Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Friday, 29 July 2016

AAP : Aam Party, Minus Aurat

The Aam Aadmi party government in Delhi continues to be in the news. Depending on whom you ask, it could be a glowing tribute or the worst possible brickbats. To be honest, I'm not too enamoured of a political party which excludes me at the very outset; leaves me out in the cold in its very name- not a fortuitous beginning.

Yeah, yeah we've been given the blah blah on how "man" is just the default, it is inclusive of women, too. Yet somehow, shrieking harridans that we feminists  are, we haven't yet felt the inclusiveness love that's supposedly being showered on us.

Let's set aside the name for a bit. We are also willing to ignore the cringeworthy International Women's day message from Arvind Kejriwal, who also happens to be the Delhi chief minister. Let's see what really makes up the AAP. For a party with a much vaunted online presence, there are no figures available for the gender wise composition of its membership. While there exists a page which says how are we different, with a passing reference to how they will "coopt representatives from Dalits and other minority segments" but there's nary a reference to that class of humans called "women". Maybe, cos, you know, gender doesn't really matter?

Even more embarrassing, the party hasn't bothered to change or update its list of women candidates  for the Lok Sabha 2014 elections. The least you could do is add a list of winners and those who lost. What's up with that, dudes?

Next up, let's look at the gender composition of the elected representatives in the Delhi legislature. Of the 70 seats in the legislature, 67 are held by the Aam Admi Party. Only 6 of these are women. However, none of these women were considered fit to become a member of the Arvind Kejriwal cabinet. Nothing to do with their competence, we're told.

In my next post, I'll  look at the AAP manifesto, what's in it for women and to what extent have they been achieved.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


time flows by
like a river in spate
billowing at the edges,
flooding the streams of thought
drowning the banks of reason 
the seams of my mind 
come undone. 
try to hold with all my might
the stitches, wayward,
flying out of my grasp.

like tiny droplets,
pearls of time
scratched, yet glinting,
in my palm.

distant as a chimera
vapours arise
bites of a wasp
tiny at first
then the skin engorged
flush with mangled memories.

liquid flows out
leaks into the void
shredded fabric of my being
drenched and fraying 
body wrinkled  
mind bent
scratched and broken and bent

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Sultan Film Review: Yay For Patriarchy!

What can be sillier and more delusional, than a feminist take of a Salman Khan movie?

Then again, why should a part of popular culture be exempt from a feminist critique? Hindi films are a major contributor to popular culture and as an avid consumer I assume what I want to watch on screen should count.  

By way of disclaimers, let me state, I know nothing of movie making, nor am I a professional writer. But I write about Bollywood because as an ordinary woman I want our culture to also be reflection of my dreams.

Sultan is of course a Salman Khan movie all the way, yet it begins promisingly enough. Anushka Sharma's character, Arfaa is an active go-getter. She's a national level athlete in top form and her dream is to win an Olympic gold in wrestling. She beats the crap out of louts, physical violence apparently the only way to send a message to men that a woman means business. But, her fire and ambition last into about a quarter of the movie, or maybe less. She then proceeds to transform into a passive, quiet backdrop. Because, love.

In a crucial scene, where the downslide begins- or the movie shows its true colours, depending on whether you're a Salman Khan fan or not- Arfaa becomes pregnant. Her father, who is also her coach, is shocked by the news and expresses disappointment. The dreams and ambitions she is chasing, aren't hers alone; they have been nurtured by her dad. Arfaa, when she comes out of the clinic after finding out about her pregnancy, is also taken aback and feels betrayed. What is to become of her aspirations?

But then she looks at Sultan, her husband, dancing for joy at the news and she changes her mind about what will bring her true satisfaction: care of family and child rearing, of course. The look of happiness on her husband's face is her gold medal, it seems. Yes, I did look for a wall to bash my head into, but I didn't fancy tripping over a multitude of legs of of my co-viewers to get to it.

Hand on my heart, for a moment during that scene, when she pulls out the Olympic selections form, and glances at it, I held my breath. We are so bereft of women with agency on screen, that I'd probably been projecting at Arfaa for a while. But then her belly grows, and the alternate movie brewing in my head, came to a screeching halt. The one in which Afraa undergoes an abortion and keeps chasing her dreams, doesn't really happen. The realities of Indian cinema are yet to catch up with us silly romantic feminists.

Arfaa is beaten by biology and fades away. Her transformation is accomplished in one knock out punch. Or should that be knocked-up punch? She is transformed into wife, mother, motivator and inspiration for her man. She gives up her career. Reduced, a shell of her former self, all her dreams are transferred to her man.

That's where all meaning in the movie ceases. It becomes solely a vehicle for Salman Khan and he plays the role he's done to death in movie after movie- the golden hearted softie who bashes up people for a living. You could cut open a couple of cartons of viagra and it wouldn't be a patch on holding up dysfunction like this movie holds up masculinity-artificially, saturated with every trope imaginable.

