When India Starts Walking Back

I did something that I never thought I would do.

I googled Malllika Sherawat. Her name was trending on Twitter and there were a variety (pun intended) of jokes about her. All leading to her one statement (apparently in a pseudo accent) – “India is a regressive country.”

Now, I don’t particularly care about the woman. She’s in a long line of big-boobed women who’ve walked the halls of Bollywood. But there is something to be said about the way she’s managed to climb the social ladder and even grab a small interview in Variety. And even if said in a pseudo accent, her statement does hold a lot of truth, as very nicely supported by the banning of lingerie-clad mannequins as a measure to prevent rape.

Rape of women, not mannequins, just to clarify.

Anyway, now that we’ve given her the two minutes of fame… There was another small news article that almost missed by attention.

The Taliban have a new enemy apparently and its balloons. Yep. Pink balloons were handed out as a part of a ‘peace’ mission to people on the street. But the Taliban believe this is yet another attempt by the West to destroy their culture. 

I can’t help but draw a parallel between the laws passed in Mumbai today and Taliban’s extreme reaction to everything in the world. We, Indians, claim we are not like the Taliban. We claim to be a progressive country and that we highly value and respect individual freedom. 

But the closer we look, and more instances in the past few months makes me wonder if we aren’t actually regressive wearing the mask of progress. 

We are not able to handle criticism to anything and our reaction is to typically throw the baby out with the bath water. 

So far, in an attempt to protect Indian culture, we have beeped out all the ‘dangerous’ words on TV. These include, but are not limited to, ass, kissing, sex, fornication, weiner (!), butt, boobs, other sexual body parts and slangs for the same. We grossly edit out all instances of kissing on english sitcoms, while we happily play scenes of rape and pillage in hindi movies. We refuse to play movies like The Dirty Picture on primetime TV, but we are quite happy to show Indian versions of Big Brother, Roadies and other sleazier shows. 

And in our deep respect towards women, we ask them not to work beyond 10 PM, we try to force them into not being out past 7 PM, not being in pubs beyond 10 PM, not working at nights, wearing ‘full clothes’, not using cell phones. And our attempt to control rapes include calling the rapist a brother, not wearing short clothes, banning lingerie displays on mannequins as this creates a frenzy of lust in men, not eat fast food among other measures.

Of course, the solution for after rape has occured – assuming the survivor can prove her (I would like to say his but male rape is something that our country will not even begin to comprehend) pure character is to ask her to marry the rapist. Then the rapist is allowed to go scot free and his act isn’t considered a crime. 

Almost every college in the city has prescribed salwars as the ‘dress code’ for its students because it wants to make them aware of professional wear. 

But still, we are considered progressive.

Oh yes, we also believe that one needs to buy a license from the government every time he / she wants to drink in a particular city. We believe that people are old enough to vote / get married but cannot drink in some cities. We also believe in shutting the city down at 11.30 PM in an attempt to ‘reduce crime’. 

Of course, our culture would not permit legalising prostitution, creating strip bars or any such avenues of sin. 

Because we are progressive, as affirmed by our very patriotic Priyanka Chopra, former Miss World and current Bollywood actor. And yes, a pop star who had to go all the way to Hollywood to record her song because our country was too progressive.

Now, I love my country. We’ve a lot to proud about. But I’m never to agree that we are progressive as long as we have archaic laws like these and refuse to change them. As long as the cop on duty at 11 PM asks me why I’m out so late and alone and automatically assumes the worst about me. 

Perhaps it is the same in ‘developed’ countries. I don’t care. I’m not comparing ourselves to them. I want us to be better. I want people to realise that rape isn’t a sexual act and it is genderless. I want to stop wondering when the government will pass a law asking all women to stay at home after 10 PM or prescribe a dress code for daily wear. 

Till then, as outrageous as it seems, I strangely do agree that our country seems regressive.

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… In Which We Are At War With Ourselves

I often hear proclamations and arguments made about progress in India. You know the one where they used to throw the GDP figures at you and random stuff about development, which I couldn’t often counter argue as I stopped following minutiae a while ago.

And then the GDP graph turned down and people still argued about the “India Shining” story.

Here’s what most people did not realise. India’s tubelights will burn out soon if we do not solve some basic issues. If we do not scrap century-old laws and more importantly, if we do not stop fighting ourselves.

I’m not talking about inter-party fights or even religious fights. I’m talking about a fight within ourselves to retain what is ‘Indian’ and what is not. So while we want those sexy new jeans from Levis, we do not want to see an ad of the woman wearing that and looking sexy on some beach. While we want the latest car on the horizon, we are not particularly comfortable with its association with materialism. We covet but it has been beaten into us that materialism is bad.

