Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Need for and the Danger of Slutwalk

A few years ago, I overheard a couple of feminist friends talking about surrogacy and the need for a more nuanced debate in India, and how a superficial engagement with the issue, without any deeper understanding, could easily pave the way for even more subjugation of the already marginalized women in third world countries. The issue in question was how some people, even liberated upper class women viewed surrogacy as a mere choice, without contextualizing it in the neo-liberal economy where market forces only exploit and strengthen the already structured inequalities in the system, though on the face of it, choice, liberation, and freedom for all seemed to reign supreme. At that time, thanks to the patience of the two feminist friends, I understood the need to contextualize any struggle, and think before jumping into any bandwagon of any ‘radical’ struggles.
The Slutwalkers of Canada
It is one such context that one needs to place the rather ‘radical and revolutionary’ struggle called the slutwalk. Prima facie, the visceral rejection I feel for the term is because I think the word is akin to Gandhi’s harijan, which completely lacked any empathy for the struggling masses and sought to blunt the politicization of the dalit people, thereby paving way for a long-term subjugation with the ‘happy and proud’ consent of the victims! Secondly, what’s the slutwalk all about? It’s quite simple (rather simplistic!), ‘you have no business to touch me, irrespective of how I am dressed, and even if I am dressed like a slut.’ Fair enough.
The Sex Workers of Kolkata

Then, what is the point in dressing ‘like’ a slut? Let’s just look at India? Who is a slut? How many of us have actually seen sluts? I have interacted with a couple of them from the devadasi community (the community of women segregated by the bloody brahminical caste system to do just sex work for upper caste men), and they were not different from any of the other women. Only that they did sex work for a living, while the rest of us did office work for a living; there was no other difference except for the difference in brutality that the class-conscious patriarchy had dealt with us and ‘them.’ And, today, the women organizing slutwalk, without taking into cognizance the brutality of patriarchy and its oppression on women who were termed sluts, seem to embrace the very word and even want to flaunt it! And, these are women who don’t do sex work for a living, but somehow want to embrace the identity; how convenient is that?
A Sold Cow
For years, people have been fighting tooth and nail to just legalize this damned profession, with no success, and now, people are fighting for a cultural legalization of ‘slutting,’ or at least shall we say a cultural acceptance of being a slut, or may be being dressed like a slut. And, how do they plan to achieve it? By walking in hordes in skimpy clothes, which in their skewed view is of how sex workers are dressed! Wow!
It’s not without reason that one begins to think that a hypocritical society can only produce hypocritical and selfish struggles! The slutwalk India doesn’t come into existence because women in Kashmir were raped by the armed forces or strong women like Thangjam Manorama were brutally assaulted by the Assam Rifles, or not even when women on city roads are habitually sexually assaulted, irrespective of the clothes one wears, but when a Canadian policeman shoots off his mouth! What about the policemen closer home, who constantly taunt, harass, and even murder women? How is that there’s no such outrage? Do these women (the slutwalkers) feel more in solidarity with the western (read white-skinned) women than our own women, who do cringe, cry, and even commit suicide when harassed and termed a slut? Perhaps, there’s a simple solution: women come out and accept the term slut and in fact look at it as a liberating experience to be called a slut and do sex work in a market where the consumers are predominantly men. Is this the limits of one’s imagination or understanding of women liberation? This is perhaps the death of imagination, or a more sinister, neo-liberal-market-economy-dictated imagination!
A 'taken' woman
After moving to Chennai, I have seen some struggles by working class women. Truth be told, as a feminist, it did unsettle me to see women or young girls dressed in the so-called ‘decent’ clothes, in a way that makes women conscious of their bodies all the time. In those struggles, I have seen girls adjusting each others’ dupattas or saree pallus so that nothing ‘untoward’ is visible. Even women who are part of democratic struggles haven’t exactly escaped what for many of us is a flippant issue (shame at one’s own body). This is the place where there is need for, if not a slutwalk but the awareness of the way patriarchy creates shame in a woman for being a woman and the need to break the shackles of modesty that patriarchy ‘clothes’ women with! And we need to not only break the ideas of modesty, but also markers of patriarchy on women, such as the magalsutra (thali), the damned sindoor (vermilion ), the toe rings, etc.

