Opinion: Unfortunately, She was Female

The insensitive speculation around Sridevi’s death had everything to with the fact that she was a woman

 Sridevi in  Chaalbaaz  (1989) via  LightsCameraBollywood.com

Sridevi in Chaalbaaz (1989) via LightsCameraBollywood.com

Botox. Weight-loss surgery. Drugs. Alcohol. The allegations flew thick and fast; the speculation in the aftermath of Sridevi’s death had all the ingredients of a seedy pulp fiction novel. This was after all, a woman in the public eye. And while celebrities around the world routinely have their private lives ruthlessly excavated and squeezed for juice, when they happen to be female, that just makes it so much worse.

There were eulogies, no doubt. Some called her India’s first female superstar, others sang paeans to her acting; the lilt of her hips; the impact of her celebrityhood on impressionable young minds. And yet, ironically, in death, she wasn’t accorded the dignity of insensitive, sexist speculation.

Oh yes, it was sexist. Take Rajesh Khanna. The man who had treated his ex-wife—the lovely and too-young Dimple Kapadia—badly, was also known to have hit the bottle quite hard, especially in his later years. And yet, his death brought forth none of the breathless criticism of his lifestyle that Sridevi’s did, because—lets’ face it—he was a man. That she had traces of alcohol in her blood had to mean she was a careless drunk. Because that is the fate that befalls wanton women who drink. And if they’re rich, good looking and in the acting business, they must be doing unmentionable things that are ‘against Indian culture’. The fact she was the second wife of a man who has unwittingly participated in one of the film industry’s biggest scandals at the time—leaving his first wife for a vixen actress—only underscored her promiscuity even more, one would imagine.

Take one of the first forwards this writer received on WhatsApp the morning of Sridevi’s death. Secure in its own self-righteousness, it was about how we must introspect about the ‘pressure to look good’ that had certainly killed her; how she lacked self-love; how she had ‘patriarchal implants in her head’; how she was little but a clothes horse for designers who would make her as beautiful as she desired. That this very line of thinking was perpetuating the very same relentless pressure on female celebrities to look and act a certain way, had obviously not occurred to the writer of the message. But why would it? Sridevi is a female celebrity, she obviously asked for it. Duh.

Enfant terrible Ram Gopal Varma, a self-confessed fan of the actor, took it upon himself to discuss the troubles in Sridevi’s life. "More than the external peace, her internal mental state was of a high degree of concern and this forced her to look at her own self… The uncertainty of the future, the ugly turns and twists in her private life left deep scars in the superstar’s sensitive mind and thereafter she was never at peace," Varma said on social media. Oh, the insight!

If Varma’s philosophical ponderings are true, then in death, as in life, Sridevi found little solace. Ultimately, her unquestionable talent, her supreme impact on the film industry, her hefty body of work—all remained subservient to the fact of her gender. Her death only buttressed what we already know—women don’t deserve respect. After all, everything that happens to them is their fault. 


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Holi & The Unwilling Suspension of Consent

 ‘ Bura Na Mano Holi Hai ’ is the battle cry that establishes the festival as a space for all-male enjoyment, more so than other Indian festivals, and unapologetically so.

Bura Na Mano Holi Hai’ is the battle cry that establishes the festival as a space for all-male enjoyment, more so than other Indian festivals, and unapologetically so.

'Come on man, it's Holi! Lighten up! Loosen up!' Except that when you've been groped and molested under this garb of festival merriment,  you really don't want to lighten up. 

It seems that any excuse will do to intrude on women’s personal spaces and our right to consent, and Holi provides the perfect opportunity. ‘Bura Na Mano Holi Hai’ is the battle cry that establishes the festival as a space for all-male enjoyment, more so than other Indian festivals, and unapologetically so.

Those of a certain generation will remember the eventful scene in Damini, where the pivotal gang rape occurs against the backdrop of Holi merriment. With the bhaang flowing, the anonymity afforded by the milling mobs and coloured faces, and the ready excuse of colour, there is no escape for unwilling women. ‘Stay home’ is the only advice that works for women who do not want to be molested on Holi. Want to reclaim your space? Welcome to groping and semen-filled balloons HYPERLINK THIS PLEASE.

