Dilemmas at Eighteen

Anannaya K Sangra
Today, I find myself at crossroads for I was better off at thirteen when my parents dared and sent me to a boarding school and now, when I am all set to fly having turned eighteen, everything has started revolving around my safety. Suddenly, the choice of the colleges I might get into seems to be more dependent on the safety of the city rather than my interests. This, to the extent that my mother is looking at the distance between the colleges and the nearby airport perhaps not comfortable sending me to the colleges that require traveling outside the main city. Let’s face the truth, being a girl and a daughter is truly limiting and de-empowering that affects women’s education, career goals, and overall position in society.
There was a time when I when my seniors, family, and friends would tell me that I could do whatever I wanted to after I become an adult. I could go outside my city for college, attend my younger brother’s annual function, and even drive my parents to the grocery store all by myself. I had to be a ‘big’ child to do all of that. And honestly, I could not wait to grow up and live that independent life. It would often amaze my friends that I wanted to grow up so soon, wanted to be officially able to drive and vote. Well, what I thought about in recent years was a fancied, imaginative world. Maybe I was too naïve to even think what growing up actually meant. Now that I am eighteen, I am hit with the unacceptable realities and I wonder if I am even prepared to live a life where everything is subtly put on to me, hamein koi problem nahinhai par aap khud samajhdar ho (We have no problem but you are good enough to understand).
I don’t know if I am willing to choose a candidate to represent me in what is called the largest democracy in the world. I don’t think I can trust anyone to make laws for me seeing the current scenario. Yes, I don’t trust the law and the lawmakers. I was too young to understand what rape meant when Nirbhaya happened but still, the ten-year-old me could feel the agitation of the people. The protests, the candle marches, and the common concern for our daughters had united a fair amount of people. It had even got massive media coverage. Yet, it took eight years, eight long years for the justice to be served. It pains me to think about many such families who are still struggling with court cases, who don’t even have enough guidance, families who are being crushed between the trips to the hospitals and police stations, leave aside the social stigma.
When I started travelling in a public transport a couple of years back, I was told to be cautious of the ‘bad’ elements, to be home early, and to keep my phone handy at all times. Thinking about it, I realize that we all know there are bad elements out there but what are we doing about it as a society? Is telling a girl to be aware enough to change the scenario? Can restricting girls lead to their safety? And where is this understanding of safety going to lead them to? We know the people who inflict harm on women are very much a part of the society but instead of going after them, we tell our girls to be aware, be home before it gets dark, and carry stuff like pepper spray. That seems like a rude joke. Rapes, I thought, happened only to girls who were not ‘aware’ but now I feel sorry for my thinking for I have come to realize that our awareness has nothing to do with it. The solution is not in confining the girls but to teach the men of all ages to behave, the solutions is not just having laws but executing those laws. I want to safeguard the freedom I have been nurtured with. I would want to build on to that freedom and not cage myself into the narrow domestic walls. From walking out of the house to a nearby medical store without my father watching over from the gate to exercising my choice of colleges and the city, I would want to live and safeguard my freedom. From Nirbhaya to Hathras, the only thing that seems to have changed for me is the emergence of new definitions of freedom which is restricting, which is annoying, which is de-empowering, which is a violation of my basic human right of evolving into the person that I want to. Alas! What do I do about the dilemmas my overprotective parents and I have at this stage?
(The author is a student at the St. Mary’s Presentation Convent Sr. Sec. School, Jammu)