While Acquitting Tarun Tejpal, India Convicted All Its Women.

The Sessions Court in Goa acquitted Tarun Tejpal of all charges in an 8-year old case of sexual assault. As part of the proceedings the victim was put on trial, her sexual history and lifestyle choices were all put on trial. To be a worthy victim in India, you must be immaculate or dead, and I wonder, what is India telling its victims with that?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Tarun Tejpal was acquitted of all charges. As far as the news cycle goes, this is old-news now and we’ve moved on to op-ed pieces about it. I remember when this first started eight years ago. I remember the day the news broke that Tarun Tejpal had been accused of rape and sexual assault. I loved Tehelka. I read every issue and amongst my limited possessions was a stack of them that I took from city-to-city. There were many issues I re-read on lazy Sunday afternoons and those I referenced repeatedly for my own research. My favourite thing about Tehelka back then was that they were out there covering the epidemic of rape in our country before Nirbhaya ever happened. There weren’t many people doing that back then, it wasn’t the hot-button issue it is now. When this happened I was halfway through journalism school and it was very clear to me what I wanted to do with that degree. I wanted to work for Tehelka and cover rape. That day I learnt the danger of having idols, which is not to say there weren’t other excellent journalists working for that organisation that exists even today, but it still shook me. I didn’t want to believe it. How could the person whose organisation was instrumental in teaching me about the injustice of sexual violence in our country be another (alleged) predator?

Of course it isn’t my job to acquit or convict but as far as sexual violence goes I’ve always had a simple philosophy: I believe the victim. There are cases where I am wrong to do that but in the grand scheme of things those cases are far fewer than the ones where I am right. Still, we had to wait for the judicial process to play out, and now it has. The judicial process has spoken and acquitted Tejpal of all charges. Now, I am not a lawyer though I am fairly well-versed the laws governing rape and sexual violence in India, and I understand that it’s not my place to speak for the guilt or innocence of a person, so I won’t. According to the court, Tejpal is innocent. I can’t say anything about that. However, I would like to talk about the process that determined his innocence. The finding of the court was based on reasonable doubt and that is, I suppose, reasonable but it is not reasonable to say that this was a fair trial, because from all accounts of the proceedings, it isn’t clear who exactly was on trial.

It is the position of the court that the victim did not behave like a victim. That her behaviour did not exhibit that she had undergone any trauma. Further it is the contention of the court that because of her position as an expert on rape law and the coverage of rape, she would have been easily able to fabricate a believable story. Ironic, since they didn’t believe it. The trial court even revealed her identity in their judgement, which is against Indian law. They questioned her solidarity with other victims of rape, presenting it as a bias, and her alleged that her knowledge, writing, independence and communication skills made her testimony unreliable. They also discussed her sexual history, fantasies and admitted gossip about her sexuality into the judgement. She is blamed for just saying no and not screaming instead. She was asked to qualify her morality by declaring whether she believes sex with multiple partners, smoking and consuming alcohol to be immoral acts. They asked her how long her dress was and whether she got on her knees. Finally, she is characterized as someone who twists and manipulates the truth.

Can someone say preposterous? Honestly, I cannot speak to whether Tejpal is innocent or not, but I do wonder, why weren’t all these questions asked of him instead? Surely the sexual fantasies or history of an alleged predator might be more telling than those of the victim, and that’s what it is really about, it’s about how we treat victims in India and you can harp on about how things have gotten so much better but they haven’t. The truth is and I say this often, that there is only one kind of rape victim in India that sees justice, and that is a dead victim. Short of that, you have to be immaculate to be qualified as sanskari enough for justice. The process by which the court arrived at its judgement in this case is telling and it is telling a terrible tale.

It is saying that you have to exhibit your trauma in a prescribed format if you want to qualify as a victim. This comes up regularly, it came up a while ago when a judge refused to believe a rape-claim because the victim went to sleep before she filed a complaint and apparently no Indian woman would do that. If you are a woman whose response to being assaulted is not breaking down publically, seeking therapy, exhibiting dysfunctional behaviour, crying throughout the testimony then you are not believable. If you are a woman who hopes to find healing by acquiring justice instead of cutting yourself, you are not believable. That’s what this process is saying.

It is saying that your sexual history is indicative of how truthful you are about alleged sexual assault. If you have fantasies, fantasies of force or restraint, then it’s not possible for you to be raped. This is a tale as old as time, only virgins are raped after all. It never occurs to Indian society that we endanger sexually liberated women even more by repeatedly refusing to believe they could be raped because they’ve had sex before, indicating to predators that it legally better to take advantage of a “loose” woman because no one will believe her anyway. A woman who does not pass the purity test does not deserve justice because no one sent the courts the memo on agni pariksha being a thing of mythology and misguided fiction which is not admissible in the process of justice. It’s saying that it’s best we teach our daughters not to have premarital sex because if they do they won’t be believed when they are raped. That’s what it is saying.

It is saying that women who are experts, well-spoken, independent and professional cannot be trusted. There isn’t even a veil here, it outrightly states that the Indian sensibility cannot bring itself to trust an intelligent, articulate woman. This line of questioning is nothing but a witch-hunt for westernised women who speak English and wear dresses, because we hate that. We hate women who don’t succumb and learn silence. We hate women who assert their accomplishments and speak their expertise. I can guarantee if instead of a woman there was a man who was an expert on rape law on trial it would work in his favour instead. Women who speak their mind, stand up for the truth and do so while refusing to embody any visibly “Indian” indicators of culture are not trustworthy. You can condemn that but think about it, when you tell your kids not to talk to someone too much, what does that woman look like?

It is saying that if you accuse someone of rape, it is perfectly reasonable for the court to put your behaviour and life choices up for trial. If you drink, smoke, have sex, wear short dresses or date openly, you are not moral enough for our society to protect. We all love to say we don’t shame victims but most of us do it everyday, a woman doesn’t have to be a victim of rape to not be condemned for her choices, and if you see a woman smoking in the street and think of her as immoral, she doesn’t need to be raped for you to be part of the problem. Legal questioning such as this only enforces the idea that women’s behaviour needs to be policed.

As far as I am concerned, Tehelka died many years ago. My hero fell almost a decade ago. Today, all I lost was another piece of my faith in another bastion I hold dear, the Indian judicial system. We may as well replace it with a group of middle aged uncles who stare at your boobs in the park and aunties who tell you to lose weight so you can get married, because that is how it is behaving. India is not here for its women. We’re on our own.

I Will Not Teach My Stepson To Hide His Parents’ Divorce.

While preparing an introduction for an event at school my stepson was told not to reference his stepmother because it is “inappropriate” to do so. In India we encourage secrecy about everything that deviates from the norm but teaching children to hide divorce hurts them more than you realise.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I have a ten-year old stepson. While the arrangement is rare, my husband has had permanent custody of the child since he was seven. For the most part, in India, custody is retained by and favoured to the mother but in their case, she chose to hand it over and my partner wanted it. So a few years into our relationship, his son came to live with us. There are no Bollywood-style twists in this story; I didn’t have to overcome my anger to “accept” the child, he didn’t hate me and then start to like me a little, I didn’t dislike him and then start to feel concern when he was sick one time. None of that stuff happened. None of that stuff is an accurate or real representation of anyone who might find themselves in this situation. That’s not what we have to protect our children from.

Let me tell you what kind of situation may arise in real life.

A year or so ago, right before the pandemic hit, my stepson was graduating from junior school. I don’t think that’s actually referred to as a graduation but I don’t know what else to call it. As part of the process, their school organised a farewell party. At this party each child was required to say a few words about themselves. The kid wrote his introduction. It read,

‘My name is Slow Eater (named changed). I am 9-years old. I live in Hell on Earth (name changed to be more accurate) with my father and my stepmother. In my holidays, I enjoy visiting my mother on the farm. I like football, cycling and playing with my cats. My favourite book so far is the St. Claires series by Enid Blyton (because I am young, and I don’t see the racism in it yet : that wasn’t actually part of it but warrants saying).

