I want to start this first blog of the year on a personal note. I came to this country in 1985 because I wanted liberty. I was a women in India. The rape case in India and the ensuing uproar about women’s status brought all those memories back to me afresh.
Back in the early 80s I was a student in the English Department of a prestigious liberal arts college in India, Presidency College, Kolkata. I remember the very day that I formed a resolution to leave India. A Rhode Scholar, Oxford educated female Professor said, “we are happy when our male students get a good job, but for our female students, we are happy when they get married.” I sat there devastated. I was planning to sit the Administrative Services Exam and get a job in India. But if a liberal women said things like this, what were my chances of success as a women.
Of course this was not the ONLY instance of being treated as a second class citizen for being a women, that I had experienced. In India we did not have the freedom to go around as we wanted. In crowded trams and buses, or even in roads, males routinely groped women. We could not say anything, because the “shame” would be for the women, not the men who freely violated us, or made cat calls. After dusk, we women were not allowed to go out by ourselves. Even when I was 18, I had to take my 6 or 7 year old brother to go a short distance to my friend’s house. This was humiliating to say the least.
I had to wear a saree in grades 11 and 12 to school. Not only did I not know how to tie the yards of plain cloth to my body, but it restricted lower body movement and in hot summer months it was painful. Life’s little inconveniences, but they do add up. I did not run, bike or swim—-apart from studying and music, the only other activity I did was walking to College and libraries. We were bred to be wives and mothers and were given no success ethics in terms of a career. And we had to conform to the mores of what the “village” thought, not free thinking. I dont think I ever questioned the fact that I had an option to not marry or have children. My daughter is choosing that option, and my mother simply cannot understand it. After all, that’s what a female does in a society of 1.2 billion people.
When I came to America, I had to fight all those years of pre-programming. Law School taught me free thinking. I learned to bike and swim in my 40s. And yes, I developed a strong hatred for the saree.
There is a popular myth that these days unless you are an asylee, people to America for economic freedom. That is simply not true. Ever since the dawn of immigration with the Pilgrims, people came to this country to seek freedom. Even if the means of Immigration is through employment, the reason for Immigration may be freedom. And we in America should strive to preserve those freedom, to become the beacon for people of all colors, nationality and sexual orientation. The country that our forefathers left behind is changing. Lets not, in the name of preservation, restrict abortion or gay rights. For in the end, we want to become the haven that people all over the world covet.