Tag: Feminism

What do women really want?

“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself. Each of us, in our own way, often magnified by caste and class encounters resistance in finding self-acceptance, achievement, and affection.”  (Excerpt from the Book) 

The 90s were the time when Shah Rukh, Shaktiman, and cassettes ruled the world. My childhood was spent in the 90s and it was heavily influenced by Bollywood movies. Watching the Sunday matinee show on Doordarshan at 4 o’clock is one of my most fond memories. I was probably 5-6 years old along with my cousin. Both of us eagerly awaited 4 o’clock movies. We finished our homework before time so that we could watch movies in the evening. No matter what the weather was like outside, nothing could move us from our seats before the screen. The saddest part of our movie times were the power cuts which took place right before the movie’s climax.  

Despite being scolded by our elders many times, we both ran for 1 kilometer to finish the movie’s climax. Doctor Saheb was an acquaintance of my grandmother, and he was quite wealthy for that area. He also owned a generator that would come on whenever there was a power failure. After the movie ended around 6:30 P.M., we both went home to enjoy a Sunday evening in a fantasy world away from reality. However, after we reached home, our Bua (Father’s sister) would beat and scold us. Occasionally, she would close the front door and not open it for at least two hours. We would wait for her to open it. The whole ordeal was repeated almost every Sunday. Wow, what memories!

I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you this story. The book I am about to discuss has the context of Bollywood films and how they have fascinated generations of Indians in their search for hope, freedom, and fantasy. 

Shah Rukh Khan and Shrayana

“Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s lonely young women and the search for intimacy and independence” is written by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This book is the best example of the saying, “ don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like other people, initially, I ignored this book because of its title. However, after listening to the author Shrayana Bhattacharya on The Seen and the Unseen podcast, I immediately ordered this book and devoured it. It gave me perspective. I started observing all ladies around me and trying to piece their lives and how they are navigating and fighting with this world. The author is a young woman and economist at World Bank who also happens to be a zabra fan of the Bollywood super star-Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. She wrote this book motivated by her fandom for Shah Rukh and stories of ordinary women and her work as an economist to weave a fantastic story to understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary Indian women and how they are dealing with the system of patriarchy. 

I have found it to be one of the most insightful books I have read recently. I underlined almost every line. Each and every story of the woman in this book resonated with me. The frustration and relative deprivation of Vidya, the pains of The Accountant, the anxiety of Gold, the boredom of Manju, and most importantly, the author’s own story, all made sense to me. Whatever your educational and economic background, these stories show that women are discriminated against and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. It is all to serve the needs of the other half of humanity. The only difference was that the quality of this discrimination might have varied. Some of it was crude and visible, while others were refined and subtle. Then there is Mr. Shah Rukh Khan’s fan following. He helps these ordinary women bargain and survive the toxic patriarchy in their everyday lives through his movies and interviews. Shah Rukh’s fandom demonstrates their disappointment in society and its institutions which broke their hearts in different ways.

The lives of ordinary women

Reading this book made me more empathetic toward the lives of Indian women. It showed me how much struggle they are still going through irrespective of class, caste, or any other classification and how we women are also complicit in our own discrimination. Women are withdrawing from their jobs because not only do they have to face discrimination in their offices but also they are overburdened with the care and love which they need to provide for their families. Despite sacrificing their freedom to provide love and care to their family, women are feeling lonely and unloved. They are withdrawing from the workforce because of Sanskritisation effect where the increase in family’s income and status lead to more control of women’s body and their mobility to maintain the purity of their community and caste networks. Higher incomes allow family members to perform traditional upper-caste social rituals when women’s bodily honor is guarded strictly within the four walls of the home.   

Women leaving the workforce

They leave the workforce because of an unfriendly and discouraging work environment where they are paid less as compared to their male counterparts plus they also have to deal with the male gaze. Marriage and child care act as a hurdle for women to take up jobs in India. In totality, family and society both make it so difficult for women to survive, take up a job, or stay single. We are taunted for whatever choices we make in our lives. In fact, they have a problem whenever we make any choices. 

Feminism on Instagram

The author also highlights the discussions around feminism on Instagram. As per the author, real feminism is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary women and she does not have any radical story of resistance to share from the hinterlands of India. They are constantly navigating the patriarchy in their everyday lives which can never be seen on an elitist platform like Instagram. The story of Vidya from the book was so relatable that at one point I felt like vidya is speaking on my behalf. I have seen and worked with women who are very similar to Vidya’s that friend who finds faults in everything that Vidya does. They themselves are so rich and entitled but they judge women like us who have achieved something in their life coming from a normal background without any support and guidance. 

