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Daily doses of sexism

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There have been way too many times that well meaning male friends, co-workers etc. have given me the “not all men” logic when talking about sexism. One in particular, I remember giggling at the mention of the term believing that too much education has damaged my brain. Typical, right?

This morning and evening, I experienced the typical on road sexism of women can’t drive in very unique ways. This came about when I read the following quote by an early Japanese feminist this morning:

“In the primordial age, woman was once the sun.” – R. Hiratsuka

As this further goes on, she says that woman has been the moon for too long, the moon that takes its light from the other and has an ashen pallor. Reading this made me question and hunt parts or instances of my life where I might be the moon? It was a strange exercise ’cause after a lot of work, I did believe that I have overcome all conditioning of patriarchy meant for my sex and I could start afresh.

One example of being this moon is in making way for others before the self – be it entering a room, be it exiting or even driving on the road. Now, I have known a few men also like that but, they are not totally perceived as masculine in the society and that becomes a bane for them too, bringing in a strange sense of denial of everything masculine. As far as I can remember instances in my life, even while getting out of a rickshaw, I would apologise to the rickshaw driver for taking a little longer to whip out the money but, be angry at the car behind to honk. A couple of times, I got a warm, “don’t worry” from them. My reason? I dont want to be an inconvenience for anyone and wouldn’t entertain another person be one either. I felt it was balanced that way until I was told by a friend that I tend to wait way too long to cross the road and that the other cars can manage their own business. Sigh. Didn’t know this is where my moon shone.

Anyway, so today, I brought the Sun out in almost full blazes. It started first with a man at the petrol pump. As I got ready to turn the key and scoot off from there and the gentleman waited in the queue behind two others, I hear him loudly ask me to move ahead, when in my moving ahead and him immediately gurgling the fuel down his throat tank were totally not related. I know one could say it was a sign of impatience and it very well is but, my question is what made him believe so naturally that he has every right to ask me to do anything and not any of the five others (all male).

On a lighter note, let me self doubt like a ‘woman’, why did he think he could ask me to move as if I was planning to set up camp there? Did I seem to have set up camp there? Oh no.

Anyway, after this, I encountered the silent ‘women can’t drive’ attitude. As I was driving, I could hear a strange whirring sound. Since I could not see anything up until the end of the road in the rear view mirror, I presumed that my engine was a little wonky and must be checked. As I turn some 200 m away after having given the signal, I am suddenly faced with this wiry chap and a lady on a bike. THAT was the whirring source! Taking a recap, I was turning right, had the indicator on and was in the middle of the two way road leaving the entire road on my left free for anyone to go straight (where Mr Wires was going) and the dude decides to overtake me from the right just when I turn. While I know idiots abound on the road, what was the highlight of this incident was the man’s attempt at scaring me by giving me a murderous glare while the woman in fear and panic continued to apologise eventually whacking him on the shoulder as he tried to go ahead while bike brushed against my foot. While I was in full control, I could not stop being angry at his stupidity nor could I say much for the sake of the panicking woman behind him. At the end of it my head buzzes only with questions – what is it with men like these? Classic examples of “women can’t drive” road sexism? Classic examples of cowardice and egosim to simply not admit to one’s stupidity and move on? Where does this conditioning for idiocy and childishness begin?

Sigh, men. You make me wonder how old the child within you is.

PS – Dont want responses of “not all men”. I know, I know!

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Men like ants

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Wasn’t what happened in Bangalore assumed to be only limited to the new pussy grabbing America?

Or wait, maybe these men were just following the world order of aping the West? 

But, aren’t we very simple and cultured Indians?

So? They still can. 

Why? 

Duh! Because they are men and they can.

Ummm, okay but, not all men behave like that I think. These were some stupid ones I think. They were just drunk… But, then doesn’t Abu Azmi say that ALL women like sugar and ALL men like ants? If he is in power, then he must be speaking the gospel truth right? ‘Cause it is ONLY honesty that makes you a cop or a politician? Only the regular people are dishonest aren’t they? Oh sorry, it is the women’s fault. They got too liberated because of these stupid liberals. Those women should have known their place. Where is that, you ask? Inside the walls of patriarchy but, of course!

