Punjab as a society is popular for its dances, songs, bravery, generosity and loudness. To understand Punjab, one has to look at it in the light of the centuries of wars and battles at this "Gateway to India". This history has fuelled the idea that Punjabis "work hard, play harder and fight the hardest". However, it has also rendered Punjab a patriarchal society, with a long history of female infanticide, and later, foeticide. Male dominance in all spheres has been the standard in the society.
The Economic Survey of 2017-18 highlights the phenomenon of "son meta-preference" which involves parents adopting fertility "stopping rules”, having children until the desired number of sons is born. This is quite visible in Punjab, as there are thousands of families having 3-4 daughters and the youngest child a son, leading to notional category of "unwanted girls". According to the census data of 2011, the sex ratio of Punjab was 895 (895 females per 1000 males), one of the lowest in the Country. If this data was not alarming enough, the child sex ratio was even worse at 846 (846 girls per 1000 boys).
Similarly, the Female literacy rate in Punjab is only 70.73% as compared to 80.44%(census 2011) for males. The reasons for such a disparity in literacy are - expectations from the girls to focus equally or even more on learning the household chores; being a patrilocal society, especially in rural areas, investment in a girl's education is considered a wastage of time and money; in case of poverty, girls are the first ones expected to leave the studies and look after home while parents are out to earn wages.
Consider another social phenomenon, in the growing-up years, once the child enters teenage, he/she is stopped from playing with the children of opposite gender because along with various other presumptions, it is simply expected to maintain the ages long pattern of segregation between the two genders. The deep-rooted segregation is stiffened by ensuring that boys play masculine sports which will build their physical strength like Football, Cricket while girls are imagined to get engaged in feminine sports, ones with strong aesthetic elements, or otherwise stay indoors to ensure protection of honor of the family in the era of rising crimes against women by the ferocious men.
The entrenched segregation has led to increasing mistrust among the two genders, as the society has not matured enough yet. When a girl says, "all boys are alike, and are opportunists", without realizing that the phrase 'all boys' also includes her brothers, cousins, it reflects on the high level of suspicion towards the boys. Even the statement, "aaj-kal changge munde/kudiyan milde kithe ae!
"(these days, where one could find good boys and girls!), while looking for a match, signifies the widening gap between the present lot of young guys, girls and the perceived image of a traditional ideal bride/groom, highlighting the prevailing sense of despair.
In the context of girls, still labels like - "Tota", "Purja", "Bottle wargi", "Kudi fsaani", "kudi tikaani" etc are used. Even lyrics of Punjabi songs reflect the queer mindset, as "pattu char panj kudiya fasayi firda ni pattu char panj" (The dude has snared 4-5 girls). Another gem,"Jine vich balliye tu saari sajdi, Ohne jittan mitran de boot aunde aa"(Your entire budget of make-up, preparation is only worth the price of my shoes), hence, boasting the male chauvinism.
In Punjab there is a culture of abusing in every mood, but has anybody pondered upon the fact that why abuses are always on mother and sister, never father and brother?
Without giving overt and covert support to consumption of alcohol, one may ask that when it comes to drinking liquor, in Punjab, why is it a social taboo for females and not males? Why in marriages and social functions, barring a few exceptions, only men could be seen in designated - tables and areas, boozing and occasionally creating ruckus in drunken state, while their female partners are expected to stand the awkwardness and take their drunken men home?
Domestic violence, another indicator of reigning patriarchy, is witnessed even in educated and progressive families. The infamous twitter video of Baljeet Kaur, a resident of Amritsar, released almost a year and a half ago, confessing her ordeal regarding violence by her husband is a case in point.
In Punjab, as highlighted in the movie "Udta Punjab", there is a culture of abusing in every mood, but has anybody pondered upon the fact that why abuses are always on mother and sister, never father and brother? The reason for this is that women are generally considered, more or less, property of men.
So, now, the larger question which needs to be answered is, "Does the Punjabi society need a revamp to re calibrate and re balance the gender equation?" The simple answer to this could be that rather than waiting and looking for some radical changes, big intentions and small steps in the right direction would prove potent in ameliorating the status of women. As, gender neutral and value based education be provided in schools from the beginning, which will help in liberating the society of the centuries old ingrained stereotypes. Even Literature, History which shapes the intellect of the youth is made neutral, by giving equal space to the heroic verses of women, which are countless.
Cinema and Music, both, leave a deep impact on the minds of the people, emphasis on gender neutrality in these, would go a long way. Scholar Theodor Adorno, suggests that 'Music has been reduced to "Seismographic Traumatic shocks"', also stands true for Punjabi music, which is produced with the sole aim of becoming overnight hit and rich without giving due weight to gender considerations. However, the veteran and the young singers, need to realize their responsibility towards the society apart from the single-minded focus of gaining stardom.
Family being the first institution from where socialization begins, holds the biggest responsibility towards assuring equal status to both the genders but for this, gender sensitization needs to be done so that parents belonging to various classes, are enlightened about their responsibilities.
The Government needs to start campaigns about the sensitization on the matter, ensuring to elevate women to the status of men, rather than providing any kind of positive discrimination to them, which later becomes a political tool to be used skillfully by the politicians.
Media is another important player in achieving the goal of neutrality, by showcasing women in a positive light, highlighting their acts of boldness and not objectifying and stereotyping them. The cliché of presenting women, in soap operas, media, as subservient to men, who shed tears on every small or big occasion, presenting them as weaker gender than the rigid men, be proscribed by the women and the society in general.
Last but not the least, the women need to assert themselves, make their presence and importance felt. They need to liberate themselves - from the shackles of Patriarchy and the culture of denial of freedom to them and need to lift themselves up at par with men, so that they can walk, run and fly high along with the men.
Ramjot Sodhi is studying Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
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