The Politics Of Exploitative Homemaking.

A doctor told me homemaking is not considered a stress-factor for women because every woman is doing that anyway. This invisible, unpaid labour that is disproportionately seen as the responsibility of women has a long political, economic and social history and in that history, it has taken many victims.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

In a discussion with a doctor about some unexpected health issues that I was facing, I alluded to the possibility of stress being a factor.

“I suppose my work has gotten more stressful over the past year,” I said, “I think that happens when you turn thirty.”
“This is no age for you to be stressed,” he responded, “You are young, stress is about responsibility, at your age you shouldn’t be taking so much.”
“I mean… Responsibility is not always a choice. I have to manage work, a home, a child, a family…” I began to tell him when he cut me off.
“We do not view homemaking as a stress-factor,” he retorted, clinical in his disposition, “Working women surely have more stress, but homemaking is not a stressful job.”

There it was. The adage as old as time. It is a commonly-held belief that homemakers are on a life-long vacation and immune from stress, responsibility and strife. Of course, we don’t say that out loud. Instead, we adopt respectful-seeming but ultimately meaningless cliches like: “Homemaking is the hardest job in the world, a mother never gets off work, we would all die without homemakers.” We do that so we can avoid uttering the truth about the socio-economic condition that is homemaking. Homemaking is a gendered and socially-enforced mechanism that extracts invisible, unpaid labour disproportionately from women without the responsibility of acknowledging such labour and it is systemically-supported and encouraged. No one wants to hear that, a Mother’s Day card and sentimental stories that gloss over the silence and the issues are more palatable. You don’t realise how serious it is until you interact with the systems that enable it.

It may seem as If my annoyance at a doctor rejecting homemaking as a cause of stress is a benign point of outrage, but there are medical consequences to it. Heart disease is thought of as a man’s disease despite the fact that it is the primary-killer of women as well. Most women are not aware of or investigated for the risk-factors that would contribute to heart-issues and even if we were, disqualifying homemaking as a relevant-factor of stress would mean that a majority of Indian women aren’t properly assessed for stress. The only logical conclusion is that medical misogyny enables needless death that could have been avoided with adequate care. And this isn’t about heart-health alone. My mother has had a long-standing medical issue which went undiagnosed and diminished for years, in part, because she is a homemaker. Her symptoms were routinely explained as hypochondria that was enabled by the fact that she “has nothing to do,” and is spending her time worrying about useless things instead.

This false idea that homemakers have nothing to do is one we don’t want to admit to having fostered ourselves. In public-facing communication, we would never agree that is what we believe or even think, but the biases in our own minds are visible when our doctors tell us homemakers don’t have stress. When we refuse to factor the schedules of our mothers into plans because we just assume they will always be free. When as teenagers we vehemently opposed the “lifestyles” of our mothers. When we giggle over cocktails as we wonder what that one friend of ours who doesn’t work even does all day and how we would die if we did not have work to define ourselves. We acknowledge and respect the right for women to choose to be homemakers but the noxious notion that we view this choice as a choice to do nothing has prevailed.

I will not inflict upon homemakers the indignity of listing the chores, tasks or activities they undertake that would justify their contribution to society, it should not need to be justified, but I will state that if you hired professionals to do all of those things for you, you would end up paying them a pretty penny. More importantly, when it is men who have to undertake the same responsibilities, we are all too eager to acknowledge how stressful they can be. The emotion and condition of stress is the purview of men. Parenting is the natural response of a mother and a monumental responsibility for a father. Cleaning and maintaining a home is considered stress-free non-work when women do it, but we needn’t look further than the discourse about home-maintenance that flourished when men had to clean their own houses during the lockdown for evidence that it is real work when men have to do it. I routinely hear of marital problems being an acceptable issue for men to slack a little at work, I only hear of marital issues for women presented as a condition we accept alongside marriage, and therefore not an admissible excuse to be anything less than perfect. We justify exploiting the labour of women because we believe that this kind of labour occurs naturally to us, but if that is a good enough reason to denigrate homemakers, its corollary, that ambition and labour occur naturally to men should also be a good enough reason not to pay them for doing their jobs.

The promotion of the Idea that jobs are the only thing that give value to life and therefore the lives of (homemaking) women are meaningless is supported by two different systems. Capitalism convinces us that our lives are only made meaningful by our jobs because if we believe that, we work harder to make money for their companies to the end of feeling more accomplished ourselves. This synecdoche is a fallacy. The second system, the patriarchy, works through its most efficient agent, the Indian family unit, to keep women out of the workforce so that home maintenance and child-care remain industries of free labour that are blind to their own worth. It is so easy to demean a woman who does not work, but it is much harder to acknowledge that work-places disproportionately favour men for employment and promotions. It is harder to admit that the male need for income is taken more seriously than the female need for it, and because of this pay-gap, sometimes it just doesn’t make financial sense for a woman to keep working only for child-care to cost her entire salary. It is impossible to dispute that the fatherhood bonus and the motherhood penalty are measurable concepts that exist. It is needless to pretend that there are so many industries that aren’t even open to women. A very small example is the restaurant industry, you may see woman chefs at high-end places sometimes, but never at a dhaba or a lunch-home where the majority of cooks are actually employed. The patriarchal economics of employment edge women out of the workforce and push us towards homemaking, only for us to be judged for doing that as if it is not work.

And a perfect storm of distraction is created when we pit working women against homemakers so as to be able to absolve the patriarchy, crony capitalism and economic sexism for creating these conditions. Are women to blame for the discrimination against homemakers? To a certain extent, yes. If you have the ability to recognise that financial independence emancipates you, you possess the analytical skill to conclude that access to financial independence is, in part, a function of privilege. If you participate in the denigration of homemakers, you are part of the problem because the systems that keep all of us in place benefit from our battle with one another.

That’s why when a doctor tells me that homemakers have no stress, he expects me, as a working woman, to agree with him so I may gain his favour. He will go home to his wife and denigrate me as well, claiming, as he did to me, that working women who choose not to procreate cause their own medical issues. He will expect her to agree with him. She might do so because she may believe I am against her by virtue of being a working woman. However this opposition in which we find ourselves doesn’t benefit us, it reduces both of us, while the patriarchy gets away with perpetuating the systems that keep us on opposing sides.

I would rather not.

So I called out the doctor.

It’s the right thing to do and as a woman, I don’t have to be a homemaker, to fight for their rights.

The Bumble Survey Is Not Proof Indian Women Are Free.

The Survey by Bumble that claims that 81% of Indian women would choose to be single and independent fails to acknowledge its privilege. It surveys less than a microscopic percentage of the population that is in no way a microcosm for anything except privilege.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If you have been paying attention to the blogosphere you may have noticed a surge of articles about a Bumble survey that claims 81% of Indian women are consciously single, claiming that they prefer to be alone and independent. The survey has been covered by Vogue, Women’s Web, Wion and YourStory among many others. It is heartening to see women rejecting the reality of a marriage market that has favoured men for generations but there is some data that is conspicuously absent in most of the coverage.

81% of what?

