Why I Decided To Speak Openly About Abuse In My Own Relationship.

It is well-known that victims of abuse rarely speak up, and while we generally understand that this is due to vague “social” factors, this understanding of abusive relationships is incredibly shallow and ultimately perpetuates the culture that supports abuse. When a victim of abuse does speak up, what makes them do it?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

The first time my former partner hit me I was sixteen years old. He kicked me in the ribs, punched me in the face and pushed me down onto the road while at least six-people watched and averted their eyes. Not a single person, man or woman, stepped forward to stop a 21-year old man pummeling a girl still in her school uniform. I fled the scene as soon as I could. I didn’t talk about it then. I didn’t tell anyone.

Why?

Well, I was a 16 year-old schoolgirl dating a 21 year-old college graduate. Who was I going to tell when I was already living most of my life in secret? I knew exactly what talking about it was going to yield. People were going to ask me why I would be with this guy. Others were going to call me a slut. Still others would just call me a liar trying to get attention (because women must be crucified for that above all else). I also didn’t talk about it because on some level, it felt normal, and even surreal. It was the single most exhilarating experience of my life until that moment and while that doesn’t necessarily mean I liked it, it does mean that I was drawn to the violence. I was sure that if I said that people would tell me I had asked for it and probably even wanted it. I was sixteen, not an idiot, by that age “what will people say” has been properly understood by most women. I know now it felt normal because of what I had seen in society growing up and that it felt surreal because it was and that is part of how trauma-bonds form. I didn’t understand this then.

I just understood that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it.

Eight years into that relationship when I finally left, I understood a lot more than I ever imagined I would. You can get a degree in it, but you can also attain an equivalent (or at least equally respectable) level of knowledge about abuse, predatory behaviour, violence and trauma by loving an abusive man (or person). Very early into this relationship I began to understand and take note of the abuse, this didn’t make me leave, and on some level might have even contributed to the artistic curiosity that made me stay, but it compelled me to try to understand the mechanisms within a relationship that foster and enable abuse. Of course the complete reasoning behind not leaving was far more complex because abusers will strip you of independence, confidence, stability and sanity, and that impacts ones capacity to make reasonable decisions. Being the kind of person who is drawn to abusive relationships also comes with its own psychological challenges that enable and motivate you to stay in the relationship. I stayed because I wanted to. I say I loved him (and I did) but more than that I think I believed the suffering gave my life meaning. I believed I was sick in the head and he was accepting of my sickness.

I knew for sure I wasn’t supposed to talk about that.

Yet from a completely theoretical, but personally rooted, standpoint I wanted to talk about it, so a few years before leaving my former partner I started to write about our relationship under cloak of anonymity on the internet. Unknowingly I began to elucidate the complex relationship dynamic that exists between victim and abuser. In writing I was shocked to discover there were thousands of women all over the world who had stories just like mine. Writing is a powerful tool, because the process is analytical it encourages you to take information apart and synthesise it into coherent conclusions or question it further until you do. It was because of the writing that I learnt exactly what was going on in my own life. It was because of the writing that I was able to guide other women to understanding the abuse in their relationships. I was blown away by the impact of this. When you write the news or scripts for the news, it’s very cold and impersonal, and that is comfortable, but when you write your life, it is harsh and visceral. I was blown away by the impact of the visceral.

While I wrote about victimology from the perspective of a victim, I also noticed how domestic violence in the news was covered. The one thing that is common in the coverage of all victims is their innocence. Innocence is an interesting concept in that I believe it is mythical. In abusive relationships we have a very monolithic view of people, they are either the monster or the innocent. This view of victims is what excludes so many of us from the community and having our stories believed. It excludes us because we do not qualify as innocent. Because, am I innocent? Well. With regard to the abuse in that relationship? Absolutely. I did not deserve abuse, no one does and it violated my legal rights. But am I an innocent? No, thank you. Aside from not fully knowing what that means I can say with complete confidence that if someone wanted to legally assassinate my character in one of those dramatic trials that don’t really exist anywhere, they would be able to do it. I am a woman. We are as complex as any other human being. We do good things and bad. We make good decisions and poor ones. We are not innocents and we are not demons. We are navigating life.

And that is why I decided that I would always speak openly about abuse in my own relationship.

I decided I would speak openly because women like me deserve a voice too. Uninnocent victims of abuse deserve to be represented, if for no reason other than the fact that a sixteen year old girl might read this and realise she is not alone. When we paint singular narratives of vast concepts, what it really leads to is alienation. I didn’t speak up for many years because I was weighing my own morality to decide whether I deserved the right to speak but the person who abused me never seemed to question his. I should worry about speaking because, what will people think? But he didn’t worry even as he hit me in plain view of supposedly respectable adults. Victims are supposed to quiet, naive and innocent but the power of a victim who isn’t is the most dangerous thing because you cannot control the truth if the person speaking it is no longer afraid of it. I decided I would speak up because the fact that healing and transcendence is possible deserves as much of a voice as the fact that abuse exists. I decided to speak because it is more important to protect the sanity of those suffering right now than the identity of those who make others suffer at their hands.

I am no longer afraid of speaking my truth out loud and with enough personalization that if you know me in “real” life this might be hard for you to read. It should be hard. The longer we depersonalise victims and think of them as the mute being represented by loud activists and lawyers, the longer we will let the silence around this continue. But people still ask me, why I speak about this things out loud, and why I am not worried what people will think of me?

Well.

I am almost thirty. I’ve lived as a precocious teenager. As an outspoken woman. As a journalist. As an activist. As an openly promiscuous woman. As a troublemaker. As an artist. As a deeply intense romantic. As a shamelessly foul mouthed feminist. What are people going to say about me now, that hasn’t already been said?

Read more of my coverage on domestic violence in India for The Quint.

How Fat Women Are Taught to Hate Themselves.

Whether it is in matrimonials, drawing rooms or classrooms, fat girls are taught to hate themselves for the bodies they have. Pop culture reduces the representation of fat women to a comedic trope or a pitiful sexuality. If it is all done in the name of concern and health then why do millions of women suffer from eating disorders and self loathing because of it?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

In early 2014 I met my (then) boyfriend’s entire family for the first time. I am not a great candidate for familial introduction in such circumstances so I had asked my sister to come along. After spending some time with his parents, he took me across the street to meet his grandparents. I sensed something odd when his grandmother only responded to everything I said in cold mono-syllables but I ignored my misgivings and sat down to tea with them. Over the course of tea she smilingly spoke only to my sister, frowning in my direction each time I said something, and then silently turning back. Ultimately, she spoke out loud across the room,

Why don’t you marry the thin sister instead?”

