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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Color Purple

The post title is a namesake of an acclaimed 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. Later, it was adapted into a film and a Broadway musical.

I was reading the synopsis of the story last night and today I received a forward from my father of an article in Boston Globe. Sometimes, it makes me feel glad that I am from a family which has given me ample opportunity for my education and has not treated me like some second class citizen.

During the final year of my undergrad, a family friend, who was about the age of my father and had equivalent social status, ( the mark of broad mindedness for the naive like the "then" me) asked me what do I intend to do after my college. I intimated: I want to work for a while before I study further. And I want to travel. See places. Meet people. Their customs, attire, food. I want to live it. He casually remarked: Aar porashona kore ki korbi? Ekhon biye tiye korr. ( What is the point of studying further? Get married now.) His vested interest was his marriageable elder son who had just cleared an entrance for the judiciary system and had a stable career ahead. He was looking for a bride. He admired me a lot. My family knew about it. But I felt scandalized. I had a very high opinion about that man until that day. If he really wanted me to be a part of his family, he should have waited for some years until I was ready, instead of trying to mutilate my growth . Like some fathers do- for cultural , religious , and purely non-medical reasons.

FGM was an unknown concept to me till yesterday, when I decided to browse through the story of The Color Purple in Wikipedia. By the time I got reading to Type III FGC , I was so sick to my stomach that I wanted to puke. The ancient Chinese practice of foot binding was equally cruel.

My intent is not to shock and awe. Or to transform the usually "responsible" content of THE VARIEGATED SKY into a sibling of a shock site. I'll probably get back to sipping coffee and preparing case studies after this. But I wanted to say what I felt. And I don't care if I am labeled a Feminist henceforth. The term itself is unfair. It should be an "Equalist". Feminist makes it sound as if we are trying to give women a status they do not deserve. Even some of the "great" minds at work believe it is charity they are doing. And in their modesty lies the silent pride that it is their greatness that makes them work for the social cause, not the necessity. (How lame is that? )

We might have come a long way since 4 December 1829, when Sati was formally banned in Bengal by Lord William Bentinck. Raja Rammohan Roy might not live today to campaign against the practice but it hasn't stopped burning alive of women. Oh , they don't do it on funeral pyres nowadays. When I was residing in NCR, I often came across articles like this. Made me wonder where I was living.

But I don't blame the society. Because I am a part of it. Some days back when I was walking to school, I saw a bully thrashing a small young boy. The kid lay writhing in pain on the pavement while the big boy stamped his wrist under his feet. It was so horrible that I wanted to stop it at once. But 1) I did not know if it was happening under parental observation and the parents thought it was a healthy way to play 2) I knew the kid had to get up himself and hit back if he wanted some dignity in his life. I could hear his cries a long way down the walk, and I thought to myself: You will grow up to be a strong man or you won't ever grow up at all.

What I mean by narrating this random incident is that it is the rule of nature. The strong feed on the weak. You either grow to be stronger or you perish. If women want respect, they will have to earn it. They won't be given alms.

Education, empowerment, financial independence- are the three first crucial steps. Then comes sexual liberty- the right to say no.
Many women tolerate domestic violence because they are not able enough to support their children of their own and would prefer to lead a degraded existence than see their kids suffer or their daughters be subjected to the same atrocities when they grow up fatherless.

If only these women had means to support themselves and run a family. Or made a choice to do so. That reminds of a real life incident. She was a small town girl from India who grew up in reasonable comfort. After two elder brothers, she was the only daughter. She had an arranged marriage soon after she had her Bachelor's degree to a guy who was "working in America", from the same town. The emphasis on "working in America" was so great that the parents of the bride did not check on the guy's background. Who turned out to be a big time drunkard and gambler. She started working to pay the bills. The woman had two sons with him. One fine day, she decided she had enough and left him. They are now separated. Not legally divorced. Every one back home knows they are happily married.

I respect her for her strength to go on herself, being a single mother, and not going back to her folks for help. Even if she did, she would have probably been turned away in fear of "lok-lajja". She might not be the ideal woman for me. But she made a choice. And that makes me look up to her.