Bumble boasts 40 lakh users in India, as a section of the population, that is 0.28% of the Indian population, of this section 36% of users are allegedly women, and of these women a minuscule segment have been polled. Aside from considering the numbers at face-value, let’s also think about the demographics of these users. Dating apps are largely used in big cities, with the bulk of their users coming from metropolitan areas. These users also tend to be English-speakers, which is a mere 10% of the Indian population and indicative of sociological experience that contains some level of exposure to education. It is not solely the sample size that is relevant to drawing conclusions about statistical results, it is also vital that we analyse the people who make up the sample. And this sample, with its conclusion that 81% of women choose liberty, is based on polling by a dating app used by less than 0.3% of the population, most of which is comprised of the most privileged sections of society.

That says a lot more about Indian feminism than the results.

India is a land of two feminisms. It is the land where Instagram pages are filled with heartwarming celebrations of a baby born to a transgender couple and Twitter pages are filled with accusations that women who get into “live-in” relationships before marriage are bound to end up murdered by their partners. It is a country where we exalt women as goddesses but 81% of men surveyed by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in Karnataka report that it is justifiable for husbands to beat wives in certain circumstances. It is a country where my friends, who on Reddit, write threads about sexual liberation, are forced by their husbands to wear leggings that clearly demonstrate that they are wearing underwear underneath lest strange men get the wrong idea. It is the country where groundbreaking standup comedians talk about their exploits on dating apps in public and the country where women are expelled from the marriage market and cyber bullied for posting a picture of their face on social media. It is the country where liquored up suburban intellectuals ask me, “But what about men’s rights?” but also the country where less than 30% of rape cases lead to conviction of the 30% that are reported in the first place. It is the country where on the same day one woman asks me how to get her company to pay her more while another asks if there are any medicines she can give to her husband to get him to stop raping her. It is the country where only slightly over 1% of marriages end in divorce but every single neighbourhood aunty you meet in Delhi will tell you the careers of modern working Indian women (19% labour force participation, by the way) are destroying marriage as an institution.

India is not the country where 81% of women have the option to choose independence or singledom.

Aside from the fact that this Bumble survey is heavily-skewed in the favour of the progressive, English-speaking, privileged section of society, it is also important to note the details of this choice. Most Indian women do not enjoy digital freedom. In urban areas only 33% of women have *ever* accessed the internet and in rural areas this number is 25%. Even outside of numbers, the online activities of women are far more controlled and policed than that of men, implying the majority of Indian women would never make it to a dating app, let alone date to goal of remaining single using one. It is also important to study the nature of this claim. The choice is in the form of an expression of desire, 81% of women want to be independent and single, but the question that is not being asked is: Do they really have the option to do this?

One of the peculiarities of internet usage in India, especially for the youth, is that the sections of the internet used by us, the ones where we are our “real” selves still exist outside the purview of our families. The Indian family unit is the bedrock of cultural enforcement in India. It is not a judge who will come into your house to ensure you marry at the right time and within your caste, your family will do that. There are many Indian women for whom the internet is an outlet of freedom away from the eyes of family but that does not mean we are exempt from the conditions placed on us by that family.

In my early years of writing about liberal ideas of female sexual liberation, I did it under a pseudonym and most of my audience was not Indian, once I started to write things more openly under my real name, the backlash from culturally sensitive enforcers was swift and dismissive. As a result only of my privilege, it wasn’t particularly violent. In an era where the internet is where you go to be seen, it is also in India, a space where women go to hide, and considering this factor when we celebrate a statistic is important because when we don’t, we pretend things are much better than they are, and while they are better for a segment of society, for most of it, it is not. The elite should not have the loudest voice.

Because, you think 81% of Indian women have the freedom not to marry? There are 30000 weddings that take place in India every day, where are these women who aren’t getting married? They exist but they are a very small percentage of the population and when you pretend like that’s not the case you dismiss not only the immense struggle that exists for them to make this choice, but also, and perhaps most importantly, you wish away the societal constraints that plague the majority of Indian women. Feminism in India is not yet about the freedom of singledom, I would love for it be to, but the struggles of the remaining 99.7% of the population need to be more relevant.

India is the land of two feminisms.

And the louder, more articulate feminism is drowning out the majority.

Let’s Talk About The Kama Sutra.

As far as Indian stereotypes go, some are more popular than others. The representation of Indians in international pop-culture usually includes a strange accent no one in the country has ever actually heard, an allusion to spicy food and curries, snippets of familial control, jokes about cows and the myths associated with an ancient culture mired in mysticism and enlightenment. One Indian text comes up more often than any other in discussions of this mysticism and that is the Kama Sutra. It is brought up in similar conversations by both foreigners and Indians alike. Either it is to state that this was once a culture that valued sexual relations and spoke about them openly (sometimes this is to prove that the “real” India was a progressive place and it was colonial rule that turned it into this conservative, prudish country, which has some merit, but is a different discussion) or it is done, like every discussion of “1000 years ago” to demonstrate how the ancients knew it all and if only we valued our culture, we would be in the vanguard of soft propaganda.

The discussion about the Kama Sutra is usually vague and focused on the 64-positions of lovemaking that exist within its pages. It is presented as a veritable guide to the pleasure of Kama (sex) and its position in modern society seeks to paint India as a once-glorious land of lovemaking and the art of sex. It is often cited to question the conservatism of modern Indian society, with pretentious khadi-clad, bespectacled members of the intelligentsia waxing poetic about how we have lost our way, and were we to return to the glory of this mythic sex-positive society we could deal with the issues of rape culture, prudishness, conservatism and control that now plague our society. And that, my dear readers, is how I know that no one has ever fucking read the Kama Sutra.

It Is not what you think it is.

The Kama Sutra is essentially the horrifying sexual manual of yesteryear laden with blatant sexism, casteism, bigotry and rape advocacy. The focus on the “sexual positions” mentioned in the Kama Sutra distract from its deeply problematic nature and there are forces that exist that want you to focus on that because it looks better than the text contained within its pages. The irony we think exists, the irony of coming from a glorious land of sex that is now the land of rape, is a misdirect. In fact, reading the Kama Sutra will show you exactly where modern rape culture and the caste-informed class system took root.

While there are some “progressive” seeming factions to the text, its primary purpose is to elucidate the morality of sex. For instance, while you are permitted to have sex with women of your caste and that sex is “sinless” enough to produce progeny, sex with women of a higher caste is prohibited and sex with women of a lower caste is meant to be seen only as pleasure. The entire text is geared towards men and while women are allowed its study, this is a private study for which she attains the position of “Ganika” and that is meant only to augment her value as a potential wife. There are detailed guidelines on what type of woman is unfit for sexual relations (a lazy woman, a women who is “too white or too dark,” women with ill-sounding names, women with crooked thighs, bald women, women who are in unpleasant moods etc). There is a high premium on virginity and it is only sex with your virgin wife that is encouraged and considered sinless (though there are some stipulations that permit marriage to a widow which is quite progressive for the time, heck, it’s considered progressive even today). Large portions of this text are dedicated to teaching women how to behave in marriage, whether that is by serving your husband as a divine being or refraining from faulting him too much if he were to upset you, or by fulfilling all the duties of ornamentalisation and decoration of self and home that have befallen women for generations.

