Recognise and Respect The Struggle Even if Pink Eyeliner is Not Your Fight.

Despite all the roadblocks that the women’s movement in India has faced, the lack of solidarity continues to be the one that divides and destroys the movement. It would be cautious to remember that even Apartheid succeeded at oppressing people of colour and institutionalised racism by creating divide among the oppressed. Will we let division conquer the women’s movement as well?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

When I was just a little girl, I asked my grandmother about her wedding. She told me she was fifteen when she was married and while even at the ripe old age of seven that horrified me, I pretended to understand that it was just a different time and things like that were normal. It’s all good. I asked her, in my infinite naivety, how come she decided to marry so young, and in response she told me the most horrifying story about her friend Surmeet.
My grandmother and Surmeet were best friends and their families, given that they grew up in the late 20s, were rather liberal for the time. They were both taught to read and write, they weren’t confined to kitchens and linen rooms and they were allowed to step outside the boundary of their homes. One day, Surmeet told my grandmother that her marriage had been fixed and the man was a farmer at a nearby village. My grandmother was understandably confused because to her understanding they were both still young girls but being a girl in the 20s must have been different because they both accepted what would happen in less than a day. Soon enough, Surmeet was married and she left.
Less than a week later, Surmeet was sent back in shame with deep burns on both her hands rendering her hands essentially unusable for years.

My grandmother, understandably horrified and concerned about her friend, went to Surmeet to ask her what had happened. A tearful young bride, Surmeet, told her that when her mother-in-law and husband realised that she could not cook, they poured hot oil onto a pan and forced her hands onto it. A woman who can’t cook, after all, doesn’t deserve her hands. Surmeet made my grandmother promise that she would start learning to cook immediately so this would never happen to her, and my grandmother understandably scared shitless did so immediately. My grandmother grew up without a mother so she asked Surmeet to tell her mom to help instead, Surmeet’s mother touched by their concern for one another, taught my grandmother how to cook.

A year later my grandfather, stationed at a unit near my grandmother’s home, saw her and fell in love, and she on her end, being amenable to his job and social appearance, asked him the one question that truly mattered to her in terms of matrimony.

“*If I don’t know how to cook something, will you burn my hands?”

He said no, she said yes, they lived happily ever after and had many, many, *many* children together. With that nonchalantly-told story, my grandmother damaged my tiny, innocent, seven-year old heart forever…and I will always be grateful to her for it because she taught me, without actual burns, the most important lesson in solidarity I would ever learn.

Recognize and respect the fucking struggle.

My grandmother and Surmeet may as well have been sister suffragettes because they were doing what you do when you are handed a mapped-out destiny instead of a birth-certificate when you are born. For whatever reason, be it the colour of your skin or the shape of your genitals or the place where you were born, injustice all stinks the same, and powerlessness helps each other cope. The only way Surmeet knew to protect my grandmother from handburning was to ensure she learnt to cook, and the only thing my grandmother wanted in a man is that he wouldn’t burn her and I think not wanting to be burnt is a pretty fair priority.

I feel I wouldn’t have acted the way they did. When i first heard the story i thought to myself, why would I even get married, and why would I? I was born knowing i would be educated well, qualified to work and support myself with my own money, and marry eventually for social-validation of love. I believed this very strongly when i was seven, even more belligerently when i was 14, and almost not at all now. Now I know that in their position I don’t know what I would have done, because while I can study every aspect of that time I cannot apply to myself all of it. History is not asking me to choose, it’s asking me to study and realize I cannot relate to living as they did because I don’t have to, I certainly cannot say what I would have done in their position. I can only understand it because I was born into a social circumstance that it took many burnt hands, bodies and spirits to facilitate. This seems so easy to understand when it’s applied to Surmeet and my grandmother but why is it to hard when it comes to the woman who sat next to me on the bus yesterday. I’ve always thought that I am too evolved to engage in a concept as petty as woman-eat-woman, and for a large part I am. Contrary to what may appear of my seemingly-opinionated demeanor I am a proponent of balanced opinions and absolutely no hatred. I’m not blameless I’ve acted out against women before, even engaged in petty rivalry and unnecessary judgement but it has always left a bad taste in my mouth, and even when I have not succeeded I have always tried to do better with other women. I don’t know why we were taught to behave like this. Why we were taught to approach other women with insecurity instead of the wonder we reserve for potentially sexual engagements. Of course I understand how this happened, I understand how pitting one woman against another for the office or the man is a deliberate attempt to keep women from noticing there is more than one spot available and not just, more than one dream available.

We are not as threatened by differences as we are by similarities. I see another quirky-cute-smart- confident woman and I think sometimes, what if I don’t beat her, will she get my dreams? And then, I take a step forward. I go talk to her. I go talk to her until i stop feeling threatened and recognise the things there are to admire in her. The things that the world would be robbed of if i tried to undercut her because of my insecurity. The essence of competition is to bring out the best quality in each competitor, not to diminish it by allowing insecurity to rule the roost and extinguish things of value. Being able to respect a woman who threatens you is ultimately a form of self-respect, we’re only threatened when we recognise in another the ability to compete for what is ours, the higher the quality of competitors, the better it ought to make you feel about yourself.

