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March 8th.

The other day, I was watching this episode on TV where you could request for songs. The VJ asked this caller if she knew what March 8th is. "I don't know," quipped the girl. "It's International day for Women", he said and asked the 15-year-old girl to clap!! Such is the state of affairs. Even educated girls/women are not aware of this day. It is sad. I am not sure if we should even celebrate this day because on that particular day, the morning newspaper will have at least one photograph of a woman begging/working hard and the caption will run as - 'when the world celebrates International woman's day, women in India continue to be second rate citizens!'

Not a single woman in this whole country is going to get flowers, worse, most will not even be aware and well, the day is going to pass just like any other day. Most women in our country will probably laugh at the fact that we want to celebrate because, we don't celebrate womanhood in this country: one of the few countries where women were considered equal to men even in the Vedic times. We don't want to think of womanhood and rights because, every day we try to ignore insults - the TV channels which continue to show 'Man is better than Woman', the eve teasers on the road who continue to have fun because women don't want to take the trouble to book a case in the police station because women are taught in this country to "ignore than fight".

Amidst all this is a country, which is under developed, a country whose name is mostly not heard of by many, a country which has such vast land with beautiful landscapes and a country where people think "only fools visit" - Kazakhstan, a land where most people live below poverty line.

Like I have written earlier about Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, there are more beggars in the house than on the streets, because, the country's economy is in tatters. Most industries are now closed and unemployment is rampant. When I first visited Almaty, I was startled because most women easily made a living as prostitutes and pornography was a common thing. There were pictures in the local buses that made us uneasy to travel by them. I was concerned about this. I could not believe that women could be treated any better. When passers-by stopped to compliment me, I ran. When taxi drivers spoke about Nargis and Raj Kapoor and said Indian women are beautiful, I froze because, I thought that they were impolite.

But come March 8th, it's a different scene. "Oesim Marth" translating to March 8th is pronounced 'Vasmayamartha' which is the International Women's day is a very special day in Kazakhstan. This is one day that all women look forward to. On this particular day, the whole country celebrates womanhood. Women get flowers and gifts. The city square is decorated and women enjoy their day. This is probably one of the very few countries that attach importance to this particular day. Men, that day, buy flowers for all the women they know - from their mom to wife to friends to cousins to anyone. Here women also look forward to this because it is probably the only day that is special! During this time, the price of a rose flower will shoot up to 10$ !! But, women continue to get flowers and men continue to give and I pray to God, this trend should never stop.

Here in India, we would probably laugh at such culture. We think that celebrating a day without attaching any divinity is 'not culture'. We scoff at people who celebrate Valentine's Day or mother's day or father's day. We think we respect the person anyway, so, why attach any importance to it. But, we continue to celebrate Birthdays and wedding anniversaries and thank God for that!! We may even feel embarrassed to say that March 8th is international Woman's day for the fear of being branded feminist. Women may continue to work in the hot sun and beg on the streets that particular day but are there any men in this country who will recognize that the person is a woman and she needs a little relief that particular day? And, we continue to look at banners shouting 'International Woman's day' and also watch TV and lounge in our drawing rooms on March 8th. Well, didn't someone say the 'celebration, like charity, begins at home'!

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