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Why LGBT Rights Are Also A Women’s Issue

Today opened with this news coming up on my timeline.

Sec 377 slapped on Infosys techie after wife catches his gay acts on spycam

Now where do I start on this? I can see enough of people going “Look how Section 377 helped this women get justice against her cheating husband!” Is that really true?

A gay person should not have married a straight person. It began a relationship on the premise of a lie. And he continued being involved with other people after he was married, constituting cheating. Real justice would have been if he was punished for his sins of lying and cheating.

But section 377 doesn’t punish lying or cheating. It criminalizes acts of sex that are deemed unnatural. Which means if the husband had been sleeping with other women instead of with men, this case would not have worked. This is about punishing the man for being gay, not for lying and cheating on his wife. Is the latter a lesser crime in the eyes of the law then? Is it even seen as a problem?

The woman says her in-laws blamed her for their ‘perfect’ son not being attracted to her. If the spycam had shown him sleeping with other women, wouldn’t this chauvinistic opinion have continued? ‘He went elsewhere because you weren’t good enough for him’ would have been the refrain. Thus, woman-shaming for the man’s faults.

If the law is inadequately equipped to address an issue, should it erroneously use something else to punish the perpetrator? For one the inadequacy remains. Secondly, it facilitates other wrongful convictions. And finally, in this case, it only sustains the idea that a straight man is perfect and everything else is someone else’s fault. That ‘someone else’ in most cases is usually the woman closest to him.

Discrimination hurts everyone, not just the discriminated against. This story shows how LGBT issues are also women’s issues. If human rights aren’t equal for all, we’re only going to be running around in circles using the wrong laws for the wrong things.

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Wake Up And Smell The Bruises

I was with a friend last evening, driving around within a residential area’s bylanes, when we saw something. A couple was standing by the side of the road, clearly arguing. The guy, who was much taller and broader than the girl, was holding both her hands, while the girl seemed to be feebly protesting and trying to shake him off. They were both dressed well and looked like they were in their 20s. The girl was not shouting, screaming or crying. But she was not smiling or laughing either, which is what made me think that this wasn’t friendly fooling around.

My friend noticed it as well and after a few seconds hesitation, we doubled back. As we watched from a slight distance, the pair seemed to join in a hug, after which the girl broke free. I saw her push him back roughly and quickly cross the lane. The guy didn’t seem perturbed and the girl didn’t run. But she turned several times and the look on her face was one of fear. It was past 11 at night. There were several autorickshawallas on the road as well as stray pedestrians.

My friend had a brainwave. Instead of outright butting in, he stopped and asked her for directions to a restaurant close by. She seemed startled, then collected herself and shook her head and said she didn’t know. The guy, who had been watching this, crossed the road immediately and demanded to know what happened. My friend repeated his question. The guy just turned and walked away. We waited till the girl walked on and turned into one of the gates in the lane. The guy continued walking further down the road.

My words don’t prove conclusively that the guy was harassing the girl. But I know what I saw. I know the sense of danger I felt emanating from the situation. I know that unmistakeable instinct that women develop, that I felt, about trouble. There was definitely something off about the situation. The girl’s expression and then the look of relief on her face even in answering a simple question were one clue. The guy’s instant intrusion, demanding to know what was going on and then his turning and walking away, as if he had only wanted to check we weren’t interfering and that done, he could walk away – that’s another clue.

It’s possible that they might have been a couple and arguing. The girl did not ask for help. And none of the people around offered or even seemed to notice that she might need it. But this is a problem. I have been in that very situation. Just because a man is your boyfriend, friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance, does not mean that he might not pose a threat to you. In all the autorickshawallas around who were watching the ‘tamasha’ when it got a bit louder, I saw the same thing. I sensed it in my own self in those few seconds before my friend and I decided to turn back to see if the girl needed help. It was this thought:

“Why interfere in a couple’s problems?”

I am glad that we did. I am glad that I had a male friend with me. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to interfere otherwise. If I had done so, I don’t know if I might have courted further danger for myself and for the girl. And finally, I’m very glad for my friend’s diplomatic but careful management of the situation. His action registered in a non-threatening, unobtrusive way, that somebody was watching. I’d like to think that’s why the guy rushed to find out what was happening and then bolted, albeit feigning nonchalance.