I'm not a commitmentphobe or a man hater. But I definitely know when a man does or does not respect me. If I ever exercise my right to choose a life partner, I will go for a man , who more than anything else is a good human being and does not take me for granted. It might have nothing to do with the Feminist Movement but I will save at least one life. Mine.

The original book cover. Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich


Arindam said...

Franky, I haven't read this book "The Color Purple". However, purple as a color symbolizes "intact blood" or "unsplilled blood" and has a great significance in many cultures, both occidental, if im allowed to call the Jewish so!, and oriental. That apart, I always believe in the fact that everyone - men and women, must be educated. As Swami Vivekananda defines education as the manifestation of the perfection already in man. And I believe that true education is the first step towards the attainment of the higher consciousness - divinty. And in this regard, I see no difference between men and women, ofcourse biological functions and anatomical forms are different!
So, if that be the case, then everyone is entitled to the right of choice in matters of profession, sexuality etc.
The plight of women is as much attributable to women as to men, especially in to-day's world. Women must come out unitedly, also with the support of willing men, which Im sure they'll find in plentitude, in protest of any atrocities perpetuated upon them.

zoxcleb said...

i havent read the book, but going by your post, all i can say is wow. been a while since u jotted down some serious matter, and when u do, this is what u come up with!

there's not much more i can add to this...

abir said...

it's been a while since i've read anything apart from the news headlines and my research stuff; this morning i had actually set your blog aside to read later in the day, and it was well worth it -- well, in a thought-provoking way!
so i'm the 3rd person to comment and also happen to be the 3rd MALE and the 3rd one NOT to have read "The Color Purple" ... however, that does not stop me from jotting down my two-penny worth ...
i think you summed it up rather well when you didn't help the boy rise saying that he should be strong enough to do it himself since only the strongest and the fittest survive in this world. there's a story on Grace Akallo because she survived. her friends went through similar torture -- some died, some live but their stories are unheard. as long as the world exists, i think there would be some strong people and some weak people, and such stories will come up from time to time ... which brings us to another point, why are these atrocities targetted towards women? actually, men go through a similar torture (let's ask Grace, shall we) but i guess it makes for better stories when a woman (preferably a beautiful one) is scarred (i study visual systems, i can imagine how strong a visual impact that can be) ... this is not to say that certain groups don't target women -- they do, and often succeed owing to factors like physical strength etc.
so are women weak? not at all! growing up surrounded by women w(the men presumably went hunting), i admire and respect women, and i am aware of immense strength in them, which is not the physical kind required to push cars. this post comes soon after durga puja, the traditional bengali celebration of the victory of good over evil, where people worship Durga (Shakti = strength or is it power?). she is certainly one powerful woman!!
i remember once discussing with a friend how i found it hard to believe that one man alone can rape a woman since i didn't think i could ... he agreed with me and said he didn't believe he could either. our mindset might have resulted from the environment we grew up in, or it might have resulted from education (or both). i am inclined to believe it has got to do with education. knowledge is the supreme power (as says the Gita) and gives the answers to all problems. leaving aside the debate on education vs literacy, i think it prudent to say that it is knowledge that will bring us all on an equal footing.
of course, no one wants to be equal, we all want to be more equal than the rest, don't we? ;)

candid diary said...

Some people are fighting against FGM. To know how tough that fight can be please read Voices Rise in Egypt to Shield Girls from an Old Tradition.

For men folk here is some revealing information. Circumcision (of men) appears to reduce a man’s risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by half and the directors of the two largest funds for fighting the disease said they would consider paying for circumcisions in high-risk countries.