And sometimes we feel threatened by people who just don’t share our dreams at all. Women who judge other women for wearing make up or not wanting a job, for flaunting a body or not, for being fat or thin. Women who insist they aren’t like other women and then list a bunch of qualities that other women were never precluded from. Women who think being intelligent makes them not like other women. All of this, it stinks. If someone different makes you feel superior, you should reassess how you see the world. If someone different makes you feel uncomfortable, you should reassess your eyes because as much as we would like to be able to say with certainty what we would do in the life of another, we cannot say, we can only understand.

But ultimately I see there is a final frontier to all this. I have to extend my feelings even to the women who are talking about me behind my back and staring at me in the street as if I am in the wrong world and it is hard. It was hardest when I moved to this place recently. This tiny town lodged in the past where there is a tag attached to my head evidently that reads does not belong here and everywhere I went I heard whispers follow, and everyone i met asked me questions as if i were a specimen and not a person, where i had to defend on a daily basis why I, a woman, was behaving like this to women who just didn’t understand, and were determined to believe I was a bad person because I had sex with more than one person (and how) and stated my opinions outright. I didn’t even understand why I had to defend the obvious amid stares of distaste and disapproval, and I didn’t. I don’t need to defend myself.

But I didn’t attack them either. I befriended them. Against all odds, against all perception, we have relationships with one another within which our differences are established reality which sometimes causes something as healthy as an argument and sometimes something as toxic as the defamation of one woman by another.
And you know what.

You can do it.

I respect your right to dislike me, and I will fight alongside you nonetheless because I don’t want to see your hands get burnt, and if they must I will burn mine right alongside even as your roll your eyes at me for just doing anything to make a point because I can’t accept that I could be wrong. You can believe that about me. I can believe that you are stubborn and refuse to evolve. We can believe this about each other. Because I will recognize and respect your struggle, and when you explain to me that wearing glittery eyeliner to class is part of your struggle against your parents for freedom, as I try to teach you the only feminist text in our syllabus, I will respect you.

I will hold onto my naivety.

I will not let hate win.

If they couldn’t break us when they burnt us, they cannot break us because I don’t like your pink eyeliner. Unless you let them.

Why Do We Insist On Viewing Women’s Income as Pocket Money?

Even today the employment rate of men remains much higher than women in our country and the women who do work continue to have less control over their money than the men, and when we do have control we have to deal with our jobs being viewed as dispensable hobbies and our money as an allowance.

written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

photo by Aarushi Ahluwalia

“It’s not the same,” he explained to me with a haughty expression on his face, “Women don’t have the same pressure on their salaries as men do, we have to use ours for rent and yours are for buying fun things…” 

It wasn’t the first time I had heard something like that, it’s a commonly repeated trope that depending on the source comes out in different ways. My mother used to tell me that women have to be financially independent for safety whereas men had to do it to run their households. My former partner used to say that my income was unreliable because career-based stability was a rarity for women what with marriage and children, and he said this with confidence even though I paid our rent with my salary that I got from my stable job. An aunt once told me it’s good that I have a hobby that brings in some pocket money for me to get myself things. I’m sure all employed women have heard that. It’s common to equivocate a woman’s salary to an allowance given to them by authority figures as opposed to employers.

Despite myself I try to understand where these ideas are coming from, I understand that historically men have been dominant in the role of making money. Even early female writers and artists who gained fame made only a fraction of the money their male counterparts did. In many Indian households, even today, the women step out to make money because the man is unable to make enough to support the family which is why female employment rates are higher among lower-income sections of society. It has been traditional to view a woman’s income as supplementary because for a large part, it has been. In many families, a woman who does have an income may not have control over the income or have only partial control over it because of which women are less likely to have real disposable income. In low-income households where the men may be afflicted with gambling habits or alcoholism, a woman’s income has even lesser potential of being disposable because the supplementary income may in-effect be considered primary even though women are less likely to be paid at par with men especially in jobs relying on unskilled labour or requiring no educational qualifications. 

On the other end of this spectrum are qualified women who sometimes as a function of our privilege and sometimes as a function of hard work and education are able to compete with men in fields that have been male-driven for centuries. There is tendency for us to marry into middle-income families where one salary is usually enough to run a household and the second, usually the woman’s salary, comprises the entirety of the disposable income of the household. In the absence of this disposable income the standard of living of these families would decline substantially but because we rarely regard personal finances with the same nuance that is afforded economy, we fail to see this disposable income as a valuable part of our household economy because it is used to buy granola bars and trips to the mountains as opposed to air-conditioning and grains. My friend who tried to explain to me the distinction between a man’s salary and a woman’s failed to see this. He failed to see the income as a function of financial management and not the nature of the expense incurred by it, to him the deciding factor as to what money is worthwhile was based on who made more and where it was spent and I could not convince him otherwise. 

I could not explain to him that not only does the culmination of this attitude towards women’s income lead to the disparity in pay-scale that afflicts women in every professional spectrum either by way of lower wages or fewer time-scale promotions or lesser asset-accumulation but this attitude also discounts those who are most afflicted by it. There are single women in this country who may or may not intend to remain that way. There are widowed women who single-handedly support their families. There are women with infirm husbands or parents who may have debt. When we don’t pay these women enough because we let cultural bias dominate financial decisions as employers and view their incomes are supplementary, we unfairly reduce their chances of attaining financial self-sufficiency. Any woman can tell you, independence has to be bought. Freedom has to be bought. The right to make your own decisions has to be pried out of the cold hands of the patriarchy with enough money to end dependency on authority figures or elements of community-based control. Having a job isn’t enough if you cannot fully support yourself on it. Being from a rich family isn’t enough if you can’t control what you do with money that is rightfully yours. Being educated isn’t enough if you are not allowed to work if married. 

