-Note written 6.10.2015: I am savarna woman born and raised in the US. I am assessing my caste privelege. This was written before I consciously began this journey. Retrospectively, this poem therefore seems to address savarna people. I will rework it to make this clear within the body of the poem-
-song I sing below in video is written by Thenmozhi Soundararajan aka dalit diva for her upcoming Sufi blues album-
How do you get fathers to respect their daughters?
Not protect. RESPECT.
In India everything is built on a concept of community –
where at the most fundamental level, the family unit,
the father is the leader
The mother, the supporter of the father’s rule
The son, the one who can do no wrong
The daughter, the one who will eventually cost the family in dowry
Hence, the daughter belongs to the father until she is married
Then, she belongs to her husband
At the village level
The father becomes the sarpanj
The mother the elders supporting the sarpanj
The son the men of the village
The daughter the women who are viewed as liabilities
This is why when a woman has a grievance
She has nowhere to turn
No one will believe her in the case she is violated
And in fact her own family will blame her for bringing dishonor
At the city level, the father is the police officer
At the state level, the district collector
At the national level, the prime minister
This is also why it will never be the sarpanj’s daughter who will be violated
Atleast that was the hope
We did not wish to see before
Who typically gets raped?
and what are their chances amidst such odds?
Now it’s our chance to see otherwise
to finally acknowledge that when lower class and low caste women are stripped of their civil liberties
It begins to creep into the civil liberties of middle class women
When, as now, the stories can no longer be suppressed –
They begin to get international press
after years of national press keeping stories silent
However, enforcing laws to better protect middle class women will only be a bandaid
Sooner or later their rights will again be encroached upon because the crux of the matter is not addressed
How do you respect low class lower caste women?
when you label their people as untouchable, backward?
How do we get fathers to respect their daughters?
at all levels of civil society?
We must cast out caste
Social stratifications work together to strangle the life out of particular members of society
Today we stand together with candles for all the ghosts of the many women stripped of their right to life and meeting death on their own terms
We must be able to believe in a time coming up
When a father can not only respect his daughter
But see the welfare of the daughters of his poorer or lower caste neighbors as important as his own
There are many ways the father-daughter relationship can be re-structured
The hope is in the softness most fathers have in their eyes for their daughters
The dream is in that there are other ways to envision an affirmative relationship
When a father respects his daughter
He must be able to take joy in knowing he is helping to raise his daughter to be as strong as independent and as confident as possible
He knows she will be admired and respected for the way she chooses to express herself
He will see her as mistress of her own faculties
Take joy when she lays claim to her dominion whatever her dreams for that may be
He will not treat her as property or something to pass on or pass over
He learns and accepts he cannot protect her forever
An ideal where a woman needs to be protected by a man is already inherently flawed.
It sets up for just the type of polarity, power dynamic and dangerous thinking that after years of turning a blind eye eventually leads to gendered crime.
Men must not bear responsibility for protecting women
Instead, they must learn to respect women as extensions of their own humanity.
Protection, when necessary, will come without expectation –
maybe in the best of circumstances from an appeal to human decency and capability
Instances where a woman protects a man can finally be recognized admired and respected
And because she knows how much her father loves her
The daughter will walk with pride
She will feel no shame for the ideas she dreams about and what she does with her body
Because she knows her father has always respected her as her own autonomous being and celebrates her for this,
she knows he will walk proudly by her side when no one else might
This is how a father might respect his daughter
And in doing so he provides her with an inoculation and immunity that far exceeds any of these anachronistic values places on her body and soul for all these years
Together they will be a shining refute of the an intolerable trope “for her own protection for her own good”
I know this is possible
It is why I can write and think as I do
Without fear, with heart and with conviction
I know I am my father’s daughter.
I am his pride and joy.
I know he is always walking right by my side.