Monday, July 24, 2017

Why should you watch Lipstick under my Burkha?

I usually don't make advance bookings for a movie, but this one was tempting. The kick-ass poster might have attracted many like me, a middle finger salutation on a feminine movie poster is hard to resist. 
I saw a few men inside the theatre, some accompanying their wives and girlfriends, others on their own. Curiosity brought them there. Perhaps some were present in the cinema hall, to make fun of a woman director who decided to walk the talk, and show the mirror to patriarchy.

Cast: Ratna Pathak Shah
Konkona Sen Sharma
Ahana Kumra
Plabita Borthakur
Vikrant Massey
Sushant Singh Rajput

Director: Alankrita Shrivastava

Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes

The movie talks about the lives of four women who are neighbours, and living in a small town in India. To rebel is a way of life for them, and these big and small acts of mutiny where they stand up for themselves is the unique selling point in the movie. Each woman is standing at a threshold of life, that is distinctive from the situation of the other woman. For example there is the college goer Rehana who is a die-hard fan of Miley Cyrus and is struggling to shun the burkha that her parents have used to camouflage her body and her dreams that revolve around becoming a singer. Or the mother of three children Shireen, played by Konkona Sen Sharma who has swallowed the atrocities that her dominant and perverted husband unveils on her everyday, without uttering a word. Else, take the example of Leela who is trying to establish a new business with her muslim boyfriend, oblivious of her fiance of her mother who is trying to pay off the debts her father left them with after his death. Then there is buaji the matriarch, who is the co-owner of  an ancient building in the heart of the city and a sweet shop. She feeds her sexual fantasies by indulging in sleazy novels.  
Each character has to put up with a lot to breathe in their sacred space, yet their willingness to listen to the voice of  their soul makes them special.

Spoilers ahead
Scenes where Shireen is raped every night on bed, and at the drop of a hat she is forced to pop a pill to avoid pregnancy to her dominating husband throwing away the condom to have sex with her make you cringe. This is the story of thousands of women in India who silently accept marital rape as their fate.
Buaji's battle to suppress her sexual needs within the pages of sleazy novels makes you rethink about how we have ignored elderly women and their sexual desires and why they are forced to hide behind the mask of traditions and religion, in this case buaji being a regular at the satsangs.
Leela's struggle to keep her hopes of  setting up a business alive to the way she is shown being torn between her fiance and boyfriend is the portrayal of a young women of India trying to shun marriage and putting up a brave front to let their dreams of a career live. 
The young college goer Rehana has very few dialogues but manages to impress with her silent yet powerful expressions particularly the acts where she tries to don western outfits to the reality locking horns with her dreams of pursuing a singing career.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Examining the sexism in Indian politics

As the poll trumpets blew during the assembly elections in the five states of Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur,  we saw many sexist politicians come out of their hiding holes. I was rattled by an insensitive comment by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinay Katiyar who said that Priyanka Gandhi was not as beautiful as she was projected to be and that there were prettier women leaders in BJP like Smriti Irani who could pull crowds and give better speeches.
This was not the first time that an Indian politician had passed sexist regressive remarks about a woman politician. I cannot help but wonder: How long it will be before a woman politician is given importance and her potential as a politician not measured by her looks?
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati has also been a popular target from politicians. Once, BJP spokesperson Shaina NC made a jibe on her, saying that she didn't know if the BSP leader was a "he" or "she" – attacking Mayawati's gender identity based on outdated and regressive stereotypes of what constitutes "womanliness", which Mayawati might not conform to. Mayawati doesn't wear saris or salwar kameez in feminine colours  and the way she wears her hair has made her a victim of comments like these that question her appearance.
On another occasion BJP leader Dayashankar Singh said that Mayawati is worse than a prostitute who gives a seat to the person who pays the highest amount for it. His comments toward the Dalit woman leader were not only sexist but also casteist. A metaphor comparing a woman to a sex worker is every sexist's glorifying moment of machismo – disrespecting not only the woman in question but also the dignity of sex workers. Patriarchy feeds on the notion that a sex worker is the lowliest among the low in the society, since they have sex with tens and hundreds of men to earn their bread and butter. Patriarchy is the school of thought that restricts a woman's sexual agency, and in this case it has been difficult for leaders like Dayashankar Singh to come to terms with the fact that sex work is like any other profession and there is nothing condemnable about it. The same man lashed out at Mayawati again a few months later where he likened her to a dog and called her a coward. He said that "Mayawati is like a dog that chases speeding cars on roads, but steps back as and when the vehicle stops." He later took back his statement, saying that he meant that "she called us dogs."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dress codes and the stigma attached to it