We need to also identify how the market keeps bringing back these as fashion statements and women actually take to these as if these really make them look good! And, again look good for whom? For men! Perhaps, more than slutwalk, what we need are perhaps some lessons from history about how the sindoor came into existence; how sold out cows were marked on their foreheads with the vermilion and today the taken women (married) women have a vermilion marker on their foreheads!
I believe more than a slutwalk, what we need is for women to create a shared space that unites all women who are pummeled every day by patriarchy in a myriad of ways and break the roots of patriarchy and identify its ever changing colors and deal with it. But, can all women across classes and castes be united, without giving up the privileges of class and caste?
If the answer is no, and that the slutwalk is being organized only to represent the aspirations of a certain class of women, then don’t claim to represent ‘all’ women or even the women who do sex work for a living, especially if you do not share their world view even by a decimal point. So much, yes so much work needs to be done before we could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, especially for the Indian woman, and the slutwalk will only lead them into an even more darker tunnel that is conceived by the holy matrimony of patriarchy and the market.

Ps: Image courtesy: 1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbcworldservice/3512785840/in/set-72157617862244116/
 2. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/166482/20110621/slutwalk-capitol-hill-neighborhood-in-seattle-women-in-provocative-outfits-capitol-hill-neighborhood.htm
3. http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=1708019&TPN=9

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In the Island of White Sand

In an island of white sand
Come wafts of greenery
The scent of dry blood
Washed and cleaned
Blemish free
Amidst a sandy bog
Of mush and memory
Of a lost world
A blur of a face
Erased out
By tears and words
Within a labyrinth
Of hidden thoughts
Forbidden freedoms
Come alight
In a heart of darkness
Poems and mysteries
Of real love, bound
And tied
Only to be set free
In the island of lost hope
To stamp out any remnant
Embers of life
Within white sands
And myrrh
and white cloth
That curtained
And ended
In the island of white sand
Where greenery wafts
Between death by cross
Or words
Left unsaid and undone

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Of Bygones…

In a land of alien
Where the tongue is sharp
And the mind blunt
The cry of the heart is
Deep scarlet
Muffled and snubbed
Crushed by the wheels
Of life gone by
Cries the embers
Of a leftover lifetime
Tears that dry at the corners
Refuse to fall
Or fuse
Amidst the life that gallops
And guffaws
At fools that trust
That stay back
That dry and wilt
And die and be buried

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Destination Satoli!

