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.

Title:

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.”

……

Summary:

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.

……

Testimonials:
(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.)

……..

Accessibility:

Buy the book directly from the publisher here.

Also buy (paperback and Kindle):
Amazon
Flipkart.

…..

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.

Bye.

“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?

The Debate On Marital Rape Reveals The Ugly Side Of Indian Marriage.

The Delhi High Court has challenged the marital rape exception in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, and while the centre deliberates, the debate online is raging. The legal debate is complex, and warranted, but the social debate is horrifying in its purview. Understand the issue better here.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

This is the story of a woman I know. Let’s call her Anita. Anita has been married for 18-years and has two children. One day, in a state of delirium, Anita called to tell me that she needed to know if there were pills she could give her husband that would ensure he couldn’t get an erection. After some discussion she revealed that he was forcing himself on a her on a nightly basis, for years, and when she resisted he accused her of cheating on him and became violent. She couldn’t take it anymore. I informed her of her rights with regard to domestic violence, and divorce, she laughed at my South-Delhi naivety about the “real” world and asked me to focus on actual solutions that were really enforceable, like drugging her husband to keep him from raping her.

Anita is not the only woman dealing with this.

Down the street from where she works, there is another woman. Let’s call her Raya. Raya was married for three years but she found that she was unhappy in her marriage. She filed for divorce, as is her right to do so. Alongside the case for divorce, her lawyer advised her to file a 498(a) case, which is the infamous well-intentioned provision that now comes as a package deal when you hire a lawyer for divorce. It is the (previously) non-baliable offence that allows women to allege harassment or abuse, and orders an immediate arrest so as to safeguard the complainant from harm or intimidation. When the divorce case between her and her husband was settled, he filed a petition to quash the 498(a) case as part of the divorce agreement, and she withdrew her complaint, successfully using the tool that exists to protect vulnerable women as a bargaining chip.

Raya is not the only woman who has done this.

Now I know, almost half of you will be angry that I told the first story, and the almost other half of you will be angry that I told the second one, but listen, how about we confront the fact that it’s enraging that I had to tell either story?

The Centre is currently contemplating a challenge to the marital rape exception in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by the Delhi Hight Court. Section 375 of the IPC deals with rape, it details the six circumstances in which rape will be determined to have occured, and one exception. The exception is the bone of contention. It states: “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.]”

On the face of it, that makes me angry. Apparently Indian marriage allows the type of long-term implied consent even BDSM communities look down upon. That’s jarring, and hard to process. Just like it was jarring to process the fact that the Delhi HC chose to put that question in this format: “If a sex-worker can say no, why can’t a wife?” I get your point, but surely you know that if you put it across as a question that raises its own debate, the point is almost definitely getting missed? And it has. People are angry. Half the people are angry because it does appear as if our criminal law legitimises rape within a marriage, and the other half are angry because the removal of the exception will lead to the accusation of marital rape being misused for leverage in other cases. I understand both sides of the argument, and that depresses me.

Men feel an inalienable right over the bodies of the women they marry or even, love. I am sure many women have had that one boyfriend who absolutely wants you to take off your clothes for him, but gets upset when you wear a short skirt in public. I have had that boyfriend. He took no exception to sexual intercourse occuring between us, and removing my clothes for that purpose, but whenever I wore a low-cut top out in public of my own volition, it made him angry.

“Only I should have the right to see your body,” he would say, “I love you, and I have rights over it.”

You may not have heard that verbatim, but a variation of that story, sometimes even a romanticised variation, has been heard by a wide variety of women. That’s the heart of the right men feel over the bodies of women. They’re allowed to tell their wives what’s not appropriate to wear and many women I know, like Anita, face constant pushback from their husbands over their choices to wear anything that doesn’t fit their sensibility, even something as seemingly conservative as jeans or trousers. The argument against the criminalisation of marital rape falters for me here. The idea that it would lead to the failure of the institution of marriage and threaten the rights of men is unrealistic, marriage in India has already failed as an institution, and it has especially failed its women.

Marriage is used as a mechanism of enforcement of the social expectations placed on women. The ideas that a married woman be more focused on the household than their careers, that they dress in a way that they “look” married, they bear children and take the bulk of the responsibility to raise them, that they be emancipated from their “birth” families and put them second, that they compromise their needs and emotions to adjust to that of a man (really, this list is endless) are enforced through marriage on a large scale. Marriage has already been a disadvantagous deal for women, and saying now that the expectation that men not rape within it is so disadvantagous to men that they will go on strike against marriage is the kind of overreaction women are always being accused of. Add to that the fact that hundreds of men have openly made statements about their rights to the bodies of the women they have married, it does seem like some men would like, within a loophole, the right to rape.

