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?

They Lied To You About Women’s empowerment.

I grew up in the liberation-generation. We were taught as young girls to stand up for ourselves, claim our rights and pursue our dream on which there were no limits, but those were lies. There were important things they forgot to tell us about this empowerment, these are those things.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

There is deception in this womanhood-thing. A mixed message. A dissonance. I remember being taught that I could do anything, I could change the world if that is what I wanted. I could build a wall or tear one down. I could inherit the earth or populate it. I remember being taught that I should study for I would need a career to rely on and no one should have to take care of me. I remember watching videos of women running, holding board-meetings, flying planes with neon messages of empowerment flashing underneath. I remember the birth of women’s day and slut marches. I remember the moment, when in a tennis skirt and my dad’s t-shirt at the age of thirteen, I decided I was done with shy awkwardness and I was ready to be the woman this world told me I could be; I remember the smell of the sweat on my face, the sound of my coach telling me to run faster, the ugly brick red colour of the court staring at me, I remember everything about the exact moment when I could have been filmed with a magenta message of empowerment flashing across the screen of my life.

They told me I could.

So I did.

I became what I was taught women should be by the messages of empowerment that littered my childhood. I became loud, I started saying everything I meant and asking for everything I wanted. I stopped being shy and scared, and I started stating my opinion with authority. I saw disparity and I started fighting. I saw goals and I discovered ambition. I achieved goals and I discovered hunger. I saw the law and politics, and I took my place as a citizen. I saw the little things everyday, the ones that take away from you when a man thinks he’s just spreading his legs on a seat he’s entitled to, and started pushing back. I saw sex, and love, and I liked them, so I did them. I saw the night and I wanted in. I saw choices and I made mine all by myself. I did what I had been taught. I stood on my feet. I learnt all the lessons that got me a career. I became independent.

But now they don’t like me.

No one told me.

No one told me those messages, and women like me are only welcome on women’s day and when someone has a pregnancy scare. Oh everyone loves a loud, empowered woman who says fuck a lot, everyone loves them, when you have to write a second-grade essay about someone you admire. Everyone loves them when it’s the 24-hour period designated to celebrating women. Everyone likes to read about them on dust-jackets and Humans of Bombay. Everyone loves a strong, independent woman, because that’s what we are teaching our daughters to be too after all, but only in concept. In real-life, this empowerment thing is a lie.

In reality, there was deception afoot. When they said you could do anything, they left a lot out. They click-baited you and by the time you realised they didn’t even have the information they advertised, you had wasted ten minutes reading the article. In the real version of events, when it’s not women’s day, the world has very different expectations for strong independent women.

In terms of career, when they said they wanted to you to “take care of yourself” they meant they would like for you to have “pocket money” to buy dresses and stuff, because when you do make money (and more of it than your husband) they will tell you that you will ruin your relationships. They’ll tell you that your are cold and “too ambitious” to have a family. That you are neglectful as a wife or a mother. That you have too much of an ego. That you only needed to take care of yourself until you had children.

In terms of rights, when they said yours matter, they meant they matter on paper to the image of their country and the family structure in place is reliant enough to ensure no girl would ever be given too much freedom. You can go wherever you want, in a world where your hostels will have curfews and your neighbours will be watchdogs for the time you come home. You can vote, but politics is not for women so they will actively discourage you from participating from the moment you’re old enough to say the word panchayat.

In terms of marriage, when they mean they want you to settle down and be stable, they mean they want you to be someone’s wife so they can feel like their parental duties towards you are over and you’re someone else’s property know. You can have the nicest caterer at your wedding and the water chestnut can be just scrumptious but the truth of the wedding is in the moments before it, when they remind you it’s your new life and you have to be a different person to fit into it. So what if someone is telling you how to dress and you have to wear pale yellow sarees to day events now, you’re supposed to be in love girl. With the guy that was pointed out to you.

In terms of freedom, when they said you can do anything you want, they meant you can do anything as long as you uphold the ten-thousand rules of honour that are upheld by your vagina. You can be friends with boys, but don’t have sex with them or worse, your girlfriends, and marry whoever we choose in bargain for that freedom. You can go study abroad but you have to come back and be a good daughyer-in-law to someone and for good measure shun all norms you may encounter in another country because they look and smell like freedom because Indian culture is best, you are a goddess here, and it doesn’t matter if what you really want to be is a pleather clad human-kitten with a ring around your nipple. Freedom is fine, if you beg and take what is given and remain eternally grateful.

In terms of love when they said you should give a lot of love, they meant in terms of service to men and their families. They meant you should be the colourful creature that likes animals and sacrifices her joys for everyone else because that’s what really brings her joy. They meant a chaste love of the Victorian era or post-truth India where love doesn’t involve reality, biology or desire, only families, immaculately-conceived babies and duty to the patriarchy.

There is deception in this womanhood-thing. There are lies. They don’t want free, empowered women. They want a party and a reason to eat bread on March 8.

Every other day, they tell us to eat cake.

The Myth Of A Free, Modern Woman Is Designed To Discourage Feminism.

