The quest for fairness

fairness_041015114336

I am not talking about the quest for being fair and just here. I mean to use word”Fair” in a way only we in India use it – to describe a lighter colour of skin .

India is a unique country race wise. We are neither white nor black. We are not even completely brown. The heterogeneity and diversity in skin colour from very fair (a particular term used only in India to describe your skin colour) to wheatish(another term used in India) to black has produced deep prejudices and discrimination in the society and women are particularly at receiving end of this discrimination. You should just read a wanted bride advertisement in any matrimonial section of newspaper to understand where Indian society stands on this issue. No wonder parents and society crave for a girl to be fair as that’s what sells in unofficial arranged marriage market and apparently a fair skin is what it takes to be successful in life as shown by the advertisements for fairness creams.

The roots of this qfairness-cream2uest for fairness are in how you don’t accept yourself as you are and don’t feel good enough to engage with the world without armour of that talcum powder and fairness cream. This reflects the low self-esteem and inability to accept oneself. This damage was not done in a day. It was done day by day to the girls throughout their childhood and growing up years in India.Importance of how we treat children is reflective of their behaviour as adults.

Even a new-born baby is not spared. All elderly women folks who come to see a new-born baby would examine the face of baby closely and declare the fortune or misfortune of parents for having a fair or not so fair baby girl respectively. This is especially true in small towns and rural North India. Grandmothers or sometimes mothers telling girls to not play in sun as they might become dark. Comparing children on basis of their colour of skin, praising other children who are fair and hence beautiful.The quest for fairness isn’t a new phenomenon. There are age old sayings which exemplify the deep-seated desire for fair skin. One example of such saying is that one fairness can hide 10 faults in a face. Colour discrimination goes hand in hand with gender discrimination. When a boy is dark, it is said a man is as handsome as he does but for a girl how she looks is everything. Idioms such as “beauty is skin deep and a book should not be judged by its cover” are not used for girls. Girls are indeed judged by their physical appearance in which fair skin has way more weightage than any other attribute. In India being beautiful has become synonymous with having a relatively whiter skin colour.

It’s not that even ones who are born fair are free from this quest. They want to be fairer. The quest for fairness can not be satisfied. Have seen many fair girls using all fairness products to move up in fairness value chain. I once heard a description for a young bride that she was so fair that she shined like a bulb when there was no light in room! Can you imagine the obsession of Indian society with fairness? The real damage such mind-set does on young Indian girls is that they misplace their value system as far as beauty and self-image is concerned. Being declared not enough fair reduces their self-esteem and self-confidence for ever. They are never able to accept themselves as they are and misplace their efforts on hiding their skin colour through the fairness products instead of focusing on things that really matter such as enhancing their skills, knowledge and making a real difference to their lives.

I respect celebrities who refuse to endorse fairness products.Any educated person knows that you can not change colour of your skin. It is coded in your genes.Still celebrities like Yami Gautam or Alia Bhatt choose to feature in these misleading fairness cream ads.These are women who were born fair and have not become fair by using these products. They know that and yet they accept to do ads which are misleading the impressionable young minds. They are not endorsing these products, they are endorsing the fact that it is a privilege in this country to be born fair. And to me that is not fair.

Can a bad performance at Olympics be a good thing?

RioWomen1
The top achievers at Rio Olympics – All women

Yes , it might be for women in India. Rio Olympics 2016 just concluded with a medal tally of 2 for India that too after a long agonising wait.  Rio Olympics has seen the largest Indian contingent consisting of 118 sports persons accompanied by as high expectations. After all Olympics is the biggest show on earth. It might just be a fact that the only medals in India’s tally have been won by WOMEN. It couldn’t have been more ironical as India’s supposed pride and honour was saved by 2 women.

India is a country which yearns for a male child. India is a country which struggles with female feticide and a skewed sex ratio of 943 females per 1000 males. India is a country where many girls are killed before being born, if born, many are subjected to lifelong discrimination which can come in many forms, varying from denied access to nutrition, medical care to a denied promotion in a job. In a country where birth of a girl is not celebrated as equally as birth of a boy because girls are perceived as burden to the family and boys as the ones who would bring pride and money to the family.

