When a child is born in India, it’s customary to give out a celebratory tip (called “bakshish” in Hindi) to the hospital attendants who helped during the birth. When I was born in a Delhi hospital, an elderly relative told my father not to give out too much. It’s not like your baby is a boy, she said.
In Delhi (and I assume in other cosmopolitan Indian cities) this kind of casual misogyny is everywhere. Growing up there, I learned to either tiptoe around it, or call it out and toss it aside with any of the other crap I didn’t subscribe to. While misogyny is hardly exclusive to one country or culture, India bears particularly ghastly symptoms of it. The female body is in real danger there, and the frequency of rapes, infanticides, and domestic violence in the country is impossible to ignore. During my adolescence, many of the city’s public places were dominated by men, and so felt unsafe. Walking through them, I'd brace myself for the stares and lewd comments, which would come irrespective of what I was wearing and regardless of whether I was making eye contact. Still, throughout my childhood, I believed women could do anything, or at the very least, should be afforded the choice to do anything.
It’s not a particularly uncommon belief among young Indian women today, although women with certain socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds might be able to afford that mindset more easily than others. Jyoti Singh came from a poor family, and although I can’t say for sure, it seems from accounts of her life that she pushed past socioeconomic and cultural barriers and strived for more than what society expected of her. In late 2012, the 23-year-old medical student died as a result of a sickening, brutal gang rape on a Delhi bus. I lived in Delhi at the time, and although I heard about rapes frequently on the news there, that incident affected me differently. It seemed less abstract, closer to home. It also confirmed something I had refused to believe all my life, that for a lot of people, women were—I was—not just inferior, but less than human. After mustering up the courage this weekend, I finally watched Leslee Udwin’s much-talked-about film India’s Daughter, a look back at that horrific crime, which premiered in the U.S. this week.