Feminism · Thoughts

क्या #MeToo का जवाब भारतीय संस्कृति है?

ट्विटर पर #MeToo ने कहर मचाया हुआ है। कुछ लोग खुश हैं कि आख़िरकार हमारे समाज का भयावह चेहरा सामने आ गया है और आगे कुछ बेहतर होगा। कुछ लोग बहुत ही परेशान हैं और इन सब आरोपों के सबूत ढूँढ़ते फिर रहे हैं। कुछ लोग #MeToo में भाग लेने वाली महिलाओं को ग़लत साबित करने में, उन्हें गालियाँ और तरह-तरह की धमकियाँ देने में व्यस्त हैं। लेकिन थोड़े लोग ऐसे भी हैं जो कि बड़े आत्मसंतुष्ट हैं। ये संस्कारी लोग हैं। नहीं, नहीं, मैं आलोक नाथ का बिलकुल भी मज़ाक़ नहीं उड़ा रही! ये वे लोग हैं जिन्हें भरोसा है कि दुनिया में जो भी समस्याएं हैं, वे इसलिए हैं कि हम भारतीय संस्कृति से दूर होते जा रहे हैं। इसलिए उनका मानना है कि जो ये यौन शोषण और उत्पीड़न की घटनाएँ सामने आ रही हैं, वह भी इसलिए हैं कि हम अपने संस्कारों से दूर होते जा रहे हैं।

तो इसलिए मैंने सोचना शुरु किया कि क्या भारतीय संस्कृति के पास वाक़ई #MeToo का जवाब है?

(दरअसल मैंने अभी सोचना नहीं शुरु किया है, काफ़ी समय से सोचा हुआ है। लेकिन कुछ लोगों को शायद अच्छा लगे कि उन्होंने किसी को भारतीय संस्कृति के बारे में सोचने पर मजबूर कर दिया। इसलिए ऊपर ऐसा लिख दिया मैने।)

तो क्या भारतीय संस्कृति #MeToo का जवाब हो सकती है? कई पहलू हैं। एक-एक करके विचार करते हैं।

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः

ऐसे कुछ-एक श्लोकों के साथ हमारा दावा यह होता है कि भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की पूजा करती है, वह उनका अपमान नहीं कर सकती। अब इसपर शास्त्रीय बहस हो सकती है कि जो लिखा गया उसका क्या मतलब है? और क्या-क्या लिखा गया? उन सबको मिलाकर उस ज़माने के समाज की क्या तस्वीर बनती है। लेकिन मैं इस शास्त्रीय बहस में नहीं जाना चाहती। बस एक तुर्रा छोड़ देती हूँ कि जरा यह सोचिए कि नारियों के लिए खास कर के ऐसे श्लोक लिखने की आवश्यकता ही क्यों पड़ी? कई अन्य श्लोक भी हैं जिनमें नारियों को खुश रखने की गुज़ारिश की गई है। क्यों करनी पड़ी ये ख़ास गुज़ारिश? शायद इसलिए कि नारियों की हालत उस समाज में भी अच्छी नहीं थी।

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लेकिन अगर मेरे तुर्रे से आप सहमत नहीं भी है तो कोई बात नहीं। क्योंकि तब क्या था इससे मुझे फ़र्क़ नहीं पड़ता है। आज श्लोक सुनकर किसका पेट भरता है? और पूजा किसे करवानी है? ढोंगी बाबाओं को अपनी पूजा करवाने का शौक होगा। एक आम इंसान को, स्त्रियों को भी, आम जीवन में सुख, शांति, खुशियाँ, स्वतंत्रता, सम्मान और जीने का हक़ चाहिए होता है। किसी जीते -जागते इंसान को देवी-देवता बनाना और पूजा के कमरे में बंद कर देना उसके साथ नाइंसाफ़ी ही होगी। भ्रूण-हत्या करने के बाद, ज़िंदा रहने दिया तो क़दम-क़दम पर उन्हें पीछे खींचने के बाद, उनके आने-जाने पर रोक-टोक लगाने के बाद, बाहर निकली तो उन्हें शर्मिन्दा करने के बाद, श्लोकों में नारियों की पूजा कर के हम कौन सा धमाल मचा देंगे?