We deny the systems that exist to control women, but culturally we try to ensure that women never have enough money or control over it to be able to opt to remain single. There are various cultural forces that push women to conformity but the financial ones are the most effective. This is the truth. However if a woman were to recognize this truth and marry for money, then she’s a gold-digger. If a woman expresses her desire to make money the way a man might, she’s too ambitious and ambition on women is cute when we are nineteen but they time we are twenty-five it’s like a hairy mole on our noses. It must be removed with an expensive and painful ceremony that reaffirms our role as the beautiful ones. There is no right way for a woman to want money and own it. 

At the heart of it, I suspect, it’s because we cannot handle a woman with an ego. Like much else, ego has been the prerogative of men for millennia. A woman is supposed to be kind, gentle and grateful whereas men must be strong, accomplished and ambitious. Men are allowed to be egoistic without consequence and often with reward, whereas girls are told right from the beginning to not be arrogant or over-confident. Men are encouraged to take opportunities and women are encouraged to be grateful for the ones we get. Even today it is harder for me to demand or deduce my worth in monetary terms than it is for any man my age because I, like thousands of other women, have offended men before by demanding more than they were willing to pay for a woman’s worth. If we showed women in exact monetary terms just how much their skills are worth, surely that would inflate our heads and give us a massive ego. And as a society we hold the female ego responsible for all social ills that befall us. 

Women are egoistic now that is why there are more failed marriages. That is why there are more rapes. That is why we dress in tiny clothes and go out at all hours of the night. As a society we have decided to blame all of that on female liberation but better than blame is to stall it, and that is what they are doing when they tell you your salary is pocket money. They’re making us smaller so we can’t be seen if we stand on our own.

Are We Just Telling Fat Women To Cover Up When We Tell Them To Dress For Their Shape?

I’m insecure about my arms. For me it’s that body part that directly affects my confidence. For most of my life I have had flabby big upper arms and weak shoulders. For the past few years, they’ve been less flabby and much, much less weak but because I lost weight in the area there’s a roll of fat/skin right after my shoulder that’s just, there.
Until two years ago I avoided wearing sleeveless shirts or anything strappy unless I was inside the house because everytime I looked at my arms it felt like I was looking at a leg jutting out of my shoulder socket and I don’t think I need to explain how feeling fat can make a woman (or, a person) feel horrible about themselves. Besides that’s what everyone from my friends, to my mother, to every fashion magazine in the world seemed to suggest: Cover up your arms, it will make them look “slimmer”. I did cover them, not so much because they looked slimmer, but mostly because I didn’t want to see them either. They were ugly.

But two years ago, as part of taking my body back in every conceivable form, I started exercising, eating well, working on thinking well of my own self, doing less damage to my body, taking better care of it etc. I also started wearing clothes that were much more revealing; clothes that fat women aren’t supposed to wear. Like tight pants and cute dresses. Drifit tank tops and strappy, backless shirts. There’s an accepted norm here where it you’re a woman above a certain size you’re supposed to be sexy only in a certain way (and even that is when you are allowed to be sexy instead of always being the “funny one with personality” or the “easy slutty one with no standards”). Fat girl revealing is very different from non-fat girl revealing. My sister just wears a backless dress and that’s revealing, she just wears a body hugging top and that’s a different kind of revealing. I grew up being told that if your body is not, well, thin, then clothes that reveal your shape are vulgar.

I mean, really, let’s think about it. Vulgar is a strong word, especially to use in this lifetime. I can’t even think of an example of something that might actually be vulgar in today’s circumstances but we tell fat women that clothes that reveal their actual size and body shape are vulgar. VULGAR. That’s pathetic. We can stomach the crisis in Syria but not the body shape of a fat woman. That’s disgusting (amazingly in more ways than just the one). Regardless, everytime I wore a shirt that defined any part of me, my mother immediately deemed it too vulgar to wear and so it took many years for me to be okay with revealing my shape in the form of clothes. As a fat girl, revealing to me meant being able to show my legs, a little above my knee, and cleavage (which I’m inadvertently showing even when I’m not really, showing).

Until I decided to wear whatever I wanted. I decided that because my rejection of pretty things was not about being above them or unmaterialistic, it was about thinking I could never do those things because I’d make them ugly too. Like I could not wear lipstick except to be whorish because I was a fat girl. Like I could not wear heels except to be whorish because I would be a fat girl and fall like in all the movies. Like I couldn’t I couldn’t wear anything but a full sleeved wrap dress because otherwise it would be funny that I was trying to be pretty. I mean, why try? Even in a pretty dress, I’d be a fat girl.

With fat arms.

