Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Story about Gender Discrimination

Post Contribution by Kislay Chandra of Orange Blog
Thank You Kislay for sharing this.

The not very unlikely juxtaposition of a quote from Solilo's post and a conversation with a friend of mine sowed the seed of thought for this post. This is the quote from Solilo's blog post “Brusque” –
"Do not keep quiet in the face of injustice and gender bias. Those who knowingly
keep quiet are as guilty as the perpetrators of injustice”
And how are they related? Well, they are related because my friend is a woman, working in a reputable multinational software company has been the victim of sexual discrimination. This MNC tries hard to maintain a decent sex-ratio, and I guess it is because of some tax incentive they get. Now my friend, let's call her Mridul (she is very polite), and her colleague and friend, let's call her Aparajita (she is very spunky), have together faced the brunt. Their victimization has been so subtle, nondescript, and insidious, that even they failed to notice it. Or, they did sense it, but did nothing about it, because as a woman, you are used to facing a more than average resistance than your average man faces. They, being the decent and helpful creatures (and confound them for being nice), have been facing a slew of shit since the day they joined their team.

Before I start telling you their story, let me tell you, that it suddenly dawned upon me ; what they have been facing is not just due to the misfortune of working in a software company in recession hit times as a fresher, but a significant portion of this "crap" has been dumped upon them on account of their sex. In one moment of epiphany, all the stories I heard over the past 5 months fell in place, illustrating the real picture. And it is ugly, sad and absolutely preposterous.

Here is the scenario - Mridul and Aparajita are freshers as I told you, and they were on bench for quite some time. For those fortunate enough never to have heard this term before, let me tell you what it means. It means that you are rusting. Your company has no work for you. And in these times, the axe may fall anytime. So these girls , along with another guy , one of the protagonists of our bitter-and-real life story , whom I shall name Mahamoorkh Chapanduk Pakhandi ( A big fool - A duffer - A hypocrite ) , i.e. M.C.P. , were grouped informally as a team , to be trained for the particular project soon-to-be-their team was working on. They were not formally allocated , but rather on their way to allocation. That is a like a state of limbo, between heaven and hell, neither here nor there.So the three of them started their training. This involved mastering a technology, by doing and learning. And these three, as unofficial members of the team, had no access to individual computers, but rather had to share one. Three people - One computer. That is shocking on an altogether different level, for the MNC is multi-billion dollar company.
Anyway, I think you all get an idea of what happened. One computer shared by three people, all of whom were supposed to practice their theory. Clashes were imminent and unavoidable. But after the initial unrest, the girls worked out things between them. But then, one computer, shared by two girls and one M.C.Pakhandi. This jackass, instead of being a gentleman and a professional, and trying to adapt to the situation, eventually turned out to be a pukka MCP, one that would make any other MCP proud. Like a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, eventually he showed his true ugly colors. Now, Shreeman Pakhandi , hogged the computer , rarely offered them the one chair they all had to share or relinquished control of the mouse/keyboard .He went through the material they all had to study together at his own pace. If he ever did offer any help and/or the computer, it was more out of condescension, rather than a genuine sense of fair play and team spirit. It was a gesture of magnanimity, doled out to make the other feel small and insignificant. Whenever these girls expressed their difficulty in grasping some concept or the other, it emanated a smile from him, one which said “You dumb girls”, the emphasis being more on 'girl' than 'dumb'.A completely unrelated, and yet, a significant incident. There is a quiz where you have to write the name of girl, the first one that comes to your mind. Now the jackass who came up with this quiz, was probably banking upon the fact , that like him , most other males would also write the name of the girl they are secretly or openly in love with. The purpose of this charade being to ascertain the name of your love, so that your friends can have a nice time pulling your leg. So our friend, Mahamoorkh, in the presence of Mridul and Aparajita, wrote a name. And as expected, the girls started teasing. And can you take a shot in the dark, and think up what his response was?“I do not think of her like that. She is NOT beautiful”. Now you call me a loon, but this gives an insight into his character. Had the words been “I am not attracted to her”, it would have been no more than a blip on the radar. But the ones that actually came out suggest that, to him, Love is a by-product of sexual attraction. From that, I conclude that either he is sees woman as sex-objects, and only those beautiful or hot enough are worthy of his love. I may be wrong. I hope I am.Our friend, M.C.Pakhandi, then ganged up with a fellow pig, lets call him Sidekick Swine (Pigs are in the air, eh?) , and two of them together, then made fun of the girls. Now, a very interesting observation is that, in this entire episode, he has never passed a single lewd remark, or made any obscene gesture. He has done nothing, which can actually be construed as actual sexual harassment. But, even this is sexual harassment. And I do not need a pair of ovaries, and a dose of estrogen to come to this conclusion. In the events that have unfolded in the past 5 months, the actions of MCP and his two bit sidekick, SS, have been more or less influenced by the fact, they Mridul and Aparajita are two girls, normal girls, neither bitchy nor meek. He behaves so, because, maybe, he sees them as not worthy of competing against him, or his bloated ego cannot digest a challenge from the fairer and apparently weaker sex.This was one man. Now for some more.In this team, all the girls, the ones who were lucky enough to get allocated got testing, as compared to the guys, who got development. Testing is commonly perceived as a job beneath the dignity of any coder worth his salt. But in a company, where most of the employees have not studied CS as their major, most of them are not coders.