Which is why for many women, Holi brings back terrible memories. Four women recount their experiences of being violated on this festival of colour:


When I was a kid, I really loved Holi. We would go to the Naval Club in Katari Bagh, Cochin, and play with my parents’ friends and children. This innocent love ended abruptly when I was about 11. A group of girls was playing among ourselves outside a building in Navy Nagar, Bombay, when three much older boys descended on us. “Bura Na Mano Holi Hai,” they said, as they grabbed our budding breasts and young vaginas as we squirmed and screamed. We scattered as we ran away; I hid behind a car where they found me. “Dekho, rang bhi nahi hai,” one said showing me his colour-free hands as they continued this violation for a few minutes, before they moved on to another girl.

For many years, I would lock myself up in my room in the days leading up to Holi, refusing to let anyone even put a tikka on me. I was convinced to resume playing only ten years later, at the insistence of a group of friends who were organising a party in the golden cage of a Delhi farmhouse, with reassurances of protection from my then-boyfriend. Since, I only play with friends, in safe environments, and manage to have a good enough time, despite the trauma. Big girl though I am, this fear of Holi in particular and mobs of men in general will never leave.



Growing up, I was lucky to be in an environment where no lines were ever crossed. Under the protective watch of my parents, we grew up hearing about how it happens to other people, but I only became one of these other people when I stepped out, went to college, started working — that is when the reality of how the festival had been twisted hit me with full force. It was really unsafe, and as a journalist, I had to work on Holi as well, which meant stepping out of the house and risking exposure. I am lucky, so far, to have not actually faced molestation in name of splashing colours, but I have been attacked by balloons — colleagues have had worse experiences. My mother, when she was pregnant with me, was not spared either; the same happened to a colleague as well. People have no concept of boundaries, or consent. There is a fear associated, perhaps with women more so, of being subjected to something one does not want. We should be able to go through life without thinking about this, but unfortunately, it isn’t so. You have to take precautions at your own end, because the other person is unable to take this seriously. I don’t like the festival anymore, the manner of celebration is of great importance, and this manipulation of what was supposed to be a fun festival has made s difficult for so many people. I don’t play Holi, but the fact is that people who enjoy playing Holi have to limit themselves to their societies, because the moment they step out, they have to to be wary. Films should also avoid romanticising such behaviours, and they have the responsibility to not promote a bad precedent for the youth. That’s where the problem lies, because what is fun for you is not always fun for the other. This portrayal must change.



My incident is not gender-specific, but it is something where I was made to feel comfortable. When I was a child, Holi used to be a fun experience, but that changed for me as an adult. I was out of India for quite a while, and I had gotten out of touch with celebrating it by the time I returned. Last year, I was in my house minding my own business, when the bell rang and when I opened the door, I was ambushed with colours and my clothes were ruined. It was a huge invasion of my privacy, I was not asked if I wanted this and they did not take my consent. These were neighbours, people I knew but had not seen in a long time. I just felt like they should have wished me, and asked if it was okay to put some colour on me. Sometimes, we are pressured into feeling socially obligated to accept these things, even if we do not enjoy them. I had heard several stories about people who have been pulled in without their consent, but nothing overly violent. But these incidents definitely cross a line. I was never really fond of the festival, I found it excessive, but I would say that the more this kind of the stuff happens, the more wary I become. I don’t think I will be opening my door for the next two days if I didn’t know the person on the other side!



Growing up, I used to really enjoy Holi; we used to stay in a gated SBI officers' colony and we knew all the parents and kids in the locality, we all used to play Holi together. Even then, one year when I was returning home from playing Holi with my friends, a group of watchmen tried to put colour on me. This was back in the early 90s, before we knew about good touch/bad touch. I felt wronged. That still stands out, the feeling of wanting to push someone away. They asked if they did something wrong, because for them perhaps I was just a child. Growing up, boundaries increased — you’re not with the same people, you’re not in that colony any more. Now as an adult, it makes me uncomfortable, because I don’t want anyone to put colour on me. I remember how in a couple of offices I have worked at, people have wanted to put colour on my face — even as a friendly gesture— but I don’t like the idea of someone touching my face. When you step out, there is a sense of fear because in Mumbai, people don’t buy balloons in some areas; they use plastic bags which hurt a lot more on impact. The closer Holi comes, the more you are worried about having to dodge these missiles, because I have had these thrown into my rickshaw. I would rather not step out. It is self-preservation to do so. The last time I played was 2007, but it was because I went with friends and it was safe.

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Film Review: Pad Man

Flimsy feminism. Period.

by Priyanka Sutaria

  "Ek aurat ki hifazat mein nakamiyab aadmi apne aap ko mard kaise keh sakta hai?"

