My neighbor Anmol, who is seven years old now, has always been different. While most boys his age have already started going to the parks in the evening and started playing games like cricket and football, he is not interested in any of those games. He would rather sit at home and play with his elder sister’s stuff. He enjoys wrapping around his mom’s old Dupatta and pretending that it is a Saree. He would often be found playing with his mother’s cosmetics and jewelry. His happiness lies in dolls and not cars. He has always been like that, and nobody has ever bothered about it. Only recently, some of my other neighbors started noticing this behavior of him and started making rude comments. One even went to up the height of calling him ‘abnormal’. They say that his behavior is not natural and his parents should soon do something about it. Some say that his orientation is not right. I was not only surprised but deeply disappointed after listening to all this. What does a seven year old know about his sexual orientation? How is it that his growth and his behavior captioned ‘unnatural’? Who is the society to decide what is natural and what is not?
Just like Anmol, thousands of young boys and girls go through this trauma and pressure of stereotypes that the society has built for us. The society has developed such rigid ideas of what is natural, derived out of its stagnant ideas of culture. Culture isn’t really a bad thing. It gives an individual an identity and a way of life. It limits a person from doing things that are unethical and builds a strong moral base for him. However, one major and perhaps the biggest problem with culture is its stagnant nature. It refuses dynamicity, and development with time. Just as time changes, people change. They become more aware of themselves and want to behave in their own manner. It becomes a problem for people if they do not fit into the stereotypes that their culture has constructed for them. They begin to be looked down upon.
Women are the most targeted victims of the culture. They are expected to bind themselves according to the norms of their culture. So much that the culture has reduced her to the level of an object moved and kept at will. They are expected to eat, sit, sleep, dress and do everything as their culture wants. Culture at this point becomes more of a jail than an identity. It actually robs one of their natural, self-discovered identity. In fact, culture is the primary reason why women in our society cease to grow. It has bound women for so long that they themselves are afraid to come out of it now. Culture sits as a dog outside a home, blocking both entry and exit of anything new and fresh. People who don’t go according to it are named ‘uncultured’ and suffer an exclusion from the society. The worst hit comes when the idea of the family honor resting on the shoulders of women sweeps it. It acts like the final nail in the coffin of women freedom and justifies everything wrong happening against her. Women themselves today have become the worst and best protectors of culture. They propagate it, and make sure that even other women don’t escape its fire. It is almost like being caught in a circle. First a woman becomes the oppressed in the cultural practices and later the oppressor. Unless women themselves not fight to break free of these cultural stereotypes, the society which is so dependent on women will not develop.
While we might agree that women are the worst victims of culture, we also can’t deny that men too are affected by it. Boys like Anmol, are amongst the worst sufferers. They too are forced to fit into the normative ideas of the society and abandon their own free will. They are expected to be brave, manly and immune to emotions. For those who choose to fight against this system are terribly stigmatized by being called words like, ‘unmanly’, ‘abnormal’ and ‘funny’. They receive a backlash in the form of exclusion from the society. Men here, become the oppressed disguised as the oppressor. The problem with such a thing is not only individual and produces a harm to the society in the longer run. This happens when individuals who constitute the society are not allowed to exercise their full freedom. For a healthy society to be, it is very important for its people to be happy and satisfied. Such a system which restricts the happiness and self-actualization of the people produces dissatisfied individuals. Such people are more of a liability than an asset to the society. This is because unhappy individuals don’t exercise their full potentials and tend to be less efficient than they can be. This damages the overall growth of the society.
It is time we identify such problems in the society and work towards making it better. We cannot any further overlook such cruelty that the society infringes on its people. Being a silent observer of something wrong being done is equal to doing the wrong oneself. So perhaps, next time if any of you come across an Anmol, you could actually encourage him to be the way he likes and not rebuke or ridicule him for the same. You might give him the confidence and self-respect the society snatched away from him.