I finally understood, in old-lady court, I had committed the crime of being fat and that meant she didn’t even need to talk to me to decide I was unfit for her precious boy. It was a crime so grave that she would replace me with the next thin woman she could see and in that scenario it was my sister. When I put it like this, this scenario might be sound crass and openly rude, and it was, but it was also another thing, common.

When I was very young and overweight, I was taught that it was unhealthy. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realised I was also being told that it was ugly. At the age of fourteen when an endocrinologist thought it was appropriate to prescribe diet pills to me for high testosterone, I thought of it as medicine, but when I saw the posters in his office, it started to also feel like punishment. One of the posters that has stayed with me, had the image of a thin woman in a skirt and a pink top who was dancing and on the other end was a fat woman in a saree with a frown on her face holding a plate of food. The caption read — Remember, it’s always thin and beautiful or fat and ugly at a party.

It was around that time that I started to identify as the ugly fat girl. It wasn’t a single-point messaging system. Every person that I met felt it was appropriate to comment on my weight and tell me what not to eat, from family members to school teachers, and I was actively encouraged to skip meals. Asking for more food was met repeatedly with so much scrutiny that I felt like I was always being watched if I ate, and I developed a fear of eating in front of people so severe that I didn’t have lunch or breakfast for at least five years and sometimes still have trouble eating three meals. I would only eat when I was alone late at night because at least then I felt like I was the only person judging me. Despite the fact that I was always an active child who swam and played tennis, people called me lazy and I was expected to just take it. If I walked five kilometres comfortably, it was treated as if I was a pig who has demonstrated she could fly. I was told that fat people are never successful and asked to list any examples of ones I knew that were. Anytime I indulged in what I thought was beautiful clothing, I was told it was vulgar because when thin women wear skirts, it might be called revealing, but when a fat woman does it, it’s immediately vulgar. I was encouraged to dress for maximum coverage not because of conservatism but because if I hid it under clothing, I wouldn’t seem so fat anymore.

There were other things I was expected to do so I could no longer be fat. I was expected to be on diets as a teenager as often as possible even though I had no desire to replace dinner with a powdery-shake. I was expected to go to places that would vibrate or sweat the fat out of me. I was made to join gyms where the instructors were told right in front of me that I ate too much and it was probably impossible to get me to be thin. It was all presented very casually, like everyone did this, and so I suppose at the time I didn’t find it as disturbing as I do in retrospect. Then there were the scare tactics where I was told I would have so many health problems and definitely a heart attack if I continued to be fat, and I do now have heart-attack triggered anxiety so, huzzah? I was told no one would ever love or marry me and I was asked how the people I did date were okay with me being fat. I was encouraged to seek what they really wanted from me because it couldn’t be that they actually liked a fat girl, because if you are fat, that’s the extent of the personality you are allowed to have. If you ever lose the weight you are allowed to be more than, but until then, that’s all you are.

Fat.

I realise issues of body-image don’t only plague fat women, we police the bodies of all women and only about 5% meet the beauty standard, the remaining 95% of us, spend our lives grappling with the flaws. We all have something that we have been told is wrong about us: Too skinny, too fat, too “wheatish”, too short, too tall, the list is really endless, but weight is a consistently pervasive subject of shaming for women. Women are taught to aspire to perfect bodies and to love the bodies that we aspire to as opposed to the ones we have. Women who are curvy or even overweight are expected to always be working on achieving slimness and all the methods I mentioned above are applied to all of us in some combination to shame us into compliance. It’s all hushed up under the guise of concern though, because anytime you question these ghee-eating, incense-burning, think-kapalbhati-cures-everything people about boundaries, they all say the same thing in response,

“We are saying this for your own good.”

In the name of this good fat women have been reduced to a comedic trope for pop culture. They have been disallowed from the cult of beauty and any attempt to be sexy. In the name of good countless women have been taught to hate our bodies. I certainly hated mine to the point where self-harm and an eating disorder seemed like the correct way to treat it if only that meant I could maybe be thin. It’s because wellness campaigns and weight-loss programs are designed to tell you that you can love your body, if you lose the weight. It is conditional. It’s because the female form is seen as an object that is not fulfilling its aesthetic duties of it fails at being the statuesque figure that pleases every eye. It’s because women are taught to view their bodies only as a function of how they look, but our bodies are so much more than a mass of flesh to cover with pretty fabrics. It wasn’t until I started to regard my body as the thing that carries me through life and brings me great pleasure that I started to learn to respect it. It wasn’t until I ran for the joy of endurance that I learnt to enjoy being inside my body. If wasn’t until I gave myself to the feeling of sexual experience instead of how I looked during it that I was able to appreciate the capacity of pleasure inside me. It wasn’t until I started eating for the joy of nutrition because my body deserved it, that I was ever able to lose a single kilogram. It wasn’t until I did yoga for the beauty of movement that I was able to find any beauty in myself.

It wasn’t until then that I also learnt that it didn’t matter. If the social forces genuinely cared about women’s health they would encouraging anorexia and dieting in women. They would stop asking the fat girl doing push ups why she was still fat if she exercises so much. They would stop eating samosas as snacks themselves and stop taking offence when you refuse to eat them if you visit their homes. If the concern of society was genuinely women’s health, I wouldn’t have (in my lifetime) met a girl who shared a menstrual rag with her mother. I wouldn’t have met a doctor who said abortions should hurt because they are wrong. I wouldn’t know multiple instances of gynaecologists who have deliberately made the insertion of IUDs a horrific ordeal for women. There wouldn’t be so many anaemic women. There wouldn’t be so many clinically depressed women being told they were just “overthinking”. Endometriosis and menstrual pain wouldn’t be called imaginary. Society doesn’t care about women’s health, it cares about women’s aesthetic representation and marital value. The marital value of a thin woman is higher, so as far as society goes a million eating disorders in the quest for that are a small price to pay if it gets more women to eat less, buy more diet pills and be thin.

That’s what my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother told me too as I left their house.

Please lose some weight before the wedding,” she told me, “It doesn’t look nice to be so fat. Please lose some weight.”

Well, I did. I had to lose the toxic influence of people like her and her grandson first. I lost some weight because that was the consequence of learning to not only respect my body but also understand what was happening inside it. Did I become thin? Hardly. I learnt to be okay with that though, and it’s not because I am beautiful enough now that I am slightly smaller. It’s because it doesn’t matter if I am thin or gorgeous if I hate my body. It doesn’t matter how I look especially to me since I almost never see myself, but it matters how I feel. It matters how my body feels. It feels healthy and capable. Every juror in the old-lady court might tell me to hate that, but I don’t, I love it. If only loving ourselves was taught as thoroughly as we are taught to aspire to be thin.