And like all things denied, we covet more. Like sex, for instance. We are told it is a sin. Yet, we as a nation are collectively obsessed with it. We gape at women in shorts, we bristle with outrage over a kiss onscreen, even as we throng theatres a million times to watch that scene.

True, people in all nations like to look at a well-endowed woman in a skirt. That’s a topic for another day. But the judgement that comes with wearing the skirt and yet, the attention, is something that happens in fewer countries.

Hell, forget women in skirts. We pray with a casual disregard to the intent of a prayer but we pick up the sword the moment someone seems to be interpreting religion in their own way, which doesn’t adhere to the pack’s code.

Certain Gods are holy and the others are not. Certain groups of people say you should not eat mean, never mind what the larger population has done for generations. We evoke ancient, outdated laws to support our argument and then fall back on the refrain ‘because this is how it has always been.’

Change comes in small measures, particularly when the country weighs as much as India does. But for every step we take forward, we take two back.

We have one of the biggest manufacturers of alcohol in the country and we have a law that states one must buy a license for 5 bucks for every day he wants to drink!

We have our Gods smoking marijuana and yet we ban pot.

We have Godesses fighting in wars and acting as destroyers and we frown if a woman speaks to loudly.

We decorate our temple walls with scenes of lovemaking and then frown on a couple holding hands on the road.

This post might not particularly be rational or correct… it comes from an overdose of ridiculous laws and statements heard over the past few weeks.

We are constantly at war with ourselves between allowing ourselves to progress and stick to ‘how things were done’. And swinging between extremes, we end up destroying the most core Indian trait – adaptability and the ability to merge the best into us.

We’ll survive globalization. If we allow ourselves to.

Family Guy

A few evenings ago, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about Family Guy. Not just how great the sitcom was, but also about the characters and what made them what they were. The history, Bruce’s way of saying “I Know” and Stewie’s gender confusion and hate of Lois and more.

But mostly, we were talking about Stewie and it struck me that Family Guy will probably be studied by students and anthropologists and cultural experts decades from now to figure out how our generation was.

It is a brilliant satirical take on today’s civilization. Yes, I’m one of those people who enjoy Family Guy and the jokes, including the ones that are not politically correct. Perhaps those in particular.

Our society as such has gone so overboard on narcissism. We broadcast our thoughts every single minute of the day and obsess over details that do not require a thought.

Stewie is the perfect anecdote to such a society… sarcasm at its best – Family Guy.

(And that is what people who hate it perhaps do not get – sarcasm)

La Tomatina

In India, fashion is defined by movies.

When Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released almost a decade ago, basketball became ‘cool.’ Kajol’s… uh huh forgot what it’s called… dresses in DDLJ became a huge hit. And then there was the Karishma saris and Kajol saris. Every time a film showcases something new, it becomes a hit with the masses and goes beyond the movie.

Now, the latest in line is La Tomatina. I’ve always been interested to attend this festival. There are things that are more fun than flinging tomatoes at each other but this is high up in the list.

The festival, held in Bunol, is actually going on currently. The festival has been entwined with the Spanish culture for decades now. Perhaps it started out of a brawl between two friends or due to surplus of tomatoes, it is a part of the culture… and now the tourist culture.

In India, we have adapted various other festivals… so why does the announcement of this one make me slightly uncomfortable? Like we are pretending to be cool?

The movie that showcased this festival made it appear the ‘in’ thing to do. Isn’t it just lame? We have our version of La Tomatina already – Holi. It comes with various colours, bhang, dancing, fires and in the modern version, even eggs and tomatoes.

I’m all for cultural integration and all that… but this has nothing to do with culture. Will be start having bull fights here simply because some movie showcased this as cool?

What particularly irks me is this festival could have a much wider impact on people and vegetable prices. (Am I throwing a tomato at your wow-factor?)

But given current vegetable prices, droughts and floods and inflation rates, we barely have enough tomatoes to eat at reasonably prices… and there we go, flinging them at each other… simply because Hrithik Roshan did it in some movie!

I guess I would love to shoot the festival in Spain though… Here’s a little blog post a Reuters photographer did a while ago.

Lines

I was casually browsing the internet searches that led to my blog… and here are the top/funny contenders.

1. “salman khan in tight pants”
Actually, there were a whole bunch of searches about Salman Khan/Dabbang/his pants and sunglasses that led to my blog… like ‘ray ban glasses from salman khan dabaang movie’.

