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A very long time ago, I watched a completely unremarkable and utterly forgettable South Indian movie called Vali [vah-lee]. My usual treatment of (mainstream) Indian movies follows this order— avoidance and if that fails then, resignation, simply because most Indian movies, and especially the South Indian ones, are so jam-packed with sexist and even overtly misogynist themes, that they can potentially damage my mental health if I allow myself to get triggered every five minutes. Vali just happens to one such movie. I now painfully take up the task of presenting a very brief outline of this trivial movie for the sake of providing context to my point.

There are these identical twin brothers but one of the two is disabled; he is both speech and hearing impaired. The other brother meets and falls in love with a beautiful girl, our heroine, and they are engaged to be married. The disabled brother is attracted to the same girl and decides to “attain” her (I have attempted a literal translation from the original to emphasize the emotion behind this “attraction”). Formerly, the twins were thick as thieves but the appearance of this girl leads to discordance between the two brothers. The disabled one tries his best to sabotage the relationship and prevent their marriage from being consummated (yes, she needs to be a virgin, remember?). He even plots to kill his brother with no long-term objective in mind other than to have sex with his object of lust (note that consent is not even in question). The movie ends predictably with the ‘bad guy’ dying and the ‘good guy’ winning the trophy, the girl.

There are a zillion things wrong with this movie but it is undeniable that it’s merely borrowing a motif that has been around for centuries—men ‘fight over’ women in order to either satiate their lust, consensually or otherwise, or to win them in marriage (in other words, long-term possession). Did I say centuries? Yes, that’s right. The Trojan War, which has been immortalized by The Iliad, was fought by Menelaus to win back his wife, Helen, who had, by divine intervention, fallen in love with Paris and eloped with him to Troy (it’s still a contentious issue if Helen eloped with Paris or if she was in reality abducted by the enamored lover. These are highly problematic issues either way). Thousands were killed in this war from both sides; the honor of the House of Menelaus was at stake. It appears to me that violence hovers around women who are sought by men who see in them a gain that can be achieved through any means possible. Also, the poor woman, Helen, stripped of her agency, has practically no visible role to play in the entire saga but she’s definitely successful in winning the hatred and resentment of those people who are put to war, for the honorable cause of winning her back for Menelaus.

This particular theme appears to enjoy an unabated, popular status, especially in movies (not so much in books nowadays though). From Homer to Chaucer to any Indian movie picked at random (and not very infrequently, in real life too), it’s the same theme played out in different ways, in different contexts, while retaining the same ideas of what it means to be a man, and what a woman’s role in relationships ought to be.

The idea of misogyny is slightly complex and difficult to identify and categorize neatly, because prejudice against women can assume many forms and is effected in many ways, usually subtle. Misogyny isn’t just the sexual objectification of women or directing violence at them. It’s misogynistic to make women the source of violence too; women are the seen as the reason for which a lot of violence is committed by men. The latter idea is not always easy to identify, let alone sympathize with. The reason for this is perhaps it is intertwined with other concepts such as how masculinity is defined in different cultures and how the man goes about establishing it. After centuries of having men physically contend for that special woman, we live in a time when it is actually considered flattering to the woman to have men fight over her. Personally, I find this to be a very demeaning idea. How can it be flattering to stand by passively, without exercising my choice or my opinion and have two men independently decide who deserves to have me?

In modern, liberated societies, women are probably no longer considered as chattel (incidentally, the word is derived from ‘cattle’. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it?). Not perhaps in the literal way of owning her, trading her and abusing her (though these things happen in some parts of the world more often than we think or know). For example, what exactly does it mean when a man says “she is my wife”? The syntactical possession has a more subtle implication. But it exists. And this deeply dictates how he loves her, how he treats her, how he reacts to her behavior with other men; it also decides how far he would go to assert that possession, that right that is solely his. Like matters concerning any kind of property, a lot of blood is shed to gain or to assert this ownership of women by men.

I don’t have anything conclusive to end this post with, except that it is important to observe the ideas of ownership of women and the way they play out in different societies and the misogynistic themes that we encounter in the media and in our daily lives. 

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Ever since I started this blog, I am asked every now and then, why I call myself the “mad period woman”. The response cannot be summed up in a few short lines. So here’s a post about it.

Let’s start with the most obvious. I am a woman, no doubt, and one with completely unremarkable lady bits. I think I more or less enjoy being a woman but that doesn’t stop me from wondering how it would feel like to be a man. For as long as I remember, I’ve been fascinated with the opposite sex, but not in a sexual way at first. There’s always been this huge curiosity about how a male body functions; like, how do men stand and pee with such ease? Naturally, I had to try that out with disastrous consequences. That particular curiosity wore off after my messy experiments. But I still wonder how it would feel like to have a penis, an external organ that experiences pleasure. The very thought is so alien to me. Every time I am turned on, I experience intense tingling and excited anticipation in my lower abdomen, that I just cannot imagine how it feels like to have similar(or perhaps, very different) feelings a few inches outside of my body.

Also, possessing a body part that is designed to receive an object, puts it in a passive role. The uterus/vagina is the empty chalice till the man fills it with himself and his seed, in order to create another new life (I positively hate that outdated metaphor, but you get the idea of passivity and  procreation from that). I have mixed feelings about that function, because I am not particularly happy about the way it makes me feel. Somehow it feels secondary to possess a vagina and yet, important. Stemming from the fact that the vagina receives the penis, is the colloquialism that we are all too familiar with these days– women get fucked while men are the ones who fuck. But then, we have evolved into a species that can override evolution-assigned roles and traits. We no longer acknowledge just two genders and women aren’t the only ones to get fucked (in terms of a heterosexual relationship). If that wasn’t a big hint already, I was referring to pegging.