Recently, there was a big brouhaha about a casual remark made by Salman Khan, comparing a punishing work schedule with rape. Interestingly, the remark was made during the promotion of this movie. He was almost crucified for the crass comment, specially on social media. TV panels went into overdrive, criticising him. Yet a movie of this size and impact which thousands have watched and many more will, blithely promotes rape culture but there's nary a peep from any of us. Yay for patriarchy! 

As for the medieval ideas on consent and relationships, the less said the better. Stalking, portrayed as wooing, is old hat for Bollywood. The message, conveyed by Hindi cinema for decades is repeated yet again: a man has only to chase a woman doggedly enough for her to give in to his advances. Consent? What's that? 

Arfaa agrees to friendship, which Sultan misreads as romantic attachment. In his words 'tum bike pe chipak ke sare din mere sath ghoomogi to log to yahi sochenge na ki tum meri girlfriend ho'. It's always about the opinions of the 'log', the village people, the community, the family, but never the person concerned. 

In what follows, Arfaa upbraids him for his delusions, but an opportunity to establish consent as a basis for relationships, is let slip. The assumptions on his part are ignored, the focus brought to bear on his personality. 
Any wonder, then, that Indian men continue to believe that women owe them their time and affections; it is theirs for the asking. Rape culture not only flourishes, it is actively propagated in films like Sultan. 

 The sexism comes thick and fast with "humare yahan aisa nahin hota hai" repeatedly used to stress that people don't get divorced and that marriages last forever. Much like most of Bollywood, women's agency is an alien concept, unheard of. 

For me, most heartbreaking of all was the arc of the narrative and where it leads the two protagonists. Arfaa, a strong, opinionated, ambitious woman is reduced to a shadow, lurking behind the scenes for the major part of the movie, bereft of agency. Sultan, who begins as a bumbling buffoon, transitions in no time, into a world class wrestler, breezing through every competition imaginable. When will our cinema catch up with real life, so we can start attaching our dreams to it? 

I kept wondering throughout, how a smart actress and emerging producer like Anushka, with an admirable body of work to her credit, could agree to do a movie like this. Is it because a star vehicle like this gets you more eyeballs? Maybe that will help her make that alternate movie which was going on in my head. Need new story ideas, Ms Sharma? 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Book Review of Sarpanch Sahib

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the social and economic status of women in India is woeful, if not downright pitiable. It is fair to assume that in a democratic set up, involving more women in the democratic process, would lead to balancing out these inequalities. Moreover, what good is a democracy if half its population is left out of the decision making process?

However, the way it is structured, Indian democracy is deeply flawed. It vests power in those already powerful, while the marginalised are often left out in the cold. Women happen to be one such group.

The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act 1992 mandated reservation of seats for women in at least one third of all Panchayat councils and a third of the Pradhan (or head of the Panchayat) seats.
The idea was that having confirmed seats in elected bodies would enable women to better engage in the democratic process at the grassroots, change the systems and help mould the laws that govern them.

Beginning in 2000, the NGO The Hunger Project-India has worked to encourage women to participate in the political process. They trained women representatives in 14 states across the nation, in order to equip them with basic knowledge and impart skills training.

The book "Sarpanch Sahib" is a project to document the stories of seven of these remarkable women leaders in the panchayat system, across the country. The seven different women leaders were interviewed by different authors or journalists who went out to meet them. Putting these stories out in the public domain helps make us aware of the struggles these women face. Their successes are all the more noteworthy, considering the odds stacked against them. At the same time, as these stories show us, leadership can't always be imbibed; some are born leaders.

As the stories unfold and we visit these women in their villages and homes, one is struck by the grit and determination the women display. The authors bring home to us the fact that despite little or no education, these leaders bring their own unique perspective to the problems at hand. Almost each of these ladies has prioritised funding schools, and bringing access to water, roads and electricity for her village or block.

The support for these women leaders, from their people, is usually palpable; though a few times there is hostility in evidence, too. Yet each woman soldiers on, fighting the good fight, determined in her belief that her work will benefit her people in the long run.

This is a book that should be made mandatory reading for high school students. Copies should be distributed in Parliament, specially the Lok Sabha. The accounts in this book are proof that women make as good people's representatives as men-if not better- given a chance. Closing the gender gap in political representation is but a small step in improving the overall gender imbalance in our society. Now that panchayats have shown the way, it's time we stepped it up to the next level. Maybe, some sense will prevail and the bill for reservation of seats for women in Parliament which has been hanging fire for over a decade now, finally gets to see the light of day.

Book                   : Sarpanch Sahib, Changing the Face on India
Edited by            : Manjima Bhattacharjya
Published by       : Harper Collins
First Published    : 2009
Number of pages : 150