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#4 : Sense & Sensibility – Of Abuse & Struggles

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Image Credit : The Chennai Bloggers Club

The Event (@ Odyssey, Adayar, 10th April 2016)

The Chennai Bloggers Club in partnership with Odyssey organized a discussion on Domestic Abuse title “Sense and Sensibility”.  Writer Sharadha Vijay moderated a Q&A session with writer Sujata Rajpal. Writer Sujata Rajpal’s maiden book, The other end of the corridor  is the story of a woman being abused by her husband but eventually gains her strength to bounce back.

Various aspects and reasons of domestic abuse were discussed critically in parallel comparison to the character- Leela’s experience from the book. The host, Sharadha adeptly handled the discussion, prompting writer Sujata to share her experience in researching for this book. Being an abuse survivor herself, Sharadha  also contributed immensely in keeping the discussion alive and realistic. The open house QA saw a lot of people expressing their thoughts, some of which left me deliberating.

My Take on the topic – Of Abuse & Struggle

First off, I find the classification of abuse pointless – Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Domestic Abuse, Substance Abuse, Physical Abuse, so on and so forth. At the end of the day it’s abuse and that is what matters the most. It is simply not justified to abuse a fellow human being or an animal or self for that matter, no matter how bad the circumstance might be.

Second, it is a common misconception or a myth that women folk are only majorly subjected to abuse. Men are too. It’s just that they aren’t as vocal about it as the women are. Of course, I can almost hear people violently disagreeing with me that women aren’t vocal about it either, but hey, it’s a relative comparison.

In a society such as ours, it is a taboo to even talk openly about things like abuse. Yes, it is fast changing, but are we witnessing fruitful results? Do we have a support mechanism in place where men and women won’t be judged for their confessions? Do we have lean in communities like the West does? We should probably. I sincerely hope we do so in the near future. After all, we have come a long way to even talk about abuse now haven’t we?

I’m not really going to delve into the finer points of the topic. That discussion is simply endless and gives me new perspective every time I am a part of any discussion on this topic. However, I have become weary of romanticizing abuse. During the discussion on Sunday, a friend of mine – Kavipriya (a writer) touched upon one such angle. Her question verbatim – “Indian girl – Bad husband – Divorce – achieve something huge // I read almost 25 Indian woman author books endorsing this storyline. Either she starts a cup cake business or turns a VJ or a RJ or a teacher or indulges in social services.

These books have taught me not to stand one slap from my husband, not to wait if he seems to be interested in other woman. Don’t be patient, just walk away.

There are woman who made it huge without having to go through a bad phase, why is it weighed down? Maybe, she would have chosen not to market her bad phase to make money of her business

I completely agree with her. There are plenty of stories around – fiction and non-fiction alike which simply romanticize struggle. In fact, in pages like Humans of Mumbai, Humans of India, I find more stories of struggle and abuse. These incidents in turn seem to inspire fiction writers who simply end up writing a story where a girl is abused and she bounces back to being successful.

At the risk of sounds chauvinistic, I ask, what of men who are abused? What of other women who are successful but really didn’t go through the type of abuse portrayed in a work of fiction? What of men and women who are the backbone of the success of their partners? Does success have to be attained after a tryst with abuse? Isn’t the very definition of success relative? Some people choose to project the difficult road to success while some would prefer to keep it shut. It’s as simple as that.

It is indeed a valid argument to state that stories of fiction should not be looked upon as a benchmark of idealism. I disagree. A work of fiction stems from the imagination of an individual. The imagination of any individual is fed by whatever ‘affects’ the person in his/her real life. By ‘affecting’ I mean, incidents which are capable of influencing one’s thought process. A simple example to elaborate this – Being a book reviewer, I found a sudden spurt of book featuring protagonists who were raped after the Nirbhaya incident happened. Where were those stories before that incident? Yes, they were works of fiction and there were many reported incidents of rape weren’t they?

By projecting struggle as a sure-shot way to success changes the very definition of success and hard-work. Immaterial of the the gender, abuse is simply not the solution for express feeling nor it is the path to success. Patience is a virtue which needs to be cultivated. If we were to break off a relationship, be it a romantic one or of a friendship at the drop of a hat, the world would simply be filled with people carrying tonnes of emotional baggage.

Enough has been said, what are you going to do about it you ask? I am a woman and I have gone through enough emotional abuse to write a goddamn book. I promise not to pen it down and thereby romanticizing it out of the respect for people who saw me through it-Doesn’t mean I had an incredible support system or I’ve reached pinnacle of success – it simply means I am willing to help fellow humans but not delve into my story!