However, it is not its relentless objectification of women that makes this text as problematic as it is, it is its advocacy of child-marriage and rape. The Kama Sutra states that it is unwise to marry a girl who has attained “full puberty.” A suitable wife is one who has not yet begun to menstruate (so, a child, and still a child until adulthood even is she is getting her periods) and the practise of polygamy is permitted for men, and we can see even in modern India how men are given young girls in marriage regardless of their ages (and in parts of the country polygamist practises continue in members of various religions, if you think it is just one, you have consumed more propaganda than news), often when their age-appropriate wives die or their other wives become too old to bear children. Girls are still being betrothed at birth and handed over once they are able to bear children (ie; have periods), this is not contrary to the prescription of this text imagined to be sex-positive, it is prescribed within it.

While the Kama Sutra makes some mention of consent, it is not to empower women with it, it is to instruct men on how to coerce consent from women. A man must be wary of a woman who consents too easily to get into one of those sizzling 64-positions that bring lecherous tourists to the streets of Paharganj ever year, usually a woman who consents too easily will be a woman who stares at you, vain women, widows (so much for progress), a sick woman, a barren woman, a woman whose family and caste is not well known. You know, you’re loose if you stare at men, I wonder if that idea still exists today and from whence it came? A thinker, that. It teaches men how to obtain consent going so far as to say that if a girl does not relent, you should bite her and then yourself, and frighten her by telling people that she did that to you and then everyone will know she’s a dirty fucking ho. You know, the loving sanctity of marriage that keeps us from criminalising marital rape.

In fact, you know section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (now struck down), the one that criminalised “unnatural” sexual acts that included homosexuality and also, on a technicality, fellatio? Well, it has some roots here too (as well as in Victorian era laws). Oral sex, according to the Kama Sutra, is fit only for dogs. Men will suffer from bringing their cocks into contact with mouths, tis unholy, and it should definitely, definitely never be practised by a Brahmin, a man of state or a man of good reputation. Hell, this extremely heterosexual-focused text even manages to be homophobic and transphobic. Even in its delineation of polygamy it manages to belittle women and demonstrate exactly how we came to be the kind of society we are today. It lists various reasons polygamy is permitted for men such as the ill-temper of a wife, his dislike for her, her continuous production of daughters, her inability to produce children. You know, the exact same reason why men today feel entitled to a wife-replacement?

All this to say, the Kama Sutra isn’t divergent from our conservative sensibilities nor our deeply oppressive or problematic ones, it contains the roots for all of them. Merely talking about sex does not make one progressive, it is worth noting what is being said. Always read the articles in your porn mags, that’s where the truth often lies.

13 Lessons From A Morally-Wounded Woman.

Read the detailed summary of my debut novel, 13 Lessons From A Morally-Wounded Woman, in this post. You can also access the index of chapters, purchase information, testimonials, information about what’s coming and random bad jokes by me here.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I wrote a book. I am putting all the information — summary, purchase links, introduction, index — in this post so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to read the book. I really believe I did a good job on this book so I am going to do something I have never done before and request that you read this post to the end even if you don’t want to buy this book. I’ll try to make it funny. The first reviews of the book will be out next week, I cannot wait to share them! Purchase links are at the end of the post.


13 Lessons From A Morally-Wounded Woman by Notion Press.
(My triskaidekaphilia is real as fuck, I am working on too many books designed around a 13-based structure.)

Genre: Fiction
Women’s contemporary fiction.
Feminist fiction.
Political fiction.

Structure: First-person narrative, slightly allegorical, marginally unreliable narrator, chapters presented as lessons mentioned in the title, mostly terrible advice.


Index of Chapters: (Including this because the chapters read well as a list and I am hoping to hook you guys using that)

Chapter 1: “The freedom they dispense to you is meant to control you.”

Chapter 2: “The easiest way to get a man to leave is to have sex with him.”

Chapter 3: “If you sell what they want to rob you can live without fear.”

Chapter 4: “You hold all the power when your rapist starts lying to protect your feelings.”

Chapter 5:If you wish to see the truth of your marriage, end it.”

Chapter 6: “You cannot help people against their will.”

Chapter 7: “Everything is better in the rain.”

Chapter 8: “Delusion always helps when you’re trying to escape who you are.”

Chapter 9: “The sexuality of a person is the fingerprint of their identity and the blueprint to their soul.”

Chapter 10: “The only way to respect your womanhood is to do what you damn well please.”

Chapter 11: “There is a world of happiness to be found within a transaction, you just have to make the right one.”

Chapter 12: “Doing the right thing is easiest when you have no other choice.”

Chapter 13:There is no shelter for women.”



The lives of two inept social workers are dramatically altered when a group of new inmates arrive at the women’s shelter they run. As the protagonist, a former sex-worker, involves herself in an ill-advised romance and her friend attempts to comprehend the mire of love and divorce, they grapple with the social and political complexity of feminism, activism, sex, marriage and love. The walls of their jaded reality close in on them as they fumble their way through challenges, armed with good intentions and terribly misguided life lessons.


(Here comes the funny I advertised)

Me: “I wrote this in my car.”

My husband: “This is amazing, you are amazing, everything you do is amazing, how did I ever find such an amazing woman?”
(He’s very supportive y’all, it’s like so much that I cannot trust him)

My stepson: “I am sure the book is good, I just don’t know why anyone would want to read about that.”
(He doesn’t quite grasp why I do what I do yet?)

My friend: This caused me to have a panic attack.
(Not sure what to say about that).

My editor: “Of all the people I know, you are most resistant to full-stops.
(At least her criticism is consistent, and I am consistent too which is why, perfectly in keeping with what is to be expected of me, I am a little proud that I am the most resistant.)



Buy the book directly from the publisher here.

Also buy (paperback and Kindle):


Closing note because I had more to say:

The thing is, publishing is a very exploitative industry, I have come to realise in the last two years. It thinks of everyone but the writers, and I hate doing this. I think this should not be part of my job. I don’t want to be in the business of promotion, just writing, but unfortunately, I just have to do this. Please help me. If you like my work, tell your friends. Share a review. Give me feedback about my work so I can incorporate it into the books I write in the future. You guys have been great to me, really, it’s been so wonderful to have such support. Thank you. I’m all emotional now.

Now, go buy my book, and read it.


“Art Doesn’t Pay and It’s Your Fault.” The integrity of a starving artist and how that keeps artists poor.

For centuries the integrity of artists has been awarded based on our ability to suffer and the moment an artist finds a way to make our work lucrative we are accused of selling out. While publishers, collectors and advertisers are lauded for the financial success they build off our backs, we are happy to keep perpetuating the stereotype of a starving artist. Find out how this harms artists and keeps the capitalist enterprise sated.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

You know when you are growing up and you tell your parents that you want to pursue the arts? You want to sing? Dance? Paint pictures? Take photographs? Sculpt clay? Write sordid tales about sad people? Maybe that last one was just me. Regardless, the response to all of us was the same, wasn’t it?

“You have to get a graduate degree for safety and you can pursue your art as a hobby.

This isn’t my attempt to crucify the generation that makes up our parents, for what it is worth, their reasoning was sound. You can sing and dance, but darling, show me the money? It does not exist. They didn’t want us to starve, I presume, so they discouraged us from being financially-dependent on a vocation that lauds starvation. That’s the image of art and artists that we continue to project even today. We love to think of artists as free-spirits who don’t care about nice clothes, where they live or how they survive. When doctors are hungry, they eat, but when artists are hungry, we use our pain to create. When farmers are suffering, we see the humanity in ourselves, but when artists are suffering, we see the romanticism in ourselves. Pain is the brand. Whether we are writing poetry or making sculptures, we must draw from the pain.

