There was nothing new in this loose conversation. Yet, its content offended me. For, two men and two women were gossiping about another woman perhaps a colleague of theirs. ‘She is of a loose character’, said a man. ‘Oh, yes. I saw her two days ago having coffee in a restaurant with the colleague of another section. What does she have to do with him? Why was she out with him after the office?, remarked a woman. The other two nodded in agreement. The discussion went on for some time and all four declared in the end that that particular woman was of loose character! Goodness! The easiest thing to attack a woman with- is her character. That is the most vulnerable spot for any woman.
I really did not know any one of that group, nor did I know the woman about whom, they were talking. Yet, as a total outsider, I felt that all they did was sheer mud-slinging and character assassination of a woman who was not there to defend her what-ever action. Perhaps they would be sweet to her on her face!
But then, this has been our society’s way with women. We take women too much for granted. We talk about them too much loosely. We offend their honour so cheaply. We call them names. We declare them to be of loose character. And even other women join in this loose, irresponsible talk that can take place anywhere — from coffee shops to scooter stands to open spaces outside toilets.
Once, I overheard a similar conversation about a woman in a prestigious organisation. This woman was friendly with a man. That led to the loose talk and the ultimate declaration that the woman is of a bad character.
I stepped in and asked an innocent question, “What do you mean by loose character?”
I knew all those men and women and they did not hit back. But they felt offended that I dared to ask them this question.
One of them, a woman, said, “Look dear, you do not know anything.” I responded, “Yes, exactly. And that is the reason why I am asking this question. Why don’t you tell me? I am not gossiping, but just want to know.”
All of them remembered all of a sudden that each one of them had this or that work to do and the group dispersed.
It is obvious from such conversations — that take place by the hundred in any place — that as a society, we have yet to learn the importance of respecting women. There is much more to a woman than just her character. She could have mental abilities and competencies that would put men to shame. She could be the backbone of the organisation where she works. Yet, she is still needs a character certificate at all steps of life. Sociologists and thinkers and philosophers have said time and again that any society that does not respect its women cannot go a long distance on the path of genuine progress.
Yet, in the larger Indian society where women are proving their merit day in and day out, the people are yet to begin respecting women genuinely. Whatever respect they show is many times only grudgingly. And this grudge comes out even in the remarks and statements by women as well. This is very surprising and saddening.
Some time ago, I happened to meet an old acquaintance who had moved to Mumbai for better career prospects. He had been away for nearly ten years. He told me a lot about how things take place in Mumbai. And then he said something that offended me a great deal, so much so that I asked him to shut up. Let me share with you the gist of his stupid utterances. He said something like this (improper words edited!): “I get to interview a lot of young women for jobs. And after the formal interviews are over, girls ask, ‘Do you want anything more from me personally?’ This is how things are.”
What did the man want to suggest? Does he forget that in most cases and situations it could be the men in high positions who ask for such favours from women. I am sure that most women know how to take care of their dignity and honour.
I must also admit that many men, too, become victims of such loose talk. Their characters, too, become subjects of gossip and irresponsible talk. I know that such gossip does not take anyone anywhere. And those who indulge in it also know this. Whenever I ask this question to countless people and every time I ask it, I meet with stunned silence.
In that silence is hidden the truth — of the looseness of the talk..