"Ek aurat ki hifazat mein nakamiyab aadmi apne aap ko mard kaise keh sakta hai?"

The promotions for the film had scores of celebs taking up leading man Akshay Kumar’s ‘Pad Man Challenge’, holding up a pad on social media and saying it was nothing to  be ashamed about since it was normal. So far, so-so. That we think holding up a pad on social media is worthy of being deemed a ‘challenge’ is problematic enough to begin with, but that was just the beginning.

The film offered up a whole other set of problems. For starters, This movie is about only about Lakshmikant, and by extension, Kumar’s brand of nationalism-driven films.

There seems to be a strange Gandhi-esque shade to Kumar’s character; celibate by choice (having left wife and village for a “greater good”). All the dialogue builds the character of Lakshmikant—intelligent, skilled, generous, crazy, driven, victorious—and the few words about menstrual stigma are wrapped up in a brief five-line speech which emerges from the vacuum that is Akshay Kumar’s performative feminism, a shorter special appearance than even Amitabh Bachchan’s three minute cameo.

You’d think a movie whose entire marketing vehicle has been the collective uterus of Indian women would be a positive step for menstruation awareness. Umm, not so much. If there were no women in the movie and menstruation existed as a platonic form simply manifesting itself in depthless female characters, it would make no difference to the plot whatsoever.

The menstruating women in the movie only talk about Kumar's character. Thus the movie succeeds in divorcing menstruation from those who experience it in order to lionise a man who spends his time taking entrepreneurial advice about a menstrual product enterprise from a grease mechanic, and a thoroughly pointless Sonam Kapoor.

Kapoor is literally there to be a plot device who perpetuates negative notions of womanhood and is present simply to be (metaphorically) written off when the virtuous Lakshmikant returns to his wife. A love triangle for those who come to theatres leaving their brains behind.

Pad Man cannot pretend to create any kind of awareness. It lacks necessary nuance which comes from lived experience. A photo of him waving an ABVP flag while promoting the movie in DU, and an ignorant attempt at a social justice-themed poem are further proof of his blind approach to this issue.

So thank you for sticking up a stray pad for us, Akshay Kumar—really, thanks for giving this discourse the celebrity photo-op that grabs eyeballs. Now, it’s time to go beyond and actually consider the cost of having a period; the cultural and social norms that deem a natural biological process shameful; the gender violence and inequality that informs this entire discourse. And that is about much more than Bollywood holding up a pad as a ‘challenge’.


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There Will Be Blood

Is publicity about periods an end in itself? What does this do beyond promoting the upcoming film Pad Man?

By Sowmya Rajaram & Priyanka Sutaria



At the directive of Bollywood star Akshay Kumar (in a strategic and successful PR campaign for his movie, Pad Man), hoards of celebrities populated social media with pictures of themselves holding pads which have been removed from their packaging and held wide open… for all the germs to settle in.

We get it—this was a PR stunt for a movie. And it was well-intentioned (as well-intentioned as a movie promotion can be). Our movie stars have hardly been known for their gumption when it comes to speaking up on the issues that matter (just look at what happened to Swara Bhaskar, who dared speak up while the rest stayed silent on the Padmavat controversy). Still, many said ‘Yay!’, because when Deepika Padukone holds up a sanitary napkin, it means she might make a fan who follows her on Instagram learn a little about menstruation, and bring it out of the shame-soaked realm it’s been cloistered in. Just maybe.

Hold on, though. There’s more to this conversation than just a flimsy photo-op for a movie. It’s also about the millions of women across the world who do not have access to these pads, or for that matter, social media, to follow Kumar’s hashtag ‘challenge’. It’s about people and communities which come together to create biodegradable menstrual hygiene products and offer basic human dignity to all those who menstruate. The prime example, of course, is the entrepreneurial venture by so-called original Pad Man, Arunachalam Muruganantham himself. Or ventures such as Anandi, which has spearheaded compostable pad production across India. It’s about the tax on sanitary napkins, which in India are classified as ‘miscellaneous’ and not ‘necessary’ items. It’s about fighting the stigma around a natural, biological process; one that leads to 23% of girls in rural India dropping out of school, and keeping 28% of these girls away from school during their period because they lack clean and affordable protection. It’s about finding ways to make managing your period environmentally and economically sustainable, because pads contain plastic that doesn’t degrade.

