Financial Independence In Women Does Not Cause Divorce.

Every other person will tell you that marriage in India has changed because women don’t adjust the way they used to as they are now financially independent. While this statement could not be more fantastical on many levels, the worst of it is that it still blames women for the untoward behaviour men are allowed to exhibit within a marriage. So if financial independence in women does not cause divorce, what does? We discuss, in our latest piece.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

“Divorce cases in India are rising so much these days,” she said as we had lunch at a swanky, uptown cafe that charges an obnoxious amount of money for a pretty crappy burger, “Every second person is divorced.”

Even though that number is grossly misrepresented and comprehensible only in a specific pincode in South Delhi, I was interested in what she had to say for the purpose of discourse.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked the woman I have known for decades, and respected for a few years of naive youth.

“You won’t like the answer,” she said, “You will take it the wrong way.”

I knew what was coming, I am accustomed to having the gut-wrenching discussion that destroys your idols and makes you feel like everyone has lost it, or you have.

“It’s the women that are to blame, I feel,” she said in one fell swoop of misplaced confidence, “Women are not adjusting anymore and financial independence makes them feel like they shouldn’t adjust, every decision is made from that place of ego.”

“I feel like there isn’t a right way to take that,” I told her, “Why don’t you tell me what the right way to take that might be?”

“See this is India, beta,” she said in that condescending tone that older women reserve for people who make rational arguments untainted by the demon of time and the art of compromise, “And women are women, no one is stopping women from having projects, but when women stop being adjusting, marriages stop working, is this what your feminism wants? That everyone should be alone? No companionship?”

I mean, cats are pretty good company (and they too maul you in the middle of the night to ask for something you’re too tired to give them just then). Dogs are cool too. Maybe even a highly-engaged rabbit. I hear some creepy people like birds too. I didn’t say that to her though, I tried to have a reasoned discussion which led to nothing except us never having lunch together again. You could say we went through a mutually-consensual friendship divorce, and it was a good decision too, we just weren’t compatible. I wonder if she thought my newfound financial independence was the cause for my lack of adjustment to her views. I like to think that she does, at least that way I get to believe she is consistent in her poorly-reasoned stances, and I like consistency in people. Just to be clear though, I do not agree with her, I do not believe financial independence causes divorce. I think that’s one of the stupidest things ever said to me and a priest once told me that coming to his ashram to interview him could lead to me being raped because asking a man questions so freely is immoral (am I hurting religious sentiments by reporting that extremely accurate fact? Good.).

I think financial independence empowers women to be able to avail the privilege (yes, divorce is not a right in India, it’s a legal privilege) of divorce. Claiming that the lack of “adjustment” from women is what causes divorce is just victim blaming. What causes divorce is that the normalised shitty marital behaviours that men have been allowed to demonstrate for generations are starting to seem less normal, and a small percentage (yes, it is a miniscule percentage) of women mostly in urban clusters won’t put up with that anymore. Before we go any further, let me just state for the record, I do not believe 100% of broken marriages are the fault of the man, there are many relationships that end because of women. There, I’ve said it and I hope no MRAs will feel the need to bark at me now (a girl can hope). However, there is a general trend in marriage and how it goes, and there is an accepted code of behaviours for both genders and a tendency to place the responsibility of a marriage working (and the blame for it failing) on the woman.

First, we must understand that this idea that “marriages are breaking like biscuits” in India these days is preposterous. In fact, whatever biscuits this person is eating are preposterous too, why are your biscuits breaking so easily, bake better! While the rate of divorce has doubled in the past two decades, our current divorce rate is 1.1% which is amongst the lowest rate of divorce anywhere in the world. Additionally, divorce in India is still largely prevalent mostly in large cities, and amongst the higher socioeconomic stratas of society. Availing divorce is India is still one of the hardest legal processes to conclude, you’d have an easier time settling a contested will that completing divorce proceedings, and the steps built into the process are deeply biased towards encouraging reconciliation (in the interest of the sanctity of marriage). This idea of divorce that your neighborhood aunty has created over her extended broken biscuit and chai sessions is as imaginary as the level of terrorists the current Indian government thinks exist in the country (so far we have muslims, students, journalists, anyone shot by an army bullet, everyone in J&K and farmers.. am I missing anyone?).

The real situation is that most people still opt for a lifetime of unhappiness over divorce. Most women still accept the archaic morays of traditional Indian marriage and carve out niche spaces of freedom for themselves. In many ways, Indian marriages are a deeply flawed institution. Just think about how marriage in India is supposed to function, suspend all idea of “this is Indian culture” and think about it without social context for a moment. A woman is often expected to marry someone she didn’t choose, retain her “virginity” for this person, quit her job to spend months shopping and preparing for the wedding, spend her life ensuring she doesn’t become too fat or too “dark” or too mouthy to be considered marriageable. Then she is expected to parade herself before people who analyse her every move, objectify her and grade her. Then the wedding itself is littered in sexist procedures like father’s “giving away” their daughters and the garb women are expected to adorn at the wedding, and many will say that they liked doing that (and that’s fine), but what would have happened if they said they didn’t want to do it? That’s the real test of tolerance. All of this is just about the wedding.

Then there’s marriage.

A woman is expected to leave her home and move in with another family where she taught to expect strife with the older female figures (and many times this strife is real). A woman is expected to care less about her own family, and visit them less, or be careful about having them over in her “new home”. It’s rarely so bad anymore that a father won’t even have water in the home of his daughter’s in-laws, but I am only 29 and I have met such people in my lifetime. A different set of people give her a different set of rules to live by. In some situations, women are “allowed” to work after marriage, but are expected also to be the ones responsible for all household work and cooking meals. Women are actively shamed in households where the men do the cooking or the cleaning, and those men are shamed too for not being “manly enough” to be able to demand domestic servitude from women. I’ve personally known a woman who was slapped by her husband before she divorced him, and everyone around her told her that it’s only one slap, she shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it.

Women are expected to make less money than their husbands, and if they don’t, to pretend that they do. Men are celebrated for doing the bare minimum when it comes to parenting while women are left to deal with the daily issues that come with parenting as well as the emotional development of the children. Women are taught not to “create issues” or “steal the son” of the family by expressing their views or demanding more time from their husbands. Women are taught to adjust even to criminal behaviour and I am as insulated in a modern privileged world as the next pretentious Walt Whitman toting slicker and I still am not immune to advice of this kind. Women are taught to have sex because their husbands need it, we are taught not to speak when the “men of the family” are talking, we are taught not to assert ourselves in ways that hurt the egos of our husbands. Women are invariably blamed for any issues of childbirth or fertility, to the point where even asking a man to get tested is akin to insulting him. Despite the fact that testing men is a lot less invasive, doctors still always test women first and more extensively when it comes to fertility issues. Women are blamed for not bearing sons or bearing too many daughters.

And those are the big things.

There are little things in marriages that deeply favour and enable poor behaviour on behalf of men. If a man goes out at night, he’s working hard and deserves the break, if a women does, she’s immoral and need to be reined in. If a man works an inordinate number of hours, he is doing it to provide for the family, if a woman does it, she’s shirking her family. If a man has to travel for work, it’s no big thing, if a woman does, how will the men eat? If a man buckles a woman’s shoes, it’s unsightly, but women are just expected to do if their husbands demand. If a man wears a gaudy silver shirt to dinner, that’s just his taste, if a woman wears a low-cut top, she doesn’t “look” married. If a man takes issue with a woman having a relationship with another man, and often even women who are considered “bad influences” (hi! Proudly bearing that title since 2008), she is expected to end the relationship. If a man is stressed, everyone is worried, if a woman in stress, she’s disrupting the peace of the family. The list is truly endless.