Morally, this issue is very easy for me to take a stand on, just because a woman is married doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have the right to say no. That’s a horrible condition to put on marriage, and doing so makes it seem already like an institution so hollow that it shouldn’t even warrant protection.

But.

There is law and its impact to consider here. Even if the absence of evidence fails to convict the accused (which shouldn’t be hard given that over 65% of sexual assault cases lead to an acquittal), being arrested and tried for a crime can itself damage the reputation, livelihood and mental health of a person. It is not a notion that this law could be exploited in divorce cases or property divorces, we have already seen that happen with 498(a), and it was that very exploitation that led to 489(a) being amended in recent years. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say “women take advantage of the laws made for them” as is so popular to do nowadays, I will say, most lawyers I know who work on divorce cases will agree that it’s common to file and fight this case alongside a divorce case.

And therein lies the actual problem.

The women that these laws are made to protect aren’t able to access them, and the ones who can, don’t always use them with honour. I know my feminist card can be revoked for saying that, but I’m in the business of truth, not agenda politics, and both sides of this story are true, because the laws in India govern all people on its soil, but all people on its soil don’t actually live in one country. There is the country Anita lives in, where drugging her husband to avoid being raped is more plausible and sensible than pressing charges or getting divorced, and a vast majority of women live in this country. There is the country Raya lives in, where if an additional cases helps her chances of getting a higher settlement, why not file it? So the question really comes down to which side has more victims, and it’s the women’s side, that’s why 498(a) was instituted in the first place because the women who take “advantage” are few, and the women who need protection are many. I don’t believe the law will be deliberated in this light but the discussion surrounding it is really about this — Will more men be victimized by this or more women be saved by it?

I don’t know, and I hate that the heart of the discussion is found here, in weighing the value of people’s lives and trauma to see who warrants protection. I will say, though, that in my experience, the women who need such laws (like 498(a)) are held back by society from availing them and the men who are victimized by these laws are sometimes ones who did nothing wrong. Ultimately, I have no say over the law, and I can only hope that any law we institute places higher focus on diligent, judicious enforcement than anything else, but the discussion surrounding marital rape, which is louder now than ever before, seems dangerously polarized. The institution of marriage itself is apparently under threat, and to me it seems that it may be the institution of marriage that should be on trial in the first place.

The idea that a marriage be built on the inalienable right of one partner over the body of another is why this issue is so polarized, because there are real victims, women, who every day have to face a violent reality where they have no agency and no recourse. To stand in defence of an institution that upholds that seems dishonorable, to do it because some women may take advantage of it seems demeaning to the victims and completely ignorant of the fact that marriage has extended advantages to men at the cost of women for centuries. That Indian society treats marriage like the all-ecompassing rug under which it is accept to house all women’s trauma under the garb of marital duty is the notion that we should be challenging. Whether marital rape be criminalised is a question of law over which we as yet have little control, but if your only argument against it is that hypothetical men will be victimized in the future, one must ask, why don’t you have any compassion for the real victims who already exist? Are you saying we must continue to protect men under the garb of marriage at the cost of women? Could that be why we cannot make a single law and expect it to benefit all of society?

It may be time to put the social structure of India under trail, because it has created too many monsters for a single penal code to govern.

Does The Truth Change When An “Immoral” Woman Speaks It?

To decide if a woman should be allowed to speak, we excavate her morality. If she says she was raped, we talk about her multiple sexual partners and how that makes her story implausible. When she says she was harassed, we talk about the fact that she drinks alcohol. When I spoke about the army, they asked how a “modern” bisexual woman could possibly be believed? But I ask, does the truth change when an “immoral” woman speaks it?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces about abortions. While some of the pieces were about the laws and medical processes involved in choosing to undergo a medical or surgical termination of pregnancy, a few others were about my personal experience with abortion. I wrote the personal pieces because the doctor I had seen not only shamed me for my choices but refused to prescribe a pain-killer because they believed that “some things should hurt” and I wanted to draw attention to the fact that even when availing a right that our government not only provides but encourages, women will be shamed. We are the battle-ground for both population control and population expansion, and we’ll be damned for doing both.