What I Wish I Had Really Learnt in Sex Ed.

Sexual education in India, whether it was taught in a classroom or through the social messaging system, is a mess. In our weekly sex-column read what I wish we had been taught instead.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Between social messaging, the one sex ed class we had as part of the “moral science” curriculum and the strange things I learnt from peers and television, I had an insanely muddled idea of sex as a young teenager (and this was despite the fact that my mother was really on top of it when it came to informing her kids). I still learnt some weird things. For example, young women should not have stuffed toys because they take sexual gratification from them. After the age of thirteen, all girls should have to surrender their stuffed animals. When I told my mother an adult had told me that, she was livid. I also learnt that chocolates satisfy sexual urges in you (she’s not completely wrong, eating Nutella is as good as multiple orgasms).

Probably in biology class, I learnt how babies are made. The following is the parts of the process I retained:

Step 1: Parents find you a suitable match made of wonderful qualities such as light-skinned, tall, respects parents and, most importantly, MBA.
Step 2: Much money no one has is spent on the wedding to feed people whose names you have to memorize from a photo album of your last relative’s wedding.
Step 3: An auspicious time for consummation is decided upon by your elders. Selected bed for consummation is creepily prepared by your siblings with rose petals, garlands and white sheets.
Step 4: ‘this material has been censored by the Central Board of Secondary Education. Kindly follow the twelve step application process under the guidance of your parents (and a cow) to acquire this information only with their blessing.
Step 5: Baby is born. Goddess status unlocked.
Step 6: What the fuck are you doing still reading this? Go take care of your baby, goddess.

I learnt that every time you had sex giant warts would grow out of everywhere. Until marriage. When you do it once and baby is born.

I learnt some important stuff too.

I learnt I had a vagina.

I learnt my friend Naresh had a penis.

And if we put them together we would make genital warts.

Unless we got married.

And then we’d make a baby.

Useful stuff. Really useful, but just for fun, here’s a list of things I wish I had been taught?

  • The only way to completely wash hot sauce (or any chilli based product) off your fingers is dish washing soap. You think you’ll need condoms and lube, but actually what you will need is clean chilli-free hands. STDs are not the only thing that will make your stuff burn. Dish washing soap, people.

  • That sex involved thrusting of the penis repeatedly inside the vagina. For a long time I thought sex was just a one-time insert and pull out deal and I couldn’t figure out why the fuck anyone would want to do that.

  • What genital warts actually are.

  • How a man fits between a woman’s legs. Okay, look, I know this sounds ridiculous, but my 14-year friend asked how a guy fits between a woman’s legs legs and I had to demonstrate it to her, and her mom walked in while I was proving that it’s quite easy to fit. It was uncomfortable (in case that wasn’t clear).

  • Semen in the uterus may get you pregnant, but getting it in the eye could blind you.

  • How to prepare healthy and ready to eat post sex snacks. That shit makes you hungry and I was not fucking prepared.

  • A sub-module called clitoris studies would have been great for everyone. Countless men could have been saved the embarrassment of hearing me say, “Baby, that’s my eyeball, and countless women could have been saved the ten years it takes to figure that shit out.

  • A little information about queefing. Starting with…that it happens? I literally thought there was a balloon in my vagina. I crouched down and tried to look for it. A 20-year old boy had to explain vaginal flatulence to me and boy was I mortified.

  • We talked about the emotional cost of sex but how about a conversation about the actual cost of sex? Like razors, waxes, Brazilian waxes, scratchy underwear that is obviously made of diamonds given the cost. Who was gonna warn us about that, huh? HUH?

Better Sex Ed!

Please.

When You Tell Me I Am Not Like Other Girls, You Insult My Entire Gender.

Girls are often told they are different or “not like other girls” as a compliment to make us feel special and sometimes women proudly describe ourselves as such, but when we do that, what is it that we are saying about the concept of being woman?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Cartoon by Aarushi Ahluwalia

He was a funny, tall and young man. I was an overweight, intelligent and romantically-inexperienced girl. We sat in a coffee shop and talked about a book I was reading about the global counterfeit clothing industry.

“I like you,” he said to me, “You’re not like other girls.”

I didn’t ask, but I knew what he meant because I had heard that a few times before, and I liked it. He meant that I wasn’t airheaded and obsessed with fashion. He meant that I was good and smart enough to be socially-regarded as one of the guys. He meant that he liked me so it immediately made me better than the other girls. It meant that I was unique, and while I didn’t realise it then, it also meant that other women weren’t. I only thought of what it said about me to be not like other girls, I didn’t think about the statement it made on women in general. The teenaged-version of me just ate it up, because it meant I was special. It meant I was not like other girls.

Of course, that isn’t true.

We live in a country of over a billion people and what that means is that no one is special here. I don’t mean that as a negative thing or as an attack on individuality, it’s more a statement on our population. There are so many of us, that the chance of being truly unique or fundamentally different or singularly brilliant is negligible. On some level every socioeconomic condition in our country is rooted in the size of our population. There are more graduates, postgraduates and artistically-inclined people in our country in sheer numbers than anywhere in the world which means the competition for a limited number of jobs that require that level of education or skill is more fierce than anywhere else, and even if you are brilliant, there are a million other brilliant people who can do exactly what you can do. While we emotionally hang on to an idea of individualized identity, and that is good for our mental health, on paper a lot of us are replaceable with one another in the workforce. The experience of population is culturally reinforced in India, the need to compete is tied with survival and taught to us right when we are children. It’s a part of our daily lives. Add to that the fact that women are afforded fewer opportunities and positions than men and it makes an environment that is rife for socially-encouraged toxic competition. When you throw misogyny and organised patriarchy into that, we lay the groundwork for a woman-eat-woman world.

From a very young age women are taught that they can either be beautiful and popular or they can be intelligent and plain. Both sets of girls are encouraged to see their shortcomings in the other group and condemn them in the interest of self-esteem. If you are a girl who likes pop rock and pink T-shirts, girl-world will naturally designate you as an enemy to the girl who likes Pablo Neruda and can’t quite figure out lipstick. If you are a girl who sleeps around, you naturally hate any prudish woman. This is reinforced by pop-culture more than anything else when it melodically blares in your ear that if she wears short-skirts and you wear T-shirts, you might as well be hateful aliens to each other. As you get older these differences become more vast. Working women are encouraged to hate on homemakers. More progressive women are encouraged to hate on conservative women. Homemakers are encouraged to see working women as alien creatures who have abandoned their families and biological destinies, while working women are told to think that homemakers have no lives of their own and no personality. The reasons for the divide grow more vast as you grow older, and it gets to a place where we cannot enjoy our choices until they denigrate the choices of another.