नारियों की पूजा करने से नारियों का कोई भला नहीं होता है।

संस्कारी भारतीय पुरुष नारियों की रक्षा करते हैं।

क्यों करनी पड़ती है रक्षा? आप कहेंगे कि आज-कल ग़ैर-संस्कारी लोगों से करनी पड़ती है। लेकिन संस्कृति तो पुरानी है ना? और जिन जगहों पर सब पुराने संस्कारों वाले लोग रहते हैं, वहाँ ये बात और भी ज़ोर-शोर से कही जाती है। क्या दर्शाता है यह हमारे समाज की स्थिति के बारे में। पहली तो यह कि स्त्रियाँ सुरक्षित नहीं है। दूसरी यह कि उन्हें अपनी सुरक्षा करना सिखाया नहीं जाता।

इस विचारधारा का परिणाम ये होता है कि अगर कोई पुरुष नहीं है उसकी रक्षा करने के लिए तो ये मान लिया जाता है कि नारी खतरे में पड़ेगी ही। तो ये नारी की गलती हो जाती है कि बिना पुरुष की सुरक्षा के उसने कुछ किया या कहीं गई। नारी को सब शर्मिन्दा करते हैं। उसपर हमला करने वाले को कोई शर्मिन्दा नहीं करता।

यह कैसा समाज है? क्यों नारियों को इस विशेष सुरक्षा की ज़रूरत है। कितने भारतीय पुरुष आज की तारीख में प्रशिक्षित योद्धा हैं? आम पुरुष तो नहीं है। तो जहाँ इन पुरुषों को अंगरक्षक लेकर चलने की ज़रूरत नहीं पड़ती, वहाँ नारियों को इसकी ज़रूरत क्यों पड़ती है? आज के ज़माने में ज़्यादातर पुरुष युद्ध कर के अपनी रक्षा नहीं करते। उन्हें भरोसा होता है कि इसकी ज़रूरत नहीं है। समाज के नियम और देश का क़ानून उनकी रक्षा करते हैं। देश का, समाज का जो क़ानून इन पुरुषों की रक्षा कर सकता है, वह स्त्रियों के लिए काफ़ी क्यों नहीं है? और अग़र नहीं ही है तो बनाओ उसे और मजबूत।

भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों को सुरक्षा नहीं देती। पुरुषों को उनका रक्षक बनाकर वह इन सवालों से अपने हाथ धो लेती हैं। और जो पुरुष उन्हीं नारियों का शोषण करते हैं, उनके साथ हिंसा करते हैं, उन्हें भी अपनी ज़िम्मेदारियों से मुक्त कर देती है। बल्कि उन्हें अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से ही सही, बढ़ावा देती है, कि करो नारियों पर हमला। एक नारी ने बिना किसी पुरुष का सहारा लिए कुछ करने की कोशिश की है। तो उसे सबक सिखाओ और अपनी जगह दिखाओ।

और ऐसा नहीं है कि जिन पुरुषों को रक्षा की ज़िम्मा दिया गया है, वे ही भक्षक नहीं बन जाते। मुझसे बहस करते समय आप उन्हें ग़ैर-संस्कारी बता कर उनसे पल्ला झाड़ लेंगे। लेकिन तब भी असल जीवन में उन पुरुषों को भी कोई सज़ा नहीं देता। स्त्री को सब चुप करा देते हैं।

तो माफ़ कीजिए। पुरुषों को नारी की सुरक्षा का ज़िम्मा देकर भारतीय संस्कृति नारियों की रक्षा नहीं करती। बल्कि वह यह मान लेती है कि समाज नारियों के लिए सुरक्षित नहीं हो सकता। वह उनकी सुरक्षा की ज़िम्मेदारी लेने से इंकार करती है।

संस्कारी भारतीय नारियाँ ख़ुद को खतरे में नहीं डालती।

वे आधुनिक, कामकाज़ी नारियों की तरह पुरुषों से अकेले मिलने नहीं जाती, शराब नहीं पीती, इत्यादि इत्यादि।

