The Abortion Judgement in Poland Says Everything About Women’s Rights in this Decade.

The Constitutional Tribunal in Poland has ruled to ban abortions in cases of foetal deformity, which constitute the majority of the small number of legal abortions in the country. This judgement is in keeping with the deterioration of abortion rights and access to abortion that has plagued the world in this decade.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Cartoon by The Bad Cartoonist, Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Yestersay, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland ruled to disallow abortion in cases of a foetal deformity leading to the women of Poland rising up in protest. As it stood prior to this ruling, Poland already had among the harshest abortion laws in Europe with only a 1000 legal abortions occurring last year and many women having to travel outside the country to have abortions. Of these 1000 legal abortions, 98% were cases of foetal deformity which means that rape, incest or the health of the mother which comprise the extent of the grounds for legal abortion in Poland made up only 2 out of 1000 cases. The Council of Europe for Human Rights has called it a sad day for Women’s Rights, but it’s not just a sad day, it’s been a sad decade for women’s rights all over the world (except in Australia where I believe they have made some strides this decade in some states after striking down a 119-year old law).

In the 1970s, legislative progress was made on the subject of abortion in many parts of the world. India passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act into law on the recommendation of the Shah Committee in 1971. The United States of America’s Supreme court delivered a landmark judgement in Roe v. Wade in 1973. The laws passed at the time had their problems but were important victories on the path to women having more legal control over our bodies, and if they had been developed over the years guided only by scientific input, legal precedent and the goal of expanding women’s rights we wouldn’t be where we are today. Instead in most countries around the world abortion law has been governed by morality-based and religion-influenced politics which is what has led to a law as draconian as Poland’s ban on abortion in cases of foetal deformity and the continuation of abortion laws as restrictive as those in Northern Ireland.

In 2019, the Alabama Supreme court in USA banned all abortions in the state and implemented into law that any physician performing abortions would be liable to spend up to 99-years in prison. Even as the governor of Alabama admitted that there was no way to enforce this bill given the federally applicable precedent of Roe v. Wade, she signed it into law. Five other states in the US have prohibited abortion after 6-weeks at which point most women don’t even know that they are pregnant. With the election looming in the United States, the Republicans are moving at a record pace to confirm conservative judge Amy Comey Barrett to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s empty seat on the Supreme Court after she passed earlier this year. This has led many around the country to speculate that the 6-3 conservative-majority on the bench would attempt to reverse the judgement on Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion all over the country. To me this only begs to question whether a law about women’s health should be deliberated with a bias based in religious morality as opposed to a legally-evaluated standing of the arguments in favour and people in support of the law and whether a judge should even been allowed to retain their political affiliation once appointed to a court.

In India, the Chandigarh High Court ruled in 2017 to disallow the termination of pregnancy by a 10-year old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her uncle. They cited the aspect of the MTP Act that serves to enforce “safe and medically sound” abortions which was incorporated to curb the rampant maternal mortality in India in the 1960s and 70s. Abortion law is complex and governed by different political factors in each country. In India for instance, we have reasonably liberal laws when it comes to abortion. The MTP Act allows abortion up to 20-weeks, after 12-weeks abortion needs to be recommended by two doctors and it can be performed by a medial physician at any government hospital and all certified private hospitals. Medical abortion (which involves pills like mifepristone and misoprostol) is legal up to 9-weeks and surgical abortion (either through D&C or vaccum aspiration) up to 20 weeks. There is some ambiguity as to the grounds on which one can have an abortion, though. There are four grounds on which a woman may avail termination services: Grave risk to the mental and physical health of the mother, rape and incest, and contraceptive failure in the case of married women.

It is unclear under this law whether unmarried women can actually avail the right to abortion in case of contraceptive failure. It is also unclear how grave mental risk is evaluated. In effect, however, hospitals will rarely ask women (to prove) if they are married or refuse an abortion to a woman who was unable to or chose not to have a contraceptive plan. In effect these laws should work better however unsafe abortion practices continue in India as do unwanted pregnancies and that is because instituting law is not enough if the rights of a person are not accessible to them. Access to abortions is limited by factors much greater than just the law.

In India, for instance, it is limited by the lack of reproductive autonomy that is extended to women. A woman is more likely to be made to have an abortion because the second child is female than if she herself does not wish to have a third child. Even within a family the reproductive decisions are not made by the woman nor are the contraceptive ones. With outreach programmes more women are being provided safe contraception in India than ever but women often don’t have the agency to insist on their use or the disposable income to continue buying them once the free strips are over. While financially abortions are extremely accessible in India especially at government facilities, medical services themselves remain to be inaccessible to people who live outside big towns and cities. In the United States, the accessibility to abortion is cut off financially as well as socially. Most insurance companies will not cover abortions and even a medical abortion can cost over twenty-times what it does in India. Additionally, protests around medical facilities that perform abortions eventually do succeed to a small extent in dissuading women wanting to avail terminations from being able to do so.

In this environment all over the world, laws like Poland don’t come as a surprise anymore. We have started to walk backwards as a group and when we look around the world and see that many others are doing what we do, we are emboldened. We are in political state of being where the conservative, traditionalist mind-set is emboldened by its ability to get away with stepping on the necks of women and minorities. This precedent that we are setting serves as an example to the right-wing leaders of countries like Brazil that still criminalizes abortion in all forms except in cases of rape and grave physical harm to the woman. The law of one nation influences the law of another. That is how it works. How various civilizations around us at a given moment feel about an issue influences how we feel about it, and at this moment we feel like it is okay to start taking rights away from women again.

It’s a bad moment.

A sad day for women’s rights, indeed.

I wonder what condescending retronym future historians will give it. I hope they make it really nasty.

Read more of my coverage on abortion law in India for The Quint.

The Sanskari Girl Checklist.

Have you always wanted to be a good Sanskari girl but the Sanskar have evaded you? Fret not! Our ten-step guide on how to learn and embody the Sanskar is here for you. Apply at your own risk.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Cartoon by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Do you want to be a real sanskari girl who sets the proud example of an ever-suffering silent goddess for society? Have you been shunned, alienated from society and been made to feel like you don’t belong? Do you desperately crave the Sanskar that will validate your existence as an Indian woman?

Here’s how you can have it:

1. Oil your hair regularly, which will help it grow lush and long for when a man has to inevitably use it to climb up to rescue you from a trap of his making. Sanskari girls have long hair. Short hair are for lesbians, feminists, prostitutes and sluts. Those aren’t very sanskari things to be.

