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Behaya; Is Being a Working Woman a Stigma in India? – In Talks with Vineeta Asthana

Behaya!, the name of first hindi novel by aforementioned Vineeta Asthana will be out soon. The book is inspired by the true life stories of working women. Based on contemporary issues faced by working women in India and discusses their day to day struggle to manage work -life balance, while fighting against the Gender bias, Domestic Violence, being Objectified. What is disappointing here; is that women still take it up all with courage and Take care of both work and the household chores and all these sacrifices rewarded with thanklessness mostly.

It is a deep-rooted notion in patriarchy, always been projected that women need to hold the fort while men earn for the family. Despite a gradual change in the contemporary world, being a working woman is still a stigma; a mark of shame in a certain part of society. However, there is a significant increase in the involvement of women in private as well as government sectors but to contain, it is subsequently followed by the idea that household work are basic responsibilities of women and to peruse a job is her individual choice.

Fortunately, I secured a chance to interview Mrs Vineeta Asthana; author of Behaya, to discuss several societal disparities, gender policing and the roots of the cause. For those who don’t know, Vineeta Asthana is a well-known name in the field of Media and Academics. Mrs Asthana has worked with top media institutions, including, Indian Express Group, Network 18 Group, Dainik Jagran Group, and IIMC. She is currently working with IIT Delhi.

Vineeta Asthana
Vineeta Asthana – Writer, Translator, Siya in Exile
Siya in Exile Cover
Siya in Exile -Cover

Skipping salutation from anecdote

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Shubham :- “Let’s talk about the Hindi title, as you told me, Mrs Asthana, that the book is going to be published in Hindi by prestigious Hindi Yugm Publication.”

Vineeta :- “My first book Siya in Exile did extremely well; it got all the recognition, was sold off really fast but I felt reach was limited, language was one constraint. Book was released in February, 2018 and I have been working to get it published in Hindi since then. So, I already have completed another book but I chose not to publish it before publishing Siya’s story in Hindi. This time, I did not want to go with self-publishing. It restricts your reach and recognition I feel. Because Siya in Exile was liked very much,  It sold off very quickly  but I was not satisfied with the marketing strategy in that case. I was looking for a prestigious publication house to pick it up for Hindi, I waited for two years and here we are, now!”

Shubham :- “Ok”

“When I wrote Siya, I first mailed the manuscript to Anant Vijay ji, known journalist and Senior from IBN 7 for his feedback. I wanted to know should I go ahead with the publishing of this content or should I just throw it on the bin. Anant ji liked it and suggested, That I should go ahead with publishing and should definitely think about Hindi version of the story. After a few months of Siya’s release I gave this manuscript for translation so that I get it published in Hindi, after a year and book went by 4/5 hands; what I received was the google translation of my Content, it totally killed the soul of the story. It was disappointing, but now I knew why it was rejected from so many places. I then decided to do it myself, almost rewriting it with the help of two friends.  (…) and Hindi Yugm showed interest in publishing Siya’s journey under the title Behaya!”

Shubham :- “I see, as we know, that north India majorly constitutes of Hindi linguistic people and when I say north India it’s like half of India. So, your book will reach about half of the population in our nation-state. Do you think that this book has the potential to stir or bring change in the society?”

Vineeta :- “Once someone reads the story, I am confident that it will leave impact on the mind. At least some food for thought to ponder. Though I feel; You cannot change a lot of people but, even if one person thinks positively about (working) women in his or her vicinity, I think my job is done. Because we cannot force and change everybody but if I can bring a small change in somebody’s perception in the way they look at the working women. I think my work paid off. Society has its issues , they exist for a very long time, It can not be removed in jiffy. Like we talk so much about the patriarchy, we talk about so many things but, what have we do to abolish it is very little… We could not do much, In fact, even in your house, if there is a boy and a girl and you will find that the boy is treated differently and the girl is treated differently, Not by the farther only but also by the women of the house. (…) They want the girl to work and let the boy relax and play.  My point is , this patriarchy is not only about men and oppressed women but also about how women are conditioned to treat and oppress other women using patriarchy  as a tool. It is more about women precisely. If I can change one percent of their perception about how they treat how they look at fellow women, it will be more satisfying than even winning an award. That is all I require.”

Shubham :- “Mrs Asthana, Siya in Exile talks about the effort made by women to balance work and life, and despite being so much dedicated to both of them, the efforts made were very thankless, Do you think that working women is a stigma in Indian society and what could be the possible root cause of that?”