2. “i want a nice india girls for friend ship email to email 2010”
Uh huh… I guess this is about that ‘frandship’ ads in paper post that I did.

3. “write aletter to your friend about ipl match on moon in hindi”
Dear Student,
Googling about such things to do your homework. Really does not help. Watch a few hindi movies instead.
Leia

4. “lines to be written in slam book”
And there were variations of that… apparently, now we google what to write in a slam book as well!

5. Cradle of Filth
❤ Seriously! Searches to Cradle of Filth and Dani Filth actually lead to my blog… somewhere.

6. “how to make lights on the clothes like the ones in step up two movie”
I have NO idea how this would pull up my blog. But if the reader did get an answer, I’d really love to know too 😉

7. “ugly truth about cow slaughter”
Well… cow slaughter and religion were hot topics on this site a few months ago.

8. “what to bring to a dinner invite, when they say not to bring anything?” and “difference between dinner and lunch in india” and “guest to dinner invitation what to carry”
… various versions of this and this is probably the highest hit for my blog.
I guess Indian culture is quite confusing and will all the international population we are getting, they need to know. I might write about this… but for now, check out this blog that might have tips… and some laughter.

What You Wear…

Slutwalk is apparently coming to Delhi. About time, I thought, considering that the city has been tagged as one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women.

But then I wondered what exactly would be the point of this walk in a place like Delhi. Creating awareness? It might work sometimes… but the cynical me wonders if men are just going to enjoy the sight of women wearing provocative clothes and there will be more women ragged that day?

Does the concept of Slutwalk really work in India? We’ve heard statements like the Canadian policeman made quite often here. Rape victims are often branded as the culprit and many cases go unreported.

The condition is so bad that if a rapist marries the victim, he is acquitted. The Chief Justice of India called for this to be made a law… ‘course he said that wishes of the victim need to be considered and if she wanted to marry the rapist and the guy is willing, so be it. But has one considered the social pressures the girl in under?

It is often construed that a woman who wears a skirt, tight jeans or a low-cut top is asking for attention. And worse. Perhaps some women do like to be noticed but how does that give anyone a right to abuse it?

A well-dressed woman always attracts attention… but being well-dressed does not mean she wants the attention of a man. How do some people do not get the concept that some people like to dress up because they feel good about themselves?

In India, we have this further worsened by the media portraying the ‘vamps’ as the better dressed or sluttily dressed women while the ‘purer’ ones always are draped in a boring, faded sari. Does purity mean dressing in a sackcloth?

Cynic that I am, I believe that the eve teasing and such will never stop till men believe that women aren’t inferior or better… we are all the same, with equal rights.

And here is yet another take (something I do sort of agree on as well) in The Guardian.

***

Moving on to yet another issue regarding discrimination and gender… it is June, which means reopening of schools and colleges. It also means that there are plenty of kids starting college for the first time.

When I began college, one of the things that really excited me was that we were finally out of bounds of a uniform. But now, there are dress codes that threaten to get worse every year. And apparently, now the excuse being given is that without a dress code, the poorer students will feel worse. Do the lawmakers forget that it is isn’t the price of the clothes that matter, it is how one wears them?

College is supposed to encourage creativity and individual expression. Instead, we want out younger generation – once more – to adhere to the beaten path, to show no form of expression and identity.

Sure, the people who are rebels will find a way out of this was well. But why do we force the people to rebel? Why not let the students get a taste of what we face in real life? That is a job, there is no one to impose a rule on everyone to make them uniform. If you need to be noticed, you need to be good. Or you run the risk of getting mocked, or you’ll be stuck in the same cubicle of the rest of your life.

Am I making a big deal about something as simple as dress code?

The imposing of the dress codes for every single day in college seems to me like an attempt to shepherd us into the same grasslands. And excuses like ‘we do not want people to get into the western dress culture’ is particularly lame… We need to learn to dress best in whatever we are wearing and a culture grows only through evolution.

Globalization is here to stay… and each culture absorbs something from the other.

We eat burgers, the others are finding out that the Indian cuisine is more than chicken tikka masala. But forcing someone to adhere to a particular dress code or a food code to ‘protect’ your culture is exactly what the Taliban did. Our culture will survive… if it had not been strong enough, it wouldn’t have lasted 6,000 years.

And that culture we are so proud of, evolved at every century, with additions and subtractions. How do we forget that and say that ‘we need to protect cultures so let’s hit the trenches’?!

A Choice. The Indian Woman.

Today’s topic is a little controversial… and it is more of a ramble than making a particular point.