2. In case of rape, for the love of god, don’t take a nap or have an emotional crisis before you go to the police or every judge in the land is going to think you did not uphold your Indian morality well enough to be a real victim of rape. Sanskari girls don’t sleep after being raped. They miraculously change into white clothes, go to the police and then come home and sit fully clothed on the bathroom floor pouring buckets of water over their heads. Haven’t you ever watched a movie?

3. Dress in beautiful clothing which covers your legs, hips, stomach, back, chest, neck, arms, fingers, chin, ears, feet, nose, head but make sure it’s colourful and not black clothing. Black clothing like that might have you disqualified not only from sanskar but also from being a citizen of this country.

4. Lean in, sankari women lean in to the inevitability of marriage. Spend your whole life dreaming about the most perfect day of your life, be enthusiastic about potential social captivity. A great way to show your enthusiasm is to keep up on the colours that trend each year during wedding season and make a scrap-book, you can display the scrap book alongside your dissertation.

5. Remember! Sanskari girls always hush the fuck up about their education. Your degrees are not meant to get you jobs, money, stature or respect. Their purpose is to measure your value on the marital market and for that purpose you must get at least some degrees. You must never, however, use your education to display your intelligence and participate in discourse that might do so. Your intelligence, once measured by the grades of your last degree, is locked in. You can’t increase it by making rational, valid points in conversation or asking insightful questions, so just focus on bags and stuff.

6. Always get pregnant through immaculate conception. In India the process of immaculate conception involves three-minutes of top-half clothed sex in which the woman is to look to her left and think about god while reciting mantras comprised of the rate-list du jour of vegetables, while the man makes a pained face of concentration towards the right and thinks about the secret porn in his phone until he ejaculates and after it is over you go the rest of your life maintaining a physical distance from one another that is so intense the idea of the two of you having sex disgusts and baffles your children to the point where they just can’t believe sex could have occurred. It’s sort of immaculate in retrospect if you think about it.

7. A sanskari girl never has sex out of marriage and she never initiates sex with her husband. She must always display reluctance when propositioned by her husband even if she wants it, so that we can continue to call that the sanctity of marriage and use it as an excuse not to outlaw marital rape. A sanskari girl must never ever enjoy sex. That’s for boys.

8. If a sanskari girl has to live out of her house for studies or a job (which contrary to popular belief about the sect of sanskaris, women can have until they are married because they do need pocket money to buy sarees and stuff), make sure you live in a more-expensive women’s hostel that has all of the following rules (which you should be following even if you don’t live in a hostel):

  • Curfew before sundown lest you get raped.
  • Conservative clothing because men cannot be trusted so you must cover your body and take responsibility for all of their actions.
  • High-level monitoring of visitors so you don’t miss the neighbourhood-aunty feeling when you are away from home.

9. If anyone says the words “pinjara tod” around you, run. Run away. Run fast. Find a pinjara asap or we’ll put you in jail, which is a less figurative representation of the not-that-different jail you were in before but with even less agency.

10. Sanskari girls stay away from feminists. Follow the example of the chairwoman of our great National Council for Women (NCW) and just say no to feminism. She’s the head of the women’s council, if she says she doesn’t like this word “feminist” surely that is a good enough reason to believe? Do you think we would put a misogynistic woman in-charge of a national women’s organisation because we just don’t want to give women rights and problematic figureheads are a great way to stall real change? Of course not.

So what are you waiting for? Go get that sanskar girl!

It’s Not Enough For A Woman To Get Married in India, You Also Have To Look It.

Women in India are often told that they don’t look married when they don’t wear bangles, vermillion or gold jewellery. This practise not only undermines the aesthetic agency of women but also limits the representation of marital symbolism to only Hindu culture. The married “look” encourages both conservatism and the objectification of women as showpieces on a mantle.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I was standing amongst a group of people, most of whom I did not know, discussing a bridge that had collapsed near our homes recently and why it would inevitably take months to fix it. My husband was standing across the group and I happened to reference him in my comment about the bridge. Immediately, a middle-aged man cut me off and interjected with the following,

“You’re married? You don’t look married!”

Despite being accustomed to hearing things like that all the time, I still asked him to explain what that meant.

“It’s a compliment, ” he said, “You don’t talk that way or look that way.”

While I enjoy invoking Socrates and playing dumb in my questioning of the problematic things I hear around me, I am aware of the social systems that encourage people to think a married woman looks a certain way. I still ask this question often, just so I can take those fragments of information and put together a collage of what a married woman actually looks like someday. The answers I get are predictable but usually dishonest. Some say that it is an allusion to youth, others say it is because I project a solitary stance and most will just call it a compliment as if looking married is like wearing a scarlet letter across your chest. The truth is that in India it is not enough for a woman to get married, she also has to look the part and this married appearance is multi-faceted hot bed of not only oppression but also religious intolerance. In many ways we see the act of committing a wedding as a commitment to a brand new life for women and with new life, she is expected to commit to a new appearance.

India being a country where the majority of the population is Hindu and secular only when reciting the preamble, we have reduced the nature of marital symbolism to only Hinduism based signifiers so if you are a woman who is Christian or god forbid, an atheist, you are immediately clubbed into a category of women who do not look married. Hindu marital symbolism involves applying vermillion, or sindoor, to the parting of one’s hair in order to invoke goddess Parvati to protect your husband. It also involves wearing bangles on your wrists at all times after you have removed the chooda that you would have put on at the time of your wedding. It also involves wearing a mangalsutra which symbolises the auspicious nature of the unity between two souls but is to be worn only by the woman. If you discuss these aspects of the tradition with new age thinkers most of them will tell you that all of these things have a “scientific” basis but what they mean, I think, is that they are historically rooted in tradition that may not have been designed specifically to oppress women but to decorate them as symbols of matrimony.