In spite of not being able to relate to the heartbreak stories in the book because it has never happened to me, it was heartbreaking to know that women’s relationships, marriages, and love lives are bargained as commodities, and women are judged on the basis of their looks. Despite their different backgrounds, all of these women are fans of Mr. Khan. Seeing a superstar like this who respects and loves women provides them with a respite from oppressive patriarchal culture and discrimination. Many poor and working-class women display their fandom for Shah Rukh Khan or attend his movies in the theater to express themselves.

We need intimate revolutions

The beauty of this book lies in the fact that it also proposes ways to solve these problems for our country.

“Meaningful change in everyday life happens when we start to pratcise the views we profess. ….Only fools think we can rationalise, cancel, tweet, or march our way to a social revolution. Radical change needs oxygen from each one of us. We are required to practise what we retweet, to self-scrutinise, to incrementally partake in impossibly difficult conversations in our own everyday relationships. For people to move beyond people…………………real shifts in their private behaviour requires repeated and sustained intimate interpersonal dialogue in which discriminatory views are revealed and challenged.”

“Change will need good faith and generosity. Mindset is not enough, morality is embodied in how we demonstrate our liberal views in our daily encounters with people, places and our self. Without these intimate revolutions, the best laws and the strongest movements will fail. The realm of everyday intimacy is the true home of social change. It is where all our longing, self-loathing and biases are unveiled. This is the world of deeply private rebellions, within people & within relationships. No platform, no performance. It’s where the real battle is. And it’s got to be long and ugly.”

An answer to the most debated question on humanity can be found in this book. Exactly, what do women want? The answer will surprise you. Women want love, freedom, and respect in no particular order.

Women’s tales from the Ramayana

Stories have always been told from the perspective of the powerful. Most Indian mythologies glorify male characters. It is rare to find a female protagonist whose story of valor, sacrifice, or complexity of character has been told in mainstream work.

This very beautiful book, ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ tells the story of ‘Ramayana’ through its women who were an integral part of the story. Despite the book’s focus on Sita, it also tells the story of other women who suffered just as much, if not more, in this war between good and evil.

Sita’s story shows the vulnerability of being a woman and how she had to struggle to get respect and recognition for her capabilities. Essentially, the book deals with all human emotions, including love, passion, courage, jealousy, anger, and shame, while showing how these characters behave as normal human beings.

My favorite women from this story are Mandodari, Urmila, Kaushalya, Sarama, and of course SITA. However, we rarely know what their contributions were. Everyone knows what Lakshman did for his brother. Although he and Rama were exiled for 14 years, we do not know what his wife Urmila did for him. She had slept for 14 years so Lakshman would not have to sleep for his entire exile period.

Vibheeshan helped Rama conquer Lanka, but his wife Sarama sacrificed his son and protected Sita when she was being held as a captive in Lanka.

I loved this book for two reasons- first, it highlighted the stories of women I had never heard about, and second, it used beautiful and music-filled words that made me feel as if I were reading poetry. My mind created an image from the details in this book – I could see the forests, the palaces, the animals, and all the people that lived in this story.

Do read this book if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read this already, do let me know your thoughts about this in the comment section.

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No Country for Good Girls

Trigger Warning: This post refers to acts of violence.

“An Indian woman’s first challenge is surving her own home” -Sonia Faleiro

One more year has passed. New beginnings on a new year. However, things feel new on the surface but not in reality or we pretend that things are new just because a new year is around the corner. Nothing has changed for a girl/woman in India. Don’t know if it will change in the near future. Misogyny, patriarchy, and gender discrimination are everyday phenomena in our country. We all face it. Rape is trivialised. Recently, a legislator in the State Assembly of Karnataka made an insensitive remark about rape, and later he was ready to apologise if his comments hurt the sentiments of women. 

We have a central government scheme named Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to save the girl child. Do we need to save our daughter? Or do our daughters need to save themselves from this whole system? 80% of the money allocated to this scheme was spent on advertisement as per a parliamentary standing committee report. What more we can expect when girls’ parents give them bizarre names like Missed Call, Antima, and Phaltu to express their anger and disappointment because they never wanted to have these girls. I don’t even want to imagine the kind of shame and trauma these girls might be going through because they were made to feel that they were unwanted by their own parents. Being a woman, I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. There was a time when I used to feel that I am going to fight for my rights. I will complain against these practices. However, different incidents and news reports dealing with discrimination and violence against women have broken my spirit. The most frustrating thing is that we, women, are manipulated into believing that we deserve this discrimination and violence. 