Till today it is difficult for me to believe that the city where I spent two of the most wonderful years of my life witnessed such an atrocity. It was that city that had sent me back to my home state with a set of very uncomfortable questions. It was that city that was safe to be traveled in buses as opposed to Delhi. Only once in 2 years did I witness lecherous behaviour there and heard of a few. I brushed it off assuming that where we were was, after all suburban Bangalore, where a serial rapist and murdered had escaped from the state jail. Such things were okay to be heard of or read about in suburban or rural areas or as many spell out the names of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – the last one, especially, with a strange smile that asked too many intrusive questions without uttering a single word. But, now it has happened in a very central part of a growing cosmopolitan city. When a photo journalist was raped in a mill compound in Mumbai, it was again forgotten quickly since she was alone and they were ‘illiterate, north Indian men’ who do such things often. But, now Bangalore and the numerous protectors of women’s modesty, the owners of open spaces in the society did something unimaginable.

I can only imagine by a little ounce of what those women must have felt as 2017 dawned and they found many, many city dwellers, maybe quite a few ‘educated ones’, act as if these women were nothing but, stupid toys that could be flung here and there or maybe lab rats that could be poked here and there and just observed.

I am not saying that the northern part of the country is heaven or is even in some twisted competition against the south / east / west in its sex ratio or data of (ill)treatment of women. Living in Bombay, I have seen an amazing number of cases of harassment, stalking, sexism at workplaces than what was combined in Jaipur, Delhi and Bangalore. I will also say that I had the fortune of being told that I am a girl and need to behave accordingly very few times in my life. Even when I was, thankfully, I knew better. However, that is not the case for so so many of my friends who told me that feminism or belief of total gender equality are things to be read in books but, compromised with when out in the real world. What do I say of the the vast majority of unknown female Indians.

Why I did not pay as much attention to the media, nor did I get passionately angry like I know myself to get at the hands of injustice of any kind is because somewhere deep down, I have been conditioned to accept that such things happen and we can only fight our own petty battles, that even when some people are caught, people are going to go back home and still make this world entitled to the male sex. What is needed is a cultural shift and a consciousness of thought, speech and action. It is each human’s responsibility and I believe that the ‘change’ or the equality of gender can be brought in only through attitudinal shifts in understanding that the one with a vagina is a human being at the end of the day. Formal education does not guarantee any change. I have been dealt sexism at the hands of the smartest (well educated) men and women – even those who shout out for creating an equal world.

What does this say to you? What kind of world are we living in? Grabbing them by the pussy or by the breasts or even dragging them by the hair. Haven’t we learnt better?

If it is religion you follow, seeking the principled Ram and his conduct with his wife, also remember Durga. Religion, philosophy is what we choose to believe in at that crucial moment when all we have to behave as is a human being.

To the men who read this and cringe saying not all men think like this, I would just say that its quite good on you if you dont but, every time you see a woman pass by, I hope you dont eye her as if she is grilled meat no matter what she wears. I hope you dont cut through what a woman might be saying at work in a meeting to just repeat what she said a minute back. I hope you dont judge a woman based on her relationship status or sex life and her position of power in the workplace. I hope you don’t feel slightly crestfallen when someday your first born is a daughter. I hope you dont tell her that some things are not meant for her. I hope you share such ideals of yours with other men around you and raise a son who follows all of this and treats a person simply as a human being without being biased with whats between their legs.

Little

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Inktober 2016 day 22’s prompt was little. Like always, an image is formed in the mind and this time it was the pinky finger, the little finger. Why I did not draw that is because not only the time spent on it would be too short but, more importantly, the intention with Inktober is to push the wheels of my brain a little to resonate within the mind, what each prompt would mean.

I started off with the traces of a discussion I had had with a friend of mine. We spoke of how the grandness of nature, Athirapally in particular here, makes one feel so insignificant, so little that all one feels is the power of nature and surrenders to it. The last time I had felt like that was when spending time in the Himalayan mountains. The image that flashed in the head was that of the grandness of the snow clad peaks where everything else seemed too small, too little to think about.

But, it has been some time that I have gone back to those places of wonder and sitting afar in this part of the country all that comes to mind when thinking about it is the LOC, the attacks, terrorism, fear, crisis and war. I had, as a kid, honestly assumed that post the second world war, there would be no war at all. I know that was naive and we can safely say that peace and harmony are far away for a LOT of our “brothers and sisters”. I remember in the innocence of childhood when we would sing the national anthem and read about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Tagore and Bose, I would be in awe of these figures who contributed to the nationalist movement back in time. But, the reason that I was in awe of them all was not for defending a certain bordered geography against another country. No, that was never it. I respected, honoured and treasured what I read about them, these heroes and heroines, because of their courage to stand up against inhuman treatments meted out to people of this land who were being tortured and made to feel less human owing to their colour and race. These people stood up for their people who were suffering due to racism. If you look at it objectively, like now back then too, the reason for those acts of cruelty were economic and political power and the subsequent tussle.