However being decorated by protocol in a prescribed manner is a burden that only married women face and not a compulsion that is put on men. Whether that is having to keep your head covered, compulsorily wearing bangles around your wrists at all times or having to weigh your neck down with heavy necklaces, it is all a form of objectification when it is made mandatory to look that way to qualify as married. The truth that no one has ever told me to my face is that I don’t “look married” because I don’t decorate myself in golden symbols of Hindu matrimony. I refuse to accept that jewellery is simply an expression of beauty because as far as I am concerned those bangles may as well be shackles. The fundamental ideal of oppression is to prescribe behaviour to the oppressed class, whether that behaviour is related to how one conducts their bodies in social spaces or how one is expected to dress, it is a layer of the same beast. The manner of enforcement is sometimes blatant and sometimes nuanced.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A young recently-widowed girl I met in a village near Varanasi once told me about her wedding. She said she didn’t want to wear the huge nose ring because it was hurting her and making her cry, twenty- minutes prior to her appearance at her own wedding her mother slapped her in the face and threatened to bring out her father with his gun to shoot her in the face. Her physical well-being was threatened because she didn’t want to wear some allegedly pretty jewellery. At my wedding, I didn’t want to participate in applying mehendi or wearing a chooda, I was not threatened. However various people accused me of being no fun when I wouldn’t let them put brown paste on my hands. Several people tried to reason with me about wearing a chooda as if women’s liberation, which is the singular purpose for my entire existence, is just a hobby to me that I would abandon for an evening of twinkling lights, and when I absolutely refused to let god intervene in my wedding, they told me they would just put a chooda in a river on my behalf. Doing things on my behalf without my consent, even when the audience for it is an unknowable entity or telling me I can’t “loosen up” enough to have fun in the manner that is told to me undermines my agency and is a form of the same pressure to conform that is sometimes enforced with a gun. Of course when you say that, no one will admit it.

No, they will use your lack of femininity to attack you instead. They will tell you, and themselves, that you don’t want to wear bangles because you were always a “tomboy” or a “very simple girl” or “one of those feminists” because accepting that a woman recognises a gilded cage for what it is and chooses not to step into it in the first place would mean we are admitting that we see it too.

This is not to attack women who choose to participate in religious symbols of matrimony by incorporating them into their attire, because that would assume I practice a form of feminist enlightenment where I am free of all influence and I know that is a lie. I am unable to find beauty or joy in tradition or religious culture, and I acknowledge that there are women who might, as they are entitled to do, but I am able to admit to sentimentality. For me sentimentality extends to broken locks and ratty old sweatshirts, and for someone who has had a more positive experience with religion and culture than I have, a mangalsutra might be of sentimental value and that is an expression of their authenticity that I would be loath to attack. Attacking a symbol, is not my attempt to attack individual women, but an institution that refuses to acknowledge and validate the existence of women that fall outside its norms.

Besides, my indictment of the married look is not limited to jewellery or religious symbolism, it extends to a social prescription of attire and behaviour as well. Married women tend to or are expected to dress more conservatively, the best way to observe this is to look through the photo albums of our mothers and take note of the distinct difference in their attire after they were married. In India married women are also expected to stop dressing in “western” clothing, and when we don’t stop them altogether we introduce them to the concept of “fusion” wear, comfort below and Indian beauty on top. In many cities across India women refuse to choose clothes with the ideal of looking married when they dress, but they are talked about. Even in our families, we’ve all been privy to snide discussions about that one married cousin whose dresses always shows too much boob. If you are that cousin, I am sure you have been told you don’t look married.

Married women are expected also to be better attired at all times. The standards for dress at weddings or festivals are different for married and unmarried women. My sister can wear junk earrings she bought on the side of the street (or to be more exact, I bought and she stole) but I might be asked to wear nice jewellery set in precious metal. Before a woman in India gets married, she is expected compulsory to participate in a shopping spree whether she wants to or not. This practice transcends socio-economic class and religion, it is carried out at varying levels of expense in every section of society. I still have 20 untouched sarees in a closet in my house because when I insisted that I would never need them, I was given a list is “scientific” reasons why women need expensive sarees after they get married. It was given many names — love, culture, need, tradition — but to me it was and will always be, a cheque we may as well have set on fire. A forced imposition of material joy to achieve the goal of transforming a woman into married woman is not love, it’s an inability to listen to what a woman really wants and to tell her what love and relationships look like instead because relationships are expected to change us in predictable ways.

Marriage is meant to ground people, make them stable, and if you are an outspoken, always half-outraged sort of woman, it is expected to calm you down, and that calm is part of the appearance of the married woman that I and other women like me, don’t project. We don’t speak softly, we express our opinions in conversation, we don’t glance at our husbands to validate our opinions when standing together in a group, we participate in social interactions with people of all genders, and when they stand around a woman like that and communicate with her, they are unable to view her as married. They jump up in surprise and exclaim their horror at the idea.

“You don’t look married,” they tell you.

I wish they would tell me honestly what they mean by that because to me it sounds like they are saying something much more sinister. It sounds to me that they are telling me that I am not tagged as property. That I am not decorated as per my product description. That I am not representing as Hindu and therefore not real enough to be an Indian woman. That I am not being properly woman. That I seem to have retained the curse of an individual identity despite having had the ceremony to rob me of it.

That is insulting to me, and to the women who do “look” married, because it is not a look, it’s a legal status of being. If your legal status of being husband doesn’t come with a look, as a wife, why does mine?

How To Talk To Your Kids About Rape and Sexual Violence.

News about rape and sexual violence is more easily thrust in the faces of children now more than ever, and as guardians we may not always know what the best way to address that with them might be. We suggest specific, sensitive and well-researched tips on how to address rape and sexual violence with kids.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A few years ago while conducting a seminar for young girls on sexual violence, I asked them to share what they feared most about the environment in which they existed. Several of the young women shared that they feared they would be raped someday. One of them said specifically that thinking about the fact that the juvenile accused in the Nirbhaya gangrape case had been released made her feel anxious to walk the streets of Delhi because she felt like he might be anywhere around her, watching her, and she could be his next victim. A part of the seminar was to ask the young women what they thought rape was and based on their answers it became increasingly clear that they were unaware of what even (heteronormative, penetrative) sex actually entails.

Think about that for a moment.

In our country, right now, there are young girls (and boys) who have learnt about rape before we have even had the chance to give them a sexual education. The first information they have received about sex is evidence of rape around them and warnings that it might happen to them. There are adolescents walking around in fear of being raped, without even knowing what rape might actually entail. There are young girls whose lives are governed by the rules that are extended to them in the name of safety and they don’t even know who it is that might attack them, for what or why. It gives me pause each time I consider this.

I understand how this happens, I am a parent, and I know that these issues may be difficult to discuss with our children. While part of the problem is that we have been told repeatedly by various layers of social messaging that sex and all allied subjects should be shameful and difficult to discuss, the problem is actually bigger than that. In many ways in the past five years, rape culture has been forced onto our dinner tables whether we like it or not. We have had to say something to our children as silence becomes less and less of an option, but what do we say? That is the bigger problem. Many of us would love to have the discussion with our children, but how do we do it?

