Interestingly, India accounts for the second largest number of female smokers after the United States.
A female is different not only in sexuality but also in how upbringing, conditioned and considered by society at large. We are a nation where women have succumbed to the patriarchal norms existing since primitive times. Just as a man crying on the phone in a cafe will seem strange and gather attention. Similarly, a woman smoking right outside that cafe will raise eyebrows. She will be judged as 'immoral' as the man will be as 'weak.' The reason why it is extreme in India is that we are stuck in this uncomfortable cross between 'what we are conditioned to consider right' and 'what we are slowly being conditioned to consider rather cool.'
Nowadays, every smoker is always suggested from non-smokers about the hazards of smoking. But for men, the advice is limited to health concerns. For women, it becomes a matter of character, morality, modesty and female reproductive organs.
An Indian female is 'associated' with her kurtas, bindis, and jhumkas. But more than often, if she accessorizes her look with a puff of a cigarette, she'll be considered as a non-Indian. Why? They can adorn themselves with accessories, but can't smoke! And if she does, she's a rebel! How can 'looking Indian' prevent one from being a smoker?
In our society, if a male passes by with a cigarette in his hand, the onlookers never pay heed. But, if the same is done by a female smoker, statements like,' It is just not right. You people cannot do it; you are a bunch of decent girls. How can you do this?' are heard
buzzing in the area. Even in the virtual space, a man putting a display picture of him smoking is considered as a 'cool quotient.’ But, if the same act is undertaken by a female, the only comment ringing in space would be, ‘cannot believe the culture has gone down like this.'
Smoking is a big issue in India and when a woman is smoking it is considered a sin. Why is it so? Any woman is an individual. She can take decisions on her own, and then why can’t she smoke? We see men smoking in public, and no one judges them, but when we look at a woman lighting up a cigarette, everyone around starts judging her.
In India, there are certain things people do not expect a woman to do and smoking is one of them. When a woman buys a pack of cigarette, people around think as it is not only injurious to her health, but also for a woman it is damaging to her ‘character.'
As a smoker, one sincerely hopes that the cigarette does not possess the ability to tell the gender of its patron. The game changes when you see yourself as the bad guy in the eyes of other people, even if they don’t express it in words.