An Educated, Working Indian Woman Asks: Am I Truly Free?
by Durba Biswas
One evening while returning home from work, I was having a tough time trying to find an auto-rickshaw to take to the metro station. Finally, one stopped. However, it was fully occupied with three women passengers already seated in the back. I wondered why the auto-driver had stopped since there didn’t seem to be any place in there for me.
Then, much to my surprise, the driver turned around and told one of the women to get out, and come share his seat with him in the front, so I could take her seat at the back. I immediately saw that this woman was not comfortable with the suggestion. She seemed uneasy and anxious. Why did the driver do that to her? Why did he not ask me to sit in the front, if that was the seating arrangement he had planned? Was it because this woman was from the lower-income strata (or so it seemed from her clothing)? Possibly, the driver thought he had the liberty to command her but not me because of our class differences. I was irritated by the auto-driver’s assumption that this woman’s consensus was not required. It did not matter, even if she seemed obviously uncomfortable with his suggestion. So I said — no thanks! — and started walking.
It was around 6.45 in the evening and it being winter, it was already dark. The office crowds had already gone, and the road was almost deserted. During my 30 minute walk to the metro station, I was whistled at, propositioned to and had all kinds of comments directed towards me. None of it was endearing or inoffensive in the least! I felt scared and tense all the way to the metro. That evening I understood starkly the role class and gender play in Indian society.
I wondered if I would consider myself privileged because of my class and education? Did these allow me to be a more liberated woman in society? That terrifying walk from work to the station: Is this what I think gender equality should feel like? Is this the freedom I want as a woman?
The answer is a clear NO. This is not freedom. This is not equality. My life as a woman in India today may offer me more job and education opportunities, and in that respect maybe a bit better off than that of our grandmothers. But the thing is, no matter what your job, or education or class or income in India is – as women we all face violent behavior by men. As women, each of us may individually define freedom differently.
But let me say this aloud: There is no of freedom as long as women in India live with the constant fear of persecution even for something as mundane as walking down the street, taking a cab, or traveling from work to home.
And without freedom how can there be equality? As long I have to be fearful of walking down the streets, as long as women are fearful of expressing their consent or dissent openly, we are not free. I am not a free woman. I am not an equal human being.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Durba Biswas received her PhD in Environmental Economics. But as a woman, her interest also lies in trying to understand how a gender-unequal world affects her everyday life as well as that of other women. In her blog NaariQuest she chronicles her thoughts and experiences as a working woman in an Indian metropolis.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Emuishere Peliculas is a member of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers’ Group which is supported by more than 2400 photographers. To see more of her works click here