How do we discuss rape and sexual violence with our kids?

Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about rape and sexual violence:

Talk about sex before you talk about violence. A child’s formative sexual education should not contain ideas of violence because that will become associated with their understanding of their own sexuality. Don’t tell them, as many of our parents did, that this is a difficult discussion to have and as much as you can try to work past your own discomfort on the subject to keep it from passing on. Often children learn to understand situations by body language and tone, and if they pick up on your discomfort they will memorize sex as an uncomfortable subject. Try to end the cycle of shame.

Introduce rape and sexual violence as a subject that is a valuable part of discourse as opposed to a subject they need to understand only to keep themselves safe. Introduce it like you would any other criminal activity like theft or murder, and not as something that “just happens” in society. Teach them to be wary, not terrified of the world. The semantics of gendered violence necessitate that you must discuss the patriarchy, misogyny and sexism with your children and ultimately it is better for them if you have these discussions than if you tell them not to wear short skirts.

Don’t limit the subject to a single discussion. Don’t sit your kids down for one monumental discussion, instead open up a discourse on the subject which allows them to internalize things, develop ideas and come back to you with questions.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Don’t let their first information about rape come from the news, and if it does, address it more regularly at home from that point onwards than they might encounter in the news. Rape is a difficult topic and to a child who may not have a physical measure of sexuality yet, it can be difficult to understand the impetus for this crime and the nature of this violence. It is even more difficult for them to understand how politics might be connected to various highly publicized cases of rape, delink these things so the child may comprehend these issues without bias.

Be careful as to how you explain the why of rape. Any child is bound to wonder, but why does this happen? This is an important question and it is vital to teach them how to place the onus of responsibility for a crime. Rape happens because the criminal intent exists to commit sexual violence fuelled by the mostly-male entitlement to the female body. This is the why of rape.

Represent the victims of rape more thoroughly and as fairly as you do aspects of violence, law, safety or the media. Don’t tell children that victims of rape are “broken” or won’t ever be “whole again”. Victims of rape have undergone trauma and a confiscation of their physical autonomy, they are not broken. They might be dealing with trauma but they are not un-whole. It might have severe effects on their mental health and may cause PTSD that lasts for years. It is important to use the correct terms so your children learn to have empathy for victims, careful and measured language and how to formulatw their own opinions, as opposed to learning only fear of predators.

Don’t teach your kids to blame victims. Even in subtle ways, this can be dangerous. Statistically, rape victims are just as likely as society to blame themselves or the circumstances of rape for what happened as opposed to the predator.

Teach your kids how to identify predatory behaviour and red flags. Instead of teaching them karate (though of course, teach them karate too, just because it’s awesome and cool), teach them how to know when someone is making them uncomfortable and that they have the power to speak up and remove themselves from the situation. Sexual predators tend to prey on women and children who seem not to have an open outlet for discussion or a stable home life. They will make their victims feel special, try to alienate them from friends, take an active interest in their lives and test them by asking them to hide things or keep small secrets. Teach them to speak openly the moment they feel uncomfortable in a situation and believe them when they tell you about it. If you are in a position to do so, take action against this behaviour towards your child immediately so that your child knows that they can speak up anytime there is cause to do so and the situation will be rectified. Make sure your children know they are supported.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Learn together. There are many gaps in our knowledge of sexual violence. There is a tendency amongst adults to only study subjects when they are fed to us by the news or pop culture, and while we may know major cases of rape that have occurred around us, we are often without real resources. Find out more about rape culture, misogyny, rape law, victim services and redressal process alongside your child. Introduce them to women’s organisations that have worked in this field for years and learn alongside them. Centre for Social Research, Delhi, has been working for 50-years in the field of gendered violence and has a vast repository of information on their website.

Know the law. Teach the law. Empower your children, not with pepper spray, but with rights. Cover everything from age of consent to the process for medical examination to the Rape Bill 2014.

Teach consent actively and routinely. A great way to do this is with tickling (if you are the kind of family where you play tickling games, that is). Ask your kid permission before you tickle them, each time you do it, and encourage them to ask your permission to do it before they do it to you. Explain to them that they are entitled to rights over who touches their body and that those rights extend to everyone.

I know it is challenging to discuss these subjects with our children but ultimately nothing is more damaging on this subject than uncomfortable silence. End the uncomfortable silence.

A Comprehensive Guide To Body Hair Removal.

Step 1
Take a six week yoga course.

This should prepare you for the bending and stretching that is required to be able to reach every spot you wish to shave/epilate/wax. If you have stubborn hair growth, I recommend yin yoga as it will help you attain the muscle definition that allows you to hold impossible positions for a long period of time.

Step 2
(which if all goes according to plan should end in a little self loathing).

After your muscles are ready to assist you, crank up some Garbage, lose the clothing and stand in front of the mirror. At this point you will stop seeing the cute, pretty-in-the-right-light girl you think you are and instead start seeing a wild animal. You may also glance at a comb and wonder if you should just use that for hair maintenance instead of all the razors and wax and powders and creams.
Now you will want to take a short break to google: Is it possible that I am a human-bear hybrid?
It’s not. Just a hairy woman.

photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Step 3
The Motivational Song.

This may not be an actual song (not that it couldn’t actually be a song. If you’re a person who has an actual song that you sing to yourself, hopefully one you made up yourself, to motivate yourself to shave your legs, you’re awesome and you have won life and can now stop trying).
This is the step where you focus on the big reason.
Why are we doing this? The only way to make yourself start is to focus on this reason. Perhaps you want to wear a very cute tiny skirt? Or you just can’t go running in shorts with hairy legs? Maybe you want to go to the pool? Or it’s a sexual practice? Or you like running your fingers over smooth skin? Or you think body hair on women is offensive because an old lady once told you that at a water park? We’ve all met that same old-lady right?
Whatever your reason.

Step 4
Implementing The Yoga

After you have motivated yourself sufficiently, you may grab the implement of torture you have chosen. I suggest personally that you go for the hardest area first but honestly​ I imagine everyone has their deeply personal process of hair removal which they are entitled to and on that note you should probably check if the door is locked because you don’t want to have explain why you were in the wild child pose with one hand searching for lost treasure between your butt.

