Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Gender Bender

I think I have this uncanny ability to be the universal agony aunt for most of my ilk. I ran into an old acquaintance during the Prince's visit. She heads a PR firm here and I have know her for long since my media days. After the initial hi, she took me aside and told me she was in deep personal problems. She walked out on her husband of 27 years recently and moved in with the man she loved. Her 23-year old son was right behind her, supporting her and her aged mother too and all of them had moved in with this man in her life. She said she had tolerated 27 abusive years and her son gave her the strength and confidence to take the final step. Strange, but an unusual story. You would expect the husband to be abusive to her, maybe physically and mentally cruel to her in a way most husbands are. But this guy was a different ball game. He was abusive to himself when things went wrong between them. He would hurt himself, scrape his entire hand with a knife, burn himself with cigarette butts just to punish her. It must have been hell for the poor woman. When I sympathised with her, she dissolved into tears, something which seemed strange for a woman who I envisioned always to be strong and in command. The husband now had a new fixation...he would take new cell numbers unknown to her and make threatening sms to her throughout the night. She was at her wits' end.

She is the new addition to my ever expanding circle of separated-divorced-unhappy-independent-strong-women friends.

Since this is a gender-specific post, I thought I will put down some thoughts on the 33% reservation of women in the Indian parliament. To me, this is meaningless. In one stroke, the government has created a large votebank, across caste and religion. Ironically the muslims want to extract their pound of flesh by agitating for further reservation within the 33% quota.

This reminds me of Tagore's line in his poem 'Where the mind is without fear'....'Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls'. Reservation has done exactly what he feared...and our world is further broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, more vested interests and less unity. I fail to understand what is so 'positive' about this kind of discrimination. Moreover, it would hurt my pride to win an election through a quota. So it impinges on the self-respect of women.

The only way to help the women in this country is to create enabling conditions for girls. If there has to be reservation for women, it must be done for girls at the primary and secondary school level in remote villages. So that they too get a chance for decent education along with their brothers. The disease has to be dealt with by striking at the roots and not trying out half-baked remedies at a superficial level. Only one thing that has surprised me, albeit in a pleasant way is the 15-year time frame for this reservation. Whatever desirable social change has to be effected, it should come within this period. A good thing, but lacks measurement of success tools.

However, being a fan of Sonia Gandhi, I am happy for her. After all, this is her master stroke against the Opposition and may do a world of good to the flagging popularity popularity of her party against the backdrop of price rise and rampant inflation.

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