Deepshikha Dhankar provides a woman’s perspective of living in India, in a metro no less as compared to her new home in the UK. She contrasts the way women are treated, and how it feels – It’s an eye opener.
As much as I love my country of many languages and cultures, I never fully felt accepted. I was, more often than not, reduced to my blouse size, the visible bra-strap and a friendly hug I might have given to a ‘boy’. I felt being judged, everyday, everywhere, even in my own home. I have often wondered, ‘Would I feel the same if I move to some other country?’ 28 years later, when I actually shifted to ‘some other’ country, my perception came true. Believe you me, I was amazed – at the way people would greet each other randomly while taking a walk, as if we have become ‘one’ once again, at the way nobody would lech at me, at the respect they would offer to someone who comes from another land, and sometimes even call me ‘exotic’!
I have to say I haven’t felt more welcomed in my own country than I felt in the United Kingdom. Yes, I am aware of its shortcomings too in other areas, but if you talk about being grateful and focusing on the things that do matter to me, I have more to be thankful for now than I even had when I was in India, in terms of basic respect and dignity I deserve. You might be surprised at my statements and they might feel like a direct intrusion in your pretty version of India, but I will tell you why I love being here more than the country I moved on from:
1. People – I really believe people make the land and given by the way India has been ‘happening’ today (totally not getting into tolerant and non-tolerant debate), majority of people won’t cut me a slack. On the other hand, people in England are quite helpful, respectful, and more at ease with whom I wish to talk to, what I wish to wear, where I wish to work and how I wish to travel. There are no qualms about taking a public transport and you will find people from all classes sitting in the same bus. Top that up with the Wi-Fi! (Yep, no mobile top up required) But honestly, it is the people – friendly, funny, welcoming! I don’t remember the last time I felt like giving someone all these attributes together in my own land.
2. Public transport – Free Wi-Fi yes! Public transports here are a lot safer in terms of what time I opt to step out and from where. Even if the bus or train is full of men, nobody in interested in looking at you for more than two seconds, and that also because humans are naturally inclined towards observing their surroundings. I don’t feel like covering my cleavage or clenching my teeth (unless of course, I am cold) or shifting my gaze to a more comfortable view. It is almost as if I don’t exist and that’s fine by me because it is extremely delightful sometimes to just be non-existent than having to live every second of the day by someone else’s idea of how you should be. You want to swap your seat? Go ahead and say it. You want to sit by yourself? Move your bag to the seat next to you and nobody will bother you.
3. A funny bone – If you want to live and laugh, England is the place because people do not take their lives so seriously that they forget to live. From a luxury store owner to a sales representative, everyone would like to strike a conversation with you no matter where you come from. I remember the first time I went to open an account with a Universal bank, the lady struck a conversation with me and shared some personal stuff as if it didn’t bother her even one bit that she didn’t know me at all. People here do not miss a chance to laugh and that’s how they live! Humor is not considered offensive and if someone has the knack for sarcasm, it is met with sarcasm alone and not some silly fight over ‘how could you say that to me’!
4. Safety – You can gather how safe this place is if this aspect didn’t make it to the very first point in my list. The laws are strict. You cannot keep a gun just like that, you can’t touch someone’s baby without the parent’s permission as it is considered rude to touch someone without their consent, you surely can’t break a red light and expect to get away with it! You can’t keep a broken car, can’t walk in the lane of bikers, and can’t drive in the lane of buses! There are many ‘cannots’ that I can list here, the point is – you can’t do something wrong and think that nobody can lay a finger on you just because you are some minister’s son or daughter or belong to suburbs. Welcome to the kingdom of no-bullshit!
5. Health services – NHS is probably the biggest blessing England showers upon its residents. It is not only the best system in the world but also very efficient despite being free for its citizens. How many times have you seen a health worker doing their job efficiently in Indian government hospitals? Probably not many. And it’s not their fault; it is just how the system has been – inefficient and corrupt. If you are working in England, you might want to note down that corruption is not a natural disaster and so, there can’t be an excuse for your actions under the table.
6. Racism/ Sexism/Casteism – I have felt them all to a great extent in India but not even once in this country. I might be wrong but because education is available to all and commenting on someone’s short clothes has never been a part of their culture, it automatically eradicates any chances of many ‘-isms’! In fact, I have been hugely welcomed whenever I had been to a club, restaurant, someone’s house, or simply strolling through the roads. At most times, I have even received compliments on how great my dress looked, how good my hair is, or simply how beautiful I am – things I probably hardly said even to myself before. People do not shy away from offering a compliment or two, or at least exchange a smile and bid you goodnight if you randomly pass them on the streets at night.
7. Driving – Even though I know how to drive, I have always been immensely afraid to drive on the streets of India, partly because I am not confident driving there and partly because my under-confidence is valid. In England, you probably cannot afford to wrongly park, intersect or overlap someone, unless you have got great skills of tripping over flat surfaces. The best thing about the driving rules here is that you cannot simply say things like ‘tu jaanta nahi main kaun hoon! (You have no idea who I am)’ because nobody cares. If there are rules to be followed, they are to be followed. And that’s what education does to you – you understand plain and simple things the way they are. Safety doesn’t happen by accident and it is well endowed in the minds of all owners of four wheels. Not to forget, if you want to cross the road, instead of desperately trying to save your life while stepping in between cars, you can simply press the button at the zebra crossing that you need to cross over and everyone will stop! How cool, right?
8. Feminism and Independence – I grew up believing that only the less fortunate can work in a coffee shop or a grocery store, I realized we have all got it wrong. I see many students and elderly taking up part-time jobs in departmental stores and other shops here – not because they cannot afford to live without it but because the concept of ‘independence’ is inculcated in their culture from a very young age. Everything that girls can do, boys do and everything that boys can do, girls do – a true picture of feminism to me! There are no set rules for boys and girls because they mostly do not have separate upbringings in terms of basic things such as respect, dignity, right to work, freedom of expression, work ethics, etc.
I do not know if all this would sound much better or believable from a Victoria Secret’s Angel but I know that I do not need to play any games and can simply be myself – something that I have long wished for India and kept inside a Chinese turtle for it to come true one day! As for me, the only time I ever felt helpless in this country is when my nail polish is drying! Unless I feel the same in India, Women’s Day is just another day to remind me that even though women are the architects of the society, we still have a long way to go!