Step 5
Doing the math

At some point when you’ve somewhat settled into your routine and by the I mean made your peace with cutting yourself/burning yourself/pulling at your skin, you’ll start to wonder about how much money you have spent on removing hair from your body over the years. When I started, maybe I was 13, and I was sure, completely sure, that everyone was lying and there was no way I would have to do this for the rest of my life (or until I still cared). I am now jaded and my illusions of body hair just disappearing overnight lay shattered beneath the pile of hair I have been collecting for sixteen years. In those sixteen years I have spent so much money on this. How is this fair? Just how? Razors, creams, powders, epilators, wax, salons, therapy. This is way too much expense. How is this fair? I could have bought a house if I hadn’t spent this much money on hair removal. Oh wait I couldn’t have bought a house because I would have just spent the money on avocado toast.
Although I suppose this is ultimately my own decision and I should have to pay for it…

Step 6
The Awakening of The Feminist

…but is it my own decision really?

And then we’ll wonder.
As we should.
Why do we spend our energies on this? Why does it so often feel like it has to be done. Why don’t I see more women in movies with hairy legs (although, I see a lot of women on YouTube with hairy armpits and it makes me happy. I think we should start a “bare the armpit” movement. If one doesn’t already exist.
Body Hair Removal is so much harder than it should be. I feel like there shouldn’t be so much attached to it. It feels wrong everytime I do remove hair from​ my body. I have to tell myself, explain, that I only do it to promote self-interest. That I would happily wear a skirt without shaving my legs, because I should be able to do that. It shouldn’t​ be an agenda. And maybe someday we’ll get there. Maybe someday it won’t matter at all what we waxed and what you didn’t and what we wore and who saw what hair and how inappropriate it seemed and how women should be hairless for some insane reason.
But for now, we must get back to our hair removal process that we (okay, I) have undertaken to please a man.

Step 7
Checking for missed spots

While you’re dealing with all the emotional issues you have due to body hair (rolling my eyes at myself), you’ll fail to notice that you’re finally done. Once you lay yourself down from the shoulder stand, you will need to check whether you missed any spots.
To be honest I have never ever performed this step. You’re on your own on this one.

Step 8
Post Business Shower

After you’ve completing the ordeal you just undertook, you I’ll want to take a shower. Under the warm water you will feel so beautiful in all your glorious hairlessness. Your skin will feel so nice and soft and your heart will be full of warmth and achievement.
But don’t worry.
Your head will interject.
And we will wonder.
Why do we do this?
And what does it mean.
And then, thirteen minutes later when the hair starts to grow back, we’ll wonder and hope, maybe there won’t have to be a next time because something magical will happen?
Or maybe they’ll invent some kind of gadget where I can just push a button and make it all happen in one second? Or better yet a gadget that renders all this grooming unnecessary by changing all social norms associated with women overnight? Is anyone working on this? I know it’s not the NCW.

Deconstructing Outrage: Is Protesting Cases Like Hathras In The Streets Ultimately Defeating The Purpose of Battling Rape Culture?

Every few months we hear of a brutal case of gangrape that involves a gruesome level of violence and we leave our houses to protest the injustice of it. Ultimately the nature and timing of our outrage creates this monolithic image of a rape victim and abandons the majority of rape survivors. Ranjhana Kumari of CSR weighs in on how outrage might be part of the reason why we are losing the fight against rape culture.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

We sat together on the bleachers on a Sunday. The school was closed but some of the students had been called in for a self-defence seminar that we were there to film for a news feature.

“How do you think the Nirbhaya case changed your life?” I asked her.
“I think the main thing is that now we talk about it,” she said adjusting her white headband, “Before this we didn’t used to talk about rape and violence, even when it made us angry it was on the inside.”

I wondered how much a fourteen-year old could remember of rape cases before that one.
“What made you most angry about it then?” I asked her.
“The way they treated her… It makes me so scared to live in this city thinking about how much rape there is,” She said, clearly still traumatized like many of us by the details of the case even though it had been almost five years, “The violence and the cruelty, how can we allow women to be treated this way?”

It’s a good question. It’s one I have asked too ever since the first time someone told me not to do something because I was a girl. It’s one I have continued to ask in more nuanced forms as I grew older. It’s one I find harder and harder to answer, but the young girl I was talking to seemed convinced that the reason this treatment of women has continued to this day is because we hadn’t been talking about it until then. She is right to a certain degree, we overwhelmingly agreed as a country after December 16, 2012 that the events of that day were going to end the silence. The discussion of rape was going to be brought out to the dinner tables, intersections and drawing rooms of the country. The outrage was palpable, and more than justified, since after decades of telling each other to just adjust, we finally had the stage to scream our grievances and pain in response to eons of system violence.

The answer to the question of whether things have gotten better since then remains ambiguous. It would be foolish to deny that legislative change has taken place or that awareness of women’s rights and issues has been expanded. It would also be naïve to discount that a movement that openly and dedicatedly counters women’s liberty has also become more active in response to women’s voices taking the fore instead of our silent suffering. However it is not possible to say that rape has decreased

in our country nor that the possibility of a death penalty has made rapists less brazen in their use of violence. Since Nirbhaya, we’ve risen up in arms as a country a few more times. We did it with Mumbai, Badaun, Unnao, Kathua, Hyderabad and most recently we did it for Hathras. Each one of these cases has a few things in common — They are all cases of gangrape that got a tonne of media attention, unnatural levels of brutality and violence were applied in each case and in many of them the victims succumbed to their injuries.

The nature of each of these cases begs the question: Is it rape culture that makes us angry or individual instances of horrific violence?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 32,033 cases of rape were registered in the year 2019 and while the exact number of cases that involved battery is unknown, only a handful of these cases gained national attention last year. In 2017, NCRB also reported that only 6.9% (of the 30299) cases reported that year were cases of stranger-rape and in 93.1% of the cases the rapist was known to the victim. In 10, 553 of these cases the victim and the rapist were friends, partners or living together. Only a small number of these cases led to hospitalizations and a miniscule fraction to death, and while the cases involving murder have risen over the past five years (by almost 30%), they are still, as the statistics go, “rare” cases. However these rare cases of rape are the ones that are more often discussed, protested and serve as the hook to into a discussion of rape culture.