Instead it has been 2 girls who brought pride to the country, fame and monetary rewards to their families. It is a humbling moment for Indian patriarchal society. Sakshi and sindhu’s victories haves captured the imagination of this nation. It is a powerful moment of realization of something big, a fact that nobody took notice of – fact that even girls can do what boys can do and here something girls have done which even boys couldn’t do. It is a powerful and game changing realization. Country is waking to realization of what could happen if women in India are given access to equal if not better opportunities than men. It’s a moment of reckoning for the unrealized potential of women in India.

How many potential medallist like sakshi and sindhu have been killed even before being born, how many potential medallists are being stopped from realizing their potential by denying these young girls equal access to nutrition, education and freedom to make crucial choices in life such as career and marriage.  Having a no choice in  life altering decisions such as marriage is a major contributor to unfulfilled dreams of millions of girls in India.  Every dream like a sapling requires nurture, support, and care to bloom and become a reality.

It is also a moment to realize the crucial role parents play in shaping life of  a young girl. Sakshi and sindhu couldn’t have done it without support of their parents. The parents have done a laudable job for giving wings to their daughter’s dreams. Parents are the first gatekeepers of children’s dreams and aspirations. No child can achieve his or her potential if not supported and encouraged by parents.

493673-indian-girls-in-rio

My heart swells with pride for achievement of sakshi and sindhu. As a women in India you would face the discrimination in some form or another even if you are of the luckier lot. It might not be as severe as having no access to nutrition or education but nonetheless it is still there and there is no escaping from it.

To me the roots of all discrimination are in the way society looks at women in India. The lack of trust in a women’s capabilities and potential. If state of women in this country has to improve, this perspective has to change. And for it to change, women have to be seen as adding value to themselves, families, country in intangible outcomes like pride as well as in tangible outcomes like money, job, rewards.

Cash rewards worth 3 crore and 10 crore have been announced for sakshi and sindhu respectively. There is immense future potential of income from advertisement deals, endorsement and similar things. These facts need to be highlighted as much as possible because this would open the eyes of people who do not see girls as future source of monetary gains to the family. Society might start seeing girls as valuable as boys as far as economic gains are concerned.

For all those young girls who watched the Olympics and who have interest in sports, Sakshi, Sindhu, Dipa, Lalita are the women role models Indian badly needs. These extraordinary sports women have inspired a generation of Indian girls who have set eyes on bringing many more medals to India in coming Olympics.

Girls have a stronger case to make to fend off hurdles put by society and culture when they set out to realize their potential. Winning only 2 medals and that too by women might turn out to be a good thing in long run for state of women in India. The biggest good which can come out of it might be change in belief that after all women have equal potential and can sometimes bring more results than men given their wings are not trimmed before they are ready to fly.

Rio Olympics 2016 might turn out to be an inflection point for women in India. Keeping my fingers crossed!

You can watch an inspiring poem by Prasoon Joshi on achievement of Indian girls in Rio.He dedicates this poem to the girl child.

 

The New Role Models for Women in India – Sakshi & Sindhu

s&s
The New Role Models for Women in India

Rio olympics 2016 gave us not only 2 medals but also 2 bright shinning women role models to inspire a generation of young girls in India. To make them believe that they can do it too. Women in India badly need such role models. Role models are inspiring , they are somebody you can relate to, somebody you can look up to. The success of saskhi and sindhu has captured the imagination of millions of young girls.

My hope and guess is that sakshi’s and sindhu’s feat at Rio would have captured imagination of a generation of parents of young girls as well. Parents are the launchpads girls need to launch their ambitions and fly high. Parents are the first gatekeepers of children’s dreams and aspirations. In fact many a times, it is the grit and belief of a parent in talent of child which makes their dream a reality. Behind every successful child or a young adult, stands a firm mother or father or both.

