in, even though you were unaware of yourself that day. I have sealed my loyalty to Mary before God and that holds true to me to this day, even with her being gone to a land of no-return,” said Rex with sadness in his voice.

“Mary and I used to sit by the window and sip hot chocolate every evening. That mug reminded me of Mary’s presence in my life. When that mug crashed, I felt that I had failed her. I could do nothing to save her from death. And, I could do nothing to prevent her memory from crashing. But, don’t be mistaken. I haven’t pushed her away from me,” Rex got up from the chair saying this and went to the kitchen. He pulled open a drawer and took out a clear bag from it. He went to Reeta and held it up for her to see.

There was that golden mug, broken, but neatly joined together with the cracks clearly visible!

 

ERUPT – V

The bird-watcher, Rex, as he had introduced himself later, had a modest cottage of his own just by the sea-shore to which he had carried the inebriated Reeta this early morning around 4:30 AM. He laid before her a generous brunch – sweet potato pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, an assortment of nuts, a glass of fresh orange juice and a jug of water.

“Have you made all of these?”, Reeta asked.

“Yeah! I’m the lone king in this castle, you see. And, I’m a foodie. I’m always this generous to my guests”, said Rex with a grin pointing towards the food on the table.

“Thank you!”, said Reeta forcing a faint smile for her saviour of the day. “Won’t you join in?”

“I had breakfast already . . . It was almost morning when I carried you in. And now, though its almost time for lunch, I thought a little light food would do you good before you decide to head homewards to have lunch. I’ll give you company, though. Just fixing myself a hot cup of ginger tea”, replied Rex who was dressed in a loose white t-shirt and grey baggy pants with a cowboy’s hat on his head.

“In that case, if you don’t mind please make two cups. My head is aching terribly and I think ginger tea is just the thing I need right now”, sighed Reeta turning her gaze out of the open door towards the sea outside. She was unusually calm. No one who had seen her the previous night or in the wee hours of the morning would believe that she could indeed be so calm. A complete contrast to the noisy sea outside!

“Sure lady!”, said Rex with a smile.

The cottage was sparsely furnished. But, she observed that the tiny kitchen was well-stocked with food supplies.

She took the cup of tea from Rex without a word and sat sipping the hot beverage as she continued to the stare blankly at the waves crashing on the shore.

“So Miss, you were a bit high last night, weren’t you?”, quizzed Rex.

“I wish I would really have been”, Reeta replied absent-mindedly, her eyes still fixed on the waves crashing outside.

“What! You had already passed out when I spotted you. There was no one around. I caught sight of you when I went out for an early morning stroll hoping to spot some birds. I didn’t want to leave a beautiful lady lying unguarded for human or animal predators to pounce on. And yet you say, you wished you had passed out? Huhh!! I think you have had enough partying last night and it’s time you went home. Your folks must be pretty good worried by now. I’ll drop you wherever you want me to”, said Rex placing his empty cup on the table.

“You see those waves crashing on the shore? How emphatically they keep surging forward across the sea! But, the sturdy rocks and rugged cliffs restrict them. And so, they crash! C…RRR…AAAA…SHHH! They lose all their strength and lie low – broken, forlorn and lost! The gorgeous gallopping waves lose their existence. They leave the rocks and the sand wet. But, there remains no trace of them. No trace whatsoever”, whispered Reeta audibly tracing her fingers in the air as if she was painting the whole event in the limitless canvas before her.

“That sure is an amazing level of thoughtfulness! I mean, I see the sea and the waves almost everyday that I’m here in my cottage. But my interest lies in birds, you see. I had never spared much thought for the waves. Are you a poetess? Usually poets see meaning in every occurrence”, said Rex sitting down (he had already got up with the intention of leaving after finishing his cup of tea when Reeta started off about the waves).

“Ha ha ha . . .  ha ha ha . . .”, Reeta broke off into a wild hysterical laughter. Much to the chagrin of Rex, she did not stop. She went on laughing as if she was insane, pounding her right fist on the table rhythmically. As the intensity of her laughter went on increasing, the furious pounding of her fists kept on gaining speed. Suddenly, she banged the table with a loud thump.