From a certain standpoint, it makes sense. The cases of gangrape, which average roughly 16% of rape cases reported in 2019, tend to be more violent and have a higher tendency to result in death which certainly moves one more to action by the sheer act of shocking our sensibilities. In these cases of violent rape and murder, it is also harder for the victim to choose not to report the incident because they might have already been reported missing, died or in need of medical treatment. The press can report on all cases of rape, and sometimes do, but because of the trainwreck syndrome the ones that get more attention tend to be these cases where gruesome violence has been committed. It’s the ill of a news peg too, without it we wouldn’t be able to ask young schoolgirls about their feelings on rape. We are taught to use real-time incidents to strike up conversations about issues that may have persisted for a long time and with good reason, often in the absence of a news peg one wouldn’t be very interested in reading about rape and violence.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

The problem with our response to these stories is multi-pronged. As a trigger reaction we protest to demand justice in the case at hand, something that absolutely should be delivered, and as a long-term reaction we internalize the fear of how unsafe our surroundings are and teach our girls more and more techniques of being safe sometimes even using these cased of brutal rape as the cautionary tales. Even when we understand that putting the onus of safety on the potential victims is counterproductive, we still do it because we are scared. We are scared for our friends, our daughters and our partners and we believe we can arm them with whistles and keys against a culture that objectifies them. While gangrape is certainly not a scare-tactic, it works well as one, and it paints a certain picture of rape in our minds.

I often ask people to try this: Paint a picture of what you think rape is, visually, in your head and then describe it. Overwhelmingly, the victim is female, there is more than one perpetrator and there is an escalated level of physical violence. Due to the nature and timing of coverage and outrage in response to rape in India, we have painted a monolithic narrative when it comes to rape. We have narrowed it to a specific image.
How does this happen?

There are organisations that work on these issues all year,” says Ranjhana Kumari of Centre for Social Research, a group dedicated since 1973 to creating a society free of gendered violence, “The cases that get attention are the ones that are picked up by the media or politicised by the local authorities, and those issues get the limelight either because of the extreme brutality or because politics takes over the issue. Everything else continues to get pushed into the background.”

Ultimately this image and this metered, timed outrage might be part of the reason why we are unable to tackle rape culture as a whole in this country. We have built an image of a rape victim which reduces them to only a helpless, broken creature that has been attacked or killed, an image we can both comfortably rally around and politicise, and because of that when we are confronted by victims who do not fit the narrative, we are not only less likely to believe them, we are also more likely to question aspects of their behaviour and personality to determine why or if they were raped. There are various forms and types of rape. A woman might be raped by a person she trusted and loved, but when confronted by this, we might question the veracity of her claim because after all, wasn’t she already seeing him and maybe this is just a lover’s spat? A young girl might be coerced by a boy she met online and grew to like, but if she is raped, will we outrage or decided we need to keep young girls away from computers? A woman may be raped by her own husband, something our law refuses to recognize as a crime. A woman might be raped by a man because she tried to end her relationship with him. A woman might be kept silent not by way of violence but by threat of exposure or fear of being disbelieved. A woman might be raped for years by the same man, and even end up married to him. In most of these instances, if they do come to light, we are less likely to believe victims, more likely to shame them and much, much less likely to lead a protests around town. Does that mean these forms of rape are less serious or more likely to be the woman’s fault?

The greatest disservice that we do to our women is to make it harder for them to be believed or speak up when they are faced with sexual assault, which almost 80% of the women in our country claim to have experienced in some form. The greatest impediment to speaking out when faced with sexual violence is the environment and we live in an environment where one’s experience must be measured, qualified and fact-checked by an archaic methodology before being ratified as the truth. There is base- level qualification, in that if something we consider “minor” happens, like an uncomfortable interaction with your boss or men calling out to you in the street, we tell the victims to ignore it. That is best and safest. If someone touches you or “outrages your modesty”, the most common advice is to cut off contact and increase the safety measure you apply everyday, and after a safe amount of time has passed, to examine your behaviour and see what you might have done to encourage it. If you claim to have been raped, and you choose to report it, you must prove that claim. That makes sense however unless you go have yourself examined immediately, which apparently is what any decent Indian woman would do right after being raped, there are fewer chances of evidence being found on or in your body. However one can be raped without their body or genitals showing signs of distress, it is medically proven that a woman might display clincal signs of arousal during rape and that is why a woman’s vagina is not where we should be looking for proof of consent. Also not all rape involves battery or confinement, in fact most rape doesn’t, and it is not necessary we will find signs of violence on the body of the victim. Legally, the deck is stacked against the victim in a manner reminiscent of the social environment.

“A medical examination of the victim is conducted as soon as the police are notified of rape however there no necessary psychological evaluation by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist, a “reasoned” report must be prepared by the investigating officer who should give precedence to whether the victim was consenting or not, as well as an evaluation of the physical state,” says high court lawyer Sumit Chander, “Section 164(A) mandates that a note be taken of the mental condition of the victim but no psychological evaluation is mandated by law, it would be very hard to prove a case where there were only psychological signs of rape and no physical signifiers.”

Legally a conviction is more likely, but not guaranteed, in cases where there is physical proof of rape and that remains part of the reason why rape reporting as well as rape-convictions in our country have historically been abysmally low. Even legally, unless a rape victim is able to fit into the medico-socially drawn out narrative of being a rape victim, their chances at justice are slim. Convictions for crime against women stand at 19% according to the NCRB data in 2016. All of this is not a function of the small percentage of gangrape and murder cases that cause 90% of our outrage, it is part of a culture of minimising the value of a woman’s voice and ensuring the male-entitlement to female bodies continues unchecked when we are no longer feeling the urge to go down to India Gate and scream.

At the end of the day, outrage and protest have their purpose, and in this case the purpose has been determined to ensure swifter justice in cases of brutal, murderous rape and call out blatant violations of legal protocol. Outrage is not an efficient or complete method for tackling rape culture as a whole because outrage minimises the nature of rape, the narratives of victims and the socially sanctioned environment created by the patriarchy to allow gender based disparity to continue, utimately creating an environment that is socially and legally less trusting of victims and less likely to work in their favour if they do not meet the standard requirment of qualifying as a victim. Systemic legal and social change comes from constant effort, and not fits of anger that manifest in an outpouring of emotions every six- months that lay forgotten when your neighbour tells you she felt harassed by the grocer, and you secretly feel like she might have asked for it by being unnecessarily flirtatious.

Because the rapes don’t stop once our candles burn out and we return to our homes, they continue, quietly conducted without physical “harm” by people who often know us. The rape victims don’t stop screaming, then why do we?

My College Charges Women More Tuition Fees Than Men, but Really Have All Women Been Overcharged for Higher Education?