It’s not financial independence that is responsible for rising cases of divorce, it’s the nature of marriage in India that’s responsible. At its best it’s compromised happiness and at its worst its slavery in shackles of gold. Women being able to rent an apartment by themselves (and if you are woman who has ever rented apartment by herself you know how hard this is even when you do have the money) only enables them to leave, the cause for them leaving is all of this. It’s the shittiness of what marriage is allowed to be, and that we still hold the “lack of adjustment” of women responsible for the end of marriages is only further proof of that. When in doubt, blame the woman.

Well, fuck you.

We are done taking the blame, thank you very much. If you want to “fix” marriage, teach men less entitled behaviours when it comes to love, or they can get a cat too. That’ll teach them to expect love from a creature just because you took it into your home.

Do Girls Really “Grow Up Faster” Than Boys?

We often tell young girls they are fated to “grow up faster” than their male peers, and to enforce this lesson a disproportionate amount of household responsibility is put on girls. From cooking to learning sacrifice, we deem that this enforced precocious behaviour is “maturity”. In this we discuss whether this “maturity” is inherent or just another enforced code of gendered behaviour?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Many years ago I was at the home of a distant relative. Their son had just started his first job in a distant city and was visiting home for the first time since leaving. He was complaining about the hours, the fact that he had to provide his own food as well as having to do laundry while his mother fussed over him for being subject to this ordeal of self-reliance. Alongside, his sister, who is a decade younger than him, served tea and folded clothes that had just come out of the laundry before rushing off to finish her homework. When it was time for dinner, she came back and set the table, while the men sat and watched television, and as we sat down to eat, I noticed that she was going back-and-forth from the kitchen, bringing rotis and filling glasses as needed.

When it came time for her to eat, her brother was taking the last piece of meat in the bowl just as she was sitting down at the table.

“Don’t you want that piece of meat?” I asked her.

“It’s okay,” her aunt said from across the table, “Let your brother take it.”

“It’s okay, didi,” the young girl said to me, “Bhaiya doesn’t get to eat homemade food so often anymore, I’ll just have vegetables.”

Her mother beamed at her sacrifice.

“You know how nice it is to have daughters,” she said to me, “So mature even when they are so young. Girls grow up so much faster than boys!”

We say this often about girls. I learnt this too when I was a young girl. I was told, as were many of us, that girls are more mature than boys at younger ages. Girls “develop” faster than boys. I remember one time even being told that girls should always marry slightly older boys because their “mental age” would then be equal. I remember being told that “traditional Indian culture” was biologically driven to marry teenaged girls to men decades older than them because girls are already mature at that age, but for boys it takes a lot longer, and “scientifically” young girls made the best baby buckets for financially-secure older men. When I was younger I didn’t question this so much and that was largely because I grew up in a house of women. We didn’t have any brothers, and my father’s job had him away for large portions of time, so we were essentially a house of girls, and in a house of girls, you can’t tell if there is disparity because there is no other gender to compare yourself to. At least at home, I couldn’t tell if girls were growing up faster than boys.

However, I didn’t grow up in a vacuum, and in all other social environments I was often told I was “mature” and “sensible” and it was only when I started to take note of what incidents were causing people to say this, that I realised what the problem was. Maturity is defined as sacrifice in women. Girls who are willing to compromise on their needs, wants and desires are “mature”. Girls who are at peace with the idea that life comes with pain are sensible. Girls who are available to shoulder the emotional, mental and financial burdens of their family, by sacrificing themselves and their carefree childhoods are mature. Girls who take on domestic responsibility and the role of tending to the men in the house on themselves at a young age are sensible. If you are willing to understand what you should and should not do in the name of the “honour” of your family, you’re a mature girl then. If you’ve been taught exactly how to behave within acceptable boundaries and no one has to worry about you “rebelling”, you’re done “growing up faster” than your brother.

And I know, there is a biological argument to me made here, and many have made it. Females do hit puberty sooner than males. However, is puberty the definition of growing up? If we are defining female maturity by their endometrial lining and whether it sheds every month, what exactly do we use to define the maturity of males? Equivocation of sexual group to mental or emotional growth is dangerous. Children of all genders, whether they identify with the one assigned at birth or not, go through various stages of sexual development at various ages and while precocious sexual growth is more likely to me observed in girls than boys, it does not in any way indicate that young girls who have a better understanding of sexuality have an adequate understanding of it. After all, just because a girl is able to bear children as early as fourteen doesn’t mean that she should, and we all agree on that front (except certain MLAs in Madhya Pradesh but I suspect attacking the opposition is more important than weighing your words nowadays). Puberty is not an adequate measures of “growing up”, responsibility is and the reality is that we put responsibility on girls much sooner than we do on boys.

I don’t mean this terms of financial responsibility, not directly anyway, but young girls are certainly expected to be more mindful of the expenditure of the family. When it comes to cutting expenses, we start with the women first (whether that is more clothes for the girl in a household or more funding for HR in a corporate). We teach girls to say no to their wants and desires at a young age, and sacrifice them in the interest of other members of a household. We also teach girls that they are expected to be a large expenditure when they are older and to be married and thus must compromise while they are younger. That’s not the only way in which we teach girls “responsibility” in terms of marriage, from a very young age women are taught they must learn to cook, clean, pick up after themselves (and others), help out in the household (do laundry, wash dishes) instead of going out to play because these skills are vital to Indian “wifehood”.

Every single thing that is given to a girl, whether that is good schooling or a beautiful dress, is presented as a privilege extended in exchange for a form of compliance. Statements like — *we let you move out for college now you have to get married, we let you go out with your friends now you cannot have boyfriends, we let you get that dress now you must not ask for anything else — are commonly heard by most women in the country. The reinforcement of behaviours that are considered “mature and sensible” begins very young, girls are given more love (and less criticism) if thet display a form of martyrdom which involves being delicate, not voicing their opinions, cleaning up in the house, doing their own laundry. I remember, when I was only eight or ten, my grandmother telling me that I should wash my undergarments by hand and only hang them in the bathroom, while the underwear of men is thrown into the laundry by any man who visited your home. I also remember being told repeatedly that I would have to learn many things, like quiet endurance and diplomacy, to be able to be pleasing enough to my future in-laws.

So of course girls “grow up” faster than boys, when we start their lives off with stress, indebtedness, an inability to be childlike and responsibility much greater than a child should bear (especially when the responsibility borne is unequal). Of course girls grow up faster, but it’s not a natural occurence, it’s not inherent to womanhood to be “mature”, it’s socially engrained and taught. It’s a falsehood in many ways. After all, if girls grow up faster, then why do boys get all the rights? Surely, the more “mature” creature would be better equipped to handle them?

How Love Is Used To Suppress Women’s Freedom.

Women are theoretically free, at least as far as most of the law goes, but in practice women are controlled much more by the culture of “concern” dispensed by husbands and families. In this piece we discuss how love is used to turn relationships into prisons for women.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A few months after we got engaged my ex-boyfriend’s mother had me over for lunch. She asked me to stay over but I told her that I had to go back to work.

“Your job will be a problem after marriage,” she said, “It’s better you do all this journalist-journalist for now, and then later stick to teaching.”

“Why would I do that?” I asked her, genuinely confused, “I am not qualified or interested in teaching.”

“Yes, but you can do B.Ed,” she said, “Teaching is best for women, you will be home by lunch time and take care of the house too. A woman has to keep a nice house along with her career.”

Of course, having grown up in this country, I was aware of how women’s career choices and work liberties are subject to the authority and “permission” of so-called elders, but I was appalled nonetheless. I was appalled because I never thought that applied to me, I was raised by parents who insisted on financial independence and career-mindedness as the primary goal for their children. I started working the moment I could and it has always brought me a tremendous amount of joy. Besides, I was supporting my boyfriend at the time, he didn’t have a job, and when he did have one, he would frequently either quit or be fired from it, so the fact that his mother wanted me to make compromises on my career when it was the only reliable source of income was shocking to say the least. I knew I had to get out of that relationship.