But, I wonder today, what is this power that still does not seem to let peace prevail in this land. I am an Indian and I see it just as a part of my identity. When I see fellow Indians walking on the streets, I do not think of them as Bengalis or South Indians or Punjabis – honestly, I am pathetic at guessing people’s “native” and also their age – but, I see them just as Indians. So, what is nationalism today? Why is it being looked at as a necessary “Hindu pride” and why is it also being looked at as “something I don’t wish to associate with” on the other hand? Isn’t Indian pride about not being divided based on principles and beliefs and just accepting the differences? When songs of Indian past and pride on it are sung, why do we forget that all nationalist movement happened to defend humanity and not anyone’s ego or greed?

I think I will leave this unfinished at this point and share the poem that I wrote for this doodle:

Little by little

I see it change, this land 

that I call my home.

Little by little,

the snow melts, not into

waters gleaming but, pools of red.

Little by little,

the cracks in doors 

shut in my face as I peer in to say hello.

Little by little,

the cracks in my heart

widen as smiles grow taut.

 

Now trending: Feminism

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It is indeed a mystic thing that around the time that the movie Pink came out, I got to experience what is called the inability to comprehend the meaning of consent, body space and respect when it comes to sex even in the minds of those who seem well educated and believers in equal rights for all sexes.

I’ve known someone (male) who has been very vocal about respect and body rights of women and also those who from the sexual minorities – sometimes voicing a hatred for men. This particular dynamic of social development is of interest to me as well. However, I haven’t been as vocal or as expressive about knowing stuff as him. I assumed that’s just difference in personality.

Now, being a woman, one easy thing that comes due to our social conditioning which eventually gets passed on genetically as well, is the sixth sense; the gut feeling of knowing when someone can be a potential sexual threat.

I do not say I thought he was coming on to women or being lecherous. For most women who know him – and a lot of the people that surround him are women – he’s a gentle and nice guy who has his head on his shoulders when talking about gender politics. However, there was always this gnawing feeling I had – which I articulate today – that something wasn’t right about him. Somewhere his alleged beliefs weren’t what they were projected as. I let go of this feeling since we have two very good common friends.

Time went by, we all grew up and went our separate ways. He met someone and got into a relationship and constantly asked about my story or why do I not find someone. Then, I took it as a friendly concern and didn’t feel that it was totally against his ‘women are awesome and equal and don’t need anyone to be happy’ claims.

We have spoken twice in 6 months with him asking about who I am with as the central part of the conversation each time; more focused on my virginity. Now, virginity for me isn’t a coconut to be cracked before something new has to be begun nor is it a gold coin (biscuit, if you may please) that should never be lost. Virginity is just a secondary part of me. It is not something I think about day in day out, nor do I plan any milestones around it. It is simply something which isn’t a consideration in my mind in the daily life. So when he first asked me this, I assumed that this was again a friendly question, that he was just trying to be ‘Gossip Girl’.

Six months later, the poor soul is still battling with this existential question.  I again did not mind ’cause it’s not a hush hush conversation for me. However, what came next told me that putting a foot in my mouth and a slap on his face were the two best things to do.

He asked me if I needed his help to loose my virginity, in case I am still one. Now, I don’t want to call him a predator since he did voice his apprehension that he didn’t know whether this was a bad question or a friendly question but, just thought that loosing my virginity was of utmost importance and he would sacrifice himself to help me do that, even if it involved lying on top of me.

Anyway, me being me, I gave him the benefit of doubt still and explained to him how his girlfriend’s female friends who sought their male friends’ help to loose that “ugly” and questionable piece of skin in between their legs is not something that has to apply to every woman. Each woman is different like each leaf of the same plant or each cookie from the same tin. Just because we have a vagina, we aren’t identical. However, this effort was in vain since he felt that his benevolence was met with unnecessary aggression. I couldn’t help but, laugh at this. Women who voice discomfort and an opinion on any sort of sexual advance are always brash and aggressive. Even if, one talks only about one’s own choice when it comes to one’s own body. Typical.

When this happened, I was saddened and angered both by the fact that this guy was plain stupid pretending to be sly and more so, that feminism is becoming a fad now. I remember a filmmaker called Stalin coming to university and stating that he was a feminist but, was told by someone who has been fighting for women’s rights in Gujarat that he cannot be feminist. Why? Because he was a man.