From Muruganantham’s biodegradable pads (a system which has unique forms scattered across the world, an example being Uganda’s AfriPads) to silicon menstrual cups, there is much more to menstrual hygiene than pads that promise fragrances and leak lock channels.

Which is why many are circumspect about the push for sanitary napkins and the campaign to make them tax-free on social media; this so-called sanitary napkin revolution that even Pad Man pushes. Yes, some women do use unsanitary methods, but the reality is that statistics (such as one that goes ‘only 12% women in India have access to sanitary napkins’, used in Pad Man as well) is incorrect, say social workers who have seen the ground reality of menstrual health in India. According to an article in Swarajya Magazine, this statistic is the result of a study with a sample size of 1033 women, which is smaller than some villages in country. For these women, natural methods such as rags and cloth are, simply, the easiest and most convenient method, one they may not want to give up for industries that have been painting the sanitary napkin as a panacea for all evils.

Not everyone agrees, though. Take Aditi Gupta, co-founder of Menstrupedia, a menstrual health awareness organisation which 'aims at delivering informative and entertaining content through different media…', who created the comic in 2014, to make awareness about periods fun. Apart from the book which is available in multiple languages, Menstrupedia is also developing grassroots awareness about menstruation, and sharing information about puberty and bodily changes through their blog and social media.

Gupta believes that in a country where women often have little or no access to menstrual hygiene products, what product they choose should be left up to them. She says, “I have used rags, so I will not say that rags are a good alternative for managing periods.” Not everyone can use cloth pads (take for example, women who work in fields and do not have the liberty to wash, dry and reuse their products constantly) or even menstrual cups (she says many women find the idea of insertable menstrual wear uncomfortable and abhorrent).

“We cannot demand of those who bleed that they be environmentally conscious when all so-called sustainable products are unavailable or unsuitable. Is it really for their betterment if everyone has to abide by monolithic standards of how they might menstruate, that is be the ‘ideal’ period-having person? Is that not an unfair standard?” she asks. She believes that it is exploitation of the menstruating when these products are heavily taxed as luxuries in an unequal society, especially when good-quality products are not always readily available to people who menstruate. “At the end of the day, if products like sanitary napkins were available for a cheaper cost, it would make the lives of many better,” she says.

Urmila Chanam, founder of ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign which seeks women's right to dignity and good health when menstruating, is circumspect. She believes that more than a simplistic sanitary napkin revolution, India needs to facilitate real awareness about menstruation and break the myths, taboos, and traditions which govern it. Chanam finds that while there isn’t any problem with big pharma creating an awareness about periods, it is a shallow kind of awareness which tackles only one aspect of the issue. “Everybody is thinking about pads, but no one is thinking about the gender inequality in our homes! What if men had periods? Women and girls are treated like second-rate citizens, and it reflects in our attitudes towards them when they bleed.” The wave of awareness, then, is not intersectional, it does not cross class,caste, or location lines.

Chanam also questions the urban stronghold of this ‘menstruation-awareness’ movement. At the end of the day, these products are created with the desire to increases sales. Big pharma is likely to find a sustainable market for this, and only urban locations suit their economic interests. “What about rural India?”, Chanam asks. “ My personal experience in the grassroots is that women and girls do not have access to this knowledge. And it is often because they are women.” Still, like Gupta, Chanam believes that it is the right of the menstruating individual to choose what is suitable for them; whether that is cloth, plastic pads, or menstrual cups.

So here’s the thing. The cost of menstruating in this world is far more expensive than many know or understand. It isn’t just the hygiene products (pads, tampons, menstrual cups) we invest in. We also pay the cost of pain medication, hormone supplements, and birth control pills to regulate and survive our period. We pay the price when doctors refuse to diagnose us when we complain of acute pain, simply because they do not believe it could be that painful. We bear the burden of the emotional labour which goes into explaining menstruation to those who do not menstruate; in exchange for bleeding three to seven days a month, we receive ignorance.

So thank you for sticking up a stray pad for us, Akshay Kumar—really, thanks for the publicity. Thank you for giving this discourse the celebrity photo-op that grabs eyeballs. Now, it’s time to go beyond and actually consider the nuances and cost of a period. And that, my friends, is about much more than a sanitary napkin.