An awful lot can be said about the adjective ‘mad’ and its role in my life. I am always in some sort of rage, in gradations, of course. As a child, I was terribly prone to throwing temper tantrums. But that did not last long and I grew up to be a tamer teen. Even when I suffered through years of sexual abuse, I never experienced any anger. The three years of an abusive marriage was also endured in silence and fear, rather than even internal rage. And then things changed, for the worse. I live in perpetual anger that can be pretty damn exhausting. My lack of control in expressing my anger, usually by breaking glasses or other fragile but inexpensive paraphernalia, has damaged quite a few relationships. I have made life hell for everyone around me. After learning some tough lessons on taking responsibility, I have found a way to channel my rage to more ‘useful’ and positive things. Nonetheless, emotional exhaustion is just around the corner.

With so much anger inside, the other kind of madness, insanity, isn’t all that far. Rage drives me to tears and tears to depression. I teeter on the verge of insanity every now and then. It takes an enormous amount of restraint, self-love and forgiveness to come back to so-called normalcy. But it is unsettling that insanity is lying latent, if I choose to engage with it even the slightest. I don’t wish to delve any deeper into this subject, simply because there is no way for me to put into words the kind of chaos that my brain is a host to.

Moving on to more fun things, I am not kidding when I say that my period is almost always either in the background or in the foreground of my thoughts perennially.  When I was younger, I was thoroughly fascinated by this whole bleeding business. It seemed special and fun, like a happy secret. It was new and exciting. Naturally, that feeling did not last too long. It became a chore having to hide to my pad on my way to the loo. And the restrictions that my mother imposed at home weren’t fun either. It was a pain to grow up in a moderately orthodox yet religious home. But things were much more severe in other not-so-moderate orthodox houses. I would dread getting my period while visiting relatives. Things had to be done in a sneaky manner– pads were smuggled in to the loo during siesta hours or in the dead of the night. Used ones could not be just disposed off in the trash bin, because if I got busted by spying eyes, I would be sent away to solitary confinement for three days (nope, that’s not a joke). They had to be wrapped in layers and layers of newspaper and taken all the way across the street to the garbage dump. Surprisingly, my mother would be my partner in crime during these bloody expeditions. Honestly, it’s quite tiresome, all this hiding. I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I fucking bleed every month. I mean, we don’t hide babies just because they pop out of vaginas! What is so icky about something that has been happening to me since I turned fourteen and most likely to continue till I am maybe fifty? Let that staggering math sink in for a moment.

Eventually things changed and the hiding act was no longer needed when I moved out of my home and joined college. But the anxiety of a sudden period or having a bloody leak during a period can be pretty torturous. It’s a nagging worry at the back of my head, kinda like having an internal time bomb. It’s nerve-racking. And you can’t always stick a pad to your panties because it freaks out the boys.

Let me tell you this. There is never a right time to have a period. Mine picks the most convenient time possible though– when I am asleep at 5am. Ten out of twelve times in a year, I get my period at 5am. I don’t know why, it happens. The excruciating pain starts around that time but I am fast asleep and I ignore it. I toss and turn and finally when I am up at 6am, my panties are soaked. I curse my luck and drag my feet to the bathroom to assess the damage. If I am wearing a pretty lacy thing, I try and salvage it. The granny panties go straight to the bin. But all this isn’t as predictable as it sounds; life is, after all, full of surprises. I am quite certain that I hold the record for getting a period the most number of times in a movie theater. And invariably, there are times when I have no pads or tampons on me. After stuffing a huge wad of toilet paper, sitting through the rest of the movie is the longest few hours ever. And then there is the nervous ride back home with the only thought– have I been spotted?

Some women are unbelievably blessed when it comes to not experiencing any pain during their period and I am insanely jealous of this alien species. I am a complete knee-hugger and a serial-sobber during my period. Popping a few pain-killers can get me on my feet but the cheerlessness is usually written all over.

Let’s talk about the dreaded three letters of mythic proportions– PMS. I start showing symptoms nearly a week before my period or sometimes even more. It is probably the only time in my life when I wish that my boobs could simply disappear, because I just cannot carry them around during PMS. And then comes the added burden of contraception. I used the patch after I stopped taking the pill. Hormonal contraception gets my period spot on time, never missing even by a day. Flip side– sore, sore breasts that beg for mercy. I dream, not of a perfect bra, but of an elaborate scaffolding that can support my ponderous and painful breasts, for that one week. (I hope you are keeping count– that’s two weeks out of four in a month when I get fucked, figuratively speaking so far).

Sore breasts do not concern men. Who cares about a couple of fleshy masses in torture? Men care about PMS because they can become unsuspecting victims of the crazy bear’s violent rage. After all, who else could be the victims of agonizing pain and rage due to menstrual cramps other than innocent male bystanders? 

Something goes wrong with my nether regions (not that nether, a little above) every few years. First there was the ectopic pregnancy and its termination, and then the giant fibroid. My hormones are at war with my body; it seems like I have no active role to play in this drama; they just take over as they please. I recently decided that I will give these rebelling hormones a break by going old-school and using barrier methods temporarily. My anxieties just doubled. Instead of worrying my head for two weeks in a month, I spend the entire month in some kind of uneasiness or the other. A single occasion of even drunken foreplay, forget sex, can get me all paranoid about potential pregnancy. To make things worse, staying away from hormonal contraception, has thrown my period cycle out of kilter. My neat little 28-day cycle is in a mess. If my period doesn’t start on the day I expect it to, I pee on a stick and hold my breath till it shows ‘negative’. I am done with this crap. Sore breasts are better than so much stress for a paranoid person like me. I will suck it up and go back on the pill.