But I did it because it’s my body, and how I look and feel in it matters most. I reveal my arms on purpose now. Almost all the time, I actually hate winter because I can’t do it. It’s not because I love my arms as they are. They are a work in progress, and that’s okay. I like things about them now. I like the muscular bits and I like how strong I am now. I don’t like the flabby bits but it doesn’t stop me from revealing them. They are there. Everyday. The one roll of fat.
It’s interesting because some days when I am feeling good about myself and I’ve focused on my strength as a route to seeing beauty, I don’t even see the roll of fat. I just see the parts I like and I feel extremely confident. On days I haven’t worked out or I feel badly about myself, I see only the roll of fat. All of the good parts of my arm seem to melt away and I can only see the flaw I must fixate on. Those days I don’t feel so confident about my strength or beauty.
That’s how I know, I know that what matters most is what I feel and think about my body. Anyone else uncomfortable with a seeing a fat girl in a leotard can suck a lemon. It’s their eyes that have the problem.
Because good god.
My arms are a little flabby.
I’m a little insecure about it.
But I will not be ashamed and cover it up. If that doesn’t make fashion sense, call me unfashionable. I’m really very okay with that. I mean, I already wear crocs, I don’t care.

100 Reasons Why Womanhood is The Worst Deal Ever Made.

  1. Every clothing store in the world thinks I want a shirt that says #selfie in pink, yellow and orange.
  2. Speaking of orange, the fact that the colour orange is ascribed to the female gender is just wrong. Orange? Ew. No one likes that.
  3. Nor bras.
  4. No. One. Likes. Bras.
  5. But we wear them because big boobs (and maybe even small ones who knows) sag a centimetre lower every week and by the time I am 35 mine will be in my feet).
  6. The fact that even that won’t deter creepy men. They’ll just want to suck my foot-nipples. 7. Speaking of creepy men. That.
  7. Actually one point isn’t enough for that, creepy men should be points eight through 28.
  8. Creepy men.
  9. Creepy men.
  10. Creepy men who touch you in he street.
  11. Creepy men who rape you in that same street (because of the cute orange skirt you bought, obvs, because Forever 21 told you that’s what you like)
  12. Creepy men.
  13. Creepy men who are mad for being friendzoned.
  14. Creepy nice men who believe you owe them something.
  15. Creepy men, generic.
  16. Creepy men, special services.
  17. Creepy men, young adult category.
  18. Creepy men, middle aged category.
  19. Creepy men, thinks it is a silver fox category.
  20. Creepy men.
  21. Creepy men.
  22. Creepy men.
  23. Creepy men who are mad you won’t list to what you decided for their life.
  24. Creepy men who want to hit you in the face because your face is not cool woman. 26. Creepy men.
  25. Creepy men.
  26. Creeeeeeeepy men.
  27. Creepy women. I guess, patriarchal is a better term. Patriarchal women.
  28. Women who keep saying “they can’t get along with women”
  29. Women who hate on other women because apparently using eyeliner makes you stupid.
  30. Women hating on other women because reading a book makes you ugly apparently.
  31. All the woman-on-woman hate.
  32. And all the bad woman-on-woman porn.
  33. And the fact that creepy guys call it lesbian sex. I about just sex? How hard it that? HOW FUCKING HARD?
  34. The social environment that alienates one woman from another. As if liking two different colours is any reason one woman can’t support another.
  35. The gyanecologist and the increasing regularity with which you have to see them as you get older.
  36. The gyanecologist when she tells me to relax with a spotlight shining at my vagina as she peers inside it.
  37. The gyanecologist as she playfully quips that I am so tense she wonders how I am ever able to have successful intercourse.
  38. My stupid stupid mouth because I said: That’s what works for me. Maybe this one is not about being a woman but being a dork. Still counts?
  39. Womanhood made me a dork. Now it counts? 42. Itchy vagina.
  40. The fact that no one ever taught me about yeast infections until I got one at age 19 and was like…whaaaaaat? Is there an infestation of bugs eating me from the inside out?
  41. The fact that they weren’t kidding about this period thing being true, real and lasting sooooooooooooooo long.
  42. I also feel the period thing should be more than one point. So let’s say points 45 through 75. Yes, that’s how much I hate my period.
  43. Period.
  44. Period.
  45. Biology is sexist. And that I can’t take that up with anybody.
  46. Period cramps.
  47. The fact that I have cried at a pen commercial because the girl got an A after much hard word. 50. Why did I cry?
  48. Period.
  49. Body no make correct combination of goofy juices and make goofy brain goofier until it thinks it wants baby so much and it lost baby so hard.
  50. Biology sucks. .
  51. Period cramps.
  52. The fact that exercise helps them and summoning the will to do that is like stabbing yourself in the already stabbed.
  53. Water weight.
  54. Normal face one day, puffy faced nightmare the next.
  55. The fucking period nonsense!
  56. The men who have told me “I should love my period” because it “celebrates my womanhood” 77. The fact that it is illegal to stab them in the testicle. Yes, just one.
  57. The fact that I don’t get a free pass for stabbing one mansplainer in my life. I pick the guy who gave us a ride a few weeks ago, told a horrible joke and then when I didn’t laugh he said, “Oh, I think ma’am didn’t understand the joke, let me explain it to her…” And then he explained it. And then I didn’t laugh again. Then he said I just won’t get it. Then I wanted to stab-stab but can’t because jail-jail won’t give me a get out of it free-free card. Maybe we can win these at women’s athletic events? I am so there. So motivated.
  58. That whole getting abused thing. The entire culture of systemic violence against women is a tad inconvenient.
  59. Not of course as inconvenient of only having bath products that smell of flowers. Like 5 flowers smell good people, the rest smell like butt. None of them smell like shampoo. And also, who decided flowers were girl? Is it because..colours are girly?
  60. Colours are evidently girly.
  61. So is bathing with more than one product. Dudebros all have to compulsorily share the same cracked bar of soap with one hair in it or they lose their dude card and start having their period. Which is an insult, you know? It is an insult to bleed out of your genitals, evidentially.
  62. And while we are on the subject, the fact that you can no longer even choose a lipstick without worrying how that makes you represent.
  63. Representation v/s authentic living: Where is the line?
  64. The fact that no one can answer that.
  65. Some dudebros will definitely take this to mean I hate women and feminists though.
  66. Because obviously. It’s not enough to be hated for being a woman, one must also be hated for being an equal woman.
  67. Or independent.
  68. Or outspoken.
  69. Or fat.
  70. The fact that a lot of people will tell you fat is the worst thing a woman can be.
  71. Unless you are a woman who had a drink and wore that orange #selfie skirt before she was raped. Then, that’s the worst thing you can be.
  72. Being judged and hated on for speaking out about things that happened to me.
  73. The fact that Nutella seems to gravitate towards the same mouth I speak out of. It’s obviously because Nutella is woman food, which amazingly, I have been told before.
  74. The fact that we have “woman” food. Like salad is evidently not manly. You know lettuce? Such a fragile, womanly thing to do. To eat a leaf full of nutrients.
  75. Stupidity of the people who ask you if you put tampons up your butt. 97. The fact that they giggled when they say tampons.
  76. The fact that THIS is this year that tampons were made essential commodities and stopped being taxed because of a movie about women made by a man, starring a man.
  77. The fact that I can’t have a crisis about a dress and a motorcycle at the same time because I must fit into one box or the other.
  78. But if I drive between the two boxes I’ll probably hit something, because evidently, I cannot drive either. Too busy thinking about what to have written on my next orange T-shirt.