The Government Degree College in Udhampur has been charging women Rs. 600 more in tuition fees than it does men but with the disproportionate cost of accessibility, transport, accommodation, technology and attire incurred by women in pursuit of a higher education, have we all been overcharged for an education?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Government Degree College, Udhampur. Photo by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Like many other students in the world, I paid my tuition for college online this year. While online payment is a common feature in private colleges, many government colleges in India still require cheques, challans or cash payments and as a result one may not be privy to the complete details of the fee-structure prior to paying it. As I loaded the payment portal a menu appeared before me, it contained a list of courses and the amount of fees to be paid which was classified by gender. In every course, the boys’ fees was listed as Rs. 600 lower than the girls’ fees. I contacted my professors and the accounts department to seek an explanation for this and was told that the girls were required to pay a bus-fees that amounted to Rs. 600 that the boys were exempt from paying. My professors explained that while they agree that this is wrong, it was likely the result of a clerical oversight and not an attempt to hinder women’s education. 

The Government Degree College of Udhampur, which is an off-campus site of Jammu University, was founded as a boys’ college in 1961 even though right off the bat they also accepted female students. It was officially registered as a co-ed college fifteen-years ago but women have been educated here right from the beginning. Due to the nature of the college’s registration they were only able to provide hostel accommodation for boys which led them to introduce a bus-service for the women and the fees for that was incorporated into the tuition on a mandatory basis for all girls whether they took the bus or not. Maybe two-decades ago only women (and each one of them, at that) availed the bus service and every single boy lived in the hostel, no one is able to confirm or deny this to me, but that is certainly no longer the case. Less than half the boys in the college now live in the hostel and less than 25% of the women actually take the bus to college, yet boys continue to enjoy a lower fees and the girls continue to compulsorily pay for a bus they may not take. At no point was the bus presented as an opt-in service for women and at no point were boys disallowed from using the service they were never asked to pay for. I was told that if I raised a fuss, I could probably get that money refunded to me, but why should I have to be refunded the price of injustice after having paid it? What if the price of injustice isn’t refundable? It often isn’t. 

A screenshot of the fees payment portal at GDC, Udhampur.

In this, my college is a minority, you would be hard-pressed to find an institution in India in this day and age that monetarily charges women more in fees for higher-education than it does men, but the real cost of a college-education is almost always  higher for women in India. 

Over the past ten years we have made a tremendous amount of progress with regard to the number of women who attend college and Graduate School in India, women now dominate almost 70% of M.Phil courses in India and the number of women who opt for a college education has risen 7% over the past decade. While this does signify that education has become more accessible to women over the years, this accessibility is more likely to be caused by a growing number of institutions, a social shift in perspective or the disposable income of an expanding middle-class. Despite the fact that in most cases women pay fees at par with men or sometimes at a subsidized rate, in the long run, women end up paying more money in the cause of being educated than men. 


A woman is less likely (to be allowed) to move out of her parent’s house to go to college, which means she is more likely to have to commute longer distances to get to college on a daily basis incurring a higher transportation cost than someone who has the facility and freedom to move to be a place nearby. This problem is even more significant in rural areas where colleges are located in various ends of the district and many students travel hours everyday to get to their classes despite the lack of regular, reliable public transport. In bigger cities, women are more likely to opt for more expensive options like cabs, autos and chartered buses which cost more but are safer, instead of public transport which is cheaper but where your chances of being groped are moderate to high. 

In cases where women do move across states and cities to attend college, they encounter the additional hurdle of accommodation. There are fewer women’s hostels across the country than there are boys hostels even though in most (non-engineering) colleges the sex-ratio of students is more or less equal. Additionally, girls’ hostels are less likely to be granted funds by the University Grants Commission (UGC). In 2017, it was discovered by Pinjara Tod activists in Delhi that Hindu College, Delhi University (DU), was charging a fees of Rs. 90000 a year for the girls hostel as opposed to the Rs. 58000 charged by the boy’s hostel. This discrepancy was attributed to the lack of funds provided to the girls’ hostel by UGC. This practice in common in various states in India including Karnataka, New Delhi and Gujarat. However, this only applies if you get into the hostel. Due to the limited capacity of hostels, admission into them is likely to be merit based and subject to an interview that often contains an evaluation of the morality and character of the student applying. A very small percentage of women who attend a top-tier institution are able to gain admission into the hostel. 

In the absence of the hostel facility, women are left to either opt for rented accommodation or Paying Guest (PG) facilities. While for a boy the primary factor that determines choice in this matter is price, for a woman it is more likely to be safety. Apartments in safer, gated localities tend to be more expensive. Landlords are also less likely to rent to single, young women which severely limits choice and often ends with women having to make the more expensive, safer and more restrictive choice. Girls are also less likely to join lunch-homes or messes which continue to be a male-domianted space of affordable food. The strict curfews in place in women’s hostels and PGs disallow them from being dining-in members in neighbourhood messes that litter college-towns, especially in South India. Women in this situation are more likely to either eat in the college canteens, avail a home-delivery based tiffin service, order in or sign up for the dining service at the PG itself, all of which are more expensive than messes. 

Even women’s attire ends up costing them more than the required men’s attire to attend college. Colleges are increasingly more likely to have dress-codes and while male dress-codes are usually limited to shirts and trousers, women’s dress-codes are  usually more stringent and require more pieces of clothing to be more. More fabric is more money, it’s that simple. Where I got my bachelor’s degree in Bangalore, women had to wear kurtas, salwars and dupattas. There were specific guidelines for the nature of the salwars. Leggings, which are much cheaper, were banned because the shape of a woman’s legs is apparently offensive to society. Even when colleges have uniforms, the women’s uniform is not only more likely to be more expensive but also to require more alterations and have more pieces than the men’s uniform. We must also add to that the fact that women’s attire is held to a higher standard than men’s attire. Once in my college, a professor chastised a female student for being “shabby” because she was wearing a faded kurta. A male student was never, to my knowledge, required to always have sparkling new clothes. Even when colleges have festivals and functions, the women are expected to be attired in elaborate cultural costumes whereas men can continue to attend all functions in essentially the same clothes as they wear to class. 