There are other miscellaneous concerns that don’t exactly drive me crazy, but exist nonetheless. I have a sweet tooth that I tried battling for many years in vain. It particularly acts up during my PMS week. Some days I cannot think anything beyond stuffing my face with a cheesecake or a warm, gooey fudge brownie with crunchy bits of toasted walnuts…OK, that’s enough!! You know what it feels like.

My period and PMS weeks are also the times when I am extremely lustful. The feeling is that of both mental and physical rawness to an extent that I am sexually aroused at the drop of a hat. As someone who is not prudish about masturbating during a period, I indulge in some warm, bloody, self-love. The relief that the orgasm brings is well worth the trouble of cleaning up the mess afterwards. Same goes for period sex. Now, it can be terribly hard to find men who are not squeamish about taking a dip in the crimson cave (the horror!!!). But, in my experience, the deviant ones are the ones who know how to give mind-boggling orgasms to a woman.

So, the occasional fun-time mitigates the overall crabbiness. I have made peace with my period and the whole package that comes with it. It’s not the accursed, dreaded thing that shall not be mentioned in polite company anymore. In fact, being a huge fan of this blog as well as this kickass one (NFSW and definitely not for the faint of heart), I have found some much-needed solidarity in celebrating this aspect of my life.

Something needs to be said about period jokes. A few men are under the impression that women cannot appreciate period or PMS jokes. Not true. It isn’t a revered topic that ought to be mentioned with grave austerity every time. That’s ridiculous. Like everything else, this needs to be ridiculed and made light of as well. But if you wanna make fun of bloody faucets and crazy bears without standing by, showing empathy and patience then know that you’re nothing but a fucking jerk. And THAT is what pisses us off.

And anyway, who else can turn our secret gore fest into a laugh riot better than Margaret Cho?

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Marriages are an inescapable reality especially in India. It’s a landmark event in the lives of millions of people. This collaboration is not just between two individuals, but of two families who take the marriage, arranged or love, very seriously. The participating families invest a great deal of money and effort in arranging a perfect marriage because the honor of both the parties is at stake. This social construct of ‘honor’, hinges on factors like caste, social status, the bride’s character, dowry and such ideas that are bound in antediluvian traditions. These are matters of grave import and cannot be left to the hands of two young, ‘inexperienced’ individuals.

This holy institution carries on despite the vulnerability of today’s youth to ‘westernization’. In urban India, arranged marriages are back with a bang. They are back in a snazzy new form that is appealing to the educated middle-class. Indian weddings have gained great notoriety over the years, especially for the atrocious amount of money that gets spent. The wedding industry in India is booming, regardless of the economic downturn. Seven-day weddings have replaced the more modest, two-day affairs; the grander, the better it is for the ‘prestige’ of the two families. Money is both saved over years (if it’s a girl child, parents start saving for the wedding from the time of her birth!) and borrowed to fund these one-time extravaganzas. The families are complimented on the showmanship that they deliver during a marriage. A family’s pride and honor are at the forefront of these ‘memorable occasions’. In the way it reinforces pride and honor, an extravagant wedding emphasizes the family’s involvement in ensuring the success of a couple’s marriage. There is practically a mammoth investment in the marriage. In these marriages, dowry is not a word that is expressly uttered. It is implicitly understood by the bride’s family and it is directly related to the bride’s class and worth.

Through the practice of arranged marriages, patriarchy thrives in modern day India. Despite the incessant glorification of love marriages in Indian cinema, ironically, in reality, the majority of people do not care to find their own partner and arranged marriage is the prevailing trend.

Arranged marriages, in some cases, are the consequence of a failure in the exercise of dating. Dating in India is not easy. There are too many social as well as individual pre-existing limitations. Notwithstanding these difficulties, some people are active in finding partners mostly through their college and office networks. These interactions play a crucial role in enabling love marriages.

But many, after getting socially thwarted, give up the effort to date and eventually settle for traditional choices. They seek arranged marriages, simply because it is easier and also because of the fewer responsibilities it entails in taking up the weighty task of choosing a partner.

The rigmarole of choosing a suitable partner has been made more palatable to the educated, ‘free-thinking’, middle-class men and women. Keeping in mind the essential segregations of class, caste and religion that need to be maintained, the first-cut shortlisting of prospective suitors is done by the two families. This is the crucial step where a love match would make the world of a difference.

Love marriages by definition are not limited by traditional constraints, allowing for men and women to choose each other based on compatibility and individual preferences. 

Once this shortlisting is done, the girl and the boy are ‘given the freedom’ to choose from an array of choices. This is followed by a brief courtship, under the keen surveillance of parents, before or after an official engagement. The brief few months of supervised courtship satisfies them with the illusion of freedom and they are ready to play the role of obedient children. The subservience to authority is seamlessly transferred from parents to the husband and his family.

The so-called modern women feel pride in opting for an arranged marriage.

We are so cool, yet we follow traditions“.

This idea is sold as ‘striking a balance’. This is increasingly becoming rampant among immigrant parents who insist on fixing the weddings of their children, the stereotypical “ABCD”s (American Born Confused Desi). Even among immigrants there is a persisting suspicion of the West and its culture (or the lack of it, according to many Indian parents). These parents feel inclined to protect their children from the ‘corrupting’ western culture. Though many children grow up in foreign countries, following different traditions, studying with multi-ethnic people and yet they are raised to think that they cannot have love marriages. There is a curious fascination to a culture that they have not been raised in, but one they have been taught to identify with and belong to. Arranged marriages facilitate these people to marry another desi and consequently preserve ‘Indian culture’. These are privileged women who get pacified by the superficial choices presented to them and happily squander their freedom without even a thought about the consequences.