This has been a post long-due. It’s about one of those impulsive, impromptu trips I had taken some couple years ago. If I am right, it was sometime during the blistering heat of Delhi’s summer (very very reminiscent of the killing heat of Chennai this summer) that four of us, friends, decided to go to the hills. Basically, since I was leaving Delhi, my dear dear Delhi, for good, we decided it to be a farewell trip for me. Somebody came up with the idea of visiting Satoli; a quaint little hill town nestled deep within the Himalayan mountains. A friend of ours got a beautiful little, warm cottage, overlooking a huge garden of apricots, arranged for us. Before we landed there, we had made some random enquiries about the place, but nothing really prepared us for the unadulterated natural beauty that was to assault us.
On a Friday night, we boarded a train to Kathgodam. By mere coincidence, I was lucky to have a side berth, which gifted me with the most beautiful sight in the morning; of green, misty hills, about to be taken over or shrouded by a patch of ghostly black thunder clouds. Wonder if it was for us to take in that beauty that the train had stopped at that precise moment for signal. In a while, as I tore my eyes away from the hills and looked at the vegetation and life around, the idyllic view was suddenly jolted by the river that started flooding in no time and the sparsely populated area suddenly became filled with a sea of people jostling to take a look at the unruly, unstoppable waters from the Himalayas.
Then, it was finally time to alight, and we took turns to freshen up in the tap water at the railway station; something I would shudder to even think about in Delhi or any other place. It was different here; perhaps due to the beauty of the hills or the cleanliness in the air, the whole place wore a pristine look. Wrapping ourselves in nice warm shawls, we had our steaming, sugary tea. Although I am a sucker for the perfect taste in tea, the not-so-perfect tea tasted simply divine, thanks to the ambience in which it was served. Reluctantly, I left the comfort of the railway station (?!) to board a taxi to our destination to the higher reaches of the hill that we were admiring from the railway station. Thank god for taxi drivers, road layers, and hill people.
After a terrible ride, punctuated by our puking in turns, we reached the dak bungalow, the much-famed-yet-unknown-to-the-outside-world staying facility on the hill. In no time, we freshened up and devoured the piping hot aloo paratas served by the caretaker. Then, started our unlimited chats on everything under the sun. I still wonder if our jokes we really funny, or whether it was the weather playing tricks, that anything and everything would lead to peals and peals of stomach-holding laughter! One hardly had to visit the nearby ‘places of interest’ for amusement! It almost sounds, in retrospect, such a stupid thing to do, which any way we did and regretted. The cottage people had furnished the places with just the essentials, and that made the place most endearing; just a couple of easy chairs on the verandah facing the vast Himalayas, a small bed in a cozy corner, a table for four near a fire place, and tiny book shelf. I still remember vividly each moment I spent on the easy chair reading and gazing at the beauty that surrounded us for those two magical days. The night crept upon us with unparalleled beauty, with its millions of stars, warm and cold stone benches, fragrances of the flowers that bloom at night, fried fish, and biting cold breeze. In no time we were lulled into a deep, dreamless slumber.
The next day morning, we were awake by 5 in the hope of catching the snow-covered Himalayas, but that was not to be; perhaps a reason to revisit the place sometime in the future. The day also brought some beautiful memories for us; my friend and I ventured into the apricot garden, plucked and relished some of the fruits, and found an obscure clearing and sat and talked. Suddenly, we realized that even our hushed voices were too loud for the quietness of the place. Just as we stopped talking to listen to the quiet, we heard the wind! A “whoosh” that kept gaining speed as it approached “our” hill and rode across to the next leaving little “whooshes” on its trail. Our jaws dropped at what we had just experienced. It was one powerful moment; a moment when my life had made peace with itself; a moment I keep travelling back to several times over just to feel the rush of joy that dances out of you, only when summoned by nature at peace with itself and with you.
And, it’s been ages since that one beautiful trip across the hills, but even today, as I write this post, my mind fills with the memory of that one blissful weekend as if it had happened just yesterday.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

(Thank you, William Wordsworth for writing Daffodils)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

And, why do women need liberation?—1

“I am quite pissed off with all this bullshit about women’s day and women’s rights! After all, who are they fighting against, or from whom do they want these rights or liberation?” declared a colleague this morning, as I was reading this powerful and sad letter that a neglected, hurt wife had written to her husband. Stifling the urge to bang my head on the desk, I began explaining to him the various facets of women’s rights, the radical beginnings of the IWD (International Women's Day), and how women’s rights cannot be reduced to mere male bashing (now that’s actually a compliment to men, if women's liberation/rights are equated to just male bashing!).

A lot of people believe that women today are quite empowered, in fact, even liberated. But, is it really the case? Firstly, let’s consider the case of women who work in the IT companies. Most of them are quite educated in terms of the degrees that follow their names. And, some even command salaries in the range of 8-12 lakhs a month. Of course, they have the freedom to come home at anytime, provided they come from the work place; not after a late night dinner, a get-together, or a party! I have seen many beautiful, ambitious young women succumb to the drudgery of domestic work and house keeping within days of marriage. As if that’s not enough, many of them abdicate or are made to abdicate their bank accounts to their husbands or in-laws! Most of them don't even think even for a moment before they append their husband's name to theirs! Some of them stop wearing make up because their husband doesn’t like it; and some wake up at 4 to cook three different dishes because the mom-in-law has diabetes, the father-in-law has hypertension, and the husband doesn’t like bland food! Well, it’s another story if the girl doesn’t know how to cook; after all, just knowing how to code a bug-free program or writing the most thorough business report is not enough to lead a happy family life if you are born a woman. And, like a small consolation comes the pocket money from the hubby, which some women use to buy concealers to hide the black and blue marks of ‘marital bliss,’ which come as a bonus from the new home. And, the new age man thinks why do the women need freedom/liberation and from whom!

