Raised in a well-educated family, I always set a high standard for myself. I made sure I maintained a good academic record, secured a good job, made merry with the money and the freedom until quarter life crisis hit me straight in my face. Even since then, I began to question myself “Why this job?”, “What is my purpose in life?” etc. I took a break from work and went on a road trip to rural India – what I call my soul searching sojourn.
When I first reached the country side, I was astonished to see the lifestyle of these people. To me, it seemed like I had travelled back in time. They had no electricity all throughout the day, still used bore-well pumps, travelled on cobbled roads, had drains running right in front of their homes, and had no sense of basic hygiene. Girls as young as 13-14 were married! I felt like I was reliving history. My first thought was - “Oh my God!” Here is a link to a short photo essay which has more information on the lives of these people.
After settling in and interacting with the village folk for a few days, I felt that from a point outside their frame of reference, they were in equilibrium. They seemed happy and contented. Their income was enough to satisfy their needs and small desires. “Oh my God!” was now replaced by “I am here to do what exactly?”
When I entered that so called ‘perfectAtlantis’, I found that there was so much inequality and unrest. More than anything else, it was the gender inequality that hit me in my face. It is as if the voice of the womankind is non-existent. Women were nothing more than home makers and had no right to anything, not even education. Young widows were not allowed to re-marry. They stayed financially dependent all their lives. Young people (boys and girls) lacked even basic exposure; their goals for life were so narrow. Moreover, people seemed extremely reluctant to come out of their comfort zone.
Looking at the many young widows (20+ year old), I was terribly disheartened. I asked the village folk – “why do you not let them marry again?” They replied – “It is against our Sanskar (culture)”. I had expected something such as that. I shot back at them with - “define culture”. They said “something that has been followed by our elders for years”. I was stunned. I was disappointed with the answer! I retorted -“Sanskar is something that makes the lives of people progressive and better and not something that makes the lives of people miserable” Their response “You have come here for a month. See around and have fun!”
The way this conversation ended is something I can never forget. For the first time in my life I felt defeated. No amount of arguments from my side seemed to convince them because in the first place they did not want to get convinced. I had heard and read a lot about male chauvinism, but witnessing it in reality was a very bitter experience. I concluded, Education is the only solution. “Only if they were educated, they would understand”, I thought. I have ever since spoken and written a lot about education in rural India.
After having lived a hectic professional life, I decided to continue my studies. Before my course, I had some free time, so I decided to quit work , travel around and do so some more soul searching to find out “What I would LOVE to do” in my life. My husband and immediate family appreciated my move. But, my happiness did not last long. Again, male chauvinism struck me in my face, much harder than last time. People I considered well educated people passed comments such as – “ You are a woman, so it is ok to be unemployed and sit at home” , “ She is sitting at home cooking and cleaning for her husband” .
Does one’s need for creative and intellectual satisfaction not count at all? Was it the timing of my break just after marriage that made room for such comments or is it just in our psyche that women are just inferior to men? Is sitting at home doing nothing first nature to a woman? Has education done nothing at all in this aspect? You tell me…..