After I did get out I realised just how pervasive and vast the plot to control me as a woman in the relationship really was. It started in really strange and subtle ways. For instance when I was seventeen, I was attending a friend’s party. I was dresser in a white skirt and a black shirt, and this really cute tie with skulls on it, and during the party someone took a picture of me with my friends and posted it to social media. A casual and meaningless occurence, really, but later that night, my boyfriend called me enraged. He ranted and raved about how much of my thighs were visible in that skirt. I hadn’t given it a thought, I mean, they’re my thighs and I didn’t quite get the memo on having to keep them hidden.

“How does it matter?” I asked him, “They’re my legs.”

“It matters because I love you,” he said, “And I should be the only one who sees your legs.”

Love. Love is often used as the reasoning behind why women are being told to modify their self-chosen behaviours. Men expect, and women are taught, to find the idea of possession attractive. My ex certainly felt so. He felt that I should feel so lucky to be with a guy who cared so much about me he was willing to yell at me to keep other people from looking at my legs.

“I trust you,” he often said, “I just don’t trust other people.”

This statement, the idea that when women are told to cover up and avoid being out at night especially in clubs and bars, is because their “protectors” are concerned for them is the root of why victim shaming exists. Even before anything has happened, we ask the woman to ensure she isn’t doing anything, by way of clothes or behaviours that indicate a compromised “morality”, that could tempt criminal intent in another person. Part of that probably comes from the ego of being deemed a “protector” but a part of it is just desire to control women like objects that you own once you love them. My ex’s idea that he was entitled to my body, and no one else was, was indicative of how he viewed me. He viewed me as a thing he had the right to control. He expected my compliance as a given, and the lack of it was an unnecessary inconvenience to his larger and more important plot of getting his way with another person.

We do this in many ways and it is not only romantic love that is part of the framework that keeps women in check. Parental love, fraternal love and sometimes even platonic love between friends plays into exactly this. When girls are raised, they are often told by their parents that exhibiting certain behaviours will lead to the love of their parents diminishing. Girls are told they shouldn’t drink or get into arguments with people. Their brothers are given to right to spy on them to ensure they aren’t engaging in untoward behaviours like going out at night or hanging out with boys. Friends of parents feel like they are within their rights to contact parents with complaints about a girl’s behaviour. All of this because people are allegedly “concerned” about us. Aside from “concerned” control there is also compliance from women that is expected and love is used as the bargaining chip. Women are often coerced into marriage because their parents want them to do it for the love of them. Parents romanticize the idea of seeing their daughters as brides and deem the moment of marriage as the one in which they have finally grown up. Parents often tout marriage as this mythical land where women can finally be free and do everything they ever wanted, like take trips and wear dresses, if their husband allows them to do so. Every girl has heard this at some point, the statement that their dreams can come after marriage even though they know that through marriage they will be sending you to a place of more confinement. Marriage in India comes with a whole gamut of familial control from people who often are, essentially, strangers.

We are expected to let people we barely even know, the parents of our husbands, tell us how to live. They are allowed to determine when we wake up, whether we can go to work, who we can be friends with, how we must keep our houses, where we can love, when we should have children. I mean an excellent example of this can be found in the jarring Netflix show “Indian Matchmaking” where one of the mothers looking for a match for her son states at the dinner table that she intends for one of her sons to be married by the end of the year and the other to have a child the following year. Once you do that, then also in the name of love, you’re expectedly to let the “elders” in your life teach you how to parent. They tell you what compromises you have to make professionally in order to be a mother and they tell you how to behave with your child. They tell you when you should have another and in some cases they tell you when you should abort another. We might say that these things happen only with “uneducated” people but I’ve lived my whole life around educated, even affluent, people and I can state definitively that the social issues that govern how women are controlled ail the educated and uneducated alike. My former boyfriend’s mother was not uneducated, she was a central government employee. The woman on the “Indian Matchmaking” show wasn’t uneducated, she was from an extremely wealthy and affluent family.

Ultimately we are not asking women to marry because we want them to experience the joy of love, the joy of love doesn’t require marriage, you can have it in any form and at any time. We are telling women to marry because that is the gilded cage in which we can convince them that gold necklaces and sarees are worth allowing a man to dictate when you wake up and whether you can work. It’s telling women that love means something different for us. It means that we must let our “husbands” tell us what to wear and where to go. We must take any freedom we are given and be grateful for it. We must never allow our husbands to clean the house, wake up before us in the morning or make our coffee. That’s what we expected to see as the nature of love.

In that case, I say, fuck love.

If love means I have to let five people decide what I have to do with my life, I don’t fucking want it. If love means someone else knows more about my marriage plans than I do, then fuck it. If love means that I must marry before so-and-so dies or because so-and-so wishes it, love can fuck off. If love means I must smile when someone tells me rules I must follow because I married their son, fuck love to fucking hell. If love means I have to put on make-up and sweep floors before daylight has broken, love can fuck itself.

But I know that’s not what love is.

That’s the patriarchy. It doesn’t love us. Love is just a tool to it, but women aren’t. Women are not tools of the patriarchy. It can go love itself.

The Mumbai High Court Judgement Is Partly Our Fault.

The Mumbai High Court recently overturned the sexual assault judgement of a sessions court in Nagpur stating that under the POCSO Act sexual assault must entail skin-to-skin contact. Expectedly this has led to outrage across the nation, but how is this judgement any different from the lessons we teach our daughters about what sexual assault is “serious enough” to merit noise?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

After the Mumbai High court issued the judgement that deemed groping an underage girl through her clothes does not amount to sexual assault (but to the outrage of modesty) under the POCSO Act (Protection of Children From Sexual Offences, 2012), women all over the country led by feminist and child rights groups have been outraged. The Supreme Court has stepped in and stayed the order passed by the Mumbai Court for the time being. There have been calls for stricter punishments to sexual offenders as well as endless Facebook rants about how women are treated in this country. As always, this will die out, the case will continue to be deliberated for a while, but the outrage will die out (for instance, anyone still working on having Rekha Sharma sacked from the NCW? Thought so). Incidental outrage is unreliable (though sometimes effective) and part of the reason why justice is so hard to come by in our times, but there is a bigger reason why cases like this one lead to judgements that cause outrage or re-deliberation instead of clear answers. There is another reason why justice does not prevail: Ambiguity in the law.

In the case of the verdict by the Hight Court in Mumbai as pertaining to this incident, ambiguity has led to it passing through several rungs of the judicial order ending up in the Supreme Court. Originally the case, based on an incident from December 2016, was heard in the sessions court in Nagpur where the accused was sentenced under Section 7 of POCSO for sexual assault and Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for outraging the modesty of a woman. He was to serve concurrent sentences of three-years and one-year respectively for both offences.

Under Section 7 of POCSO, 2012, sexual assault is defined as an in which someone “with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration.” It is important to note that clothing is not as much of a criteria as sexual intent, and sexual intent can exist with or without clothing. If a person intends to sexually assault another, the intention supercedes opportunity. For instance, men touch and grope women in buses, and many would if they could, undress the women, but due to the lack of opportunity or fear (perhaps) are unable to do so, but the lack of opportunity does not diminish the intention behind the act. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, the sessions court convicted the accused under Section 7 of POCSO. The accused did not touch the child without sexual intention, like an accidental graze or a medical examination, instead there was definitive sexual gratification and even conspiracy to isolate the child by calling her inside his house to give her food.