That’s why these words are so satisfying to hear.

You are not like other girls.

But if we stopped thinking about it from an individual perspective for a moment, and consider what it means when someone says “other girls” we might be more offended when someone makes that statement to us. Other girls is in reference to the stereotype of women and that stereotype is that women gossip a lot, shop a lot, have a lot of unnecessary emotions, like pretty things, don’t work as well and are on some level, weak. This is the stereotype and when we are flattered because we don’t fit the stereotype, we become party to the oppressive force because as long as that force keeps praising us, it’s okay that it is also insulting the concept of our gender. Instead we should be taking offense at this stereotype of our gender because while some factions of society might be loath to admit it, women know this stereotype is bogus. Women know that we don’t gossip a lot, everyone does. We don’t necessarily shop a lot but keeping that myth going helps manufacturers target more products at us and keep the cycle of sales going. Emotions are necessary and not having them is far more damaging than being expressive. Pretty things bring everyone joy. Women can handle having literally any job and we can do push-ups just fine, thank you.

This stereotype of “other women” doesn’t actually describe any real woman. It’s a convenience that the patriarchy uses to apply the most successful tool of oppression ever discovered: Division. This elevated stature that women are ascribed usually by men and sometimes by other women that makes us “not like other women” makes it possible to alienate us from one another and a divided people are more likely to lose sight of a common enemy (or goal) when they are too busy hating on each other. Breaking it down like that makes it sound like the most obvious thing in the world but I realise in reality this issue is more complex. Women are taught to view each other’s success as a zero-sum-game because we are not taught that we are competing in the open market, we are told that we are competing with other women. This is reinforced by the limited number of positions that are offered to women and the slower professional growth that is afforded to us, and the ultimate message that is sent is that there is only room for one woman at every table. Instead of teaching women to expand the table and make more room on the top, we teach them to tear each other down to get there first because there is only one seat available. Just look at the US supreme court, it took the death of a female justice to consider appointing another female justice even though two other seats have been filled in the past four years. Women are most likely to be hired in positions that were held previously by women, that way we don’t have to make more space and we can just keep having the women scramble for the same limited positions.

The spirit of competition is also engendered by the search for mates. Women must compete with one another by being more beautiful, thinner, attractive, better-dressed than one another (and yes, guys have a similiar limitation on this market and you might feel the need to point that out, but if we could just have this space designated for women’s issues to discuss a women’s issue?). Women also have to compete to be more moral than each other when it comes to the desirability as a mate. The thing that suffers most in all of this is women’s identities. We’re all trying so hard not to be something else we’re defining ourselves by the lack of what we see as what we see as flaws in other women.

Yet as women we do understand that just because I like to express my individuality with clothing or make-up doesn’t mean I am any less capable of analysing an annual report. If I choose to dedicate my life to raising children doesn’t mean I am lacking in intelligence or I am not contributing to society. These things have nothing to do with each other and our alienation with one another is only a symptom of being taught to secure specialness by fearing the uniqueness of one another. That is why when society tries to put us in a box, it is more rewarding to step out of the box and point at those inside it as condemnable, but it is only rewarding for one moment. What’s truly rewarding is wholehearted support.

After I realised in myself the tendency to say “I am not like other women” fixing it was easy. Now, each time I encounter a woman, I ignore my first reaction whether that is judgement, threat or intimidation, and I focus on complimenting her on her uniqueness instead. I focus on asking questions until I learn enough about the other woman to realise that we are not that different, because, I am, I am like other girls, and that doesn’t mean I like shopping. No. It means we’re all part of the same struggle, and that’s what matters more than a moment of feeling special.

A Sarcastic Feminist Retelling of Snow White

Once upon a time a queen’s talking mirror tells her that she is less beautiful than her 14-year old step-daughter. Infuriated she decides to have her step-daughter killed (presumably it was because she was PMSing, on another day who knows maybe she would have just ordered to have her face mutilated) because we all know, that is what women do, we are in constant competition with anyone younger or prettier because we have no other grounds on which to compete with one another. Men attack each other over valid, noble reasons but us women, we do it because someone’s nose is straighter than ours and we couldn’t fathom a reason any deeper than that. A man may perform an execution for reasons like power and money, but women only do it out of jealously.

So when Snow White’s dad dies in the most predictable act of plot convenience ever, Snow White (because why give a girl a name that involves more than the colour of her complexion especially since no one is ever going to know more about her than that) is taken into the forest to be killed but the hunters are compassionate and they kill a deer to take her heart back to the queen instead. Among the first traumas suffered by my little heart, was this, a poor little deer. The vivid imagine of ripping a heart out of a chest truly belongs in a children’s tale, as of course does the teaching that orphans are the unloved and the abandoned. Even royal family orphans.

Snow White is left to fend for herself.

So she moves in with seven men and becomes their housekeeper after breaking into their home and finding that they live like animals or “seven orphaned children”. She becomes their wonderful, loving nurturing homemaker. A natural skill for a princess or a prostitute. What is a woman who can’t keep a home, after all? This is exactly why we tell women, you can have a job but you must always remember you also have to keep a home. If it’s too much, just make the home your job. Eventually that’s better for you. Lighten your load. Besides it is better because men (living together) can’t possibly be expected to pick up after themselves or do laundry. They need 14-year old runaway maids to help them survive adulthood.

Ultimately the evil woman hears about the pretty one still being alive (from the mirror) because we all know it is only women that keep women down and why bother to add a deeper realm of information about the times or social circumstances? No, it’s better for girls to believe in evil stepmothers, witches and curses; let them believe that beauty is a curse that makes other women jealous of you. Why the fuck do fairy tales hate step mothers?

Now I remember that, disguised as a witch, the evil stepmother tried to poison Snow White several times but Snow White being paranoid (because you know when everyone in your life dies and then some bitch tries to kill you, you are bound to develop some serious anxiety) resists it once or twice. I think the first attempt is through a comb or a bottle of something. The men are all out during the day, working, and she is home cleaning and cooking when the witch or step-mother or queen (honestly all of these words in fairy tales just mean bitch) finally tricks her into eating an apple that is half poisoned. Which is surprising. A girl who is paranoid about a normal looking comb should have taken pause at an apple that was two different colours.

I guess the witch tricks her by eating the unpoisoned half WHICH WAS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT COLOUR.

Snow White dies.