An important lesson girls growing up in India are taught is to pull down the length of our skirts to lengthen them, for the fear and stigma attached to what we wear and how it can be provocative and attract the male gaze can make us appear scandalous and of questionable morals. 
I remember the carefree days as a young girl in India, when skirts and shorts hanging inside our closets didn't invite criticism from people. But, as our bodies started growing in size, covering it up became a necessity. 
My mother was never bothered about what I wear and did it in any way feed the sexual gaze of young boys or men. My favourite dress from childhood was a mini skirt resting below my thighs with white polka dots and golden buttons. The white shirt with ruffles and laces was the perfect match for this black skirt. Till this day, I vividly remember the colour and feel of the skirt and the top, and the memories it gave me. Another favourite piece of garment from my childhood was a yellow dress with huge flower motifs that made me look like a garden. It did grab a few eyeballs and people fed on unhealthy doses of patriarchy told me to not show off my hands, legs, shoulders or chest because girls from decent families should never show skin. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Consent means a clear yes, always!

Consent as defined by the Oxford dictionary 
as a noun
permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

as a verb
give permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

In India a culture has been groomed that understands nothing about consent especially when it comes to sex or agreement for sex in a long term relationship. It thinks of consent as a male privilege, giving little or no importance to the signals of yes or no from a woman. Popular culture especially bollywood has done very little to topple the tables and redefine consent. A larger part of the problem is that real life gets transcended to reel life in popular culture, and the voices that are trying to redefine consent are buried under schools of thought nurtured on unhealthy doses of patriarchy and male entitlement.
Consent is necessary in a healthy relationship. This could mean a dating relationship, a marriage or a one-night-stand.
And, just because someone consents to something once, doesn't mean that they will agree to it again. Consent should be sought everytime, and that is the only way that a mutually agreeable relationship can be built.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Body Shaming: Fat and thin are socially constructed images

Your body is your business, especially it's size but one of the first sexist social constructs that was often slapped on us was being told that a thin woman is pretty. I grew up to this idea of a perfect body image and thought that flab was "unpretty" and would not get me boyfriends and a husband when I'd decide to take the plunge and make a family. Adulthood brought it's own dilemmas one of which was, that I started to grow fatter despite being a vegetarian and a runner.This trend of moving from fit to fat got me thinking, even though I had no ambitious fitness goals like the actors or sportspersons.

I started eating smaller portions of food and gulping down water like a fish but it didn't work in my favour. I have a very strange body type which of course I don't intend to liken with fruits. I have really heavy arms and it seems all the fat that stealthily gets under my skin finds a home around the arms. Initially I didn't pay heed to it and ignored all the warning bells. No one at home especially my parents ever bothered to tell me about it, nor did my best of friends. My arms started swelling and apparently one day a comment from a friend's friend got me thinking. His usage of sexist language was evident in the message he wanted to convey. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Alternative sexual orientation and what we need to know about it?

India knows of only three or four sexual identities with the most common one being heterosexuality which is the only one that leads to procreation and preserves the idea of having families, where the man is the supreme head of the institution. It's amusing that in a country where alternative sexuality formed an inalienable part of the society with temple carvings bearing witness to the history, homosexuality was criminalised under section 377 of the Indian penal code, impelling liberals and humanists to spearhead a discussion on alternative sexuality.

Sexual orientation can be defined as the pattern of sexual or romantic attraction to persons belonging to the opposite sex or gender, to the same sex or to more than one genders. These attractions can be broadly categorised as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality, a fourth category which can be explained as the lack of sexual attraction to anyone of any gender.
The exact causes of the development of a particular sexual orientation has yet to identified although research points to genetics, hormonal action, development dynamics, social and cultural influences. Once upon a time it was thought that homosexuality resulted because of a faulty psychological development arising out of childhood experiences and troubled relationships. Over the years this  myth was busted and it was found that lack of information and prejudices contributed to this idea. 
Scientific studies have proved that a combination of factors like genetic, hormonal and environmental influences with biological factors like early uterine development are the reasons behind the sexual orientation.
Sexual identity may also be used to describe a person's identification of his or her own sex, other than sexual orientation.
Androphilia and gynephilia are the terms used to identify the sexuality of intersex and transgender people as an alternative to homosexual or heterosexual conceptualisation. 
Same gender loving is more than a term for gay or lesbian people and recognises the sexual attraction of transgender people towards each other.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bloggers can be change makers

I don't blog frequently, but whenever I do I write about how can we tackle gender inequality. This maybe because there are few gender bloggers in India, and fewer conversations about how things can be set straight. Over the years the voice is growing a strong unbent backbone, and it won't be long before this will snowball into a revolution.