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Sex Ed is Not Dead

Priyanka Sutaria speaks to parents who weigh in on why it is necessary to normalise The Conversation Around Sex


In India, we've talked a lot about sexual violence over the last few years. What hasn't become a full-fledged discourse, however, is sex-positive talk. Surprising, when all the logic in the world screams at you that in a country haunted by Victorian values of sexual suppression, understanding negative sexual behaviours can only happen when we normalise the idea of sex. Whether for reproduction or for enjoyment, sex is an important aspect in an individual’s life, and everything associated with it—if and when it happens, how it happens, who it happens with—impacts us deeply.

And yet, why don’t we talk about sex? What ghost of sexuality past prevents us from creating a discourse about sex that is both educational and positive, the kind that makes children safe and self-aware?

From gender norms to the introduction to arousal and all that follows; everything plays into how we view sex as adults. And parents have a huge role to play in this. 

BD works a corporate job, and is the mother of a six-year-old girl. Sharmila Sutaria makes gourmet desserts on order, and is the mother of two daughters, aged 20 and 22. Smriti Lamech is a published writer, editor, journalist and social media consultant. She is the mother of a girl and a boy, ages 11 and 13 respectively.

All of these women—mothers—think it’s important to discuss the birds and the bees, and change the conversation for their children.

PS: Have you/will you talk to your kids about menstruation, bodily changes, sexuality, sex, and everything that falls under the umbrella of sex education?

BD: Of course. I'm already having conversations with her about bodily changes. The rest, I will introduce her to when she is older, maybe seven or eight . I'd rather she hear the right things from me than some other source. It also makes her aware about her 'private parts', like she would be of any other body part.

Sharmila: I have spoken to both my daughters about this, and I believe every parent must have this conversation with their children so that they do not grow up with misconstrued ideas of sex, sexuality, and so on, on the basis of what their peers discuss, or even just hearsay.

Smriti: I have spoken to my kids about all of this already. I speak to my son and daughter about everything. This is one among hundreds of conversations we have had about birth, death, abortions, miscarriages, and so on.

PS: Do you think sex education is an important building block in a child’s life? At what age do you believe children ought to learn about sex (and more)?

BD: Sex education is a must. Absolutely. But it shouldn't be given undue importance and focus. It should be treated as you would any other biological impulse, and the conversation should follow in that tone. Sex Ed starts when children are as young as one, when you start using correct words to describe body parts. By the age of three-four you start talking about good touch-bad touch, and by the age of five-six, bodily changes. You talk to them about where the baby is born from and how a baby cell is made (mamma and papa cells come together and form the baby cell). Finally, at the age of seven or eight, the actual act of how the mamma-papa cells come together can be discussed.

Sharmila: Sex ed is definitely important as it clears any doubts and queries children may have at an age when curiosity reigns. These conversations ought to start as soon as they are capable of understanding these issues—maybe close to puberty. My daughters were made aware of menstruation by the age of six, and of sex by the time they were eight or nine.

Smriti: We have had these conversations since they were born. The moment my son was old enough, I spoke to him about menstruation, but even prior to that, pads and menstrual products were never hidden in our home. We have books about where babies come from lying around the house, and my daughter's friends have even come to me to ask questions because they know I will answer them honestly.

PS: Did your parents discuss sex (and more) with you? If not, how did you learn about it?

BD: No, my parents did not speak to me about this. I learnt it from books.

Sharmila: My parents never discussed it because they did not find such conversations to be comfortable, even when it came to something as basic as menstruation. I learnt through reading.

Smriti: My situation is unusual, because my parents were working in remote jobs, so I was brought up by my grandparents. So I had these conversations with my grandmother, who was very open to them. I was 10 when my grandmother first gave me Sunday school books, which provided a very clinical understanding of sex. My liberal outlook towards parenthood is entirely the result of her upbringing.

PS: Do you believe girls and boys ought to be given sex education in different ways? 

BD: I'm not sure about this. Logically it seems that they should be taught together, but girls and boys do need separate classes for sexual abuse and sexual politics.

Sharmila: Boys and girls should be taught together but emphasis on certain things needs to be gender-based. For example, boys need to be taught that the gender dynamic will entitle them to certain privileges which they need to recognise and fight. Girls will have to be taught that they too are entitled to things girls and women have been denied previously.

Smriti: Is this a trick question? Ha. I don’t think so. If you don’t teach them together, and tell them that they will be growing into this stuff together, then it will create a environment of shame right from the start. I was actually horrified when my daughter’s co-ed school took the girls to learn about puberty separately. It has to be a collaborative activity.