She is displayed in a glass coffin but this is not so people who loved her can see her one more time. It’s because her beauty is so legendary it must be displayed. Even when she is a corpse. A woman, remember children, is not an object just in life but also after she is dead. To me, this will have always been the most disturbing part of the book.

Until I was I introduced to the prince who falls in love with a dead pretty girl he has never spoken with. Now obviously we know that men are just supposed to be so shallow they only see physical beauty, and so driven by conquest that they will defy death to get what they are owed, and any man who does differently is a coward and just strange. This man he was a true prince; so entitled was he that he felt the love of a dead girl belonged to him simply because he was so very taken. He knew exactly how to revive her too. Because your prince will always be there to save the day and know exactly how to do it too. You’ll never have to text “I’m choking” to him because he won’t take off his headphones and look in your direction.

Then the prince, who appears in the story for a mere five seconds and is somehow still one of the protagonists, leans in to kiss Snow White’s dead body on the mouth. Obviously the realities of decomposition are too gnarly to be mentioned, wouldn’t want to (accurately) portray the prince as a necrophiliac and sully the good intentions of the “kiss of love” which was totally consensual because two can violate consent if one of them is dead.

The Kiss of Love revives Snow White (it either dislodges the apple or breaks a curse, there were several versions I read as a kid) and instead of freaking the fuck out at being kissed and scooped up by a man she has never seen before she decides to live with him happily ever after in a billowy skirt.

The End.

All stories must end at happily ever after because in the history of the universe no woman has ever slept with a man for the first time and been like, “oops, that’s a weird penis and the wrong hole. Boy bye.

When A Divorced Indian Woman Tries To Get Married.

In the business of finding love in India, no one does worse than divorced women. They are often viewed as damaged, toxic or flawed. Even as we socially-support their right to be divorced, when it comes to our own families, how many of us open our doors to divorced women?

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I have known Savera (name changed upon request) for most of my life. All of my memories of her are built around her explosive laughter and dramatic mannerisms. I am predisposed to seeing her as the ball of energy who passes out at 10 PM with the bottle of wine still in her hand but she has a much larger personality than that. She is well-educated and well-employed. She has proven many times in her life that she can take the kind of responsibility that even our fathers sometimes fail at taking. She is funny, like a sketch comedy come to life, and beautiful, like a one of those wavy-haired Instagram beach-girls. She is quirky enough to be truly memorable and a delightful lunch-companion. If I could bring myself to describe women in terms of their desirability as wives or partners, I would call her the complete package. However, Savera has the more problems dating and finding love than anyone I know.

Why?

Savera is divorced.

She is a twenty-eight year-old divorced Indian woman trying to find a long-term partner. Despite what the elitist social-messaging systems might have you believe, divorce is still incredibly rare in India. With less than 1% of marriages ending in divorce we have amongst the lowest rates of divorce in the world, and while that number has doubled in the past two decades, the ability to get divorced (without taking that much of a social hit) largely remains the purview of the affluent. Furthermore the tag you carry of being divorced can only be shed if you marry again, as if in marrying again you have submitted an affidavit proving that you are now worthy of social acceptance because you have found a man who will have you despite your sordid past. Many of us might say that we have no judgement for divorced women, but how many of us would think of them as suitable matches for our sons? How many of us would bring them home to our parents as women we love?

As Savera has discovered in the past few years, almost none.

We exist in a society that believes using Tinder to get laid makes you progressive as long as you don’t use it to fall in love with a divorced woman. A few years after she was separated from her husband, Savera started to use dating apps to the end of meeting someone with whom she was truly compatible. She would usually disclose her status as divorced to the people she encountered online fairly quickly into their communications because she felt like she shouldn’t mislead anyone into wasting their time. That is when she started to notice a strange phenomenon.

“After you tell them that you are divorced most men suddenly are only interested in having a fling,” she says, “To be polite they may not say anything about the divorce to your face, but they will either only want to fool around or ghost you.”

In the long-term this experience of dating is extremely damaging to the self-esteem of any person. When it happens over and over, what you start to hear is that while people desire your body, they also consider you unworthy of love. After a man she encountered online who seemed extremely interested in her told her that he had the leave to fall in love with and marry any woman (of any caste, religion or ethnic background) except a divorced woman, she gave up on online dating. One would think that dating freely would be more likely to yield a more progressive result but that is not the case because the youth of India, while different, is still heavily informed by the values of our elders. Most of us will date anyone but we know what happens when you take someone from a different caste, religion or ethnicity home with the intention to marry. We are great when it comes to posting our beliefs beneath broody filters online but most of us lack the impetus to stand up and suffer for our beliefs. We are okay with inter-caste, inter-religious marriage as long as we adhere to the limitation of never putting ourselves in that position. When you are divorced, though, you are not even granted the courtesy of that oppressive choice.

“I am a perfect match for every divorced man,” explains Savera, “Considering age, caste, community, looks and education is the right of first-timers only. I now belong to a community called divorced, wherein everyone is treated equally badly.”

After her disappointing experience with dating independently Savera started to warm up to the idea of letting her parents and community find her a partner again. On the face of it, many of us may examine this information and think of it like going back to eat at a restaurant that gave you food-poisoning but what would you do if that was the only place where you could get food? It’s no good to give people the right to choose when there is only one option. For Savera, on the arranged marriage market, the only option is divorced men. Within this pool of divorced men, she is expected to take any man who will have her because the only commonality that is to be considered from the mind of the Indian matchmaker is the one of their current marital status.

“The number of compromises a divorced woman is expected to make is endless,” she says in discussion of arranged marriage, “Being an independent, career-woman, I should be willing to get married to a college drop out who is an utter embarrassment after a few drinks, and relocate to any part of the world if I am lucky enough to be chosen by him.”

As your marital worth as a woman declines in society, you are expected to make more compromises. Your marital worth declines for many reasons like being older than the “golden age” for marriage, being overweight or being overly ambitious (remember Aparna and how much everyone hated her?) but nothing pushes you to the bottom of the barrel like divorce. For a divorced woman having any stipulations for who they might want to marry is viewed as too arrogant because they are seen as unwilling to compromise and an uncompromising woman, we are told repeatedly, cannot find a husband. Least of all if she has committed the social sin of having had one before. A part of this is because, no matter what, when we hear of a broken marriage we feel the immediate need to figure out what the woman did wrong. Even today the most regularly cited reasons for divorce are things like, “the girl didn’t meet expectations of the family” or “the girl couldn’t adjust with the family” or “the girl is trying to steal the son” which even if they contained an ounce of truth, would also serve as evidence of the unreasonable expectations placed on wives.