The other conviction, under Section 354 of the IPC pertains to outraging the modesty of a woman. Modesty has existed as a term defining sexual offences for over a century and was instituted into the IPC around the same time as the term rape (which was added in 1860), but it was not defined by the law until a supreme court order in 2007. Prior to that order, and the institution of POCSO, several child molesters were acquitted based on the technicality that a child is incapable of modesty, therefore incapable of having their modesty outraged. The law around modesty unlike sexual assault, assumes and necessitates a female victim, and does not require sexual intent to convict. The modesty of a woman does not necessarily constitute her body, as much as the virtue of modesty. Whether the accused garners sexual gratification is irrelevant so long as he is aware that the act committed will constitute an outrage of modesty. But, what is modesty? An undefined quality for many years, it gained a rather ambiguous definition in 2007 when the Supreme Court described it as “The essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex.” A nonsense definition that has no meaning, in my opinion. In a case pertaining to the judgement that led to this definition due to conflicting verdicts from various courts, the Supreme Court ruled that “pulling a woman, removing her saree and making a request for sexual intercourse” would constitute (but is not exhaustive in terms of) an outrage of modesty. By order of the sessions court in Nagpur, the accused (hereafter referred to by name, Satish), was convicted under both section 7 of POCSO and section 354 of the IPC.

Then the Mumbai High Court stepped in.

While the high court upheld the conviction under Section 354 of the IPC, it acquitted the accused under Section 7 of POCSO essentially saying that as a woman, the twelve-year old was sexually violated, but as a child, there was no crime committed against her. The High Court deems that “considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence (under POCSO), in the opinion of this court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required. The act of pressing of the breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of sexual assault.” The part of the definition they take issue with is not “sexual intent” but what constitutes “physical contact”. According to the bench, physical contact must be skin-to-skin in order to qualify as sexual assault which raises many follow up questions. For instance, what if a perpetrator touches the bare skin of a child with gloves on? Is that physical contact? What if the perpetrator has a fetish for ejaculating on the underwear of a minor? Is that sexual assault? What if the perpetrator has the victim dress up in lingerie and only touches them through it? Is that physical contact? What if the perpetrator wraps the victim in cling film before touching them? Have they contacted them physically? Perverts and predators are limited only by their imagination and the law, and seeing that there is a workaround when it comes to sexual assault, will only embolden their creativity.

And the Supreme Court agrees.

A bench constituting the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, has stayed the verdict after the Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal mentioned the matter, calling the judgement of the High Court, “unprecedented and likely to set a dangerous precedent”. It would too, because the average person does not delve too deeply into the technicalities of the law, or its exact purview, focusing instead only on the headline. It’s not wise, but it is true, and the headline here insinuates that if you touch a minor over their clothes, you could get away with it. There might not even be a crime to speak of. That’s a dangerous precedent. The addition of the idea that clothes need to be removed or skin-to-skin contact ascertained for a crime to qualify as sexual assault will be used in future cases to exonerate men like Satish.

That being said, clarity in the law would require drawing up lines and classifying crimes by seriousness, nature and punishment. It is unfortunate, and uncomfortable, but not all sexual crimes are equal. In the past we have drawn some lines. Modesty now can be violated in children. Rape is now defined as penetration with or without ejaculation. We no longer stick two fingers in women and base the veracity of their rape claims on whether they flinch. Hoorah. Yet there is a question that lingers, and one that we do not ask because of what it may say about us as people: At what point does a sexual misdemeanor turn into sexual assault? Is cat-calling the same as groping? Is groping the same as licking? Is violent attention to genitals the same as manual stimulation? Do death sentences and longer imprisonments lead to lower rates of crime? Are there distinctions in sexual crimes that should be instituted into how they are treated by the law? As uncomfortable as it may be to determine or even ask to determine this point, if we do not do so, judges get to apply it on a case-by-case basis leading to bizarre ideas like skin-on-skin contact is what constitutes assault.

Honestly, I am torn about these questions. On the one hand the culture of violent sexual entitlement by men in India is so rampant that I feel like all of it should be dealt a harsh hand. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone should spend 19-years in prison for a loaf of bread. Incarceration doesn’t always lead to a life of rescuing prostitutes and moral turnarounds. It’s true that the nature of the crime does not necessarily dictate the extent of the trauma suffered by the victim and in that regard all sexual offences are as serious as the other. It’s also true that the harsher the penalities for sexual crimes, the more creative the defences employed against them. In fact, after instituting the death penalty for cases of gruesome rape that result in death, violent gang-rape has increased by 30%. Longer prison sentences do ensure that predators are put away from society (and it ties to the rationale that the more predators we put away, the safer we make the world outside prisons) but they do not ensure that when these people rejoin society they will have experienced a change in morals or lost criminal intent. To make the world a safer place for women, we have to make the law clearer, that’s for sure, but we also have to ensure that the judgements of the law have the intended impact.

We have to acknowledge that for every case like Nirbhaya and every judgement like the Mumbai High Court that shocks us into outrage either by the nature of the violence or the audacity of the verdict, there are hundreds of cases that go unnoticed, undiscussed, unreported and dozens that result in dismissal or acquittal. We ourselves do not treat every case of sexual violence as equal and that is evidenced by our selective outrage. For every protestor that knocked down a barricade for Nirbhaya, there is a Mr. Negi who has spent years at Jantar Mantar waiting for a judgement on his daughter’s murder after she was raped, mutilated and bled to death over the course of three days in February 2012. For every outraged person calling out the high court right now, there is a woman who is silently dealing with the trauma of being touched by a relative or passer-by and told by their parents that this happens to everyone and it’s not so serious, which is essentially exactly what the court said.

If the law of a land reflects the ideology of its citizens then ours is saying something dire about us. It is saying we care, sometimes, depending on the situation. It is saying we want women to be respected and safe, but we don’t want to get into the details. It is saying that we cannot take the assault of every woman too seriously unless it is shocking enough to move us. It is saying we would rather make an example out of one person than address the reality of the culture of rape around us. Our courts speak for us, and it is important to check them when they say something fucking ridiculous, but what have we been saying? What do we say and feel when no one has been raped and nothing is making the headlines? That’s important too.

Are Men And Women Really Different?

Men and women are often told that they can be equal but they must acknowledge that they are fundamentally different. However human behaviour follows a predictable pattern and it leads to the question, is gender really a reliable indicator of behavioral differences between men and women?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A while ago I had a discussion with a man who felt compelled to discuss with me how polyamory was a superior practice to monogamy. Let me be clear, I think polyamory is a wonderful practise (between consenting adults who are happier that way), because the ability to share love and feel joy at your partner receiving love from as many people as they want is extremely fulfilling in many ways. It also affords people the opportunity to really understand their own insecurities and jealousy. Poly is not, as many believe, a perversion or a method to sleep around or even a ploy to resuscitate a dying relationship. It is a system built on honesty, communication and vulnerability from all sides and it can absolutely work. However, my acquaintance did not exactly see it this way.

“I think women should understand that men are wired this way,” he said, “Women should allow their husbands to have sexual relationships with other women because it is healthy for men.”

“That’s problematic on many levels,” I told him, “Are you saying women shouldn’t be “allowed” to have other relationships and this is really just about men and sex?”

That is often how it is viewed, and I am aware of that. However I find employing the Socratic method often encourages people to dig within their own opinions and ideas and mine for reason instead of conceptual bullshit. It works about 50% of the time. This was not one of those times.

“That’s not what equality is about,” he said, “Women are more hormonal and emotional, they don’t want to have multiple sexual partners and biologically they don’t need them like men do.”

I know for a fact that I am masochist because I know how often I get in discussions with people knowing full well that the outcome of it will be things that make my ears bleed and my brain explode. I do it anyway. There is no explanation other than masochism.

“What you are describing doesn’t sound like poly at all,” I told him, “It just sounds like men wanting to sleep around and using biology to convince women a two-way street isn’t equality.”

“But everything isn’t about feminism,” he said quite confident in his argument, “Men and women can be equal, but they are different.”

And there it was.

I am sure we have all heard this, and many of us have said it as well. Men and women are different. Men are rational and women are emotional. Men like the visual aspect of sex and women like the emotional aspect of sex. Men like guns and cars, women like silks and chocolate. Men are stricter “more effective” parents and women are soft, loving parents. Men are perverted and women are pure. Men are messy and women care about neatness and well-kept houses. Men are ambitious and women want positive feedback for everything to do it. Men want sex all the time and women just do it for the health of the marriage (and of course, no one does it outside of marriage and gay/trans/non-binary people just don’t exist). Men like numbers and women like human resources. There are numerous examples of these “differences” that we are just expected to take at face-value as fact. A lot of people will tell you that they are all for equal rights but they think they aren’t feminists because feminism is trying to erase gender or claim that men and women aren’t different and for some reason, a faction of individuals has a lot invested in women admitting that men and women are different.