Back in India, parents of boys are extremely careful in picking the right girl for the role of a daughter-in-law, the bahu. A working woman, enjoying even a moderately influential role in her workplace is highly likely to be self-confident and self-reliant, demonstrating the attributes of individualism. In contrast is the often docile and obedient housewife, who is least likely to be ‘headstrong’ and hence more sought after by prospective mothers-in-law. Financial dependence is the age-old measure of stripping the wife of any meaningful power or position within her family. She is more manageable compared to the educated, employed and free-willed woman. The identical nervousness about a high-earning wife is seen when selecting a bride who is ‘highly educated’. A fair amount of education is encouraged, in order to make the woman more marriageable (or, ‘marketable’ is more apt). A certain amount of sophistication that comes with education is appealing since it can win the husband some praise for possessing such an arm-candy. But too many qualifications, like a graduate degree or a PhD, can corrupt the wife into displaying a scarily independent behavior.

Life after the wedding is not easy by a long shot for working wives, housewives or for stay-at-home mothers. Indian wives, in addition to being devoted to her children, are expected to do almost all the household chores. Her duties also include taking care of the husband. And no, it is not intended as a sexual innuendo. It isn’t uncommon for husbands to expect their clothes to be ironed, dirty laundry to be magically cleaned and folded, lunches packed and the house kept spotless everyday. Even when both partners are employed, wives continue to do the majority of the chores, with little or no contribution by the husband. This phenomenon is unfortunately more universal than people think.

Sure there are men who lend a hand occasionally, but I am talking about the difference between the occasional aid that comes when requested and shared responsibility which is more common in non-conventional love marriages.

The wife’s responsibilities only multiply in the case of an arranged marriage. The joint and extended family systems are still predominant in India. The bahu assumes all the burdens of running a family, including participating in frequent, demanding religious rituals and discharging other social duties.

Arranged marriages, the so-called successful ones, are dependent on the low expectations of the couple involved. And towards this end, parents use several pressure tactics and exhortations to reduce the expectations, especially of the girl.

You will not find a better boy than this. You’re fortunate that he has agreed to marry you.” (Try reading that with an Indian accent to get a better picture). Ad nauseam chants such as these erode the girl’s self-confidence, making her believe that she is worth only so much.

In such marriages, everyone involved has an agenda other than love. It’s free life-time sex for the man, not to mention, a stay-at-home maid forever. If the woman is unemployed, it’s financial security and protection forever. If she’s the modern, employed sort, then she’s just happy that she isn’t single anymore (since being single is a huge stigma till date).

Another defence of the arranged marriage is the failure rate of marriages in India. India’s divorce rate is one of the lowest in the world at 3% and this strengthens the parents’ convictions in arranged marriages. After all, it is love marriages that contribute to a significant chunk of this statistic. This isn’t all that surprising.

People agree for arranged marriages with so few expectations, that they are more likely to be pleased with the outcome. Even in the event of a failure or disappointment, the people involved, having established their dependence on their parents, continue to be dependent on them for resolving marital troubles. There is an active involvement by the families in the lives of the couple, especially in times of crisis. Quick fixes are done, usually followed by the insistence that it’s about time the disgruntled couple procreated. The existence of an offspring then ensures the co-existence of the couple, despite their own differences. Hatchets are buried and they learn to endure their marriage with brave stoicism and with the blessings of their parents.

Ultimately, it boils down to the definition of a successful marriage. If the parameter is “living together forever”, then perhaps yes, most arranged marriages can be deemed “successful”.  It’s no wonder that the stale joke of equating marriages to ‘life-term sentences’ continues to strike a chord with mirthless sympathizers who feel trapped in their own marriages.

Despite the number of people opting for a divorce, it remains a huge taboo in the Indian society. The soaring divorce rate is worrisome to many who subscribe to the traditional way of living. The divorce rate (to which I have contributed) ought to be delightful news instead. Sure the men are worried that their wives no longer tolerate the crap that is thrown at them, like they used to; that they are more independent now and empowered enough to walk out of their marriage; that women no longer have to endure abuses or remain in an unfulfilling marriage. Traditional men do not like having the trouble of having to put in extra efforts (like respecting the wife and treating her well) into making the marriage a success. Patriarchy had always made sure that they would reap the benefits of being married quite easily. These independent women are unsurprisingly viewed as a threat by traditional men.

Did I mention the sex lives of traditional men who prefer virgin brides and missionary position? There are so many of these couples who make love with the lights out. The sex lives of most married couples deteriorates within three to four years, with the frequency sometimes dwindling to even once a month. It particularly nosedives with the birth of a child. Both partners experience a tremendous amount of sexual frustration, which is almost always never addressed, with some men resorting to buying sex from prostitutes, or seeking extra-marital affairs, sometimes both the husband and the wife seek sexual and emotional fulfillment elsewhere, or some even leading an austere, asexual life. These can cause rifts which later become unbridgeable chasms that are endured in their unfixed states purely for the sake of society. A healthy sex life is indispensible to a good marriage. The solutions put forth to fix an ailing sex life are not easy to adopt by traditional couples; broadly speaking, couples who have had a love marriage are relatively more open to experimentation and hence manage to keep their sexual interest alive. As a sex positive feminist, I believe that a healthy and an active sex life is the way to self-fulfillment, happiness and good health.

In most marriages that have gone sour, women suffer more and by that I don’t mean just mental anguish. They bear the brunt of cruel and out-dated traditions and frequent domestic violence . This suffering gets deepened by impositions posed by an arranged marriage. As a feminist, this is one of the main reasons why I think arranged marriages are a bane not just to women, but the society at large. It’s a cesspool for patriarchy.