People often tell me, especially on days like today which is International Women’s Day, that things are different now, and the modern woman in India in free. While many exceptional women have achieved extraordinary things in our country, they have done so against the odds. In reality women, modern or otherwise continue to be suppressed by bastardised versions of good ol’ sexism, and letting women believe things have changed is yet another ploy to discourage feminism and the fight for equality.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A few weeks ago I attended a really stuffy overly-coordinated event, as part of the proceedings, a middle-aged man did a bit of a comedy routine. The subject of his jokes was marriage and how women make it a miserable state of affairs for men to be in them; every joke was about how husbands are whipped, unhappy and subject to so much control, and how being “stuck” with their wives through the lockdown had been terrible for all of them. None of the jokes were even remotely funny. Fortunately for my outrage, the comedian ended up seated next to me at dinner, and I asked him about whether this sexist brand of humour was really appropriate.

“Not everything is meant to be taken so seriously,” he said genuinely surprised that he had been confronted, “It’s all in good fun.”

Good fun. The battle cry of the eternally inappropriate.

“Don’t you think though that creating this alternate reality where women have so much control in marriages they become the abusers is dangerous to the women’s movement?” I asked him, because I am nothing if not persistent, “Don’t you think it creates the falsity that women have it great out in the world?”

“What are you talking about?” He said, “These things you are talking about are old news, things are different for women now, things have changed.”

I’ve never wanted to drown myself in a bowl of soup more, but we’ve all heard this before right? Whether it is from a professor teaching the poetry of Mamta Kalia saying none of it applies anymore because times are different now. Or in conversation with a South-Delhi dwelling socialite sipping cocktails in honour of Women’s Day. Or from your own family who touts the freedom to work and leave the house (in daylight) as the monumental successes of modern India. We’ve all been taught the same things: Times are different, things have changed, modern women are free.

Are we, though? Are modern women free? Have times really changed?

Well, it’s 2021, and apparently the advancement of years is enough to indicate progress but let’s take a moment to think about the facts of our times. Women in India report 88-cases of rape a day, of which 30% lead to conviction. We had a high-court judge rule recently that touching a child through clothing does not amount to sexual assault. We had a Supreme Court Justice offer a rape-victim up for marriage as a means to commute the punishment of a government employee. Multiple women have been killed in the last few months alone for spurring the advances of men. The employment rate for women has been lower than 35% for my entire lifetime. The head of the National Council of Women (NCW) hates the term “feminist”. Female representation in government has been at a plateau for years. It hasn’t even been five-years since period-products were deemed essential in our country, and every year millions of girls drop-out of school due to lack of facilities to manage periods. We’ve had an officer of the police deem that beating his wife is a “personal matter”. We’ve seen a bunch of private-school boys use social media for revenge porn and to parade young women as trophies. We’ve seen a prominent and respectable journalist taken to court for defamation for alleging sexual harassment. We’ve seen a woman detained for her own alleged kidnapping because she didn’t want to marry the man her parents had chosen. There’s been a dowry related suicide this week. All of this is just news from the past few months and it’s nowhere near exhaustive.

Moreover, all of this is just facts and figures, there is a lot more to women’s existence. I am as modern a woman as one can be – I work, I vote, I wear skirts, I travel alone, I pay taxes, I date – and in a modern world a woman like me should have the option to be the norm, and based on the whole “awareness of rights and education” fix, a woman like me should never have to go through the archaic practises of the patriarchy that are such “old news” but that’s not true. I’ve been sexually assaulted, abused by a live-in partner, slut-shamed, harassed in the street and humiliated for not being the “right kind of woman”. I am just one of many examples, even as i was growing up, my peers and I were not taught freedom of choice, we were taught that women must learn to do everything: Work, keep a house, be financially independent, marry, bear children, keep her husband’s family happy and be overall quite agreeable. The test of tolerance is to demand respect and rights even when you refuse to embrace those roles, and as a country we have woefully failed that test.

When we say that it’s the 21-century and women are free, what we are really doing is pretending to a reality that doesn’t exist. Women ought to be free,  I wouldn’t dream to disagree, but we aren’t. In my very privileged experience, I know women who had to beg permission to work and are actively shamed for shunning their family as a result. I know women who cannot leave their house without permission. I know women who have been asked to ignore their husbands’ infidelity and abuse. I know women, and have been the woman, passed up for promotions because my bosses were worried I would have a baby and ruin their company. I’ve known women who have been assaulted for their choices and been forced to marry. I don’t know a single woman who is free, not even me, and every woman I know who has made choices in the interest of their freedom, including me, has suffered for them. Whether that is in the form of shaming, loss of family, loss of income, loss of respectability, loss of rights, outright violence or social shunning, we have suffered and we continue to suffer. That is why I refuse to buy into the notion that times are different. There are more buildings now, we have the internet, life expectancy has risen, but if I agree that things have changed, I give credit where none is due.