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#3 : Women- Of Struggles and Stereotypes

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No. This post is not going to be another rant about stereotypes that women have to wage a war with day in and day out. Enough has been said and a little has been done about that. This is my own story. A story that would possibly not be a tearjerker, but something which might have you nodding and emphasizing with me.

Being born in a typical South Indian family, people expected me to study engineering or medicine and get married to a rich and balding NRI. I wasn’t expected to really achieve anything in life other than perhaps a good score in exams or a rich husband. This was what the society wanted from me. My parents, however, were a different story. They didn’t really expect me to ‘achieve’ much either, but they expected me to excel in whatever I wanted to do. In short, they managed to stay away from the societal stereotypes and supported my choices. They still do and I’m eternally thankful for that.

I’ve always been this studious and focused kid throughout my school days. I knew what I wanted to do with life and I always had a backup plan if my original plan had failed. I wanted to be a journalist. Back then Barkha Dutt and Vikram Chandra were so inspiring. Given that I was a natural in debating, journalism seemed a sane choice of education and career. Sadly, my parents didn’t think so. They didn’t want to see me physically struggling. They knew journalism demanded odd working hours, which would eventually take a toll on my health. So that plan went down the drain. My ‘backup’ plan was to take up either Mechanical or Instrumentation Engineering and pursue a career in the core manufacturing industry. That choice again did involve physical struggles in the form of travel to remote places, etc. My dad, having a first hand experience of that industry protested my choice yet again only to give up later when he realized I had made up my mind.

Four years of Engineering passed in a blur. I secured a medal for making it to the top 50 highest scorers in my state. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t really get the job that I wanted. I did however have an offer from a top IT company which wanted me to write codes. Writing codes wasn’t my thing. I wanted to meddle with boilers and compressors. I wanted to work in the very sector to which my education was relevant to. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Apparently, to countless other people it didn’t. My dad managed to set up an interview with a small manufacturing services start up company. I landed the job. People didn’t really understand why I chose a small startup which paid less over a plush IT job which would have paid me twice of what I would be earning. This choice apparently was going to haunt me forever. The manufacturing and its allied industry would never match the pay and perks of an IT industry. Yet, that was what I wanted and still do. To me it made sense to pursue what I learnt for four whole years.

Being a woman in the core manufacturing industry is difficult. There aren’t many of us who choose shop floor over the comforts of an air-conditioned plush office. One year into my first job and I got used to people gawking at me. I got used to people telling me that I can’t achieve much in a world dominated by men. Most men I met leered at my choice career and education. I am not really the type who would flare up and set out to prove the world wrong. I’m the type who fights only internal battles. It was a mental torture indeed to listen to people criticize my choice but with the support of my parents and close friends I was able to zone out all negative criticism. I wasn’t really comfortable in my first job either, thanks to a few people who were bent on dragging me down.

Thankfully, my agony didn’t last long. I got a brilliant opportunity to work in setting up a paper manufacturing plant in a remote village. I jumped up to the chance. Given that I haven’t really stayed away from home and was what one would call – ‘ a pure city bred girl’, my parents were apprehensive to send me packing to a village. I did have trouble adjusting thanks to horrible food and a very conservative culture, but I was at-least happy. I have my senior to thank for that. He never treated me with kid-gloves like I was used to just because I was a woman. If It was required to walk over an elevated way to check an instrument, I simply had to. No escaping from work in the pretext of being a woman.Yes, I did get chided for making mistakes, but never once for being a woman and being in this field. The troubles in my first job along with external pressure had almost stripped me of my confidence. Thanks to this gentleman, I got my confidence back. People who once told me that I am a near failure were praising me for taking up such a challenging job and surviving.

Breaking stereotypes that a woman can’t work in an environment such as a dirty and dusty paper factory wasn’t easy. It was difficult. It isn’t really going to get easier either. There were inevitable comparisons with the opposite gender. The comparison is probably never going to end. Women and men are different. They can never be equal – Physically or emotionally. People hardly accept that. I never once tried to prove I was equal to a man in an industry dominated by men. I only wanted them to realize, we can never be same. It was wrong of them to expect that I would be equal to a man. I can never be. I will be a woman – a creature who is neither above nor below her opposite gender but be just different. Women are not Equal to men. Period.

Note: This post is inspired from “Women Are Not Equal to Men” prompt from TBC Book club’s blogging community.