Before the bewildered Rex could utter a word, the cup which was in Reeta’s left hand cracked and fell onto the floor. The crashing of bone china broke Reeta’s ominous spell. She had momentarily remembered the happenings of the last two days as she saw the waves. And that had once again caused a flurry of emotions to upswell within her. The whirlpool of anger, hatred and self-pity within her had gushed out electrifying waves of current into all parts of her body. Her dainty fingers transmitted the current onto the empty tea cup as it crumbled under pressure and fell on the spotlessly clean floor.

Rex stood up with his mouth wide open . . . unable to utter a word.

Her spell now broken by the clanking sound of the broken cup, Reeta looked onto the floor and then at Rex apologetically. She closed her eyes shut for a few seconds, took a deep breath and sprang up from the chair on which she had been sitting for the last forty five minutes without a movement.

“I’m sorry. I’ll clean up. I’ll pay for the damage too”, she said without much emotion evident in her voice.

“You may clean up the mess, but you can’t pay for the damage”, muttered Rex slowly.

“Excuse me! What did you just say? I heard it clear enough. I CAN pay for the damage. Do you know who I am?”, said Reeta looking straight into Rex’s eyes.

“Never mind, lady. You won’t understand. I’ll drop you home as soon as you finish cleaning up the floor as you desire to. Meanwhile, let me catch up with the headlines of the day before heading out”, said Rex rolling her eyes, as he turned towards the television unsure of how to react further. He wanted to flee out of the cottage to spot some bird and unwind himself by observing its movements. The events from last evening till then were beginning to take their toll on his mind.

‘Minister Speaks’ – flashed the title of the programme which was just about to begin. The shrill confident voice of the journalist filled the small cottage room as the introductory prelude music came to an end, “Today we have addressing the press conference the yet-to-be-sworn-in Minister of Health and Family Welfare. We know that the health and families of the people of this nation are in safe hands, now. Although the swearing-in ceremony is still a day away, our Minister-designate has already embarked on fulfilling his election promises to the citizens. This is his first press conference after being allocated the portfolio. Let us hear what he has to say to the people. Over to our correspondent for Live updates of the press conference being addressed at the moment by Mr. Jay Kapoor.” It was a repeat telecast of the press conference that had happened earlier in the morning.

Reeta was almost done cleaning up the mess without paying any attention to the television programme, when the last word forced her hands to stop. As Jay Kapoor appeared on screen and started speaking, her vision blurred out and her head started spinning as she soundlessly fell down on the floor that she had just wiped clean.

Rex continued to watch the programme unaware of the happenings behind him.

MEN ARE HUMANS TOO

A day such as International Men’s Day makes us stop on our steps and give a deep thought to men. Women do need that extra bit of attention because all the world over, be it in developed or developing nations, they are the oppressed lot – in different but many ways. However, men are calling out too – their voices being doused by the stereotypes and mutilated by the rigid societal frameworks that have defined gender roles.

The theme for International Men’s Day 2019 – ‘Making a difference for men and boys’ made me think whether any difference is needed for men and boys, and if so how can we (men and women) contribute towards it. Some stereotypes definitely need to be revisited to be modified.

#Men are supposed to be strong

What does ‘strong’ mean exactly? Well, in the context of men, ‘strong’ means physically, emotionally, financially and socially strong. A man who is well-built, is able to steel his emotions, has good source of finances and has social contacts to get things done, is considered to be a manly man. By this definition, a man who is thin and frail or displays his emotions or is unemployed or is more of a social recluse, lacks what it takes to be a man. Are we expecting superheroes out of men?

Few years back, a boy of fourteen was walked into my Counselling room in the school where I was working. He was contemplating suicide and had shared with a teacher with whom he was a bit free. It took me two and half hours to talk him out of his plans, while I was all the while praying for God to intervene. When I spoke to his parents a couple of days later, the mother panicked while the father laughed it off saying, ‘is this how a man should behave? He is my son. He should roar like a lion, and not resort to all this depression-anxiety-suicide drama.’ The father refused to mend his ways (he was part of the problem) or acknowledge that his son needed help. He never turned up for the parental Counselling sessions that I called them for (in fact I got to know that he was waiting for the boy to pass out of school so that he could confront me 🙂 ). The boy was aware that he needed help. And so, apart from regular sittings with me, he used his pocket money to consult psychiatrists for medications which were needed for extreme trigger situations. It has been five years since! I received an elaborate letter from him last week only to say it has been five years that he is alive, that he is part of an accepting peer group, is doing well in college studies, has been off medications for a long time now and is no longer prone to depressive spells and panic attacks.