Yes, some women have achieved extraordinary things and others have found extraordinary happiness in everyday life, but as a whole the war is not over until women can stop fighting. Things aren’t different until success is had against the odds. We have not achieved freedom until we still have to grovel and modify our behaviour to be deemed worth of it. It’s dangerous to say “times are different” because it creates an alternate reality where women no longer need to fight for freedom, and that discourages feminism. That enables men to tell women to “lighten up” and leads to movements like #notallmen. It leads to men saying things like we should fight for “humanism” not feminism. It’s a tactic to make women believe things are better than they are and I refuse to participate. I refuse to say we have won, when the war is far from over. I refuse to celebrate battles because the celebrations are designed to distract us from the war.

How Breaking Free From Roles Changed My Life.

I do the wrong things, often and with relish, because after spending years working myself to death for validation I realised the patriarchal agenda had succeeded at reducing me, like many other women, to just one thing. Women are expected to find their identity within roles and justify their existence by excelling at them. This is how it transformed my life the day I decided the roles would have to find their place in my life without changing me.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Ever since I was a little girl I found it a bit strange when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s India’s favourite question to ask children, which is weird for a country whose favourite pass-time is ensuring no child is ever really allowed to grow up enough to make their own decisions. That’s not why I disliked being asked that question though, no, I disliked it because I was expected to give only one answer. I have never wanted only one thing from my life, and having to condense my entire worth into one role feels like I am being wrapped up in the unforgiving grips of an anaconda that’s about to consume me. As I grew up and realised the extent of the disparity women had been through in our country, as well as the world, I noticed what we have come to see as a common problem. Women are expected to define ourselves within an exhaustible set of roles.

You’re either a mother, a daughter, homemaker or a wife or if you’re “privileged” you’re given the option to define yourself by your job. The temptation is very strong there. When I was in my early twenties and just starting to work, I felt the overwhelming need to constantly overstate what I did for a living, and that I did something. I’d grown up watching most women be “housewives” and as much as I hate to admit that, I think I looked down on them when I was a teenager. I believed I was destined for a superior path, I wanted to do what men do:  Wake up in the morning, have coffee, put on a suit, get in a car and drive off to work. I wanted the stature that comes with having a job, much more than I wanted the money that comes with it. I thought all these women I saw they weren’t working by choice, and more importantly, I failed to recognise that all the work that did go into keeping a home, raising children and supporting a community deserves as much dignity as any other job. All of that came later, when I was younger, I just wanted everyone to know that I had a job, and my job was my entire identity.

I understand the temptation to call me an idiot for this, I think I was an idiot, especially because in my crusade to ensure women were no longer defined by singular roles, I defined myself by a singular role. Before you judge me too harshly please understand where I was coming from, I had seen women valued only for service, sacrifice, beauty and child-bearing most of my life, and I figured ensuring women were valued for their intelligence as well was a step forward. I know how hard I had to work to get the jobs I wanted and how much I had to put in to prove I could do them just as well as a man. The inordinate amount of pressure that is put on unmarried women to justify their unmarried and childless state by having a wildly successful career is hard to say the least, and it puts you in a state of blind ambition and constant competition. You work so hard at one thing that you cannot imagine defining yourself as anything else. All of your confidence and self-esteem comes from where you place your own value and I placed all of my value on my job. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I really truly love my work, and loving it created an additional layer of justification for my obsession with it. After all, we are taught to give everything we have to what we love, and that is what I was doing.

It was a hard day when I realised I had become just one thing. I had placed so much value on the one thing I was that being other things terrified me. I was scared of the idea of marriage because I believe it reduced me to a wife. I hated the idea of having children because if I had to be just mother, I would be giving up on what I considered made me brilliant. I was afraid of learning or doing something new because that meant I would have to redefine and rediscover my skills. On paper I always said that no matter what a woman chooses to do, she has value, but in my actions, I displayed something different. I displayed judgement for those that hadn’t taken the path in life that I had. I wondered why women placed so much emphasis on how wonderfully they kept their homes and how much attention they gave their children because I didn’t realise that we all have the same need for validation and self-esteem, and we take it where we find it. It wasn’t just my approach that was wrong, it was the entirety of this system. It pushes women to justify our existence by doing much more than one person should have to do, and much less than one person should be allowed to do. There are so many restrictions on being more than what you have been deemed to be, that at every step you are left fulfilling goals you didn’t even set for yourself.

If you’re working, you must work so much and so ardently just to be able to compete with an adequate male employee, because women are fired from jobs with so much more ease than men as society doesn’t view us as being “breadwinners” only suppliers of supplemental income. If you’re a wife you must clean, cook, report on your whereabouts, embrace a whole other family, dress like one, behave like one, sacrifice your wishes, be ever-present, never let your husband see you without make-up, wake up before everyone else in the house, the list is endless. If you are a mother just must conform to a sense of dignity afforded to motherhood, sacrifice yourself for your children, be there everyday to deal with every issue they have, feed them, clothe them, always be a ray of sunshine for them. We all may choose to embrace these roles differently, or not at all, but the societal expectations on all of us are the same, and we face the same condemnation for acting differently within these roles. Ultimately, it is all the same, we must embody a limited set of roles. We must be broken down to a set of nouns.

