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Seeking Freedom

My younger brother in the hope of making fun of me for this picture, shared it with my husband stating how much I hated it when my mom dressed me up like a girl. He is not wrong at all! I was very upset with my mom because she tied my hair, put a bindi on my forehead, and made me wear the only skirt from my wardrobe to click this picture. I would otherwise smile every time when I was being photographed. But this time, I was clearly and visibly angry. I was 6 then.

As the discussion continued between my brother and my husband about how I never wanted to do things all other girls my age would do, my brother showed many more pictures where I always had short hair, refused to dress up like a girl, and would feel comfortable in wearing jeans and shoes. I never asked for a doll, hardly had my own kitchen play set. When my girlfriends would suggest playing games like ghar ghar — a pretend play where everyone pretends to be one of the house members and acts like a family, I would prefer to play with their brothers the game of marble. I would prefer to climb on the monkey bar. I would prefer to play badminton, cricket with older boys in my community or ride on a motorbike with my uncle. I would want to do everything that my dad, uncle, and older cousins were doing. Yes, tomboy! dressed like one, acted like one, made choices like one, both my brother and husband nodded in synchrony, “Yes, of course, she is”

I never took pride in being called a tomboy, as I also liked to do some things that my mom or my aunts and grandmother did. However, observing things as a 6-year-old, I felt the disparity in behavior. Although I didn’t know it was called gender inequality then. I didn’t even know it was about being a man or a woman then. I associated this difference in treatment to how people appeared to my innocent eyes. I was seeing a society where I might be punished for raising my voice, having my choices, or doing things that people with short hair or wearing pants did so fearlessly if I don’t appear like them.

My mother, although a high school teacher, simultaneously managing the household, very rarely pressed her opinions and voiced her side in front of other males in the family. She is a simple hardworking woman constantly torn between following societal norms and having independent thoughts. Same with my aunts and some of my cousins, and many other friends, who preferred to submit to their male house members no matter how young or old they were and accept everything they said or did. (Yes, this existed; this is before the year 2000, and won’t be surprised if some parts of the society still experience this.)

One of my aunts, whom everyone in my family respected, wore jeans and had short hair. My school principal, a woman, had short hair like men. My idol, the first female IPS (Indian Police Service) officer, Kiran Bedi had short hair and dressed up like men. Indira Gandhi — the first female prime minister of India had short hair. These women who were in charge and at an influential positions conditioned my young mind to learn that I matter, my voice matters, and my opinion matters. I can’t be restricted by the society to do anything. I can be confident. I can raise my voice when things are not right. I can walk out of a room when I am not comfortable. To my 6-year-old brain, it appeared as though, I would only be able to do all of it if I wore jeans or kept short hair.

I was not choosing to be a tomboy, instead like any other human being, I was choosing freedom!

To all those who are seeking freedom today, Happy Women’s day!

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