Would the boy have not been spared of all that he went through, had his father taken cognizance of his son’s need for help? A baby boy is not born strong. He is as tender and vulnerable as a baby girl is. If we stand by our boys and men during the times of their frailities, to lend them an understanding ear and a supportive shoulder, we can be agents of strength in their lives.

#Men don’t feel scared

Don’t toddler boys cling to their mothers when they perceive danger? Aren’t men supposed to be afraid of gun-weilding men or snakes or tigers or lions? They are humans after all! Just because they are men doesn’t mean that they are supposed to play with their lives. Men are portrayed as protectors and so have this attribute imposed on them. A man walking with a woman means, the woman is safe. Who says? So many rapes are committed while women are with men – either by killing off the man or by restraining him. And, the man ends up nursing a guilt all through life that he wasn’t able to help prevent the wrongdoing. Any person, man or woman would have such a guilt. But for men, the level of guilt is escalated by people just because they are ‘men’.

Men feel scared too. They need protection too.

A boy of seventeen rushed into my Counselling room one afternoon (while I was taking a session with another of his batchmates) saying that he had given it back to a bunch of bullies and they have threatened to ‘see him’ after school hours. He was very afraid to return home alone as those guys could go to any extreme to bash him up. I, then calmed him down and made certain arrangements for him to be accompanied home that day. The other boy with whom I was in the counselling session was observing all this. He said later, “Ma’am, is he a man? I really doubt it! He is as scared as a girl. How will he protect his girlfriend or wife in future? I know the guys he is talking about. I will talk to them. Tell him to go home without fear. But, also tell him to behave like a man and not be a sissy.”

Here was a macho boy-turning-to-be-a-man sitting before me who had been booked by the police for playing protector few days before by bashing up a guy who had looked at his girlfriend!! He had no regrets for what he had done. In his words, he was protecting his own dignity by protecting his girlfriend. And, he expected men to behave similarly without fear.

Men, it is alright if you are afraid of spiders, cockroaches and lizards. There’s nothing abnormal about it. You don’t have to be ashamed. It is alright to desire protection when you feel unsafe. Don’t be burdened by society’s pressure to play the protector all the time.

#Men better not express their emotions

This stereotype especially holds true for the sad emotions. Anger? It’s normal for men to be aggressive and angry – we hear. Happiness? A man can laugh out loud – no problem. But, the problem that society has is with the emotions that are considered grim. If a man is hurt, he better learn to be thick-skinned. If he is anxious, he better not wear his anxiety on his sleeves. If he is sad, he better not show his tears. Why not?

A young boy of eighteen in the final year of school had a broken relationship with a girl of his own class. Though he was crying out inside, he continued to portray his macho face for all. But, such emotions do need a vent and they often find one. So, what did this chap do? He spent hours at the gym till his body ached and his veins swelled up. He shared with me how angry and sad he was at the turn of events. But, he thought it best to take out his hurt and anger with gym equipments rather than on people around.

This is called ‘catharsis’ in psychological terms. Though it is considered to be a much-accepted way of giving a vent to one’s anger, sadness and frustration, it doesn’t help solve issues from the root. And when men internalize their emotions, they take to addictions – alcohol, smoking, sex, drugs, binge-eating or they go on a destructive spree or develop suicidal tendencies.

When God created humans to be emotional beings, he did not segregate certain emotions for men and certain others for women. Over centuries, stereotypes have crept into almost all civilizations of the world and have percolated down even to the present digital age. It’s time to encourage men to share their emotions and to seek help when needed.

Being learned men and women of this age, we need to let men be humans and not simply cage them under the brand ‘MEN’.