In Focus 16th December, 2015

Open letter to my future son: We are different but equal.

Dear Son,

You are not even born yet, and I have started giving you life lessons already. But I feel as a mother, I need to start early, really early. I will be teaching you many things but I want you to understand that my intention is for you to become a person who everyone loves, respects, idolizes and relies on. In this process, you become a person I am proud of.

I am going to share my story with you.

My parents raised my sister and me with a lot of love, pampering and pride. They raised us as independent people where our careers and freedom were at the core of our growing up. We were never pressured into anything and chose what we thought was best for us. However, they faced a lot of flak from their relatives, neighbours and friends for giving “too much freedom” to their daughters. They often faced social stigma for not bearing a son. I got to know about this when I was just 13 years old. This is when I got introduced to the concept of gender and how gender-discrimination works.

Tragically, the same year I got to know about another aspect of this gender divide – Sexual Harassment. Yes, son I was sexually harassed at the age of 13. This was when I was just an innocent young girl who enjoyed evening rickshaw rides to the market with her mom and sister. In my hometown, this evening outing was something we would look forward to after a long day of school and tuition classes. I was often asked to monitor my clothing by my other cousins and friends who lived in the same locality as I did. They would warn me to not wear skirts, shorts or jeans when going out. The way my parents brought us up, this was not the advice I could take seriously.

So one humid July evening, I was on my way back from the market with my mother on the rickshaw, I felt a hand on my knee. The moment I looked down it was a man’s hand, a cyclist who was riding right next to our rickshaw I screamed in horror and my mother immediately sprung to my defense by yelling out at the harasser. By this time, the cyclist had sped away and we couldn’t catch him. I was in complete shock. I returned home without speaking a word. My mother narrated the incident to everyone in the family.

To add insult to the injury, my older cousin immediately blamed me for not paying heed to her warnings and wearing “inappropriate” clothes. She made everyone agree that it was my fault, a 13-year old kid who had no clue about what just happened to her. The only consolation was that my mother never gave in to this mindset. She was upset that no one blamed the perpetrator. I am till date, proud of being her daughter. But I know not every girl in our country gets this kind of a support from her own mother. They are mostly blamed for “inviting” attention from boys and men in various ways. From clothing to laughing loudly to wearing makeup to even stepping out of the house too often. This list is endless. I am frankly too tired of these excuses and I want you to never buy these excuses ever.

This is why, I take this upon myself that as a mother of a son, I have responsibility towards other women, my family and my own womanhood. As a boy, it is difficult to understand the difference between fun and harassment. As you grow up, I will ensure that you are always aware of the difference between a joke and sexual harassment. Trust me when I say, as someone on the receiving end of sexual harassment, as a young girl back then and a grown woman today – no woman wants to be harassed, no woman is “asking for it”. I was NOT ‘asking for it”!

As a person, you need to be sensitive and respectful of other people’s feelings. No matter who the person is, if you see someone mocked or harassed, speak out. I will always be there on your side to support your stance. Acknowledge a girl’s independence and autonomy just like you would acknowledge your own. You need to understand we are all human beings and are deserving of love and respect – no matter how different we may be in terms of gender, backgrounds, orientations, ethnicity or any other dividing factor. You, my son, will be a great man someday but before that you will be a wonderful person who treats everyone with care and respect.

We are all equal, different but equal, not inferior or superior than the other. My dear son, accept this as the first gift from your mother – compassion.

Loads of Love,

About the author: Kanika Sharma

Kanika Sharma is a Master in Computer Applications and is currently the CTO of an international IT company.

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