Every movie tries to teach the same incorrect lesson to all stepmothers: Don’t try to be his mother, just be his friend.

Parents talk about parenting a lot, and often the goal of the conversation is to convince you that their parenting style and techniques are superior and better and guaranteed to work but I’ve always wondered…work to what end? It never seems clear.
I’ve never had cause to cohort with parents, I mean obviously I met people who had kids all the time but there’s a difference between that and being associated with parents because you have the same thing that they do: A child. Just to be clear, I don’t, I don’t have a child. I have a step-child. Prior to having him here living with us my experience with children was nonexistent, and so when the situation (a situation that was entirely unforseen) came up, I was extremely freaked out. I reached out for advice to all the parents I knew and I asked for advice.
Almost unanimously, the advice was this:
Don’t try to be his mother, be his friend.
Solid advice, yeah?
Patch that up with the rest of the advice to take care of his needs, his nutrition, his health, his mental state, his socialization and his education, and it seemed like I had a bundle of good advice. It sounded good: Don’t be his parent, be his friend, take care of him.
Yes, good.
I didn’t know anything about parenting so I was willing to listen to anything and agree with anything too. I couldn’t exactly disagree. What experience would I disagree on the basis of? So I just asked, gathered information, and then one day a child arrived. An 8-year old child. He was small and frail for his age. He had big ears; bigger than they needed to be. My sister and I had put his room together for him. We bought some toys and balloons and many glittery things. It helped to have her there she was a very well developed relationship with children. She really enjoys spending time with them which I have always found impossible to understand. Well, she’s a kindergarten teacher, sorry..she’s an early childhood special educator, this is important to her. I should respect that.
It helped to have her around a lot then. She is able to be excited about child things and still understand that pit of extreme coldness and dispassion inside me and relate to it. She’s able to calm me down and

part of that is that I could never lose my calm in front of her. Never. If I had known better about parenting I would have considered that a far more reliable parenting tip than the one I most oft heard.
Because that night was a big moment, the night he got here, but i sublimated that into pasta and blankets. For then.
In the many months that followed — living with him on a daily basis and during that time going through big things like his father and I getting married and managing this weird thing called custodial agreements and smaller things like determining what foods he needs — I noticed something.
I noticed that on an ongoing basis I think about him and factor him into my daily and general routine. I buy things at the grocery store with his meals in mind. I’m available when I need to be and where I need to be, even when it’s a school show or a fiesta (which I enjoyed more than anyone else who attended). I listen to him when he is sad and when he asks the same question for the 600th time. I don’t break my head on a wall when I am teaching him the same subtraction principle for the 35th time in the 20th way, I’m still there to do it the 36th time without losing my cool. I help him change his clothes if he needs it. I he’ll him deal with bullies and answer his questions about what to tell people about who I am. I even discipline him and scold him and explain to him why something he did is wrong. I answer his questions about god while somehow making sure to explain that I may know more things but I don’t necessarily know better. It’s hard to explain that in 8-year old vocabulary.
These things, this is not what friends do.
And after I thought that for the first time, all those continuing bits of advice about being his friend started to feel annoying. I’m annoyed by this blasé depiction of stepparent-ing, as annoyed as I am by the vilification of step parents. I get it, I’m not his mother, I never made a play to be that. Nor do I feel the desire or really understand the sentiment behind this child is mine. I don’t want to claim possession over a person, I have no interest in that.
But I have even less interest in the method of treatment meted out to step-parents. I understand that I may not have anything worthwhile to add to the narrative of parenting because I have barely any experience and all the experience I do I have I don’t necessarily know I did it right, but I deserve not to be dismissed when expressing a view on parenting because the child is not really mine. There is no difference between the responsibilities taken by me and my neighbour who has two children of her own. So I should be as much of a right as her to talk about his?

