I love Veronica. Remember her from Homi Adajania’s Cocktail? The character played with such confidence by Deepika Padukone. While watching the movie I said out loud, ‘Hey! That’s me! I say that too!’. When the movie got over, they were all glad of the perfect poise with which Veronica let her insipid best friend take the man she loves. It saddened me.
The girl I identified with had succumbed to the pressure, she had lowered her eyes and covered up. I told a friend that had I been in her place, I would have thrown my ‘best friend’ out, given my ‘boy friend’ as astounding slap across his face and moved on. And under no circumstance would I make lamb biriyani and ‘that disgusting yogurt thing’ to get a man. I told him that I had no plans to cover up and wear traditional clothes to impress any boy’s mommy. Nor would I overnight become a ‘sati savitri’ and abstain from sex. I have paid a heavy price for my freedom, for my clothes, for my identity and I was not going to let a man ruin it. My friend laughed at me and said – ‘Get ready to be single forever then…’ ‘Why??!!’ I asked. ‘No one dates or marries sluts,’ pat came the reply. I asked him to stay very far away from me. So that’s the label is it? A slut.
My friend, someone’s boyfriend, someone’s son, brother, cousin – just labelled me and Veronica sluts. Should I hold his words ransom, or should I aim the gun at his father or grandfather who taught him that? Or his mother who must have turned her nose up at some short skirts and said ‘Humari bahu beetityan aise kapde nahin pehente…’ Am sorry, you are all at fault.
The father who told you it was okay to discipline women if they were wayward. The mother who would raise her voice if your sister was eve-teased but say that a girl was probably asking for it in her skimpy clothes when she gets raped, the sister who criticised other women for baring more than their knees in school – because it is wrong. Because good little girls from good families do not do this!
They told me the cities were unsafe. They told me not to go out at night alone, not to wear skimpy clothes, not to drink…the ‘not to’ list has always been lengthy. Of course, these are people who care about my safety and do not want me to be molested, violated and left to die, abandoned on a highway somewhere. The fathers, brothers, well-meaning cousins and uncles, neighbours, who had the decency to not molest me and scar my childhood. And here they were, letting me in to a world, a country and a city where other fathers, brothers, cousins and uncles don’t bat an eyelid before violating a girl’s modesty, raping her and if that is not enough show of the strength of their organ, they could and would also occasionally beat her senseless, set her on fire, insert rocks or steel rods in to her. Such is the normal modus operandi.
The men in my family did not violate me. Men from other families just might. There has to be a very good reason why any girl is sent out with this ‘not to’ list.
We live in a world of chauvinists and misogynists. Not just the men, but the women around them who did not stop them or reprimand or thrash them when they said something sexist. If men hating and wanting to keep a tight control on women wasn’t enough, women also want to control other women.
How many times have you heard a girl brand another girl the much-coveted label – ‘slut’? Frequently enough? Women who have a mind of their own, who put it out as they get it, confident enough to pick an identity that is not tied to a man, independent enough to call the shots and to stand alone in a crowd – they are threats. And if they are single, they are also ‘sluts’. Please protect your men, for they sure can’t keep their organs in check. Calling them names for perhaps labelling them with words derogatory would make them less a nemesis for those women who cling to the men.
Patriarchy does not limit itself to the men, if you understand the plague that it is. I have been told that women must marry by a certain age for they need the support and the protection of a man, fathers and brothers cannot protect a girl forever. When the time comes those men in my family are done playing body guards, they must duly pass me on to another man who could protect me and control me. I will be safe. And no longer the slut.
I can take care of me, I can take care of others too. What perhaps gives me cold feet is the threat from men who cannot bear to accept that I can take care of me.
Men and women who cannot live with ideas that being single at any place and at any point of life does not stunt me in anyway; and today if I lose a love, I shall get another tomorrow. And yes, I can also wear anything that suits my fancy. Confidence unnerves any good person, and we are talking chauvinists here.
My father and my grandfather never told me that there was a right and wrong that others could decide for me. My safety was top priority because not all men were my father and my grandfather. It is sad that they aren’t.
My brother has been taught to treat women with the respect they deserve, he knows that other men out there won’t treat women like he would. He worries as well. And this is not my rant. It is every girls’.
I have a problem. Not with the men or the women. With what they think. The social constructs that don’t allow me to be me.
I may not be the character out of Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, but I am an equally stunning character out of Cocktail. And I have no plans of changing. And you can’t keep raping my identity away.
(The op-ed piece was originally written for Millennium Post)