Vineeta :- Yeah, right! I don’t think that it is any stigma, See higher percentage of women from middle class background , even lower income section also ; have some job or other. These people want their women to earn (…) otherwise, they might not be able to support family with a single earning. One person earning alone cannot afford all what two earnings can. So, may be it is like 70 percent of the family wants a working bahu and a life partner, the issue begins when on one hand they want them to earn but at the same time they expect them to do all the house hold chores as well. And then these women are kept under continuous pressure or whip to prove themselves as perfect person balancing all ; blackmailed in the name of their duties and responsibilities”

Shubham :- “Ehmm ”

Vineeta :- “So it becomes a women’s duty to look after the house, kids, Cooking and her responsibility to earn and support the family financially too, She is expected to perform like a superwoman, that can’t take breaks, can’t fall sick, should be a go-getter and shouldn’t expect help as there is very little help from other people especially the male members of a family in Indian House Hold. My book talks about domestic violence, both mental and physical, let me give you a contemporary example of this lockdown, the cases of domestic violence have increased by 100%. Because women and men are at home. Women working from home, working for home and Men working from home and Enjoying this vacation, you see the difference?”

Shubham :- “Yeah”

Vineeta :- “So Ancient Indian History which we often refer to as our Mythology actually had intellectual women with strong opinions, but it all changed a few hundred years ago, where they slowly decided that women should stay inside the house and take care of it, while men should go out to earn. If a woman is doing anything other than her prescribed ‘duties and responsibilities’ should be counted as their hobby, if they have any ambitions that they have to carry it all by themselves.

Shubham :- “Yeah”

Vineeta :- “You want to do a job very well, but household chores are your responsibility that you have to do at any cost. This is the problem and women at all times have to balance this situation and they get very little support in Indian household at least. To maintain peace at home, most women do compromise with their routine. They accept this as their sole responsibility; My book, Behaya, talks about all these unfair practises , how an independent and successful woman needs permission to meet friends after office, how she needs approval to what she wears and so on. If you don’t follow the society’s rulebook, you are tagged as shameless (Behaya)”

Shubham :- “I see, we just delved in the possible cause of such proceedings, but it can change however, Social change is a gradual process in Indian society or any as matter of fact. I mean how can we bring the aforementioned issues to rest. How can we create or change the perception that to work isn’t a mark of dishonour or a hobby, It is a choice, It is more of the personality of women she preferred over the household work”

Vineeta :- “Ummm , it is not even personality, let’s talk about rights and equality (…) If a man can work so can a woman. In consideration, we have to change a lot of things and the change is an on going process, people are trying to lead the next generation towards it, but things will take time. It took like 100 -200 years to behave in a certain way like, women are for house and men are for the outside world. So it will take another 30-50 years may be, slowly and gradually things will change and (Individual need to understand that) it is about equality and if a girl can get you a glass of water so can a boy.

Shubham :- “Yeah”

Vineeta :- “And about the personality of women, I have an issue when a self-proclaimed progressive family allows their daughter-in-law to work. I mean who are you to allow her to work? (…) Are you the owner of that individual? What do you mean by allowing them to work? It is their right to pursue their career, somebody wants to work it’s fine, somebody doesn’t want to work that also fine. It’s an individual choice. To let people be is the most important thing. And the crucial thing in Indian society is we never let people be, Right?”

Shubham :- “Yeah”

Vineeta :- “So we are continuously poking and talking and targeting people who want to be themselves, we want them to behave in some other manner and do not accept the way they are. Still, I believe the process of change is ongoing, a lot of people are talking about it. A lot of people are working towards it. We need some more strength, more support. In fact, I have also discussed this in my book, My Female lead Siya and Nistha talk with confidence, nicely and stand up for the rights of other women but when it comes to themselves they aren’t vocal about it… Because it hurts to reveal that side of your picture-perfect life.. people to talk and fight about other people’s right are often seen suffering for their own little space.  This portion of Siya’s is inspired from real-life events of people I know personally. I am a teacher for over 16 years, I meet young girls every new session. Studying journalism, writing and covering good stories, speaking about everything fearlessly in debates but keeping a mum when beaten up by the boyfriend.. not revolting when parents forcefully marry them off in a tender age..  it is same, they aren’t vocal when it comes to themselves. This disappoints me a lot. I try and do my best to support them as and where I can. But I can not fight your battle on your behalf especially if you back out… These girls require support and I am sure once they will have it, They will definitely fight back to the oppressor”

Shubham :- “As said, We couldn’t accept the way they are, draws the question of gender policing, Do you think that both genders are the victim of upbringing in the society and they can’t do what they want to do or is it about just a particular gender?”

Vineeta :- “I think both the gender in that matter, we can’t say women are the victim, men too are victim and lot of things are based on (what) kind of childhood people have and (what) kind of upbringing they have. The kind of atmosphere they grow up in, what they see in the locality, what kind of people they are surrounded with, when growing up. It shapes the personality and perception. So this environment, this atmosphere plays a very important role and I would say both men and women are victims of this thing. You can’t say that only women are suffering, men do suffer but nobody talks about it. I have written these sufferings of boy, who’s parents are trying to fit their son in their box of expectations; it is also a part of my Book. We also have this pre-notion that, women are a weaker sex, they can not do certain things. Similarly, for men, we made a punchline that they are stronger. They can’t cry, they can’t behave in a certain manner, (…) so even if they want to cry they don’t do it, because they have a constant fear of how will society judge them? All these (happens) are due to the imposition of pressure, they do not come out of their shell easily. Everyone is trying to play safe and they keep things to themselves, I am sure they are suffering but they don’t talk”

Shubham :- “Quoting from your book Siya in Exile itself, Love is selfless and relationships are demanding, so when you involve in any kind of relationship including family, it creates expectations and certain duties as well”

Vineeta :- “Yeah”

Shubham :- “So is It possible to balance the expectation and duties with our personal needs and passion?”

