Why India needs Feminism

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend, and the conversation somehow turned to sexual harassment. (Yes, that does happen!) I asked him if he’d ever been sexually harassed. “Not as far as I remember” he answered.

I began narrating my first encounter with sexual harassment, as one of those incidents in your past that you look back and chuckle at. Before I knew it, instance after instance flooded my mind, and I began recounting every single time I had been sexually harassed: in school (multiple times!), in buses, rickshaws, crowded places, you name it. And this was without even considering the times I had been leered or whistled at!

As single incidents, they had seemed inconsequential, trivial even. Why get riled up about something that was now a part of daily life? But grouped together, they implied one simple thing that has been overlooked for too long. There’s something terribly wrong with our society.

I had always heard the stories, the statistics. Joked with my friends about how getting harassed in public places was a part of daily life. How it happened at least once to every girl. And since this was not going to change, how we had to learn to protect ourselves.

I still remember ‘holding the bag’ technique, which my mum had taught me that when I was barely 12, as men kept ‘accidentally’ touching my chest as I followed her around the crowded market. You basically maintain a guarded stance with your hand crossed in front of your chest and your elbow jutting out, under the pretense of clutching your bag. And whenever a man brushes too close by, you hit him with your elbow or fist, just enough to keep him at a distance.

I thought nothing of it at the time. Until last year, a friend from Chennai came to stay at my place for a few days, and I had to teach her the technique. “Warrior pose” she called it, laughing at my serious face as I insisted she maintain that pose whenever we were in a crowded place.

But “warrior pose” was an apt term for whatever that was. Because although we don’t realize it, we are at war. We’re at war if every time we enter a public space, we are scared, or worse, oblivious to the ‘male gaze’. We’re at war if sexual harassment is so common, we don’t even recognize it as harassment anymore.

And that’s why India needs Feminism. Because no person; man, woman or other, should feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a space that’s fundamentally meant for everyone.

Advertisements

AIB Roast: National Shame?

Recently, a group of comedians in India decided to try something new to break the monotony of Indian comedy. So they decided to organize a roast, similar to the ones aired by Comedy Central.

What is a roast? It is an anti-toast, where you invite guests and make them the subject of all your jokes. It is supposed to be in good spirit since the guests are able to laugh at themselves, along with the audience of course!

This is exactly what AIB tried to do. Now I love them, and their YouTube videos are hilarious, but I didn’t find the roast to be the most hilarious thing. Though it was funny and entertaining enough, the roast was a failure. Not because it wasn’t popular enough or funny enough. But because it happened in India.

Some Indians found this roast to be extremely obscene and against ‘Indian values’, so much so that they started calling it a national shame. They attacked the celebrities who had been at the receiving end of all the jokes, and had sportingly laughed at themselves. They labelled as hypocrites the actresses who had earlier fought against their own sexualization or objectification for laughing along. A complaint was filed against AIB with the police, and finally AIB took the video off YouTube.

So this post goes out to all the Indians that felt elated or victorious when the video was taken down. Bravo. Of all the problems Indians face, such as poverty, unemployment, pollution, corruption, sexual harassment and rape, you identified and curbed the biggest of them all: Comedy.

And what a huge problem it is! These people actually learned to laugh when others called them black, fat, gay or a sexual predator! If that isn’t against Indian values, then what is? And the amount of abuses that were thrown around during the roast! It’s not like we let shows such as Roadies air on TV, that we can let a roast video be on YouTube. How dare Karan Johar blatantly act gay (stressing on the word act) on stage? How can Sonakshi Sinha and Alia Bhatt laugh on being called fat and dumb? Deepika Padukone created such a big scene when Times of India printed a zoomed in picture of her cleavage. Look at her laugh at a joke related to that incident now. What a hypocrite!

The real hypocrite is you. You, who quietly watch as news of religious intolerance and sexual harassment floods the newspapers. You, who silently blame the victim. You, who will not stop once to take someone who has been in an accident to the hospital, who will look on impassively at the injustice happening all around you, but will raise your voice to take down a roast video from YouTube for being offensive.

The real culprit, the person going against Indian values, is you.

The Woman on the Train

It was a day like any other.

I left my house at 11 am; all decked up and ready for college. Catching a rickshaw, I reached Ghatkopar railway station. My college R. A. Podar, in Matunga, was four stations away.

