Sunday, December 4, 2016

Simple Insights & A Story On Gender Diversity

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I continue to chat with my father on gender and gender diversity.

A little more background on my father, Anna. He was born into a family that was not well off, with 10 children (7 of them girls). His mother was a strong woman. As were many of his sisters. He saw and lived thru' the struggles of his mother and his sisters (and there were many). I think his perspective on equal rights for women came from some of those experiences.

Anna insisted that we all study what we want and for however long we want. That we ask questions. That we experience the different. And that we work and became financially independent. Tho' Amma, my mother did not work, Anna and Amma would always say to us, "Do whatever you want. Just ensure you earn enough to support yourself."

Here are some more snippets of our dialogs.

Snippet 4 - The right to worship

Anna and I watch the news of women entering Haji Ali after 5 years.

Anna: What is happening?

Me: Anna for many years, women have been fighting legal battles and protesting to get equal access to places of worship. Like to Sabarimala, Haji Ali, Shani Shingnapur.

Anna: Why?

Me: Anna, women believe that they have as much right to worship their Gods as men do. And that religious institutions can not restrict them based on gender.

Anna: But every religion has the right to manage its religious affairs.  How did this change? Was it the court?

Me: Anna, I understand that the Dargah Trustees listened to the Supreme Court and made provisions to enable women and men to worship at Haji Ali.

Anna: It is a good start. I hope that other religions and shrines learn from this and make worship equal for all.

Snippet 5 - The Treatment of Widows

A child widow. From the movie "Water"
Anna: Only in Hinduism do we uglify our widows.

I am sure there is no such word as "uglify" in the English language, but I let it pass. I am sure that the conversation will be more interesting than correct English.

Me: Anna, why do you think that widows are treated so badly?

Anna: It was a way to subdue widows. Their heads were shaved. They were made to wear drab white. They were starved. Kept hidden away from people. All this was to make sure that no one would find her attractive and marry her. It was a way to keep wealth and property in the family.

Long Pause.

Anna: How could we forget that she was a daughter and sister first, and then a wife and mother. Treating your daughter, sister, or mother so badly is against humanity.

Long Pause.

Anna: Relationships are more important that state of a person.

Snippet 6 - One Child Can Make A Change 

My maternal grandfather, PR Krishnarao
Me: Anna, you remember the story about Daddy and his mother?

Daddy was what we called our maternal grandfather.

Anna nods his head. I get the feeling that recalling the story is too much of a strain for him.  So I retell him the story.

Anna, remember Daddy lost his father when he was very young. He was brought up by his widowed mother in his uncle's house. Daddy was sent to a nearby school to study.

When he was 8 or so, he had his first "exam". Being a studious boy, Daddy studied hard for his first examination test.

On the day of the exam, as he was leaving the house, Daddy looked everywhere for his mother. He wanted to see her face and get her blessings, but she was nowhere to be found. Finally, he heard her sobbing behind a locked door. When he asked her to come out so that he could see her face before he went for his exam, Daddy was told by his uncle that he could not see his mother. After all Daddy's first real exam was an auspicious occasion and it could not be cursed by even the shadow of a widow. His mother was considered the widow who had brought bad luck to the family and hence she would bring Daddy bad luck.

However, that 8 year old boy did not listen to the "curse of the widow". Stubbornly he told his uncle that he would not go to school for his exam if he could not see his mother's face and get her blessings. Threats were made, doomsday tales of perpetual ill luck were told but Daddy would not be swayed. He sat outside the locked door and would not budge. Till finally his uncle relented and opened the door. Daddy saw his widowed mother's face, asked for her blessings, and ran all the way to school, reaching just in time for the test. And he did extremely well.

As the story goes, after that day, no one in the house could ever claim that his widowed mother was the harbinger of bad luck.

Anna is slowly nodding his head as I recount this story and smiling a little. He has probably heard this story a thousand times.

Anna: See, even an 8 year old child can cause change. That is what we need. One child, one change, one family at time.

.... Watch this space for more snippets as our dialoging continues

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