How Sita, Sunny and Savita can teach Pappu Yadav a lesson

When will women stop looking over their shoulders in fearful trepidation?

 |  Below The Belt  |  4-minute read |   17-06-2015
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At eleven, taking my first ever flight from Kolkata to Nepal, I had made up my mind. I wanted to be an air hostess. Flying seemed like the coolest job. The way she looked. So perfect. So thin. Such pretty eyelashes. Short skirt. Stockings. The smile. The works.

It was a profession I knew nothing about. Except being told that those who didn’t fare well in their academics would wind up there. My closest reference to the business was a maternal aunt – with a reputation of being extremely talented, but wayward. A rebel, in our staunchly middle class Bong family of professors and service class people. A sore thumb.


Just a couple of months back, our cook’s daughter, six-year-old Sreelekha asked me if she could be an air hostess. It reminded me of myself. I smiled, said it was a super idea, considering she would get to travel all the time, and be up in the skies. Sreelekha strangely didn't look too satisfied with my response, confessing later that her friend had told her in school that the job was "ganda". Her friend's father had apparently told her saying, "Unnko ulti saaf karna padta hain. Naukrani banna hain tujhe? Jhuthe tray uthana hain...? (They are required to clean vomit. Do you really want to be a maid? Clean people's leftovers?)"


This morning, as I read about Bihar MP Pappu Yadav’s allegedly misbehaving with an air hostess aboard a Patna-Delhi Jet Airways flight - that compelled the captain to seek priority landing in the capital and request for security presence at the arrival gate - I couldn’t help but wonder, if we nurse a deep-seated prejudice against women in certain vocations?

I feel this way having faced a barrage of questions in the years I worked as a lifestyle journalist, especially from prospective mother-in-laws about covering Page 3 parties and returning really late from work.

The typical mindset that stereotypes all female journalists as "fast" that stretches to all women in advertising and media as those who smoke and drink freely, dress provocatively, and talk back, sans fear.

That same attitude the way we singled out actress Anushka Sharma when Team India lost in the World Cup against Australia in the semi-final. How everyone blamed her for ushering bad luck to her boyfriend, Virat Kohli.

India apparently ranks 114 out of 142 nations on World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index. On economic participation and opportunity, India slipping to 134. Its female to male ratio in labour force participation is a startling 0.36. Along with having one of the lowest percentages of firms with female participation in ownership.


"While having lunch on the flight, 1A [Pappu’s seat number] dropped the dessert on his bag kept near his feet and asked the crew to clean it. [He] told the crew, MPs don’t do this work. 1A took off his chappal and showed it [to] the crew. Told the crew he would hit them with it if the crew told him anything. For landing, 1A refused to upright his seat and unfastened his seatbelt... After opening doors, 1A manhandled me and pushed me aside with force to get out of the aircraft... I went to the cockpit to inform the captain. I was in tears and physically hurt," read the complaint filed by the Jet Airways staff.

What makes our men breathe a sign of relief only when a woman is a mother. A wife. A roti-maker. The pativrata bharatiya nari who quits her career, after her kids are born. Who follows her husband while taking the pheras. Who would once sit on top of a blazing funeral pyre.

A Sati. A sinner. A single woman.


The Jet Airways incident comes nearly a year after five passengers, aged between 24-26, who had allegedly molested four hostesses on an Indigo flight air-bound from Vadodhara to Delhi.

The episode occurred when an accused asked an air hostess to provide him and his friends with liquor and non-vegetarian food. When she declined them, saying it was a low-cost domestic flight and that they don’t serve booze, the men began to abuse her. When the other air hostesses tried to intervene and request the men to sit back, they went on to molest them, all the while passing lewd sexual comments.

What gives men extra guts to manhandle a woman at work? What gives them the moral upper-hand to shame her choice of livelihood? What cultural sacredness are men scared we may soil? Which lakshman rekha must we never cross in this lifetime? Which woman must we never become?

Savita bhabhi? Sunny Leone? Sita maiyya

When can we stop looking over our shoulders in fearful trepidation?

Why didn’t the Jet Airways crew file a police complaint at once? Why was no action taken by the airlines to demonstrate solidarity towards their harrowed staff? Was it Pappu Yadav’s political clout; the fact that his wife is also an MP?

Or that we cannot win…

How safe are women in the sky? At mall entrances? Over shop counters? In kitchens? In cinema halls? In restaurants?

When we will learn how to give it back? When will this crude sexual harassment stop?

How many stories of every day sexism must we not read about...


Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist based in Delhi. She's the author of Faraway Music, Sita's Curse and You've Got The Wrong Girl! Also, a columnist on sexuality and gender and the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

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