According to him, what he had written was extremely ordinary, and I agree. I corrected the grammar for him and helped him practise his introduction. The next day he was supposed to practice it at school with his classmates and teachers. When he came back he told me that his teacher had asked him to re-write his introduction because it was “not appropriate”. Apparently she had told him there was no need to mention his stepparent because that was private. He asked me why having a mother or father wasn’t private, but having a stepmother was, and to be perfectly honest, I do not have an answer to that question that makes an iota of rational sense. Until that point we had been raising him to understand divorce but never feel like it made him less than others. We talked about why marriages end and how sometimes that is the better path than an unhappy life for all involved. We taught him that love was most important when it came to marriage and without that, it’s not worth the lifetime of unhappiness. Most importantly we taught him that it was normal, and the legal process to attain a divorce existed because it was normal to want to end a marriage that wasn’t working. We wanted to shelter him from the stigma but also to remove the stigma. We decided right at the beginning that we would never hide any of this as many people encouraged us to do. I would never “pretend” to be his mother and we would never keep our lives so secret it starts to control us entirely. We thought that was a solid strategy aimed at ending the shame and healing from the trauma.

That day, however, we had to teach him something different.

Obviously, our first response was to contact the school and the teacher. See, I get it, she isn’t used to this. I get it. I get that even today in India the divorce rate is 1% and having a classmate with divorced parents (and auxillary parents) is extremely rare outside of urban clusters, and even when it isn’t, people hide that information and teach their children to do the same. I understand that she may have been taken aback by my stepson’s shame-free admission of his parental situation. She expected him to know he should hide that, and maybe she assumed he hadn’t run it past an adult who would have taught him why to hide that, and she believed it fell to her to teach him the shame. She apologized immediately once we explained that we had a problem with what she had done. We explained that she had introduced to the child a feeling that he wasn’t normal, and that his living situation wasn’t normal either. By telling him that admitting to his parents divorce was inappropriate, she had made him feel like his existence was inappropriate. Her reception was generally kind, compassionate and apologetic, however her explanation was less so. She said,

“I understand you want to protect your child, but we also have to protect the other children.”

Now, our kid isn’t doing drugs, he isn’t acting violently, he isn’t bullying other students, all he did was say he has a stepmother. She wanted to protect other students from that information. That’s part of the agenda of the conformist nature of Indian normalcy. We love to believe that things like divorce, pre-marital sex and live-in relationships only happen in the West. That is “Western” culture and it is in direct contradiction to Indian culture. When faced with real-life Indian examples of these things we feel a moral responsibility to hide them because we believe in doing so we are preserving indian culture and keeping the outliers where they belong, in the fringes of society. It didn’t go so well when I explained that to the teacher, but when I suggested we speak to the principal she agreed to let our kid do his speech as prepared. The next day he went to school ready to practice his speech, when he came back I asked how it went and he informed me that they had cancelled that part of the event.

I don’t know for sure that they cancelled it to avoid the situation of letting him refer to his divorced parents in his speech, I cannot prove that they did, but I would believe it. It’s very Indian to call the whole thing off because one tiny detail offends our sensibilities. That’s not the point though. The point is that in real life, where we often say that partners who are unhappy with their marriages should stay together for the sake of the children, we also conspire to make things worse for the children who do actually find themselves with divorced parents. The social punishment is applicable to all and is often applied so thoughtlessly. Other times, it is applied as concern. For instance, at our wedding. My partner and I got married several years after we started living together, and eight months after we started living with the child. It just made sense to us that everyone involved have the opportunity to really get to know each other. It’s not just a lifetime commitment between the two of us when there is a child involved, you’re also making thay promise to the child, and that shouldn’t blindside them. Of course, as a result of him knowing me well and living with us by the time we got married, he was at the wedding. People were concerned. My family is extraordinarily familiar with me and they know anything can turn into a socio-political rally on the spot so they would never say things to me outrightly. Instead I heard,

“There’s no need to go out of your way to tell people that is your husband’s child. He’ll be there, he’s a member of our family, but you don’t need to broadcast it to everyone.”

See my thing is that I never broadcast things, I reference them too casually for the people of our country. That’s not okay with people. If I presented my stepchild as a shameful revelation it would gain me more sympathy than how I reference him like he’s real, actual part of my life on a daily basis. If I kept him secret, more people would understand than they do now. However, the one who suffers there is the child. We pretend we do this because we care about the child but children internalise how people treat them, and when a child feels like they or their parental unit ought to be secret, they feel ashamed of themselves. That shame grows up with them alongside a longing for a detrimental normalcy. I could never do that to a child. You shouldn’t be able to do that either. The truth doesn’t hurt, deception does, and persevering the Indian sensibility is not worth hurting my child. If that’s inappropriate to you, close your ears to the world around you and continue hating on the West. See if that protects you.

India Hates Love A Lot More Than It Hates Sex.

We have all heard that India is a sex-negative country but it also has the much more dangerous distinction of being a love-negative country. The right to fall in love in India is shrouded in constrains of religion, caste, lifestyle and wealth, and even when we aren’t forced to marry within the norm, we do it. Why do we do it?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

My friend once told me about something that baffled him so immensely he rolled over in my meticulously-made, ash-covered bed for a full minute before I could respond. It was something he had come across on a Tamil debate series. A young man, arguing in the favour of a hybridised version of arranged and love marriages, said that he could choose to marry anyone but if it was someone outside of his caste, he couldn’t even imagine being attracted to her in the first place. He saw this set-up as a free-decision based on love, whereas my friend saw it as an arranged marriage where you could choose out of a series of pre-approved women, and you may like one of them more than the other but it’s not free love. In their own mind, I suppose they are both right, but overall, I see a fundamental flaw in their equivocation. Marriage in India is not about love. Nothing in India is about love.

In the deeply insulated leftist schisms of liberalism that we populate, we often talk about the struggle of living in a country that is so fundamentally sex-negative, and don’t get me wrong, it really is. When I was a teenager and starting to date (I made a series of truly spectacular choices in terms of men, a real who’s who of human garbage), a cousin I was close to told me that it was fine to date, even though she insisted that I was too young to date, but she would lose respect for me if i had sex, she made me promise that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t have penetrative sex. I broke the promise, but what’s important is that I made it in the first place. It’s important that sexual knowledge is imparted in this guilt-based format from trusted sources and that teaches all of us that having sex is inherently wrong because it makes a comment on our morality. This example I cite is very tame, prissy and privileged but evidence of our sex-negative attitude is all around us all the time: from hotels that wont rent rooms to unmarried couples, to the violent responses to a woman who may have had sex, to all the virtue-signalling, to our responses to the depiction of sex on screen, to the complete lack of sexual education in our schools. Its all around us. India is, indeed, a sex-negative country.

But is also, and perhaps more so, it is a love-negative country.

At the heart of this is an equivocation of sex and love, but not in the way that is obvious. The liberal school often teaches the young ones that sex is okay but only if you are in love with the person you do it with, but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that sex and love in India are painted with the same brush. Sex is wrong and dirty ipso facto, love is wrong and dirty. Whether you tell your mother that you had sex with someone or that you are in love with someone, the potential for the response to be dire is equally high. A part of that is exactly what my friend was talking about, because unlike an arranged marriage which is governed by societal constraints (like caste, income, religion, attitude towards working women), love is governed (at least in theory) by free-will, and when i am attracted to a person, I don’t make that decision based on their ethnicity or religion or caste, I’m just attracted to the person. If I fall in love, it wont be because of or despite their caste, it will just be. That love is governed by free-will is a large part of the case against it. After all if your daughter has sex with someone, it’s nothing a hymenoplasty, a severe beating and an ipill wont fix, but if she falls in love with someone, there is so much that could be wrong with her choice that is non-negotiable.

I know we all love to behave like we are in an era of liberalism and India is becoming a progressive country but if you wish to see the truth of people’s social liberalism, look no further than the industrial complex of marriage-making in India. Not only is the only acceptable form of love the love that leads to marriage but it’s deeply heteronormative, nothing outside of that registers as anything less than perversion. All the people who “don’t even know their caste” are looking for matches in very specific sub-sections. Heck we’re so afraid of inter-religious marriage we created the concept of love-jihad and then instituted laws against it despite a total lack of evidence of its prevalence in the projected numbers. Sex has the potential to flout the norms of social decency, but love has the potential to shake the fabric of Indian society because norms of marriage is how we uphold social stability here and love opens the door to marriage that doesn’t make sense to our norms. It’s not without reason that even in 2021, only 3% of Indians have “love marriages” and even that number is not fairly representative of the culture of love in India. There is something important that needs to be understood: love is for fun and marriage is for settling down. While the most “progressive” of our families are open to us having fun for a while, when it comes time to settle down they want us to think differently about finding a partner. Just like the man who was told to find love, but within his own caste, many conditions are placed on many of us and even when we make decisions of love “freely”, we’re really dating within the confines set by the marriage police. It’s not a coincidence that so many people end up falling in love with people of their caste, religion, tax bracket, age or socio-economic status. We sow our wild oats wherever we may like but when it comes time to “settle down”, we police ourselves into whittling our dating-pool down to an acceptable set of variables. It’s quite similar to the way in which arranged marriages are made.

