City slickers have a way about themselves. Armed with a battery of degrees and taught beliefs, everything that they say is right. Labels are right and so is a snap judgement. I was no different. When the London phase ended, I landed in India with certain arrogance. How alien could my own country get? I had never been to Rajasthan before but I had heard plenty about it. Rajasthan is known for its discriminatory attitudes towards caste and women, among other things. So, I already had my guard up and ready by the time I landed in the little town of Phalodi.
Sure enough, the stereotypes did not disappoint this time. From the very beginning, I had to field off innumerable questions about which caste I hailed from. Not a day would go by without a curious stranger coming up to me and randomly asking me about which caste I was born in. I never told them. I had a standard answer which went something along the lines of “I don’t know which caste I am from. “ This would inevitably pave the way for a second question. “Why?”
“In the city, caste is not important.” Pat would come my reply. This would be followed by a moment of intense goggle-eyed staring at my offensive self. Then there would be other questions about why I was not married and a mother, being 22 already!
As if this was not enough. Living in a city often makes one forget about the baggage of gender. Not always though. In the village, this baggage came tumbling down like a sack of bricks. If the casteism was a mere annoyance, sexism would make me see red. Anything that was even vaguely feminist in me would cry out at the way women would recede into the corners the moment any man appeared on the horizon. Our host mothers would retreat under the veil and go into mute mode. Everything would be communicated in whispers and gestures. Among us, the girls were looked upon with a condescending eye.
“After all, you are women.” This seemed to be the unspoken and sometimes oft spoken refrain among the men. We weren’t allowed to go out after dark, which set in approximately around 7 pm.
They say that time always teaches you things. After sometime, those labels that I had so lovingly set up in my head started to dissolve.
The age-old debate between nature and nurture reared its head again. We come from a very different reality altogether. We come from a society of options and choices. Of theories and of movements. Of glib justifications.
What about a reality that does not think in greys but blacks and whites? Do we place ourselves on a pedestal because we think we know better? Or is it just that we know different, which does not necessarily have to be better?
It is extremely easy to put your narrative over somebody else’s; just because you think that your books have enlightened you. However, what about those lessons that you have never learnt? Those lessons of primal survival?
There were these questions and more, sending my “little grey cells” into a tizzy. If we had been brought up in a society where women are treated as inferior beings, would we have thought any different? The people in the community knew no different. It was a tradition and a culture going back hundreds of years, with little or no exposure to outside beliefs. It’s not about being better or worse. It’s all about being different. We were different and not better. We did not come from a superior reality, but from a different one, with different symbols and reference points.
It probably sounds “Us and Them”. Isn’t that better than “Us OVER Them”?
It’s very easy to think you are right and to believe in it. Sometimes however, you need to take your spectacles off and see the world the way you would never have thought you would. It’s not about looking at the other side of the coin from this side. Get up, walk to the other side and take a good long look through their lens. If possible, take off your well-worn shoes and stand in theirs.
– The views expressed in this article are Rudrani’s own. She is currently working at the Druk White Lotus School, Ladakh as a counsellor.