January 16, 2013

Please Don't Put a Ring On It

31st December 2012

Growing up in a world of hyper connectivity and in a country newly accessing global media and markets, the hyper sexualisation of women was all over, but was also commented upon as being a new phenomenon. This past month has called on all of us to recognise our complicity in this culture of perpetuating disrespect to women, in our own aspirations of heterosexuality, marriage and womanhood. As I try to introspect, intrinsically linked ideas of beauty, romance and marriage come crashing to the forefront that I had no idea I nurtured.

There have been entry and break through points with all of these ideas. I have muddled initiations into what was considered beautiful because it was so completely subsumed with the celebrity culture. The preliminary Go-To image of a beautiful person would be of someone on a magazine cover, on a billboard and then dancing in an unbelievably raunchy manner on television, with enough accompanying marketing machinery to tell you - This is what a Hot Person looks like. The premium placed on figures and looks obviously percolates into society and culture, and this too happens in the ecosystem of a school. I simply could not understand the devotion to the "cutest boy in class" and being asked to acknowledge his looks constantly nor to girls deriving their confidence based on the attention that they received from these "cute boys".

Once that barrier broke, when I felt copious amounts of attraction towards people for how the are, it was possible to give and receive love in the most limitless satisfying way possible. Later on beauty took on a much heavier weight, when you encounter really overpowering beauty - in a place, in connections, in pulling something off together collectively, you shiver when you think of how easily in reach it is.The better side of growing up exposed to so much access, is that once you get past the pervasive effective machinery that shows you one particular idea, it also reveals how far and wide the world can extend. So much actual beauty in peoples actions and stories of love and courage are to be found. It's easier to know off and seek alternatives. Ultimately though no amount of theorisation can explain your situation. The reality of misogyny in every day existence is felt by every woman.

Thus too the constructed notions of romance also completely flipped, and also for, perhaps the ultimate commitment of love - a proposal to marriage. For every successful propaganda on this, there are enough articulate people telling you about the other side. If I was ever to think of declaring my love for someone, for being reassured of someone else's, going down on one knee and giving someone a diamond ring, would not be it. Not even going into the clever advertising ploy that has made a supposedly scarce and valuable stone into a symbol of commitment - the foundation for marriage on this kind of proposal, I now realise is so anti-woman for reasons that have been articulated by enough people for years.

In spite of all this, when I hit an absolute roadblock in imagination, and cannot concentrate, read or sleep, while blankly surfing the internet, I find my way to Eonline. This is the entertainment and lifestyle channel and website that tells us about celebrity lives, their outfits, their pets, their vacations, their houses, but most importantly who is dating/marrying/breaking-up-with who. It's a visual overload of sculpted perfect people and accompanying catty commentary. Recently, I discovered something else which has replaced this occasional useless activity - watching marriage proposal videos on youtube. Like square inches of chocolate pieces, you can't go wrong with these three minute videos. He does something unconventional and heartfelt, she has no idea it's coming, everyone around claps and laughs and cries, she goes OMGWAOWWW, and then they hug and kiss. Works. Always. To classify these online activities as guilty pleasures would be a little  inaccurate. Perhaps more akin to recidivism, to seeking the comfort of familiar childhood influences. It's no justification for this tick, it's just an explanation and relevant here in the interests of full disclosures for introspection.

On 31st December 2012, a group of people organised a 'Women Reclaim the Night' protest and rally at Saket market in Delhi. Women and men started gathering in a circle around 10:30 onwards, energetically shouted slogans, sang songs, signed a petition and then marched to the Mall where the woman had watched a film just hours before she was attacked and raped. The Azaadi naara (freedom slogan) was shouted out again and again, with compounding feeling each time. One part of this slogan, which makes its point effectively and with punch, is like so: Raat mein Azaadi, Din mein bhi Azaadi. Daftar mein Azaadi, College mein bhi Azaadi. Sadak pe azaadi, gharon mein bhi azaadi. Shaadi karne ki azaadi, aur na karne ki bhi azaadi. Pyaar ki azaadi, aur dosti ki bhi azaadi. Hum leykey rahengey - azaadi. Hak se mangtey - azaadi. Pyaar se mangtey - azaadi. Kashmir ke behen ki azaadi, Manipur mein bhi azaadi. Chattisgarh ki behen ki azaadi, aur Dilli mein bi azaadi. Gaon mein azaadi, Shahron mein bhi azaadi. Mohalley mein azaadi, pure desh mein azaadi, aur duniya mein bhi azaadi. Kapde pehney ki azaadi, Kuch bhi pehney ki azaadi. Hum leykey rahengey - azaadi. Hak se mangtey - azaadi, pyaar se mangtey - azaadi.

[At night we want - freedom, during the day too - freedom. In offices - freedom,  in colleges - freedom. On roads - freedom, in our homes - freedom. To marry - freedom, to not marry - freedom. To love - freedom, to friendship - freedom. We will take it for sure - freedom, we demand as our right - freedom, we ask with love for - freedom. For our sisters in Kashmir - freedom, in Manipur too - freedom. For our sisters in Chattisgarh - freedom, in Delhi too - freedom. In villages - freedom, in cities too - freedom. In our localities - freedom, in the whole country - freedom, in the entire world - freedom. To wear clothes - freedom, to wear whatever we want - freedom. We will take it for sure - freedom, we demand as our right - freedom. we ask with love for - freedom.]

Of course I want all these freedoms. I have, from the earliest recollection of any individuality, with the intensity of all my adolescent single-mindedness, always wanted to be free - of exactly the kinds echoed in the naara. Even as I've grown older, being able to wander, to walk anywhere, to talk to anyone, to be free to seek the unknown and make a connection is what at a fundamental level inspires me.

But even as we fiercely ask for azaadi, we also belong to collectives - to families, to organisations, to a larger society, and with that comes a two way dialectic - we influence and are influenced by the world around us - that is how we and the world has been constructed. Accepting this, and then actively working towards shaping the world can be quite exhilarating. If we stood in a circle that night and shouted as individual women, we were also people with a particular shared imagination of the city. We don't want to buy our protection to celebrate New Years Eve by paying thousands of rupees to enter as a mixed couple into a private public space like a club so that then we can then be free - to talk, to drink, to switch partners etc.

What I took from this, is a recognition of how free I was, have always been, and just how much I can do with this freedom. I also simultaneously feel indelibly connected to so many around me, and to those bent on protecting this very powerful freedom which is constantly under attack. 

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