My life changed drastically the day I decided I wanted to be a set of adjectives instead. Nothing monumental happened. There wasn’t a big moment of realisation, nothing terrible or wonderful preceded it, I just realised there was so much I wasn’t doing because I was working so hard on justifying my right to exist. Like every other woman, I was doing too much within just one role, just so that I could feel like I had the right to the space I took up. I went back to the question I was so often asked as a child: What do I want to be when I grow up?

That list used to be so long, and the only part of it I had embraced was my job. I wanted to be a journalist and I was, but that’s all. That’s all I was. I also wanted to write, not the news, I wanted to write pain and emotion and stories of all the people in the world. I wanted to dance. I wanted to learn yoga and martial arts. I wanted to fall madly, insanely in love. I wanted a house full of animals. I wanted to speak five languages. I wanted to keep studying and rack up a wall full of degrees so intimidating they could speak for me. I wanted to take long walks and regularly get lost. I wanted to travel, not for work, but just because it’s Sunday. I wanted to contribute to local politics. I wanted to feed the hungry. I wanted to run a marathon. I wanted to really get to know people and learn to care about them. I wanted to win awards and give them back to the government because I don’t approve of their policies. I wanted to paint my walls black. I wanted to quote Anais Nin and lust after Victor Hugo. Heck, I want to be Victor Hugo, I want all the brothels in a city to be closed the day I die, that’s the fucking dream. I wanted to go to protests. I wanted to be arrested. I wanted to satyagraha. I wanted to indulge all the creepiness and macabre that I enjoy much more than one person should. That’s who I wanted to be.

That’s who I decided I would be.

I refused to govern my life in anticipation of the roles that I would have to one day embody and instead I designed a life where I did what I wanted and the roles would fit in. I wouldn’t change my life to be wife or worker or mother, I would be who I wanted, and those things would only happen if they fit into my life. The day I decided not to care about whether I fulfil my roles well-enough was the day I truly embraced freedom, and it worked marvellously. I did get married, but nothing in my life changed for it, I love my husband for who he is and he loves me for who I am. No one moved, no one changed their name, we kept living in the same house and having the same legal identities. I didn’t change how I dress, work or travel. We don’t limit one another, we marvel at each other’s adventures instead. Our house is often dirty and we just hope the other one remembered to throw together a salad for lunch. We travel without each other, and we love each other shamelessly with abandon. I work whatever jobs I feel like working, and I find ways to make more money than I ever could have working just one, I only do what I enjoy I refuse to define myself by what I do. I did go back to college in a weird place, and I love it. I did have a child, I didn’t birth him, he came from my husband’s first marriage, but I didn’t become mother. He stayed who he is and I stayed who I am, and we learnt to love each other. I learnt to parent, as I would, with swear-jars and walks on which we feed all the dogs in all the neighbourhoods. I never learnt to do the “right” things, but I learnt to be honest about everything I do. I learnt to respect everything anyone does, no matter what it is. I learnt to love my life, and not limit myself but what life is supposed to be. I refuse to be worn out by my child. I refuse to grow to hate my partner. I refuse to be exhausted and limited by my job. I refuse not to grow. I refuse not to join a karate class for children just because it’s too late for me now.

Nah.

I won’t take on roles, they are welcome in my life, but I will be who I am, and they will adjust around that. I will never be able to answer the question about who I am, because the answer is not a word, it’s an essay. I am vast, I contain multitudes.  So do you.

Why Do Men So Easily Sexually Harass “Open-Minded” Women?

While all women are subject to a certain degree of sexual harassment, some women are often treated to inappropriate behaviour from men they know at a much higher frequency. These men will often tell you that you are “open-minded” and therefore sending them signals, but what do they mean when they call you that? Why do men think they can be as inappropriate as they like with “open-minded” women? In our latest piece, I detail my personal experiences to figure out what an “open-minded” woman means to a man.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Shortly after I started working my first job as a journalist, a much-older (and married) producer in our office asked me to accompany him for coffee after work so that he we could discuss my “career plans”. I thought we were going to a cafe or the press club as colleagues but instead he took me to a rather secluded, completely shady establishment. The kind that has blackout curtains that reek of tobacco and round tables with white tablecloths that haven’t been washed since they were bought. I was immediately uncomfortable and told him I couldn’t stay long since I was meeting someone for dinner later. He brushed that off and began discussing my work with me, telling me that I was “different” and amazing but this field of work is so competitive that you can’t get ahead on brilliance alone.

“You’re ambitious,” he said to me touching my hand that was gripping the cup, “I can help you get ahead, you want to work at a news agency? I can help you.”

I was shocked. No matter how many times this happens to you, I think it always continues to be shocking. I wasn’t sure how to react either. In the past I had done all the things: complained, not complained, punched, reasoned, gotten the police involved, gotten the community involved, spoken up and not spoken up. I had done all of them and there is only one thing that all those methods had in common was that after the fact, I was always the one who was questioned/talked about/doubted.

“I don’t need help,” I told him, “And when I do, I know who to ask for it.”