And it get, arranged marries *can* work. I agree, but they are not about love. Indians scoff at love. Love is a stupid, tawdry thing and the only acceptable form of it is the guilty, grateful love children are supposed to feel for their parents. Romantic love in India is portrayed as painful, sacrificial or unrequited. To see that we needn’t look any further than our cinema or television, the only forms in which love is displayed as successful is when the lovers have to lose each other, their lives or their families to achieve it. We are taught to romanticise pining for love throughout our lives but also to realise that ultimately taking the dutiful and responsible route is the mature and Indian thing to do. Sacrificing the possibility of self-chosen happiness for society and duty towards family is the happy ending in our love-stories, and they often actively work to display how that is where true actualization is found.

Sacrifice and compromise are taught as virtue, love as a dirty thing and unhappiness in marriage as an acceptable condition for it. The right to love is absent, unacceptable and too much to ask for, the best you can ask for is a love marriage that is true to acceptable norms. That’s the best case scenario, the worst is falling in love with whoever you want and being killed for it. Love doesn’t matter in India, not when it is competing against the abstract concept of honour. Honour always wins, and it makes sense too, when the loss of love is taught to us as the ultimate form of romance.

This Is Why We Don’t Believe Victims In India.

Two days ago an officer of the Indian Army committed suicide in Pune while in the midst of a Court of Inquiry over allegations of sexual harassment, ever since then the endless hate and unverified information directed at the alleged complainant has varied from shameful to just pure disturbing, and a lot of it has been disseminated by the same people who won’t let their daughters out at night because India is not a safe place. Read how this dichotomy is at the heart of why we don’t believe victims in India.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

In India, we often see a horde of people come out in support of rape victims like Nirbhaya or most recently the case in Hathras and it makes us believe that as a country we stand beside our women. After all, why would millions of people march in the streets or light candles if we didn’t really feel like we needed to put an end to all this violence against women? Sure, we only come out in droves when the victim is a dead woman, but we come out, right? So we must care and want to make our country a better place for women. I mean, we march! We protest! The candles!

Right?

Okay, let’s put that aside for a moment and let me tell you a different story. Two days ago, a 57-year old officer of the Indian Army, Brigadier Anand Kumar Naik, committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at the railway station in Pune. That’s sad and I am sorry for the loss of his family and friends. The officer was allegedly facing a Court of Inquiry over sexual harassment charges by a young female colleague. After the news about the suicide broke, I started to receive some “news” via the preferred medium of media illiterates everywhere: WhatsApp. Most of it was just sentimental nuggets, but some of it was outright hatred towards the woman who made allegations against the man. Some of it blamed her for his death, stating it was an inordinate price for him to pay. Some of it claimed that the alleged victim was “friendly with many men” and the officer had only wanted to “counsel” her. Other, more vicious messages, claimed that modern women have become heartless and all complaints of sexual harassment are just designed to get revenge or settle petty scores. There is one theme in common to all of it though, all of the misinformation was based on the premise that the allegation of the woman in question was decidedly false, and definitely the cause of his death by suicide. He died, so she is definitely wrong and the cause of it, and not a woman seeking justice. This woman is hopefully alive and well, and decided to take action against being sexually harassed, where are our candles for her?

There are no candles because we do not believe her, and that is the curse of the victim who had the audacity not to die. We do not believe women in India unless we have no choice but to believe them. Let’s take this case itself. There is no public information about the details of this inquiry, only hearsay and rumours, the gist of which are that a complaint was made, this behaviour on the part of the Brigadier might have been repetitive, the enquiry has not yet been concluded and identity of the victim and the circumstances of the incident are confidential. As a journalist, I know not to take a call on this yet because definitive information about what happened has not yet been revealed by reliable sources, that’s something you don’t learn at the University of WhatsApp. So let’s discuss it hypothetically. Hypothetically, a woman made a complaint against a man who was a very-senior colleague and an avalanche of slander came her way immediately (sup M.J. Akhbar). Do you think she didn’t know that is what would happen? When women make complaints about male misbehavior, we know we’re going to take a social-hit for it because as a society we have much more sympathy for a man losing his livelihood than a woman losing her rights or dignity. For women, it’s a gamble to complain, and we have long-known how to do this math.

When your boss is inappropriate with you, you have to decide between a small chance of justice and keeping your job, that’s often a no-brainer. If you do actually opt for the justice part of this, immediately, people talk. There is an immediate assumption of a vengeful desire and suddenly every thing you do in life, like “be friendly with many” is up for scrutiny. The same people who put bullshit posts on social media about ending victim shaming, will say things like this while completely oblivious to the irony. The fact that a man is an army officer is not evidence of his innocence. The fact that the complainant is a young woman is not evidence of her lies. The fact that a man committed suicide is not evidence of his innocence either, Jeffery Epstein committed suicide too. Suicide is not the result of allegations, it is the result of the actions and decisions of the person who took that step. In some cases, it is a tragic result of untreated or unmanageable mental illness, and in others it may be a result of the inability to bear what you know is coming (such a social shaming or prison), but it is not evidence of anything. It’s not evidence that allegations are true or false. In this same situation if the alleged complainant had committed suicide, would we have believed her instead of him?

It took less than a day for people who don’t know any facts of the case to decide the complainant was cold-hearted, lying, a slut and responsible for his death. That woman could be any of us complaining about any man. The same people who pretend they are my friends would talk about me the same way if I had made that complaint. After all, they don’t even know the woman, it could have been me. It could have been my neighbour. My friend. Their own daughter. They would say the exact same things because our natural response upon hearing the complaint of a woman is that she must have been doing so because of an ulterior motive, even though the consequences of complaining are often much more severe than being complained about. We all remember what happened in the case with Chief Justice Gogoi, right? He’s in the Rajya Sabha, and she (and her family) lost everything. You think that’s the vengeful outcome women want when they complain? No, we know to expect exactly this. We’ve kept quiet for centuries because we know what happens when we complain about powerful men, or any men. Heck our Supreme Court offered up a victim of rape for marriage to the rapist in an attempt to keep the rapist from losing his government job in 2021. The Supreme Court. In 2021. The year of driverless cars and flying cameras. You don’t need to remind women that the system and society protects predators.

You don’t need to tell any woman that. Back in the day, when I was younger and messier, I was in an extremely abusive relationship: cracked bones, bruised ribs, constant-fear, the works. While now people ask me with endless judgement, why I wouldn’t leave such a relationship, back then whenever I insinuated or outrightly admitted to the abuse, most people doubted me and some (like his mother) outrightly refused to believe me. I was asked whether I may have misunderstood a playful shove as a punch in the teeth. I was told that girls like me these days think everything is abuse. Even today when I talk about it, it makes people uncomfortable either because they still don’t believe me or because they haven’t heard his side of the story. After all, maybe it was my teeth that fell on his fist real hard. After I left him, you can bet he went on to abuse other women, but I never complained publically about being harassed or assaulted again. There were no consequences for him, there were consequences for me, because I am a woman who is “friendly with many”; I am outspoken, I wear tiny clothes, I smoke cigarettes and swear, and that matters a lot more than the fact that a man pushed me down the stairs. It was never him on trial, it was always my character that was facing the jury.

And as much as we like to pretend, as part of TikTok trends and Instagram personalities, that we are woke, we treat survivors with doubt and disbelief. We’ve all heard that every woman has a story, right? I can confirm that, I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been the victim of a prosecutable act of sexual harassment or violence (and most of them actually believe they were “little things” because they weren’t penetrative rape), so either the contention is that we are all lying (which I think goes down much easier than the alternative) or that there are at least as many predators as there are victims. Yet it’s easier for us to behave as if a majority of women are lying, and a minority of men behave this way. It’s easier because we support it.

When people wilfully disseminate information about a woman they do not know and are comfortable shaming and slandering based solely on the fact that she dared complain about a man, they think all they are doing is forwarding messages they recieved but with each person who reads that message, the web of support for the predators increases. The choice to share that unverified and anti-woman information makes you complicit in the 30% conviction rate for survivors of sexual violence in India even if it’s entirely baseless and the alleged victim does not even exist. It doesn’t matter if you have daughters either, having daughters does not make you incapable of being part of the patriarchy, for fuck’s sake, women themselves can be a part of it. It doesn’t matter if you think sending a message to 20-people is a “small thing” and getting mad about it is an unreasonable response, you only think it is a “small thing” because you haven’t thought things through. Gruesome and heinous cases of violent rape do not occur in a vacuum, they occur in a society that lets men believe they could get away with it, and those messages, they form the bedrock of this society. As long as we, common people, continue to doubt women more than men even despite overwhelming evidence of the fact that women pay a much steeper price for standing up, we are part of the rape culture.