Well, I call bullshit.

Let me explain.

The truth is more about the fact that men and women have different social experiences. Men are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour like guns or fast cars because “risk” is something men have to seek out whereas women we live with it on a daily basis because of the extent of harassment and sexual violence that plagues society. Men are not stricter parents, society has normalised absenteeism on behalf of fathers, lauding them for every little thing they do like they should get an award for changing a diaper a month while women are tasked with being the ever-present parent who does everything. We aren’t supposed to say anything about this because, after all, in the majority of cases men are providing the money for the women “to be able to sit at home” and take care of the child because women’s labour as homemakers or mothers is disregarded and working women are actively penalised professionally (read: the motherhood penalty) for having children and so ultimately, financially, it makes a lot more sense for women to not pay for help, quit their low-paying job and let the men continue working because men are financially and professionally rewarded for having children (read: the fatherhood bonus).

Men are not more ambitious than women because by design of the system women have to be four-times as ambitious just to get to the places where men get with ease. Women are given more “feedback” because in professional spaces people are more likely to have a bias against women’s intelligence and feel the need to coddle or explain things to us. I’m a trained journalist with multiple degrees, and I have men (who are not at all in the field) explain the press to me on a daily basis. Any woman will tell you any number of stories like that, just ask. Men don’t want “more sex” than women, women just have very little agency when it comes to who they want to have sex with and when. Therefore women who do not wish to have a lot of sex within marriage or relationships, would be much more comfortable having a lot more sex if they were attracted to their partners and while arranged marriages can be healthy, it is rare to come across one where the attraction is at the same level as the affection and sex is about attraction. Not necessarily physical attraction but attraction nonetheless. I’ve been with men, women, gender-fluid people, non-binary people and trans people, everyone wants sex (except the asexuals but I have been with them as well and sometimes they do), they just want it with people who do something for them. If they don’t, they don’t want it. It’s really simple.

Men are not necessarily more messy, men are necessarily more likely to have been brought up in an environment where they were not responsible for the mess they made and someone else (likely a girl or woman) was tasked with cleaning it up and when these men live by themselves, they’re messy. Women who have been cleaning up after themselves since childhood, don’t see cleaning up as as much work as men do. Even then, some women are messy. I mean, my house on a Wednesday afternoon looks like an abandoned laundromat and women are shamed for that. Women are taught as girls that they can be ambitious and work but they also have to keep the house, that’s what makes a complete woman. Women care more about tidiness because not caring means being judged for it and that is okay with some of us, it shouldn’t have to be okay with any of us. And also men aren’t perverted and women aren’t pure. Men rape and take, due to entitlement, which we normalise as perversion and evidence of men’s sexual needs. Women aren’t organic coconut oil, purity is not a measurable thing in people, and are just shamed and attacked a lot more for displaying sexuality.

But those are all just the little arguments, the argument that is loudest and most often repeated is this: Men are rational and women are emotional.

Can I call bullshit twice?

The rationality argument is fundamentally flawed because human beings aren’t computers, emotions are not contradictory to what is rational behaviour for a human being (fear, for instance, is a rational evolutionary response in human beings and pretending not to feel and not acting upon it is inherently irrational) and perhaps most importantly, the word rational has been misappropriated to the point where it is has lost all meaning. Rationality would mean being able to take information in, analyse it for fact and draw the most effective conclusion. In practice, rationality would dictate always finding the most effective course of action in any given situation and applying it with minimum labour and maximum efficiency. Might I suggest that a very small number of people are actually rational? And men especially, by virtue of socially engrained behavorial morays, contain in multitudes something that is in direct contradiction to this.

Ego.

I am not suggesting that women cannot be egoistic but we aren’t allowed to be in the same way. We are not allowed to be arrogant, prideful or egoistic without being condemned for it whereas we are given to understand since girlhood that men are egoistic. We are taught not to cross the pride of our fathers. We are taught to appease the ego of men by never making more money than them. We are taught to be attracted to the arrogance of men. However, ego is fundamentally irrational by the current definition of male rationality. Ego is an impediment to efficiency. It adds layers and layers of emotionally charged bullshit to goal-oriented activities and recreational socialization. Or as men would put it if women engaged in the same behaviour, drama. Which is not to say women cannot be passive-aggressive, aggressive or manipulative, it just means we all are. Men are just also likely deluded about their own motivations when engaging in such behaviour because they have been allowed for centuries to pass egoistic pride off as acceptable masculine behaviour.

And that is what different.

Men, women and others, all the same. Our social experience, different. I know that is sometimes hard to hear because as human beings we seem to be wired to seek out our specialness and we all have things that are unique to us, but none of us are special. We go through the same life experiences. Birth, puberty, youth, middle-age, old-age, death. Birthdays, heartbreaks, sex, love and betrayal. We all act in predictable ways and no number of stories about your ski-trip or your mercedes will change the fact that none of us are special. Or different. We’re just creatures destined to die.

But we’re treated differently in the world.

That’s not on nature. That’s on systems we created.

Refugee.

A poem about the alienation of people in a country that claims to welcome them with open arms.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

From the window of the old storage room,

leaning over the broken handle of the broom,

in their red robes we watched them return,

our prying eyes hidden behind the fern.

From the blue bin beside the locked chest,

we stole unshelled pecans as a form of unrest,

as we wondered aloud with our tired jaws,

how they ended up there for their cause.

Oh but the endless questions we asked:

What is it with which they were tasked?

If we spoke to them would they understand?

Can they speak the tongue of our divided land?

Where did all the hair from their heads go?

Why do they speak in hushed tones so low?

Why didn’t they have a country of their own?

Who sent them here to our cold, quiet zone?

Why did they raise slogans in the street?

Why couldn’t their kids come and meet?

Why could we rent them part of our home,

but were forbidden from calling their phone?

And when our mother came looking for us,

to rescue us from the trappings of dusk,

we pretended the locked chest was our mission,

as if we weren’t just spying on living friction.

At dinner we listened to our parents talk,

and even in sympathy they would mock,

these people torn apart by a strange war,

hoping they wouldn’t steal our old car.

As we grew tall and bright, we learnt,

how their leaders had themselves burnt,

how they fought for justice and freedom,

while we stole forbidden nuts from a drum.

The years passed and away we went,

our world, for us, a big welcoming tent,

where we could roam our lands so free,

our skin no barrier to what we could be.

The people we once hid and watched,

in their lands continued to be torched,

as the ways of the world became clear,

we learnt everyone’s life wasn’t so dear.

Some were into our world so gently brought,

to be kept away from our children and thought,

and while we opened to them our doors,

we relegated to them only our dirty floors.

Decades later when back home we came,

from the storage room we looked at our shame,

the ferns and trees had all but disappeared,

as had the men we had once so feared.

Gone to live among their own kind,

in sight but never welcome in our mind.

Our mother pointed at the box with the locked lid,

and asked if we had ever learnt what inside it hid,

but all we knew was that we had killed the tree,

and sent away the man called refugee.

This land we owned we gave him only on rent,

and he understood what that affront meant,

by birth some were destined for painful history,

inside locked boxes doesn’t always lie the mystery.

It Really Just Sucks To Be An Indian Woman.