Aside from this female students are also less likely to have technological access. Technology and the internet have significantly reduced the cost incurred when getting an education. With the vast repository of information, research and course material available online, the cost of education has only become more and more manageable over the years. However, in India, only 29% of internet users are female. Women are more likely to have only controlled access to technology, and to be trained only to use specific applications. In fact, a few places have even gone as far as to demonize the use of mobile phones and the internet by women. In 2015, the Jhajjar district in Haryana places a ban on women using mobile phones (or wearing jeans). In 2017, a Khap Panchayat in Mathura announced a Rs. 2100 fine on any woman seen using a cellphone outside her house. Even in the familial structure women’s devices are more likely to be surveilled, checked and/or dispensed to them as an infrequent privilege. As a result women are more likely to have to buy textbooks or photocopy them after borrowing them from the college library which are notoriously understocked all over the country. 

Ultimately the cost of education is not just limited to tuition fees. My college may be charging us an extra amount in fees because of a grossly negligent and sexist clerical oversight, but overall we might have all been disproportionately robbed as women in the pursuit of a higher education.

Why the “adjust and compromise” principle has more to do with divorce than marriage in India.

Despite the commonly held misconception that marriages are breaking like biscuits in India, we still have the lowest rate of divorce in the world because of the tedious and demoralising process of divorce that encourages “adjustment and compromise” as much as the Sima aunties of the country.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Unless you’re living under the boulder of oppression in an enforced internet lockdown, you would have seen Indian Matchmaking by now. The recently aired Netflix reality show follows Sima Taparia from Mumbai as she navigates the marital needs of Indian singles all over the world to help find them a suitable match. Almost oblivious to the actual requirements of her clients Sima preaches the gospel of “adjustment and compromise” to her clients while securing potential matches for them based almost purely on community, socio-economic status and attractiveness. Her attempt to play cupid often has her dealing with reluctant clients whose numerous rejections of her biodatas reveal a generation that seems more afraid of marriage than any that has come before it. Perhaps as an attempt to demonstrate that this age-old methodology of finding a mate is more effective than an independent pursuit of love, her interactions with the confused youth are interspersed with short interviews with couples who have been “happily” married for decades,

The older couples joke about how little they knew of one another before they tied the knot and how little it took for them to decide they were in the presence of “the one”. One gentleman said it was a cake his wife baked that settled the matter for him. It’s not rare to hear stories like that in India. My mother once told me that she decided to marry my father because she found out his family had a VCR and she thought it would be nice to be able to watch movies all day. While the reason to marry for most being overwhelmingly a parental decision that “it was time”, the older, more experienced couples on the show all agree that the cornerstone of marriage is as Sima says: Adjustment and Compromise.

To anyone who has grown up in India or under the influence of Indian culture, this notion is hardly new. We’ve all heard it from our parents, our married friends and our relatives but there’s a part of our collective belief that we leave unsaid: “Adjust and compromise, because a martyred and unfulfilled version of you is more acceptable than a divorced one.” Ultimately in a discussion of successful marriage we must talk about the potential for its failure. The failure of marriage is not something we take lightly as Indians. That reflects in the fact that even today less than 1% of Indian marriages result in divorce making us a country with one of the lowest rates of divorce in the world. Sima aunty may think that marriages are breaking like biscuits in India these days but in that she is discounting the most faithful ally to her policy of adjustment and compromise: Divorce law in India.

Divorce is not a right in India. It is a privilege that the court may grant to you if you are able to justify your need for it under the grounds stipulated by law some of which include cruelty, desertion, conversion of religion and voluntary sexual intercourse with another. If you file for divorce by mutual consent, you must still do so under acceptable grounds by filling a divorce petition in the form of an affidavit, after which you must undergo mandatory mediation and wait a six-month period of contemplation before the divorce is granted. As part of the divorce petition you must state that you have been counselled by the elders of your family buy you are still unable to work through your issues. Essentially the law seeks to ensure that a council of Simas and Preetis have had their go at reinstating your commitment to adjustment before you go too far on a path that undermines the sanctity of social commitment to death doing you part. The case of non-consenual divorce is even harder. With the process taking anywhere from two to fifteen years, your divorce is never guaranteed until granted. After hearing your reasoning and evidence for the grounds for divorce, the court may still reject your appeal for a divorce.

While lawyers in India may be more affordable than elsewhere in the world, the process of divorce is so long and prone to legal delays that it ends up costing a price too high to bear to avail a divorce. Even while availing a divorce with mutual consent, settling financial affairs in the aftermath of forever is an expensive affair. The legal process of divorce in India has been set up in the interest of preserving the sanctity of marriage, rather than an interest in the individuals who might be suffering through one. Marriage is sacred and the people within one may be sacrificed to the cause. The process is intentionally designed to take longer than it needs and as a result even if you have ended a relationship, you are rendered unable to move on because a part of you is forcefully tethered to the past you must confront routinely with lawyers and judges.

And even if you are among that 1% of people who not only want a divorce but have actually availed one, you are likely to be viewed socially as a cautionary tale for what happens when the institution of adjustment and compromise fails. Even Indian Matchmaking proves this in its treatment of the optimistic and independent single-mother, Rupam. In conversation with her about her prior entanglement, Sima shows no sympathy at the revelation of infidelity by Rupam’s previous husband. Instead she wastes no time in informing her of the “hard fact” that as a divorced woman her opportunity pool for lasting happiness is small. Rupam’s father refers vehemently to his daughter’s past “mistake” as he urges her to turn down the prospect of a man previously divorced from an American woman. The treatment of Rupam is mild in comparison to the actual social treatment of divorcees in India.

One of my closest friends divorced rather young and the attachment of that tag to her baggage has rendered dating seriously all but impossible. Men are happy to go out with her, but most of them are unable to confront the possibility of taking a divorced woman home to meet their parents. I, myself, am married to a divorced man and have often been told that settling for him was a compromise on my part. We’re encouraged to keep the fact of his divorce quiet so as to not offend anyone. My husband and my friend are encouraged to hide their truth because they represent a possible failure of the Indian arranged marriage system that Sima would have us laud as serendipitous.

Ultimately the success of the construct of Indian arranged marriage is less about family values, astrologers, parental influence or timing than the fact that we are taught through example and scandal that the social and financial cost of ending a marriage is too high to consider bearing. So what do you do when you can’t get out of the marriage that was chosen for you? You adjust, compromise and call that a successful relationship because it lasted three decades. Marriages in India aren’t breaking like biscuits. Unless it is a gold biscuit you’re trying to snap in half with your bare hands. Perhaps that is why none of the couples featured on the show carried on their engagements. Perhaps a deep-rooted awareness of the near-impossibility of exiting a marriage has India’s youth stopping at the altar because you don’t have to get out of a covenant you never joined.

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.