And we can say that the amendments to rape laws in 2014 made things easier for women, and for sure, they made it easier to report things and increased punishment for the accused if the case ever led to conviction (remember, 30%), but they had no bearing on being believed. They had no bearing on that because the onus to be believed still lies very much on the woman. We cannot even prove we were raped unless there is evidence of physical trauma inside our vaginas which means that any woman who is accustomed to penetrative sex is as likely to see her violator acquitted as she was in the 70s when the court outrightly stated habituation to sexual activity on behalf of the victim exonerated the rapists. Psychologist evaluations don’t hold up in court, our lifelong trauma is not evidence that we were violated, and if you were so “lucky” to be raped in a situation where there was no violence, you are also just as unlucky if you wish to see your attackers convicted. The maximum penalty for that is much higher than decades-past, but the likelihood of conviction is still just as low. The chances of being believed are slim and the possibility that you will spend the rest of your life being shrouded by the consequences of complaining are extremely high.

You can change laws, you cannot change the minds of people. We only march for the dead girls, because a woman has to be mutilated and destroyed for us to believe her. That’s the price. The rest of us, we’re just out to destroy innocent men with the PTSD we carry in our purses.

Why It Annoys Me When My Husband Complains About A Little Cut.

Women are taught pain very early. Whether that is in the form of cooking accidents, puberty, self-sacrifice or childbirth, pain is an integral eventuality of womanhood. Men on the other hand feel comfortable complaining about even the slightest discomfort, and as a woman that causes me a certain amount of resentment. This is why.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

One evening, my husband had a persistent itch in his right eye. He scratched, rubbed and washed, but even as we sat on the couch after dinner, talking, he continued to make faces of discomfort, complain and bat his eyelid as if trying to get something out of it. This next part doesn’t make me look so good, but it annoyed me. Now I’m not discounting his discomfort, I have had a speck of dust in my eye before and I know that can be mildly irritating, but there is something about the magnitude of complaints a man will make over minor discomfort that requires unpacking. So, as a means to explaining my irritation I told him about a piece of writing I had read recently, it was about a woman whose husband had made his own breakfast one morning and burnt his finger a little bit, something that happens to millions of women every day and goes completely unnoticed, through the day her husband brandished his wound, sent help home to pick up ointment and discussed it with everyone in his office, and she couldn’t quite explain to herself why her husband’s injury (and attitude towards it) made her angry instead of concerned.

I was quite relieved when I read this piece of writing because all my life I had believed that it was only I, in my glorious lack of compassion, that diminished the need to complain about minor ailments and suggested everyone just suck it up. I thought it was just my “cold” and “dispassionate” nature that caused me to become annoyed when someone had a cut or a scratch and felt that it warranted a conversation. It was not until later that I realised some of us were allowed to complain about ailments, and others weren’t. Women have the reputation of being whiny and complaining a lot (and I wonder why women are complaining a lot, it’s only rape, abuse, violence, sexism and the patriarchy) but you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who complains about a cut, a cramp, an itchy eye, a slight fever or a little burn. Men, on the other hand (at least in my experience with them, and it is vast), will be more comfortable complaining about these things, and sometimes complain as if they were being repeatedly stabbed in the eye with an acid-coated screwdriver.

There are two important factors that govern the lives of women: pain and silence. Right from the beginning, pain is presented as an integral part of womanhood, and it is too. Most women cook every day, and are accustomed to cuts, burns and scrapes. Women are introduced to the concept of puberty via our periods which are accompanied by varying degrees of cramps. Sex is taught as a painful concept, especially the loss of “virginity” and because a vast majority of Indian women have unsatisfying sex-lives that focus only on the man’s needs, sex continues to be painful. Childbirth, an allegedly vital right of passage for women, is heavily pain-associated and also the benchmark against which a woman’s right to complain about pain is measured. Essentially if it doesn’t hurt as much as childbirth, you can’t quite allude to not being able to endure it because if you can’t, what will you do when you give birth? Very often, right from a very young age, when girls complain about pain, they are shushed, and encouraged to bear it with grace.

Moreover, medically speaking, women’s pain is taken less seriously. A doctor once told me that my fever and headaches accompanied by dengue were caused by my “tendency to worry too much” and that is probably what would cause my death too. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the same with gynaecological issues, a form of birth-control I was once taking was causing persistent cramping and random bleeding, and when I told the doctor, she told me that it was only natural that my unnatural decision to not procreate be accompanied by pain and discomfort. Additionally as I have tackled PCOS my whole life, many doctors have prescribed medication from birth-control to illegal diet pills to hormones but not one ever prescribed a painkiller even though each one knew that sometimes I was having period cramps so severe I couldn’t stand up (I still did stand up, of course, and worked too, because that is what women are expected to do), the attitude towards that was always that I had to have my period my entire life so I had to learn to deal with it. Pain is a life-lesson taught to women.

And it’s not just physical pain, it’s also discomfort and emotional pain. Women in many parts of India are still expected to attire themselves according to a patriarchal agenda. While I lived in Jaipur and worked out in a public park, every day I would encounter women in sarees and sneakers, with their faces covered down to their necks and jewellery hanging off every possible corner, trying to workout in the outdoor gym. At weddings most brides are decked in attire that leads to absolute exhaustion, I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of women who were running a fever on their wedding day or developed a rash because of their clothes. Post-marital symbols like bangles and chains also cause physical discomfort, especially when you are working (on a computer) or cooking (in a kitchen), but that discomfort is just meant to be incorporated into your life.

Then there’s fatigue. My husband treats sleeping like it’s his right, and he’s not wrong there, adequate sleep is a right and important too, and if he is tired because of working all day and managing a home all evening, he will comfortably show it. However, I cannot do that, I cannot without guilt ever admit to being tired. I can wake up early, work all day, study, cook meals, deal with the child, workout, engage in my hobbies, write, read, check in socially, do the shopping and take care of the pets but I cannot admit to any of it tiring me without worrying that I am complaining. I see it in my mother too, for instance, she can say she is tired but she can never definitively declare that she will take a nap. She may take a nap but she cannot say that she will, and no matter how much stuff she has already done during the day, she will always do more if it is needed. Emotionally, too, women are expected to be creatures of adjustment and self-sacrifice: eat less if there isn’t enough food, say nothing if someone displeases us, just listen if an “elder” chastises you, sacrifice for your child or your husband. To say nothing of the socio-sexual violence and harassment faced by women and the pain associated with that.

Pain is woven into every aspect of a woman’s life, and it’s made worse by the fact that an expectation of silence is woven in right alongside. Girls don’t complain about the little things because attention isn’t paid when we do, and how can it when the experience of pain is so ubiquitous to womanhood. Who will take seriously when you’re always in pain somehow? Who will take it seriously when you need to be taught to bear pain so as to be able to sexually satisfy your husbands and have their babies?

On the other hand men have a very different relationship with pain. Men are taught, right from the beginning, that they are strong because they can lift things. They’re also taught that they are valuable cargo, and yeah I know many of us were raised in very “equal” households but most people in this country are not. Until such a time as when parents stop feeling like they can brag about doing their daughter the favour of not discriminating against her, we hadn’t even made a dent. Until such a time as when couple with two daughters stop having a third child because they haven’t had a boy, we aren’t really making progress. Until I stop personally knowing people who were forced to have abortions because they illegally found out they were having a daughter, I am not buying this “equality” lollipop. Until we can safely legalize pre-natal sex determination without worrying that it will cause people to kill girls, I’m not seeing this allegedly equal treatment. Girls are an expense and boys are an asset, and therefore when the ladla (dear) son of the house gets hurt, be that a tiny scrape or a broken toe, the world stops turning.

It’s like that with everything. Men’s clothing is governed by comfort and ergonomic convenience. There is no medical bias against men and they can access pain-management with ease. Most importantly, however, right from the beginning, when boys complain about pain, it is listened to and considered important enough to take action. After all there isn’t a big pain-based event that is waiting for them, and they don’t need to be taught to bear it. Pain is an inconvenience to men, but to women it is an inevitability. Men are used to people paying attention when they hurt, women are used to keeping quiet about minor inconveniences. The idea that men are “strong” also works in their favour here, because a man is “strong” it is understood that if he complains it must be because it is really bad but we’ve all had cuts, burns and scrapes, we know how bad they are and it impossible to justify that each time it worse for the men.

