SONGSOPTOK:  What is your earliest memory about being a boy?
SUBRATO MITRA: The occasion of ‘Bhai Phonta’ and the dish full sweets.

SONGSOPTOK:  Where did you go to school? Was it a boys’ school? If yes, then why do you think your parents send you to a school for boys? If not, why?
SUBRATO MITRA: Two different schools at Agra (one till 5th, and second till 12th). Both were boys schools. Don’t think my parents did it deliberately as in those days co-educational schools were not very common in a small city.

SONGSOPTOK:   A lot of studies indicate that the gender segregation starts in school. What is your experience?
SUBRATO MITRA:  Yes, it does. Had no personal experience.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you remember any incident(s) from your childhood where you witnessed gender discrimination? What are your thoughts about that?
SUBRATO MITRA:  No, not at least in our home. My grandmother, late Leela Mitra, till she lived, was undisputed head of the family and my father, only adult male member in house, never objected to her wishes. My grandmother was a very enlightened lady and had participated in freedom movement actively. She was a member of Congress in Bagherhat subdivision of Khulna District (now in Bangladesh) and had served a jail sentence too. I remember her reading ‘Anandobazar Patrika’ (it used to reach two days late in Agra) and sitting beside her, I learned reading Bangla. My father had to support a large family including my aunts, the family always faced financial constrains, but there was no compromise on food and education. There were always newspapers and periodicals to read and discuss.
The environment was also comparatively very peaceful and far more tolerant to women. We seldom heard about molestation, rape or dowry deaths. Yes, domestic violence was surely there and unfortunately witnessed a few cases in our locality.

SONGSOPTOK:  Now going on to college / university – what according to you were the advantages / disadvantages of being a man? Were there any disadvantages at all? Do you think that women were treated fairly by the educational institutions?
SUBRATO MITRA: My college life was brief, only of two years (graduation was of two years then). Can’t remember any specific case of gender discrimination. Looking back, I am sanguine that women were safer in those days, though their number out of home was comparatively small. Had female classmates and also female teachers. Have very few, but good memories.

SONGSOPTOK:  A lot has been written about the unsafe environment in India for women, especially on public transports. What is your personal experience? Has the situation deteriorated over time? Are the streets of your city less safe today than let us say a decade back? If so, what is you analysis of the situation?
SUBRATO MITRA: Very true that women are not always safe in public transports in India. Incidents happen and in most of such situations, people around do not wish to get involved. Once during a journey to Nagpur from Patna in a 3-A compartment, I was a witness to such a situation. But as there were quite a few young female students present, they collectively protested and the man was handed over to authorities at Itarasi junction. The situation has certainly deteriorated over time. Yes, city streets can’t be called safe these days.
Sadly with the increase in communication facilities and education, the intolerance against women has increased. Dowry rates have climbed and so have the dowry deaths. It’s a harrowing world around us and I can’t hope to see any immediate improvement in the present situation. In my opinion the lack of political will, unwillingness / inefficiency of police and snail’s pace of our judicial system are main reasons.

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, to what extent is the patriarchal society in India responsible for the status of women? Do you see any reflection of the patriarchal control in your own/extended family?
SUBRATO MITRA: The patriarchal society in India is certainly responsible for secondary position of women in our society. Many age-old traditions compelled traditional Indian women to play a somewhat inferior role. Some positive changes have crept in, but more is required.
Fortunately, in my extended family there is no major patriarchal control. Girls/daughters enjoy same importance. We, three brothers and two sisters are parents of 3 girls and 4 boys.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that social status (caste, class, affluence) plays a significant role in how women are treated in India? How? Are there significant differences in the status of women in urban & rural India?
SUBRATO MITRA: Yes. Just look at the difference to treatment meted out to a woman officer, an ordinary housewife and a housemaid. But I think same is true for men too. Social status certainly plays a significant role for both genders.

SONGSOPTOK: Would you say that there is equal treatment of women in the workplace? Are women given the same opportunities as men? Has the situation evolved compared to the earlier generation?
SUBRATO MITRA: Have no personal experience, but so many newspapers reports can’t be wrong.

SONGSOPTOK:  Has the position and status of women evolved at home compared to your mother’s generation? Do women today have more decision-making power within the family structure? Can you explain your answer?
SUBRATO MITRA: Yes, women today have more decision-making power within the family structure as most of them are earning members of the family.

SONGSOPTOK:  If you’re the parent of a girl child, how are your concerns different from your mother’s generation? If you’re the parent of a boy child, do you take initiative to discuss matters of gender equality with him?
SUBRATO MITRA: I’m not a parent of a girl child, but I have three nieces and all of them are treated equally. Children of next generation, in my family, have a strong bond and keep regular touch with each other though living in distant cities (San Jose, New York, London, Kolkata, Khragpur, Bangaluru and Mumbai

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, what needs to be done to improve the situation of women not only in India but all over the world? How can women contribute – at home, at work, at social & political levels?
SUBRATO MITRA: Difficult to answer, as many things are already are in process. I think these must be pursued more vigorously and sincerely.



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