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Image by Tim Mossholder
The Other Side of the Story
by Dhiraj Sharma

Mesmerized, I was listening to my senior colleague’s mind-boggling speech for the last hour on 'Women Equality' during the International seminar on the same theme. Now, feeling a sudden change in her modulation and delivery style, I thought her concluding remarks were imminent. It was already quarter past two o'clock in the afternoon. Slowly, the crowd was thinning, and attendees were leaving the seminar hall for lunch. The remaining audience was growing restless.

In her firm voice, she continued loudly, “As Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘India lives in its villages,’ and I can affirm that the villages in India only thrive on the efforts of women. From dawn until midnight, they endure hardships, sacrificing for the well-being of their families. Despite facing beatings, exploitation, harassment, malnutrition, and deprivation of every freedom and joy, they remain steadfastly committed to their homes and society. Furthermore, facing the obstacles of gender inequality and societal expectations, they continue to contribute significantly to the progress of their families and communities. It is not just the story of rural India. A woman’s role in the urban landscape is almost the same. Here, women are not just homemakers. They are dynamic forces in various fields, including business, education, healthcare, and technology. They stand resilient against the odds, proving their mettle in every endeavour.” Knowing her for so long, I knew the words were coming straight from the heart.

She paused for a moment to catch her breath and then continued, “Despite encountering biases and stereotypes, they excel as professionals, entrepreneurs, and change-makers, shaping the future of the nation. Just as in the villages, it remains crucial in urban settings to acknowledge, appreciate, and actively support the upliftment of women. By advocating for equal rights, addressing systemic issues, and fostering an inclusive environment, we can ensure that the contribution of females in India is not just recognized but celebrated. It is a collective responsibility to create a society where every woman is empowered to reach her full potential, contributing to the growth and prosperity of the nation. It is incumbent upon all of us to work towards their upliftment and ensure equal rights for them." With these final words, she stopped. The audience erupted in massive applause.

As she slowly stepped down from the podium, I congratulated her on delivering a wonderful lecture on the theme of Women's Equality. She gave me a wide smile but then it faded quickly, replaced by a candid response, “You know very well, we cannot bring any change by just giving lectures in these air-conditioned halls. Women's equality? The so-called high-class family females I see every day, even they are not ‘equal’ in their homes. What to talk about poor women living in rural areas!” She was sad and distant. I could only say ‘hmmm’ with closed lips in response.

As we made our way to the refreshment area for lunch, I tried to cheer her up by appreciating the impactful opening lines of her address - highlighting India's transformation in recent years, elevating women to leadership roles, and about so many initiatives the government was taking. She became thoughtful and said, “There is no denying that, but our country is so diverse and huge, and the ancient mind-set of the people is so fixated and cemented that no government can change it on its own.”

For a while, we focused on our buffet lunch, blending into the crowd. After a few minutes, we found each other again, and the discussion resumed. With a hesitant gaze at her plate, which contained minimal food, qualifying only in the area of salad or appetizers, she continued, “Honestly speaking, I am now very confused. I must confess there is a completely different side of the story too, here in our country. Rarely revealed, discussed, and told. Sometimes, I cannot make out what I am doing and what I should do, seeing and experiencing these things around me.”

Perplexed, I inquired, “What, ma’am? I am not getting it?”

“Leave aside all the background details. Let me just tell you what happened this morning. I had to transfer some funds to my son abroad. As I entered the bank, I saw a mature female customer yelling at the bank teller, and that gentleman was quite patient and silent. I immediately sensed she was misusing her gender to threaten an innocent employee. I ignored the drama, did my transactions, and left. On the bus to the university, the same woman was ahead of me. The bus was overcrowded, and I found a place to stand. She, however, was yelling at a male passenger, demanding he vacate a seat for her.”

I was shocked to hear all this. Her story painted a perplexing picture of contradictions and misuse of power, the power that legally the female gender carries.

She exclaimed and continued, “I cannot fathom such females do exist around us? Yes, they do. And what I can say? I am feeling so embarrassed telling you. My own younger sister, who is quite lazy and hot-tempered and not able to adjust with her in-laws, is thinking of suing them, without any fault of theirs, for domestic violence and dowry. Sadly, the whole law is on the side of a female. That is why I see females who are educated or resourceful exploiting their position as the ‘weaker gender’ and misusing this as a tool for their advantage.” She stopped suddenly. There was an awkward pause for almost an eternity. Then she turned to me abruptly, “Women equality? Legally it is not the same, I know. I think ‘most women are not equal, but some are more equal.’ Haha, you would say my statement is inspired from the George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Yes, it looks like a joke to me.”

And then, she asked me, “Leave all this. What do you think, independently? Are both genders equal, as we try to promote this everywhere academically? The whole western philosophy forcing us to focus on equality. What do you say?” She was frustrated and exhausted. I could see that in her eyes and on her face.

I pondered for a moment. Picking my words carefully, I replied, “As I see it, there is no equality in nature but 'uniqueness’ everywhere. Genders too are unique, which is why they are not equal. They can’t be and they shouldn’t be. The idea that both male and female genders are not equal but unique stems from the recognition of the inherent diversity and distinct characteristics within each gender. When we consider this perspective, it becomes evident that nature itself thrives on 'uniqueness' rather than 'equality.' Similarly, genders exhibit their own unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses, leading to an intrinsic dissimilarity that goes beyond the concept of equality. In essence, each gender possesses distinctive qualities that contribute to the overall balance and harmony in society. Rather than striving for strict equality, acknowledging and celebrating these differences can enhance the understanding of the complementary roles that men and women play. They are not meant to be identical, rather they are designed to fulfil diverse functions, each with its own set of expectations and responsibilities.”

I paused and then continued, observing her standing, serious and attentive, “The acknowledgment of uniqueness does not imply one gender's superiority over the other. Instead, it emphasises the value of embracing diversity and recognizing that the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each gender contribute to a more comprehensive and intricate societal framework. This perspective challenges conventional notions of equality and invites a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of gender dynamics."

I just turned to put down my plate in the bin and upon turning back again, anticipating her reaction to my presumed intelligent discourse, I saw her hurrying towards the seminar hall. Once again, she was to be the main speaker in the next session of the seminar. The complexities of gender dynamics lingered in the air, challenging the conventional notions of equality in the daily tapestry of life.

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