And so, when I am with a man, whether that is my husband, a partner, a friend or my father, and I see them be broken down by a knick or a slight headache, it always annoys me a little. It don’t want them to be uncomfortable, I would rather they feel just fine, but I can’t help feel a resentment because I was never afforded the opportunity to be derailed by a scrape. I could never go on for 20-minutes about a headache or a burn, no one would listen, and depending on the situation one might even tell me to stop complaining. I can’t sympathize with your tiredness because I wasn’t even taught that I was allowed to be tired. That’s not fair to my partner, no, but it’s not because I cannot empathize with his discomfort. It’s because I, a woman, was never taught that a fleck of dust in the eye could be enough to be considered discomfort. I thought it was just normal life to be quiet and minorly inconvenienced all the time.

Does “Female Privilege” Actually Exist?

Men love to tell women that if we truly want equality we should be able to sacrifice all the privileges that society has extended to us through the years. Apparently expecting to have a door opened for you is too much privilege and this culture of “equal rights and unequal privilege” isn’t working for the men. So, what is this female privilege? Does it really even exist?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

It should come as no surprise that I talk about women’s rights and feminism a lot, nor that I have the oft-loathed skill of being able to bring the subject into any conversation. As far as I am concerned it’s not the matter of an opinion I have on a subject, it’s the lens through which I see all subjects. I wouldn’t call myself an expert though because I am not sure exactly what qualification makes you an expert in this case, in my opinion being a woman is expertise enough but almost no one agrees with my opinion so perhaps there is a logical flaw there that I am not seeing. Regardless, the point is, I talk about sexism et cetera endlessly (and yes, I am entirely no fun to hang out with whatsoever) and as a result I always have a conversation to cite when I have to discuss a subject, it’s just good journalism. So, I was speaking to this man, and I don’t know how we started discussing the subject of how social disadvantage faced by women feeds professional disadvantage, and I continued parlance I used the term “equal rights.”

“Tell me something,” he said in that smug voice that men use when they think of an argument that has a baseless premise but they think they’ve got you, “What do you think of the concept of equal rights but unequal privilege?”

Sigh.

“Are you saying women have unequal and more privilege?” I asked, even though I knew that’s what he meant and it was, in his mind, akin to that moment when bhakts ask you what other choice we have in our country from a prime-ministerial position, and think they’ve made a definitively winning-case.

“Of course,” he said, “Women want all the same things as men but they want to be treated differently.”

Honestly, it’s astounding I haven’t had more concussions from banging my head into walls. Either my skull is made of titanium or contactors in India have been using some shoddy materials to build walls.

“Let me guess,” I told him, “You think it’s unfair women want equal opportunities and not to be raped but also want someone to open a door for them?”

Of course, that is what he meant, but he wouldn’t “put it exactly like that.” This is a commonly heard phrase in the canon of arguments against the women’s movement. Apparently, women want to have all the same things as men but want to be treated differently. Usually the people who make these arguments are referring to two different forms of treatment. The first one, as referenced above, is about chivalry. Personally, I’m over chivalry. I can open my own doors, pay for my own coffee, make my own drinks, carry my own rucksack and pitch my own tent, but let’s say for the sake of argument that there are women who prefer to have doors opened and chairs pulled out for them. Let’s say that is female privilege. Not only does this privilege that women allegedly enjoy exist only in pockets and for short periods of time, it is often replaced by a lifetime of eating last, removing your husband’s shoes and making not only everyone’s drinks but their food too.

Furthermore, I think it’s entirely unreasonable to expect having a door opened for you be the reward for silence in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence, that’s a ridiculous argument but what is far more ridiculous is the belief that women somehow enjoy unequal privilege to men, and the women have it better. Men enjoy endless privilege.

Men enjoy the privilege to leave the house at any hour of the night and hail an auto with confidence that no one is going to try to stick a dick up their ass by force. Men enjoy the privilege of never being asked their marital or childbearing plans in an interview nor are they ever denied a job based on that answer. Men enjoy the privilege of higher pay, more opportunities, sustained career growth and more ease at changing jobs. Men enjoy the privilege of having people, especially government functionaries at university office and the like, actually listen when they show up to have some work done. A clerk at my own college refused to process my documents because he didn’t like how I was behaving like a woman because I was being assertive and I can promise that hasn’t happened to any men. Men enjoy the privilege of getting angry and acting out of ego without anyone thinking anything of it, in fact, most people make adjustments and room for men to get angry.

So is there unequal privilege? Absolutely, and the men have been enjoying that for millennia, yet somehow they believe it is a good argument to demand that women give up having their bags lifted by a man if they want equal rights.

The other form of treatment that rubs these men the wrong way is when women get, what they call, an “unfair” advantage in professional set-ups: Reservation for women in parliament or Panchayat elections, subsidized education for women, lower tax brackets for women, reserved compartments for women on trains and metros. A few weeks ago I was in a conversation, actually scratch that, it was a fight. I was in a fight because for once I actually lost my cool and had an emotion as part of an argument, based on the fact that a couple of men in the army thought women shouldn’t be in the army (or the infantry) because the environment is not right for them and if they wish to be in the army the physical qualifiers for women should be exactly the same as men. That’s not what I lost my cool about, it was the condescension that did that, I just don’t respond well to men sitting me down and telling me I need a lecture on being a woman, a decade ago I probably would have punched the guy.

Their argument was that women would be unable to join the army, even if they were allowed to do so, because they would never be able to meet the qualifications to join if the standard was the same as it is for men. It’s the same argument against reservations and subsides. Honestly, I know a tonne of women who could meet the physical qualifications set for the men to join the army and many of them who would put a lot of men already in the army to shame. Women are fucking strong, and not just “endurance” strong. However if the qualification to be a soldier is only physical strength, why don’t we only hire men between the ages of 18 and 25 anyway? Why are 55-year old uniforms demanding physical perfection from women when unable to pass a basic health screening themselves? Regardless, I digress because the anger has not subsided, I would make a terrible monk. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are women who want from different qualifiers for men and women, and those that want reservations in parliament too.

Is that female privilege?

On the face of it, one may say that being given an advantage that someone else does not have is a privilege but let’s not be overly-simplistic or stupid just for the sake of winning an argument. The advantages are provided to women, like many minority groups, not as a privilege but to correct an imbalance. The struggle a woman faces just to be able to make to decision to join a male-dominated profession like the army or politics is monumental compared to men. Where a man might be regarded with prestige for making these decisions, for a woman it is a fucking fight. Where a man might make a decision like this one as second nature, for a woman it means convincing their family, overcoming the bias of authority and society as well as having to work every day to justify their position in that profession.

One might say that these advantages dilute the quality of people employed in these positions or accepted into these colleges and should we really be so keen to correct an imbalance that we are willing to pay more people to do the same job less effectively? And to that I say, god I wish you had studied analytic processes better in life and maybe your school will offer a refund for having failed you? There is such a thing as social advantage and men have enjoyed that for centuries, even with qualifiers being lowered, women still have to be twice as qualified in other regards to even get to the same interview as men. While a man may be offered a job even if he is slightly unqualified but has a family to feed, a woman will need twice as many degrees and twice as much experience to be offered the same job. Moreover qualifiers usually exist only in one sphere, and most jobs are a function of multiple skills. Let’s just take the army as an example, you think that if a woman has to do only five push ups when a man has to do ten the quality of the organisation will be lowered? You actually believe the efficiency of the army is solely a function of physical strength? Do you think a woman who takes 32-minutes to run five kilometres as opposed to 28 is unable to have faster reflexes, more analytical ability, a more strategic bent of mind and more of a community-based approach?

Men love to talk about women having privilege because it’s an excellent method to distract from the fact that they enjoy privilege every day and have since the dawn of the human race. Men like to act as if pulling out a chair for us or allowing us to consider a particular profession is a huge advantage that they are extending to us at their own cost. In that case, please stop opening doors for us, wouldn’t want you to have to suffer through giving us such unequal privilege. It’ll be hard, but we’ll survive. It’ll be such a challenge though, to live without something that never existed.

10 Most Ridiculous Reasons Women Are Given For Marriage.

Women are constantly told they need to get married, who hasn’t heard that? But often we’re also given reasons as to why we should marry, here’s a list of the ten most ridiculous reasons I have heard. (Number 1 is just bonkers.)

