As Meera (aged 11) and her brother, Amit (aged 12) geared up to watch their favourite shows at the same time, and a sibling fight was inevitable. Amit dived for the remote missing it by a second as Meera had already seized the moment and the trophy was in her hand. Obviously, Amit can’t accept the defeat so easily, and goes on to do the most rational thing he could think of at that moment and pulls Meera’s intricately made braid and Meera retaliates by tickling him. The altercation went on with frequent screams and shouts, the remote juggling from one pair of hands to the other and ultimately thrown into a random corner of the room along with the sofa set cover, pillows, bottles and million other things. Hearing the cacophony, their aunt, who had come for a visit, comes out of her room, only to find the fighting children and the mess they had created in the living room. Startled, she booms
“MEERA!” Meera looks up and breaks herself from the fight.
“How dare you behave in such a rowdy manner? Girls are not supposed to act like this.” Meera tries to reason out by saying that she had the remote first, but the reason gets lost in the fumes of condescension.
“If your brother wants to watch the TV, you let him. This is how it is supposed to be. Amenability is the attribute of a girl and it is a shame that you haven’t inculcated it till now. Now, clear the mess you have created.” Confused and dejected as Meera was, she went on to tidy up the room while she saw her brother happily sprawled up on the sofa, watching his favourite show.
The concept of shame had been instilled in us since our childhood when we are told how to act, dress, speak, behave, think or even dream. It shouldn’t always be viewed in a negative light because at times, it does act as a voice of conscience. Shame literally means guilt for wrongs you have committed. If there’s no shame there’s no remorse and if there’s no remorse I won’t be exaggerating when I say humanity will be at stake. Guilt (which stems from shame) is a necessary social constraint, for example, if you cheat or backstab someone and later feel guilty about it (as you indeed should), it would dictate your future actions and you probably won’t repeat the mistakes. Therefore, shame can indirectly help you in making a better person.
Without attempting to make sweeping generalisations or engaging in exaggerations, in our subcontinent, particularly for women, shame very often (not always) has different connotation altogether. It is often confused with subjugation and subordination which often translates to injustice. It doesn’t make you a better person; rather, it propagates stagnancy. What Meera went through, or for that matter, any second or third girl in India goes through screams unfairness. What society demands from women is not shame but fear. There’s a hairline difference between shame and fear but a significant one nonetheless. Fear doesn’t bring with it the sentience of right or wrong but shame does. So when my friend didn’t approach the guy when she needed help or when she refused to wear jeans (although she really wanted to), it was because she feared she will be tagged as ‘besharam’. But the fact remains that within each one of us exists this misplaced sense of shame (or ‘sharam’) that is wired into our brains from our childhood. From being reminded time and again about your sex, the way you’re supposed to dress, the interests you’re supposed to have (or not have), the educational degree you can pursue (if you’re allowed to pursue one), the jobs you can take up (if you can at all), the extent till which you can voice out your opinion, the vehicles you can drive (or not drive at all), the places you can visit (or not visit), your marriage, your food habits (or all habits in general), the person you can love (or not love), your duties (which weigh more than your rights) and the list never ends. Breach any of the criteria above and you get tagged for worse. Many of us abide by it because it gives us recognition of an ideal woman, but some of the ‘besharams’ (shameless) are still fighting against it.
Sharam in Indian women’s context is like a mould which although gives us an expected shape but it also stops diversity and evolution. Shame should be more individualistic in nature rather than it being a societal monopoly.
Photo Credit: Flickr (S Vivek)