An open letter to the Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dear Dr. Ajay Gupta, Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dr., eh? That too from Delhi School of Economics? Pretty impressive! Just a quick question, did they also teach you something called mutual respect and equality? Oh wait..

I just stumbled upon a Facebook post which said now men from IIT and IIM have a place to find their “soul mates”. I clicked on it and whoa, was I fumbled? Your extremely fresh idea to build a matrimonial website based on educational qualifications than evils like caste, class, race etc is damn progressive, I must say. Even trivialities like common interests and hobbies and compatibility didn’t find a meager mention because as the tagline of your website goes Alma Mater Matters. Well, I must congratulate you, Sir. You have solved that mystery which even Chetan Bhagat with 6 books down couldn’t.

You see, Sir, I have recently turned 25 and your website has come like a blessing in disguise to me. Like every dutiful, middle-class, educated Indian girl, it’s time for me to stop and smell the rose in my journey called marriage. After all, what good is my education when I can’t garner a good husband? You see, Sir, just like you, even I’m a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. And after three degrees down and on the way to the fourth one, I think I have realized the true meaning of my education, all thanks to you! However, Sir, when I with utter joy tried to log in to your site to search for that true soul mate, I found out to my dismay that I do not “qualify” to register on your prestigious site iitiimshaadi.com. Why, Sir if I may ask, why? Am I not good enough? Is it my qualifications, double major in German Studies that didn’t find any parent group it could attach to?  Is it because Humanities is as it is a disrespected field? Or is it because my university is largely a leftist one? Even the poor university couldn’t get enlisted in your élite group of institutions.

Or is it so because your pretty boys from the IITs and the IIMs might get intimidated by a highly educated woman like me? Is it why the eligibility criteria for women on your website and I quote is “Country-wide reputed graduation institutions on wards“. If I may ask, why Sir, would you need women from even “country-wide reputed graduation institutions“? If I’m not mistaken didn’t you mention the site has lower entry requirements for women to give “a larger pool of choice to the men“. I mean, as you rightly mentioned “some highly educated men, in terms of practicality, like women who also consider taking care of the home a task as good as a job.” Weren’t you the one who said, “They were looking for intellectual compatibility, but at the same time wanted women who would understand their hectic lives and dedicate more time to the house—while doing some part-time work, someone with a half-day job would have also worked.” After all, that is the true meaning of a woman’s life to serve as a maid and a fuck-buddy for her man, isn’t it, Sir? To be highly educated and intellectually compatible but dissolve herself in-house and part-time work. My parents would be so proud of me today, after all, this is why they brought me up and provided me the best education. They owe you, Sir, they owe you.

But I haven’t even come to the best part of your excellent website, Sir, if you may allow. The homepage of your site has a slide show of a few images with the header “Preview of things to come“. What a stroke of brilliance, Sir, what a stroke! The image starts from a marriage ceremony being culminated to a fancy car with the tag “IITIIM shaadi“. The message behind the images is loud and clear: Enroll in IIT or IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE! Voila! After all, this is a “gift” and not dowry. You Sir, win hands down.

I’m grateful to you for making me realize the true meaning of my existence. Now, I’m just waiting for some IIT/IIM boy of yours to pity on me with my useless humanities degrees from an even useless university, marry me and end my misery. However, if you or any of your pretty boys somehow didn’t like my earnest appreciation of your venture, they are welcome to shoot questions at me. I do hope your pretty boys will come up with some quality arguments. The whole point is to have a dialogue, right Sir?

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

 

Update (as on 29.08.2014): I emailed the above letter to the Founder, Dr. Ajay Gupta on 26.08.2014 and received a response within less than an hour. Like the website, Mr. Gupta’s words were big and hollow. He mentioned he “respects”others’ opinions and expects the same. Very politely and smartly he has tried to explain his “philosophy” behind the site and conveniently ignored all my questions. However, fearing such angry letters, I assume, a few changes has been made to the website. The changes are following:

  • The image with the car has been removed and replaced with an image showing the wedding venue. Mr Gupta surely feared dowry accusations, but how much his mentality has changed, if he or his relatives will demand dowry for future weddings can only be speculated.
  • The introduction of the site has been changed. It no longer says that women must be from “reputed institutions” while men from “élite”. The current introduction is a more general one without any gender bias. However, if this bias is carried out in further steps, one can’t be assured.
  • More options have been added to the “Am I eligible” list including PhD and Masters, however Humanities still didn’t find a mention. According to the site, the list of institutions are also being updated.

The post will be updated if any other changes occur. Although, Mr. Gupta is trying to cover up his sexist remarks and patriarchal attitude towards women, how much will be put into practice cannot be said. Let there be hope!