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If you’re a woman over a certain age, I can almost guarantee that you’ve been told it’s time to marry, but even if you are younger, you may have been told you have to marry eventually, and given a gamut of reasons as to why it is unavoidable. I decided to compile a list of the most ridiculous of these reasons women are given to marry.

So let’s explore this insanity: Why do women have to marry?

10. If you don’t get married your family will be stressed forever.

Here’s the thing: You’re choosing to be stressed about this. You can say whatever you want about society and expectations but ultimately if you’re the one emotionally extorting your daughters in the name of your mental health, all you’re doing is passing the stress on to her.

9. Your real life won’t start until you’re married.

Here’s the thing: Our “real” lives start the day we are born and presumably end the day we die. The things we do before we marry, like have jobs and friends and hobbies, those aren’t “fake” and we’re not just waiting for our “real” lives to begin to abandon those things.

8. My work as a parent will be over if you get married.

Here’s the thing: So. Many. Things. First of all, will your work be over or will you be able to check off the last expense on your list with regard to your daughter? Secondly, that’s it then? No more daughter after that? What if I have a problem in life after marriage, do I have to find a different parent for advice? Finally, it’s just… work to you? I don’t know, I don’t see my kid as work and I can’t imagine washing my hands off my kid on the event of marriage because that is my retirement. Makes no sense to me at all.

7. You won’t have to work for money anymore, someone will be there to take care of you, and your salary can just be pocket money you spend on things you want.

Here’s the thing: Women like working for their money too, and when men support women in marital set ups, that not “taking care” of them, it’s to be perfectly clinical, remuneration for the amount of work women do within households which is till today still considered free-labour. Taking care of someone is very different and you cannot guarantee any partner I have will “take care” of me, nor do I need to be taken care of mkay?

6. You get to wear pretty clothes, and buy all the jewellery you have every wanted.

Here’s the thing: No thanks. I don’t want jewellery and I can buy what I want. You can take that money and donate it. I can wear pretty clothes whenever I want and mostly for me, that’s never.

5. You’ve been getting too much freedom, we will get you married so you can be brought under control.

Here’s the thing: A lifetime relationship as punishment for free-will? That makes Indian-sense.

4. You need to have babies, if you don’t have babies how will you ever be happy?

Here’s the thing: Dunno, yoga, I guess? And this shelf full of awards and degrees. A sunset. This adorable cat.

3. We’ll get the son we always wanted.

Here’s the thing: Wow, way to make me feel like a means to an end. Adopt one if you want a son so bad. Jesus.

2. Single women who don’t get married are the reason why there is so much crime.

Here’s the thing: No, you are. People who think like you, you are the reason there is so much crime.

1. If you are not married you cannot hang out with your married friends anymore because they will think you are hitting on their husbands.

Here’s the thing: WHAT! WHAT? WHAT.
If you have heard this please come hang with me. Hit on my husband too if you want. Hell hit on me. Let’s go kitchen table poly and confuse the living hell out of your parents. Please.

Thanks for playing.

Do You Love Your Partner Or Did You Just Love The Wedding?

In this edition of our weekly sex column, we’re talking about love. I know. However between cultural expectations and pop-cultural expectations love seems to be a thing that is rooted in big explosive moments destined to wither into mutual hatred and offspring, but is that all love is? In my opinion, if you’re trying to go back to how you felt about your partner on your wedding day, you might not be in love with the person sleeping beside you today.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Climaxes are very important to storytelling, or at least, they were important to the stories of the ancient Greeks and because those guys get to put their name on everything literary we’ve had to play by their rules for millennia. I see the value of a good climax, it provides good structure for the story and it lets you know how close you are to the end (and whether you should buy more popcorn or not). All tragedy must contain a climax, you were right Aristotle (for now, but we’ll take it up when I have more time), but as far as romance goes, I think we might have had the format wrong for centuries. Romance doesn’t need a climax, it is its own climax in entirety. Okay, enough abstraction, let me explain.

You know those romance movies and novels that all essentially have one-of-three acceptable heterosexual plotlines? There is always a moment in those movies (usually in the rain), when shortly after a certain amount of romantic struggle or push-and-pull, the leads (re)unite in dramatic fashion? Either someone is crying, someone has died, they’re in Paris, they’ve just resolved a long standing fight, something. That’s the peak of the story of romance (and what follows is either a deterioration of love or happily ever after), that moment is portrayed as the essence of the relationship, and is always the one that plays in flashbacks of the happiest times of their lives. It’s not just movies and novels though, that sentiment reverberates through real-life romance as well. I routinely meet people who wish for things in their relationship to return to how they were “in the beginning”. All personal stories of romance that I hear are centred around a big moment — a gesture, a night, a fight, a realisation, a wedding — and a lot of relationships are focused on the retention or re-creation of that sentiment. Art informs life and life informs art, and at this point it is impossible to tell whether the stories taught us to love that way or we taught the stories to write love that way.

Regardless of which way it spins, the notion of the climax of love being its peak is damaging to relationships. There is the usual argument against this pop-culture based expectation from love and how it leads to an unreasonable understanding of real life. Relationships are built on compromise and struggle, they argue, and when you think it will all be roses you are so deluded that you can never be happy. Relationships are portrayed either as a perfect moment frozen in time or constant strife that ends in hatred of one another coupled with a determination to persevere for the children. Love is not easy, they say. I disagree. I don’t think that is the problem. Love is hard? Nah, love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is strife? Nope, it is one of the most joyful experiences of human life. As far as I am concerned, all the stereotypes about love are wrong. Love doesn’t just happen once. There isn’t just one perfect person out there for you (imagine the math and logistics that would require). Love doesn’t fade into definite sadness. Love doesn’t make you a better person. Love isn’t a cure. Love isn’t addiction. Love isn’t synonymous with co-dependency.

Love is misunderstood.

When we try to recreate that feeling we once had about someone when we stood underneath the stars and violins played, based on who we were ten years ago and think that is the key to our happiness with one another, we are misunderstanding that moment and disregarding the present. When we want to go back to how things were in the first six-weeks or two years, it’s not love that made that time so special, it was curiosity and adrenaline. And that’s fine, it is possible to experience candle-lit romantic intensity with someone and having it wear off after nothing is new anymore. That’s perfectly human and tremendously fun. It’s even fine to seek only big moments and have those be the coordinates to your life story. It’s all fine, but when that all we represent about love we do undermine it a little bit. Love deserves to be fully represented too.

Oftentimes we continue relationships because thy once felt like love, and that is where is becomes murky. It’s natural to equivocate going through big important life events with someone with continuing love, but living with an idea of your once-relationship is dangerous. It’s not dangerous in that it will kill you, but it is a threat to genuine happiness. It’s dangerous to be in love with the person you stood beside you at your wedding when you cannot bear to spend two hours alone with the person who lives with you today. It’s hard to admit that, it’s hard to admit you no longer feel that way about a person who once inspired poetry and hour-long massages from you, but it’s unfair to say that’s just what happens to love once it grows older. That’s what happens, I think, to relationships that were built purely on spectacle, moments, adrenaline and joint-routines, and that’s a lot of relationships because that’s how we are taught to love. That’s what love is supposed to be. The way I see it in a lot of older couples around me is that they see putting each other down as a hobby and change in personalities as a threat, but love doesn’t freeze you in time and promise to keep you that way.

Expecting that your partner will change is something relationship counsellors warn against but that is incomplete information as well. Expecting that your partner will change into the idealized version you have in your head is unreasonable, but it’s much more unreasonable to think they won’t change. What most of us really want is for them to remain exactly the same as when they were perfect to us but who doesn’t change? I used to say dumb shit like “I can’t be friends with women” and that changed. I used to eat hella meat, and that changed. I used to go to bed at 3 AM, and thank goodness that changed. People will always change and in that there is an eternal gamble, you may realise someday that the person you once loved is different now, but for me, that is where love really comes in. I advise that it’s akin to viewing your partner like a character on a sitcom, you don’t know what they are going to do or become, but you’re invested in watching it unfold. You don’t get to decide what happens to the character, but you get to watch and it’s endlessly entertaining if you love them. Love doesn’t fade or bore, it makes you equally excited to be with that person every day, and even on days when you haven’t slept enough and they won’t stop snoring. Every day I cannot wait to wake up beside my partner, every day I cannot wait to hear what he thinks about this or that, every day I cannot look at him enough. I may not get to do those things every day because life, but every day I want them. Every day I want to see what he will learn and what he won’t. I want to see the dumb shit too, I want to hear the farts and hide before I can smell them. I don’t want to go back to any moment from our past and have things be like that, I don’t even want to see what tomorrow will bring, I’m just happy to be with him right now and today. Whether we are taking a walk in the rain or making a no-fuss 20-minute dinner together.