“Don’t be like that,” he said coming closer to me and gripping my other hand, “You’re an open-minded woman, don’t take this the wrong way.”

I excused myself to the bathroom and asked a friend to call me pretending to have an emergency. I called a cab and left, even as he insisted that he would drop me off. As I began the hour-long journey home, I began to think about a word he had used to describe me: Open-minded. I am open-minded but to me that means that I am interested in information-based decision making that is open to change as and when more reliable information is added. That’s not what open-minded means to many, many people though. I’ve learnt that when most men say open-minded they mean a very specific thing and it’s not necessarily a compliment. To him, I was open-minded because I drank alcohol, I wore dresses and skirts, I swore, I lived alone, I spoke openly about dating, (even though we never had a conversation about it) I’d clearly had sex before, I smoked cigarettes, I advocated for women’s sexual liberty, I worked in a “cool” profession, I’m openly bisexual. To him those things meant that I was “immoral” and would therefore sleep with anyone.

I remember once a very long time ago, I could not have been over twelve, and my mother was fuming about something. I don’t remember what it was exactly but some man said or did something inappropriate with her. I asked her what was wrong and while she did not share the entirety of the incident, she did tell me something that stayed with forever.

“When men see a woman they called “bindass” (translation: wild, free) they cross limits,” she said to me, “Just because I like to have fun and I drink and make merry with everyone, doesn’t mean men should cross limits with me.”

My mother’s extremely astute observation is true even today. While there is no “one-type” of woman who is more prone to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, predatory men of a certain kind tend to seek-out women of a particular nature. This is not at all to say that women should not persist in being whoever we want, but it does indicate that men have been taught certain behaviours are immoral for a woman (drinking, wearing revealing clothing, swearing, having sex) and if a woman engages in them, that must mean she’ll let you have sex with her. This is the story of my entire life (and I imagine the lives of women like me). Men take liberties with me and they have since I was very young. Men you would never think would do things like that. While dancing in a group of women, men who barely know me will touch me and no other woman there. Married men have touched and said the most inappropriate things you can imagine to me. Men have insinuated and outrightly assumed that a “woman like me” would definitely cheat on her partner because “one man cannot satisfy me”. Men have assumed they can kiss me just because I am in a room with them (and done it). Men who were my bosses and teachers have “wanted something more” and tried to leverage their position to get it. Men I’ve hired will still sometimes call me drunk in the middle of the night to tell me they “feel something special for me”. Men have hidden outside my window watching me as I sleep. To say nothing of the outright criminal offences that have been committed against my body. My autobiography would essentially be a chargesheet.

All these men, well not all because some of them would have preyed on literally any woman, but many of them took these liberties with me because they believed I am “open-minded”. I speak my mind. I advocate for and engage in causes like polyamory and homosexuality so that must mean I am a pervert who will let anyone have me. I will use the term ex-girlfriend with as much ease as ex-boyfriend so that just means I am a whore. I will ask a male colleague to step out for a smoke with me so that just means I am a slut. I will wear a low-cut dress and black lipstick to a party so that just means anyone can touch me. I will loudly and with confidence be who I am at all times so that means I am more “open to” sexual harassment than others. We tell women that what we wear is never the cause for rape, and it isn’t, the criminal intent in the mind of the rapist is always the cause, but predatory men do actually take cues about their chances of getting away with it from women’s behaviour. While that’s still on them, it does make for an interesting insight on how men choose their victims. In a country where you have the option to blame the skirt and vodka for your criminal behaviour, it’s best to pick someone drinking vodka in a skirt.

And that is often exactly what happens. When I talk about these incidents, especially when I spoke about them in the aftermath when the vulnerability was still fresh in my mind too, I have mostly gotten the same responses. The same questions. Questions like: What were you wearing? Why did you go there with him? Why are you always being so “pally” with men? What did you drink? Are you sure that’s actually what happened or are you misunderstanding? Maybe he was just being friendly? Did you touch him first? Maybe you sent him signals that you were open to it? Why do you have so many piercings? Why did you let yourself be alone with him? The same damn questions. Everytime. The questions too came mostly from people you wouldn’t expect, people who loved me and allegedly cared for me. People who were just “looking out for me”. People who thought it was their job to give me advice on how to “protect myself”. Ultimately though, it was only in rare instances that people shared my my outrage, and even in some of those incidents, there was a question that put the onus of responsibility on me.

Why didn’t you do anything?

Well, I used to. I used to rage each and every time. Complain. Take action. Call them out right there. I’m fucking tired now. I am not exaggerating when I say how permanant a fixture of my life being inappropriately hit on by men is, and if at this point you find youself wondering quietly that maybe it’s me, maybe I am actually asking for it, let me tell you, you are part of the reason why I am tired of bringing it up again and again. I know what happens when you bring it up, you get a reputation for being “difficult” and the men get to walk away having cast aspersions on you. Almost everyone leaves the situation wondering what it is that you did that made the man think he could fuck you. Even as you complain, even to the police, you are not allowed to be angry. People constantly tell you to “calm down” and reassess the situation when you are calm. As if sexual harassment becomes less sexually harassment the morning after. And that is just what happens socially, what happens emotionally is much bigger and much more invisible problem.