This ideology has us view divorced women as damaged or toxic. Even though marriages end for many reasons like abuse, infidelity, incompatibility (and most often because it was a terrible idea to begin with), we have decided, at least socially, that it was somehow deep-inside always the woman’s fault. It’s subtle, sometimes, like, when they say, ‘Yes, he cheated on her, but men have needs and she wasn’t being there for him,’ I defy anyone to tell me they have never heard that said. Sometimes we don’t even articulate it, we just see divorced women as damaged and pitiful creatures.

“One of my friend’s mother was surprised to see me dressed nicely after my divorce,” Savera tells me, “It was the first thing she said when I entered their house, like look at the poor thing who still dresses up so nicely even after so much has happened in her life.”

We expect divorced women to be broken, because how could anything be worse than ending an unhappy marriage? We view divorce as the failure of marriage whereas long-lasting unhappy marriages are viewed as the success stories. When a divorced woman presents herself as a candidate for arranged marriage, her status as divorced tells us to immediately look for the flaw that explains the divorce. We do that socially as well.

“One of my previous bosses told me she knew exactly why I was divorced because she saw my resignation as a betrayal,” Savera admits, “A client once told me my anxiety was the reason my husband must have left me.”

Where previously-unmarried women on the arranged marriage arena are measured by their assets and qualities, divorced women are measured by their flaws and as a result are expected to settle for anyone. That is the punishment for failing at marriage. That is the punishment for exercising the privilege of divorce. This business of marriage leaves little room for love and the price-tag of being divorced is too much to afford for most people who are shopping for love within the loving confines of Indian culture.

“I don’t know what people are saying to me when they call me divorced, sometimes it feels like they are abusing me,” Savera says, “Of course I have met some supportive people but how many? And how many of them would marry a divorced woman?”

It’s a good question. I’d have thought anyone would be lucky to marry her but she is being measured by a scale designed by the factions of defunct traditionalism that is incapable of admitting they can’t stand the idea of a woman who has had sex before marrying their son.

That’s the unspoken reason.

Isn’t it?

Legal Explainer: What does a “shared household” mean in terms of the Domestic Violence Act (and why is everyone talking about it)?

What is a “shared household” and how does it matter to you if you are a victim of domestic violence? A quick explainer on the recent Supreme Court judgement that reinterpreted the term “shared household” with regard to the right to residence for women in abusive relationships.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.

Cartoon by Aarushi Ahluwalia

If you, like me, enjoy engaging the trolls on the internet, you might have noticed they’ve been losing their minds over the term “shared household” lately. They would have you believe that the government wants to give the very ground you walk on to a woman. One of them suggested that women will not be satisfied until they get a share of the oceans too. However there is little clarity or understanding of what a “shared household” or the “right to residence” is referring to.

So what is it in reference to?

It is in reference to a term from The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The DVA was signed into law in 2005 with the interest of protecting women from domestic violence while providing them with safety measures that allowed them to retain their residence even after having complained.

Historically, women rarely singularly own property. Women also tend to move into their husband or in-laws’ households after they are married. In many parts of Indian society women do not have the leave to return to their parents home even when they are being abused or harassed in their marriages. As a result, women rarely come forward with allegations of domestic violence because if they did, where would they live?

The concept of the right to residence in a shared household aims to protect against that.

How does the DVA define “shared household”?

Definition of “shared household” as per the act:

‘A household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.’

As per the law, a woman (referred above as the “aggrieved” person) is entitled to residing in any household that she has previously or is currently sharing with her partner (referred above as the “respondent”) even after filing a complaint for domestic violence or divorce. Previously the purview of this stipulation did not extend to property that did not belong to the respondent or the aggrieved person.

On the face of it, that sounds like it makes sense. Why should either one of them have the right to residence in a house that neither one of them rent or own?

Well, because it is India, and in India married couples tend also to live in houses that are owned by the parents of the man. A large number of India women, after marriage, move into the family home of the men. Previously the law had been interpreted to exclude the right to residence in shared households that were neither owned nor rented by the couple.

So, has the law been changed?

No, that law has not been changed. The law has now been interpreted differently. In a recent judgement (Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja) the court has recognised that a shared household can also include houses owned by relatives in which the aggrieved person and the respondent has lived together at any point. This is in the interest of providing women enough safety in terms of shelter to be able to actually report domestic violence without being turned out just because the house she has lived in forever is in the name of her husband’s parents. By the law, a woman cannot be thrown out of the house unless evicted by a court.

That is what the right to residence in a shared property means. It doesn’t mean the woman being abused now owns the house. This law is not about property ownership.

Learn the law.

Don’t lose your mind all over Twitter because women’s rights seem like sexism to you.

Refusing to Live in Secret is the Most Powerful Thing A Woman Can Do.

As women become more aware of our rights, it becomes harder for society to control our behaviour through the law and so it is done socially. It’s okay if you have sex, it’s okay if you drink, it’s okay if you are divorced, it’s okay if you are ambitious but just don’t talk about it. The reason we can write about the “secret lives of women” is that we are actively discouraged from having open lives.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Cartoon by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I’ve been called a slut many times in my life. I mean, so what, right? Every woman under the sun has probably been called a slut. We deem women sluts for the things they wear, say, do or the places they go and who they go there with. It’s impossible, with this level of scrutiny, for women to not be sluts. In my case though, I’d say that on a socio-normative level their description was not entirely inaccurate (although it was not scientifically exact). I am the woman they describe when they say “loose character”. My mother often tells me, lovingly might I add, that it is fortunate I took on the business of finding love for myself because on the arranged marriage market I’m like a rotten egg. Well, she didn’t say rotten egg exactly. The essence is that my social and marital value is quite poor.

The problem is not that I drink or smoke. It’s not that I get in fights (and handcuffs) with cops. It’s not that I have had multiple partners in life (and with relish might I add). It’s not that I don’t have an “until marriage/children” approach to my career or that I will not only make it a goal to make more money than my husband, I’ll make it a production just to make a point. (Don’t worry, this comment doesn’t hurt my husband’s feelings, he knows who he married and I compensate by being really funny.) It’s not that I like to live alone or that I really take the fest out of festivity. It’s not that I go to bars alone and walk the streets in the middle of the night. It’s not that I date and will still occasionally flip through a dating app on a lazy Sunday. It’s not that I am all over feminism like I am over feta and sourdough bread.

It’s none of that.

It’s that I won’t shut up about it.