PS: If your child came to you with a question about sex (and more), how would/did you respond?

BD: I would answer the question as I would any other.

Sharmila: As openly as possible so that there is no ambiguity at all.

Smriti: If you start the conversation early enough, there will be no awkwardness. In our family, no conversation is taboo, and no question 'too much'. My children are aware that not all their peers have liberal parents, and they take advantage of the fact that they can learn about this stuff from me.

PS: What do you think of the concept of virginity? How much importance does it carry in your children’s lives?

BD: Virginity is an outdated concept.

Sharmila: I grew up with the thought that virginity was an all-important virtue, to be conserved till one is married. But today, I know (and I’ve learnt it from my daughters!) that pre-marital sex is not a taboo, so long as it is safe and consensual.

Smriti: My son has always told me he will have children so that I can have grandkids, but the other day he told me he didn’t want to get married, which would mean that his child wouldn’t be legitimate. So I told him these ideas are archaic, and that a child is legitimate whether or not it is borne of a marriage. Hopefully, by the time he is older, these ideas will have long disappeared!


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It Takes All Kinds of Feminists (To Change the World)

No, you’re not a better feminist than your friend/ sister/ boss. Feminism is about a sisterhood, so let’s build each other up instead of pulling each other down.


Who is a feminist?

Is it the woman who rejects marriage as a patriarchal institution?

Is it the woman to keeps her surname after marriage?

Is it the woman who works to support her family?

Is it the woman who puts her maid’s daughter through college?

News flash: They all are.


Here’s the thing.

Feminism isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Many of our mothers took their husband’s names -- cue, gasp! -- and were financially dependent on them, but they also lived their lives in a manner that took the movement ahead. We all know mothers who studied after marriage and were probably the first women in their families to become financially independent. We know colleagues who live with their in-laws while living full, independent lives.

My mom is one such mother. Despite the usual ‘trappings’ of patriarchy -- has her husband’s surname, doesn’t work outside the home -- she supports my long-term (and openly sexual) relationship publicly in a conservative small town. That makes her a feminist.

My maid works five houses a day, but tells her husband she works at three so that she can save up the surplus money for her children’s education. She is a feminist.

My friend had a religious wedding ceremony to please the family despite understanding its sexist implications, but is in a happy, deeply egalitarian marriage. She is a feminist.

And yet, often, their decisions are labelled patriarchal bargains.

They are not. A patriarchal bargain is climbing on other women’s backs to obtain power in a man’s world. These women are NOT by any stretch of the imagination, ‘lesser’ feminists. Freedom of expression and CHOICE is as much necessary within the feminist community as it is in the larger world.

Increasingly, it seems like women in the movement are dedicating time criticising each other and deriding one another’s choices, instead of building each other up.

For instance, Savarna feminists persistently condemn avarna feminists for choosing to wear mangalsutras and burkhas.

It’s myopic to see a mangalsutra and deride a woman as a lost cause, without context. Yes, she may be wearing one. But she may also be waging (and winning) a battle with her family to train as a pilot. Isn’t that a feminist victory?

Understand this: Oppression has many forms. As women, we know this all too well. But then, so does rebellion, equality, freedom and happiness -- all that feminism is about. Every woman is fighting her own battle. And if she has to make adjustments while she does so be it. Wearing sindoor doesn’t make one woman a bad feminist just as much as fighting for equal pay doesn’t make another a great feminist. This is real life, and we’re all looking for a way to stay happy while we demand equality and freedom. And you know what? That’s ok.

What we must do, is discuss. Read up. Encourage each other to think. Question EVERYTHING. The mangalsutra. The curfew we have that our brothers don’t. The morality that supposedly resides in our vagina that doesn’t, in our boyfriend’s. The mangalsutra. The new surname. The emphasis should be on understanding that sometimes, we will get co-opted into these patriarchal projects for reasons beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean we endorse them. In fact, we’re fighting them every step of the way. Expecting yourself (or anyone else) to do battle all at once is neither practical nor possible. Rome wasn’t born in a day, after all.

Our feminist friends at Genderlog India understand this, and asked women to share their struggles of being feminists while doing decidedly un-feminist things, because, well, that’s life.

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So there you have it. There is no ‘perfect’ feminist. The world is not unidimensional, and in a world where just being a woman is a disadvantage, the additional intersections of race, caste, class and sexuality further complicate matters for us. Often, to survive, we have to make sacrifices and concessions. We all need to tailor our own individual feminisms. And we need to support all our sisters while they do so too.