We must be satisfied to just create, after all, what more could an artist want than to see their book on a shelf, their painting on a wall, their sculpture on a mantle? They tell you that. They sell you your dreams by redefining them as socio-emotional goals. They tell you that you don’t care about selling a million copies of your book, you care about seeing one copy on your own bookshelf. They tell you that you wouldn’t be satisfied by a sold-out gallery exhibition, you’re only satisfied when you’re in your studio. There is some truth to this. I cannot speak for every artist, but for me, it’s true that no joy compares to the joy of creation. There is nothing in the world I love more than writing and at any given time, it is what I would rather be doing. I don’t believe pain is vital to creation but consumption by creation is a prevalent side-effect of the job. You do tend to come to love your process of creation so much that everything in the world pales in comparison, but artists are the only people who are penalised for loving our work.

Because, that is what it is, it’s work and the reluctance to see it that way is lot more insidious than meets the eye. We believe creation is a relaxing, hobbyist pursuit that is only indulged when we are feeling inspired, sitting atop a mountain with a cup of hot tea, scribbling in a notebook, posting some crap on Instagram about how the environment conspired to support our Wordsworthian emotions. It justifiably feels like you shouldn’t have to pay people for experiencing that emotion, but that’s not how artists create at all. That’s how investment bankers convince themselves they are creatives while on vacations most artists could scarcely afford. I cant speak for everyone but I’ll speak for myself, okay? I started writing as a kid but when, at twenty, I realised that I wanted to write for a living, I had to start truly working at it. For the past eleven years I have written at least three-thousand words every single day, come hail or high water, because while the soul of art may be emotion, the creation of it requires a tonne of skill, and practise is the only way to garner skill. Ask any musician, they’ll tell you how much time and effort goes into mastering a craft. It’s not as free-spirited as it seems either. I am the most anal, disciplined person I know, which I shouldn’t say about myself but truth is truth okay, I stick to schedules like I wish the Indian Railways would. I know I am supposed to be walking barefoot in unknown streets, skirts flying in the wind, searching for inspiration, but that’s not how it works, I am mostly seated at my desk surrounded by a dozen notebooks and three devices, chasing deadlines. The work of any artist requires as much time, commitment, skill and dedication as any job. The reason we don’t talk about it like that is because it keeps the world believing in the nobility of artists who don’t “sell out.”

Think about it. It’s perfectly acceptable for everyone to get rich off art but the artist themselves and now more than ever. No one shames art collectors for making millions off paintings made by a person who made practically nothing for creating them. It is acceptable for publishers to be in the business of books, and in this era of self-publishing, it is even acceptable for publishers to make money not just off the sales of books but off writers as well. Most writers lose money on their books because we are taught to chase shelves, not cheques. Back when printing presses were fewer in number, publishers were invested in keeping printing costs low but now that most publishers own or are invested in their own presses, they jack up printing costs and offer you “high royalties” instead. For every Rs. 400 book you buy, the writer makes Rs. 50-60 even when it is “100% royalty” because the system is gamed that way. And when, tired of eating beans for dinner and accepting our financial limitations, we begin to write for advertisers, market ourselves as the brand, create who the audience wants to see/read or create SEO-friendly content, we’re called sell-outs. Even when digital artists or creators team up with “influencers” they are expected to do it for the “recognition” or accused of being untrue to their art.

The integrity of artists is tied to their poverty.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me that Shakespeare wasn’t rich so why should I want to be, which, seriously, can you guys read past headlines please? This habit is killing us. Shakespeare wasn’t rich, yeah, but by modern standards, he was worth millions. He owned two houses and enjoyed patronage from various people throughout his career. He didn’t accumulate a lot of wealth, but he wasn’t a starving artist, my darlings. And even if there were artists who did indeed starve, they shouldn’t have. Ultimately when our parents warned us against investing too heavily in art, most of us listened, we got degrees and jobs that were art-adjacent (journalism, graphics, advertising), because as we got older, we did realise there is little to no money in art and figured we’d fill our coffers a different way and exhibit our truth in our free-time, I did that too. It wasn’t until recently, until I had given a decade of my time to my work, and I was offered Rs. 700 for writing an essay for a magazine that sells to millions of people that I realised I hadn’t been asking the right question. The question was never: What lucrative jobs can you have that allow the space to be creative as well? Nope. The question always was: Why is their no money in art when so much money surrounds it?

And the answer?

You expect us to feed ourselves on our pain and you don’t think you should have to pay for it. You will go to a restaurant and pay a 700% mark-up on bread, but you’ll defend your right to read my essay for free to the death, because I can make money from the advertisements right? I can, not as much money as the advertisers who aren’t expected to starve for their job, but I can, but what do I do when I start to lose readers because I “sold out” for advertisers? What do I do when I am no longer “pure” enough as an artist to warrant the label? What do we do when the choice is purity or lunch?

We starve, right? We should be so lucky to gain that distinction.

So you can point at us when you tell the next generation of artists that their creativity comes from their suffering. Fuck that noise. You know why you don’t want your kid to be an artist? Because you would never pay one for what they created. That’s why.

The Sexism of The Army’s Objection To “Memsahibs” Complaining.

The recent push for the nationalisation of the Indian army as departure from its colonial legacy seems a perfect time to review the problematic systemic practises that have existed for decades. However, the inability of the organisation to accept that sexism exists and the subsequent attacks on women who complain has its own misogynistic history, and it might be time for reform on that front as well.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

The first written complaint I ever filed against an officer of the Indian army was against a doctor who shamed me for opting to have a medical termination. He threw medication in my face, refused to conduct a scan to confirm the pregnancy, refused to prescribe any pain killers, refused to guide me in the use of the medication and told me I would regret my decision before chastising my husband for “allowing” me to do this. Fortunately, the complaint was very well received by the head of the hospital to whom I had explained rather categorically that I wasn’t looking for an apology from the doctor nor did I wish for him to be “disciplined,” I asked only that he treat his patients with more sensitivity and if he didn’t know how to do that, he be trained to that end. I was both touched and impressed by the response of the Commanding Officer of the Military Hospital, and I told people as such.

I was less impressed by those responses. They followed a general pattern that I would come to recognise as typical in due time. The first was caution that my complaint would derail my husband’s career and I shouldn’t do that in the future. An appeal, mostly by other women, to choose silence. The second was a warning that I had failed to grasp the ethos (substitute: culture, tradition, bonhomie, whathaveyou) of the army and by complaining had demonstrated that I wasn’t part of the fraternity. Essentially, if you don’t buckle to the union, you are a black sheep, and inherently wrong, because no matter the specifics of the complaint, it all comes down to whether you are with us or against us. Saying nothing, even when at personal cost, is lauded as dedication to the organisation and I would beg to argue that when you are dedicated to something, you don’t brush its issues under the rug, you deal with them.