I walked towards the platform at a quickened pace, keeping my eyes focused on the ground in front of me. I ignored the men around me, as they stripped me naked with their eyes. ‘Be careful to not meet the eyes of the men passing by; they might take it as an invitation’ a woman’s voice rang in my head, as I weaved my way around a throng of men blatantly staring at my bosom.

I boarded the train, making sure I entered the II Class women’s compartment. As the train began to move, I positioned myself near the doorway and stared dreamily at the passing greenery and filth, lost in my own thoughts.

I was woken from my reverie with a loud and resounding B%#nch$d. Startled, I turned to look for the source of this expletive. Standing at the back of the compartment was a petite woman of 5’2 with short brown hair. She was wearing a plain T-shirt and jeans. I would’ve easily mistaken her for a guy.

This little creature was glaring at someone in the adjoining general compartment, which was separated from ours by a wall of closely spaced iron rods. lf. And through the tiny space between the rods, she started screaming at a man.

“Ladki ko chhedta hai? Tereme tameez nai hai kya? Ghoor kya raha hai? Abhi udhar aau kya?”

 (Harassing a woman, are you? Why are you staring here? Should I come there now?)

Suddenly everyone started fidgeting. The women in this compartment. The men in the other. Her anger was frightening. Apparently the man had been staring at and/or passing lewd comments about her/someone sitting next to her. As the train screeched to a halt at Kurla station, she jumped out of our compartment and into the next one. We craned our necks, waiting to see what would happen next. It was a full-on tamasha.

As she pushed her way through the throng of men in that crowded compartment, the guy she had been yelling at jumped out of the other door; right on the tracks. He then ran across them and climbed the platform on the other side. Just to get away from her.

At the next railway station, Sion, she clambered back into our compartment. There was a huge commotion; with a few women stepping forward to grasp her hand, to support and congratulate her. Everyone else proceeded to discuss this event right in front of her. Some complimenting her bravery, while a few middle-aged women felt sorry for the guy, who was just ‘being a man’.

I just stood there, looking at her. I had this overwhelming urge to walk up to her and applaud her courage. To talk to her. But I stood rooted in my spot. Looking at her in awe. Wondering if I could ever be confident enough. Imagining what a different place this would be if all women were confident enough.

Ache Din Aane Wale Hai

This one’s long overdue.

In the past 1-2 months, who hasn’t heard these words?! This ‘song’ has been played over and over, on the television, the radio; I have read these words a billion times on Facebook and on Twitter. Especially the during the elections and on the day results were announced.

These words are supposed to symbolize hope. Hope for progress, for less poverty, for more employment. And most importantly, for less corruption. These words used to (and still do!) fill Indian hearts with warmth and hope and happiness and security. They show the belief Indians have that one man, this one man, will wave his magic wand and make everything alright.

Let’s get this straight people. He’s not Dumbledore!

And what do these words really mean for us? The idea of Democracy, at least in my opinion, is that people make independent, rational, informed decisions on who to vote for, based on their stands on issues, or their assurance of solving them.

Though this result seems like a major win, to me it seems like a devastating loss. The loss of peoples’ minds. The loss of their ability to distinguish between their own opinions, and the influence of advertising. The loss of rationality.

These past two months, people weren’t thinking along the lines of ‘Congress has been in power for 10 years, let’s see what other parties have to offer and if they are more adept at solving our social and economic problems.’ or whatever it is  that they think. All they were doing, is mindlessly humming ‘Hum Modiji ko lane wale hai, Ache din aane wale hai’ over and over in their heads.

This is a huge win for Modi. He has not just succeeded in winning the elections, he has succeeded in almost brainwashing a million people into blindly believing in him, in creating a cult. You never know when this ‘Modi fever’ will evolve into a religion by itself. Watch out, Narendra Modi could be the next Jesus Christ or Mohammad.

No, I’m not being paranoid. And I’m not saying that Modi is an evil villain set out to rule the world, or even India! He might turn out to be just what India needs right now. I really hope he does. My problem is the fact that no one is ready to even consider that he might not be  as awesome as everyone hopes he is.

 

P.S. No offence to any religion, or any Modi-lover.

 

Of Men and Manliness

Yesterday, a very annoying friend pointed out to me that my blog is women empowermentish. He’s right.

Because this issue haunts my mind . And I know, too much has been said, nothing has been done to the point that people are sick of even talking or reading about this issue.

So today, I’m gonna speak for the men. Believe it or not, they suffer as much as women to break out of stereotypical gender identity.