Patriarchy though it literally means “rule of the father”, it manifests itself in multitudinous ways in the different power structures of society. In India, there is a great emphasis on identifying the authoritarian figure, usually the oldest male in the family— the father or the oldest brother. He is the provider and protector of the family. The dignity of this figurehead is tied to his caste, class and also to the conduct of his subordinates— the wife, children and other dependents. Such a structure is highly iniquitous and various reform groups led by feminists and other egalitarians aim to destroy this behemoth for a more equitable structure. But through arranged marriages, patriarchy perpetuates its power structure. It counteracts the conflation of different religions, castes and classes, which is more likely to happen in the absence of such artificial enforcements of tradition that are steadily maintaining and reinforcing these discriminating practices.

For all that bragging that India is a diverse country, any mixing of the various divisions is actively discouraged by these traditions. I am yet to witness a family, intending an arranged marriage for its children, but one that seeks to mix a Dalit and a Brahmin, or a Hindu and a Muslim. It’s unheard of, since this is exactly what arranged marriages seek to prevent.

Arranged marriages limit diversity—the intermingling of races, castes, classes, religions, genders— the one thing that can effectively bring about collective peace and harmony.

Arranged marriages actively subvert feminism. No matter what form they take or however palatable they have become, arranged marriages reinforce the antiquated system of patriarchy. Dismantling this order, by denying arranged marriages, is a major step towards an India that is free from the menaces of hierarchies and societal segregations that continue to haunt the country for centuries with extremely deleterious consequences.

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On a bright, warm sunny afternoon, on the 4th of June, I drove to one of the more glamorous parts of Los Angeles, to march with a few hundred(or maybe even a thousand) ‘sluts’ and allies. I was aware that the venue was a park, but when I landed there, I have to admit, I was taken by surprise when I saw children playing in a sandbox nearby, with watchful parents displaying obvious curiosity about the event that was taking place a few yards away, while keeping an eye on their children. I couldn’t help but wonder just a little if the park was an appropriate place for a SlutWalk. I was not the only one to have these doubts. But I was at ease instantly when I stood with those determined women who were there for a united purpose– no one deserves to be raped.

Photo courtesy: SlutWalk LA

As someone who has been sexually abused through the teen years and lived through domestic violence, I stood there listening to the first-hand accounts of rape survivors, and felt that I wasn’t alone. I could see from the faces of these women, even the ones who were not delivering speeches, that these incredible women have suffered and survived sexual assaults, at some point in their lives, in some form or the other. And there were others– mothers, husbands, boyfriends, siblings– who turned up to show their support and march with the sluts. Those couple of hours were charged with powerful speeches, bold signs, catchy chants and plenty of camaraderie.

Right from the beginning, SlutWalk has been steeped in controversy and criticism. Not everyone who participated in the protest believed that the word “slut” can be reclaimed and nor did everyone wear fishnets and just bras. There were some who were dressed, what is traditionally called, provocatively and proudly declared that they were sluts and some were reluctant to do so. Some of the curious bystanders took the time to pause and read the catchy placards and cheered approvingly, while others were confused and even amused by the “mixed message” of a movement that protests against rape culture using a controversial name. I am pretty certain that many did not get the irony but that is besides the point. Are SlutWalks a success? You bet they are!

Conversations about victim blaming, rape apologists and rape culture happen every day between activists and feminists. And those circles are where those conversations stay, with plenty of three-dollar words like “intersectionality” being bandied about, but doing little to expand their audience.

That sums up how SlutWalks serve the wonderful purpose of raising awareness. SlutWalks brought discussions of rape culture from the intangible world of blogs out into the streets with their more in-your-face approach.

As I walked with my sisters-in-arms feeling exhilarated and empowered, I wondered wistfully if a SlutWalk was possible in India. After the LA SlutWalk, all I could think of was having such a march in either Bombay or Delhi. After the fruitful weekend, I got home just in time to catch the trickle of news about a SlutWalk in Delhi. As the news got confirmed, hundreds of debates erupted on the SlutWalk Delhi Facebook page. SlutWalks all over have attracted a fair amount of support as well as criticism, but just as I suspected, the criticisms received by Delhi SlutWalk are tenfold and overwhelming.

The appreciations, fears and criticisms voiced by the people about SlutWalk Delhi are reminiscent of those expressed globally, only stronger and more divided. I am deeply appreciative of the courage and initiative shown by the organizers of SlutWalk Delhi. The ride is going to be rough and challenging, especially with the overwhelming number of vitriolic criticisms.

Slut as a term cannot be reclaimed. 

Detractors love to pounce on this particular agenda behind SlutWalks. This is perhaps the toughest to achieve and almost impossible to measure the success of. Isn’t it a term bestowed on women, slutty or otherwise, by men? Doesn’t labeling oneself as a slut only aggravate the misogyny in the society and do more damage than good? However, many have provided a defence to this SlutWalk agenda. But I don’t feel the need to concern myself with providing any defence at all, because it simply doesn’t matter. The intention behind SlutWalk is clear but there is no way to predict the success of this goal, without first undertaking the task. But are SlutWalks damaging to women who are not ‘sluts’? I certainly don’t think so.

From the time I turned eighteen, I have been very active sexually. Though I lived in India then, I was simply not inhibited by the taboo of being promiscuous or of being tagged a slut. But it did not happen overnight. It did bother me when I was called a slut(the very word and not a substitute), to my face or behind my back, because the pejorative context around that word is stifling and hard to get rid of. After a few years of shunning this tag, I turned around and said, “I am a slut”.  The intention of the person who used the word against me in a derogatory way was visibly deflated. The liberation that came with the acceptance was empowering. The acceptance and empowerment happened because I am a slut. But do I deserve to be raped? Absolutely, not.

What about women who aren’t like me, who have not had multiple partners? In India, it doesn’t matter if you are a slut or a randi or a college-going virgin or a middle-aged mother of four– once these women are out on the streets, no one is spared from harassment, either verbal or physical, extending to assaults and even rapes. This, according to me, is the idea behind SlutWalk– a slut or not, no one should be raped. The allegation that SlutWalks encourage women to be sluts is utterly facetious and doesn’t merit a response.

