Tag Archives: women

The Work you Do…

This one is for all you unemployed and underemployed people out there. Even all the homemakers and stay-at-home moms. I was there and I know what it feels like. Sending out countless applications that get sucked into the cyber space blackhole. Shamelessly asking friends to find work for you. Begging your spouse to forward your resume to his or her boss. Feeling helpless and totally worthless. Yes, I’ve been there.

On the flip side I’ve also been vain enough to gloss over plenty of jobs because I thought they were beneath me! Luckily, I had a choice. Working was an option. My husband put food on the table and paid the bills. So I could afford to be picky and choosy. Unlike the CEO who got laid off and had to work as a pizza delivery guy to feed his family. One day he was a millionaire and the next day he was bankrupt. Or the Iraqi doctors who had high flying careers and ended up as refugees in the United States. They couldn’t practice medicine and did odd jobs just to survive.

When no one would hire me for jobs that fit my profile because I didn’t have enough experience or had taken a long break to raise my kids, I got frustrated. I started applying for jobs that only needed a high school diploma and not a Masters degree. Guess what? I still didn’t get hired because people thought I was over qualified! The frustration mounted and when I couldn’t even get an hourly or part time job I started believing that I was beneath it all. Something was wrong with me.

It dawned on me that I did not have an impressive resume or the experience required. People mistook my resume to be me. I could have cooked up a very eloquent resume but it just wasn’t my style. I realized you needed to know someone in the company you wanted to work for just to get your foot in the door. So finally I got to a place in my life where I knew someone and I approached them with my resume. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because it paid off. I got the job. Now its not the kind of job that one would be jumping in joy for but I’m jumping in joy all the same. I’m back on the workforce after a long hiatus. I wasn’t hungry, in debt, homeless or desperate. I was well cared for and I could have continued being a stay-at-home mom that volunteered like crazy! But I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken. That I could find employment. That I wasn’t what I had become. I have potential. I can add value to any place that I work for. I have something to offer.

It’s funny but this I-am-not-good-enough lie continued to shadow my life. Especially at work where I kept thinking I’m not good enough and that I’m doing something wrong. The fear of getting fired overwhelmed me. It isn’t just me, every woman or man who goes back to work after a really long time has these baseless fears. But with time and a lot of overworking and trying to impress (God knows who!) we get over it. The question we need to ask is – Is it worth it? Most of our assumptions are not true any way. It’s just a bunch of lies that we keep feeding ourselves. Or something we start believing after we have been told the same lie over and over. We believe it to be true and let our towering selves be diminished. Finding a job, finding a spouse, getting whatever you want on your wish list aint going to heal that wound. Chances are it will still nag you and in extreme cases will make you lose all that you worked so hard to achieve.

When I realized I was going to sabotage my own happiness I quit worrying. I replaced my worry with a sense of pride in the work I did. Wish I had figured that out years ago when I was home doing the most important job I ever did – raising my kids. No one ever patted my back. No holidays or bonuses. No remuneration. Sometimes lots of criticism. But nevertheless it was/is a labor of love. One with high dividends. It’s not easy and many women wallow in self-pity (like I did) thinking the work they do doesn’t count. It does count. Fixing meals for your kids, putting them down for a nap, bathing them, feeding them, caring for their boo boos – yes someone else can get paid to do it while you chase your dream career but no one – NO ONE can do it as well as you or with as much love.

Again I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to victimize women for making the choices they make (knowing firsthand how horrible it is to be judged for being a stay-at-home mom). No two families are the same nor are their circumstances the same. So how about we change how we look at work. All work is sacred. Paid/unpaid. Gets you laurels/goes unnoticed. A job well done is a reward in itself. So don’t look outside of yourself for job satisfaction. You won’t find it. Take pride in all you do and respect the work that others do for you as well. You never know when the tables will be turned and then the prince will become a pauper.

