A salwar kameez clad, long haired, Moni* was a volunteer with an organization in West Bengal. She sat with us and told about her journey as a child and how she started volunteering with the organization.
Moni’s father left his wife and children because he only had daughters. Moni’s mother lived with her in laws and they grew up in a joint family. Moni told us that as a child, she would only dress up in clothes that boys would wear – shorts, pants, banyans and t-shirts- and didn’t feel conscious about her body. She would climb trees and bunk school with friends – all of whom were boys. She was allowed to be out later than her sisters and expressed how she would feel extremely comfortable around them, and other men in the family.
When she was 14, at a her sister’s wedding, despite her protests, she was forced to wear suits and lehengas. Family members taunted her, abused her, coerced her and told her told her to grow her hair, stop hanging out with boys, act like a girl, because soon someday she would need to get married, and if she continued the way she did, she would never find a husband.
As young teenagers, girls are reminded and reprimanded and told to act like girls – be shy, obey their parents, dress in suitable clothes, adhere to gender norms. Young boys are taught to act like men – to be strong, to take decisions in the home, to be the breadwinner of the family. Sadly young people are threatened, violated and tortured physically and mentally to fit into gender norms. The institution of marriage constantly reinforces these gender norms, where girls must be good women who are good wives, and boys become रोबदार मर्द, जो नियंत्रण की प्रक्रिया चलते है|
We must question this system and how puts pressure on young people to fit into boxes, reinforcing stereotypes and norms, enforcing boundaries and limits on the aspirations and potentials of young people and teaching us to be perpetrators of violence and function in an oppressive system.