Update on 12.09.2014: I and the open letter were recently quoted in an article in Deccan Chronicle, Banglore. Check out below:

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Disclaimer: This article has been previously published on Feminism in India here.

Happy Independence Day?

Yep, you read that right! Another critical I-day special article floating around the web and appearing on your social media timelines. And yet another cynic who likes to ruin your festival by writing big fancy words and trying to engage you in a pseudo intellectual dialogue.

However, I’ll try my best to ruin your festival as less as I may be capable of and zip up the do’s and don’ts. After all, let’s be honest, we all will celebrate our “freedom” by flying kites, dressing in funky tri-color combinations and trying to get passes of one or another “Independence Day” special party.

Next day, major newspapers will cover the top-notch parties on Page 3, there will be a few cases of street harassment or sexual assault on women by some drunken men (the blame would be of course why women were roaming around the streets on a national holiday), a gigantic lot of litter created by people “celebrating” I-day in Lodhi Garden or Nehru Park, a few cases of road brawls created due to huge amounts of cars trying to get away from the city and as far as possible and the day will go on.

If it would have been so easy to celebrate and more importantly, commemorate I-day and be truly happy about it, I wouldn’t be writing this post, right? But, how can I truly be independent when I don’t even feel free from within? When will I feel free? Will it be when my country would become a rape-free country, when I won’t have to consider to settle abroad to secure mine and my children’s safety, when other people won’t curtail my freedom to walk around the streets anytime day or night without any fear of harassment, when boys could be home makers and girls could work as mechanics without being judged, when I’d be free from the shackles of stereotypes of being a militant, anti-men feminist?

Credits: Must Bol

Credits: Must Bol

Or will it be when urinating in public would be a crime and not couples holding hands? When people would be fined for throwing waste on the streets, when one would obey traffic rules because one should and not because a cop is nearby, when people will help the needy/elders and people with special needs without the need for posters, bill boards and reserved seats in the public transport?

When religion won’t restrict you to view the larger socio-economic, cultural and diverse image of your country? When even though you love your country, you’d still be able to criticize it without being or feeling offended? When love would mean improving our country’s situation and not turning a blind eye to it in the name of patriotism? When nationalists would see a child selling the national flag on the road as a sign of poverty instead of patriotism?

Too many questions, not enough answers and so little time. I, in my capacity may not be able to answer all these and many more. But, I can certainly do something to amend some of these issues plaguing my country. My freedom can only come from within me and only I can take action to bring the change I wish to see: Change Myself!

Hence, I pledge. I pledge to break my silence. I pledge to raise my voice. I pledge to stand up and take action. I pledge to publicly shame the person who is harassing me. I pledge not to judge someone by their appearance. I pledge to wear the seat belt ALL the time and throw the litter ONLY in the dustbin. I pledge to reclaim my day, my night, and my space. I pledge not to be afraid. I pledge to smile more. I pledge to look for happiness during gloomy days. I pledge to be more patient with children and elders. I pledge to show my gratitude to the door man, the guard, the peon, the auto-walla, and my domestic help and smile some more, smile to them.

To write and promise is easy, but to change your words into action is no child’s play. And forgive me, for I’m mere human. I will be true to my words, even if I’m not always able to turn them into reality. I will try my best and be my change.

Anyhow, I’m going to a potluck picnic in Nehru Park (Delhi) on I-Day. The idea usually is that everyone will cook and get their dishes and we all will sit together, fly kites, sing songs and basically enjoy. However, I had some concerns in mind and volunteered to clean the park after we are done littering it. To my utter pleasure, many people on that Facebook event raised similar concern and joined in to help me. So, I’d be doing all the above but also cleaning my mess afterwards. This is my way of celebrating Independence Day. Let me know what you plan to do and please feel welcome to join me if you are in the vicinity.

Oh, and yes, happy Independence Day!

 

Where East meets West: A guide on solo travel to Istanbul

Can a solo female traveler go to Turkey and explore Istanbul without worrying about her safety?

Not only is my answer yes, I also believe that Turkey is a great destination for solo female travelers and a perfect introduction to the Middle East.

Last September, when I proudly announced that I was travelling to Istanbul alone, I was met with the usual amount of skepticism, worry and doubt, mostly from my family. The common notion that Turkey is a ‘Muslim’ country in the Middle East was their main concern. And when a young 24-year old Indian woman decided to explore Istanbul on her own, my family couldn’t digest it well.

But I calmly reassured them that Turkey is a very safe country and that I was going no matter what they said; I continued to plan and coordinate my first solo trip.

