THESE days, I am very afraid. My fears are getting the better of me. Let me explain.
I always had this fear of walking alone. There are many pests around, who keep on stalking, abusing and harassing whenever I go out. I always wanted to wear nice, beautiful dresses that I really loved. I could not. I was warned not to wear them. People around, frightened me. Dress, it seems, will invite more harassment and teasing. I had to accept. That’s fear. Now with the ‘anti-Romeo’ squads, this fear doubled and trebled. The same pests who harass me are now part of these squads with the stamp of State approval. I cannot talk with anyone at anytime. They can harass me anywhere at anytime. This is the license that they had got from the government. Sorry my teacher of political science, I am searching for the right to free movement in the country that you had taught.
I am told not to go out on the days of menstruation. I am afraid that people around me will know that it is ‘those days’. I am not shy. I am afraid to buy sanitary napkins or discuss about my problems during menstruation. The government had now categorised it as a luxury. Yes, it is a luxury for me and many like me, to buy sanitary napkins and discuss our problems.
In Nepal, there is a practice where even today menstruating women are told to stay in the cattle sheds. Just a few days back, a woman died as she was bitten by a snake while she was sleeping in the cattle shed. The Supreme Court of Nepal had banned this practice it seems. Now the government is trying to bring a law. Some dignity for those women!
But what is happening in our country, the ‘big neighbour’? Our government recognised that sanitary napkins are luxury items. GST is decided accordingly. Yes, luxury! I am afraid, now with the rise in prices, sanitary napkins will not be purchased by many women. Is this the Hindutvawadis’ plan to confine women to dark corners in the homes, even today? I am afraid!
Few days back, I remember reading a news report. A software company had announced that it will give a ‘paid’ holiday for women on their first day of periods, it seems. Should one rejoice or feel sad for it? When menstruating is normal for women and should not hamper her activities, why is this company offering a holiday? Has the company already concluded that with the GST imposed on sanitary napkins, even their employees cannot buy them, so better give them a holiday? Or is that company too part of Hindutvawadis’ band wagon? Do they not want women on their premises during ‘that first day’? Many questions; I am afraid of the answers.
I am afraid of festivals. I am afraid of the celebrations. I am afraid of the dress. I am afraid of everything with festivals. I am afraid that they will give away my religion. Gone are the days, when I used to look eagerly for festivals. I used to love them. They used to bring me new clothes. Bring together relatives, friends, neighbours, all of us. There used to be fun, laughter and joy. Nostalgia. I thank my history teacher who taught me not to live in the past. I live in the present, afraid of the future. Even the present. My dress will give away my religion. So I am afraid to dress. My customs will give away my religion. I am afraid of customs. My food will give away my religion. I am afraid of my food. Sorry madam, you taught me about the Preamble and the Constitution, but I am afraid of the reality.
Earlier I used to be afraid of only those leeches who used to peep into my bathroom. Now they are emboldened. They are roaming in my kitchen. I am afraid to open my fridge. They are not. They give name to what I store in the fridge, based on my religion. They can eat whatever they want. But they decide what I should eat. I am afraid to eat even momos. Their minister in Jammu and Kashmir started a ‘movement’ against momos. I am afraid of what next.
I am afraid of my colour. I am afraid of my language. I am afraid of my accent. I was afraid when I learnt that they had ‘graciously stayed in harmony’ with us Dravidians from down south. I am afraid if the benevolence of the ‘white people’ of the country will last or not.
I am afraid to travel. I am afraid of the trains. I am afraid to go alone in my own vehicle. I am afraid to go together as a family in our vehicle. I am afraid because they can stop the car, shoot us, or if they are interested rape us. I am afraid if somebody will be there to help us then. I am afraid for my child who will be traveling with us.
I am afraid to talk. I may be called anti-national. I am afraid to sit in a cinema hall. I am afraid.
I am afraid for my husband. I am afraid for my child. I am afraid for my relatives, friends and all my well wishers. Yes, I am genuinely afraid. What will happen if my husband does not shave his beard? What will happen if my child goes on talking about what he is eating, wants to eat or what he believes in? What will happen to my relatives who want to come to our home and spend time? What happens if they dress up for the occasion? What happens to my friends who share my concerns?
I am afraid of Ballabgarh. I am afraid of Una. I am afraid of Mandsaur. I am afraid of Manesar. I am afraid of Dadri. I am afraid of Saharanpur. I am afraid of Mirchpur. I am afraid of Bulandshahr. I am afraid of Delhi. I am afraid of my country. I am afraid to live. I am afraid to die, thanks to the Right to Life in our ‘democratic, secular, socialist, sovereign, republic’.
I am afraid to die. Not because of death. I am afraid because I will not see it raining. I cannot hear the pitter-patter of the raindrops. I cannot smell the earth freshly drenched with rain. I cannot taste the corn burnt on the coals. I want all of these. And I want more. I want the rainbow. I want the sun to shine. I want to feel the breeze. I want to experience humanity. I want all of these and more, like Junaid. Like Veeran Ahirwar.
I cannot die. Junaid did not want to die. Ahirwar did not want to die. They too wanted to live. Like me. Like you. Like us. Where are they now? They are dead because of the scum in our society.
I love cleanliness. I want to be clean. My house to be clean. My neighbourhood to be clean. And of course, Swachh Bharat. For me, cleanliness is not disposing the waste from our kitchens, houses, toilets properly. For me, cleanliness is ridding the society of the scum. The scum that spreads hatred. That scum that discriminates between human beings in the name of religion, caste, gender, region and colour.
I want a broom. I am afraid it is needed to sweep away lies; to sweep that hatred; to sweep away exploitation. I want my life. Where can I get it? Isn’t it said that ‘to fell a big tree, you only need a small axe’.
I am afraid of my fears. I want courage. I want strength. I find them in her. I find them in him. I find them in you. I find them in them. I find them in us. I found them in Junaid. I found them in Ahirwar. I find them in Una. I find them in Ballabgarh, in Mandsaur, in Manesar, in Saharanpur. I find them in the villagers of Ghanashyampur and Purba Debidaspur who forgot their religion and rose to help each other. I find them in my country and in its people.
Our strength and courage might not bring Junaid or Ahirwar back. But they will not allow another Junaid to waste. They will nurse, caress, play, roam, learn and allow them to reach for the rainbow, smell the rain and shine in the sun. Most importantly, they will see them build humanity and a country, where people are written with a P.
‘Fear not the tyrants shall rule forever,
Or the priests of the bloody faith;
They stand on the brink of that mighty river,
Whose waves they have tainted with death;
It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells,
Around them it foams, and rages, and swells,
And their swords and their sceptres I floating see,
Like wrecks, in the surge of eternity’ – Shelley