Freedom is an interesting concept when you are a woman. Freedom is not defined by law (which while restrictive, at least makes sense to the goal of coexisting as a species) but when you are a woman, it is presented as a conditional behaviour-based privilege. It’s that thing when your parents tell you they let you get your own apartment in another city because they trust you. What they are saying, perhaps even unbeknownst to them, is that they trust you to not drink, do drugs, have sex or start movements and therefore, they feel they can give you your right to education as a privilege that comes with some morsels of freedom. It’s the principle behind the unnecessarily restrictive rules in women’s hostels. It’s that thing they do when they insist on referring to your boyfriend as your “friend”. It’s the thing that makes millions of parents across the country threaten women living out of their homes with the following words: We’ll take you back home (if you step out of line). Freedom exists within a line and the most important tenet of that line is silence.

As the world progresses and women become more and more aware of our rights, it becomes harder for society to control our behaviour through the law and so it is done socially instead. It’s okay if you have sex, it’s okay if you drink, it’s okay if you are divorced, it’s okay if you are ambitious but just don’t talk about it. We can talk to our close friends or anonymously on the internet but socially the reason we can write about the “secret lives of women” is that we are actively discouraged from having open lives. I decided many years ago that I wasn’t going to have a secret life. The truth is that secrets terrify me because all I see in them is the power they have to control you. If I speak all my truths openly and at all times, no one can ever hold them over me. If I think of information without social connotation, I don’t have to weigh my words. Often it’s not that we hide things but we think about where and to whom we say can say what things. We measure our words so as to avoid startling or surprising anyone with too much truth, but the truth is a powerful thing.

I worry that with Gandhi getting a counter-cultural bad name, the truth is getting one as well. Speaking your truth out loud as a woman is a process akin to bloodshed. They make it hurt just as much. We like it when it’s done through poetry and pain, but when it’s deliberate and confident, we don’t like it at all. That’s what happens. College clerks tell you they don’t like your face. Neighbours tell their husbands to stay away from you (because that was all that was left for me to experience and now I have a fully-checked bucket list). Your peers sometimes feel alienated from you and as a result alienate you. Your parents are worried about taking you into their more conservative social circles. People call you names. Men put their hands on you without consent because they think you will just sleep with anyone. People slander you and assassinate you with morality. Partners abuse you to try and snuff the freedom out of you. Goons attack you for raising slogans in the street or holding a mic out for someone else to do it. People make faces at you when you say the word ‘uterus’ in their drawing room. The same people talk about loving Kamala Das frequently. People think you are always being difficult even though if they had a spoonful of empathy they would realise being the bone of contention everywhere all the time must be difficult for you too.

It’s difficult like yoga is difficult, because every pulled muscle is worth it. Every patch of soreness is worth it. I refuse to live without this pain. You know what’s really powerful about Kamala Das? It’s that she bared herself and she lived alongside her work (even though that may not have been the plan). The reason why we are so shocked and moved by her confessional poetry is because there is a real live woman behind it. There is a woman owning her truths and saying things women are supposed to say only in secret.

I have always wanted to live like that.

I don’t want to have a secret life.

Because as a woman I have done many things that were liberating. It was wonderfully fulfilling to file taxes for the first time, sign a lease, make the first move with a romantic interest and throw a punch. It was wonderful but none are comparable to the holistic practise of speaking my truth. I refuse to be afraid of it because no matter what it is, it’s a result of my choices. Choices that I made because I deserve the right to make them. There is nothing more freeing than taking your rights and using your voice. There is no fear when you stand beside who you are and accept all of it into a loudspeaker.

Then it’s not a scarlet letter.

Then it’s art.

Mighty Sensible, Somewhat Unpopular Unsanskari Sex Tips by a Morally-Compromised Woman.

If random people who last got laid a decade ago can write about sex, surely I should be allowed to write about it too? People keep saying women should have the space to express their sexuality and I feel like taking up that space today.

There has got to be a better way to write this than talking about kegels, light bondage or communication. I am absolutely unqualified to have a sex-column but my sanskar levels are so low I could probably qualify to have five.

Are you ready for my mighty sensible, somewhat unpopular, overly-explicit and hopefully funny sex tips?

1.Lasting longer (for men) is not the key to fucking longer.

WHY HAVE WE BEEN TEACHING THIS INSANITY? Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, really though, making your penis able to thrust more before it spews out some goo is alright but honestly I’ll take it or leave it. Don’t thrust longer, engage longer. Sex is a primal thing but we are intelligent creatures, we can paint a colourful route to the same destination over and over. We don’t have to be mere functions of biology, we can use brain and brawn at once. So, maybe we should?
Basically, don’t visit the mountain for the Instagram shot, go for the muscular fatigue and clean air. You’ll have more fun.

2. It’s NOT location, location, location unless the location is a bed.

I’ll have sex in a car or on a roof or behind a bush for the novelty of it every once in a while, sure, but unless exhibitionism and/or risky getting-caught stuff is the primary form of your sexuality, I can pretty much guarantee that the best sex you ever had was on (or around) a bed. Basically, if you want to explore your sexuality further, doing it in familiar surroundings makes it much easier to delve into unfamiliar acts and sexiness. It’s just.. it’s like eating at McDonald’s versus a hand-crafted homemade burger. One is good for every once in a while but the other is art. Fuck for art, not notches or tally marks

3. If it doesn’t stand up and/or get wet, maybe it doesn’t want to do this and you shouldn’t snap a rubber band on it and try to fuck with a thing that looks like it will burst like a bloody balloon?

Just sayin’. Just graphically saying

4. There is a reason you are having to work on your sex life with each other, is the reason that you were never compatible to begin with?

We all sleep with people who have nothing in common with us right? Even when it doesn’t work we keep on trying because on paper it sounds like we should work together. It doesn’t work if it doesn’t work. Don’t have sex because it works on paper

5. Also, don’t have sex with a fantasy.

It’s very easy to become infatuated with someone’s persona. Ultimately you may realise you have been in a concept of a dynamic with a person’s fantasy just waiting for it to turn real. The pressure to keep up the charade is not conducive to good sex or a healthy relationship. Again, if you fuck for OnlyFans alone

6. Give head to get head is a lame principle.

I get that it’s lame to be with a person who is unwilling to go down on you. The people who think it is disgusting and shame you for the needs of your genitals and their scents, look, they are pathetic and I am not defending them here.
But honestly, sex is not the place to keep score. It’s not the place for quid pro quo (unlike international espionage for election tampering). It’s not an eye for an eye. It’s the place to do what you enjoy with people and discover what you enjoy doing most with them. There is a tendency, often undiscussed, where one begins to feel they owe orgasms to their partners in exchange for the ones they give them but in this we all fail to ask each other, “Do you want these orgasms I am giving you or am I doing it because I need to feel like a fair, giving partner?”
Don’t give your partner what you need for them. Don’t decide what they need.