The term “slut” is not used in the Indian context and it will be lost on the people. Change the name from SlutWalk to something less offensive and more Indian.

SlutWalk doesn’t sound offensive to me but it is in fact a highly controversial name. A huge part of the success of this movement is due to its controversial name. People are taken aback; they stop, they read and they think. And therein lies SlutWalk’s achievement.

There is no one Indian word that encompasses the sentiment of the whole country. ‘Slut’ is just one of the many words that is not used across the country. So can a march titled SlutWalk be understood in a place like, say, Coimbatore or Aizwal or Rohtak? Perhaps, not. Something like this is likely to be a success in Delhi or Bombay. Even if 1% of the population of Delhi, which is 16million, understands what this movement stands for, it’s worth marching for. Actually, Delhi needs this protest probably more than any other Indian city(do read this).

We will be laughed at by men who think SlutWalk is nothing more than a ‘tamasha’. Rapes are a serious issue and we are insulting it with this mockery of a movement.

Here’s a harsh fact about most Indian men–  they will either laugh at you or rail against any feminist movement. These are men who do not want to be responsible for their actions. There will be sleazy men with cameras or just plain lecherous looks watching the march with amusement. There were some in LA too. They are everywhere. Spot them, avoid them and ignore them. Don’t let them take your determination away because that’s exactly what they want. As far as the non-sleazy men are concerned, they will be right next to you, because they have taken a stand to end victim-bashing. SlutWalk is a show with a cause and it’s up to you to believe in it.

The movement does not include marginalized voices of transgender people or Dalit women or Muslim feminists. It’s a movement by the privileged, for the privileged.

SlutWalk it started as a way to bust the traditional  myth of victim-blaming as voiced by one Toronto cop, it spread like a wildfire and went global; and as it did, it started gathering a larger context to include women of various cultures. The name itself has been adapted too for a more local representation. SlutWalk is emblematic and the power of emblems should not be under-estimated. Sure there are shortcomings and valid criticisms that the movement is not very inclusive. No one predicted or charted the direction of this mammoth movement. It happened. As it grows bigger and better, I am sure the movement will evolve too, to include many more marginalized voices.

Can there be a better movement? Sure, there can. But that does not discount the power of SlutWalks.

One movement that has been cited as an ideal repeatedly is Take Back The Night. Despite its popularity and the worthiness of its cause, it was not spared the criticism of exclusivity till the time it evolved.

India is aping the West by holding a SlutWalk. This is the age-old tactic of the hegemony at work. 

This is the kind of criticism that I find positively offensive. It completely discredits India as a dynamic country that adapts to global changes, with people who adopt ideas that are not originally indigenous, to transform them in ways that motivate and mobilize millions of people.

Through speeches and signs, SlutWalk Delhi can be made possible in the Indian context. The focus of SlutWalk is to raise awareness and to attack the prevailing rape culture and this needs to happen not just among feminist groups.

SlutWalk is a response to a well-meaning comment made by a cop in Toronto. He adviced women saying, “..women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”” It is a basic “survival rule” that I have heard repeated many times in my life. Haven’t we all had our mothers say to us at least once, “if you want to stay safe outside, don’t wear that dress”? Because those precious few words are meant to help us survive. And in India, that’s what we learn to do everyday. Survive.

In a truly liberated society, one that has made rape culture obsolete, we would be who we are, how we are and yet remain safe.

The message needs to be made loud and clear: Rapists cannot be allowed the leniency to share the blame with the victim just because she was dressed provocatively. The blame lies solely with the rapist.

Cynicism can at times kill vigor by shooting holes in a movement like SlutWalk. However, a touch of naiveté is indispensable for successful activism.

UPDATE: I read this today by Zoe Nicholson. I had the privilege of listening to her talk in SlutWalk LA and  I love what she has to say about SlutWalks all over the world. It’s hard not to be moved by her intensity and passion. 

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I started spending an inordinate amount of time in Tumblr and I found myself getting drawn away from debates on feminism to the murkier waters of racism. Post-colonial theory, though I’ve read a little and I am from India, is definitely not my forte, so to speak. My approach to this subject is largely through commonsense and logic.

This subject appears to be hugely problematic for a few reasons. There are millions of marginalized voices, voices that have fallen through the cracks, ending up unheard. These voices ought to be given a platform and heard. The problem is, they do not constitute a neat homogeneous group that can be readily understood by the unsuppressed group. Added to this is the problem of language- can the oppressed, if they wish to be heard, express themselves in a language other than the one imposed by the hegemony? These are genuine problems that are still alive, but to aggravate and distract this, I see a ‘new-age’ problem- there is a rush, by a group of privileged people, towards these cracks, to the coveted position of the oppressed, the marginalized. It has become attractive to claim the place of the Other, and thereby to obtain a platform to be heard. The consequence of this “crime” is that the genuine voices of the Other are quelled by the loudest but inauthentic voices. This is an undeniable contemporary phenomenon. I am not, however, saying that this is done with malicious intentions alone; there are many well-intentioned people who subconsciously appropriate this “angst” which is not originally theirs. And these are especially the ones who need to be “called out”. It is essential to do so and there is no way around it.

Anyway, what led to me to this ramble was this article that I read this morning. Summarily, it talks about the condescending West and the largely ignored East and its literature. Obviously, I have mixed feelings about this piece. I can’t disagree with the author about the West’s fascination and fixation with its own superiority.

 While visiting Britain in 1912, Tagore found a fierce advocate in W.B. Yeats. The Irish poet wrote the introduction to the landmark anthology Gitanjali. “We fight and make money and fill our heads with politics…while Mr Tagore, like the Indian civilisation itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity.” For anyone who didn’t catch the notes of enthusiastic condescension, Yeats also likened his Indian counterpart to a child, coming from an “unbroken”, homogenous culture.

