When I was a young boy growing up in Bombay as Mumbai was then called, women could not enter restaurants even to have a cup of tea. The only restaurants for the middle-class in Mumbai then were the Irani restaurants and women never entered them. These restaurants had what were called "family rooms" screened by a curtain for women patrons, but they had acquired a sleazy reputation and no decent woman went there, either with family or husband. The result: restaurants were all-male affairs.
It was the Shettys from Mangalore who changed all that in the late ’60s. Through what came to be called "Udupi restaurants", they brought in a new restaurant culture that enabled even single women to walk in and have a meal without raising an eyebrow. This happened at a time when women began to enter the work force in greater numbers. To them, these restaurants were a godsend.
Which is why it is strange that those who turned the clock forward in Mumbai in the ’60s, should now be turning the clock backward in their own home district of South Kanara or Dakshina Kannada. They have taken it on themselves to beat up and molest women who, they think, should not be seen in pubs. Sadly, the Chief Minister of the State has chosen to support these Huns who ran amok on seeing young women having a meal at a pub on a Saturday afternoon, and perhaps washing it down with a glass of beer.
Their actions are clearly born of desperation. They see themselves as losing control over women and are desperate enough to attempt to stop it by beating them up if necessary. Beating up a woman requires the least amount of courage anyway, be it done in the home or outside.
Historically, in times of rapid change, it is men who have felt most threatened because women seem to make the transition to change more seamlessly. I had a reporter colleague from Tamil Nadu in the Times in the ’80s who used to boast that he would never allow his wife to wear trousers because they were a male prerogative! He felt no embarrassment about it and was the butt of many a joke at a time when women were beginning to stream into journalism.
I remember as a boy in the 1950s, one of the big controversies in my parish church was whether women should wear sleaveless dresses, tight skirts and lipstick! Parish Bulletins debated the subject and most men felt that women coming to church in any of these should be refused Holy Communion, so that they would be shamed before the whole congregation! Sad, but true! No one bats an eyelid today at women going to church or temples in jeans and T-shirts!
In the 1990s, Muslim women used to have their ears cut off in some small towns of Maharashtra because someone decided that they should not visit cinemas. About the same time, Muslims in the suburb of Jogeshwari in Mumbai hit the headlines because they were advised to throw their TV sets out of their living rooms. Which they did!
In Afghanistan, girls are advised not to go to school. Those who do have acid thrown at them! Different times, different places, same story! And yet, in Mumbai today, it is Muslim girls who are increasingly getting into the merit ranks at the SSC and HSC exams! When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
In the 19 century, the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II saw women’s role in society as "Kinder, K?che, Kirche", meaning "children, kitchen, church". A century later, Hitler adopted this as the foundation of the new society he visualised ? women were barred from medicine, the law and civil service and squeezed out of many occupations through bribes or coercions, to meet the needs of the Nazi state. Women’ horizons were limited to the 3Ks of Children, Kitchen and Church to provide cannon fodder for the German army.
The coming of information technology and globalisation in the 1990s has seen more and more women enter the work force and free themselves from economic dependence on men. Which is what has made our cavemen friends in Mangalore desperate enough to beat up women in full view of TV cameras. "Get back to making babies, idlis and being Sati Savitris" is their message.
They will not succeed even with Chief Minister Yeddyurappa’s support! Of that you can rest assured! In any case, the poor man has troubles of his own answering questions about his wife’s death. He has already acknowledged that the case is the "biggest crisis of his life". So be it! That and the Ram Sene may well turn out to be his Achilles heel!
About The Author
Allwyn Fernandes has been engaged in research and analysis on social and political issues for the past 39 years — the first 25 years as a senior journalist with The Times of India, and the past 14 years in briefing and training senior management in India and abroad in communicating through media. He has also written several books, the last one being a biography of the late Mr. M.R. Pai, the consumer activist who was better known as India’s Ralph Nader.
Author: Allwyn Fernandes- Mumbai