In his Independence Day message from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a new slogan — India Jodo (Unite India). Spelling out his vision of a new modern India that was free from communalism, casteism, corruption and terrorism, he said every Indian should work for this goal. Coming down heavily on the growing menace of lynching in the name of cow protectionism, he said firmly, “Violence in the name of faith is not something to be happy about, it will not be accepted in India.” True, the India of our dreams badly needs Bharat Jodo to keep intact its liberal ethos, its pluralistic culture and its rich and varied social fabric woven in such vibrant hues and multiple textures.
But along with all this, the India of today, and tomorrow, also needs another freedom, that from misogyny and patriarchy. Consider the recent shocking incident of a young woman, Varnika Kundu, being stalked after midnight in Chandigarh by two men, after which the perpetrators tried to shame the victim by putting up on social media her pictures of having a drink late in the evening. The swift and ferocious response that came from young Indian women in support of Varnika is a clear indicator that India is indeed changing. After her scary ordeal where the two men blocked her car, pounded on the window and tried to open the door, Varnika filed a police complaint of stalking and attempted kidnapping. She showed that the modern Indian woman will not be intimidated by such assaults by writing a detailed post on her Facebook page about her ordeal, concluding she was grateful that “she was not lying raped and murdered in a ditch somewhere.”
Predictably enough there were lectures galore, from men of course, a typical one saying: “The girl should not have gone out at 12 in the night. Why was she driving so late in the night? We need to take care of ourselves.” To this, the spirited 29-year-old woman retorted that it was only her and her family’s business “what I do and where I go. If it wasn’t for men like these, I wouldn’t be unsafe going out whether it was 12 am or 2 am or 4 am.” Young Indian women responded soon enough and posted on twitter midnight selfies with a drink to show they were having a good time late in the evening. These were all accompanied by the brilliant hashtag #AintNoCindrella. While one woman tweeted: “We, women believe in breaking glass ceilings, not fitting into glass slippers #AintNoCinderella”; another posted a picture of herself with a drink and said it was “well past midnight n I’m out having beer in Delhi. Join me? #AintNoCinderella.” One more said, “Dear regressive India, I will do as I please, night or day. Don’t ever think you have the right to stop me.” Added another, “Oops 1.45 am and I am out on Delhi Roads, In a short Dress. stop me if you can!!!”
The tweets, which got likes and retweets ranging from a couple of hundred to a few thousand, were full of humour, spunk, determination and assertiveness. It was clear that these women were outraged at the attempt to shame the victim, instead of punishing the guilty men and posted pictures that are normally not put in the public domain. Imagine what such support does to the morale of the victimised young woman! It sends out a clear statement that she is not alone, hundreds of other women will stand by her side to tell our countrymen that India is indeed changing and patriarchy and misogyny will be combatted. Bravo!
Most cheering of all on the gender front is the Supreme Court holding unconstitutional the heinous practice of the instant triple talaq, which has tormented generations of helpless Muslim women who have been divorced on the whims and fancies of their husbands; sometimes the talaq being given flippantly on SMS, email or WhatsApp messages.