Yeats, with all his good intentions, could not help but sound condescending in the analogy that he employs while praising Tagore. The way Yeats draws a distinction between Tagore, as a representation of the Indian civilization and himself is painfully patronizing.

Another example, a not so benign one, is this:

Blogging for the New York Review of Books last month, the novelist and essayist Tim Parks quoted the blurb of a book he had just been sent, by Thomas Pletzinger: “Pletzinger is German, but you wouldn’t know it from his debut, which is both wise and worldly.” As Parks pointed out: “To make it in America, Pletzinger must shed his German-ness as if he were an immigrant with an embarrassing accent.”

I nearly choked when I read that. But on second thoughts, it ought not to surprise me at all. In drawing distinctions between east and the west, the west often chooses the “chauvinistic” stance as the prescriptive  and governing culture. This, naturally, leads to anxiety in the east that deepens their suspicion and aversion towards, what is seen as, the imperialistic west. A lot of harmony and multi-cultural resonance is lost when western media enthusiastically opens its ignorant mouth to spread some of its insensitive opinions.

But my sympathy with the article ends there.

The article places a little too much blame on the west for the much-ignored literature of the east and especially of India’s rich cultural and literary heritage.

The oddity here is that the British press is all too willing to carry pieces on Indian writing provided it is in English and not too thornily local.

The accusatory tone is unmistakable. Taking up his own example, the British press, if they choose to publish minutiae of authentic Bengali writing, would be doing so at the cost of gaining a wider audience as well as comprehension. The task becomes more a lot more arduous and less meaningful.

These are weighty matters of multiculturalism that exist even within India. The ‘blame-sharing’ is just not equitable, because India is way too divided in its understanding and tolerance of its own different cultures. Especially when it comes to issues concerning native literature, there is the insurmountable problem of things getting literally lost in translation. A lot of extraordinary texts are either unavailable or permanently lost simply because there is a complete absence of a literary canon when it comes to native literature. This onerous task is the responsibility of the native speakers, who possess deeper knowledge of the cultural context around the body of work. It is not entirely the burden of the west. As a result, India’s heritage is in a pitiful state of neglect. The author, Mr. Chakrabortty, has a contorted explanation for this too:

In much the same way, western discussion of India is mostly taken up with its economic success ….. Another way of saying this is that the media interest is in how India is coming to resemble a western free-market economy. And that only reinforces Indian officialdom’s own carelessness with the country’s cultural heritage. Try walking into the dustbowl that is any national museum in India

So, basically, India has the west’s attention because we are now an economic success, modeled after the west, and since we have accepted this allotted role, we have the perfect excuse to disregard our own heritage and therefore we have no agency or motivation of our own to protect our literary and cultural legacies. I hope Mr.Chakrabortty knows what he’s talking about.

To indulge in some hair-splitting, why does Mr.Chakrabortty employ the anglicized “Tagore” instead of the authentic, “Thakur”? Is it the job of the westerner to dig through Bengali history to arrive at this or does it have something to do with the way we have readily relinquished our own roots and allowed it to dwindle.

The only way the west can end its “incuriosity” is when there is greater emphasis and prolificness on the part of the east as a result of a concerted effort to ‘return to the roots’ and encourage discursive writing of its own culture and native literature. If that doesn’t happen, I see no reason to point fingers at the west for “ignoring” Indian literature.

Feminism is unsexy.

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Feminism, Feminist Anger

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It’s unsexy and ‘uncool’ to be a feminist in India. We get laughed at all the time, by men who don’t care; by women who are afraid to show support because they can be alienated by families and society. I know that it can be quite discouraging when there is no one you know, within your family or among friends  whom you can talk to and share your pain and rage with; someone who will take you seriously and understand you. It’s even more painful when we want to be heard but we find no voice. There is no environment for the feminist rage to thrive and attack issues. We feel isolated and thwarted.

I remember feeling so awfully alone when I used to retaliate against misogynistic statements made by smirking men. It felt like I was single-handedly taking up the whole world of misogyny and patriarchy. They double their aggression when they talk to a feminist. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and overpowered. Where are the ones who support us? Even men who support our cause and share our ideas remain silent. It’s an outrage to his ‘manhood’ if he is called pussy-whipped or a joru ka gulaam. I can’t blame the women who get brow-beaten. I know many, including I, who gave up fighting and just wanted to live my life, appear cool, feel wanted and accepted, even if that meant giving up a cause that I believed in. I caved in. It was too much to be tagged a feminist, someone who has no sense of humor, a killjoy.

That was a few years ago. Looking back, I don’t regret giving up then. I have emerged only stronger, more convinced about my cause and so much more pissed off.

The only thing I want to say to all of you out there, who feel the way I once did, is this. It is okay to be mad as hell. It is okay to display feminist rage. Like all things in life, it is always tough in the beginning. But you’ll be amazed at the number of people who are waiting to support you. All you have to do is speak out. Reach out. I know how much your morale can be damaged without support. Trust me. There is support. Just reach out to even one person. I am here, for one.

Don’t worry about appearing ‘uncool’. Fuck that! For the huge price that you pay for all that coolness, it’s just not worth it! No matter who she is, which class or caste or religion she belongs to, women get treated like SHIT in India. Even when you are safe in front of your computers right now, there is someone out there who is getting raped this very moment. If you don’t speak out for them and stand with them, who will?

And one last thing. Take PRIDE. Take pride in the fact that you are a feminist. I would rather be called a scary feminist than a cool, sexy ‘chick’. A few people will love you and a lot will hate you. But remember, the ones who hate you are scared of you, of the change that you stand for. We have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Shame on those assholes who rape and assault women and children.