I don’t like being dismissed as a friend while being expected to have the responsibilities of a parent. It’s annoying.

Why Education Is The Least Important Commodity In The Universities of J&K.

I first met John Mohammed* (name changed) while on a day-trip to the popular tourist destination of Patnitop where he was the proprietor and operator of a portable paddle ride for children. It had been a few months since the revocation of Article 370 and the internet lockdown which continues even today in some form was still in full swing. While my stepson paddled around in the large inflatable pool, John participated in my conversation with my partner. He spoke perfect English and seemed well-informed, not just on political issues, but also on the subject of etymology that we had been previously discussing. Upon some questioning he revealed that he has several degrees from the University of Kashmir (including post-graduate degrees) but he chooses to work in the field of children’s rides because there are no jobs for educated youths in the state of J&K. The jobs that do exist pay far less than unskilled labour and often require connections to acquire.

“Besides,” John Mohammed said, “It is better to stay away from the university and do whatever work is there. If you say something against anyone, you become a terrorist. If you don’t have a job, then also you are a terrorist.”

John Mohammed is not an exception. In 2018, the State Directorate of Unemployment and Counselling had called for all unemployed persons in J&K who had a post-graduate degree, M.Phil or PhD to register with Employee Exchanges, 1.5 Lakh people registered with the exchanges. A whopping majority of these people were under the age of 35, which stands to reason since as per the 2011 census, 70% of the population of J&K is under 35, making it one of the youngest states in the country. It also has among the highest rate of unemployed youth in the country with 24.6% of people between 18-29 being unemployed while the national rate is 13.2%.

None of this came as a surprise because for the past few months I have been attending a Master’s Programme at the Government Degree College, Udhampur, which is an offsite location of the University of Jammu (JU). There are two major government universities in the Union Territories of J&K. Previously a single university they were split by an act of state legislature into two in 1969 namely the University of Jammu, located in Jammu and the University of Kashmir, in Srinagar. JU has 36 departments in its main campus, 7 offsite-campuses and 157 affiliated colleges. It carries an A+ Grade and was the first university in India to receive the ISO-9001 certification. The admission to the university is governed by various academic criteria including a centralised exam called JUET. While on paper this sounds commiserate with universities across the country, in reality despite having among the highest grades in the list of applicants, I was repeatedly denied admission at the main campus citing various reasons. Prominent among those reasons was that my documents weren’t in keeping with state guidelines because I was previously educated out of J&K. After an arduous process, I gained admission in the Udhampur campus. When I arrived to register, the authorities were surprised to learn that admissions were taking place, they asked me to return a week later as they were not sure about the fees that had to be charged.

Over the next month I attended college by myself and sat in a classroom hoping and waiting for classes, which finally began with 9-students in the second week of September; the delay being attributed to the chaos caused by the revocation of Article 370 and the subsequent shutdown of schools and colleges. Three months later we sat for our first semester examinations even though less than 60% of our lessons had been conducted. The medium of instruction often varied in language with advanced students in the English department being taught in Hindi or Dogribecause “that is how things happen here” which is understandable because most people who opt for the English programme do so because it was the only option left. While the quality of education would not directly impact the employability of students, it reflects in the quality of instruction. One cannot blame the professors, either, as they strive to teach as they were once taught, encouraging the use of guides and disregarding the text. Our master’s classroom often resembles a sixth-grade literature class elsewhere in the country with the professors reading a synopsis of the text or dictating notes for us to scribble. After graduating from these institutions most students cannot hope to leave the state of J&K and compete with students elsewhere in the country, most people choose to remain within the state even though there are no jobs which leads to intelligent, qualified individuals such as John Mohammad taking jobs of unskilled labour. Most fruit vendors, taxi drivers, mini-bus drivers in Udhampur have attended university, some have even gotten advanced degrees but it would be impossible to tell as they themselves are mostly unaware of what they learnt. Getting a driver’s license and your own taxi remains amongst the most lucrative professions here.

Due to the lack of benefit from education, drop-out rates in schools and colleges have been increasing in J&K for almost a decade. The hostility of the GOI to students in J&K with regard to access of internet to better their chances at being able to compete nationally has only led to the situation worsening. The administrative response is to remind students that they can use libraries and other resources. They remind us that people used to be able to study before the internet too because the affordability and ease of online resources is not a benefit that students here deserve. While the COVID 19 crisis continues and students all over the country rely more and more on online learning, we are unable to do so. Some of us because we have inadequate internet access, and others because our universities have taken the lockdown as an excuse to stop functioning altogether. The truth, however, is that as a country we had abandoned the people of J&K long before usurping further power from them in 2019. We had written them off as the acceptable collateral damage of border tensions and that is what led to a culture of corruption and complacency that we now use to justify furthering a modified state of powerlessness. The government worries that restoring the internet will lead to a “disruption of peace” but the gag-order on the liberty of Kashmiri students is much older than the revocation of Article 370. The majority of students are scared to say anything and have learnt not to complain because they have been taught to be grateful for what they have. They have been taught that the lack of internet should be seen as an opportunity to unplug as opposed to the confiscation of rights that it is.