When people tell you to “let it go and be careful next time” what they are saying is that you should just erase your trauma and clad yourself in body armour against it for the future but trauma is a serious thing. Due to certain incidents in my life, I already carry a lot of trauma borne out of sexual violence and abuse, when you add all of this (and it’s a lifetime of it, mind you) to that it contributes to re-traumatizing the victim. I’m just telling my story here, but the number of women who suffer from this is extraordinary. Trauma has a way of showing itself in all factions of your life, and when you already know what it is like to have your consent violated and your body breached, every single incident that follows feels like it may lead to the same path. You live with fear. You re-live the most fearful parts of your life with regularity. Then one day when you’re running on the sidewalk and someone walks too close behind you, you panic and punch them before they can do something terrible to you even though they were just stopping to cross the road. Your reflexes learn a very different world than the one that exists out there. That’s the impact of trauma. That’s the real impact of men thinking they can get away with harassing “open-minded” women.

Will I stop being open-minded?

That’s extremely unlikely, I am who I am and I intend to never let anything get in the way of that, but that didn’t come without a steep cost. And everyday there are young girls and older women being subject to casual sexual harassment that is causing them to re-evaluate their behaviour and choices. We’re destroying women’s liberty and authenticity by allowing men to be creeps around them based on how the women behave. We’re convincing women high neck sweaters and seven-layers of clothing are better. Speaking softly is better. Never letting themselves be free is better. Drinking in secret is better. We’re telling women not to be the “open-minded” girl because open-minded girls get raped, and the worst part of that is that there’s some fucking truth to that. Not because of the “open-minded” girls, but the way we are seen in society. We’re never going to fix rape culture by reacting to the incidents after the fact, we’re never going to fix it at all unless we start here, at what happens every day.

Disclaimer: Please understand this piece is about a certain type of sexual harassment and does not mean at all to insinuate that only “open-minded” women are victimized by men. I do not in any way wish to minimize the experiences of other women, only to discuss the esoteric and niche factions of the rape culture.

How The Army Uses Sarees To Devalue Women.

Women’s lives are governed by dress-codes but in the Indian Army, wives are obligated to dress in sarees for various events. Many people argue that this affinity for aestheticism shouldn’t be a big deal, but what if it’s not just an aesthetic choice? What if it’s not a choice at all? In this piece we discuss how forcing a woman to dress “beautifully” devalues us, and how the army dabbles in this casual oppression.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

“It’s just a saree,” she said to me, “Why do you have so much of a problem with wearing it?”

I mean, she had a point, right? Our social lives are governed by dress-codes. No matter where you work, whether it is a high-strung corporate office or a “cool” financially-troubled community-workspace rental company, there are some guidelines that exist to govern how you can dress. However unlike those organisations whose guidelines extend only to their employees, the army seeks to control not just its employees but their families as well. The army does not employ the wives of the people who work there, and therein lies my problem with it. It is customary in India to tell women who are newly married that they are about to begin a “new life” but when a woman marries a man in the army, they are immediately told they are marrying an organisation, and its traditions as well. I am awfully fond of my human-husband, but my organisation-husband and I, are definitely in a dysfunctional and abusive relationship.

For me, the abuse began, shortly after I married my partner when one of his bosses invited us home to welcome us “into the family”. During this evening, his wife, who knew well-enough that I am an atheist (and definitely not Hindu before then either) and that I we had had a non-religious marital union solemnised only by a judge and no fires whatsoever, presented me with a red saree, sindoor and some red bangles. While I accepted her present due to uncharacteristic politeness, I also told her that giving me (or anyone) something that doesn’t align with their religious affiliation might not be very sensitive, and she said to me a phrase that I would hear repeatedly over the years,

“But this is our tradition,” she said, “You’re an army wife now, you will learn these things.”

Learn religious insensitivity? I think not. Regardless, I let that incident go, at least insofar as I didn’t base my entire opinion on the social structure of the army on that incident. I mean, it was only a gift, it was only a saree. The issues really began when I didn’t wear a saree to an event where I was supposed to, I wore trousers and a coat because I came from work and also because that is what I own in terms of clothing. I’ve always said that it’s perfectly fine for institutions to have traditions, traditions can be a wonderful and positive thing, but it’s how institutions behave when some doesn’t follow their traditions that determines where they really stand. The army stands at complete intolerance. When I didn’t wear the saree, the backlash was immediate and severe. It didn’t impact me or force me to change my behaviour, because you develop an extremely thick skin when you’re a liberal journalist working field in India, but it was directed at me for refusing to conform, and that matters.

