Deepa Narayan’s thought-provoking book titled ‘Chup’ lifts the lid on deep seated prejudices prevalent in the Indian sub-continent and she is talking about the upper echelons and the educated middle class
By Namrata Kohli
A girl should be seen, not heard. Be quiet- Chup, this is often used to silence girls, right from childhood, well into adulthood and deep into old age. Deepa Narayan’s book comes to this startling conclusion that women are systematically trained to delete themselves, their power and make themselves invisible. The worst is how women are delusional about who they are and live their lives in what she calls a “massive pretence”.
It started with the 2012 Nirbhaya case, when Narayan embarked on a journey to find the root cause of this abuse and disrespect for the fairer sex. She spoke to some 600 women and men, and after 1800 hours of interviews, her key finding was that while we have changed on the outside, inside we are still the same. Our biases, notions of what a woman should be and expectations from her – are at the heart of the problem.
The sub-conscious “generational transfer” of these biases during the upbringing and social conditioning of kids, is what causes the real problem. She cites an instance of an upscale Delhi based family at Sainik farms, where a little boy- all of five years was almost running the show, treated as he was like a “little monarch” commanding everyone from the maid to the mother, grandmom to the gardener- with women in the family relegated to the backdrop.
The author talks about the ‘subtle put downs’ in the middle class Indian homes on the girl child where she is often told – “try to balance”, “know your limits” or “be quiet”, “speak softly”, “never answer back”, “don’t argue”, “duty always over desire”, “be a people pleaser” – things that don’t allow our girls to reach their full potential. “We don’t ask the boys to strike that balance or stay in limits. These are just tricky ways of controlling girls. In a sense we are sending double messages,” says Narayan, who has over 25 years of experience working at the World Bank, the UN on poverty, gender and inequality in development.
She calls upon women to connect with more women rather than look at them with distrust and negativity. Also “men are not your enemy. More open conversations and frank discussions with men and children for division of duties and delegating tasks will be important to begin with”.
My Take: It’s fantastic how the author sees through the trap laid out by patriarchy that still holds sway over mindset of many- the fact is that in many societies, the woman is still held responsible for the family, the children, the food that they eat (the kitchen). So long as her hands are full, how can she ever think of making a career. And she is doomed if she does, damned if she doesn’t. With no career, there is no economic independence and hence no voice.
The woman as the nurturer and the man as a provider is a pre-historic idea and modern times necessitate that everyone has a freedom of choice to do what they want to be. Likewise, a man cannot be stereotyped into doing certain things just because of “being the man of the house”. In times when we have a “Ki & Ka” kind of conversations at least beginning to happen, and with greater access to education, communication through mobile phone and social media empowerment- everyone is getting their chance to express themselves which is brilliant.
Gender agnostic, it’s time to “become” from just “being” (or existing); to have a voice than be in the throes of silence or remain Chup.