The third argument was that I should not have complained because the army gives me free healthcare, and that somehow means I must take whatever I am given. I’ll bite. You know where the army gets its budget right? It’s from people like me (and yes, the employees of the army as well) who pay our taxes (and have, for as long as we have been employed). You’ll forgive me if I expect humane treatment from free or subsidised healthcare in a socialist country (especially when I am living in places where there are no other options). I am not asking for frills, I can wait in line, I don’t need a fancy waiting room, I don’t need name-brand medication, but to argue I should be grateful even when a doctor abuses his position and puts me at risk is going too far. Just because it is free, doesn’t mean it is okay for its negligence to kill me.

Finally, the fourth argument, and that one I would really like to address in this piece of writing is the one that comes up every single time a woman who is married to an employee of the Indian army complains about anything: “You are happy to use all the memsahib perks of being in the army, you are happy for subsidised housing and electricity, for the people who come to help you at home, for the army car that takes you here and there, and still you want to complain.”

Buckle in, folks, I am about to eviscerate this argument.

Since most attacks that are launched at me each time I write about the army are personal (thanks for the doxing, gaslighting, rape threats, death threats, outing and general all purpose shaming, my chivalrous friends), let me start by clarifying my personal position on this. I don’t want your “memsahib” perks nor do I use them. If sometimes my husband is posted in places that are remote or dangerous for women, I use the army’s sports facilities (because yo girl is addicted to dopamine and the sweet, sweet pain of pushing myself too hard), which while subsidised are still paid for by me. I have never had any “buddy” work for me or in my house, and the one time I was forced to accept the assignment of a buddy (because, field), all we did when he came home was chit-chat and drink tea/coffee, I am still friends with him today, as is my entire family, because that is how you breach class divides (and definitely not by having separate parks for officers’ kids and JCOs and ORs kids, just saying, people are people you know). The extent to which I do not want your services is that I have white-washed my own house on several occasions with my own hands, I like doing it. I also like ensuring we polish our shoes as a family so that the kid never learns that he gets to opt out of doing his own work. Unlike most of the people who attacked me as their buddies were out walking their dogs or watching their children at the segregated parks, I actually stick by my principles. Is that me being a little bit defensive? Well, yeah, I am fucking sick of being attacked all the time.

But this is not a personal argument.

Any time a woman complains about how she is treated by the army, the circumlocution accusing her of being an entitled memsahib begins. Let’s talk about that shall we? First of all, none of us were born “memsahibs”, we happened to marry men in the army, and the first thing most of us were told after that occurred was how we had to behave as “army wives”. I didn’t know I could be “memsahib” but when people won’t stop calling you “ma’am” despite you practically begging them to learn your name, who created that culture? A man who knew me only by virtue of living in the same building, once questioned me for going out at night by myself, and asserted that the reason army provided transport for the “wives” was so husbands could keep track of where they went and “keep us safe”. If this is what you guys say to women, I shudder to imagine what you say behind our backs. A lot of women have to rely on your buddies because they aren’t “allowed” to do certain things on their own. Don’t think that the regressive elements of the patriarchy that still don’t want women to drive, gain employment, have an independent social life that isn’t contingent on their jobs, don’t exist in the army. In fact, this is a sanctuary for those mindsets. The army keeps women in a box.

You need to look no further than how they decide wives should be treated. What exactly does the army want from the women allied with it? They want us to be attired in sarees, and expect that is all we talk about (because you know, you need a penis to understand things like war and finance). They want us to be available for the welfare of sorting inter-personal conflict in marital affairs (which, I kinda wanna do?), they want us to put on fashion shows and such (so much feminism, y’all, hold my lipstick while I cheer), they want us to be the nice, dutiful hostesses (and the extent of this is horrific, someone told me a few months ago that their houses were inspected as part of a welfare award thingy to see which woman kept the best house, come on you guys, can you at least make my job a little bit harder?). They expect us to always be hatefully gossiping about our husbands, I have never seen the amount of toxic “I hate my spouse” humour anywhere as I have here (which, seriously, some of us love the people we are with, can you stop peer-pressuring us to hate on em?). But most importantly, they want us to be amenable to sacrifice.

That’s what it is about right? The real and actual condition of marrying a person in the army is the potential for sacrifice, and I get it. That’s the nature of the job. In one way or other, we all adjust to the nature of our partner’s jobs. Two years ago, I was finishing work on a novel and for whatever reason, I decided to write in my car while it was parked right outside our home, for fifteen days straight, and I straight-up forgot there were other people, like my family, in my life. That’s the sacrifice one must make to love a writer/artist, we are a bit strange in how we work. Making adjustments for the conditions of the employment of your partner is chill, especially when it goes both ways, but in the army, the conditions are more pronounced than your average career, and they are non-negotiable. So, for the purpose of keeping our families together, many of us make unforeseen adjustments to our careers so we can move where our husbands go. The fact of being married into the army directly influences the employability of women, we are a bad bet for most corporations because retaining us as employees is almost impossible. I have to work twice as hard at my job to cater to this condition. You’ll forgive me if I don’t get down on my knees to thank the army for providing me with broken, rickety tables for Rs. 750 a month or geysers that have exploded while I was in the shower on three separate occasions.

Because that is the heart of the argument.

If I am happy to avail the services the army provides like ration and housing, then I should not complain about anything because how ungrateful these women are, yeah? Here’s the thing, you are providing your employees with perks, you don’t get to extort their families for tins of cheese. All jobs come with perks, and if your employee chooses to use those for his family, that is their decision. If I made the argument that my earning potential is lowered directly by the nature of my husband’s employment, am I then allowed to demand compensation for it from the organisation responsible? Of course not, because then, they tell you that it was your choice to move with your husband and not opt to live alone, raise children alone and work full-time. Essentially, I must make the sacrifice, and then be the perfect martyr who never alludes to the sacrifice, but nods her head in quiet gratitude when said sacrifice is touted as a PR practise. It’s okay for other people to proclaim on our behalf that being an army spouse is difficult, but if we say it, then we are ungrateful memsahibs. I fail to see how this is any different from the silencing strategies that have been applied by the general patriarchy, for ages.

The sexism that governs the response to women complaining or speaking out against this institution is inherent, and I know that, because each time I speak, I am afraid, and my fear is not unjustified. It is what people expect I must be feeling. In the few years that I have written about the social experience of being allied with the forces, thousands of women have reached out to me to share their experiences, but they wouldn’t dare speak out loud because of what will happen. And I have seen what happens. Some of them have seen what happens too. They tell you that you are a problematic woman. They excavate your life for evidence that you are immoral (which, cheap shot y’all, I didn’t even know I was supposed to be ashamed of some of those things). If you are lucky, they shun you, if you are not, they target you and your husband to teach you an off-the-record lesson. They allege that you might be getting paid by hostile enemy forces to create discord in the army (which, wow, did not see that one coming). They get older women to “counsel” you and blame your youth (which, come on, I am 31) for your inability to adjust. They will do anything so long as they don’t have to admit, even in the slightest, that sexism and misogyny exist in the forces.

I’m not asking, or saying, that is how everyone is, I have had good experiences too, but while i am willing to acknowledge those, I am repeatedly told my observation and experience of real issues, is imagined or my doing. It should give you pause that an institution believes itself to be so far beyond any reproach that it will leave as many victims in its wake as it takes to ensure silence.

