Firebrand feminist, Payal, our columnist, says that from within the murk and gloom of crime against women, there were many who rose from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix. There was much to celebrate in 2017. Read more in the Special Feature, exclusively for Different Truths.
As 2017 comes to a close, my daily scan of the newspapers shows that some things don’t seem to have changed at all. News of rape, dowry deaths, sexual assaults on babies fill the daily papers and it’s difficult to find things to celebrate about. But things have not been static for women in India – there is much to cheer us.
Bollywood produced some stellar cinema that brought into focus female sexuality the search for identity and economic liberation, rebellion against patriarchy, rape and sexual violence including marital rape, a hitherto unmentioned realm, aging and desire, gender and caste discrimination, colour bias, divorce and dating pretty much covering a gamut of issues and how society views women. A few of these must watch movies: Lipstick Under My Burkha, Karib Karib Single, Mom, Anarkali of Arah, Tumhari Sulu, Secret Superstar, Pinky Beauty Parlour.
If you want to step off the beaten path of Bollywood semi masala, watch these thought-provoking short films that like their Bollywood big sisters, challenged notions of patriarchy and what women should or shouldn’t do. Some of these films spoke out against gender roles, being a ‘man’, sexual freedom and domestic violence. They may not be ground-breaking cinematically, but in representing our society and giving voice to feminist issues they do a commendable job (most are available on Youtube):
The Girl Story
That Day After Everyday
Khaney mein kya hai
Ek Dopahar Ek Choti si Love Story
The Niti Aayog Women Transforming India: The 2017 Awards saw many women spotlighting the way.
Scarred by a cowardly and heinous acid attack by a 32-year-old-man, Lakshmi Aggarwal, “Stop Acid Attacks” campaigner stated boldly, “Why should I feel ashamed and hide my face? Let the man who did this hide his face!” This holds true for all women who have been assaulted and are made to feel culpable by society.
Safeena Hussain, Director ‘Educate Girls’ said that girls are made to feel that they are a burden and unwanted by the family and that providing education works to remove gender bias and inequality.
Kamal Kumbhar, escaped a bad marriage and dependency to set up the “Kamal Poultry and Ekta Sakhi Producer Company.” She enabled 3000 women to set-up small-scale farms and earn a livelihood. The daughter of a labourer, Kamal now owns six different businesses.
Jamuna Tundu or ‘Lady Tarzan’ of Muturkham Village in Singhbum, Jharkhand formed the ‘Van Suraksha Samiti’ where she and her band of fifty odd women patrol their forests and with bows and arrows fight the wood Mafia that would have laid waste their home and habitation. The Mafia threatened violence and set random forest fires, inducing great fear in the population, but Jamuna refused to be cowed down.
Harshini Kanhekar applied to Nagpur’s National Fire Service College (NFSC), an all-male bastion and became the first woman to qualify and is the first woman to work on Offshore Rigs, paving the way for other women to follow her.
Sunita Kamble faced opposition and jeering to become the first grassroots woman goat veterinarian in Mhasvad, Maharashtra. No one thought a woman from the marginalised community could qualify as a veterinarian, even though her community badly needed one, as the region is prone to drought and goat breeding is the only source of livelihood.
From all over India, women surged to create their place in society. In the study on Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI) by Avtar Group found the overall percentage representation of women in 100 best companies for female employees was 30.55 percent, up in 2017 from 25.25 percent in 2016.
Women have been fighting for their right to worship, against social taboos around menstruation. The Bombay High court in March 2017, directed the State Government to ensure that women were not denied entry to any place of worship that allows men access. Following the decision, two temples in the state opened their inner sanctum to women. In August, Haji Ali, a Muslim shrine, was ordered to be opened to women. In April, the Supreme Court declared that gender discrimination in such a matter (entry for women into temples) was unacceptable and shall consider whether women of menstrual age are allowed to enter the Kerala-based Sabarimala Ayyappa Hindu temple.