 

The Charge of the Pink Brigade

  Tucked away in a remote part of Uttar Pradesh, India, is a firebrand of a woman. Her name is Sampat Pal, leader of the Pink Gang (Gulabi Gang). The word gang conjures up images of mobs of unruly thugs out to create chaos. But believe me this gang is a far cry from that. Donned in pink saris, wielding lathis or sticks, these women show up at courts and police stations when justice turns a blind eye to crimes committed by powerful politicians or wealthy landlords.

So who are these powerful women? Usually victims of abuse or violence who had no one to turn to and got justice through the Pink Gang. They in turn joined the gang to help other women. Sampat empowers these women – usually illiterate, tied down by housework and children and financially dependent on their husbands. She teaches them to speak up, seek help from other women and also stresses the importance of education. Learn to ride a bike so you can get to the meetings by yourself  says Sampat. She even encourages them to learn a skill that can help them earn money.

To understand how much she has accomplished, one has to get an idea of the Bundlekhand region. There are no sewers, no running water ( in certain villages), no roads even. The caste system is alive and well and inter-caste marriages are frowned upon. Many cases of honor killings have also been reported. Dowry deaths and abuse of women and girls is rampant. Where are the police you ask? The police pay the politicians to get them a job. The politicians are mostly criminals with several pending cases and criminal charges against them. The police end up being sidekicks to these lawless netas (leaders). The poor don’t stand a chance here where money can make the scales of justice sway its way.

From the gutters of Bundlekhand rose a lone Dalit woman. She simply decided to take a stand. To not be afraid anymore. To fight instead of cower in fright. Her grassroots movement has given a voice to the voiceless, faceless victims of Goonda Raj (thugs ruling over the state of Uttar Pradesh). Her fearless spirit wreaks terror in the hearts of anyone on the wrong side of the law.

Sampat’s life was not easy to start with. She was married off at the age of 12 and was a mother by the age of 15. The little she knows to read and write (she didn’t go to school) she learnt by watching the teachers and with some help from local boys. She taught herself how to sew, bought a machine ( by selling grain that the family stored!) and made money by stitching garments. She also knew how to ride a bicycle. One day she gathered a group of women from her village and accosted a neighbor who was battering his wife every day. After they threatened him, he stopped beating his wife. This marked the beginning of her activism.

Sampat believes that in unity there is strength and women should help other women. She also felt that wearing the same color sari gave them an identity and that is how they came to be known as the Pink Gang. She has an office and people show up asking for her help when the corrupt police turn their cheek. She then organizes rallies and sit-outs, outside the police stations and the court houses. She even gets the media to inform the public about the case. Invariably she wins and justice is served. Now the Pink Gang operates in other towns as well and she has women (trained by her) who deal with simple cases on their own. As of today they have twenty thousand members.

In the past four decades the number of reported rapes has gone up by 792 percent. Sadly, the conviction rates are dropping. Domestic violence on the other hand has risen by 30 percent. We can no longer wring our hands in despair and say – what can we do? If someone with Sampat’s background can make such an impact, we have no excuse. We have to form our own gangs and demand justice. This can’t go on. We have to deal with it. We can’t allow our daughters to deal with it in the future.

I encourage you to read the book “Pink Sari Revolution” by Amana Fontanella-Khan and I would also like to thank my friend V for thrusting the book into my hands at the library. After reading this book, I’m filled with hope. I know we will leave a safer and much more empowered India to our daughters and sons.

 

 

Yo-Yo Feminism and the Unsung Glories of a Die-Hard Housewife…

My mom had this plaque on the living room wall when I was a kid. It read…

I’m just a little housewife

With dishes three times a day

With laundry and cleaning and cooking

And toys to put away

Now it’s not that I mind the housework

Or the screaming kids at play 

It’s that husband that burns me

When he says with a smile

Did you do anything today??!!??       