People often accuse me of having an idealistic, almost magical idea of love and I do, but here’s the thing, in a world where we are willing to put two kgs of rice in flowing water so we can impact the course of the universe and our lives in the name of a doctrine of God, I’m putting my money on the magic of love. If there must be some faith, some irrationality that every human being must adopt, I would like mine to be love. There are endless arguments as to why love isn’t possible and some of them are meritorious arguments too especially the ones governed by the oppressive soci factions that criminalise love outside of a set structure, but if I’m going to believe in something, let me believe in something I know brings me endless joy. I don’t want to believe that there is a magical moment and the rest of life is just us moving slowly away from the magic of that moment into a rut defined by circumstance and fraternal love between partners, I want to believe in constant magic. Perpetual violins. A world littered in candles. It doesn’t take from my ability to cope or handle the vicissitudes of life, it just give me a magical backdoor into a world where I can be happy even when everything is horrible. Love shouldn’t be the thing that makes your life harder, not when it exists to make it easier. If that makes me naive, so be it, I’d rather have a reason to describe the flowers in metered verse than crush them because I hate my life.

The Pain Of The Polyamorous Bisexual Who Never Came Out.

A lot of times in India, we live in secret. Some of those secrets are small like drinking only when you’re out of your house, and some of them are bigger, like being gay or polyamorous. My secrets are bigger and so are those of many people, and while some of us learn to have a “real-life” where we don’t have to hide, growing up having had to hide parts of you that you were still learning to understand is not impact-free. I am the loudest person I know, but I’ve hid parts of myself for a long time, there are those parts.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I’ve liked and dated women for a lot longer than most people in my life know about. I say women, but what I really mean is that I have dated people of all genders for a lot longer than I have talked about it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, I didn’t think I needed to “come out” and part of that was because I was raised on a philosophy of “don’t ask don’t tell” like most kids of my generation, but I convinced myself the most important element was that I just didn’t care. I didn’t owe anyone the truth. I wasn’t ashamed, of course not, and I believed that until a woman I was dating refused to go out with me. Here’s what happened, I was young, and in college. I liked her, she liked me. We hooked up. I still liked her, she still liked me. I asked her out to dinner.

And she asked me,

“You mean as friends, right?”

I did not mean as friends. I meant I wanted to hold her hand, buy her flowers, and fight over the cheque. I explained that and she said,

“I’m not bisexual like that, I mean, I enjoy having sex with women but you know, I can’t..date-date women.”

Heteroflexible and heteroromantic. That is what she meant. I know these words now. Back then it felt like she was just telling me that I was a drunken experiment. Regardless, I was young, nothing mattered for too long, I let it go and moved on in life. I didn’t really tell anyone because even though I alluded to dating women to my friends and siblings, it wasn’t like I was really “out”. I figured it was a one-off incident (even though my experience on the “little bit lesbian” spectrum began with an experience that was similar, and more emotional), but it happened again and again. Over and over, I ran into people who were gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual but only at night and in secret. I’m not an idiot, I understand why, I understand that social conditioning is strong and many of us can imagine having sexual relations with more than the one gender but most of us cannot imagine falling in love with those people. I also understand that sexual deviance, as anything less than pure defensive heterosexuality is viewed, is not a choice most people India make, it’s what is going to happen, and anything else you do is wild oats and sin (and quite possibly an insult to your culture).

I am not condemning the people who couldn’t date me out in daylight, but I am saying it had an impact on me. It made me feel objectified. It made me feel like I was a real-life porn category but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is best exemplified by a conversation I had with my mother about six years ago. I had just ended a very serious relationship with a man, one that was definitely heading to marriage, and in the wake of that I was working a lot because I needed the distraction. A lot of my work involved travelling and I travelled with a woman who was two-decades older than me, very experienced and had short hair (this shouldn’t be relevant but it is). One evening my mother called me which is something she rarely does out of the blue so I answered immediately. She sounded serious and said she had to ask me something. She asked if I was sleeping with my boss in order to get more work from her. My boss, despite her “gay hair” and polo neck shirts was heterosexual and not at all soliciting sexual favours from anyone. She’s a wonderful person who was professionally very helpful to me.

My mother was worried because she thought I was skirting the shores of immorality in the name of ambition but what struck me wasn’t her concern, but her concern that a gay-seeming woman was sleeping with her daughter when her daughter was working as a journalist covering stories of rape, gendered violence, crime against women and sexism. She was worried about me sleeping with the one woman I encountered regularly more than the actual criminals I rubbed shoulders with. This isn’t to condemn my mother, like me she has her own upbringing and biases to contend with and through life she has made tremendous strides in the field of tolerance, but it struck me. I told her I wasn’t dating my boss. She told me she just had a feeling that I was seeing someone and since I was spending so much time with my boss she thought it could be her, except she didn’t just think I was dating her, she thought she soliciting favours from me. I told my mother that I was actually seeing someone, and I was, and I hadn’t told her because he was older, going through a divorce and had a child. My mother was extremely relieved.

See in the grand scheme of things my boyfriend’s divorce, age or child shouldn’t have mattered either but let’s get real about India for a second, those things matter a great, great fucking deal. They’re the worst things you can bring home to your parents but my mother was relieved. I’m not saying she wasn’t happy that I was seeing someone I genuinely liked, but she was also happy I wasn’t seeing an older woman. Usually I don’t tell this story like this, I tell it in joke form with a punchline but I just watched Nanette for the third time and Hannah Gadsby is a treasure who taught me something very important: You learn from the part of the story you focus on. Comedy shifts focus from trauma to catharsis, and when I tell this story without the comedy it hurts me. It doesn’t just hurt me that my mother had such a poor opinion of gay women, it hurts me that I have to keep so much of my life from the people in my life.

As far as my roots and my family go, I am notoriously secretive. In fact, my parents probably learn more about me from reading news and feature pieces I wrote that they find on the internet than they do from my mouth which is not to say I am not close to them, it’s just to say that only about 50% of me is real to them. They don’t know the rest. I learnt very early in life that everything I liked and am was shameful. I am a pansexual, polyamorous, sex-positive (as they say, slutty), self-aware masochistic woman with abnormally high testosterone, there is no room for that here except in pornography and cautionary tales, and when I talk about these things, I am immediately sexualized or condemned. No one believes these things are real or to be taken seriously. When you’re a teenager and realising these things about yourself, if you bring them up you’re either trying to get attention or being deliberately “rebellious” and should be beaten or taken to therapy. You learn to hide them and to convince yourself that when you’re old enough you will have a “real life” that is far removed enough from your roots that you don’t have to hide, but you are though, you are still hiding.

But what can you do?

If I tell people that I am polyamorous, what they hear is that I am either cheating or i am some kind of whore who cannot be “satisfied by one man”. What it means to me is that I am endlessly open to love, and I only date people who feel the same way about life, and understand loving more than one person has always been how I have operated. As far as society is concerned, I married a man, I’m done now, anything else I do from this point is extra-marital and wrong. Any bisexuality that may prevail is masturbatory fantasy and should exist only between me and my computer (if even that). People tell me often that relationships such as the ones I theorize never really work out, but I know better than that, I am almost thirty (love saying that), I know how I have conducted my relationships all my life and I know that this configuration brings me immense joy. I don’t believe in a form of love that shackles me (except quite literally). Except I cannot tell people that. I cannot because I never really “came out”. I’m more a proponent of the “slip things in” approach. I talk about my life as it is, and if you gather things about me from that, fine, if not, that’s also fine. I never made any declarations because declarations, I learnt very early, lead to condemnation and after the first time I was accused of “turning someone gay”, I adopted an approach where no more allegations could be made.

But it’s lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, my partner is an outstanding human being, my pets are amazing, my stepson is a budding little feminist and smartmouth, I do great work, I have good friends, I have a workout routine that serves me well, I don’t eat animals, I love my life. I don’t love that I have to censor parts of my life though. I don’t love that when I meet someone new who may have a vagina and I have that giddy feeling in my stomach, I cannot tell most people in my life. I don’t love that I still mostly meet women who are into women only after half a bottle of vodka and till dawn. I don’t love that the structure of my relationship and sexuality is a veritable pornocopia of which even those in the know are waiting for an implosion. I don’t love that I couldn’t just tell my mom that I wasn’t dating my boss not because i am straight but because my boss is (and if she wasn’t I would probably hit that). I don’t love that I have to lie by omission and that makes me seem secretive because in reality I am perhaps the least secretive person in the world. I don’t love that. I don’t love the sexualisation of how I love. I don’t love the association of immorality. I don’t love the intolerance.