It matters because the saree is not just an article of clothing when it comes to the army. As an article of clothing, sarees are great. Sarees are a method of indoctrination in the army though. You wear one so that the people around you can identify you as “army wife”, it’s akin to putting on a uniform. That would be fine if I worked for the army and maybe even if the determination of my status as “army wife” didn’t govern the treatment meted out to me socially, but it does. People in the army treat army wives like airheaded objects of beauty. Women are expected to sacrifice their time to the goal of teaching other equally unhappy women to make jewellery out of vegetables and parade around making presentations on panchtatv that could be summarised in a 60-second YouTube clip (prospectively titled: Stuff no one really needs to know). Women are expected to mingle socially only with each other and any conversation we may have with the “officers” has them politely nodding while trying to guide us to the other nearest saree-clad creature. I’ve had men explain my job to me. I’ve had them tell me what my interests. I’ve had them explain that I love sarees, I just hate myself and that is why I resist them.

On the other hand when I do discuss things that I find fun with “officers” over a smoke or a drink, they think it’s okay to hit on me and it must mean that I am “open for business” to all men because well, I deign to behave like I have as many social privileges as they do. There’s only two categories for women here: household diva and complete whore, and in both categories we’re expected to dress in the same article of clothing. It epitomizes the stereotype we are expected to embody (and I don’t actually know a single woman who really does fit the stereotype). I know what happens here. I’ve read this story before. You reduce a woman to aesthetic value and an article of clothing. You start seeing her as a chopper of vegetables and an object of beauty. You treat her like she doesn’t, or even couldn’t possibly, have knowledge or opinions. Let alone a “real” job. You tell her she cares about clothing and eventually she figures if she must find value in herself she must play your game to utter perfection. So she stops tying sarees on yoga pants and buys heels to replace her favourite sneakers. She starts talking about those sarees with other women. She cares about them. You tell her she has the power to tell other, younger women how to dress and check them if they don’t. You “elevate” her in the shackled ranks you created for her. Then you tell her that all women care about is sarees and shopping, even though you started the cycle that oppressed her into caring. You can imagine, and I can prove, that these people treat their female colleagues exactly as you would expect of them. Their idea of women is colourful creatures wrapped in 5-meters of silk that only talk to each other. As far as they are concerned, the mystery of womanhood continues.

Yet there are people who ask me: It’s only a saree, why can’t you just wear it? How does it really hurt you? Can’t you just do it for your husband? It’s only a few hours a month? What is the big deal?

And to these people, I’d like to offer some answers.

It’s not only a saree, just like it’s not just sindoor and it’s not just a chooda, it means something, and I don’t like what it means. I’m not going to pretend to like it. It hurts me because I have to buy them and I don’t want to spend money I work to earn on fabrics that only stress me, I should not be obligated to do that. You don’t know my financial situation, maybe I am poor, maybe I have a gambling problem, maybe I can’t stop buying every hot-sauce I see, and maybe I have the right to spend my money exactly as I fucking please. It hurts me because I am fucking uncomfortable and I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be uncomfortable for a single second when no law in our country dictates that I should have to be and if it did, I would be in jail for fighting it. I also cannot do it for my husband. If that means to you that I don’t understand marriage or love, lol, but also that’s your problem. I deliberately abstained from putting myself in a marriage where my partner would even think to crush a fundamental part of my nature. He doesn’t tell me what to wear, I don’t tell him how to live, we don’t casually hate each other, and we don’t seek to control one another. That is not a healthy relationship, so maybe you should wonder why you would even ask that question. If my husband’s career depends on what I wear, there’s something wrong with this profession, not me. Also, a few hours a month add up. Even on a single day when I’ve spent half the day working, the other half in college, the rest of it writing, cooking, cleaning (and no, I don’t do it alone, but even half the work is work), it’s too much of an imposition on my time and comfort. If that makes me difficult, good, it’s about time women were difficult.

And finally: What is the big deal?

Well, my belief system. That’s the big deal to me. It’s not just a hobby this “women’s rights” thing. It’s not about candle-selfies at India Gate. If Gandhi had taken up freedom as a hobby, we’d still be sticking out our pinkies while sipping tea. I actively live to resist symbols of oppression. You can’t just expect me to take up a part-time cause. I can’t just be an advocate for women’s equality on weekdays and take the weekends off to dabble in casual oppression. That’s my tradition, and if your tradition was willing to accept someone like me, we wouldn’t have had a problem. Heck, I might have willingly put on a saree. But no, you decided that you had to devalue women through aesthetic responsibility, and so, fuck you very much. I’m not here for it and it is a big deal. It’s not just a saree. It’s a silk prision. I don’t do prison. Well, not yet, anyway.

Why Does It Feel Like The Feminists Hate Me?

There is a social trend that dictates women must hate each other: the tomboy must hate the makeup artist, the homemaker must hate the career women, the bookish must hate the party girls, but in my experience I have faced more dislike from the women most similar to me than the ones that were very different. Is this real? If it is, why? Why does it feel like the feminists hate other feminists?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Ruchita and I liked each other instantly. She was one of the students at a school of embroidery in a tiny village close to Varanasi and I was there doing a story that had to do with the social treatment of widowed women in India. Ruchita was only eighteen but she was a widow, she was only married for four months before her decades-older alcoholic husband passed from cirrhosis of the liver. She invited me to come home with her and we sat together on her bed watching make-up tutorials. As averse as I am to letting people touch my face, I let her replicate the tutorials on my face. For the week that I was there we met each morning for a walk, she liked to take walks outside the settlement, that was her mode of freedom. We talked a lot on our walks, I told her about my life and my new boyfriend, she told me about her life and how she wasn’t going to let her parents take it away a second time. During one of our walks she held my wrist and looked at the scars on my arm before rolling up her sleeve and showing me similar scars on her own arm. Self-harm transcends many boundaries.