Vineeta :- “It completely depends on the individual and how strong you are? Because it is really difficult. When you are in love, you love somebody without expectation?  It is just a sentence? It isn’t possible if you love someone, you want them to love you back, respect you back, or trust you back, so if you love them you want at least, if not materialistic, some kind of emotional support in return.  So, the expectation is there whether you want it or not, and once there is expectation there are rules. There are certain things that you do, in order to not-to hurt them and make the maximum out of that relationship. I will not say loving selflessly is not possible. Platonic relationships do exist, Like Radha and Krishna; but they are really difficult. It is mostly between parents and children where they love you selflessly and do whatever they could do. But this relationship also has high expectations. So does the husband or wife, you need to maintain that in a family however, it is mutual. The problem begins when you put everything on one person. If you want your wife to look after your family, their family, Jobs and other things, then you’re just expecting too much out of a human but if there is support and balance between two people, you can make it work”

Shubham :- “Being vocal and Being unnecessarily vocal are two different things, When I come in close proximity with several feminist, They always talk about freedom. I will do this and that, why would other people care about me, How I live, How I stay? So, where do they need to draw the line for this freedom, like jumping on someone and citing it freedom isn’t the correct way. I scavenge the correct idea of freedom”

Vineeta :- “I personally Loved this question, Because I don’t understand the kind of freedom that hurts and injured others both physically and mentally. There is this famous quote that says, ‘Your freedom ends where my nose begins.’ Right? So, as you said no one has the freedom to jump on somebody. The moment you start hurting another person, your freedom ends, it should be Stopped.

Shubham :- “Co Existence”

Vineeta :- “Of Course! It’s about co-existing, If you want to do something please do it, there isn’t actually something right and wrong. It’s just the parameters on the basis of perception for someone. A set of things can be right for a person but the same set is null void in the eyes of others. But if you’re doing something which hurts a lot of people’s sentiments or maybe a single person, that means you need to draw the line. Your freedom certainly doesn’t mean encroaching in someone else’s freedom. So, there is a very fine line and the other person also has the freedom and right to be happy. 

Shubham :- “Moving on Mrs Asthana, Siya In Exile talks about a woman like Siya entrapped in a relationship with someone like Raavan, But in a society where Raavan exist so does the Ram and where Siya exist so does the Shoorpanakhas. In case, Ram is a novice and couldn’t understand these Shoorpanakhas, how can be men cautious about such women and avert to fall in a dire situation and if he does, how can he deal with it?”

Vineeta :- “ Ram and Raavan, Siya or Soorpnakha; This is all about who is lead with what intent. Goodness or Evil. It is very difficult to judge people of their intention. One thing is your gut feeling, which gives you an idea.. a vibe, Positive from good people and Negative from those you need to stay away. At least in my case. I feel, everyone release this energy around them and some people might match yours and some won’t. There are times when you meet someone, and like them instantly while sometime you won’t like them even before having a conversation, it happens?”

Shubham :- “Yeah, It does”

Vineeta :- “So this is because of the aura they carry and they resonate with our instincts and gut feeling to give us an idea. I go by my instincts and I suggest others to follow theirs’. At the same time It is mean to judge them only by… I would say energy (…), rather one needs to be a little cautious, you cannot trust people blindly. You never know who is in which skin. Like you said anybody can be a Shoorpanakhas or Raavan. If I say human beings, they can be very…”

Shubham :- “Unpredictable”

Vineeta :- “Yes! It is very difficult to even understand who will do what and why? (…) like people plot against you, do a lot of bad-mouthing and you cannot find the reason (behind it). But that’s their karma and upbringing and we shouldn’t be negative about it. We can deal with them by keeping at bay. For instance, I forgive people really quickly because I believe in second chance. However, I maintain a distance from that person. (…) Holding no grudges, because hate is a very strong emotion and it is heavy to carried for life. It imposes a lot of burden to our mind and soul. By the way, I have also weaved in this soul and energy concept in my book!”

Shubham :- “I see, the information on Behaya! was plentiful and the discussion was valuable, insightful and helpful to understand society and psychology of people. let’s wrap it with the note that, we should let an individual what they want to be and don’t force our ideals on them. For once, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and take a look from their perspective”

Vineeta :- “Yes, Indeed, Thank You”

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