The importance of role models is in the logic of human mind. You want proof of something to believe it. Success of role models is the proof that it is achievable. Sakshi and Sindhu are national icons, sort of celebrity everyone knows but not everyone would know them personally. In my opinion, closer are role models to you, stronger is impact of their success on you. For example if your cousin is a successful state level swimmer and you aspire to be a swimmer, you would relate totally with your cousin as you share similar background and her success is a solid proof that its doable. Your mind knows if she could do it , you could do it too. Having a role model known personally also helps more as you have direct access to the guidance, expertise and tips.

Nonetheless, till we have a successful women role model in our family or neighbourhood, lets celebrate and get inspired by the success of sakshi and sindhu. Sakshi and sindhu should realize that millions of hopeful eyes are looking up to them, ears are tuned to hear what they have to say. They should share their experiences, struggles and how they overcame those struggles. They should share details of their journey right from childhood to the olympic podium. They should tell what inspired them and what got them going  day after day, year after year. Their stories and words would inspire a generation of girls and tomorrow we would have many more saskhi’s and sindhu’s who would go on to inspire another generation. This chain of role models inspiring millions is what would help India in reaching its own potential when it comes to Olympics and more importantly would help young girls and women in India realize their potential and fulfill their dreams.

 

The Rio Olympics and the Ability to Stay Calm

A LIFETIME OF TRAINING FOR JUST 10 SECONDS - JESSE OWENS

Like anybody else on the planet, for past 2 weeks or so I too have been keenly following the Rio olympics – the greatest show on earth. Even though India’s performance was not upto mark, watching greatest sportspersons compete at Olympics is a source of  learning. It makes you wonder why some excel and finish at the podium and some are left behind. Everyone has put in the hard work for years and has an equal chance to get a place on podium and make history.

Watching the sporting events like archery and badminton in initial week, it struck me that how close Indian atheletes got to winning but couldn’t cross the line to the podium. We came fourth in many events. Deepika Kumari the top ranked Archer has a heart warming story of a girl from small town who fought against odds to come where she is. When I watched her in team and individual archery events, she couldnt outperform herself leave aside other competitors. Expectations were really high from Deepika as would be from any other established professional of her field. She seemed to be crumbling under the weight of expectations  Deepika could not keep control on her nerves in the crucial deciding moments.  Same story repeated with Saina Nehwal, the badminton star who again could not match her performance of last olympics.

ARCHERY-OLY-2016-RIO
India’s Deepika Kumari shoots during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s competition at the Sambodromo archery venue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 10, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

In the same matches, if you look at the winners, they all showed  nerves of steel. At any event like Olympics, a sportsperson is going to meet the best of world. After a point, the talent, skill and technique seem no longer  differentiating factors. What differentiates a winner from others is mental toughness. The ability of mind to have a tight leash on nerves, to control all emotions of nervousness, anxiety and tension. Everybody has put in thousands of hours into practice to perform their best in those few minutes or even seconds of the matches. But one thing any practice can not imitate is the actual feel of the event. When at practice, your mind knows that it is a practice and therefore is calm. Your body does the same work. Here comes the differentiating factor of how strong you are mentally as a person. It is this ability of keeping calm in most stressful and crucial moments is what makes a winner. Olympics is not only a test of an athlete’s physical prowess but also a test of his mental toughness.

This is applicable to not only olympics but also to life in general.Keeping calm under stress is an invaluable trait, skill or whatever we call it. It is a critical ingredient of leadership. Irrespective of field, be it sports, corporate job, politics, anybody who aspires to be a leader, aspires to be the best in their field or to lead a team, a company or people has to have the ability to stay calm irrespective of the situation. This one trait is what made MS Dhoni the captain cool. It is part of one’s core temperament. Though one can work on it and one needs to work on it be an effective leader. A leader is someone others look up to for inspiration, guidance and more so in crucial times of a crisis. It is during crisis, real leaders emerge by managing the crisis not only with the help of their skills and experience but also  with their ability to stay calm.

You can read about how successful people stay calm in the article (link below).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/02/06/how-successful-people-stay-calm/#3b35f2f49c8c