This morning on International Women's Day, I read out the newspaper to my infant daughter. You see, I don't want her to grow up reading only nursery rhymes and fairytales. Sadly, instead of stories of victory for women, as I would have expected, I saw stories of continued terror and discrimination. I saw the milestones in my daughter's life charted along her country's treatment of women. And the India that I've brought my daughter into horrified me.
They say that a mother's womb is the first country a child inhabits. India will then be my daughter's second country. In her first country I had kept her safe, protected and well cared for. In her second country, I am not so sure.
For instance, when my daughter gets her first period, I will have to think twice before buying her a sanitary napkin. Why would her fate be any different from 80 percent of our country's women who cannot afford sanitary napkins because the government has imposed a 12 percent GST on this essential commodity? So I'll tell her to use wood shavings, ash, old newspapers, plastic and sand. When she returns from school, uncomfortable and humiliated with a period stain on her dress, I will tell her " like 23 percent of India's school-going girls " to stop attending school on menarche. She will ask me why it's cheaper for her to wear sindoor and a mangalsutra? What will I tell my daughter then? That sanitary napkins are taxable unlike sindoor and mangalsutras? That a girl is rewarded in marriage but not in her health?
Representational image. Reuters
When my daughter gets older and wants to go out for a party, I will have to ask her why? Why does she, a girl, want to go out at night? Why does she want to wear a skirt, or pants, or a burkha? Why does she want to put on makeup, hold a drink, laugh with boys, become a "dented and painted" woman? Does she not know that she is like sugar to ants, her very presence outside the four walls of her house will invite eve teasing and catcalls and obscene gestures, even rape? What will I tell my daughter then? That she has asked for it? Because boys will be boys?
When my daughter decides to get married I am sure I'll be thrilled. But when her in-laws come asking for 'gifts' " a flat-screen TV, a Honda City, a double-door refrigerator, what will I do then? If I say no, they will not marry her. If I say yes, it will set a bad precedent and they will harass my daughter after marriage too, burn her if their demands for a new refrigerator are not met. When she goes to the police they will tell her that under Section 498 A they can only file a case against her in-laws when she shows physical wounds on her body or arrives dead. What will I tell my daughter then? That a girl's life is worth less than a refrigerator in our country?
When my daughter leaves my home to build her own, I know that as a parent, I will be both happy and sad. But on the first night of marriage, when the husband forces himself upon her, what will I tell her then? Since the government has retained exception 2 of Section 375 of the IPC to not criminalise marital rape, since you think it doesn't exist. What will I tell my daughter then? That a family where a husband rapes his wife is better than a family where mutual respect, trust and dignity exists?
If my daughter is one among three Indian women who is hit by her husband, I will tell her to think twice before getting a divorce. Where will she go? There are no proper shelters for her, neither much legal or financial recourse. If she fights to keep her kids, it will be a losing battle, because a woman gets custody only till the child is five-years-old. What will I tell my daughter then? That she should forsake her career, her body, her sleep, the unseen unacknowledged hours of work that go into raising a child, so that the man with belts and punches walks into the sunset with my grandchildren?
When my daughter wants to fight back against patriarchy and violence, I will tell her not to. Because we teach our girls to stay silent. I will tell her about the humiliating way in which she will be treated at the police station, the chakars she will have to take of courts, the tedious procedures she will have to undergo in order to get justice, the expenses she will have to incur to get what's rightfully hers, the years and decades of her life she will have to punish herself to ensure that her perpetrator gets the punishment due to him.
At every point in their life, our daughters will be fighting some or the other battle, for the right to private and public agency, right to inheritance, property and personal finance, right to work without sexual harassment, right to sexual agency including consent and sexuality, rights to guardianship, right to equality, right to dignity, or the right to divorce. No matter what they do, they will be called names throughout their life: kali-kalooti, moti, bitchy, basanti, sweetie, chikni, slutty, chameli, karamjali, kalmoohi.
Our daughters have been born into a country that espouses the values of Satyamev Jayate and Stree Shakti, but also tells a woman that every time she has the courage to talk about her marital rape, or her physical abuse, or her sexual assault, she is lying. For centuries we have told our daughters to stay silent in the face of violence. Neither state machinery, nor the legal system, nor the next-door neighbour will help our daughters in need. Despite this, we are still teaching our women #MeToo instead of teaching them #HowTo.
We are in 2018 but sometimes it still feels like 1820. Therefore, I look at my daughter's innocent hopeful face " the face of our country's future, the face of our country's dreams " and I fold the newspaper and keep it away.
Thank you for your heartiest congratulations once again.
The author is an award-winning author, columnist, feminist and TEDx Speaker. You can follow her on Twitter @MeghnaPant.