By Saurabh Kumar Tripathi
There are two categories of young men in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. While the men in the first category don’t need an excuse to get into a scuffle or throw their weight around, the second includes those who are taught to keep to themselves and ignore everything happening around them. I fall in the latter category. The parents of men like me bring us up with instructions like, “Kisi se jhagda ya maar-pitaai nahi karna. Koi shikayat nahi aani chahiye (Don’t fight with anyone. We should not get any complaints).” Allahabad is a city where a man cannot stand against a group of wrongdoers because you never know what the repercussions on you and your family could be.
I was born and brought up in Allahabad and studied in an English medium school. Later, I pursued BSc for a year at the Allahabad University before shifting to an engineering college in Bhopal to study civil engineering.
Boys growing up in Allahabad are made to view themselves as the protectors and providers of the opposite sex. I remember I was hardly 10-12 years old when we had a woman guest at our house. When she was leaving, my parents asked me to accompany her to the rickshaw stand. I wondered why a woman in her 30s needed to be escorted by a boy my age. But, gradually, I realised that is how it is here. Young women and girls in Allahabad are not supposed to step out of their houses without being escorted by a male — be it a brother, husband, father or any other member of their family.
Moreover, north Indian men get certain privileges within the family. For example, a common practice is that the men of the house are served food first. Sometimes I wonder, what if the women of the family are unwell to cook and serve? Or what if they feel hungry before the men do? I live with my mother, brother and my bhabhi; even at our house, my brother and I are served food first. Though I do not have a sister of my own, I have cousins, and I have seen this in the families of my cousins and friends.
There is a stark difference in the way boys and girls are brought up, especially in middle-class and lower middle-class families. For example, while the boys are educated in English medium schools, the girls are sent to Hindi medium schools. While men get educated to secure a good job, and the assumption is that women do the same to find a good groom. While girls are asked to behave in a certain manner, told what to wear, where to go and so on, boys are free birds. And such privileges often lead them to believe that they are superior to women and can get away with anything.
During my college days, I saw my classmates harassing girls without any fear. I did not have the courage to take a stand against such behaviour. Even where I teach now (in Allahabad), if a woman faculty member is seen wearing a sleeveless kurta or blouse, she becomes the topic of discussion among male teachers.
Until I shifted to Bhopal, I had a very conservative image of women in my mind — they always wear salwar kameez, are good at cooking, go out either in a group or with a male family member, never venture out at night, don’t react to verbal harassment and so on. In Bhopal, I got a culture shock when I saw girls wearing short clothes, smoking and drinking. I had seen all this only in films. But soon I adjusted, and I realised that they were just like us. If boys can smoke and drink, why couldn’t they?
The city also helped me find my voice. There was a boy in my college who stalked one of the girls. My friends and I made a formal complaint about him and made sure he was reprimanded.
From my friends in big cities, I have learnt that break-ups and patch-ups in relationships are common. Par yahan aisa nahin hai (But it’s not like that here). Here, relationships either translate into a marriage, elopement or things get dirty. When it comes to marriage, even today, the elders of the family have a say in the matter, whether it’s a son or a daughter. And caste plays a major role. I am just 24 years old but my relatives have already started sending proposals for me. I have also got subtle hints that even if I marry a girl of my choice, she would have to be from the same caste.
The author currently teaches at an engineering college in Allahabad As told to Garima Mishra