Here at Maitri, we are in the beginning stages of our campaign to eradicate violence against women. The campaign centers largely around a pledge to never participate in or allow violence against women to happen to any individual in your life, including yourself.
Right now, we’re conducting research within the general public of India to best strategize our communicative approach. We’ve spoken to several people, but one man’s words made my heartstrings pull especially tight.
He was sitting alone in the food court of one of Delhi’s largest malls, drinking a small cup of coffee and reading a book. We asked for a few moments of his time, and he invited us to sit at his table. As we introduced our cause, he nodded with understanding, telling us he’s an attorney who’s done much research on the lack of legal representation for women in India. Even without knowledge of his career, it was clear to me from his intellectual enthusiasm and informed opinions that this man had been highly educated, and I concentrated on absorbing his insight.
He said violence against women is an urgent issue in today’s society, perhaps more so in India than anywhere else. Fueled by a mindset of agressive male dominance, India has not been able to make the progress past such violence that other nations have achieved. He attributed this lack of progress to a widespread inability to accept change. According to him, the call for change will only be heard if it comes from religious or political leaders. Political leaders, however, will advocate for nothing that does not fall within constituent popularity. In India, constituents are driven most deeply by religion, thus their favor is granted on religious terms. And religious leaders will never relinquish their patriarchal power. He tried to explain to us the resulting mindset – tried to help us understand what we are up against.
“To many men here, women are objects only – not human beings,” he said. ”One cannot feel sympathy for an object.”
If a girl is not human, what reasons exempt her from abuse? An object cannot feel pain. It is not destroyed by domestic violence, its body and emotions are not scarred by rape. Its cries are empty and its suffering irrelevant.
But women are not objects, and their pain is not irrelevant. This man theorized that whatever haze of culture, religion, or tradition distorts the eyes of these men must be cleared. Women must be recognized as members of a shared human race. Yet many women are unaware even of their most basic human rights – the right to feel safe, the right to a life without abuse. So they never speak up, because to speak up would be unfaithful. The reality of such destructive beliefs makes my teeth clench together and my eyes burn, and to confront it makes my head spin. I'm beginning to feel the passion for change that fills all the dedicated individuals who work within Maitri.
Our friend in the food court did not soften his thoughts with any false optimism. But he also expressed hope. "If we are patient, and we continue to push, making women aware of their rights and helping men accept change, progress will come. As progress always does."
The first rains came last week. The air was so heavy, I should have expected it. But when the skies turned gray and the all-too-familiar pounding of falling raindrops surrounded the office, I quite literally jumped out of my chair and ran to the door. Mintu, one of Maitri’s employees, and a volunteer were standing in the doorframe, looking on at the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen. Within moments, the dirt road was a river of mud, the few installed gutters gushing water from their drain pipes. I looked at Mintu, for some reason feeling like I needed permission to step out from cover. He sort of laughed and stepped aside to let me through.
Hopping down the steps I stopped in the very middle of the street, where awnings couldn’t interrupt my claim to the sky’s falling gift. My feet rooted in the mud, I turned my face up to the clouds, breathing in the smell of wet earth as deep as my lungs would allow. I must have been giggling like a little kid because Mintu was laughing at me and the volunteer found me so odd she snapped a couple pictures. Unlike the complaints that always accompany rain at home, the showers bring smiles to Indian faces. All of a sudden the street filled with people, the kids screaming as they scooped up whole handfuls with which to splash one another.
For me, though, the rain brings more than mere relief from the heat; it brings home. It brings familiarity, and it brings a reminder that we all live under the same sky, which delivers the same elements, no matter where on Earth’s face you might be standing.