You will face criticisms. People will attack your stand. They will call you a cunt. They will tell you that this is a rebellion without a cause. They will tell you it is not our ‘Indian culture’. You know that’s bullshit! Look at the abysmal sex ratio, look at the rape statistic, look at the female foeticide and infanticide rates, look at the assault numbers, look at the number of deaths that happened because of eve-teasing(we even coined that phrase), look at the number of women who die in the hands of murderous husbands. We get groped in buses and trains, assaulted in our own homes and offices where we work. From rapes to sexual innuendos in work-places, we are harassed every single day of our lives. That is REAL. So fuck them all who stop you from speaking out.

Be irreverent. Kick patriarchy in its balls. The misogynists are the ones who have something to hide, they are the ones who need to be shamed and they are the ones who live in fear. Not us! We are fucking feminists and we are made of fucking steel.

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My ten fingers aren’t adequate to count the number of sexual assaults, ranging from moderate to severe, that I have lived through so far. Almost all of them occurred during my early and mid-teenage years when I was still living with my parents (this warrants a separate post on bad parenting). But the most traumatic phase of my life was spent with an abusive man whom I was briefly married to for a few years. I dislike talking about it or even thinking back about those three years. I am probably scared that people will hear my story and look through the strong, independent person that I am, and view me as a victim of abuse instead; I have been actively shunning the ‘victim’ tag. In my usual self-denying manner, I carefully avoid all topics that can make others uncomfortable. Through my writing, I hope to overcome this inhibition and finally voice the abuses of my life, along with millions of women who have survived or continue to silently endure the violence that is inflicted upon them.

Marital rapes are a tricky subject to deal with, especially in a conservative country like India. According to studies, one in every seven women has been subject to domestic violence in the form of rape. Two-thirds of married women across the country between the ages of 15 and 49 have been raped, regardless of their socio-economic positions. However, this form of abuse largely goes unreported and unidentified in many parts of the country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that sometimes both the victim and the perpetrator are unaware that a crime has been committed. Technically speaking, any sexual act that is not consensual or one that is a result of coercion constitutes rape(this link explains marital rape in legal terms). But the reality isn’t that all straightforward. The universally glorified institution of marriage can often serve as a blanket to hide some of the most unspeakable abuses suffered by women. India is probably the only country where husbands enjoy the status of a god; the idea of a pati parmeshwar (literally, ‘husband god’) manifests itself in inequitable ways in the dynamic between a husband and his wife. Most married women think that it is their duty to fulfill the sexual needs of husbands and most women also think that it is acceptable for husbands to batter them. Being part of this Indian culture, women innately accept and endure abusive behavior by their husbands with abject resignation. Though the Indian legislation has recognized, however belatedly, that marital rape is a crime, it remains a huge challenge to get these battered women to seek legal help.

First, of course, is the issue of awareness. Self-preservation and self-respect are every woman’s basic rights and she has to be made aware of them. A woman being married does not imply that her rights have been renounced. There has to be a loud and clear message that abuse is NOT the norm. It is rape if the husband physically overpowers his wife and obtains sex against her will. This is not limited to vaginal intercourse; anal intercourse without consent is rape. It is rape if he obtains consent by coercion, by implied or actual physical threats. It is rape if the husband obtains sex while the wife is asleep or unconscious, where consent is not possible. It is rape if the wife caves in to social pressure and agrees to sex when she does not want it. It is rape even if it happened only once.

Second comes the issue of not reporting marital rapes. Indian culture and the society are dominant factors affecting the wife’s decision to stand-up for her rights. India feels some sense of pride in having one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. Divorce, as an option, is available mostly to women who are financially independent and/or to those who have the support of their family. Before a couple gets married, it is often emphasized in no uncertain terms, that the marriage has to be kept together at all costs. This calls for all sorts of sacrifices and compromises on behalf of the wife. In the case of a middle-class married woman, a divorce is considered only when the wife can no longer endure her husband’s abuses. The wife’s financial independence plays a major role in aiding her to protect her body and her dignity. Also, if she has children, then the longer she suffers in an abusive marriage. The Indian society does very little to save and protect these victims of abuse. In fact, the prevailing culture of victim-bashing precludes the wife from reaching out for help or from even talking about her condition.The woman’s family more often does not accept rape as a form of abuse; the wife is more likely to be advised to serve better the sexual needs of her husband.

Even if she does seek legal help and the abuser is brought to justice, what then happens to the woman? It takes tremendous courage to save oneself from an abusive marriage AND cope with the emotional wreckage. If she is financially independent, she makes a free life for herself. If she is not, she becomes the responsibility of her family. Either way, societal structures in India are too weak to support a battered woman. She has to bear the stigma of being a separated or divorced woman. A victim of rape is not harmed just physically; her self-respect takes a severe blow, especially since the rapist is her own husband. All these factors overwhelm and daunt most women and they think that a better life is now impossible to lead.

Consider my own marriage. The physical abuse preceded the rapes. I lived in fear of his temper and of the blows that would rain down if I angered him in any way. This fear was sufficient to make me submit to his demands. I knew it was rape but I could not protest. The sheer violence of those few years shattered my sense of self-preservation and kept me in a state of petrification. I was not financially independent and nor were my parents the brave sort who would take up arms on my behalf. Only when I could no longer bear the abuse did I decide to leave him. But the feeling of liberation escaped me for a few years till the time I could slowly rebuild my self-respect and independence.

Marital rapes are not something to be tolerated by anyone; to endure rapes is damaging to the woman in innumerable ways. It is a crime that at least thousands of rapists are getting away with. That makes it thousands of victims suffering in terrified silence. The only way this crime can be duly punished is when women resort to the laws that protect them and fight for their dignity. It is the duty of every society that has claims of humanity, to save and protect its women from violence.