कुछ समस्याएँ हैं इस तर्क में। एक ये कि जो नारियाँ ना बाहर काम करने जाती हैं, ना शराब पीती हैं, वे भी सुरक्षित नहीं हैं। अगर आप संस्कारी वातावरण में रहते हैं तो अपने आस-पास की घटनाओं पर भी थोड़ी गहरी नज़र डालें। ना ही आधुनिक समाज में सारे हमले शराब पी हुई स्त्रियों पर होते हैं। और शराब हो भी तो अगर एक शराब पिए हुए पुरुष के साथ कोई बदतमीज़ी नहीं करता, तो स्त्रियों के साथ करने की भी कोई वजह नहीं है। इस तरह के तर्कों को विक्टिम-ब्लेमिंग कहते हैं। यानि कि अपराध की ज़िम्मेदारी पीड़ित इंसान पर डाल दी जाती है, बजाय अपराधी के ऊपर डालने के। ऐसे तर्कों का एक आधुनिक, सभ्य समाज में कोई स्थान नहीं है। जो संस्कृति नारियों के हर काम में, हर बात में ऐब ढूँढ़ना चाहती है, उन्हें खुल कर जीने देने की बजाय उनके पैरों में संस्कारों के नाम की बेड़ियाँ बाँध देना चाहती है, वह #MeToo का कारण है, उसका समाधान नहीं। जेल में बंद होकर सुरक्षित रहना किसी का सपना नहीं होता। हमें घर में, सड़कों पर, ऑफ़िस में, बाज़ार में, बस, रेल या मेट्रो में, पार्टियों में, यहाँ तक की शराब वाली पार्टियों में, कहीं भी स्त्री-मात्र होने की वजह से असुरक्षित महसूस करना स्वीकार्य नहीं है।

जिस संस्कृति के पास इसका समाधान हो, वह अपना डंका पीटे। अन्यथा #MeToo को स्वीकार करे।

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Feminism · Thoughts

Understanding #MeToo as a Revolution

When they are not paid trolls or a potential accused themselves, I pity the men earnestly and innocently asking after every #MeToo reveal, “But where is the proof?” and “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

They are struggling to understand what is happening. And in some cases, being too arrogant about it.

What is happening is a revolution. And revolution, by definition, doesn’t respect existing norms – social, moral or legal. It redefines norms. You can’t comprehend the new norms by using the old vocabulary.

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Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Another thing about revolutions is that they are messy. Don’t let neat paragraphs about all the revolutions in the History textbooks fool you. Once you get into the nitty-gritty, which those who are living the revolution have to compulsorily face, you wouldn’t be surprised if many people want to just crawl back to the predictable, old days, even if it was more oppressive. So many people, women included, are dealing with the loss of their heroes right now. I don’t even know what family members of the accused are doing to cope with it. Well, revolution doesn’t neatly skirt you to care for your cherished, little comforts.

An impactful revolution does not come out of nowhere. The dissidence builds over time. A few failed attempts usually precede the successful ones. Many martyrs are made before a successful person ascends the throne. As is resurfacing, it isn’t the first time that women have spoken out about the harassments. But they have been unsuccessful in getting redressal in past. Many have had to sacrifice their careers for their audacity. Other attempts at making it public and large-scale also didn’t take off. But now, the moment is there.

Why does a particular attempt succeed? Again, leave it to History textbooks to list down neat, lucid reasons. For those living it, it may not have succeeded, just like the earlier attempts. But somehow, this one time it did. Somebody made another attempt, and this time it caught on. You can be happy, you can be sad, you can be jubilant, you can be confused, you can feel whatever you want to, but the only actionable choice you have is to live it.

What happens now? Pretty unpredictable. Revolutions go in all kinds of directions. They almost never neatly lead to the world envisaged by the original revolutionaries. The almost never fully destroy existing power structures and horrors. They almost always bring new kinds of horrors. They often also result in splintering within the revolution.

The impact of #MeToo has been unprecedented because a significant number of people have stopped defending and started accepting the horrors of the situation and the current system’s inability to fix them. Almost for the first time abusers have been sacked or had to step aside. But here is the thing. One year down the line, many of them are likely to creep back. The power structure is still there, and it is still owned by men. I would like to see, however, that after creeping back, do they keep away from repeating their offenses? That would be something. And do others not yet outed learn their lessons and desist from now on? Does the definition of “cool” and “just a joke” and “just harmless flirting” change in workplaces?

One totally unintended and depressing outcome would be even more bias against hiring women. Because people don’t change that easily. All the existing biases against women will continue working, and now men in power would “fear” being “outed” for “even smiling at women”. So, no wonder if such people come up with the solution of not hiring women in the first place. If that happens, there is another fight to be fought.