The topic came about during a couple of conversations with friends and a book I am reading. It is a book about Indian women and the changing face of the women today, given education and jobs and all that. It explores how the Indian woman has learnt to make choices (if she has) and juggle choices.

But halfway through the book, I realised I was not completely convinced with some of the things the book was saying. It started off well, the examples and the questions. But then the examples got a little… stereotypical. They were all women who had defied conventions and married someone they loved – which was not the case in majority of the families. True, education and jobs have given women more financial independence and thereby some relief from traditional shackles but a lot of the prisons exist in the mind. And there, the battle has barely begun.

For instance, there is still a strong stigma attached to a woman who is divorced or a woman who does not want a child. In certain circles, divorce is accepted. But when a normal, middle-class woman chooses to go for a divorce, more complaints are made about her character than the husband, no matter how he is.

As a child, I was witness to one such case. The woman was barely educated while the man was a lawyer or some such thing. They were fairly well off and even had a kid. But the woman, after nearly two decades of marriage, filed for divorce. She cited physical abuse. The truth was never really known, at least to me, but much of the rumors I heard said she filed for a divorce so she could live her life unencumbered by a stay-at-home, quiet husband. She liked traveling and parties. And that was her fault, apparently. Her own parents went against her in the court, calling her an unfit mother.

Perhaps she did want to lead an unencumbered life. She was married when she was barely 18 and not old enough to know better. She took care of her son and made her life. So the choice has to be her, eh?

In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I have known break ups, live in relationships, divorces and worse. I have also known love that lasts for a lifetime and marriages that last for a second. There are no sure factors in any of these. Yet, people blame call centres and such for the changes. Perhaps they were the vehicle of much-needed change. Like a man released from a coffin, people leaned to the other extreme of life – indulgence like nothing before. In India, we are taught that indulgence is bad. We are made to feel guilty for spending on ourselves, for taking time for ourselves. We are expected to be within the framework of a family.

But financial necessity sent people to these places and suddenly they found personal spaces, financial freedom and with that, an identity. Of course they went overboard. Indian movies had always portrayed the relationship between a man and a woman in only two ways – fraternal or otherwise. The people who were out now from traditional shackles did not know better. And till they learnt better, these things happen. And so we had the cultural guardians – the ones who blamed women for everything, threw acid at the ones who wore western clothes, jeered at the women who tried to make a decent living and smeared reputations of those who worked late.

There is something really rotten in the Indian mindset. It can’t be just the influence of movies. But people just assumed bad things happened at night at places where people worked. Things like …. you know that whispered word – s-e-x. Sex has always been taboo in India. Something to be hidden behind locked doors and under the cover of sheets, in the darkness. I guess we just associate it with darkness.

Experts say a lot of the stigma attached was simply because men couldn’t bear the thought of not having the women under their control. The woman had money, she could buy her own things… so she didn’t need the guy to buy her things. That meant the guy had to step up to the plate and actually be something.

Perhaps.

But why did the women think the same way?

Jealousy? Lack of information? A loss of identity for those who do not have this new one?

Women are the toughest critics of other women. So when a woman chooses to walk out of a marriage, of sleeping around or making a different choice, women are the ones to cast the first stone. I just do not get why (and I’m a woman!)

Someone I know said she did not want to have children. She was in a relationship, had been in that relationship for a while… and now the topic of marriage and children had come up and she had to finally face the fact that she did not want children. She loved them but she said she did not want them. No reasons. It did not bother me much… it is a personal choice.

“I don’t want to be caught in the biological race. If I really want to have kids, I will adopt at some later stage. What is it about the body?” were her words.

Those words cost her the relationship and a few friendships too. She grew more adamant in her view.  She does not really regret her choice, unlike the movies and books show.

A while ago, I could have said I know so many women who think this way. But that is not particularly true. We simply had not given it any thought. Now I see people getting married or considering it and they say “Well, I have to have kids and it has to be before 30 cuz it’ll be too late otherwise.”

Have to have’? Why? Why is it bred in us that we have to have children?

There have been so many changes in the mindset of Indian women. True. But most of those changes are only on the outside. Inside, in the mind where it really counts, we are as archaic as ever. True, there are women who are breaking out of these moulds… but these are media stories – that one golden exception rather than the rule. I seem to be the exception as well, and luckily have a wonderful group of friends who are the same as me. But every day I discover someone that I thought I knew and they give me an archaic view that I wonder if I knew them at all. Or maybe they just gave in to the pressure.

A choice is not a choice if it not made independently.