A little overview of the Book and the Author:

The book, “The Good Girls” by Sonia Faleiro will make you uncomfortable. It will make you angry and ashamed of our country and society. This book is about the Budaun case where two girls were found hanging from a tree on 26th May 2014, just a day before when the NDA government’s first term started with the promise of “acche din”. The book uncovers the events and circumstances leading to Padma Lalli’s death against the backdrop of the political and socio-cultural life of the state of Uttar Pradesh, notorious for violence against women. All those little details and descriptions about the mundane activities of the households and the exploitation of women shown in the book were quite relatable to me. The author’s deep research about the patriarchal settings and how women are never allowed to tell their stories makes this book an important read.

The author is a journalist who lives in London. She returned back to India and did extensive research for six years to write this book. She visited the Katra village and conducted hundreds of interviews. This case created so much furor that it was ultimately transferred to CBI. In this book, the author also discusses the caste complexities, corruption in the police system, the deep patriarchal structure, and discrimination against women. The book reads like a suspense thriller and I never felt like putting it down. Almost all chapters consist of one or two pages which makes it very easy to read. The chapters’ titles are thoughtful. It intrigues you to know more about the incidents. Sonia has woven this unfortunate incident in the form of a story that not only gives you context but also provides a political, social, and cultural perspective about the lives of the people involved.

Story of Padma and Lalli:

Padma Shakya and Lalli Shakya (names changed since the case is sub-judice) are two ‘good girls’ living in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district. Padma and Lalli were cousin sisters. Padma was sixteen years old and Lalli was fourteen years old. They were always together like two grains of rice. They did everything together. They both had an ordinary life but they were the new age girls. Padma was curious and wanted to explore things. Lalli wanted to study further and do something in life. However, these good girls were never good enough for the people around them because they never wanted to be bound by the rules of society. 

Control, control, and more control: 

In India, girls are not supposed to have choices. They are bound to do what they are told to do. They are not allowed to go outside. They can use mobile phones but they can’t own them. Even to use it, they need to take permission. Many khap panchayats, villages, and schools in India have banned mobile phones for women.  If they go out, they will have to return before it is too dark. They are the honor of the family and they need to be saved. And if they don’t follow these dictates or unsaid rules, they are killed. The most ironic thing is that women are controlled not only by society but also by the State in the name of their safety and empowerment. The recent move of increasing the age of women for marriage can be seen in the same light. A girl who is 18 years old, has the right to vote and choose her representatives but she does not have the agency to choose her partner. This is a clear case of violating women’s choices who want to get married before the age of 21. There is evidence to prove that a large share of reported sexual assaults across India is consensual relationships that are criminalised by parents. 

We can see the same kind of control in the Shakya family. Padma’s father bought her a phone which allowed him to record her conversations. He forced Padma to leave her studies so that she can get married to save her family’s honor. When these two girls insisted on going to the village fair, their mother (Siya Devi) scolded and said ‘Ladkiyan bahar Nahin ghoomti’ (Girls don’t wander about outside the house). 

Sex, Sexuality, and Shame:

Sex is still a taboo in India. It is associated with something bad. No sex education is provided in our country. Especially pre-marital sex is something frowned upon in our society. I just don’t understand the logic. After marriage, you can have as many kids as you want, but you can’t explore your sexuality before marriage. Height of hypocrisy in our society. Padma Lalli and Pappu Yadav had a sexual relationship that was not acceptable to their respective families. Padma and Pappu were caught in an awkward moment the day the girls got disappeared in the fields. The next morning Padma Lalli were found hanging from the tree in the mango orchard. 

Though their family members alleged that they were gang-raped and murdered by Pappu along with his uncle and a Yadav (caste is important here because initially this case was seen as a caste rivalry between Yadav and Shakya community) policeman, CBI inquiry did not find any evidence of it. CBI inquiry concluded that girls took their own lives. However, it is still not clear what has happened on that unfateful night when these two teenage girls disappeared. No one knows what was there in the phone recordings. Nazru, the cousin of Shakya brothers, who was spying on Padma Lalli on the day of their disappearance, still feels that he had seen those men who took these girls. Reading this book will help anyone uncover the shocking turn of events and why the death of these girls is called ‘ordinary killings’. 

Saving the honor was more important for their family even when those girls were dead. Sohan Lal, Padma’s father destroyed the phone so that no one gets to know about the relations between Padma Lalli and Pappu. What kind of society we are living in? Why our own parents are like that? Why they can’t think about their family first than society? That’s why Sonia in one of her interviews added that we all are responsible for their death and not one person or institution. The whole system is broken.

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