I’d love to believe that all of this was in my mind and I was seeing evil where there was none. Unfortunately, I see too much violence on a daily basis and too much unseeing all around. Something else occurred me, right when this was happening. I remember seeing this video about a social experiment, which revealed people’s unequal attitudes towards violence against each gender. It showed how people noticed and offered help when a woman was attacked by a man but didn’t care or laughed when a man was being attacked by a woman.

What struck me even then, was that in India, it wouldn’t happen. In India, people do not interfere even when they see a man committing an act of violence against a woman. It’s not even equal opportunity violence tolerance in India. Violence against women is actively encouraged (what, you haven’t seen the latest Salman Khan movie?) and nurtured. It’s cherished as a show of masculinity. And the reverse, no, I’m afraid it’s not tolerated. The same all-influential Bollywood movies also show how a hero loses his head, after he is slapped by a woman, in a justified manner since ‘she must be put in her place’.

I have been beaten, slapped and punched by men, men who were supposed to be close to me. Some of these have happened in public. Not once has a person ever interfered. I’ve even been told that I should not be such a feminist, that I should learn to forgive and forget. And memorably, two so-called friends badgered me for a month about my hostile attitude to men. When I told them that I had been subjected to violence by men, both of them shrugged and said, “So?”

I don’t want to end this post as a rant. But let me propose a few ideas instead.

  1. If you know a woman you believe to be strong, do not assume that she is invulnerable to threat. Do not judge her for needing your help. The world is not an equal place. I might go so far to say that the more openly ‘strong’ a woman is, the greater her chances of falling victim to violence. There just are that many men around who are threatened by a woman’s strength or independence.
  2. Do not feel that it is not your place or job to interfere. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it. Rough handling of a human being, without their consent is a crime. If you see it happening and you allow it to pass unchecked, you are accessory to that crime.
  3. This is one place where you can, should, err on the side of caution. If you interfere, the worst that happens is you are insulted or ridiculed. If you do not interfere, a human being might suffer violence and damage, something you could have prevented by didn’t.
  4. If you are not in a position to interfere for some reason, don’t give up. Be innovative like my friend was. The ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign was based on this idea. Disrupt the situation, make it clear that somebody is watching. At least, it should diffuse the situation at that moment. It always helps to have the police station’s number. Call and report what you’re seeing. The police do respond. They will not make life miserable for you, for reporting it.
  5. If it feels rough, it is violence. Don’t overthink the boundaries. It’s not that difficult. If the person does not seem to be enjoying it or looks distressed, assume it is an attack. Here’s an indicative list I found on ADaring which defines domestic violence: You are facing domestic violence if your partner:
    domestic-violence-300x128

    *Image courtesy ADaring.

    1. Calls you names, insults you, puts you down and does not allow you to go to work or school.
    2. Prevents you from seeing your family members or friends.
    3. Is too possessive and jealous and constantly accuses you of infidelity.
    4. Gets angry every time he consumes alcohol or drugs.
    5. Threatens you with weapons or violence.
    6. Hits, kicks, chokes, slaps or torchers you or your children or pets.
    7. Forces you to have sexual relationship with him/her.
    8. Blames you for everything and says that you deserve being punished.

I ask you this, as a woman who lives in a world that is dangerous for her. I am asking to share in the privilege you enjoy. I am asking you to help me have my basic right to safety. And just in case you need a reminder of how ‘normal’ domestic violence can look, here’s a Violence Awareness campaign that Norway is running:

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#WomenShould: The Things That We Do In Spite Of It

So another Women’s Day that came and passed. I managed to stay away from the hoopla that would try to sell me more cocktails, impractical shoes and unrealistic romance, in the guise of empowering me. I’ve written about my dissatisfaction with the fact that this doesn’t actually empower women, let alone women across different socioeconomic strata. But I’ve had a different thought this year. I went through a similar thought cycle with Valentine’s Day, reacting with excitement, then cynicism, then indifference and finally conscious acceptance. Both days serve as symbolic references, when we remind ourselves to think about important things and how we’re faring on them. My disappointments have not been with the concept of either day itself but with the results of the drive, the stark differences between what should be and what really is.