If you have time and inclination here are some statistics from Crime in India (latest is from the year 2005) about dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment, cruelty by husband or relatives and importation of girls. In the last ten years the figures have just doubled up.
In Crime in India you may also see Crime Against Women for incidents & rate of crime committed against women (State, UT & City-wise); incidence, rate and percentage contribution to all India figures; victims of rape (also incest rape cases) under different age-groups (State, UT & City-wise); offenders relation & nearness to rape victims (State, UT & City-wise). You will find interesting disclosure of social fabrics of different Indian States and of not-so-well-known fact that women, in many States, are more unsafe in their own homes.
Btw I have not read ‘The Color Purple’ but have only seen excerpts available on the Net.

Shantanu said...

Uncomfortable truths. I believe (at least in the Indian context, one I am more familiar with) that education is best empowerment for women. Having the ability to be gainfully employed and not dependent can give you the additional courage to get out of a bad situation. Of course, like you pointed out, one needs to act and not continue to be a victim.

arnab said...

as i mentioned, haven't read the book, but seen the movie. though from the wikipedia description it seems that the movie diverged from the book, and i can safely bet on the fact that the book will be better.

but coming to the general theme of your post, it is normal to feel outraged at the thought of being stereotyped and discriminated against, because of a physical trait, be it gender or skin color. and it is the simple ugly truth of nature, where the powerful exploit the powerless.

with humans it is not always the raw physical power, but complicated social norms which govern who is perceived powerful. in most traditional societies men wield the power, but it is not universal - there are matriarchal tribes, like khasi and garo tribes in meghalaya, moso (?) of the sichuan province. however, physical domination is often a very male trait, and hence you get sati, fgm or foot binding. the sad fact, though, is such practices are often directly perpetrated by women themselves, and the reason for that is something i don't fully understand. can this be explained by an extension of the capture-bonding phenomenon?

also how exactly the domination is expressed, is very cultural; some like it raw, while others like to euphemise it. fgm is just too raw for western sensibilities, but workplace discrimination is tacitly accepted. so even thought the woman can now sleep with whoever she chooses, she will not get as big a paycheck as her male colleagues of equal expertise.

sounds pretty damning, but that's just fact. however, we humans, as a whole are moving in the right direction - more has been achieved over the last 60 years in terms of realizing the ideal of égalité than has been in several thousand years before that. so we will get there, but it will take time, and in the meantime, we can all relax and have a beer!

passer by said...


sadly the female faces that come to my mind with the word make me disgust the word, they present a picture of tall talks and stop there..

oppression boils down to individual..
the soap opera name come from truth..if individuals decide and work towards being last of the sufferers someone would succeed..

as usual your blog made think....pushed me to the shore..but to tame the torment inside and outside one has to work himself..

Munmun said...

I completely agree with you Aparna. It is really unfortunate to see female 'cruelty' existent in all steps of life even today.
I have been to several research conferences yet so far (even in US). And I see only one thing in common: less than 10% women representation in computer science research!
I am not talking of the financially pressed families or the culturally disillusioned people who treat women as 'stuff' with whom they can do anything.
I am talking of my peers in every sense. Then why is there always a difference between men and women? Why are there so few women scientists? Why do we have to form 'Women in Computer Science' groups and 'Women in Computing' conferences to inspire women? Do we have an answer?
I know so many men would say "yeah because women are stupid. They are dumb". But is it really so? I have known in my life that a woman if focused can surpass all men with her mental and emotional intelligence. And I believe no one is born intelligent or born stupid. Talent is nurtured. Unfortunately women are hardly given that scope, or rather are conscious enough to grab that scope!
I am talking of a family friend of ours. You can consider we have similar 'social status'. But I remember one event: after which I don't believe their social status matches the enlightenment that my family has. I always used to be a ambitious student in my childhood. And their daughter wasn't. They would explain it as: "We don't want our daughter to study so much. We don't want to stress her out. We just want her to be smart, speak good English and then marry her off to a nice guy".
But is it really so? I don't agree. Being ambitious is not stressing yourself out. It is about having a purpose to live, a meaning to life. And unfortunately getting married to a so-called nice guy and living on his earned bread does not fetch you any meaningful purpose in life. Has slavery ever fetched anybody anything?
It is strange but true. Women can't rise up at par with men as long as their guardians and they themselves keep justifying their dependence on men (in several manner). I know many of my classmates, the only goal in life has been to find a good husband. And the definition of a good husband is one who earns hefty money so that they don't have to work after marriage. But women have to understand themselves that working is about being independent and not a sign of paucity of money.
Finally, no one is going to come to rescue to save the women folk. Unless they themselves shrug this sense of submission to men at every point of life.
It is not about a feminist movement or women empowerment or women 33% reservations. It is about self-enlightenment.

