I’m always the first to stand in line, brandishing belan, with any group of people looking to beat up the Ugly Indian Man. You know that if you’ve read my rants in Lounge these past six years. Tracking the rape story out of Delhi only makes me remember that I’m not looking forward to the day I’ll have to have The Talk with Babyjaan.
What will I tell her? That I brought her up to be an independent spirit, to believe she could go anywhere and do anything—but that she might be grievously hurt if she does. That we live in a country of predators who don’t see potential or intelligence when they look at a young girl, just an easy target. That much before she even understands about the birds and the bees she will have to understand that predators love school uniforms.
How will I explain that as parents we guarded her as long and as hard as we could (and that we will continue to do so as long as we are around) but that as she slips into a uniform, boards a school bus and goes out into the world from 7am-3pm (or however long it is that children go to school these days), it’s increasingly going to be up to her, the five- or six-year-old that she is, to look after herself.
How will I teach her that it’s okay to dress any way she wants, and to speak her mind anywhere she goes and to anyone she might meet? But that maybe it’s just safer to blend in, to stay under the radar, to cover up and shut up, to stick with the crowd (without depending on the crowd). Because we live in a country that doesn’t really care if its girls live or die. A country where people routinely choose not to give birth to a girl.
Be friendly and respectful to all, I will teach her. But be aware that more than 97% (National Crime Records Bureau, 2010) of Indian women are abused by men they know. Relatives, friends, neighbours, strangers (everyone from the police to priests to primary schoolteachers)—know that they are all potential predators.
Keep your creep radar on at all times, always yell, scream, protest, ensure you learn some moves to fight back if anyone harasses you. Then close your eyes tightly and depend on prayers, luck. Remember you did nothing to bring this on yourself. You’re not India’s problem, they are. Say another prayer.
Amidst all the creeps, find yourself a good man, I will tell her. I know I did. The Indian paradox extends to its men if you know where to look. Don’t seek a prince, just a nice man. Don’t worry about his money or caste or family background or where he lives, but how he treats you and the other women in his life. Look at his mother, because she is likely the single largest influence in his life. Marry him if you can be friends with his mother. Try very hard not to give up your work for a man or for your children. If you take a break from the workplace, get back as soon as you can.
Build a community of women you can depend upon. Women who have pledged their sons will be men, not predators. Try not to be too scared, reach out to any girl who looks scared.
I’m not looking forward to the day I will have this talk. How will I tell her that when she was a toddler I lied. “Bad man coming, mama,” she would say after the lights were switched off at sleep time. “Just stare hard at him darling, he will melt,” I would reply. How will I tell her that bad men don’t just melt.
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