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.