This makes me question what makes a feminist? Whether the lady was right that a man can never be a feminist? Isn’t feminism equal to humanism since all it demands is to look at women as equal humans since they have always been treated as second class citizens? Dalit movements are called so because of a reason as well. Men shouldn’t cry here though – yes, patriarchy has been a bitch to them too but, they have had better advantage plus, feminism is against the system and not their sex so, calm down there.

Coming back to my point, my worry has been the lack of serious brain usage today when feminism is becoming a fad, a Facebook or Twitter hashtag. People don’t know what they’re talking about but, will use #saveourgirls frequently. It’s the same as Taylor’s factory view – herd mentality.

This experience has however, given me hope in retrospect. I think there’s still hope ’cause I called him out on this. I believe that’s what’s needed – one needs to call out an abuser when it happens without fearing the consequences. It might not even be sexual bias – it can be sexism of any kind, in any setting. It might boil down badly at first but, the next time they do it, your words will come back to them. Slowly but steadily they might learn. This much is enough for you to do your bit and speak out. I have learnt. You can too.

This is exactly where the crass and pop way the film portrays the different issues of consent, patriarchy, regional biases etc. movie comes in. I hated the way the stereotype has been put together and also the PR way that so many different topics have been dealt with but, in a society like ours such blatant street play type conversations are needed for people to wake up and understand, for people to not forget Nirbhaya and countless others who have been victims and / or survivors of this societal mental ailment of pride, honour and fear of sex. More on the film in another post then.

Rustom

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I recently watched Rustom, a film loosely based on the KM Nanavati case which changed the Indian legal system with the abolishment of the jury system. For those who might have not heard or read about the case, Nanavati was a naval officer, married to London born Sylvia and based out of Mumbai. Whilst on one of his missions, Sylvia fell in love with their friend, Ahuja and exchanged letters with him which highlighted the socially alleged fact that Ahuja was an unattached man when it came to his relationships and that Sylvia was unsure of his intentions towards her or the seriousness towards relationships. It was after this that Nanavati comes back home and gets to know this from his wife. After hearing this, he decides to take things in his hands and straighten things out with Ahuja. By straightening things out, it meant a conversation between him and Ahuja about the latter marrying Sylvia and also taking in their (Nanavati and Sylvia’s) children post marriage. Ahuja denied having any plans of marriage which enraged the naval officer who ended up shooting Ahuja to death in his own bedroom. When tried at the Sessions Court in Bombay, he was acquitted by the jury by a vote of 8:1 with a major part of the decision and media gimmicks using communitarian politics to get a judgment. The judge of the sessions court was taken aback and the case moved to the HC where Nanavati was convicted, charged guilty of murder and as part of the legal reform, the jury was removed from the Indian legal system. I read somewhere that later on, someone from the officer’s community had appealed to the then PM Nehru to acquit Nanavati since he was a defence officer and had served the nation. As part of a deal between Ahuja’s sister who was fighting the legal battles on his behalf, Nanavati was then let out some years later while the MH government let out another prisoner from Ahuja’s community as part of a sentence and acquittal community barter.

Now, this case has held the country’s imagination for years. Rustom is not the first film to be made based on the case. There are quite a few others which were blockbuster hits. Rustom only has the Sessions court judgment covered in its story with community politics displayed fantastically. Even the city from that time is projected beautifully, making one almost long to have been born then instead of now. However, despite of all these good things in the movie, watching it left me squirming with discomfort at a few things in the film, more so the overtly lengthy court proceedings captured with sheer ridicule. That brought me to question the ordinary citizen’s take on the Indian legal system – for something as simple as wearing a seat belt and paying tolls. Reminds me of the time when entering MPT territory where one cop offered to let me go past after paying 10 out of the 30 bucks charge, with no receipt of course. Hope was risen again when the driver offered the same option to the next cop who refused stating others might do this, he did not.

Before I digress further, my point here is that a majority of the population in our country continues to swear by trends and brands advocated by film stars, across all socio-economic sections. Even crimes committed by some are inspired from Bollywood. With such great impact, I feel it is quite scary the way the semi fictional story is presented here ridiculing the proceedings of law and order, just like another old Akshay Kumar starrer did. Yes, I agree that even dictatorships are systems and laws and a coup overthrowing a dictator is actually doing good in the larger schema of things but, saying that would just be an adarsh public’s excuse to yet again not see the mirror.

