This past summer, while living at home and working for the local paper, I tried to teach my mother about feminism. I tried to teach my mother about feminism in a way that she would understand. My mother is an Indian immigrant who grew up in a society where women are treated like objects, meant to be controlled and objectified. While my mother grew up in a household where she was urged to gain an education and speak her mind, not all of the women in India are given that same chance in life.
I wanted to be able to speak freely about my feelings regarding the social climate in India with her. I wanted to have a honest conversation with my mother about the oppression of women and the continual cycles of abuse and what we can do to try to change that.
The last time I was in India was in 2012, during the same time that the Delhi gang rape occurred. I remember being in a hotel in Madurai and reading the few English reports of the attack, which received front page coverage for the story. I also remember opening the newspaper hoping for more information and finding at least three shorter reports on local rape cases in Tamil Nadu. That was just what was in English.
I spoke to my cousin, who is my age, and asked her about what it was like to grow up as a woman in India. She told me she gets harassed on a regular basis. She said that she has learned to toughen her skin when she leaves the house. She rarely goes places by herself, even though she lives in one of the safest states in India. She told me she wants to leave India. I told her I didn’t blame her.
It took me a long time to reconcile the India I used to see in my favorite Hindi films with the India I actually experienced. I still wonder how a culture that deifies women on a regular basis can also demean and harm them at the same rate. What does it mean that men pray to the goddesses in the morning and then turn around and take advantage of the human women in the streets? Why do people seem to think it is okay to blame the victims of these crimes against women instead of try to empower them? Why are we teaching the daughters of the next generation in all different types of regions that they should live in fear in their own homes?
Don’t get me wrong. I love India and I love being an Indian woman. But you can love something and still be critical of it. I’m constantly disappointed by the news stories that come out of India. I want so badly to see a change over there and I think part of that change will come from continuing conversations regarding the social climate in India. We shouldn’t forget Jyoti Singh Pandey, but we should also try to remember the countless nameless victims of these types of crimes we don’t hear about in the evening news.
Instead of becoming desensitized to the crimes of India, we should be active and push back against what we hear. Even though we live at Vassar College, we should be continuing to question why the cycle of violence continues and try to parse out ways to help break it. We, as intellectuals, are given a supreme opportunity to help shape the world for the next generations and we shouldn’t squander it. We should try to make a difference and push back.
When I am in the country of India, I want to be able to walk the streets without being openly stared at by strange men. I want to go to the shops without being groped. I want to ride the bus without fear of being raped. I want more for the country that my mom calls home. I want to call it home myself and be proud of my country for its accomplishments, not ashamed for its failures.
—Palak Patel ’16 is an English and religion major.