I live a charmed life, of a sort. Freedom to vote, to love who I will, rights over my body, to my privacy, the power to choose a career, a partner and a lifestyle. But I am not the majority, not even a significant minority. Attitudes still run largely in the direction of dictating how a woman can and should live her life. To be born a woman is to carry the shackles of ‘Women Should’ for the rest of one’s life. Awhile ago, an NGO study showed some insightful things. When you searches online for the phrase ‘women can’ or ‘women should’, the auto-prompts that are thrown up (based on popular search strings) reveal just the kind of attitude women battle every single day. Yes, even women like me, with our hallowed lives.

If this search were to be taken as a key pointer, it would seem like the internet believes that women can or should do very little. Yet, I know this is not true. We’re not all crusaders. But every woman I know, lives beyond the definition imposed on her from birth, in her own unique way. There is the student who negotiates with her family, promising to marry whoever they want her to, if she can pursue the education of her choice. There is the mother who waits patiently, through pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, preschool and primary till her children are old enough, and then goes back to the career she left behind. There’s a daughter-in-law who chooses an education system that will allow her to fulfil her family duties and gathers familial support before she enrols. Womanhood, if it is standing up to hostile elements, it is also about finding a way around the restrictions the fall in one’s path.

Bajaj Allianz is doing an interesting campaign to combat the results of the study I mentioned above. They ask you to type in a search string using the term ‘Women should…’ that involves a positive, empowering message. Let’s take this phrase back and own it, I think.

Here are the searches I did. The women around me inspired these statements.Because they exist. We exist. And it’s time to let the internet know too.

Women should go back to their studies.
Women should be ambitious.
Women should dance for fun.
Women should be engineers.
Women should be daring.
Women should take risks in their careers.
Women should talk back.
Women should wear what they want to.
Women should propose.
Women should earn more than their partners.
Women should travel alone.
Women should rescue people.
Women should be loud enough to be heard.
Women should be seen and heard.
Women should be leaders.
Women should talk about sex.
Women should be famous.

I’m also posting a series of snapshots of some of these women on my Instagram stream using the hashtag #WomenShould.

Add your stories to the #WomenShould movement too.

A World Of Pain

A thick sheet of plastic over a boiling cauldron of black, festering poison. That’s me. A year – that’s how long it takes to grow this.

I’ve been in a strange mood all month. I lost the entire month of February, being unwell, asleep and drifting in disoriented confusion through questions like,

“What are you going to do next?”

I don’t know and I don’t even know to explain how or why that is the case. Having been a burning force of desire all my life – bottomless want for a goal, an object, a person’s affections, an intangible like attention – has driven me and taken me to achievement as well as over the disappointment of not achieving. Now, I just feel empty. Desireless is dead, as far as I’m concerned.

But today somebody asked me, in a way that I had to answer because I knew the answer and I couldn’t lie,

“How are you?”

And all at once that non-biodegradable, suffocating sheet of plastic formed a little hole and a stream of blackish hurt came oozing out. I talked and talked. And he replied, stopping only when he saw a tear ooze out of my right eye. So I continued talking.

I’m so angry. I’m so, so angry.

I’m angry at myself for having being compassionate and kind and loving to somebody who only treated me with condescension, hostility and cruelty. I’m angry at the utter coldness that must have fueled this big tamasha that was done only to buy my silence for a few months more. I’m angry at the sheer viciousness that plotted setting me up in order to dump me publicly in the most humiliating, debilitating way possible.

I’m raging at so-called friends who shut me up by lecturing me on dignified silences, on the crassness of public whining and the censorship of my writing. I’m burning at the faceless groups of people who banded together with him, making my utter humiliation complete.

I’m seething at the roles of strength and endurance and patience and forgiveness and maturity that I’ve been forced into playing. I’m screaming at the gag orders, the handcuffs, the closed doors on and to my pain and expression.

I’m bursting with shame and indignation and fury at the thought of him speaking for women’s rights, against violence towards women, against homophobia. I’m biting on my tongue and choking back the bile when I hear about the accolades that his art gets when he performs ideas that I fought to bring into his consciousness, even words that were mine that he’s mouthing. So shamelessly. So remorselessly. So much without a conscience.

I’m beaten into submission by the sheer irony of life. A year to the day, he’s out celebrating accolades for something I first pushed him into pursuing. And surprise, surprise – it’s an event in honour of Women’s Rights. Life, you make me want to slit my wrists right now.