Secondly, let’s look at the women who work in government offices or those who make a nominal salary, which is most often essential to give their children a better education. Since these women do not make much money, the disposable income in their hands is much lesser, which they end up using to buy things only for the ‘family,’ which is the one they married into; not the ones they were born into.

In my train/bus rides, I draw some of these women into a conversation to understand a little about their lives. A lot of these women complain of the time they spend at work, primarily because it interferes with the time they could spend with the family, especially because their husbands are also away at work. It’s completely a different issue that the men do not spend time with the family. The idea that the family is the sole responsibility of the woman, no matter how educated you are or what position you hold at work is drilled deep into their psyche! As if their own doubts on their professional capacity isn’t enough, the companies themselves hold an anti-woman view. Let me illustrate this with an example of an incident that happened in my mom's office. At the time of the incident, I was too young to even realize the underlying misogyny. There was an important audit happening in the office, and lot of people (including some 4-5 women) had to stay very late (and that’s 8 PM) to finish some reports. The husbands of four women came to office by 6 and stayed till the work was over and took them home. The remaining one lady had to stay till the next day morning because of lot of work, lack of trains after 10, and her husband not being in town to pick her. This one incident captured the imagination of all the women (and the men) of the office, and they spared no opportunity to brand her a slut! That was the end of any woman wanting to do well, work hard, or even climb the management ladder in that office! And, a lot of people still think why do the women need freedom/liberation and from whom!

Finally, let’s look at the wage laborers, domestic helps, vegetable vendors, fish sellers, and agricultural laborers. In fact, the subjugation, oppression, and exploitation that these women go through can never be compared even remotely with what the other women go through. Here, class plays a diabolical role, which men from upper classes with the tacit sanction of patriarchy unleash unspeakable violence (physical, mental, economic, and social) on these women. There’s no need for one to go searching for stories to prove this claim; you simply have to open the newspapers to see how the murdered corpses of a dalit girl and her mother were raped by upper caste men of the entire village or how a woman girl is strip searched for alleged robbery. And, a lot of people still think why do the women need freedom/liberation and from whom!

More to follow in future posts on housework, unaccounted labor, and street violence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Audacity of Grief

It slipped. 7 months. Too long to stay the grief it seems. She remembered the 7th thirteenth after 7 days of the passing away of the 7th born.

Try however hard, the grief refuses to stay the way it began; it seems to change shape the way smoke from a fire changes as it drags itself away from the source and mingles with the rest and become colorless, soulless.

With no one to pick the line on the other end, the phone rings and rings; and one day, it slips her hand.

A fire that singes only the heart and soul douses itself with no tear gas; and one day, even tears dry.

Crouching with just a pillow to my heart and stomach stifle I the ball of grief; lest it also slip away…

Monday, January 10, 2011


Within dark valleys
And between trees
Hide moments away-gone
Sequestered by thoughts
Of the rain, wind, and hills
Entombed in yours and my
Eyes, ears, and heart

Roving through flesh
And within skin
Trespass words untilled
Ploughed in by seeds
Of the past, present, and future
Nailed in yours and my
Destiny, fate, and mind

Creeping up the walls
And through crevices
Snake hope untold
Of the quiet true love
And the noisy quite love
Fastened in yours and my
Path, dreams, and tears

Destination Sikkim - Till we meet again

On the third day, we went to the Sikkim Himalayan Zoo. It was day of little rain and much mist. The walk into the zoo was surreal because o...