Aparna Kar said...

I had been waiting for a woman to speak up on this. Referring to your classmates, I came across one who asked me to guide her for GMAT and said that "my husband wants it". I told her "Surely, you are not going to write that in your SOP? You have to come up with something more concrete than thisYou can imagine how flustered I was. Your better half can be a catalyst in your progress or be an inspiration. But the sole reason to do something to please him? I can't subscribe to the idea.
I don't remember a guy saying that he wants to do a course or get an award because his wife/gf/mother wants it. If it is- it's the wrong kind of motivation. The happiness of your family/love might be one of the criteria of choosing a path, but can’t be the rasion d’être!
Furthermore, about making girls "a suitable bride", it seems to be the motto of the parents who can seriously see no other worth in their ward. I wonder where all the good-for-nothing-guys go. Try to hook up a successful woman I guess. The Bassanio types. Happy go lucky, good-for-nothing, wanton and searching for a Portia to afford their extravagant ways.
There's another end of the spectrum, men who don't want highly educated or self sustained women because they think they won't be able to dominate them! Can you believe this?
However, it's good to have people around who don't mind if their wives bring home a thicker pay package than they do.
The other day, I was having a debate with my brother about how important is economic and educational parity while choosing a life partner. I wanted him to define the premises first coz "parity" is such a vague concept when not quantified. Also, more successful men/women do not necessarily bring with them a guarantee card of happiness. At the end, it’s we who define our happiness or our freedom. As you said –“It is not about a feminist movement or women empowerment or women 33% reservations. It is about self-enlightenment.” And it is that enlightenment that we seek- the light in which we can see ourselves as self-sufficient, emotionally stable individuals who have independent existence.

Munmun said...

Yeah! The biggest learning that the women community needs to strive for is "to know to live for themselves".
I completely get your GMAT friend incident. I have known so many girls here as well who have come for an MS because their husbands or fiances are working/studying here. And those men want to have an easy way out: not pay for her as a dependent on his visa; though at the end of the day, even after she would have an MS, he won't let her work. And the woman would happily accept this: her parents would proudly boast of it in India: our son-in-law is a great guy working in America.
Most of the men I have met in my life are probably two extremes: ones who don't want an ambitious woman, and the ones who want an ambitious woman because she would earn good money. While the first category will selfishly boast they are chauvinists, the second category would laugh at the every chauvinist idea and say "I don't care". This is even more scary. How can he not care? He does care for sure: and that is the reason he wants a woman who earns dollars in six figures.
And honestly it is difficult to find men of a third category: ones who think rationally. Who take a woman not as a 'woman' but as a person, a human being.
I believe if a woman would look forward to finding a good husband in the real sense: it is again about self-enlightenment- she has to be rational enough herself to identify those handful of rational counterparts in her life.

Saurav said...

Very insightful indeed I must say..
These things, especially the dowry cases etc - they still happen nowadays. A friend of mine (from North India, UP/Bihar & the likes) - u know how it is for these ppl. so this dude gets engaged the traditional way, Mom Dad find a tailor made girl for him. And since he has a PHOREN degree, he gets to pick from the lot. So this guy has a decent salary but he's bought a house costing a hell of a lot more than what he could have on his own. Where did the extra money come from? Well u can guess....

I congratulated him on his new house but couldn't really stop thinking of how the girl's parents are going to make ends meet from now on....

This can only stop when the government takes an initiative & prohibits stuff like this...

Arpz said...

//You will grow up to be a strong man or you won't ever grow up at all..............earn it. They won't be given alms

Awesomely written and fabulous. nice. very nice.