Is there no justice in the world? And if there isn’t, damn you for wanting me to crusade but only politely, for wanting me to champion causes being hypocritically championed by such offenders, for wanting me to be the Stepfordian crusader even as I bleed. Damn every single one of you.

I am in a world of pain, that’s how I am.

The Princess/ Professional Dichotomy

*Image via MicrosoftOffice

The woman who can’t decide if she wants to be the Nice Girl or the Business Skirt

There is a certain kind of woman that I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of, in the past decade. I found her right after I started working. This woman may hold down any job, from adwoman to pilot to salesgirl to journalist. She’s got the degrees, the skill set and even the resume. She’s confident, can speak the right jargon (in business situations) and lingo (in social situations). She may also have the other requisite paraphernalia for being a Superwoman, such as a cool hobby, an offbeat alternate career, a with-it social circle, a quirky love life and the mandatory ‘progressive’ outlook on gender equality.

On my first job, my company hired a bunch of people for a short-term assignment after an interview process. During the actual project, the woman in charge of managing a front desk was found combing her hair (at that very desk). When questioned about the whereabouts of certain materials that she was responsible for, she looked bewildered and said, “I don’t know”. My cutting (and in retrospect, harsh) reply was, “You have two hands, two legs & a head. Hopefully you have a brain too. You were hired to use all of them.”

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

There is the weaseling out of uncomfortable situations such as being pulled up for bad (or incomplete) work, by crying. You would think it’s easy to tell what kind of woman would break down if you pointed out a mistake on her report. But this is not the pretty, dainty princess sort. This is the toughie, ‘I can hold my own’ sort who ambushes you with an emotional response. It’s all the more difficult to handle such a situation because you never saw it coming. We deal with people along the equations that are set in place based on power dynamics & social roles. This particular situation means the woman abruptly changes all those, leaving you weaker to respond.

And finally there’s the kicker of turning to male support. Personally, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about having to ask a guy for help. I admit this may be an ego issue, since I’ve had to take offense so often against sexist remarks. But there’s nothing permissible about a professional who needs ‘rescuing’ on account of her gender.

Recently, I went on a short trip out of the city. The tour was organized by a young lady, who seemed full of bright ideas and budding talent. She’s a musician, who quit a corporate job to start a travel tours company with some friends. She was confident, articulate and enthusiastic. She was also charming, at ease with new people and seemed like she’d be able balance all the varying demands of these jobs well. The trip went completely off because of mismanagement of time and as it turned out, people. Each episode was dismissed with a smiling nonchalance. When things came to a head, she shrugged and said, “What can I do now? Just chill out yaar.” Shortly after, one of the male guests turned up to speak on her behalf. Thereafter, it was up to him to sort out the various glitches that had occurred because she had not done her job properly. Even if he did not have any problem with having to do this, he could not be held accountable for any issues that came up from the mismanagement or the superficial solutions that were offered. The lady in question quite literally shrugged it all off, putting it down to other people being difficult.

A number of situations like this have me saying, “I would never hire her!” which comes across as harsh & judgemental. But I am a certain kind of professional, the kind that thinks commitment to work & earning respect are gender-irrespective. If I demand equality in recruitment processes & in salaries, I don’t feel like I can ask for gender concessions while working. Besides being unfair, how can I expect any sort of respect if I do that?

Women like this weaken my stand, both within the professional setup (if they work with me) and for my gender. It’s hard enough to assess whether a woman is going to turn out this way. What’s even harder is the assumption that because I’m a woman, I should condone anything from another woman. There are the allegations of my sex being the proverbial crabs in a pot, not wanting other women to shine. Then there are accusations of being a bitch, as a boss or as a customer. And finally, there’s the assumption that I don’t truly believe in women’s liberation since supposedly, I don’t ‘support’ women in the workplace.

What I’m wondering is, when did equality end at rights and stop being about responsibility as well? I’m asking does the requirement of professionalism not apply to women, just because they’re women? And why at all should I have any respect for these women who’re just using feminism as a convenient excuse to write off sloppiness, laziness, irresponsibility and bad attitudes?

On the other side, I also have to admit that most women struggle with early-imposed notions of being ‘Nice’. At the most basic level, I think it’s important for every woman who goes out to work, to question what being a professional really means. I want to believe that it has nothing to do with popularity stakes and everything to do with getting the job done right.

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