This week alone we’ve had the Chief Justice question women’s roles in farmers’ protests, a brutal gang-rape resulting in the death of a woman, a minister suggesting all women be tracked and another insinuating that women are only baby-making machines, but somehow any time I complain, I hear people tell me that women are goddesses in this great country. Well, I’m a tired goddess, and I don’t have the energy to pretend anything is great anymore.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

It’s been quite a week. Quite an outrageous, nerve-wracking, infuriating week for women, and before you posit that I could just be talking about any week of being an Indian woman, let me break this week down for you. The Coronavirus pandemic continues to rage while the nation debates the merits of the two vaccines, the farmers continue to protest as the Supreme Court prepares to weigh in on the matter in what many worry will be an eye-wash and while women are still recovering from the comments of Chandramukhi Devi, a member of the National Council for Women (irony, huh?), who last week said that the gang-rape in Badaun could have been avoided if the woman had not gone out alone in the evening, our politicians have continued to present us with a barrage of their problematic views.

First, the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, questioned why women and the elderly were being “kept” at the farmers’ protests insinuating either that women did not have the agency to decide to be at protests themselves or that women have no part in the farming industry. No one has ever asked why men are being “kept” at protests against rape, just saying. The insinuation that women do not belong at a farmer’s protest in India is patently untrue, women comprise a large part of farm labour and agriculture employs more women than any other industry in India, they just happen to have a very small number of land-holdings and exist in a state of disguised employment for which they are not necessarily remunerated and, you know, apparently we’re a feudal society too now.

Then Shivraj Chauhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, in sparking a debate about raising the marriageable age for women from 18 to 21 also suggested that all women be tracked, especially those who have moved out of their parents house for work. He seemed quite pleased with his idea that women register at police stations and mandatorily download an app that can help the police keep track of them. For their own safety, of course, apparently the law needs to act like an overprotective grandmother in order to allow women to live freely in this country. In responding to Chauhan’s comments Congress MLA and former minister Sajjan Singh Verma asked why the age of marriage needs to be raised when doctors say that even a girl of fifteen could give birth to children because, you know, women are only baby-making machines. To cap off this absolute shit-show of a week, homemaker-turned-actress Rajni Chandy did what I thought was a really normal and beautiful photoshoot but because she’s 69-years old and posed in skirt, she was trolled for being too “obscene” for her age. Apparently older women must only wear sarees and talk about sex-appeal like a trinket they lost many years ago. Then it’s a nice book, but if they visually look it in present day, then it’s unpalatable.

That’s as much as had happened when I last checked the news 13-minutes ago and on behalf of the women of this country may I just say to the leaders, protectors and spokespersons of this country: FUCK YOU.

No, seriously. I considered writing about each of those things individually and taking apart the culture that enables them but instead on entangling myself in a mire of politically-motivated nonsense to try and make sense of these things, I’d like to, for once, discuss how they do not make sense. At least, to me. Women’s oppression has never made sense to me, not even in the way that minority-oppression makes sense (though it is not in the least justified or exonerated) due to minorities by definition being outnumbered by majority, but women’s oppression makes no sense even in that regard because women have been around, in more or less equal number, forever. I do not understand how being biologically-enabled to give birth or having squishy masses of flesh on our chests was interpreted to mean that women are weak or less deserving of rights. I literally cannot fathom how this began. I cannot. I can tie it to war, religion, patriarchy, whatever but none of those to me explains how it ever fucking began. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The other thing I don’t understand is patriotism when everything in your country is fucking broken. No, really, I love my country, right? It’s cool and weird, but my love is kind of like the love of the parents of an over-achiever. I love it, but I need it to prove to me why it deserves to be loved. I’ll be proud of it, when the pride is warranted. I’ve said this many times and I will never tire of saying it but when you belong to a place about which the best things you can say all happened thousands of years ago (or only in straight-up epic mythology), something is very wrong with the present day situation in that place.

And something is very wrong in our country today.

We can blame everyone for it or no one. We can say all was well before 2014 or we can say everything has been fine since. We can say this isn’t “real” indian culture and somehow the internet or PubG are responsible for this too. We can have many opinions on this but there are some facts we must contend with. Facts like we live

a country where the head of the National Council for Women publically denounced feminists, not sure what she was told about her job description, but really terrified to find out. A country where a court once acquitted over 30-men for the rape of a woman because she was already “habituated to sex” and while that decision was appealed 8-years later it has left its legacy of tying morality to virginity. A country where a Dalit woman is raped and her body is cremated in the middle of the night without notification. A country where private-school kids use whatsapp to share videos of teenage girls they fucked (hey, how’s raising the age of consent working out?). A country where I am still being told I shouldn’t touch the pickle if I am on my period. A country where it took a woman being brutally murdered on a bus for your uncle to be able to say the word rape and not even the death penalty instilled remorse in those rapists. A country where period products are still not freely available to almost 40% of woman. If I continued making this list I will have used up all the words available for everyone in the world.

That’s where we live. That’s the truth. The truth isn’t some mythical version of this country where women are goddesses and if I hear one more person tell me how women in India have divine status, I will let my divine tongue loose on them so hard, they’ll have to look up the point at which verbal abuse crosses into verbal assault and then verbal manslaughter, realise they should be dead and die from the sheer agony of the words I launched at them. I don’t want to be a goddess, I don’t know any women who do really. I want to live in a place where misogyny and sexism and violence aren’t so rampant that I can make an entire career out of it. A place where we can’t make heartfelt movies out of a widow’s desire to put Holi colour on her skin because nothing that fucking ridiculous would ever happen there and there would be absolutely no connection between widowhood and colour. I want to live there. Where I can use my brain to contribute to the growth of the world instead of having to spend my entire life trying to correct wrongs and establish equality between the sexes for the first time since human history began (presumably).

I mean we think so much about what was done, what is being said, what policy will change this or that, what does and doesn’t have pockets, what’s been attacked et cetera but we spend no time thinking about what was really taken from us.

Our potential.

And our Saturday nights.

So many women have devoted our lives, professional or experiential, to fighting against or dealing with the fallout of a misogynistic patriarchy that is in control of our experiences in many ways still and if we never had to do that, what all could we have done?

That’s what was taken.

If none of it had ever happened, today could have been one of the happiest days of my life because on a personal, professional and emotional front I have had a really fantastic day of achievement, but instead of being thrilled I’m just fucking pissed off as all hell because the circus of Indian womanhood is the show that really seems intent on going on forever. Instead of relaxing with wine, I have to angry-drink vodka on my Saturday night.

That’s what was taken.

And before you tell me to find inner peace, let me suggest an experiment. Take a glass, break it, and then stand on the pieces, then jam a pencil in your eye, pick up a crying child, pacify it while doing a calculus problem with you left hand on a wrinkled sheet of paper without a hard surface under it. Then try to find inner peace. If you can, I’m really flattered you read my work Dalai Lama. If you can’t, then stop fucking telling women to find inner peace in this hell-hole.

Because while I’m all for this goddess-based beautifully safe and serene space where women thrive, I am also aware of exactly where I live.

Are you?

If not, might I suggest, the news?

The Girl In The Painting.

A sample from my upcoming book of poetry, The Girl In The Painting is a poem about womanhood and how its stories are co-opted by other voices. Stay tuned for more information about my first published book of poetry.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

On a dirt road she walks with bare feet,
under the orange hues of abating heat,
and beside her walk a group of others,
an army of sisters, friends or mothers.
Her laugh frozen upon a fading canvas,
perhaps extracted by a rustic cuss,
or a joke that would no longer evoke joy,
as I watch her on the frame labelled ‘toy’.
A pot of water is balanced on her head,
covered with a cloth so bright and red.

Beside me the experts say they can see,
how she found happiness in captivity,
in a moment from a life never lived,
they say they can see what women hid.
They say she was a victim of circumstance,
and to a man’s tune she was destined to dance,
and her world that we painted was broken,
and all the beauty was but a mere token.

They say they can see a story so immense,
but all I see is a woman’s continuing silence,
where we watch with the eyes of a sniper,
and with assurance continue speaking for her.
We imagine her life and her constant pain,
call it art so it passes unsuspicious, our gain,
while we hush the girl beside us with ease,
as she begs for her pain to be heard please.