A new kind of horror will, of course, be if too many innocent people are consumed by the fire that is spreading. There are a very small number of cases that look like it, but the attempts of high jacking the revolution by vested, conservative interests are obvious. I won’t worry too much about individuals trying to get personal vendetta out of it – I think those die down easily. But institutional bad faith can totally destroy it.

But even if that happens, a new norm has taken root and there will forever now be a tool to fight with. For those asking “What will come of it?” as persistently as the men mentioned at the beginning of this article asking “Where is the proof?”, it’s not going to become a gender-egalitarian world right away. So, don’t bother declaring it a failure because “x hasn’t changed” and don’t pretend to be wisely annoyed when another fight is started. Most of what has come out in #MeToo is the most horrible kind of outright sexual harassment and assault. If even those go down or are punished by the system, it will be a big success. But we haven’t even started on everyday sexism – the multitudes of ways in which women are denigrated and humiliated, the deliberate or unacknowledged biases that harm their careers and sense of self-worth, the thousands of ‘don’t’s and ‘can’t’s and ‘daren’t’s meted out every day! If we start calling those out at scale, nobody knows who will be left with any face to show at all. We have material enough for several more messy revolutions.

If you aren’t an abuser, congrats! Sit back, relax and make sure you don’t look the other way the next time an episode of harassment is going on around you. It might have been uncool, unsporting, puritan to protest it in past. Now you have the excuse of a revolution. And yes – stop being sexist in every other way too.

Feminism · Thoughts

All in a Day’s Work

Note: If while reading this you start wondering what is the point of my anger, please read this.

An IIT Kanpur alumnus was disgusted with the rotten language folks from his alma mater were using during a political discussion on social media. They had stooped down to the level of calling each other the most unsavory names. He posted about it on Facebook with screenshots from which, very wisely, he had redacted the names of the people involved.

Another alumnus thought it must be “ladies” in that conversation because “they forget everything once they get wild”. And he decided that his thought was sincere and important enough that he must give voice to it as a comment on a publicly shared post on Facebook. And he did. The question here is not whether the people using the unparliamentary language were women or men. My question is what if they were indeed women? Would it mean that this gentleman was justified in carrying this gender stereotype in his head? Okay, that was too gentle. Without resorting to swear words, this is the real question: Would it have made his outright misogyny correct?

I hope I don’t have to sweat it out to get a ‘no’ as the answer there. There would be individual women who lose it when they get wild. It doesn’t mean that it is a characteristic of the entire sex. Even if those foul-mouthed people were women, this guy in insanely misogynist and not at all aware of how rotten and dangerous his mind is.

Why dangerous? Because in a professional setting he would be in a position of power over many people (an IITK alumnus!). What happens when he is in a situation at work where there is a conflict among his subordinates and one of the persons in the conflict is a woman? Who would he automatically assume to be on the wrong, irrational side? Who would be assumed to have “forgotten everything” because “they have gotten wild”? What does it mean to the career prospects of women in the world where men like him are in power?

Reminder: If you are wondering why am I getting angry, please read this.

Are you dying to know whether the culprits in the original discussion were women or not? Well, what do you think? If it was a discussion among IITK alumni, which sex does the theory of probability favor for this honor? If in the face of such obvious clue as to the gender of the people involved, this person expressed an opinion like that on women, what would happen when he is in a position to pass judgment where women actually have a higher probability of being involved?

Anyway, after putting in a comment which was exemplary for its restrained rage (hey – nobody even preached me to be calm after that comment, nobody realized that I was snarky and angry!), I was trying to put all this behind me. But Rashtrakavi Dinkar intervened.

I am reading books on Indian history these days and picked up Sanskriti Ke Chaar Adhyaya by Dinkar. It is an interesting book and I was enjoying it. Then I came across these gems.

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For those who don’t read Hindi, I am sorry. My rage is not sufficiently controlled right now to delve into translation. I will, perhaps, do it at some other time.

But there is a translation needed even for those who do read Hindi. Here is what the Rashtrakavi is saying: Women stepping out of home is the root of all evils. Men molest women because women step out. Men can’t get their work done because women step out. Whatever be the philosophy of life mankind holds, the place of women is inside the house.