“I know what happened,” she said to me, “You loved someone, didn’t you?”

“No, it’s not that,” I told her, “It’s more like I forgot to love myself for a while.”

It was a beautiful moment, two women acknowledging each other’s pain and struggle, without having to equivocate them or measure them against one another. She hugged me, and I hugged her back, and we just kept on walking. She told me about her brother who lived many states away, and I told her about my sister who moved continents away. When I left we were both openly expressive about being saddened by it, she gave me a lipstick that I lost almost immediately, and I gave her my eyeliner which I had almost definitely stolen from my other sister. I had found it so remarkably easy to talk to her, but more importantly I never felt like I was sitting there wondering whether she actually liked me or not. The same has not been true of my experience with many other women.

I know how that sounds and let me say staight-away, I love women so much I date them. I adore women and I love having conversations with women. My closest friends are women. My deepest connections are with women. All my role-models are women. This isn’t an “I’ve always gotten along easier with men” piece, it’s more nuanced than that. There is, however, some truth to fact that I have been disliked by a lot of women in my life. There was a time in my life when I had a flawed approach to other women. There is no excuse for it, but since I’m constantly being accused of finding a way to the blame the patriarchy for everything let me give that a shot, because my approach to other women was heavily informed by the way society pits women against one another. I was into books and black-lipstick, so I figured that meant I had to dislike anyone who was into dresses and pink lipstick. Society also makes women believe that they can only be on one of those sides when in truth you can be a woman who likes football, tattoos, sarees and romantic poetry all at once. You know, like a human. There’s also an element of competition which is intensified by the fact that there is so little room for women in the professional world and inadvertently we are laid out to measure against one another. However it wasn’t all patriarchy.

This doesn’t make me look good but when I was a teenager I believed I was special, unique if you will, because I was always talking about women’s rights and a liberal outlook and politics, I thought that meant I, alone, was brilliant. This is just ego and has nothing to do with sexism, I think for a lot of us when we grown-up as the “outsider”, the one who is always being told (not even as a compliment) that they are different, we find our identity within that and perhaps it is a human flaw that we gatekeep our identities. As if someone else being like us will dilute our essence and take from us our individuality. Fortunately, as soon as I moved out of my home and opened myself to the world, I grew out of my tendency. I realised that brilliance in others is the most enjoyable thing in the world, and brilliance in women, is something that as a feminist, I had to wholeheartedly celebrate. There was some unlearning involved and there were moment when faced with a brilliant woman I had to resist the urge to dislike them for no reason just because they threatened me. I believe, today, that I no longer approach brilliant women in the same way, and I believe, as a result, I am able to not only locate but celebrate the individuality of all people. However, I still face a lot of dislike and hostility, sometimes outright and sometimes underhanded, from other women.

One would think that this hostility would come from women who are very different than I am, but most often I get along with women who are different really well, it’s women who are very similar to me in personality, ideology, life experience and most importantly, goals, with whom I face these problems. Feminists seem to dislike me the most. It’s not just me though, there are other women who feel this way and some of them, often the younger ones, are left wondering whether they are feminist enough to be accepted within the ranks. It’s not that though, the degrees of feminism isn’t the problem, at least I don’t think it is. I think the problem lies on two levels, one of them I discussed earlier. The other one is that we are all very dishonest people and we communicate terribly. We tell people we dislike, that we like them, while using our behaviour to insinuate our dislike at the same time. We pretend. We lie. We feel like as feminists we have to support other women and in that we barter our authentic emotions for a pretence that makes us look, but not feel, good.

I have two cats and I just got a puppy. They are in the stage where they are still adjusting to each other so while they will exist with one another within the same space and tolerate one another’s presence, they don’t approach each other wanting to know more just yet. They are threatened by each other so instead of probing they’re stewing in a tolerant but wary state of silent aggression. Often I feel like this is the problem with the interpersonal relationships of feminists, we exist in the same space, we have to tolerate each other on principle, but we do not approach one another because we’re so similar, maybe if we stand too close, we’ll dim each other’s shine. However, this problem also contains the solution. My best friends today, are people who instantly and intensely disliked me for a while, and the only way to break that barrier was to ask questions. Whenever I am faced with someone who threatens me, or makes me worry about being less, I talk to them until I discover how wonderful they really are. It’s simple and it works, all it takes is putting aside ego and forgetting to measure our experiences on a scale to see who wins. Ruchita and I didn’t do that, because we knew that we were fundamentally from different worlds, but when the worlds are too similar we worry about guarding and declaring them as ours. Like my cats.

However, the cats will grow out of it, will we?