Aya Sofya/Hagia Sophia: a basilica turned into a mosque which is further turned into a museum

Aya Sofya/Hagia Sophia: a basilica turned into a mosque which is further turned into a museum

Here are my 6 tips for solo female travelers in Istanbul.

Turks are the most hospitable people

After spending six months in Germany, I arrived in Istanbul with a huge suitcase, another huge backpack, a laptop bag and a hand bag. You can imagine how I was struggling not just with my luggage but also with the underground metro, the directions, the language, the address of my hotel and what not.

A young Turkish man who happened to be in the same metro not just helped me in searching my hotel, but he also carried my suitcase, delayed an appointment of his and made sure that I safely reached the hotel. Not once did he try to flirt with me or take undue advantage of me being a foreigner and totally lost in the big city.

You just need to give people a chance. Honestly, I have felt safer in Istanbul than I have ever felt in Delhi.

The Turkish hospitality is amazing. Turks are kind and very friendly. One can’t and shouldn’t stereotype a country because it is a Muslim country and lies in the Middle East. Turkey is a very east-meets-west country, with many girls dressing the same way as Westerners, working and living just like you or me. There are good people and bad people in every country. You just need to give people a chance. Honestly, I have felt safer in Istanbul than I have ever felt in Delhi.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Make friends on Couchsurfing

As I was doing a solo trip in Istanbul and didn’t know anyone there, I thought it is a good idea to make some friends beforehand. So I logged into Couchsurfing and searched for students and young people living in Istanbul who would be interested in meeting people from other countries and have a cultural exchange with them.

I made two friends via CS, whom I then met while I was in Istanbul. They showed me around, which is yet another great way to explore a city with a local and going off the touristic track rather than with a map and a Lonely Planet in your hand. Needless to say, I’m very glad I took this step as I made some great friends and spent amazing time with them which I’ll always cherish.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Book your hotel in a well-crowded place

This is the single most important thing while travelling solo. Istanbul is pretty much safe but still to be on the ‘double safer’ side, I would suggest that one should book hotels in well-crowded and touristic places. When I booked my hotels in Turkey, I did a lot of research and carefully chose ones that were perfect for women travelling alone.

Research where you will stay. Read the reviews; ask other people who have been there for suggestions. Don’t sacrifice saving a few bucks to stay in a hotel in a bad area. When you check in, think about what the area will be like after dark and if you have to walk back alone.

When you check in, think about what the area will be like after dark and if you have to walk back alone.

I would suggest looking at websites such as Neredekal and booking.com  for hotel bookings. Sultanahmet is a good area to book a hotel in. Taksim is very central, but probably costlier. Fatih is again a good area and is also well connected with trams and a metro which directly goes to the airport.

At the Topkapi Palace and the Prince Islands in my background.

At the Topkapi Palace and the Prince Islands in my background.

Blend in

Nothing works more than a warm and friendly tourist who really wants to know about the country and its culture rather than just sight-seeing and clicking away photos. Don’t be afraid, interact with people and ask questions if you have any. Locals love to talk about their surroundings and narrate little stories attached to the various monuments.

Although I saw tourists in all kind of clothes, I would suggest carrying a scarf and a thin cardigan all the time. It can get a little chilly in the evenings and it’s always nice to feel warm with a hot chocolate overlooking the Bosphorous.

At the Blue Mosque

At the Blue Mosque

Say ‘No’ when you have to, but politely

Turkish men are flirtatious and they will approach you, try to chat up with you and ask for a coffee, etc. This happened to me several times during my week long trip in Istanbul. But not once did any one of them tried to force themselves upon me after I politely but firmly said, No.

More important is managing your body language. Turkish women pay no attention to strange men. Foreign women may think it is rude not to respond when a handsome young man asks “Where are you from?” Turkish men may read more into your message than you intend to offer. I saw dozens of single women who visited Turkey and seemed totally fine and well with their experiences in Istanbul.

At the Dolmabahce Palace

At the Dolmabahce Palace

Least to say, be smart and alert

Needless to say, one should stay alert and be smart whenever one is travelling, be it India, Europe or the Middle East. The usual things apply, like don’t accept food or drinks from total strangers, take care of your belongings, be conscious of your surroundings, etc.

If you are concerned about being alone, then don’t be alone. Stay in a hostel and make friends, join a day tour or research group activities. There are plenty of ways to be with people when you are travelling alone.

Over time you will learn caution, and learn to read situations better while traveling that can keep you from getting into danger. This takes time and experience

Panoramic view of the city from the Galata Tower.

Panoramic view of the city from the Galata Tower.

 

Disclaimer: This article was first published on Women’s Web on March 12, 2014.