And here is what is even more infuriating than his views. He was writing a book on History. He was basing it on already existing literature. He could have stuck to his analysis of what is known about our History. Yes, Buddhist traditions and texts hold that Buddha didn’t want to induct women in the Sangha. Yes, other historians he had read and quoted would have seen this as a reason behind the downfall of Buddhism. He could have stayed analytical and neutral, and just stated all that. But no! Read the judgmental language he adopts. He just HAD to let the world know what HE thought. He decided that it was important to announce to the world through a book on the history of Indian culture that women stepping out is a problem.

This was 1950. We were writing a constitution which gave women voting rights. It gave them the same personal liberty as men. It gave them the right to be wherever they wanted to be.

Obviously, our Rashtrakavi didn’t approve.

Finally, if you just can’t fathom what is the point of all this bitterness, read this.

Oh, one more thing. If you think this isn’t your fight, because you aren’t affected, maybe I should quote Dinkar for you:

समर शेष है, नहीं पाप का भागी केवल व्याध।
जो तटस्थ हैं समय लिखेगा उनके भी अपराध।

For translation, I need to get my rage under control!

P. S. We can’t go back in time and change the people of the past. Whether it was Buddha or Dinkar. Even if we were to invent some sort of a time machine, the laws of physics are likely to come in the way of changing the past in any meaningful way.  But people today can choose to work on recognizing their misogyny and consciously and actively fixing it. Saying the wrong things is pretty bad. Justifying them as ‘just jokes’ is even worse. Justifying them because your wife doesn’t object to them is insanity. But even saying the right things is by no means enough. Right action – now that is the real deal and the difficult one. Don’t trust me on this. Ask Lord Buddha!

 

Feminism

Confessions of an Ex Non-feminist

I don’t remember when I got over my hesitation and started calling myself a feminist without reservations. But I do remember that in my younger days I was hesitant.

I see the same hesitance in many other women. Do you believe in the equality of the sexes? Yes. Are you a feminist? Not really.

What does that even mean?

So, I was forced to think back to the days when I had the same hesitation. Why did I feel the need to disown feminism? It took some time but I managed to solve the puzzle of my own making.

How does the express idea of the need for gender equality enter your head? In most cases, it happens because you see that certain things are considered belonging to the boys’ domain and certain others to the girls’. Girls do the household chores, while boys get time to study and attend tuitions. Girls are expected to cook, clean and take care of their families when they grow up; boys are expected to go out, do well professionally and earn. But it isn’t just the differences in the expectation from the two sexes that pique you. It is also the status differential that comes along with it. The distinction implies not just that girls and boys are different, but also that girls are inferior. So the idea of gender equality translates into your head as ‘girls are as good as (or better than) boys’.

What is the best way to contribute to the fight for gender equality then? It is to prove that girls are as good as boys. It is to prove that you are as good as boys.

When you are in a slightly emancipated situation, like when you are attending a good college or you are employed at a modern workplace, the gender distinction and the assumption of female inferiority may not be that blatant but it is always lurking around. In the form of rules (protect the girls in the hostels and control their dresses), jokes (do I even need to enumerate every day sexist jokes?), salary differential and systematic biases. And once again what is the best way you know of contributing to the cause of equality? It is to prove that you are as good as the boys. Your focus is on your achievements. The best way to go about it is to pretend that jokes are just jokes and that anything else potentially debilitating is either non-existent or immaterial. For you anyway. You are out to prove yourself, not to whine and crib about the problems in your life. Because if you do that, people get another opportunity to say that girls are weak and not as good as boys.

FeministTrumpMarch

Enter the feminists. They talk about systematic biases, they object to sexist jokes, they demand equality. When you mouth their lines, it feels like you are making excuses for yourself. As if you are saying that if you failed it isn’t your problem, but society’s. That doesn’t make sense. That isn’t a great way to prove or achieve equality. So, you don’t mouth their lines. You don’t even like them mouthing those lines, because it feels like they are making excuses on your behalf. Excuses that you don’t need. Excuses that you don’t want. You can prove yourself, and you are doing that. Why are these so-called champions of women and gender equality spoiling it for you?

So nope! Feminism is not for you. It isn’t the right thing to do.

That’s where I was. So, what changed? Why am I an unabashed and unapologetic feminist now?

What changed for me has nothing to do with my being a woman or the issues of feminism and gender equality. What changed was that, as a person, I stopped feeling the need to prove myself to others. And then it became possible to see beyond what I can or cannot do.