I’d like to say that is the story of my life. But that wouldn’t be true. I go back and forth between being a domestic goddess and a die-hard feminist.  You just have to walk into the house to know which avatar has taken hold of me. The DG version will have the house vacuumed, dishes done and dinner prepared well ahead of time. She will also be humming a tune as she scrubs the tub and she might even bake a batch of cookies for the kids.

It’s a whole different story when the feminist takes over. You will have to hop over the shoes strewn in the foyer to get to the living room, from where you can see the mountain of dishes piled up in the sink. Yours truly will be on the couch wearing a grungy T-shirt and stained PJs. As the kids rummage the kitchen for something to eat, la femme reluctantly uproots herself from the couch and grudgingly makes dinner. Cupboards will be slammed, pots and pans banged around, while she mutters something about being a slave!

The unsuspecting husband walks in. “Hello”, he pipes. Only to be met with an icy stare. He knows better than to say something because that is all she needs. One word and she’ll start her tirade against all men and the thankless job of being a housewife.

Out here in the U.S., nobody uses the term housewife. It’s home maker or stay-at-home mom, which are equally unglamorous, unless you are in a reality show – The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! These glam dolls just have to dress up, have lunch dates and dinner parties, launch perfumes, vodkas or clothing lines (another excuse for a party!). They also meet with their dermatologists and plastic surgeons regularly. They are a poor representation of the common housewife and a sorry lot.

While there is some part of me that envies them- the part that doesn’t like housework I’m guessing – I wouldn’t last a day in their silicone/botox world. Also being a person who hates the limelight I’d rather live a life of obscurity than have a camera crew taping my every move! So all I can do is pretend I’m a diva and expect the imaginary help to do the chores. When I’m done with being a diva or the house starts to stink, whichever come first, I suck it up and go back to being domestic goddess.

An unpaid job is a thankless job. There is no reward for cleaning up your house except that you have a clean house. There is no reward for cooking fresh meals for your family, except that you all enjoy vibrant health. There is no glory in showing up day after day at the bus stop to pick up your kids after school. No glory in sweating it out in a hot soccer field as your child plays. No bonuses to be had. No promotions to work for. Just the quiet satisfaction of watching your children grow up. Just having enough time to smell the flowers. Just the wisdom to know that life is magical and is unfolding right before your eyes.

Oh who am I kidding? I have often wished fairy god mother would show up, wave her wand and turn me into a princess and turn the mice and cockroaches in my house into maids, cooks and ladies-in-waiting! Until then I will never cease to sing my glories, be a domestic goddess and fight for my rights!

P.S. Domestic goddess just read this post and she insists there are NO mice or cockroaches in the house. Did I mention she was appalled?

Calling All Warriors…

I’m not done saying all that I wanted to say about the treatment of women in India. There’s more to the story. It pains me to write about this but someone has to do it. My sincere prayer is that you are moved by my words to take action. I hope and pray that I too can go beyond just these words of mine to do something to change the future of women in India and other parts of the world.

A woman’s struggle doesn’t start when she is a girl. It starts much earlier. In the womb. Ultrasound technology which should be used only to detect birth defects and possible difficulties in labor is now used to determine the sex of the baby. The obsession with having only boys has driven many men and their families to take possession of women’s bodies and their reproductive rights. Forced abortions without the consent of the mother done by demonic doctors is a commonplace occurrence.

Little did I know that before I was born, women in the U.S. struggled with similar issues. I’m not talking about female feticide but rape, domestic violence and inequality. There were no laws in place for crimes against women and men just got away with everything. Women were dependent on them and didn’t have the courage to speak out. They couldn’t get credit cards in their names. No contraception. No abortion. Imagine if these women never fought, never broke the mold, never rallied for equality. Then where would we be? We’d be at home, doing the dishes and in all probability we wouldn’t be able to vote or go to war!

