As part of an initiative to understand mental health concerns affecting the youth in rural Samastipur, my colleague and I had a group discussion with a group of young (18-35 years) men and women. Initially, we did not mention our purpose or used any mental health terminology but rather simply asked the question – “What bothers you on an everyday level?”
We divided the group based on a heterosexual understanding of gender to make the space more comfortable for both groups to interact with us. I spoke to the women whereas my colleague spoke to the men. I was a little apprehensive to keep this differentiation however towards the end of our respective discussions when a young girl told me “हम आपके सामने यह सब बाते रख सकते हैं, और इन् मुद्दों पर बात कर सकते है (we can talk to you about such things and raise these issues with you), made me realize the necessity and need to have this discussion in separate groups to allow people to open up. One worries about the complexity of gender and the exclusion this division creates, but we had to start somewhere. The varied concerns that were raised were not surprising, but indeed worrying. It is important that I put the issues that both these groups shared with us, in front of you.
Issues Affecting Women
Lack of freedom
Whether a woman is married or single, both parents, as well as in-laws, place immense restrictions on movement, choice of work and choice of clothes.
“अगर हमे पढ़ाई करनी हैं तो फिर भी लोग मान लेंगे, लेकिन नौकरी करने की इच्छा पर 100 सवाल उठाएंगे” (If we wish to study people may agree, there is a possibility, however even to raise the wish to work has almost 100 questions attached to it)
There is always a requirement to take permission for anything and everything and as highlighted by almost all in the room, this often gets extremely exhausting and hence limits women from doing anything they truly wish to do.
Nowhere is safe and no one can be trusted
Almost 90% of the women in the room highlighted some form of sexual violence that was perpetrated on them. Whether it is walking to work or travelling via public transport – no space is one where they feel truly safe. When I asked whether anyone has tried to report it, the general answer was that going to the police is never an option because “वहा जाकर मुसीबत और बढ़ेगी, घटेंगी नहीं” (the situation will go out of hand if we take that as an option, not reduce the chances). The inherent fear that the women exhibited through this was that they are not fully able to trust anyone at any given point in time.
“डर यह रहता है की अगर हम कुछ बोले तो कही उसका गलत मतलब नहीं ले लिया जाए” (the fear is that we will end up in a greater problem if we raise something)
This constant lack of trust results in them not being able to give their 100% in places where they work and never being able to fully raise any concerns that they might have.
Lack of a safe space to share any health concerns
I asked the group, in case they are not feeling well who do they raise this with? I was told, “जब तक तबियत बहुत ख़राब नहीं होती हम किसी को नहीं बताते” (till the time the situation is not out of hand, we do not tell anyone). There is nobody they can talk to about their menstrual cycle and nobody they tell about any issues that they start to see on their bodies. Even buying menstrual products is highly tabooed and is often not adopted to avoid “आदमी लोगो का घूरना” (men staring).
My discussion with these women led me to understand a few things. Most of the women I interacted with were married. Their fear, that they are unable to share with their families is that “हमे अपने शरीर के बारे में जानकारी नहीं हैं, हम एक बच्चे को कैसे संभालेंगे” (We don’t know enough about our bodies, how will we be able to take care of our children).
What stood out me the most through my interaction was that women resort to lying to protect themselves and their freedom. Examples of this as I was told “बाहर काम करने के लिए हम किसी को पूरी जानकारी नहीं देते की हम क्या कर रहे हैं। लोगो के पास जानकारी नहीं होगी तो गलत बाते नहीं बना पाएंगे।” (We do not provide full information regarding the nature of our work. If people don’t know what we do, they will not be able to make wrongful accusations).
“अगर कुछ छेडख़ानी हो जाती हैं तो हम खुद की गलती मान लेते है और चुप रहते है। अपनी इज़्ज़त अपने हात। घर पर नहीं बताते है वर्ना हमारा आना-जाना बंद हो जाएगा।” (If some form of eve-teasing takes place, we accept it as our mistake and keep silent. Our dignity in our hands. We do not let this reach home, otherwise restrictions will be imposed on our movements).
Issues Affecting Men
Lack of job opportunities/fear of being unemployed
All the boys my colleague interacted with were trying their luck for UPSC. “बिहार में नौकरी नहीं है। अगर सरकारी नौकरी लग जाए तो बढ़िया है वर्ना किसी शहर, दिल्ली या मुंबई में नौकरी ढूंढेगे।” (There are no jobs in Bihar. If we are able to get a government job that will be the best otherwise we will try our luck in Delhi or Mumbai). More than getting a good education or spending time understanding issues, these boys are interested in finishing school and immediately getting a job. Their inherent worry is that if they are unable to secure a job, any job, early on, they may end up being unemployed.
Need to support family
There was a genuine fear amongst all that if they do not score well and are not able to sustain a good job, how will they support their family.
“बहुत दबाव में आ जाते है कभी-कभी यह सोचकर की अगर हमे नौकरी नहीं लगेगी तो आगे जागे घर कैसे चलेगा” (We come under massive amounts of pressure thinking that if we are unable to get a proper job how will we support our family).
These boys are told from a very young age that they will be required to be the bread-earners of their families. That, then, becomes the aim. Get a job – financially take care of the family.
Absence of a support group/social environment to vent, or even cry
“कभी रोने का मन करता है लेकिन किसको अपनी दिक्कते बताए समझ में नहीं आता” (We feel like crying at times but who will listen to our problems we don’t know). All of them expressed the concern that this is the first time someone is asking them about what is bothering them. Usually, they don’t have a space, whether at home or a friend circle where they can truly express how they are feeling from within. They keep pushing these feelings to the bottom, without being able to comfortably vent.
English, English, English
All the boys desperately wanted to learn the language. For them, the assumption is that this is the ticket to obtaining a proper job – a stable job. For them this is not just a language but rather the means to a better life. “हम चाहते है की और बड़े लोग की तरह हम भी अंग्रेजी अच्छे से बोल पाए, यह सीख लेंगे तो आसानी से नौकरी लग जाएगी।” (We wish to learn English, like all the big people. If we’re able to learn this well, chances are that we will get a good job).
My understanding of the interaction with the men highlighted just one major thing, which is, their requirement of securing a stable job. Every concern of theirs would scale back to job opportunities and fear of being unemployed. Where on the one hand women have to deal with basic aspects of freedom and safety, on the other men are under constant pressure to be the ‘bread-earners’ of the family and have no social network to vent or cry.