My intention was, and is never, to attack but to fix. That is what I was taught social responsibility is about and on my conscience, I cannot see another generation of children raised around me who learn the same sexist ideals that we were taught. It is my duty to speak about these things and try to fix them. You can help or you can attack me. That is your choice, but if you are a man who hasn’t experienced institutionalised sexism, that could be because of your gender, and you may want to extend a real ear to the people who don’t have gendered privilege. Honestly, I’ll give you an out, blame colonialism. Blame the colonial legacy for all issues the women have faced as part of the current nationalisation of the army and I wont even question the last 75-years when there was, surprise surprise, no colonialism. Blame it in its entirety for every sexist practise, and that should give you the opportunity for reform.

Show me that Indianism means feminism.

The ball is in your court.


Disclaimer and Response To The Inevitable Messages: (a) This is a personal opinion based on observation, personal experience, anecdotal evidence and having eyes. (b) I am not saying every person in the army is sexist, I am saying there are systemic issues that support sexism, if you can’t see the difference, you may need to do some research first. (c) I know, I am the worst. Aaj kal ki ladkiyan bilkul kharaab ho chuki hain. (d) I thought this goes without saying but I am not being paid by hostile forces to write this, come on. (e) I know you are tempted to tell me I am an attention-seeking problematic lady, but dude, I have been a journalist and a professional writer for a decade, I am maxed out on attention. I admit I have higher attention needs than most, most people in the arts do, but I want to be read, not known, okay? You don’t have to give me your attention. That is your choice. (f) Requesting civility? Aapki marzi hai. Shukriya.

Feminism Made Me A Woman.

Sometimes the rhetoric makes it feel like we have to rescue our mothers from homemaking, child-rearing and oppression, and in doing things differently we begin to believe that having jobs and “liberation” means that we are exempt from the shared, continuous trauma of our gender. Feminism taught me how my mother and I are part of the same fight and what it really means that I am a woman.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

My favourite film is Dev D. If you haven’t watched it, actually even if you have, let me explain it. It’s the most recent (from 2009) and “modern” retelling of an old Bengali novel which has spawned as many cinematographic ventures as the works of Shakespeare. Very simplistically, it’s a Madonna-Whore story, with a man battling addiction at the middle of it, it’s a little bit heavy on the metaphor. Earlier renditions of this film have very specifically, elaborately and culturally written the female characters into very tight roles. Paro, the Madonna-character, is dutiful, chaste, possesses a guarded sensual beauty, adherent to social expectations and the moral-centre of the protagonist, and thereby society. Chandramukhi, is a whore, and while she isn’t exactly negatively portrayed in some renditions of the story, her character is symbolic of sexual love, indulgence, madness, and she embodies the decadent desires of the protagonist. No points for guessing the character with whom I identify. The reason I liked Dev D so much was because they unleashed the female characters from their cages and let both be complete people. Paro wasn’t chaste, Chanda wasn’t sexual darkness. Paro was “wife” (not to the protagonist) and Chanda was “whore”, Paro didn’t represent devotional lobe and Chanda didn’t embody sexual love, but they both battled, enjoyed, and elucidated, their own moral dilemmas, societal struggles with the condition of womanhood, betrayals in love, sexual desires, tragedies of circumstances, objects of joy. They both had distinct, but equal beauty, and equal flaw.

In some sense, the entire narrative felt like it was about one woman, and all women, the systemic nature of sexism and how the differences between them were dictated only by the nature of social and patriarchal circumstances. Where early versions of the story presented Paro and Chanda as opposites, this version made you feel not only equally empathetically to both, but able to see how they could be the same people. In this version, to me, Dev stood in as the erratic, untrustworthy, sensitive (ie; easily swayed, like a sensitive scale) social compass of morality that is dictated to women as he oscillated between both women, sometimes complicating and sometimes enhancing their life, demonstrating rather well, how social mores force women to constantly deduce which version of their personality is acceptable to whom, and meter their behaviour into roles even when they feel like complete, but distinct people at all times. Delhi provided an excellently gritty backdrop, a city where reality, in beautiful clothes, smacks you in the face because it doesn’t give a shit about you. It was in this movie, that for the first time, I saw my feminism truly represented.

Feminism taught me that I can unapologetically choose not to fit into any socially-dictated roles, but feminism comes with its own constraints, and that’s one of its most challenging features because it doesn’t actually teach you to be this or that, it teaches you how and when to question things, including your own behaviour. It’s a long and continuous lesson. Like any philosophy, its principles and conditions are not to be parroted, but applied to the information in front of you with the best of your ability to reason and parse through facts. However, feminism also taught me to look down upon my mom. Let me explain. It wasn’t exactly feminism that taught me that, but some of the pop-feminism of the time (and actually, even some of today’s savarna, upper-class feminism), early feminist writing from India and feminist thought-leaders sent an “us for them” message in the sense that they created rescuers and the rescued. Us, privileged, employed, sexually “liberated” women who read English textbooks and studied ideology, were the rescuers, and women like my mother, the wives who relied on their husbands and participated in “problematic” social theatre, were the ones who needed to be rescued. Very early in my life, when I didn’t understand the nature of nuance, I said the same stupid shit that my mother should get a job, a new life and stand the fuck up to the societal abuse.

Then I actually got to know my mother.

As the personal social experiences of being a woman began, I started to learn my mother’s life. Not in the sense that getting raped is what makes you a woman, that how you are treated when/if that happens is what reminds you that you have been identified as one. Gender can be personal, but a lot of its impact is social. When it comes to self-identification (especially that of legal and personal identity), I don’t believe any strict factors should apply, one is a woman if that is who they are and their reasons are really what matters. There is no need for card-carrying membership. However socially, we can’t dictate how we are viewed. When the world saw my boobs, it decided I was getting the woman-package in life. It decided the same for my mother. For millions of us. Even those of us who weren’t women but “presented” as such. It’s not any inherent experiences of womanhood that helped me understand my mother, I am not sure there are any inherent experiences or womanhood, it’s being able to identify with how society treated us.

By the time I watched the movie, I understood something I hadn’t been able to see in my teenage years and that is how heavily my feminism was influenced by my own circumstances, and anything that didn’t adhere to my goals for feminism, was women who weren’t fighting the right fight. My mother is never going to be actively involved in fighting the wage gap, that wasn’t her fight, to her what mattered was that her daughters be well-educated, self-reliant and financially independent. That men be checked for taking liberties with her just because she was a women who socialised easily with all genders. When I tried to claim my sexuality, she didn’t see the feminism in that, just like I didn’t see the feminism in her shoving textbooks down my throat. When I said that all women should have to get jobs, she felt personally attacked, and maybe rightly so, because it seemed like I was erasing all of the social context around women’s employment, and I was, because I was fifteen and comprised only of passion. When she told me I shouldn’t have children too soon after marriage because it would spoil my career, that I shouldn’t marry young and alter my career plans for a man, she wasn’t holding back my liberation or my desire to love freely, she was cautioning me against the motherhood tax. She just didn’t know what to call it.