As I watch the woman hanging on the wall,
I hear from behind me a beckoning call,
and turn to have the lights flash in my eye,
and the child in my arms begins to cry.
I say I didn’t want to have that taken,
but like the painted woman I am shaken,
and my words they don’t want to hear,
my story they must package and share,
so I can hang somewhere else muted,

where their renditions cannot be refuted.
I wonder what they someday will see,
in that picture they just took of me.

How Consumers of The News Killed Journalism.

Over the past decade, journalism has become a dirty word and journalists the easiest targets for everything that is wrong in the world. The last year saw the highest number of attacks on journalists in years, as our credibility was slowly replaced by Google searches, sponsored content and WhatsApp. It’s convenient to blame journalists for all that’s wrong, but I argue that it’s you, the consumers of news, that killed journalism. This is how.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Andrew Sam Pandian. Damodharan. Subhas Rai. Peerzada Ashiq. Masrat Zahra. Gowhar Geelani. Arnab Goswami.

Chances are that you are not sure what this list of names is meant to signify and that you only recognise one name on that list. Well, this is the (woefully incomplete) list of all the journalists that were detained, arrested or booked by the police or in courts in the year 2020.

In April, Andrew Pandian was arrested for reporting on supply chain challenges brought on by Covid-19 and corruption in the Public Distribution System. Damodharan was arrested in Tamil Nadu for capturing footage of medicines being distributed without prescriptions and was subsequently labelled a fake journalist. Subhas Rai was arrested for reporting on villagers near Varanasi who had to resort to eating grass to avoid lockdown-induced hunger. In March, Masrat Zahra was booked in J&K where she is a prominent, outspoken figure against human rights violations for “criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offence against public tranquillity”. Geelani was booked for “glorifying terrorism” for questioning the veracity of the anti-terrorism claims made by the current government. This is merely a minuscule cross-section of the list. In the latest rendition, India slipped two ranks from 140 to 142 on the “Reporters Without Borders” index that ranks 180 countries on the basis on press freedoms due to “pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line”. In March 2018, a Cobrapost exposé titled Operation 136 found that a dozen news organisations of repute were accepting payments from “operatives” to push “soft hindutva” stories. There is no state or UT in our country where a journalist wasn’t physically attacked for doing their job last year.

Yet the only time the country went up in true uproar was when it came to Arnab Goswami. Suddenly we were all extremely concerned about press freedoms and willing to stand for journalists. Suddenly a national institution was being attacked and the glory of the fourth pillar needed to be restored. Suddenly injustice could not stand.

Lol.

In truth we had abandoned our journalists long ago and the popularity of panel-based screaming news shows weighed against the slow and certain demise of local news has been proof of that for years now.

So, who killed journalism?

Well, it was you.

The consumers of journalism killed journalism.

There is a deep misconception about journalism and what it does. Either it is viewed as a glamorous field filled with morally-ambiguous people who travel a lot, smoke and seem to know a lot of people. Or it is viewed as a “soulless” profession where individual reporters are seen as the bastion of corporate lines and political slants. Do news outlets have political biases and sometimes corporate sponsors? Of course. Does that impact how each individual reporter does their job? Not quite.

News is not all about uncovering scams, political/corporate espionage and making shocking revelations, it is about the bedrock. The alphabet of the world around you. It’s how you know what road is closed because of an accident or construction project. It’s how you know who provided the funding to make a hospital. It’s how you know why there is a power outage or where there has been an earthquake. It’s how you know what the parliament or your local municipal council is doing. It’s how you know about ISIS. It’s how you know court judgements. It’s how you are able to understand the budget. It’s how you know the results of elections. It’s how you easily access the millions of sheets of statistics that are uploaded by thousands of agencies every year in a single page.

It’s not glamorous. Glamour is not what most journalists do, only a very small percentage of journalists do that. We do the things that most people would spend hours doing if they had to get all their information straight from the source of the information. We read privacy policies. We read supreme court judgements in their entirety. We read bills and amendments like CAA and GST and break them down into 10 salient features for your clearer (and easier) understanding. We explain what net neutrality is and how it affects you. We pull data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and gather press releases to explain what the ministries and big companies in our country are doing. We are in the business of making information easily accessible and most importantly we are in the business of separating fact from hearsay and bullshit. Too often we view news only by its loudest and most nationally-prevalent factions but news is a lot deeper than that.

Of course, in today’s day and age, with the internet and social media, everyone is a journalist. My degree and years of experience lend the same credibility to me as the WhatsApp account of literally anybody else. We wouldn’t do that with a doctor or lawyer but we are comfortable telling journalists that their core skill (which is, again, gathering and representing facts) is the same as anyone else’s. It’s not, though. Media literacy is at an appalling point in our country (and a lot of the world today) because we aren’t taught how to judge what information is trustworthy but we are taught to denigrate the institutions that are littered with people trained to do exactly that. Journalists don’t just write whatever we feel. There is a process. An incident or discrepancy leads to the coverage which involves citing sources for the information, interviewing people involved in the situation, visiting the location that is at the heart of the situation, providing background data for the situation, representing all of those elements exactly as they are and then following up on the responses to and developments in the story, sometimes for years after anyone else still thinks those stories are relevant.

Opinion pieces are a different thing. This for instance, this is not journalism, it is my commentary on journalism today and should not be viewed as fact. Most news institutions have strict fact-checking practises and even reporting someone’s age as incorrect in a news piece is a serious thing and while fact-checking processes sometimes fail, the most blatant recent example of this being the reportage in the Caliphate podcast by the New York Times, it is a failure of process that needs to be checked by re-establishing professional standards (you know like we did after the money laundering scam in banking in 2014, no one stopped putting their money in banks, yeah?) or a failure of the ethics of an individual in the institution, it cannot be checked by deciding the entire field has the same credibility as your Google search.

Which is not to say journalism is in itself blameless. It is not. I believe the issues of this generation of journalists began with the Radia scandal in 2008 which revealed the unique powers a journalist can acquire over time and how those biases can infiltrate policy when made available to lobbyists. Funnily no one who has ever attacked me for being a journalist has ever made that argument. The problems consolidated with digital media taking over as the most likely source for the dissemination of information which took the news cycle from 24/7 broadcast to a demand for constant new content 24/7. Print ads were a more lucrative model for the press and online ads just do not generate the same revenue and with newspapers going out of business at an alarming rate there was just no way to keep up with the competition online. Additionally journalists are now required to be more social media strategist than reporters and content that does better online is not necessarily the good journalistic content. I mean cats are consumed ten times more as content online than detailed analyses of municipal corporation budgets.

Journalists who worked on stories for weeks and sometimes months to ensure thorough reporting and fact-checking were suddenly required to produce 2-3 blog pieces a day or risk losing their jobs. A majority of what we see today, even on news channels, is not news but people discussing the news. For the online consumer, content is not viewed as “news” or “not news”, it is viewed as “interesting to me” or “not interesting to me” so the news has to masquerade as clickbait and exciting headlines that promise scandal and shock. Even then the majority of local news outlets the world over have struggled financially, with a record number of then either closing or significantly downsizing over the past decade. Shutting down local news while strengthening the loudest national voices as the undisputed faces of journalism is how you enable the structure to disseminate propaganda. Local journalism is what supplies national journalism and without it, there is nothing at the heart of information.

Ultimately there is one thing a fair, free press needs to be independent enough to be able to do its job. To be independent, we need money of our own. Plain and simple. And here is the fact that for me is the definitive argument that the free-press was killed by its users:

No one wants to pay for the news.

Think about it. How many online news organisations do you pay subscription for? How many have you ever sent money to? We feel entitled to the news and any news outlet that asks for money is immediately dubbed immoral online. Or, you know, because most of us cannot justify calling The Economist immoral (and if we actually came to the melee with good arguments, we could), we just ignore it. A fraction of the people who used to buy magazines will pay to access the same content online which to me says that when it comes to journalism people were always only willing to pay for the paper on which the work was printed, not our work itself. There is no other profession that we would treat the same way. A lawyer won’t give you an hour-long meeting to discuss a case they haven’t even taken without being paid first and we are all okay with that. We just expect journalists and news organisations to be able to function without money.