When a person in this situation speaks up, whether it be photojournalist Masrat Zahra who was recently arrested under the New Media Policy 2020 (which enables institutional oversight of what can be considered news) for “disrupting the peace” or a student protesting outside their college campus for more focus on education, they are labelled anti-national and accused of denting the image of the authorities of the area. We equivocate the students and professionals crying out against injustice and robbed opportunities with insurgents and terrorists. We laud the crackdown on militancy and use that to justify revoking the rights of the millions of people who live here. We say that restoring peace to the area will increase employment, but how can there be peace when we are at war with our own citizens? How can there be peace when John Mohammad, with his multiple degrees, is more likely to be seen as a potential terrorist instead of a potential employee?

Peace is a farce but as long as we can keep our students distracted by making education harder to access and more complicated to keep up with, it’s all good, because we know idle students are what lead to the disruption of peace. Not institutional oppression. That’s not a thing that exists and if we can keep the students quiet and under-qualified long enough, we can get everyone to buy that theory. Because look, we’re killing terrorists everyday. What more could you want?

Are you there human-created concept of god? It’s me human-created concept of woman.

Yesterday, in the parking lot of a shopping complex, I offered to carry a 10 kg bag of detergent for an old lady who was struggling to get it out of the shopping cart. As I was helping, her husband (whom I had not previously seen) came running towards us, she had just been thanking me and talking about when she was young and could bring in an entire weeks worth of vegetables back home on her back when he interrupted and said he could handle it.
I said I was happy to help but he was determined to do it myself so I let it be and just as I was excusing myself he asked remarked, “Oh are you a body builder? Normally it’s men who offer to carry them heavy stuff and not women.”
He laughed as if he had made a very funny joke and honestly I am still waiting to get it but..he was a really old man, I had had a long day so I just explained I wasn’t a body builder, said goodbye and went back to my car.
Since then though I’ve felt like I did when I was eleven and all these things were happening to my body and I had all these questions to ask but there’s no god for women. There’s no god who is able to answer for all these things that make no sense.
Insane things.
Like how did I threaten a man by helping his wife? Why did he think I needed to be a body builder to match the strength of any man? And on that note, how is it that I can work out for hours and nothing will happen, but I can sprain my wrist (and sometimes shoulder) while trying to get out of a sports bra?
I want a goddess. I want a reliable fucking entity to ask these questions to and I want answers and I don’t want the answers to be a subjective interpretation that bounces off my opinions, I want answers to these mad things.
I want to know how it is possible that multiple grown men have giggled at me when I used the term period and multiples growl women have whispered for tampons in my ears as if sharing state secrets with me! How is it possible that I have been called inappropriate for saying the word uterus in a public space in a routine conversation?
I want someone to answer these questions.

I want someone to explain to me how I can know with absolute confidence that I do not want a child, until I am pregnant and then I have to fight myself to make the choice I have always known was the one I make. How is that I can have a mind of my own and fight for its autonomy but also biology so strong that it makes my sanity less reliable? Why is it that I know to be offended when someone calls me a function of my biological needs but I know to understand it when I feel like that? How is it that I can’t say I had an abortion without making a political statement about it? Why am I constantly being made to justify my choices?
I want someone to explain why my career choices and endeavours are often casual jokes to men I meet in yet another role I am cast in. I want to know why I have to fight to be seen and when I do I am called loud, arrogant and bossy. I want to know why I am taken more seriously by women around me since I became wife. I want to know why I was taken less seriously before. I want to know how the fuck I somehow made a legal decision on a practical and somewhat sentimental basis that led to the creation of an identity for me that I had not even begun to consider.
I want someone to be answerable to me. To us.
Someone needs to tell me why I can eat 300 calories and put on 4 kgs. I need someone to explain why the fuck I must go through this insane intensity of emotional variation on the basis of hormonal variation and I must do it month after month forever and some fuckwit will tell me I should see the beauty of being a woman in bleeding out and shoving cylinderical cotton bullets into my vagina on a monthly basis until I’m chafed and questioning my existence and shoving sweet things in my face. It’s a always a guy who wants me to see the beauty in the physical experience of my womanhood through my period. My ex got legit mad whenever I complained about my period or having cramps. He got mad at me for disrespecting my femaleness. I want someone to explain exactly how I can reject all gender based expectations yet embrace the part of being female I enjoy. I want to know why the fuck it is so hard.
I want someone to answer for that.
I want someone to explain why I am stronger when I have suffered and endured pain? Why I am I prettier when I am thin? Why do I paint my lips red and hate that I do it but like that it looks pretty and worry that I may be representing as someone who believes women need to do this?
I need a fucking god.
But I only have feminism. It’s all I have in this regard. It’s the only place I’ve found answers that are remotely reliable. It’s where I learnt to ask my questions better. It’s how I met people who were asking the same questions as I am. Honestly I am amazed I am constantly made to justify my feminism. Shouldn’t you justify your lack of it?