The images from America’s past took me to present day India where girls 9,7 and 11 were raped and murdered. And the world goes on. People wake up, drink their coffee and go to work. Life goes on. Apathy so deep-rooted that it has made us sick. We need to revive the Women’s movement. Not just in India but all over the world. See what the Women’s movement in the U.S. has accomplished. And don’t you roll your eyes and say it’s not possible in India. Martin Luther King had no idea that when he fought for civil rights in the U.S. it would spill over to South Africa and end apartheid. If it worked for African-American rights it can work for Women’s rights. Why even look to other countries for inspiration? We as a nation stood up to the British super powers and sent them packing.

We did not fight to be a free nation only to succumb to demons from our past. The very demons that Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Subramanya Bharathi tried to rid our society of. We did not oust the British to be governed by a bunch of unscrupulous thugs. It won’t take a small group of protesters in a few cities to change things. It will take every woman in every corner of the world. You cannot look away, ignore and not care. Your sisters need you. Not tomorrow or in a few days when you think you have the time or when you think you are ready. But now. Right now.

When something happens to one of our sisters anywhere in the world I want to hear every woman protest loudly and openly. Demand justice. Do everything in your power to help. If you don’t you will be an abettor, a facilitator and you will have to one day stand in judgement for not speaking up for those without a voice, those that have been violated or forever silenced.

If the cops and the justice system will not help women who have been wronged, let’s open shelters for these women. Let this be the first place they got to. Where they are not shamed or judged. But listened to and comforted. Doctors, counsellors, cops and lawyers who want to serve these women can help out at these shelters.

As you read this, many women will endure another night of battering, girls will be preyed upon by sexually aggressive men. Some will live and some will die. Some of these men will be punished. Some will go scot-free and hurt many more. You can read this and go on about your life as usual or you can don the raiment of a warrior woman. Take every slight against every woman personally. Say enough is enough. And fight till your last breath. Till a new era dawns and India can hold its head high and every woman can be free of fear.

Children of a Lesser God?

My blood was boiling all of December. The newspapers were full of stories of rape and abuse of women all over India. It made me sick to the stomach. This was not the India I used to live in. How did we ever get here?

Attitude

Most mothers tell their daughters to ignore bad behavior or to put up with it. Not in my family. My mom never put up with men falling all over her on the bus or sticking to her like nettles. She nudged them, stepped on their toes, yelled at them royally and even prodded them with her umbrella! When I got pinched by an auto driver, my grandma went straight to the cops. Many were afraid that the auto driver would seek revenge and pose a threat to me. But I did not buy that story.

So don’t go telling your daughter, “Men are like that only! Get used to it.” HELL NO! That leaves our daughters powerless and at the mercy of lecherous men. My generation put up with eve teasing and groping and the present generation has to put up with rape? No can do!

Fight

Animals resort to two types of behavior when threatened. Fight or flee. I think as women we have done enough fleeing. The time has come to fight. We are not weak and powerless. What we lack in brute strength we make up for in our keen sense of intuition and our power in numbers. Every girl should learn self-defense. Carry mace or pepper spray. If you are a target don’t let the incident scare you out of seeking justice. Fight till your last breath and get all the support you need. This is where power in numbers shows up to your advantage.

Justice Delivered

I’m against the eye-for-an-eye-and-tooth-for-a-tooth policy. But the perpetrators of such heinous crimes can only be categorized as beasts. So if we can castrate pets who go berserk when in heat, why not castrate these insane men who think they can satisfy their urges by attacking the first female form they see. Makes sense to me and it seems to work in the Middle East countries. The crime rates are low because the punishments are severe!

Our defunct judicial system is badly in need of an overhaul. The victims shouldn’t be the ones that get humiliated and ostracized while the criminals waltz away. Don’t even get me started on the sorry lot that call themselves politicians or leaders!  About time that our democracy spells freedom and a right to a good life for all – women included!

Until then, sisters, mothers and wives, brothers, husbands and sons come together to create the India of your dreams. Don’t wait for someone else to make it a reality. You have the power. Go for it!

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