Ofttimes I have found myself in the midst of blogs and bloggers who have personal anecdotes to share. Yes, memoirs can be good learning lessons but to be told about every moment that they spend under the sun, can sometimes stifle you. I had aspired to be a journalist as a child, but my possessive mother thought that of it as a bad idea. She knew that I won't just be another one in the crowd, who would follow the people in power to earn her bread and butter or would write about parties and events in the glossy pages of a newspaper. She knew that I would seek the truth like a dog that chases a bone, which may create trouble for me and my family, because of which she firmly put her foot down against the idea of me ever becoming a reporter.
In my own way though, as I took up blogging in 2012, although I must admit that I haven't followed a schedule or taken the pains to scribble often, I have seen myself writing a post occasionally that has been an honest account of how gender benders can shake up the system and create a difference in the lives of women like me, who feel like scared cats before stepping out of our homes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In Your Voice

The earth under my feet moves
and the sky wears her favourite shade of pink
blushes like a bride waiting to
meet her groom.
This ride in a car, or the walk
down the glossy floors of the mall
is a reminder.
May, the summer month washes
the face of the city in a heat wave
Summer is nostalgia.
Summer is the city you live in.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


My mother doesn't trust women 
who wear it. She says, longer hair
is a better bet as Paul, the apostle said
they are a woman's jewels.

Why are they playing "hide and seek"?
seeking someone who is another person
because the one in the mirror
decided to wear a mask.

Why do they paint their face
black and blue, 
when the sun scorched brown
brings them back to life.

Advice to the Young Woman Poet

Do not imprison yourself in a cage of rules
they will bend and break your bones
let the twinge in your heart
instruct you like an experienced school teacher.

Write a poem because you wish to breath
Experience. Not for the vain glory you get 
showered with.

Read your work 
let it not let you down
instead rise from the ashes
everytime your emotions burn
as ferociously as a forest fire.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Walking Away

Airports fascinated me very much. Everytime I go there, a new story is born. Like common cold the memory takes its own sweet time to heal.
The blue passport with the golden Ashoka emblem was gleaming from underneath my huge black bag. Who would have thought that one day I would be taking leave from a country I had grown up in. My love for India was littered by my love for research. What followed was a struggle that threw my life in shambles. Sometimes, the choices we need to make are never the kinds that we might have decided to make. The project that came my way was like a lover who belongs to another caste or religion, for whom putting up a fight with the rest of the world made more sense than letting go.
Within days, I was freed of my predicament. Of trying to put up with parents who thought that a daughter staying alone in a foreign country, would spell doom on the family’s honour. 
This glossy ambience of the airport was like a precursor to things that were to follow. Much like a reminder of what I deserve and had not got, until now.
The destination board was beaming with blue and red lettered words. I could see a lot of human activity around me, much of which had a lot of bag and baggage to drag. Their noisy kids added to my daunting dilemma, and I decided to hunt for a quieter corner, where in I could be at peace.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Catholic church and its long history of clerical sexual abuse

This is not the first time that a priest has misused his powers and indulged in an act that priesthood forbids. A long and notorious history of catholic priests involved in sex crimes tells us that the preachy church has a rotten history of burying dirty secrets allowing systemic gender violence to mushroom in its backyard.
The latest incident that has rocked the church and its faithful followers is the repeated rape of a minor girl by the vicar of a local church at Kottiyoor in Kannur district,Kerala. He was the manager of the school in which the girl attended classes until February 6th, a day before she gave birth to baby boy.
What is bizarre is a system that had tried to cover up the crime until the Kerala police conducted intensive searches and arrested the accused priest and seven others including five nuns and the doctor of the church run hospital where the girl gave birth to the child, were on the run.  There were picked up on February 7th and booked under non-bailable sections. The police should be applauded for being swift and efficient but what breaks the heart of faithful Christians like me is that the onus of the sexual crime is being put on the minor child. The church conveniently retorted to victim blaming rather than accepting the need to clean up the rot in the system.