I realized, over time, that in individual cases, some other advantages may trump sexism and patriarchy. The nation didn’t really boycott Indira Gandhi for her estrangement from her husband, as it would have done to a middle-class woman in those days. Power can make patriarchy immaterial. In other cases, privilege and money can. In my case, the fact that I managed to get into an IIT helped me transcend a lot of societal restrictions. Achievement surpassed patriarchy. But that isn’t the solution to the basic problem of gender inequality. It isn’t me. It isn’t the specific individuals who managed not to be affected by the systematic gender biases. It is what we are as a society. It isn’t enough that a woman educated in an IIT doesn’t feel weighed down just because she is a woman (many do, but let’s keep that for another day). What is essential is that an ordinary woman from an ordinary background wanting to live an ordinary life happily should not be discriminated against because of her sex either. Not even if she is illiterate and poor. What is also essential is that a woman from a privileged background should not feel silenced. Just because she has money and material comfort, it doesn’t mean she should not seek her political voice or financial independence or the right over her body or equality in every sense of the word. What I also realized is that it isn’t only about women. It isn’t only about women taking some power from men. It isn’t only about women breaking the stereotypical mold of femininity. It is also about letting men break free of the unfair ideals of masculinity. To use a poetic (and by now clichéd) expression, it is about it being okay for men to cry. It is about them not feeling ashamed or threatened if their wives earned more than them. It is about letting them be stay-at-home dads. And even with men, it is about changes spreading across the boundaries of class. I remember seeing a television program with some proud stay-at-home dads as panelists – all equivocally claiming that they didn’t face a problem in being one. They were all from privileged, urban backgrounds. Confident men who had achieved something in life and wouldn’t be bothered by societal pressure. But feminism is about providing this choice even to men from that fabled middle-class – the most potent upholder of all things patriarchal. Feminism is about providing this choice to everyone.

So yes – that’s how it changed for me. It changed when I accepted that it isn’t about me, my achievements or my weaknesses. It is about a system, which affects everyone. Besides, every feminist may not be cut out to be an activist. Every feminist may not even like being an activist. But everyone can be a feminist.

Not everyone needs to reach this point the way I reached at it. But irrespective of where you are in your life, whether or not you are trying to prove yourself, if you are ‘not a feminist’, please stop for a moment and think if your reasons are similar to mine. If they are, please review them.

Feminism · Thoughts

Transcript of my talk at shakTII

Good morning everyone.

I am going to cheat a bit. It is an Entrepreneur Talk. But I am not going to talk about entrepreneurship. I am going to talk about women, which thankfully is not at odds with the theme of this event.

I grew up in small towns of Bihar, never staying in a joint family, technically, but living a life where the circle of extended family and relatives was quite close-knit.  There were usual family spats once in a while, but overall the family members looked out for each other.  They provided board to a young man, a son of a second cousin, who had come to their town for studies or for the first job, and they kept their eyes and ears open to find out how their nieces could get married well within the budget their parents had. The better off ones would also take up the responsibility for more kanyadaan ceremonies than the number of daughters they had given birth to so that the lesser off relatives were relieved of the responsibility of paying for the mandatory gold gift of kanyadaan.

These people didn’t hate their daughters. They kept having daughters until they had at least one son, but they mostly didn’t indulge in female foeticide. Daughters’ weddings would bring entire extended family together. Quite in the style of Rajshri productions’ movies, even though the homes were usually less glamorous than those in the films. At every family function one would be reminded how only daughters can bring real joy in these functions and how everything would be so dull without the daughters.

They were not even indifferent to their daughters. They wanted to raise them right, just like they wanted to raise their sons right.  So… they wanted their sons to study Science and daughters to study Home Science. They wanted their sons to be smart and their daughters to be gentle.

Cut to present day!

There was a discussion going on among some of the IIT alumni, many of them senior, accomplished people, about this event meant for woman professionals. The possible names and taglines were being discussed. A very senior, soft-spoken, well-meaning IITian suggested and strongly defended a particular tagline, because it was humble and sober. I reminded him that the idea of the event was empowerment of women. Why should the tagline be humble and sober? The tagline should portray strength, confidence, shouldn’t it? I was told that humility along with confidence goes a long way. So then I did a quick poll on my facebook account asking my mostly men friends from IITs how often they have wanted their event names and taglines be convey humility and soberness. You can guess the result. The person suggesting the humble and sober tagline didn’t mean any harm. It was, in fact, he who had originally proposed the idea of this event.