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10 Lessons 2017 Taught Us

... and how we can carry these feminist lessons into 2018.

by Priyanka Sutaria

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If we had to give 2017 an emoji, it would be the one with the pair of hands perpetually raised in celebration. Make no mistake -- it wasn’t an easy year for women. But it was also a year of empowerment, a moment in time where solidarity and social justice combined to create a seed of anger. For every Harvey Weinstein, there was a Salma Hayek. For every stalker, there was a Varnika Kundu, and her father. All these moments combined in a year whose most defining word (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary) was feminism. Feminism definitely had a moment in 2017. And here are 10 ways to carry that momentum into 2018.

1. In 2017…

The first day of Donald Trump’s Presidency began with nearly 500 marches and 5 million taking to the streets for the Women’s March; a women-led movement aimed at highlighting both the power of women’s suffrage, as well as their ability to take control of issues that affect them. On the same day in India, across 20 small and large cities across the country, protests were held under the collective chant of #IWillGoOut in response to the mass molestation which took place in Bengaluru on new year’s eve. Both protests were aimed at reclaiming a woman’s agency to occupy space in a patriarchal world.

In 2018…

Regroup. Revise. Resist. Now that we have discovered that we have the power to speak up against the systematic suppression of our voices, we must persist. We must overcome our privilege, and open the movement up to all sections of women. Let’s empower the voices of those women who have less opportunity to amplify their voices.


2. In 2017…

Sexual harassment at the workplace was finally taken seriously. From The Viral Fever’s terribly misguided response to the sexual harassment allegations against CEO Arunabh Kumar, to Phantom’s case with Vikas Bahl, to allegations made against the owner of High Spirits in Pune, this was one issue that rattled the public conscience. Women opened up -- whether anonymously or openly -- braved months of ridicule on the internet, battled everything from naysayers to threats of rape, and ensured that their voices were heard.

In 2018…

Women have been working in toxic work environments for centuries, and many have come to accept that sexual overtures and harassment are part and parcel of working as a woman. News flash: it isn’t. In your own life, make sure this movement includes the women who work in your house as help; women who perform manual labour and work for a daily wage; women with children and no monetary support; women from lower castes who scavenge manually; women who keep in function the very system which oppresses them. Strive to protect them from gender violence at their place of work.


3. In 2017…

Women of sports did not take any misogyny lying down. First the Indian women’s cricket team made it to the World Cup finals, and then Mithali Raj - captain extraordinaire - slayed journalists who dared to ask her who her favourite male cricketer was. Following the lead of another badass brown sports-woman, Sania Mirza, who took down Rajdeep Sardesai’s sexism on national television, Mithali asked the journalist why they never asked male cricketers to pick a favorite female cricketer.

In 2018…

Offer in women in sports the same dignity offered to sportsmen. Offer them the same resources, television time, monetary funding, national support and basic dignity. Alternatively, if you’re a journalist, start asking female sportspersons better questions. After all, you’d never ask Virat Kohli if he would quit cricket after marriage, would you?


4. In 2017…

Culture Machine made the controversial and much-debated decision to introduce period leaves. In a country (nay, world) where less than half the people of menstruate and a negligible number of males who genuinely understand what a menstrual cycle is, period leave was a much-needed intervention. Almost every person who menstruates knows the range of discomfort to full-blown physical debilitation which comes on a monthly basis, and it’s about time that workspaces recognised this.

In 2018…

Have empathy. Recognise that privileged, middle-class, cis women are not the only ones who menstruate. Women who work in the unorganised sector, trans individuals, housewives, and others also deserve the benefits that a period leave entails. Let’s recognise their contribution to the economy and offer them the same options that the organised sector does.

5. In 2017…

Lipstick Under My Burkha took on the censor board and fought for their “lady-oriented” content. In a country where women carry the burden of shame, the movie truly galvanised women across the country to fight for representation in popular culture, and the movie turned out to be a success!

In 2018…

Make more space for women in popular media. Fight for women’s right to be shameless, to take see themselves where they have only ever seen macho man saving them. Support women who have known always that they are the ones doing to saving in everyday life.


6. In 2017…

Varnika Kundu did what almost every woman is afraid to do - legally chase the men who stalked her on a highway in Chandigarh. Not only did she highlight the insidious issue of Geri culture, she also demonstrated the amount of scrutiny a victim of gender violence faces from law and order, as well as media and society. Braving brickbats and fighting a corrupt system, she garnered incredible support for her fearless refusal to drop the case against the son of a BJP mainman.