Priyanka Chopra, number 1 in the Forbes List of Indian women celebrities, was trolled for wearing a dress when she met with Modi. While we do not know the honourable Prime Minister’s views on this, many Indians took to social media and objected to this supposed ‘disrespect’. Priyanka and her feisty mother responded by another show of legs – giving them not the finger but the whole foot, and a swift kick to such stupid notions.
Faye D’Souza, TV anchor Mirror Now was told by Maulana Ayoob ‘“I am telling you, wear an underwear and come. You will become equal to men. Wear an underwear and come to debate. There will be equality between men and women,” Faye looked him in the eye and said, “He hopes that he will rile me up…I will lose control of my panel and forget how to do my job. Let me tell you Maulana ji, I have seen many like you. I am not afraid of you, I am not threatened by you, I am not rattled by you.” This is exactly what many men do when it comes to women’s rights – bully women, rattle them, heckle them and hope to browbeat them in acceptance.
Rajasthani bride Jiya Sharma mounted a horse and led her own baraat to the groom’s house on her wedding day in Behror town of Alwar district. Jia, a postgraduate and her software engineer husband Lokesh Sharma decided to set an example of equality right at the beginning of their married life. Lokesh’s father Giraj Sharma said, “This will send a strong message to the society. People don’t accept girl children in Rajasthan. This will give a message that there is no difference between boys and girls.”
Mithali Raj attending the opening dinner and media roundtable event on the eve of the ICC Women’s World Cup was asked who her favorite male cricketer was. “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?” she questioned the reporter.
Alankrita Shrivasta faced down flak from the Censor Board for showing Indian women in a bad light and ‘too much sex’, which, apparently, in non-Indian, our vast population obviously ‘Bhagwan – or Allah – Or Jesus ki den’ and not a result of the sex we were indulging in. In truth, it was not sex, but issues of female sexuality that worried the censors, who refuse to evolve with time and be grown up enough to change antiquated rules.
In a photography project, women wore cow masks in public places to as if cows were safer in India than women were. “I am perturbed by the fact that in my country, cows are considered more important than a woman, that it takes much longer for a woman who is raped or assaulted to get justice than for a cow which many Hindus consider a sacred animal,” Delhi-based photographer Sujatro Ghosh told the BBC.
Video Volunteers started a campaign called ‘Khel Badal’ (literally ‘change the game’). In 56 clubs, across 13 states, activist Rohini Pawar challenged the age-old taboo of Indian Women not ever calling their husband by name. She asked each participant to say her husband’s name in a variety of emotions – happily, angrily, lovingly and so on.
“If we can’t say our husbands’ names, and they can call us whatever they like, does that mean they don’t respect us? Shouldn’t it be equal?” Nine women from a small village did change the game when they defied the age-old custom to say their husband’s name for the first time.
At the Vogue Woman of the Year Awards, 2017, Twinkle Khanna, Mrs. Funnybones took a defiant dig at patriarchy and said, “For centuries women have been looking for a cape but have been given an apron and it’s only recently that we have learned how to swing our aprons around. So let it flutter down our backs and let it take to the skies.”
As I write this article, seven minutes back, Lok Sabha has passed a bill that makes instant “Triple Talaq” a criminal offence and proposes a three-year jail term for a Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering the word “talaq” thrice. The bill, however, has still to pass through the Rajya Sabha before it becomes a law.
There is much that needs to change, and there never were or will be easy answers. However, as we move to more a more evolved society, the oppression and inequality faced by women will seem as heinous and barbaric as slavery does to our enlightened eyes. Here is to hope and optimism. Happy 2018 to all of us!
Photos from the Internet
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Businesswoman, curator of handlooms, poet, writer, and erstwhile doctor. Payal Talreja practices everything except her involuntary ‘profession’. She claims that words chose her and are now her weapon of choice because an activist born will stay silent for no man. A wanderer, a voyager, she’s happy to slum it or luxuriate in any life experience. She crafts poems and fiercely feminist essays and will assume her ‘Chandi’ avatar to ‘write’ any wrong.