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Thank you, 2016!

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Its been a month since I have posted (and published) something on here. I have tried writing different things but, chose to keep them private for the sake of better understanding and soaking in of those ideas before putting them on here. Out of the many things that I have wanted to write, one was the hopelessness of the times and the horrifying sense of disbelief and disillusionment that my generation is burdened by as a result of incident occurring in the matter of a few hours.

Now, I am not the most cynical person I know and I am the last to crib about things, however bad the situation might be but, I too have vented out my anger in the past month on a certain national decision. So, when I thought of writing about disillusionment, youth (these two words sound very literally paradoxical when placed side by side) and the times that lie ahead; I could not write much beyond a rant that sums up the unfair business that is the global machine. But, I also believe that mere ranting does not change anything. What would be best, I believe, is a balanced view on everything – one can at least try even if it seems difficult.

The best thing that happened to me this past year was a sort of awakening to feminism as a belief system. This year has taught me what feminism means to me and how essential it is for each human being to understand what the word means. I have, like most people I know, always known the literal meaning of the word, understood what the theoretical aspects of the beliefs were but, it is another ball game to look at the world through the eyes of a seeker of gender equality, where even the smallest of ignorance or bias is not brushed off as something that always happens. Until this year, I had been conditioned beautifully to conveniently (and maybe organically?) sweep small traces of sexism under the proverbial carpet. But, suddenly I found the dust bunny under the same carpet to have swollen in size well enough to trip me. It was therefore, time to clean out the dirt. I do believe that I am privileged when it comes to my access to good education, lots of internet and literature etc. but, this year, I truly understood and actively applied the difference between theory and practice. However, the process that happened over this years was quite organic. I, honestly never realised how I had become the person that I am today.

This realisation happened when I decided to work out in my head the reasons I disliked certain people around me or even the American TV show FRIENDS and now, Bollywood and film personalities.

This thought process started off when I turned to look at the latest posters stuck on a BEST bus when it passed by me and found a very gaudy looking poster of Indian Idol. Now, I did enjoy it when watching it with my mother when younger. I remember laughing at those auditions, cringing at Anu Malik and finding Farah Khan a strong-ish figure. Right now, I am unsure who all feature on this recent season but, I remember cringing at the tonnes of smoothened Photoshop and make up on the faces. While I did judge the industry for being superficial etc. but, then I stopped that realising that it is, at the end of the day, a business and no audience accepts grey haired singers and women who don’t make them laugh if they are not slim. I was saddened by the hypocrisy of our society and momentarily felt a little bit of sympathy for them.

Not too long after that, I decided to watch a show called ‘Koffee with Karan’. Yes, I did. Why? Because I wanted to go back to that space of ignorant appreciation momentarily, that time as a child when nothing mattered beyond the screen but, the more time ticked on that episode, the more I found myself upset and agitated. Something had changed, I had changed but, was I being snooty like many of those here, in choosing to cringe upon Bollywood while looking at Hollywood like a lovestruck pet.

Watching two episodes of KWK told me that it was the process of evolution as a feminist that had made me “intolerant” of crass entertainment. Why feminism? That’s because someone like Karan Johar who advocates himself as a very liberal, tolerant persona (by writing an open letter to the haters who comment on his Instagram account that he is gay and that he should not pout), still chooses to ask female actors questions of a very private nature digging more so on the personal lives, their personalities, their appearances while the male actors are spoken to off money, homes, girls, ambition etc. No, they do not say things blatantly like “women need to be pretty etc.” and “men need to be blah blah”. No, that doesn’t happen but, there’s something eerie about the way the host’s persona changes when talking to 3 men who came together and then 2 women who came on a later episode. (If you’re on it, I think you should watch the two episodes back to back to understand what I am saying.) Why that is a problem because, like a female actor put it, the Indian audiences look at the show as the place where celebrities speak “the gospel truth”. When that happens, then in the minds of the audiences as well, the personalities of the female actors shrinks to their bodies, their make up, their hatred for other women and their relationships. The men are bracketed into larger beings who are all accommodating, decision makers and practical thinkers who don’t get emotional! What? For a man who pouts on Instagram, this is how he reinforces his liberal belief systems about gender and sex? In this season in particular, the two female actors seemed to gel a lot and are actually new generation people who think a lot and rationalise everything as human beings and not as bodies with breasts and oestrogen. However, the more they spoke their minds, the more they were mocked (lightly, of course!) as being boring and tiring to talk to. So, basically, reinstate the fact that women ought to not have thought and opinions while men can rant and joke about their ex-wives? Hmm.

Why I thank 2016 is because the year has given me bagfuls of opportunities to deal with sexism in all possible forms – blatant misogyny, subtle remarks of the inabilities of women to do this and that and then the slyest one where the perpetrator of sexism comes in the shape of smart, well informed and well spoken people who always speak of working to bring about gender equality in their own ways.

To sum it up, my distaste for Bollywood comes from the simple inaction on the behalf of the most influential people in the country to change their own attitudes and speak of them then. While the industry is making films like Parched (that receives little mention, little theatre running time and little business), it is also making films like Sultan that crossed 100 crores revenue marker in the first weekend. Even someone like Amir Khan who was earning huge respect from the slightly more informed section of the Indian audience, ends up praising Salman Khan’s Sultan that basically has a man wanting to become a wrestler to woo his crush and then the said girl giving up on her ambition for him. While yes, some women can choose that but, to glorify that sacrifice of a woman’s ambition in a country like ours that already expects it to be the case is outright irresponsible and stupid. And then, Amir Khan too fell in the bin with the likes of the others for me. True, Satyamev Jayate did feel like another publicity gimmick.

I would end this with just one thought – the struggle that humanity faces is because we all choose to and are conditioned to believe that certain things and situations in the world are fixed and that in front of those things and situations, we are powerless. Probably thats the case with Bollywood as well where they believe that they will run into losses if they only produced films like Parched. However, the US elections and demonetisation and the Middle Eastern situation are enough proofs that no thing or situation is permanent and as individuals we have the power to change things. I could do it at my sexist workplace and so can anyone on the face of this planet.

PS: I will write later on my dislike for FRIENDS and why no one must watch it. In the end, would again thank all those exemplars of sexism and patriarchy for making me grow. I hope you do to.

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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.

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.