Any Harry Potter Fans here?

Do you remember the wise Dumbledore?

dumbledorefriendsenemyquote

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

Most of the women sitting here would not have faced the obvious, brutish discrimination. They wouldn’t have been underfed so that men of the family could have their bellies full, they would not have had to give up their studies so that their brothers could study, they would have gone to the best schools, in fact. They wouldn’t have been neglected or beaten up by their families or husbands. They wouldn’t have any villains in their lives.

And yet! Yet, you feel the need to have a separate event for professional women. Despite there being no villain in their lives, they feel like they are falling behind, they are not achieving their potential, they are compromising.

Why?

Because impediments do not always come in the form of a villain with evil laughter ready to slay you at the first chance.

Impediments come in the form of well-meaning people.

Impediment comes in the form of that loving, proud father of an IIT girl, who told her that she should go for a Ph. D. after B. Tech. Why? Not because it was suitable for her temperament or aptitude, but because academia is a better place for women to be in. After all they have to shoulder family responsibilities later. Corporate life will make it difficult to handle.

This is a true story.

Do men not have families?

Impediment comes in the form of those nice friends, not only men, but women too, who post pseudo-empowering messages on facebook like “Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do.”

Ummm, excuse me? Apart from getting pregnant and giving birth, what is that? Oh wait! Taking care of the family, kids, cooking, cleaning, washing, is it? Men can’t do it? Right! That’s why women should run homes, and men should run the world.

Hope you see the problem. Sorry! Messages of those kind do not empower or inspire women. They just try to make them happy and satisfied with wherever they are. So that the world can maintain its status quo and not ask uncomfortable questions.

Impediment comes in the form of their “natural” urge to be caregivers, which is “respected” and “encouraged” by everyone around them?

What is this natural urge? Look around yourself. Even with the constant social conditioning trying to make them otherwise, don’t you come across women who don’t feel maternal urges and men who are great with kids, babies included. If there wasn’t this incessant social conditioning about what you are supposed to feel, what would the situation look like? My guess? Not the opposite, but very different.

Impediment comes in the form of the “myth” of “choice”. Who am I to question if a woman chooses to put her kids and family above her career? I am no one to interfere with what she does. But I have a right to wonder if the choice is real for most people. Was the choice between whether the father will stay at home or the mother? Unlikely. The choice was between whether nobody will stay at home versus whether the mother will stay at home. When only one person has a choice, that is not much of a choice.

Impediment comes in the form of outraged question “Are you saying making money is the only worthwhile use of people’s time? Aren’t family and home as important? What will you do with all the money if your family is not happy?” Good question. So long as it is not directed solely at women.

Impediment comes in the form of internalized assumptions about your role.  It comes in the form a women working to empower other women starting her case with “We are women. We have to take care of our families before everything else.”

It comes in the form of harmless jokes that imply men can’t cook and women can’t read maps or that women irrationally have upper hand in the relationships.

Impediment comes in the form of the argument that if there are women who support practices that work against women’s professional advances, there cannot be anything wrong with those practices. No. Just because a woman perpetuates it, a discriminatory practice doesn’t become right.

Impediment comes in the form of all the people you love and who love you, including your family, husband and kids.

What do women need today? More maternity leave? Or more paternity leave? Do they need more time to take care of kids? Or do they need their partners to share the responsibility? Do they need to be deified and installed in well-decorated temples? Or do they need to be treated like real persons who may have the similar career aspirations and similar love for their families as men.

I might already have ruffled some feathers here. Still I will end with a blasphemy. I can forgive Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Dilwale. I cannot forgive them for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The movie that made lots of money while promoting and elevating the patriarchal custom of Karwa Chauth by giving it a romantic twist. There is nothing romantic about it.

I know that I have only raised questions and not given answers. But that’s all I intended to do. There aren’t any quick answers. There are no 5 steps to liberation. We have a tough fight. With people who matter the most to us.

That’s all. Thank you. I am not sure what questions I can answer. But if there are any, please feel free to shoot.

Feminism

Heroes are a means, not an end!

Note: Please read “hero” in a gender-neutral sense in this post.

Earlier this month, I attended a women’s day event. There were professional men and women there, discussing different issues about – well – women in workplaces (perhaps it was specifically about tech industry, but that doesn’t matter for the purpose of this post).