The Immigrant Teacher

My sister has been on my mind all day. It’s not surprising given we had one of our two-hour long conversations this morning. I called her, not that I need a reason to call her, because today is Teacher’s Day, and while I am loath to celebrate any religious holiday, I am fine with the holidays that commemorate people, independence and fundamentals. This one is celebrated in observance of the birthday of the second president of India, Dr.Radhakrishnan, who was a professor of comparative religion and philosophy for decades. I am fine with holidays like these and I am especially fine with this one because not only am I one of those “teachers are heroes” people but also because my sister, is a teacher.

She’s very passionate about what she does and if anyone is of the belief that teachers don’t do enough work, they should just take a look at her daily schedule. She’s a special needs educator of preschoolers and her work-life looks like an investment bankers. When the pandemic hit and the schools went into lockdown, she immediately made need-specific art and activity packages for each one of her students and had them sent to them because a lot of them are from low income families and have specific needs. She makes clay toys for students who respond well to those in the shapes of all kinds of shapes and sizes. When the murder of George Floyd caused protests she sent out packages on how to talk to your toddlers about race in a healthy and growth-oriented way. When their funding was cut she scoured Goodwill and every garage in the city to find ways to get the students everything they needed with her own money. She keeps detailed folders on each one of her students recording their progress and growth from the smallest things to the biggest. She changes diapers and makes up toilet-training games. Her job is insane to me. I don’t have a single thing to say to a three year old. She couldn’t have enough things. More to some than other, because I have inside information now, and yes, teachers do have fucking favourites! I knew it.

When she first moved to the the United States of America, she did so because she believed that was where she would get the education she truly wanted. That’s where she would be able to have the kind of schooling system budget and structure that would allow her to genuinely work with children who had developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. She believed she was making the right choice despite the educational loan that could buy her a house here. She attended a SpEd course here but she was in love with the university she eventually went to a lot before she went. I don’t quite understand that, personally, I have never had a dream university but dream-subjects I wanted to study. She wanted that university. She moved. She got her graduate degree and it was everything she could have every imagined. Her inner-nerd was so consumed for those two years that she had one disastrous 1-month relationship after another. Ultimately she just started sleeping with her roommate and now they’ve been together for a couple of years and it turns out my “cannot-really-multiply” sister is best suited for a mathematician. Who could have guessed.

Over the years living away, she grew more professionally accomplished, she’s been gone almost five years now, she also grew more mousey. She became more reserved. Less likely to make friends or go out. With each passing year she grew more and more stressed. Every six months there’s a dagger looming over her head — visas, contracts, people asking if she can speak English — she lives in this constant state of unknowablility and over the last year she, along with many other immigrants, has lived with this uncertainty of her legal status hanging over her like a guillotine. Her life is there now. Her boyfriend who is also an immigrant from a different country, is there. Their home is there. Their cat. Her students. She pays taxes there. Yet she fumbles in calling it home because with each passing day she feels less and less entitled to the space she occupies there. She feels scared to speak up when she’s treated unfairly by parents, the administration or just random people who feel it is okay to talk down to a person of a different race. She never calls racism if it affects only her personally because deep inside she doesn’t feel like it will end well. She believes, with example, that ultimately she’ll be told to go back to where she came from if she didn’t like it somewhere.

In her place, maybe I would. I can’t move out of my country because I feel already committed and attached to my causes here, I don’t think I would be able to feel as rightfully motivated elsewhere. She did. She wasn’t geographically limited by what she wanted to do in the world. She decided to do it elsewhere and somehow the mere act of legally coming from somewhere else in the world made her feel like less of a person. She does things to deal with it. She and her boyfriend make plans to move elsewhere in the future. They take up hobbies like kayaking and watch documentaries about cults and crazy people. She keeps making her toys. She makes bakeries and farmers’ markets in miniaturist detail and sets them upon her mantle. A world small enough to take with her wherever she goes whenever she knows that she has to go. A world of her own. Entirely in her control. She talks to her therapist about this uncertainty and deals with her anxiety about it.

She does all that because she loves her kids and the school where she teaches. She loves them. She loves teaching them. She loves when one of them tells her a story. She loves when they are aghast at the idea that she has an actual home and doesn’t just live at school. She loves their squabbles with one another. She talks about them constantly. She thinks about them constantly. She loves everything she does.

In a few days my sister, the preschool teacher, will don a doctor’s armour and go teach two classrooms of three to four year olds who absolutely do not understand the concept of social distancing or pandemics. She has no choice but to quit her job if she doesn’t want to do that. She would never do that. So she talks to me instead about the sanitation practises that she will follow and how she will teach the kids about masks. She wrote a little story about an owl and his mask or something. She talks about how she will just sanitize for the second batch on the lunch break because there is no time allotted for that. She makes jokes about socially-distant diaper changing and how that may be achieved. She’s worried but she’s weirdly excited. She’s nuts. She says to me all the things she wouldn’t say to her directors and administrators because she doesn’t feel she had the right to complain because they might take away her right to live in her home. She has already had to fight for that so many times.

Instead she buys materials and protective equipments, she prepares materials for in-person learning and separate ones for the online classes she also has to take. She makes her toys. She does her job with excitement and joy even as she’s reminded repeatedly that she may not have the right to her life or job. She laughs off teaching in person in the midst of a pandemic and says she’s so happy to see her kids again. I worry but I don’t say that because I respect her so damn much for what she does. For what she’s doing. Instead I tell her everything will be okay.

But I need someone to please tell me, will it?