So the assignment should be done purely on the basis of their performance in the training program, and not on their sex. But, the girls get testing, not because they are not good at coding, but because they are girlsWhat some guys actually think about the role of the female members the team – To act as a stress buster, for the overworked male colleague, by letting them flirt with them anytime they want, objects to practice their macho act on and an interesting way to engage yourself when at leisure.There was a team meeting in which the members were supposed to write down suggestions and ideas to improve the performance of the project. Our troika attended that meeting as well, even though they were not contributing towards the project. As they had no idea about what actually was going on, Mridul and Aparajita, could not have possibly come up with any idea or suggestion. So while they stared at their blank post-its, it caught the attention of senior male colleague. Initially, he coaxed them to write something. And soon it turned into a game, where another team member joined them, and unloaded a pile of post-its. They took verbal jabs at them, had fun at their expense, and shared this awesome in-joke. And guess what, M.C. Pakhandi, and S. Swine were nowhere around. Sexist? Or I am over imaginative?Personally, I would thrash guys like MCP and SS within inches of their lives, but that would not do anyone any good. His complex, his antagonism towards woman, in general or particular would only increase. I just don't how can people like these be cured.Now that the story is over, some of you may challenge the neutrality of the story teller, i.e. yours truly. For the past 5 months, whenever I heard their stories, Mr. Pakhandi was never the villain. He was just a male colleague, sometimes very irritating and obnoxious, and un-co-operative, but never the enemy. The girls never saw him in that light till I pointed it out, and they gave an unbiased account, telling it as it happened . As I said before, the realization that something sexist was going on was sudden, and hence, the story.It is high time the girls kicked some serious MCP ass. I hope they get his balls as a trophy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An uncommon strength, An undying inspiration...

The results for the Kerala State Board, Std XII, the regular HSE, and the VHSE, were announced today by the Education Minister, Shri M A Baby. It was around , perhaps, 11.30 am by the time he got to the nitty gritty, speaking of how it had gone down by about 4 percent, as against last year's performance, and that there was only one child in the VHSE who secured A+ grades in all of his subjects. A rare distinction indeed. (The Kerala State Board gives only grades to the SSLC, the 10th Std, and both grades and marks to the 12th std. )Before you jump to conclusions, no, this is not about him :)

Shri Baby also mentioned that the education department would look into and give special attention to those schools who have performed the worst, at least 4 schools, from the bottom of the list, and ensure that any shortcoming by way of academic or infrastructure requirements are attended to, so that the students may be brought up, on par.

While all this was inspiring, the atmosphere at home was a little tense, as we needed to know some childrens' results and the websites just refused to open. Finally, after more than an hour, relentlessly hounding all the browsers I have, IE, Firefox, and Google Chrome, one window on Firefox [yayyy! I love firefox!] opened with the result longed for!

