I have been disturbed by the news coming out of my region – the northeast of India - where a teenage girl coming out of a bar at 9:30 pm was molested and beaten by a group of 20 men. The news has even found its way down under for the shocking nature of it. Tabloids and even TV have carried the news.
I have always prided myself in belonging to a region that is known for its high tolerance and where women are generally safe and independent. But I have always felt a bit squidgy about Guwahati unlike the rest of the seven sisters. The place is so like the rest of India in many ways, dirty and claustrophobic. That explains why bars are looked upon as sleazy places and women going there beaten up as with the recent case. Just 150 km away is Shillong, the place where I grew up. Night clubs thrive there and till date there has been no case of attacks against women.
Reading the news, I am appalled by some of the reactions. “But the girl was drinking,” or “only prostitutes visit that bar”. Is this forward thinking India? India tom toms about its super power status and that it is going to overtake China as a global economy but the mindset of Indians is caught in time warp. Becoming a super power is only an illusion because material progress has to match with mental progress! The way people react to humiliation suffered by women shows India has such deep moral crisis and then tries to pride itself by calling it a bias free, cultured country of ancient civilization.
The attitude of Indians to women drinking is abhorrent, nothing less than that of the Taliban's. You will get the ‘girls from good families do not drink’ from 99 per cent of the population if a survey was conducted. I know of friends who never sipped beer in their lives but once married love any kind of alcohol because then they have the licence to do things illicit and the angst of finding a husband is no more there.
I could never walk into a shop and buy booze in Delhi. The reason being it is only men who frequent these shops and if a woman is seen there she is pushed and shoved and groped because the impression is that a whore has come to buy booze. But a woman gets groped all the time in that city, one would argue. True but ask any woman in Delhi what she felt walking into a booze shop, the answer will be ‘mental rape’.
It is only in recent times that the concept of drinking women has more or less gathered acceptance because of the call centres and other multinational companies setting shop in India. With it were introduced office parties and the concept of Friday night outs. Still, it is not an accepted thing that women must drink. India’s middle class pride itself in raising girls with virtues and alcohol a strict no no.
I am not condoning drinking; I am condoning the right to drink. Be it a girl or a boy, social drinking is acceptable and a way of life. Parents must teach children responsible drinking but in a repressed society the word drinking is enough to beat the shit out of the girl.
I too grew up in a family where alcohol was never part of any family tradition. Even the men drank on the sly but with time I have had the courage to sip a beer with the male family members. It is my way of telling them that the times they are a changing and that independence of women comes from showing - what is somebody’s right is equally yours too.