Truly knowing my mother, opened my eyes to womanhood and feminism. My mother is an intelligent, complicated person and our relationship hasn’t always been perfect, but her life was the first life I ever examined from the feminist point of view, and it is how I learnt to ask the questions that demonstrate the pervasive nature of sexism, gendered violence and how rampant it is in enabling the trauma of women. Today, in terms of the trauma that is enabled by how society genders you, my mother and I don’t seem so different anymore. Jobs don’t guard you from abuse and being a “good woman” doesn’t keep you safe from social slander. We have very different lives, we enjoy different things, our circumstances are different, our goals are different but the pain we have experienced by virtue of being seen as women, that pain can come from anywhere, and inside you, it takes the same form. Once I got to know my mother, I started seeing it all around me. I saw the feminist victory of my highly-educated, working grandmother and also the feminist victory of my fiercely dependable, fearless homemaking mother. I saw the trauma of fitting a social role because it makes your life easier, placed it against the trauma of making your own choices as a woman in society, and it amounts to the same thing. We bring different things to the world, but the world brings different things to us as well, and a lot of that is about the circumstances life presents to you. A lot of it is about the accident of birth.

When I stopped learning from texts and let the women in my life teach me feminism by letting me in long enough to understand their trauma and how they fight and cope with that, that’s when I really learnt what it meant to be a woman. In reality there are no Paros and no Chandas. There are complete women — emotional, sexual, cerebral, gentle, aggressive, strong, cold, warm, insecure, confident, smart, silly — born into circumstances that dictate the nature of their traumas, and subsequent fight against them. Circumstances often dictate the goals of individualised feminism and not all of us having the space, agency, desire, need or want to fight the “bigger” fight. Sometimes the best you can do is see where into your life you can accomodate feminism and hope for the best. I cannot disparage that. I cannot categorise these women, that’s no different from Madonna-Whore-ing them.

I see what aspect of the gender thrust on us is what unifies us: the politics and the trauma. It’s not all the same but that doesn’t mean your fight is irrelevant, it means we should add that too to the list of our collective goals. Gender is nothing to me but the process of identifying, understanding and attempting to eradicate its negative systemic effects and individualised trauma, for everyone. It’s not fashion, it’s not sexuality, it’s not symbolism, that’s just being a person, it’s identifying how we were denied the right to be person in light of roles and biology. To me, it’s politics, the struggle and shared trauma. To me a victory of feminism is had every day, in different ways, each time someone does battle with their trauma or the world, each time one of us sees and understands another, and a failure is had every day as well, as society continues to win and the trauma continues to pile. I know this because I am a woman. I understand it because of feminism. Feminism is what made me a woman.

Kneel To The Flag.

A poem about disillusionment with national identity, culture and politics.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Kneel To The Flag. 

My poorly-paid teachers, 
In a pristine classroom once taught,
Saffron tales of tolerance,
Verdant stories of prosperity,
And the blanched values of peace.
And I, like a hungry infant at the teat,  
Lapped at these lessons,
As if stocking up on stores of identity.
Because in the tapestry of my country, 
I was told, 
I would find me.  

But father, I was taught a lie. 

The streets where I was supposed to find god, 
Are littered with bloodied flags of hate. 
The blind lady has left the room, 
With all of her lush temperance, she is gone, 
Her myopia she has left behind,
And through the prescription glasses of another, 
I watch the white fog of the circus of justice, 
And cower in fear of my own tongue. 
The lessons to stand up for the right thing fade, 
As friends appear in handcuffs on my screen, 
And I stick out my tongue to check if it is still there, 
I wonder, what am I to do with my words now? 
I was told I should use them to fight. 

But father, I was taught a lie. 

As women of the world lose the right to their bodies, 
We tout our progress into microphones, 
Geared at the hubris of the impassioned voter,
One all too eager to believe in this country, 
I am a goddess, worth my weight in gold, 
But when an artist fills in my silhouette, 
With the reality of how we treat our deities, 
Colours me in the undeniable hues of rape and violence, 
We gag and shackle his audacity, 
Use it, to teach more gilded fear. 
I know now, 
Pride is superior to truth. 

But father, I was taught a lie. 

I kneel before my flag today,
Not in deference, but in submission, 
I don't know any more how to be Indian,
The tattered notebooks of my youth, 
Teach of a land I cannot find.
Instead I swim in the mossy rivers of fear, 
I sit petrified, like a statue of white chalk,
Beside the rocks of a glorious history, 
I bow to an orange sunrise of ambiguity, 
I hold my haunted tongue,
And coil it like a noose, around my neck. 

I was taught this was my home,
And home is a safe place, 
One of viridescent shade, 
And a pastoral simplicity, 
One of white-noise that lulls to slumber, 
On worn bloodless sheets, 
One of liquid sugar, 
Filled into coiled nostalgic treats. 
I was taught this was my home. 

But father, I was taught a lie. 

Can I Have My Blood Back?

A poem on the occasion of Women’s Day, that, hopefully, does a good job of explaining why I won’t celebrate Women’s Day.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

They gave us free sanitary pads — winged and scented for our comfort — and taught us how to use them.

The room was coloured in hues of pink and power; the walls adorned with glittering prophecy.

Who runs the world? Girls!

In that room we sat, on red chairs, for corporate sponsors to teach us how it would be to be a woman one day.

We put our bags over our bare thighs, so the teachers wouldn’t measure us with two-fingers and punish us for the length of our skirts.

Two-fingers the judge of our modesty, forevermore.

A man in a brown coat stood just outside the door, explaining to the presenter, the salient features of being a woman she was allowed to share.

He wouldn’t enter the room, the door closed against his back, this talk was for the girls. Oh what a delightfully safe space!

She got on stage and performed the theatre of empowerment, with confetti and dance; one conceived no doubt in a boardroom where no tampons ever went.

Before us she brandished, a white pad wrapped in green-plastic, and explained how losing blood is what made us women.

Oh, it would hurt.

How could it not?

We were allowed not to run if it hurt too much, but that didn’t mean we shouldn’t; we could sit quietly and not complain, or we could run in pain and not complain.

Womanhood means having a choice!

My friend, she raised her hand, and asked what else she could use because the material of most sanitary pads made her vagina itch.

A panicked, underpaid teacher hurried onto the stage in her heels, whispered into the ear of the presenter and shot a haughty look at my friend as she retreated.

We shouldn’t use such words in public!” The kind lady relayed, “They are your private parts and private parts should be kept private.

No other answer to her question ever came, she turned her head to me and rolled her hazel eyes, as her attempt to make them acknowledge a menstrual product that you had to put inside you fell flat on its face.

The lady explained the science of the magic pads, failing to mention they would clog our rivers forever, as we stashed our little notes in our bras lest we be caught communicating with one another.

They reminded us to pay attention because later we would be tested on what we had learnt, and we wouldn’t make it to the scholar’s list because we had failed the test of being women.

We watched her demonstrate something most of us had already been doing for years, as the boys ran in the grounds and shot hoops outside the canteen.

But there was a big surprise! Our attendance wasn’t for nothing! A free pack of sanitary pads for each of us! What an incredible treat that was!

Perhaps I would have cared more if they had remembered to mention, that I’d be taxed on products I needed well into adulthood because not bleeding all over myself is a luxury.

An accident of fate and I could have been born in state where I would be relegated to a shed to bleed my uncleanness to death.

At the exit doors, stood yet another teacher, reminding us to put those little green packets into our bags before we left. This world is our little secret, we mustn’t let our empowerment be too loud!