The name was right, Revathy Narayanan, Roll No. was right... And she drew in a deep breath, proceeding to the marklist. English, 59, C+, (a sigh, quiet, but heavy!), GFC -General Foundation Course- better 76, B+, MLT -Medical Lab. Technician course- Practicals, a whopping 140 out of 150, and 48 out of 50, A+ in both, Chemistry and Physics, 78, B+, and Biology was 67, B grade.

Oh! Ok. That is an average performance, given the fact that papers would have been easy, and of course the fact that tuitions galore should have enhanced the performance in at least the science subjects? That would be one's normal reaction, in this day and age of competitive, fierce competitive examinations, and preparations!

But no, not this time. I sat back and looked at the screen, Revathy, chewing her nails, a bit unhappy, her mother not quite sure of how precisely the results had turned out; to say I felt proud of her at that moment was an understatement. Why so, you might ask, given this well, just above average performance?

Let me take you back a couple of years, for that. Revathy had just completed her 10th. Results time again. Grades only this time, and she managed A+ grades in most, with only an A grade, and a couple of B+ grades. So? Did she not perform less satisfactorily this time then? Absolutely not.

Let me explain. Revathy is the daughter, the elder daughter, of Chandrika who helps me at home (I do not like to mention domestic help, because for me she is and has always been, in these last 13 years, family :)). Chandrika works at our place, and two other houses, battling odds like opposition from her relatives, her husband who used to, till a few months ago, drink and abuse his family, and so called well-meaning neighbours who never forgot to take pot shots at her, esp. when she dressed well, and ensured her kids had education. Government schools, and travelling by public transport, but good education nonetheless. But, sadly no tuition. For she could not afford it. I did call Revathy, and told her to find a suitable place to go for tuitions in any subject, and that I would take care of it, but she simply said that it was Ok, and she would manage. She did. Awesomely!

So, you see, today, when she proved to me again, Revathy, ie, that believing in oneself, working towards an objective, no matter where you are, is the stuff inspiration is made of. She inspires. She shows me the way, as her mother has, several times, when I was down because of nastiness I have encountered here and there.

She shows me that impossible is really nothing. That being a girl, in an underprivileged background is nothing. That it is all there for the taking, only one has to reach out and take it with both hands. One has to want it, and one has to be it. And being a girl, who was supposed to be a domestic help like her mother had nothing to do with it.

Back to the moment of the results. As I had mentioned, she was unhappy about the C+, but I just glossed over it, congratulating her, and sending her off. A few minutes later her mother called to ask me to speak to her, as she felt she compared poorly, with her fellow classmates. What could I tell her?

So I asked her if anyone of them did not go for tuitions. The answer was No. All of them did.
Did they have a father who really was not bothered? No.
Did they have to learn each bit of their course, all on their own, with no outside help? No.

Then, I told her, my very dearest girl, why you're the best there is. I told her how proud I was, much more that my own children, whose results anyway could have been way better! And I told her that finally it was all within. See, I said, how that wanting to do the best you could has brought you here? Low grades in English don't mean a thing, it's just a number, a letter.

And please, I told her, please, let us look upward, and ahead, because what has happened has... and nothing can change that! But a positive, and strong outlook ahead will make even miracles seem like child's play! I thought I heard a tiny sigh at the other end. I hope it was one of relief :) I am sure though, that it must have been the fact that I was about to end the call, that made her sigh :) :)

Whatever be that, I know that I am so so proud of this young girl, who defies fate, and shows us, that being the best you can be is not about gender or circumstance. It is about who you are, and want to be!

Thank you, Revathy, and thank you Chandrika. Now, you're a wonderful mother, much more than you will ever know yourself to be :) And now you too are famous :) :)

God bless you, always :)

Post Script: Chandrika's younger child is a boy, who she wanted to have, so badly, because she faced endless jibes about having a daughter. The young man has just completed his 10th, a little rogue, is his mother's worry , in caps.. :), but an affectionate chap who really means well. His grades too were above average, but nothing to match his sister's performance in the 10th. But to have achieved that much is to his credit, though he did go for tuitions, in most subjects :)

This is an impromptu post, really, and as usual I have rambled :)

It's been a day of much upliftment, and joy, all around!

12 May, 2009