Because, I am a good person, yeah? I do my best. I take care of people. I care about animals. I do my best to minimize my carbon footprint. I stand up for social justice even at personal cost. I don’t litter ever. I vote. I pay taxes. I smile at people in the street. I’m alright. Is it really so important then that I sometimes date and love four people at once (all of whom know about each other) and some of them have vaginas? Is it really what matters most?

Let me know, because I’d love to come out of hiding.

Living In Two Indias: Ripped Jeans and Sex Toys.

Last week the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand criticised mothers for demeaning our culture by wearing ripped jeans, and at the same time India saw the opening of its first brick-and-mortar sex-toy store in Goa. These two pieces of news do not belong in the same country, is it possible we’re all living in two countries at the same time?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Sometimes it feels like my news feed is curated by reaction junkies whose sole goal is to maximize my outrage. A few days ago, during my morning dose of outrage, I scrolled past an article about the Chief Minister of Uttrakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, condemning women for wearing ripped jeans (especially if they were mothers), and I landed on an article about the first brick-and-mortar sex-toy store in India located in Goa. I scrolled back and forth between the two pieces trying to reconcile them with each other, but it felt a lot like trying to reconcile adding two tablespoons of salt to a banana smoothie. They just didn’t go together. They didn’t make sense right next to each other. They didn’t sound like they were addressing the same place. Yet this happens all the time. We recognise a third gender, we won’t recognise marital rape. We commandeer an all-woman flight on the longest possible air-route, but we ask why a 50-year old woman who was raped and killed went out alone. We subsidise women’s education yet we wonder why the marital age for women needs to increased when females can give birth even at fifteen. We had a woman as Prime Minister years before that seemed possible to most of the world, but we arrest a woman for posing “provocatively” for pictures in a bikini.

It constantly feels like I am living in two different countries. This is not in reference to the “diversity” of India, it’s in reference to the ideology of the country, it seems to be moving in two different directions at all times so what do we stand for? Sex-toy stores or condemnation of ripped jeans on women?

For the past ten years or so, progress in the field of women’s rights is constantly shoved down our throats and I won’t deny there have been legal changes that were, at least, designed to the end of progress. Moreover, in the wake of Nirbhaya, there was a seismic shift in the conversations surrounding rape, violence against women and feminism. All of sudden fringe feminist theories about teaching the boys, touching the pickle and freeing the nipple became much more mainstream, and refrains like “my body, my choice” became so common you’d think a renaissance was underway. Stories of women doing extraordinary things were celebrated, and platforms that specialised in women’s content didn’t just become possible, they became popular. Conversations about teaching our daughters empowerment and independence became a lot louder and women’s fashion in India got a lot bolder (and maybe even more permissive).

At the same time the past ten years have been brutal for women in India. The #metoo movement revealed just how deep the web of power-based coercion was spun. Crime against women increased steadily but the rate of conviction remained largely stable (and abysmally low). Arranged marriage got a makeover and made a resurgence on Netflix to serve as a reminder of its reach and the misogyny built into it. The government suggested replacing all sex-ed programmes (which were shockingly few) with yoga classes (because a botched chaturangasana is the same as chlamydia). Women repeatedly took their parents to court to fight for their right to love whomsoever. The MRAs and the “humanists” started their own counter-cultural movement alleging women were taking advantage of their supposed privilege in society. No significant strides were made in women’s employment, and in alleging that women had no role in farmers’ protests even the Supreme Court displayed just how severely disguised unpaid employment afflicts women. To say nothing of the anti-woman statements that have been made by various political leaders in the past decade, if I made a list, it would be as long as Victor Hugo’s doctoral dissertation.

The last decade has been confusing.

On the one hand, I see a lot of empowerment on the internet, I see women talking about things that were swept under the rug for generations and I think that’s wonderful. I see movements and hashtags and strength. I saw that in my life for the longest time. On the other hand, for the past 18-months I’ve been living in a very small town in J&K, it’s an interesting social experience for me given that I have spent most of my life surrounded by “like-minded” people most of whom have had the same level of privilege as I have had in life, and I had a very different idea of our country than what is real for the majority. See, I had my life, and it had its priorities: an apartment close to the metro station, career growth, bars I liked, intellectual stimulation, that one yoga pose. Even though most of my work has always pertained to covering crime against women, I never reconciled the world I lived in with the world in which I worked. The world in which I lived was populated by women like me, we’d been through some shit, but the focus of our lives was liberty, growth, ambition and gin. When life got too much, we took trips or made appointments with a good therapist. I don’t mean we were vapid or out of touch, I just mean the scope of our struggle was mostly incidental and not pervasive. We might have dealt with an abusive relationship or sexual assault or a patriarchal upbringing, but oppression was not a way of life for us, it was an annoyance that came up frequently but our version of the world had space for us, our rights and our choices. Of course it wasn’t as much a space we had created as much as it was the ability to rent an apartment or a life within an area where you could insulate yourself from certain aspects of life. We bought our freedom, and rented an existence in sex-toy India.

However, our freedom was a function of luck and privilege, because after I was taken out of my environment and put in a different one, I realised just how easily I could have grown up in ripped-jeans India. This is not an indictment of bucolic life by a “city” girl, nor am going to romanticize it. I don’t think city life has more “meaning” and I don’t think town-life is more simple. However, my social existence here has been very different from the message of empowerment I was fed all my life and the experience of achievement I could take for granted through my professional life. I attend university here, and I’ve had clerks openly tell me that women shouldn’t behave like me because I told him he was wrong about something. I’ve had a professor tell a classroom full of women that if they married for love they would definitely regret it and almost certainly be unhappy forever. They don’t understand why I object to people enquiring about someone’s marital future; neither the asker not the asked understand my objection. I’ve had virtual strangers tell me I should make more of an effort to look married and behave like a wife. I have been told by people I employed that I shouldn’t speak so openly about being someone’s step-mother or second wife. Allegedly educated men have commented, that I as a woman, should not swear. My friends are terrified to dress in revealing clothes and when women date here they do so with the secrecy of a spy. Muslim women I know are told to their faces they shouldn’t attire themselves religiously lest violence be unleased upon them. When I profess independence, the youth here calls me naive and out-of-touch, and the truth is that by their measurement, I actually am. When I tell them they have the option of leaving their homes and living elsewhere, they call me crazy, and I must sound crazy to them.

It’s because there are two Indias.

You’re supposed to live in the one you were born into and always look at the other as sort of aberration obstructing your world view. There is the India where a minister saying that women in ripped jeans insult Indian culture outrages you, and there is one where you may know it is wrong but you’ve heard similar things said so often by your father, mother, neighbours that you secretly wonder why everyone is so mad. There is an India where we celebrate having a sex-toy store because we’re so tired of always having to buy dirty things on foreign trips and then just hoping to get them through customs, and there is an India where this idea is an abomination and we should all be shot. There is an India where you can get on Tinder and get laid no problem, and there is one where you cannot even choose the man who will have sex with you for the rest of your life. There is an India where you can indulge your passions for microbrewing and motorcycles, and there is one where you have only until you are eighteen to make your peace with getting married and making babies.

Yet on some level, underneath all of this specificity, there is one India. I don’t mean this terms of unity at all, I mean that underneath our failures and victories in the name of women, there is a similar sentiment of oppression. Ripped jeans are just a symbol, and when someone tells a woman how to dress, we must fight but saying it’s wrong is very different from really having the freedom to wear whatever we want. Many of us will be vocally against this statement, and I am too, but for family, decency, dignity or whatever the reason du jour many of us still won’t wear things that aren’t permissible. Many of us won’t wear low-cut tops. We won’t wear skirts or dresses.  We won’t wear clothes without sleeves. Not because we don’t want to, but because we aren’t allowed to do that, and it’s reinforced with ideas of culture, beauty and fashion. A sex toy store is a great story but in a country where menstrual products are still wrapped in black plastic by the pharmacist and most women would never buy a condom themselves because of how they treat you for doing so, a sex-toy store is also just a symbol. A symbol for a more progressive era that only exists in one out of thirteen thousand neighborhoods. I mean it’s great that I can buy a vibrator when I’m on vacation in Goa while wearing my ripped jeans, but if I have to cover my head and pretend to be chaste at home, what is the point?