Those pieces were published on several news platforms, and such is my writing-style that they contained a lot of information about me. I’m a storyteller first and a colourful one at that (which is ironic given that my closet is just a mass of black fabric), but more importantly, I believe it is important to never misrepresent yourself. I could have painted a tragic figure of myself, believably too, I could have represented myself as a poor, helpless woman who had no choice but to abort her child and who suffered greatly from the immorality of her decision. I cannot do that, because that is insulting to that woman. I was honest. I’m a deeply-privileged, independent, English-speaking Indian woman who can access healthcare with ease. My abortion was entirely my choice, safely-accessible and easily-affordable. I had no economic or biological reason for not being able to bear a child, I didn’t want one, especially one that resulted from contraceptive failure. And while it was both physically and emotionally substantial, I never regretted my decision, nor did i suffer any mental or emotional fallout from it. I wrote about it, using myself as the centre of the discussion, just so I could demonstrate the medio-social environment to which women are exposed.

But it made people angry.

They weren’t angry because I informed women of their rights, they weren’t angry because I explained what misoprostal does, they weren’t even angry because I questioned the unequal access women of different socio-economic strata have to gynaecologists, no, they were angry because I didn’t play the role of the tragic woman. I had the audacity to openly admit that I, a young woman, had sex and lived freely, nor did I have a grave moral struggle post termination, but I still wanted rights and dignity. They were angry because I was doing the “wrong” thing and still complaining We don’t like it when women do that. Women have to be socially and morally perfect in order to demand justice.

When women accuse powerful men of rape, we ask how a woman who has multiple sexual partners can even be raped. When women are victims of mass-molestations in big “safe” cities, we ask why parents let their daughters out so late at night in little skirts. When women demand that they have curfews as late as men in hostels, we accuse them of wanting to engage in immorality and put bars on the windows. We create a mire of social-shame that is so encompassing that it becomes shocking when a woman actually speaks out about real-life experiences without dressing them up in socially-acceptable womanliness. Women behave in accordance with the norms set for us not because we are not allowed to deviate, but because the deviation will be put under a scanner if something goes wrong, and we will be found lacking. You don’t get to complain about being called a slut, if you are sexually-active. You don’t get to complain about being raped, if you had a drink that night. You don’t get to complain about being harassed by a doctor, if you had the audacity to choose an abortion.

If i had written my abortion-pieces in a different voice, and drawn attention to the emotional turmoil I faced and the helpless lack of options to which I was subject, the response would have been different. I didn’t do that because if I had, I would be playing up their narrative and in the interest of making more women’s horror stories believable, we have to change the monolithic view of victims. Victims are not the chaste, statuesque bastions of morality that don’t really exist. You cannot turn us into pillars of salt because we looked back at Sodom. We cannot fix anything if we continue only to find fault in the complainant, especially when the fault we are looking for is a lapse in character, and literally anything less than ideal will be exposed, and punished.

Recently, I wrote a piece about the culture of sexism and labour-exploitation that has been allowed to foster within the unofficial ranks of spouses of army personnel. The backlash was swift and unrelenting, and still continuing, and you know what? That’s fine! I know people, even in real-life, who don’t agree with my view on this social environment. Just like I also know people who have experienced similar or worse situations. The essence of discourse is that all sides must be allowed their say. That’s great, but what’s not so great is personal attacks and holding my character as evidence against my allegations. Surely, you can draw attention to the great things your organisation does, and good on you for doing them, we could all stand to do more in a world so lacking in compassion, but how does it help to draw attention to the fact that I am bisexual or that i believe in the “live in” lifestyle?

It’s the same thing. The essence of all of this is the same, you do not believe that I am moral enough to be allowed a voice, and that is a sinister form of censorship that seeks to destroy the voice even before it has had the chance to speak. Everytime a woman speaks, we go digging for the skeletons in her closet. That realisation was enough to scare me into a life of truth-telling, think of me as a foul-mouthed Gandhi, I tell the complete truth about myself so that no one can ever attack me for it. The people who engaged with me believing that they could use the fact that I am bisexual, progressive or polyamorous to prove that I am wrong and lying, what did you hope to accomplish? You only know those things about me, because I told you. I refuse to be enslaved by the burden of a reputation. You know who else did that? Kamala Das. Ismat Chughtai. Rokeya Sultana, Amrita Pritam. Those women, the ones you quote on your Facebook profiles, you would have crucified them every day if they lived amongst you.

But your hatred of me doesn’t change facts.

