Comfortable Silence



A very hot evening in India. I am in Jaipur with my colleagues and we are making collages with young boys and girls. The task is simple – “what do men and women do inside and outside the house”. We are having a workshop on community organisation and we are demonstrating the use of popular education with youth.

Same meeting in Jaipur. A 6 year old boy befriends me. He makes me a beautiful drawing. He holds my hand. He shares personal information with me. He tells me he will become a soldier, get a gun and shoot people. He tells me that he might shoot his mother too because she yelled at him. After a while, he tugs my hand and whispers in my ear, “chalo mein tumhae apna body dikhata hoon” (come I’ll show you my body) and runs. I look for him. I look behind the house. There is no one there except for my new “friend” who is now standing against the wall like a body builder showing me the muscles in his biceps. When and how did he learn that he can show his body to female friends and that too in secret? The Sunday Mirror   a UK based weekly newspaper shares shocking official data that nearly 800 under nines have carried out sex crimes against other children since 2009. The youngest of these was a four year old boy.

A Huffington post study announces that women earn far less than men in India for the same jobs at an overall gender pay gap of 27%. A film actress who refuses a pay check less than her male co-stars is labelled a trouble maker and finds that there are no roles she fits into any more.

A religious council in Pakistan announces that a husband can beat his wife – ‘lightly’ and explains in great detail how to do so using a twig. A sacred Hindu book proclaims that since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father; husband or son is she is a widow. She must also have her head shaved; two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey if her vaginal membrane (hymen) is torn. The book is considered to be the most authoritative statement on religion in Hinduism.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today are married before the age of 18 years. 1 in 3 married before 15.

A 15 year old girl dies in Nepal, alone and isolated in an unventilated and windowless room measuring just 1×11/2 metres She is menstruating and therefore banished from the house. Someone is selling exquisitely designed and custom built Baptist menstrual shacks in America for the afflicted and unclean woman.  

At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries. In most of these countries, the majority were cut before the age of 5.  

Meanwhile in Jaipur, the collages are ready. They are a wonderful kaleidoscope of colour, emotions and creativity. A group of girls make a presentation. There are large gaping empty spaces in their collage. They explain – there is no limit to the things that women can do. The magazine has no pictures of women that portray this. Women can do anything they explain – if they are allowed to.
A balmy evening in cosmopolitan Gurgaon in India. Loud music playing on the FM radio, wonderful smells wafting from the food truck I am standing in front of with an eclectic bunch of strangers. Easy chatter while each is waiting for their food.  I take the first wonderful bite of my wasabi prawn sushi. The Radio Jockey (RJ) is interviewing some people. He catches someone and asks him what he sees in a woman the first time he sees her. He replies, “Her face”. The RJ laughs. He asks him to confess if he goes for the: “B&B” and helpfully explains – “Boobs and Backside”. He leaves the man fumbling. Cut to a woman and asks her what she sees in a man. “His hair” she responds. RJ guffaws and asks her to confess if she looks at the man’s crotch. The sushi lies uneaten on my plate. There is an uneasy silence around me. Someone quietly changes the channel on the radio.
Martin Luther King Jr once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
How comfortable is the silence?

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