According to News Minute's report on an editorial written by Sunday Shalom, a Christian weekly, the rape could have been averted by the girl if she wanted to. The weekly said "Here, the girl is above the age of 15. Let me tell you this, as I consider you like my daughter, you are also at fault. Before the Lord, it is you who will have to answer first. Daughter why did you forget who a priest is? He has a human body and has temptations. He may have forgotten his position for a few seconds, my child who has taken the Holy Communion, why didn't you stop or correct him?"

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Accamma Cherian

"I am the leader; shoot me first before you kill others."
These were the words of the brave Accamma Cherian who led a mass rally from Thamapanoor to the Kowdiar palace of the Maharaja Chithira Thirunal to get the ban on the State Congress lifted. Her courage was hailed by Mahatma Gandhi and she came to be known as the Jhansi Rani of Travancore.
Early Life and Education
She was born on 14 February 1909 in a Nasrani family (Karippaparambil) at Kanjirapally, Travancore to Thomman Cherian and Annamma Karippaparambil as their second daughter. She was schooled at the Government Girls High School, Kanjirapally and later at St. Joseph’s High School, Changanacherry. She did a BA in History from St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam after which she took up teaching at St. Mary’s English medium school, Edakkara in the year 1931. She later went on to become the headmistress of this school and worked for this institution for six years.
Read the rest of the post here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Masculinity and Gender crimes

The fight for gender equality has to constantly tackle one major problem: the sense of entitlement of the man and his perception of the woman as a weak object, a property to be owned.
A common crime that has been on the rise in India and has blatantly exposed the privilege of the Indian man is an acid attack, against an ex-lover, wife or a woman who has refused to acknowledge the sexual advances or a marriage proposal aggravating the masculine need to get what he wants at whatever cost and assert his power. Possessiveness, territoriality, insecurity have been entitled to men in a patriarchal society where they are seen as the custodians of women’s bodies and their rights.
We have been rocked by innumerable incidents of acid attacks in the past which have shown an increase from 83 in 2011 to 349 in 2015 (Research by Acid Survivors Foundation India). India has the worst convictions rates for acid attacks and much like the other crimes against women, these cases are treated with societal indifference and official apathy.
Revenge crimes are born because of this misplaced sense of entitlement and power. An incident that shocked me recently happened in Kottayam, Kerala where a jilted lover barged inside the classroom at the School of Medical education with a bottle of petrol pouring it on his ex-lover and setting her ablaze. The attacker who was a student of the same medical school then got out of the classroom and set himself on fire. The girl and the accused were admitted to Kottayam medical college where they succumbed to their injuries.
According to the victim’s friends both had been in love with each other for some time until the girl backed out because of her parent’s opposition to the relationship. The accused, a resident of Kollam stalked and threatened her on several occasions after which he retorted to this extreme step.
Entitlement is a privilege in a patriarchal society where women do not have the agency to refuse. Revenge is sought for rejecting a marriage proposal or sexual advances. Women are also been attacked for not bringing enough dowry, for bearing a female child and for not cooking a good meal or the refusal to do it.
Every crime against a woman is based on the deeply rooted bias that they are dependent humans who do not have the liberty to exercise the freedom to live their life which is a fundamental right. Women are struggling to claim their subjectivity as a fully formed human subject who have the right to say a no to a man.
Read the rest of the post here

                            Picture credit:

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Doctorate degree is a not a freebie!

We treat our celebrities like kings and queens. Don't we? Other than cheering for them and paying for their bills, we shower them with a lot of love. The recent case of a stampede at the Vadodra railway station during the promotion of the SRK movie Raees is an example of how devotedly we worship our heroes and heroines. 
While most of these celebrities stash a lot of wealth, indulge in financial frauds and get away with crimes, there are a handful of them to whom we can really look upto. The ones who inspire us with their rightful actions and set an example for the future generation. In the past I have quietly seen famous celebrities accept honorary degrees for outstanding contribution in their fields, and blow one's horn about their achievements. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Resolutions

A new year brings with itself a lot of hopes, much like the birth of a child. Every new year inspires us to make beginnings and bring an end to the rot and rigmarole of habits, that we have always wanted to give up.
2016 was an eventful year which was a witness to my only brother's marriage. Since, I am the elder one, the burden of responsibilities was put on my shoulders, which made me give up on my fitness goals due to the lack of time and commitment. After having bid adieu to Bombay, I have not been in shape all thanks to the unhealthy eating habits and incessant travelling. I have done my best to stick to my exercise regime but the lack of inspiration failed me.