Thursday, January 12, 2006

The real tragedy

So Gudiya is dead.

And, let's face it, as far as we're concerned, she's been dead a long time. She briefly came alive when she really died, and the media went over the old questions once again.

Perhaps, we're letting ourselves grieve for Gudiya now, in a way we wouldn't have if she was just another flash in the (newsroom) pan, if she was still around, the way last months' newspapers are... We're saying our 'peace be upon her's, shedding our remorse like the tears we can't quite summon up; under fistfuls of newsprint/airtime, we're burying the uncomfortable memory.

For me, Gudiya refuses to go in peace. Because I know: there, but for a twist of circumstance, go I - complete with those large eyes hollowed out by the lack of defiance.

There, but for a personal history of landed ancestry who could afford libraries, goes an illiterate young woman who was married off, and that was that. There, but for a progressive grandfather who kept his daughters out of purdah, kept them in college as long as they wished... there, but for grandfather's headstrong daughters... there, but for a job and plenty of debate at every stage of growing-up... there, but for the books I read... there, but for a mother who asked questions and who refused to follow the rules... there, but for my fierce pride.... there, go I.

Yes, there, but for a happy accident of birth, - and the grace of a God who wasn't as gracious to women like Gudiya - go I.

Any woman's husband could disappear for years. Any woman would have moved on to another man, built a new life, had children. And if the first husband ever came back, she would have faced this awful dilemma. It could have happened to anybody... but Gudiya was not anybody.

The tragedy called Gudiya is the tragedy called television.
The tragedy of a generation that is apparently so divorced from its own truths that it seeks amusement through programmed 'reality'. The tragedy of a news-force that needs 'powerful' stage-managed content, and of a medium that can only survive if there are enough people holding their breath, not taking their horrified eyes off the screen as a 'real' tragedy unfolds.

Gudiya is also the name of a outdated tragedy called the Mullahs.

Men (always, always men, haven't you noticed?) who have everlasting religious sanction to decide people's fates. Men who can order that people be killed - for expressing an opinion, for writing a book, for believing in their beliefs. Men who, for the most part, are disrespectful with regard to the changing needs of a changing world and insist on keeping a community - billions of people across the globe - stuck in the rut of the sixth century, (or whenever Islam came into being). Men divorced from the reality of this century, and who are practically irrelevant in the current structure of law and politics. Men who are - or should be - jobless in a democracy, which has a functional legal system and a commitment to being a secular republic.
Men who would be jobless, if only we would grow to accept that it is possible to stop following unacceptable laws, to challenge them, not merely seeking to re-interpret them, and still stay Muslim. Men who might have a vested interest in not allowing Islam to grow, to change with the times. Men who need us to keep believing that we need them.

The tragedy called Gudiya is the tragedy of Indian women (or perhaps all women) who are trapped by an inability to make their own choices.
Gudiya didn't choose either the first or the second man. It was but natural that she wouldn't be given much of a choice later, when the situation got so complex that nobody really knew what the 'right' course of action was. There was no 'right' course. The only acceptable decision in a situation like this was to have Gudiya live with the man she wanted to live with (assuming he also wanted her to stay).
The corollary to this decision would be to have Gudiya face the consequences of not living with either, if both men turned her away, and of bringing up a child alone.
The tragedy called Gudiya is a woman who didn't know whether she'd survive...
if she did not consult the mullahs, would the community would ostracize her? She didn't know whether or not fatwas would be issued. Whether or not she could make do without these men. Whether or not her family would stand by her.

Whether she had a fatal sickness, or not, Gudiya needed to know that she need not have put up with the crap that was being shoveled into her life.
We need to ensure that women know: they can take decisions without involving the mullahs, the media or even their families. That they can go to the men they want, or not live with any man, that they can keep their children and that it is, finally, nobody else's choice to make.
Gudiya gave up control of her own life and that was the real tragedy.


Niket said...

And if I may add respectfully:
The tragedy called Gudiya is the tragedy that you still care to write and I still care to read.

Why blame the media, when we ourselves were so eager to know what happened to Gudia.

Anonymous said...

Of the 1 billion plus Indians, less than 2% would know about the Gudiya you are talking about.

Annie Zaidi said...

Niket: I write because I do care, and I hope you're reading because you care. I truly wish that the media had 'cared' about what happened. I don't blame them for not caring. I blame them for engineering a tamasha called Gudiya. And the worst tragedy yet would be to bury this whole business quietly.

Sloganmurugan: What does that have to do with anything? A lot of Indians being ignorant doesn't make the issue less important. Less than 2% of Indians probably know about the Kyoto Protocol or GATT agreement. And there are millions of Indians out there (I've met some) who think that Gandhiji is still the prime minister.(Or am I misreading you? Are you actually pointing out yet another sad aspect of this whole tragedy, or are you saying it doesn't matter?)

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