Yes I, the Indian woman, am dented and painted but not in the manner you politicians think! I am dented - and here I would like to use the verb 'dent' in its meaning 'diminished'- from the very moment I am conceived. Even as I entered my mother's womb, I knew everyone hoped I was a boy. If it was discovered that I was indeed a girl, I ran the risk of being brutally aborted and my tiny life ended in a pool of blood or a garbage bin. The day I was born, I was greeted with wails and tears and my mother cursed for not having born a son. You see the X Y chromosome story is understood by no one, or I guess they do not wish to understand as how can I boy do anything wrong. In my country giving birth to a child is wrong.
As I grew up I was often bewildered at what I saw. My brother always got what he wanted and I did not. I was often chided and put back to place. My brother got better food and even a better school bag. he even went to a private school while I had to go to the municipal one. I was often made to miss school as there was always something to do t home, and after the birth of my younger sibling, I became a surrogate mother even though I was just 6. I often heard my parents talking about me in disturbing words. Was I really a burden?
Imagine my surprise when as I grew a little older, I who loved playing on the street with other children, of being told that I had to remain in the house. It was not only my mother or father who scolded me, but even my younger brother, the very child I had carried on my hip for so long, never complaining. If I laughed too loud I was told to tone down as 'girls' were not meant to behave this way. If I peered out the window my brother pulled my braid and told me to 'behave'. I never figured out what I was doing wrong as others laughed and peered out of windows.
I soon learnt one indubitable truth: a girl was controlled by a male - father, brother and the elusive husband that loomed large from the very moment I began understanding things. Time and again I saw my father abusing my mother in every way possible and saw her keep quiet or at best shed a few tears. I felt a boiling rage inside me and wondered why my mother did not react. Slowly I understood that this was the way things were and we as girls had no other choice but to comply. As my brothers grew older I even saw them abusing mother. I realised that we women were diminished in more ways than one.
If I was lucky I would escape the groping and harassment that many suffer within the confines of the so called safety of my home. It could be an uncle, a neighbour or even a friend. If I did gather the courage to speak up, then I was likely to be introduced to the deafening code of silence that is invoked in such cases by the very one who gave you life. That is when another stifling word was added to my vocabulary: 'izzat' - honour- ! I suddenly became the repository of the honour of my family even it I was the one who had been damaged and taken advantage of. I had to bear a shame I could not fathom. That is when I realised that we women had to live a double life and put of a show for the world to see. That is the day I knew that we dented women also had to be painted. Painted in the shades of patriarchy and its biased and baffling mores. I learnt to slowly reconcile myself to my station in life.
In spite of missing many classes to tend to chores at home, in spite of not being given the tuition so easily proffered to my male siblings or the books I needed, I studied hard and passed all my examinations. I guess it was the attraction of extra money that made my male handlers accept I take up a job. I was over the moon as it was a step to the freedom I so longed for. I stepped out of the house on that first day with a song in my heart and a head filled with dreams. How was I to know that another set of men would appear and remind me once again that I was just a woman in a world that belonged to men. The journey to my workplace made me open to sneers, lude remarks, groping and misplaced gestures. I learnt to make myself as small as I could and hope that I would reach my destination safe. Anger boiled inside me but I learnt to control it, in a way all women learn to in this land. That is also part of the paint job. If God forbid, something would have happened, I knew what awaited me. The 'izzat' scenario again from my very own, and had I gone over that then more abuse at the hand of law keepers and justice givers. If a woman is raped, she has to accept to be raped over and over again and even then she never gets justice.
Had I met a boy and fallen in love like every girl has the right to, I ran the risk of being killed by my own father or brother again in the name of 'izzat'. So if I did fall in love, I knew it could only be covertly, till the day the men in my family found the next man to hand me over to. But those few days of love would be my silent rebellion and my few moments of freedom.
One fine day I will be told to get ready and look my best as a boy was coming to see me. Once again I could not but realise that I was a mere object. Should the boy like me, then I was to be hitched to him with a great relief from my family. Their duty was over, the burden passed on. Thank God the 'izzat' was intact.
Life would have come full circle. I would get pregnant and so conditioned was I, that I too would wish for a boy. I too would be chided for giving birth to a girl. I too would bear the abuse of my husband. I too would curtail the freedom of my daughter, buy a better school bag for my son and so on. I too would one day teach my daughter her place as a dented and painted object in a land where we venerate Goddesses.