Me, i am irrelevant. I am one person and that barely matters to the world in the grand scheme of things. Ignore me. Sully me. Scare me. It’s really all okay with me, I don’t take the world so seriously, levity is my religion.

But.

For the sake of the day that your daughter may have some truth to tell and you find her life being excavated for immorality so she can be credibly disbelieved, learn to be more analytical. The bisexuality of a woman doesn’t mean that there is no wage-gap. The fact that a woman drinks alcohol, doesn’t mean she wasn’t really sexually-harassed. The fact that a woman lives alone, doesn’t mean she deserves to be attacked. The fact that I was once (actually, twice) an unmarried woman who lived with a man, does not mean an institution couldn’t possibly have issues of sexism it needs to deal with. Those things are unrelated.

Please, by all means, attack my ideas, but if you are attacking me, what are you hoping to accomplish? You cannot silence me by citing things I already know about myself. I’m a bit much, I get it. My writing was hard to digest for some, I get that too, because I know it somehow reads different in curated social context, and even if you witnessed some of those things, they don’t quite read the same, and that makes you angry. I get it. It’s okay. It’s not okay to think attacking me changes the truth. You’re at liberty to not believe me, but please don’t do it because I am bisexual. What does that have to do with it?

How “Problematic Women” Are Made.

Outspoken women who call out the patriarchy, lodge frequent complaints and seem to have an endless repository of stories to demonstrate casual sexism are often referred to as “problematic” but have you ever wondered where problematic women are made? Where do we come from?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

When I was fourteen years old, I punched a man. I was in the park, minding my own business, when a man approached me. He put his arm around me and squeezed the side of my breast.

“Come,” he said, “Let’s have sex.”

I had been harassed in the street before, I had even been touched by men before, but this was the first time it had been so overt, and so proximal. I gestured to him to follow me, and took ten steps to the side where no one could see us before punching him in the face as hard as i could. He fell down. When he stood up, his nose was bleeding, and he was crying.

“Do you want to have sex now?” I asked him.

He ran away. I was extremely proud of myself that day, and I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family what I had done, but as soon as I did, my mother got mad at me. She told me not to do that again, and not to leave the house by myself for a few days.

“Aarushi you don’t know what men are capable of when they are angry,” she explained to me, “What if he brings a bunch of guys and has you picked up? Please, if someone is bothering you, just walk away.”

I know my mother had good intentions, it was her duty to protect me and she did what she had to do to ensure I wasn’t raped and killed in the back of a van, but all I could think about was the timeline of events. A man touched me, asked me to have sex with him, I punched him to defend myself, and somehow, I was the one being admonished and punished? How come no one wanted to call the police and find the guy? The next day my mother discussed the incident with a woman who lived in our neighbourhood.

“You should keep a check on what she wears,” the woman said to my mom, “She wears that little pink top, and she is getting older, you know boys cant help but look at that…”

My mother drew the line at policing my clothes but I heard her friend make that comment. It made no sense to me. I was expecting to be feted, to have a little plaque made for me and to receive congratulatory flowers from at least a dozen admirers (i’ve always been a little more dramatic than necessary), instead, everyone seemed to think I had done something wrong! Little did I know that the responses I received to that incident were excellent training for being an adult woman.

Ask any half-woke, social media aficionado of any age, and they’ll tell you, with confidence, that “victim-blaming” is wrong. It’s easy to say that because those words are impersonal and conceptual, it’s easy to condemn a theory, but everything is murkier when details and real-people are involved. Victim-blaming is rampant and most people who engage in it, don’t believe that is what they are doing. They’ll tell you that they agree that you have the right to wear what you want but you have to aware of the reality, and the reality is that your skirt could get you raped. They’re not entirely wrong, it is not the fault of what you wear, it’s still the fault of the person who believes your skirt means that you are easy but the fact that there are people who believe your morality resides in your modesty is still rooted in this culture of victim-blaming.

It’s because the culture exists even in the absence of a victim. As a society, we reserve the right to perform an autopsy on the morality of a woman before we decide whether she is upstanding enough to be believed. The amount of “sympathy” you get is directly linked to how chaste, virtuous and pure you are, and you may think this doesn’t matter, but in a society where this thought-process is pervasive, the predators are aware of it too. They know that they can touch certain women, stalk certain women, make inappropriate comments because they know that no one will believe us, and if they do believe us, they will put our characters under the scanner before they decide whether we deserved it. The idea that when a women tells a story of harassment, you should approach with caution and probably only believe half of it, is part of that culture. I realised that when I was fourteen, and the other thing I realised was that I would never get anywhere by punching predators. I had to learn to make noise, and I had to do that even when no incident had just occured.