A familiar phenomenon played out. A lot of chest-thumping by women who have “made it”.

womenatwork

I will come to what the problem was, but before that let me clarify that the chest-thumping was not undeserved. Most women who make it anywhere in the professional world have to do it against the societal expectations and pressures. Sometimes by outright fighting, at other times by at least ignoring the expectations and taunts. If a younger woman asks me for advice today, I will also tell her all these stories to encourage her to do her own thing and not give into what the society expects from her.

But a problem arises here. A problem arises when these stories start overwhelming the larger, real social issues. When you have gathered to discuss the situation of women in workplaces, it is not the time to sweep aside the societal issues by chest-thumping. This is how it typically goes:

Person 1 raises issue X which limits women.

A professional woman who has “made it” jumps up and objects. “That’s not really true. I have faced issue X and overcome it. Look where I am today. So why should it stop others? All you need are A/B/C qualities.”

(Replace A/B/C with things like self-confidence, talent, hard-work etc.)

Everyone else claps.

More similar stories are told and it is decided that issue X doesn’t really exist.

To understand what I find problematic in this, let’s consider a parallel hypothetical discussion in a society from middle ages. It is ravaged by constant wars.

Person 1 says that because of the wars, the farmers are not able to peacefully do their work and raise crops. Not only is there a shortage of grains in the country, but the farmers are also poor and hungry. Their condition is deteriorating everyday.

A farmer jumps up and objects. “That’s not really true. It’s just an excuse of the coward and the lazy. I am a farmer, but I learned to wield weapons and I can protect my farms. Why can’t others do the same? You just need some resourcefulness, weapon wielding skills and courage.”

Everyone else claps and it is decided that constant wars in the land are not really a problem for the farmers.

Does that sound right? Not to me! We like our current society better than the ones in middle ages because we don’t need to be warriors to be reasonably certain that we will live out our natural lives and won’t be killed by a stray weapon or a raging soldier. Wars create many heroes like the ones in the above fable, but as a society creation of heroes doesn’t justify constant wars.

It is the same with women issues. Or with pretty much any societal issue that involves a suppressed or an underprivileged group.

The heroes are good as an inspiration. They should be the means of proving that the discrimination is uncalled for. They should be the means of bringing about changes. They shouldn’t be used for brushing the issues aside. It is good to have women who make it against all odds. But as a society, we need to move in a direction where someone doesn’t have to overcome an odd just because she is a woman. Such a society will not consider a successful career woman any more of a hero than a successful career man. But despite fewer heroes that is the society we want.

Next time, please think about that before using a heroic story to sweep an issue aside.

Feminism · Movies

You’ve got it all wrong, Ms. Aravind!

In reaction to You’ve got the wrong villain, Mr Kashyap.

Let’s do a quick refresher of deductive logic. A statement like “If A, then B” does not imply “If not A, then not B”. Let’s contextualize it. “If women are physically strong, then unscrupulous men won’t be able to rape them” does not mean “If women are not physically strong, then of course unscrupulous men should and would rape them.”

See the problem with your criticism? You have seen the meaning you wanted to see, ignoring all logic, and then gone on to criticize it. Create a problem so that you can solve it?

What we see in the movie are characters, who respond to a particular situation; not the newspaper columnists who must present an all-rounded solution or be discredited. What do people do until the core of the issue is addressed? Until the ultimate and the right solution is found? They do whatever they can do to protect themselves. One of the things they can do is to make themselves physically strong and capable so that they can fight back their attackers. That was all there was to it. What exactly did you want a non-cigarette-smoking Sandhya Mridul to say? “Let’s leave our jobs and start protesting in front of (Insert you favourite venue here)?” Nothing wrong in protesting. But after those protests, until that ultimate solution is found, those characters will still be taunted, laughed at and molested.

No! Women having to become martial arts experts to feel safe in a civilized society is not good at all. But while they do feel unsafe, if they do want to learn and protect themselves, it doesn’t mean that they are advocating against a societal change. Nor does it somehow translate into victim-blaming.

I hope you didn’t think everything depicted in DevD was some kind of prescription for how the life should be lived. But I am glad you liked it. Because I am a fellow-fan of Anurag Kashyap too. I liked his lesser-known Gulaal even better. But no! There is nothing prescription-worthy there either.