Baby to Didi, Aunty to Maa Ji : Harini Calamur on How Age Diminishes Indian Women

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Age is a real issue in a woman’s life. Once a woman crosses a certain age, she is expected to wrap up her studies and ambitions and look for her marital and reproductive prospects. Often, women are respected and valued only until they are able to reproduce. Once they reach menopause, it is portrayed as an end of their right to be treated as a person with wroth, desires and choices. But why is society so obsessed with woman’s age?

Why can’t it let women thrive irrespective of their age? Why are marriage and reproduction the only means to define a woman’s worth in society? Harini Calamur who is an entrepreneurs and society-observer speaks to SheThePeople. Here is an excerpt of the interview.

Why is society at large so obsessed with “when a woman crosses a certain age”?

It primarily has to do with reproduction and fertility. Before the medical revolution happened, people died early. They got married at 18, spent the rest of the 22 years with the person they married and then died at 40. Menopause itself was rare because women didn’t live long enough to hit menopause. So much of our lives and our customs are based on fertility and reproduction. It is completely hardwired into us that after a certain age a woman cannot reproduce and therefore is she even worth anything. Because so much of our identity is tied with the fact that we can bear children. It is a perception that agar tumhare paas bache nhi hai toh tumne kiya kya hai? Ageism affects both men and women. But when it comes to women, it is not just the fact that they are older it is also as though they have been diminished by their body changing with time.

Where will the change come from?

It will come from women. It is women who put the pressure on themselves that I need to be a good wife or I need to be a good mother. If I don’t do all this, I am somewhere less than what I should be. So the change will come from women. And I am already seeing that- with more and more women desiring to go childless voluntarily, with more and more women across the world saying that they don’t want to be in a relationship or they don’t want to be a mother and with adoption becoming more and more normalised. I think it will take time but it will happen. Some years down the line, it will not matter how old you are, whether you can reproduce or not, whether you are born a woman or not. I think right now it is a struggle to get there. We can all just keep trying. And be more empathetic towards people who make these choices rather than judging them.

Have you ever been called out for age? And what was your reaction?

My team sometimes pulls my legs and says stop being so old-fashioned, stop being so boomer or politically incorrect. But I don’t think there has been any active discrimination as such. But the most obvious change is when you morph from being baby to didi to aunty to maa ji.

Some people call me didi while others call me aunty. It is how people respond. Nobody ever asks you whether you want to be an aunty or didi or whether it really impacts your sense of self. The outside world is addressing you through the place of respect. So you can’t really look at them and say that you are being discriminatory.

There’s a whole bunch of education that needs to be done. There’s a whole bunch of sensitisation that needs to be done. The discrimination that happens is less about people or the way they behave with you. Because in India especially a lot of respect is given to senior citizens. It may be irritating and clawing at times. I think the bigger question is how do you build the infrastructure for the seniors.

One of the biggest reasons why I moved from Mumbai to Pune a year ago was because my mother couldn’t stand up to a pavement. The pavements were high. I find Pune senior citizen-friendly. The pavements are low, buildings have ramps so that it is easy for seniors to climb up and climb down. There are a whole bunch of very subtle things about building and planning to make life simpler. And I think that’s where the focus should lie.

I don’t think people are a problem, especially in India. But you will find a whole bunch of areas being restricted to people of a certain age simply because they are inaccessible to others. This is something we need to look at very carefully.

Why do we pay so much attention to physical appearance still when people are delivering in this digital world in a way that we don’t even know what is their age or where they come from?

Really old people and children make us aware of our mortality. We don’t want to think that we are old. As far as physical appearance is concerned, I think it needs to be about health. Do you really wanna work with somebody who is unhealthy? I think it is being articulated wrongly as having a perfect body as opposed to having decent fitness. We need to be able to look at these two things differently. It doesn’t matter whether a person is 25 or 55. It is important to see if they can work without dropping down with exhaustion. But what about physical health? What about mental health? There should be allowances for everything in a workplace environment. The question is how you orient a workplace towards empathizing with the fact that people might not have perfect bodies or perfect minds and you have to allow for that diversity. I don’t think it should be about the body but about fitness. There is no such thing as perfect.