Firstly, in showing the film only upto the Sessions court’s verdict where Nanavati walks scot free and more like a hero makes me wonder if we, as a nation, have issues accepting that our ‘hero’ (righteous male, avatar of righteous principled lord from Hindu mythology) can ever be wrong? Can we not accept that each one of us, even those who are otherwise impeccable in being, can commit acts which can be wrong and harmful to one or many? Also, why do we, as a nation of a 102 billion people, need a hero? Why can’t we choose to find that hero(ine) within our own selves?   

The second thought or question that I had swimming in my head after watching the film is the idea of absolute right and wrong, moral black and white and the grey areas of human existence; and the intersection of the same with the legal system in place. While the case highlights the absolutes of right and wrong in terms of fidelity and patriotism versus selling your land for personal gain and favour making the act of murder by the protagonist as an absolute right! But, does this not make the entire case / story / incident grey afterall? You excuse a murderer because he is a loyal country server and husband (how can we forget multiple scenes of him staring at her picture?). And like all Bollywood films that resonate with commercially viable thinking at the writer’s part, this one too falls flat in its face when the hero is yet again made to let go of the love of his life, in order to work towards the greater good, making personal sacrifice the necessity for greater good.

Yes, there are a lot of good things in ther film but, my problem is that it is films like these that resonate the larger Indian mentality and also that films (and TV) have the power of changing things as they have unbridled access to the common (wo)man’s household. I think this film could have been far better at dealing with a lot of more subtle concepts of patriotism, masculinity, honour, integrity. While I like the portrayal of the human strength of being able to do the right thing when life is difficult but, the film just completely misses the point and loses the opportunity of using the most powerful tool in media to leave a better impact. Nanavati’s act of murder signifying honour over respect for human life and dignity was portrayed too casually, especially in politically charged times like these. Quite unfortunate.

Aligarh

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I have been meaning to write this down since the time I have watched this film. Is this a film review? Haha, no. Is it a rant on homosexuality and the dire situation human rights around one’s choice of sexual partners in the country is? Not so much.

Yes, I liked the film but, thats pretty much what I want to say about it. More than that has already been said and done. The film is about the incidents close to the eventual death of Prof Siras of AMU. He died of alleged poisoning in his flat one lonely afternoon soon after the revocation of his suspension. He was suspended on ‘moral’ grounds for sleeping with a person of the same sex on the premises (his own apartment on the campus given to him by the university to reside). It was through the sincere work ethic of a journalist that it was highlighted that the suspension and everything else that followed, including his death, were the results of jealousy and envy of his colleagues since Siras was also Head of the Dept.

While I do not want to write much about the part of the debate around homosexuality focusing on the difference between the public and the private and how the ‘personal is political’ becomes his experience eventually. However, what I truly was left thinking about after watching this film was the subtle smartness with which the film handles perceptions of different people involved. Namely, those framing him to bring about his suspension perceiving a homosexual man as weak maybe, as someone who would necessarily be weak and would not speak up. That could also be related to what is the perception of people in their native place against those who are a minority, perhaps, in another land known to be largely oppressive? There is also the understanding of the perception of the media – the part of it that goes berserk sensationalising things / events / lives for business while there is also that part of the industry that just does its job and when done well is lauded by the cynical part of the society as an army of great crusaders.

This however, was somewhere on the fringes. The main perception that the script questions and that grabbed my attention was the idea of one homosexual person in the minds of those actively involved in getting human rights in place with respect to sexual orientation. That is shown by way of the protagonist not bothering or fathoming his identity as a homosexual man at conflict with the law as disinterested in the court proceedings, using the time there to translate his poems or simply done off. Another beautiful dialogue resonates the thought when he talks against the need for society to label a feeling in his heart as a three letter word (read: gay) questioning how merely three letters could express the intense attraction or feeling he might feel towards another human, albeit of the same sex.

When engaging with the community myself or simply browsing through pictures of pride parades etc., I have always had this question which I never dared to voice – all participants or at least, the representatives of the community, seemed exactly the same to me. Now, I am not totally critical of this because looking at where we as a society come from, a community / support group is needed when one is targeted simply for being who one is in one’s private life. However, there used to be this constant question if such cliched representation would not be bad for the community and wasn’t stereotyping the persona actually a contradiction to the idea of the freedom to just be?

After watching this, seeing where Siras seems to be a victim of not just envy but, also loneliness after the stalwarts who were the face of homosexual rights go back to where they came from leaving him alone in the same town where his dignity was undermined for a multitude of reasons using his personal life as the excuse. I can say that I like the film for maybe answering these questions of mine. Maybe the homogeneity of the group in fitting with the perceived stereotypical image is their way to talk to the ones who don’t understand in their own language? Just, maybe.