Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 4/6

sati-artOn the street parallel to our home lived a Rajput family. Rajputs, as you might know, are a fierce and beautiful race, originators of Sati, the practice of urging a wife to leap on to her husband’s funeral pyre—for what is a woman worth without a man, anyway? Better to burn baby burn, and get all the endless vicious abuse a widow is subject to out of the way, once and for all. Never mind that in thousands of cases the husband is a doddering old fart, and the wife a young girl led to marital slaughter by virtuous parents. Duty and honor were considered paramount in those days, and a “good” woman was urged to end her life when her man was gone. Those who refused were drugged, thrown onto the funeral pyre, and drums were beaten loud and hard to drown out their shrieks.

Now Lakshmi, youngest of three graceful daughters born to this particular family, committed the mortal sin of falling in love with Shaukat, the attractive son of a local Muslim building contractor. Traditionally speaking, the Rajputs and the Muslims are arch enemies; so, when some spiteful gossip leaked the information to Lakshmi’s parents, her father—an important man in the Rajput community—went stark raving bonkers: Lakshmi was instantly pulled out of college, given the whipping of her life, and placed under house imprisonment. And since neighbourhood elders supported her parents for disciplining their wayward daughter in this drastic manner, not one adult attempted to ameliorate the poor girl’s fate. Continue reading

Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 3/6

freedomCall me the family adventuress: during long summer holiday afternoons, while the rest of my family was taking their siesta or reading in bed, I’d creep out the back door and scale a wall or climb a gate to avoid being seen, in order to pay impromptu visits to my girlfriends in the hood. Inside their bedrooms, with the fan going full blast, we’d giggle and whisper and gossip as we gorged on sweets and savories.

One family I befriended had settled in Bangalore a generation or so ago. The man of the house belonged to a Brahmin landowning family somewhere up in Himachal Pradesh. For as long as I knew him, he spent his time seated cross-legged or slumbering on his favorite couch, perusing the papers or some crappy thriller. His wife was a very different kettle of fish; a good-looking and hard-working woman, Hindu fanatic and Sanskrit scholar, she ran the household with iron efficiency. And yet, if her indolent husband were to crook his little finger at her—demanding chai, a snack, or someone to clean his ears or trim his finger and toenails—she, or one of their two lovely daughters, would run to obey. Continue reading