These are the words of the Man in the Mirror. 

Let’s start with masculinity. What does it really mean? Not being feminine. Masculinity and femininity have always balanced each other out, one being the negation of the other.

But how do we know what not to  be when the women don’t know what to be?! As women break the boundaries of female gender roles,  the answer to ‘what is masculine’ becomes weaker and more vague. They say masculinity is threatened by women empowerment. Yes, it actually is!

Just as women have suffered the restrictions gender roles create, men have too. There are men who like to pay attention to their looks. Men who love to cook. Men who’d love nothing better than to stay at home, look after the house and care for the kids. But even they have been forced to get out of the house and do something they might not like because ‘it’s a man’s job to earn’.

And everyone is labelled today! Intelligent guys are nerds, geeks. Athletic ones are dumb jocks. Some guys are considered ‘feminine’. And labelled gay. The over-masculine guys are considered butch and overcompensating for something. And labelled gay. Then there’s the nice guy/asshole divide. So I’m under pressure to be athletic and good-looking, but also fairly smart, be just the right amount of masculine, and of course, have plenty of money. Once I’ve achieved the perfect balance of this all, I then need to cultivate more qualities that women want in men.

We got enough problems of our own, but then we’re to deal with the women’s problems! Their insecurity. Their need to feel pretty. To feel empowered. Hey do whatever you wanna do, but deal with it yourself. Like a Man!

Oh yeah! Like a Man. Be a man! Fight, confront, be brave, be confident. That’s what we hear all the time. Is it that wrong to just be ourselves?

Sometimes I think it’d be easier to be a woman. Then I think of periods and childbirth, of molestation, of dowry.

I guess it’s better to be a man in this world, than a woman.

 

So….. What do you guys think? Have I covered the problems of the urban man? If you have something you’d like to add, comment below!

 

History of Marriage in India

In India, or even elsewhere in the world for that matter, we talk about marriage as something very sacred and personal. A meeting of souls, we say. And cheating or divorce is disrespecting the sanctity of marriage.

But let’s pause and review what marriage is really about. (in India)

First humans lived in a community where everyone had the freedom to choose their sexual partners! Well, at least women did. Apparently, if a man refused the advances of a woman, he was labelled a eunuch! Hurrah for us!

The children were also raised by the entire community, kinda like a huge joint family without the complicated relations!

Then, one guy was scandalized to see his mum having sexual relations with another man right in front of his father! And he decided to bring in the concept of marriage, so that every child would know who his father was!

Basically they thought marriage would be feasible since they now had individual property which they wanted their progeny to inherit! But don’t be misleaded. This only meant that women could have only one husband. The men could still have multiple wives!

Now the Hindu religion demands that every man have at least one son. But just to be safe, because of high mortality rates, they would want to have many! And of course multiple wives were very helpful in fulfilling such whims.

But slowly the society settled on monogamy, and polygamy was left to the royals. But among the men were those who were asexual or impotent. Some died without fathering a son. And so came up the concept of niyoga. Niyoga allowed the wife to have sexual relations with another man (sometimes the husband’s brother) in order to give birth to a son! And yes, he would be considered the husband’s son.

For this practice, it was acceptable for a woman to be with four men in her lifetime, including her husband. If she was with four men she would be considered a whore. (Hence the whole drama with Draupadi in Mahabharata. The problem wasn’t that she would be with more than one man, the problem was that she would be with more then four!)

Slowly, that was stopped too, claiming that women are ravenous and sexually insatiable beasts who need to be controlled for their own good! (‘Cause men are so innocent) And there they were, trapped within the four walls of their house and being denied education; but let’s not delve into that!

You would say all that is in the past. Marriage today is a bond between equals, at least for the urban educated people. But here’s a secret. When the niyoga practice was abolished, they devised a method to keep the women faithful to their husband.

Have you ever wondered what the priests keep muttering and chanting during marriage?! Well in one of the ceremonies they marry you to three gods; Chandra (Moon), Brihaspati (Jupiter) and some other random god. The idea is that your husband then becomes the fourth man you have been with. If you are then with another guy in your life, you are technically, a whore!

So however modern you might be, or think that the present is very different from your past, it is all an illusion. Marriage was, is and will remain a social construct; and a billion dollar industry where you spend money trying to legitimize your relationship to the world.

And this folks, is the ugly truth.

If you have any comments, I would love to hear them!