I shoved my pads into my bag and rushed down the stairs. Past the exclamation-mark ridden posters of an exclusionary sisterhood.

Later I used one of those free pads to staunch the bleeding from having a man inside my private parts.

Sometimes rape bleeds, but at least we had the free pads!

I sat at my study-desk and began to do my homework, they’d taught us about womanhood, so we had to show our work.

Women’s Day: A Day Of Empowerment

I titled the page. With a red marker I drew two lines underneath the title.

The lies in my notes stared at me like a thousand little nooses hung haphazardly in a room full of stains. I’d lost so much blood to this womanhood game.

And I would celebrate your holiday, I swear, for celebration, i have a knack.

I was just wondering, if first, I could have my blood back?

The Hijab Debate Of 2022 (and what it’s really about).

Women’s bodies are the battleground where political agendas are explored and social values are determined. Various colleges in Karnataka are currently denying entry to female students in Hijabs in response to “Saffron Shawl” protests by male Hindu students. Our leaders say religion has no place in education, but why is that limited to just one religion?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

In an odd twist of fate, I had the unforseen opportunity to attend graduate school in a small district in Jammu and Kashmir. I wasn’t the “right” age for college at the time, I had been working a while and I hadn’t precedented that life could lead me out of a ‘metro-and-parliament‘ city. The college I attended is small, located in a district between Jammu and Kashmir where the population is largely Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, and most people are either transients or residential blue-collar workers. On my first day in class, I was surprised to learn that I had to wear a uniform: white shirts, black trousers. There were some official exceptions, of course, such as a salwaar-kameez option for those who didn’t want to wear trousers and a different colour of salwaar-kameez for married women. There were some unofficial exceptions as well. If you were Muslim, you could wear a hijab or a burqa over your uniform. If you were a Sikh woman, you could cover your head with a dupatta. If you were a Hindu woman who had just married, you could wear a chooda, in fact, in this case you could even wear dressy-suits that didn’t conform to any of the uniform guidelines for a month or two.

The unofficial exceptions were largely part of a constitutional freedom that we all apply on a daily basis without knowing it: The right to religious freedom. They weren’t part of the official (and deeply unnecessary) charter of uniform guidelines because whether you are a student, or not, you have constitutional rights as a citizen of this country that cannot be undermined. It doesn’t need to be said that you can practise your religion. While, personally, I have a lot of issues with the dress-codes of colleges as a concept, especially because they ubiquitously take more charge of women’s bodies than they do men’s, I thought the uniform guidelines of my college were reasonable. A component of rules with a side of sensibility, and a dash of awareness of the social context, seemed like an acceptable proposition even with the underlying issue of sexism. Theoretically, this worked for me, but in practice, something strange happened one day.

I had a classmate who wore a hijab and a burqa. She wasn’t the only Muslim student in our class, but she was the only one who wore a hijab. One day, during class, one of the teachers started demanding that she take off her hijab. Her reasoning was that she needed to make sure that the person on the ID card was the same person who was attending the classes, but a conveniently missed detail was that no one ever checked our ID cards anyway. The student protested, and asked the teacher whether she could do it in private, not in front of the entire class, but the teacher was adamant that all her classmates had the right to see her head. Ultimately, the student relented. Later, when speaking of the incident she expressed her desire to file a complaint, alongside fearful resistance that she would be singled-out if she did. Despite all of us offering to stand by her, she opted not to file a complaint.

I was horrified.

A lot of my horror has to do with privilege, I’ve been insulated from certain spaces in my life by virtue of my upbringing, and my classmates explained as much when they told me this kind of discrimination wasn’t a “big deal” and it happened all the time. They shared stories of being denied rental accomodation, threats by neighbours against Muslim-presenting women to stop wearing a hijab and warnings to Muslim students living in Paying Guest (PG) accomodations to “stay away” from the children of the landlords. Ultimately, the right to freedom of religion is a very nice thing in theory. We’re seeing a live-example of that play out in Karnataka right now.

After seven women in a college in Udipi district, Karnataka, were denied entry earlier this month, several other colleges have followed suit. Most recently, Government Pre-University College in Kundapur closed the gates on the faces of 27-female students for wearing a hijab. Kundapur MLA, Halady Srinivas Shetty, has spoken to the Education Minister B.C. Magesh and attempted to convinced the parents to allow the girls to attend class without a hijab without any resolution. Prior to this act, the students claim they have worn hijabs to college regularly for years and it has never been a problem. On Wednesday, prior to the gates being closed to these students, a group of male Hindu students staged a “Saffron Shawl” protest in deliberate violation of the dress-code to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the allowance of hijabs on campus.

Once again, India has made it clear, whether it is the politics of oppression or suppression, they will be played out on women’s bodies. The issue at hand has been phrased as one of uniforms and educational decorum, with authorities claiming that a violation of the uniform-code cannot be excused for members of one community and not the other. Based on my experience with college dress codes, exceptions are continuously made for members of all communities. Women are allowed to wear Chooda and Mangalsutras. Men are allowed to wear turbans. Not just Muslim, but Hindu, and Sikh women are allowed to cover their heads too. The false equivocation between saffron shawls and hijabs is a misdirection, they are not the same thing, one is an option and the other is part of the practice of a faith, to ban things at an equivalency would be to ban Kasi Tadu, or Mangalasutras, but those are symbols we cannot even discuss as possible forces of oppression without worrying about hurting religious sentiments.

The role of women, in Indian society, it would appear is to be both the victims of oppressive forces and the defenders of them. At home we must explain why our legs are not offensive, and at school we must defend the right to freely practise our religions, and on the internet we must explain how ghoonghats and hijabs are not the same thing, and how the non-consensual enforcement of either, can be oppressive. This issue is not one of uniforms, it is one of seeing just how far majoritarian sentiment can go to bully members of one faith into compliance to demonstrate that they can, and because women are often the representatives of faith in terms of attire, the attack is targetted at us, but it is an attack on religious freedom, underneath it all.

The Karnataka Home Minister, Aragav Dnyanendra, has said, “Schools are where children belonging to all religions should learn together. Schools and colleges are for education, not religion.”

This is an interesting take, especially since it is completely false. My stepson’s school has a mandir right at the entrance, all students are encouraged to pay their tribute to Goddess Saraswati as they enter. All students are made to sing Hindu prayers each morning. That was also the case when I was in school. We were taken to field trips to temples for Holi and Janmashtami, but never to a Chruch for Christmas. My Christian College had a lot of Christian ritual built into the campus culture but even they started their events with an aarti. Textbooks, especially those of “moral sciences” teach religiosity as a virtue. So it is rather convenient, and misleading, that now, when Muslim students insist on their right to practise their religion, all of a sudden, religion has no place in schools.

I actually agree. Religion does have no place in schools, but it is rather short-sighted to think banning religious symbols is the answer to that, when fostering inclusivity, a thing we did entirely by accident for decades, is more likely to make religion a non-issue in the day-to-day functioning of life. I’ve been a student. I was never bothered by my friend’s hijab or my other friend’s turban. It wasn’t my place nor did it impede my ability to focus on my education, what did impede my ability, and the ability of my classmates to focus, was when one of us, just one, was called out for their religious practise and ostracised. At that point, it was clear it wasn’t about education, but communal intolerance.

Is that what we’re teaching?