Well, they can’t.

So journalism went a dangerously problematic route when they realised that advertising doesn’t work the same way for news organisations as it does for influencers. We went the route of ‘Native Advertising’ otherwise known as sponsored content. The best example of this is BuzzFeed, they write about products and companies in formats of personal experience and exciting announcements (while accepting payments from these organisations) and while they do attach disclaimers (as do most other organisations who do this), media literacy in our world is at a point where the consumer is barely able to distinguish paid content from the news and by virtue of paid content appearing on a news site, it has automatically become more credible than it would be on the website of the organisation itself. When we were unable to make money through any other means we began to sell our credibility and that’s on us. It’s working, though. We are gaining funding and we are losing credibility.

But who do we hold responsible for this?

Journalists.

Being a journalist is like living in a Facebook comments section nowadays. I’ve told people I am a real-estate agent just to avoid having that discussion where they feel like it is not only okay to blame me as an individual for all that is wrong in my field but also to unload all over me about every frustration they have with the country while simultaneously blaming me for it and refusing to pay anyone in my profession for providing the services they demand. When farmers protest because their livelihood is threatened, we see individuals who need to be protected, but journalists are rarely afforded the same privilege. Journalism is one of the most underpaid professions in the world and even more so in our country. Journalists are paid worse than even teachers which, let me be clear, is disrespectful to both journalists and teachers. My first two years working as a journalist I worked two full-time jobs and one part-time job just to be able to afford living in Delhi. I missed five Diwalis and Christmases in a row because I could get time-and-a-half working on those days and I needed the money.

Most of my friends started with salaries too low to even make rent and many of them still persist at only slightly higher incomes.  We expect the same thing from journalists that we do from designers of video games: constant crunch and to work at salaries lower than we deserve for the love of what we do. And it works. Most journalists love being journalists. We feed off the abuse and bear with the constant confrontation because we love what we do. We bear attacks, questions, arrests, unlawful detention, threats, lack of safety, wage insufficiency and endless deadlines because we believe in what we do and its importance.

It only matters to us though. As far as our community goes it is very clear that only if we descend to the lowest common denominator and openly display bias (towards the current government) on national television will any part of the country stand up to defend us (and you don’t get to complain about how the news is all screaming nowadays when that is all anyone is watching long enough to recognise the people who create it). Basically, we’re on our own. The majority of the journalists whose faces are not on billboards and TV screens are the ones who break stories, do research and supply the information that is consumed by most large news outlets, but those journalists are destined to be unread statistics sandwiched between posts about what Diwali gifts to buy and which Bollywood celebrity lost a lot of weight written by people no one is looking out for who haven’t slept in three days.

So the next time you feel like telling a journalist what you read on Whatsapp or how their job is not worth doing, please ask yourself, what the fuck have you done to keep the news alive?  That fifth lamp in your drawing room, that’s not doing anything to keep your lights on, but it’s easier to pay for that than the people who work tirelessly in the streets everyday to try and ensure accountability from your leaders and providers, isn’t it?

Well that’s on you then.

You get the news you deserve.

Scream Across The Room When Asking For A Tampon.

Any person who has ever bought a menstrual product knows they are sold in black plastic bags as if they are things that need to be hidden. Women are taught to apply shame and discretion to bodily functions and parts, and that is not free of impact. Here is why it would be better to be able to talk about tampons openly at the dinner table.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

How many times has this happened to you— You’re in a class, or a bar, or just hanging out with some friends when a woman you hardly know (or may know quite well) slides up to you and whispers to ask if you have a tampon? Or because we’ve changed into a new generation and have as a result changed our method of discreet communication, this girl texts you instead of sliding up. We always have this look on our faces; a combination of embarrassment and need and we always ask discreetly.

For instance when I was in school, one day a friend of mine started her period unexpectedly and she asked me for a sanitary pad. I reached into my bag to give her one and she said that i should put it inside a notebook and pass it to her. It was weird to me that she had this request but over the years I realized that this was norm.

Feminine hygiene products are meant to be hidden even when exchanged between women; much like the societal approach like they put them inside a black/opaque paper bag when you buy these products at the pharmacy. We’re supposed to hide our period and never mention it in company for fear of it being considered improper. I have personally had several people tell me to shut up or mind the room if I broach the subject of the menstrual cycle (which if I believe pop culture makes me leak blue stuff and cry over Bambi) but’s not just the period that is not to be mentioned, it’s various aspects of the female reproductive system.

A few days ago I was with my mother and we were going shopping when we (read: I) happened to start discussing fertility problems.

In this discussion I said the words, “My uterus is driving me insane and i don’t want to release eggs anymore, feel like a goddamn chicken.”

Obviously I was being playfully flippant but it was not that my mother took issue with. She promptly hushed me and pointed to the driver of the car. She whispered that i shouldn’t use such words so publicly (we were alone in the cab with the one person who was driving us). I tried to explain to her why it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate and in my explanation I used the word uterus again which made her decide not to speak again until I stopped using “dirty words”. It seemed like my mother’s approach to the female reproductive system was only viewed through a sexual-shame lens; she would not have reacted this was if I was discussing an infected toenail. It’s not her fault, this is just how we are taught to talk about our bodies, as if their parts are dirty things.

It just seems like we spend our half lives being taught about what is okay to talk about in the presence of men and/or in public and female reproductive health and systems is an inappropriate subject. That is part of why abortion is such a “no-no” subject at parties and family dinners. A man once literally called me insane for trying to explain to him what a female body goes through during a 28-day cycle. He seemed like he didn’t have any understanding of it at all but he was so uncomfortable with talking to me (a set of two holes that can make words) about this issue that he dubbed me insane.

Now I’m not saying everyone has to know women intimately, but no one should have to be shamed and silenced just because they talked about their fallopian tubes or their menstrual cycle with friends. There shouldn’t be a gender barrier on this information. Like in school, the talk about periods and puberty was limited to girls (in fact, we were explicitly told not to inform boys about what we would be discussing). Male puberty was never even discussed, which is a problem of itself. My point is that this information is  vital and if you communicate with women on a daily basis and if you have girlfriends/wives/children having the right information at the right time would benefit men as well but more importantly, freedom of discussion in all spheres will make sure girls and women are better informed. The conspiracy of polite silence for social propriety takes many victims.

I’ve had a fourteen year old sister (despite a Sex Ed class) wonder if men have both penises and vaginas. I’ve had a 20-year old boy ask me how come tampons don’t get lost inside people. I’ve met thirty (and older) year-old women who have never had a pelvic exam because “gynaecologist” is one of those words that is inappropriate to say in a social setting. My own mother had never had a breast exam until two years ago since, she had children. My friend couldn’t understand why I said birth control, and why I couldn’t just say condoms. Digest this please, this 27-year old had somehow missed the fact that contraception does not end at condoms.

However, it’s not just the lack of information, it’s also the misinformation. All the jokes around women being crazy on their period and all the mystery that shrouds that exchange of a tampon alienates women into a species that men and society as a whole cannot understand. It creates the environment that allows the distance between genders to joke about how little they know about the actual existence of one another. Lack of communication is a horrible thing but a system of silencing discourse on one particular subject either in a way that you shut it down or with the subtlety that encourages the discussers to whisper instead of talk creates an environment of misinformation, internalised shame and distrust. No girl should wonder why she has to whisper even though she does it because all the women around her do it. No woman should have to think of uterus as a dirty word.

So maybe, just maybe, next to you want to borrow a tampon you can just ask across the coffee table, just like you would ask for a spoon. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop pretending that women leak blue stuff from their vaginas every month for an unknown mythical reason. That’s stupid. Let’s not live in a stupid world.