In 2018...

Take inspiration from the Kundu family. Take a stand against sexism in your life and call it out when you can. Be more like Virender Kundu, fighting by his daughter’s side and refusing to allow his parenting to be questioned. Fight for the rights of the women in your life. Even if law and order become obstacles, keep persisting. In a world made by the examples others have set, women like Kundu (and their families) become a source of empowerment for women across the country. We need more of those.

7. In 2017…

Ram Rahim Insan, self-styled Godman of the Dera Sacha Sauda, was found guilty of rape by a special court. In a country plagued by such self-styled gurus and sadhvis, this case was an important victory for women in a unique intersection of our country -- those who are inducted into religious cults and either raped on grounds of “cleansing”, or coerced into sexual acts by charismatic, powerful men.

In 2018…

Make the law accountable. Amplify the voices of survivors and do not be afraid to criticise the law of the land if it is biased in favour of those who occupy positions of power. Men who take advantage of women and treat them as prey deserve to face the consequences of their actions.


8. In 2017...

The King of Saudi Arabia lifted the long-standing and oppressive ban on women drivers. The fight for the right to drive has been an important symbol in women’s activism since the 1990s in Saudi Arabia, and the new law is a striking change for a new, egalitarian world -- a real victory in dark times.

In 2018...

The suppression of women manifests in different way across the world, but without a doubt nearly EVERY civilisation in the world is a patriarchal one, and each culture creates unique obstacles which women must overcome in order to “succeed”. From the right to abortion in Ireland to sexual harassment laws in India to misogynist presidents in the USA; each country has its own battle, and it is time to unite in sisterhood and fight the patriarchy instead of using one another as standards of women empowerment.


9. In 2017…

#MeToo happened. Tamara Burke’s idea proposes to highlight the magnitude of sexual violence women undergo, and make it obvious to the privileged few who ignore it. The movement went viral when women in Hollywood found the courage to out producer Harvey Weinstein for the sexual predator he is. In an unprecedented, empowering act, more than 80 Hollywood actresses – from Salma Hayek to Gwyneth Paltrow – tore down the wall of silence and collusion that had allowed Weinstein to get away with his lechery and assault for so many years. It opened a floodgate of conversations, action (Weinstein’s wife left him, he was asked to step down from his company, he was expelled from the Producers Guild of America, and so on) and exposed the dirty underbelly of the film world.

In 2018…

Sexual violence exists. We know this. So why is it that we are unwilling to take women who come forward seriously? Learn from these courageous women and fearlessly call out sexual abuse when you see it. Be a part of a feminist sisterhood and support those who call it out too. Listen to survivors, and support them through their trauma. Change the conversation. End the shame that comes with victimhood in 2018.


10. In 2017…

Iceland voted Katrin Jakobsdottir, a feminist woman prime minister into power. The impact of women in leadership in the 21st century is already making a difference! It is now illegal in Iceland to pay a woman less than a man for the same work; a law which will benefit both the gender dynamic and the economy positively in the long run. Although women with certain platforms such as actresses Diane Kruger and Robin Wright have demanded equal pay, it is the working-class woman who suffers most, earning about 70% of what a man makes for the same work. Race and caste further reduce this number.

In 2018…

Actively encourage and promote good work by women; appreciate women’s labour by investing in it. If you are in a position to hire, actively and consciously meet more female candidates, employ more women  make up for the imbalance in the gender dynamic. And PAY THEM AS MUCH AS YOU WOULD A MAN!


Above all, keep the conversation going. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Ask questions of people. Read feminist literature. Debate the consequences of important events -- the Triple Talaq ruling, the #MeToo movement -- with people around you. Always keep your privilege in mind while doing so and consider how each of these events impacts women across socio-economic, disabled and caste spectrums. Your individual actions matter. Choose to make a difference!


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Not sure how to be a part of the resistance? FEMdamental is the platform for those who are confused about how to (f)empower themselves. Become a part of our online feminist community, where we will share advice, discuss and dissect happenings around us, and build a sisterhood that helps us be better, do better. All while we have some fun!

It's time we moved forward and grew, and FEMdamental is where we build our manifesto to do just that. Come, join the (re)sisterhood!

Want to contribute to FEMdamental? Reach out at contact@whyindianmenrape.com.

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.