I became a noisy woman.

I educated myself on the issues that women face, and on the work that they had done before my time. I learnt big words and I began talking to every woman I met about their lives, their social environments, their relationships, the restrictions placed on them, their dreams and their issues. Essentially, it was in my teenage years that I really became a journalist, when I developed the habit of asking more questions than I answered. I realised that people trusted me with their stories, and the main reason for that was I wasn’t going to tell them they were wrong, I wasn’t going to judge them and I wasn’t going to shame them for what they experienced. I discovered the great burden of guilt and shame that women, all women, carry within ourselves for the things that have happened to us through our lives, and while it is very easy to tell women to “report it” providing an environment where it is safe and possible to do so is much harder.

That’s why we need noisy women.

I am not delusional, I face a lot of criticism for the noise I make, and I see all the other women who face the same criticism. We’re dubbed “problematic.” However before you turn around and call the woman who just made a sexual harassment complaint at your workplace “problematic,” let’s explore that word and why it exists. Who, exactly, is a problematic woman? Why does this term exist?

It exists because, socially, you except women to do things quietly. Did you know that the majority of women don’t scream when they’re accosted or assaulted? A study found that if teenage girls were taught to scream, the incidence of sexual assault would actually decrease. That’s how deeply engrained the silence really is. I complained about a gynaecologist who aggressively shamed me for having an abortion, and when I told someone that I had written a letter to the head of the hospital, they asked me, “Why couldn’t you have just brought this issue to me? We could have resolved it privately.” We encourage women to handle their issues discretely, and we are able to do that because the promise that raising a stink will only lead to the assassination of your character holds water.

So the term problematic woman exists to describe the women who wont adhere to that social condition.

It exists because you weigh the woman’s character to estimate the weight her words should carry. If she’s an independent, outspoken woman who drinks alcohol, swears, wears dresses, fraternises with men, then how can you believe anything she says? She’s fundamentally too immoral to protect from the vicissitudes of violent misogyny. I’ve always said India loves a dead victim, because a dead victim cannot speak, and has no personhood, and we can stand for that. You have to die to be virtuous enough to be believed.

So the term problematic woman exists because we’re alive, and we’re not indoctrinated into the dystopia of “Indian culture,” yet we speak as if women have rights and autonomy.

It exists because we’d rather skip past reparation and pretend we fixed women’s rights by celebrating Women’s day. People tell me all the time that things are better for women now even as women from “educated” families continue to tell me about being beaten at home, young girls continue to be told to adhere to gender norms right in front of me, ministers continue to ask why women were out at night if they didn’t want to be raped, the Supreme Court keeps offering rape victims in marriage to perpetrators but none of that is supposed to matter because, come on, we have Women’s Day!

So the term problematic woman exists because we won’t take what we’re given, and we insist that the actual issues be exposed and talked about.

It exists because you have taught women to examine their own behaviour and accept that of men as the way of the world. My ex-boyfriend used to violently assault me, and when I finally spoke out about it, I was asked a series on insane questions. A woman asked me if it was “real” abuse, or did he just like “shove me a little”. His mother suggested I meditate to stop invoking his ire. We’re taught to correct ourselves for the mistakes of men, much like driving in most Indian cities, you’re not looking out to avoid mistakes of your own, you’re looking out to ensure that you can predict the mistakes of other drivers on the road.

So the term problematic woman exists because we refuse to take responsibility for your actions, we refuse to admit that I must have done something to deserve it.

It exists because, fundamentally, we do not believe in a woman’s right to be anything less than perfectly accomodating. It exists because you know that one girl who took advantage of 489(a) and therefore you have concluded that women now take advantage, never mind the fact that you drive 20-kms out of Delhi and the ghoonghats get as long as the list of rules women have to follow. The term “problematic women” exists because the alternative would be to admit that we live in a fundamentally problematic society. One where after a fourteen-year old defends herself against an attack, she has to be hidden inside the house and covered from head to toe to avoid a second, more violent attack.

And I know what they say. I should find peace within myself. It’s all a matter of perspective. Things are getting better. I get it. People tell me all the time that I am critical and negative. Problematic women are negative and go looking for problems, and I admit it, I do go looking for problems, that’s on me, but the fact that I find them is on you.