7. You can “spice it up” but if it tastes like lumpy half-boiled potatoes before the spicing it might be just as unpalatable, albeit more elaborate, after.

It’s fun to do fun new things but that statement alone is not enough information. It’s no fun to do fun new things with people it is no fun to do old, routine things with. This is what I believe. I am open to being wrong but I don’t think I am open to changing my mind. It’s like over-salting food. Salt is nice but if you are just using it to mask the taste of what you are eating, why are you eating it? In that regard I find it quite disturbing that we tell people that doing it in the shower (this is how you break a leg or get a concussion) or “light spanking” is going to fix their sex life. It feels a little bit like dispensing false medicine.

8. Be chill with having no-sex phases. People get tired too.

Netflix and falafel are good things too.

Girl’s out of advice.

PSA: Please practise safe sex. This post is obviously not for the asexual, the impotent, the not-so-super sexual, the injured or those whose primary sexuality is having bad sex. Any heteronormativity is unintentional and a result of my internalized socio-normative brainwashing.

How The Nightmare of Dating in India Pushes Women to Arranged Marriage.

Arranged marriages still compromise over 90% of marriages in India, while this is often ascribed to women trusting their parents or just Indian culture, the truth is likely less rosy. Aggressive and sometimes violent socio-political conservatism and the online dating meat-market often create an environment that is so hostile to and unsafe for dating, that arranged marriage still remains the safest and most reliable choice.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

In early 2016 my sister had just moved to Mumbai to get a degree. Being somewhat inexperienced in matters of love, she was sceptical when she launched her foray into online dating. After a few days of complaining about how weird everyone she encountered seemed, she found a man she thought was interesting and kind. They arranged to have coffee. She called, terrified, right after the date. She said that after an uncomfortable date he had imposed upon her to walk her home and was still hanging out underneath her building. She said she felt too unsafe to sleep in her building and so I encouraged her to crash a friend’s house that night. She did not go back home for two days and she never tried online dating in India again. My sister’s experience is not an isolated incident but representative of the norms of dating in India.

As far as Indian culture goes we accept two forms of relationships: marriage, and to a much lesser but still prevalent extent, relationships that are heading to marriage. Even in families where the elders themselves have had “love” marriages, very few of them have had multiple relationships or dated around before they fell in love for the purposes of matrimony. Culturally, we do not encourage dating as much as a performa-based elimination system to deduce if the object of interest before you could be your forever-person. The goal of any relationship is marriage and the goal of marriage is to stay married (to preserve its sanctity). Additionally, we view the youth as a torrid force that must be shackled before it has had a chance to explore itself, and when we do give them leave to fall in love, it must be done within a set protocol and preferably only once. The leave to do it is dispensed as privilege to encourage compliance to the norms of falling in love within the confines of Indian society. To do it outside of those norms, if you are a woman, makes you a slut. They won’t call you that, perhaps, they will use terms like “spoilt”, “poor character” or “forward” but that is what they mean.

The result of this, in any case, is that women in India (and in a different way, also men) who want to date and fall in love, are unable to do so openly and socially, and must often secretly engage in online dating which in itself is perfectly fine but due to the environment in which it exists has become a toxic cesspool of misogyny and objectification. The men in India are taught to view modern forms of dating as a space to explore themselves sexually without commitment before they get married (and sometimes after). While it also creates a space for the women to be able to engage in their sexuality, it closes off the space to develop relationships to a large extent. In our country, men outnumber women three-to-one on dating apps. Women are also more likely to be inactive users and less likely to be actually willing to meet in person presumably because they don’t want to be murdered. All of this leads to the meat-market mentality of online dating which encourages playing the numbers to maximize the opportunity to touch boob. What could have otherwise been a wonderful alternative for free socialization for the youth is now turned into yet another space where objectification and victimization can prosper.

Of course, it’s not as bad as all that, it sounds worse because that is part of the strategy. There is an active and ongoing campaign to malign free-relations between the youth by making these relationships sound like a much dirtier, much more shallow and unsafe thing than they actually are. I have a professor, in a master’s classroom, who while teaching Francis Bacon tells the women in the classroom that “love” marriage is a dangerous thing for girls and they should stay away. Literature serves as caution to many things but I would have thought it was the greatest monument to love, instead we have professors of art telling women love is bad. I am sure we have all heard terrible things like that about love and how the youth conducts the business of love. I often wonder, have they actually consulted the youth? Until just a few days ago, I used to be youth, (and now I am buying orthopedic pillows on Amazon) and from what I remember and know, the number of people who were using online dating as the sex-in-a-button is much smaller than what society would have you believe.

Even if we ignore the fact that those that do use it to have casual sexual relations have the right to do so, we cannot ignore that the youth of India is discouraged from engaging freely in love. If it is not by direct social shaming, it is done politically. Whether those are the anti-romeo squads in Uttar Pradesh that allegedly keep men from eve-teasing but in reality have been caught harassing and beating couples or the Bajrang Dal and Rama Sena activists that who beat couples on Valentine’s day, we have created an environment where it can be dangerous to date. It’s even socially dangerous for women in the sense that if you get the reputation for having several “failed” relationships or if you have been divorced, your chance at socially-sanctioned love is effectively null. In this environment, putting yourself out there as a woman who just wants to find a partner is rife with potential disappointment.

I have a friend who has been dating, or trying to, for a few years now. She is a gorgeous, intelligent, funny and independent woman who has been rejected or ghosted by dozens of unemployed, immature and often not-very-bright men because she wants a long-term committed relationship (as well as sexual compatibility) and most men who date online can only guarantee their own orgasms and nothing else. When we were younger we had this idea that what we actually needed was the freedom to fall in love and the people to do it with would just be all around us. Now that we are older we know that the freedom has to be stolen or earned through Herculean labours, and even it is, these people we were going to fall in love with are just a sea of mannequins. If we give the women in our society on Earth the leave to fall in love on Mars, we aren’t really doing them any favours.

I have dated in India, I have watched my friends and sisters date, and each one of us could write a saga that would end in an ocean of disappointment and so when my friends tell me they are considering letting their parents find them partners, I am not surprised. The free-dating market has failed us all on delivering love or relationships and while some of us might prefer to remain single because that is how we are happy, there are a lot of us who feel the desire to be in a couple. In an ideal situation we could just be in a couple and there would be no need to be married, but when your options are so limited in terms of structure of relationships, you take the best choice. In many ways arranged marriage remains the best choice for women who want to have reliable partners with whom they may or may not want children.

Mainstream coverage on this subject tries to boil down this phenomenon to women trusting and loving their parents but that is just feel-good eyewash. The truth is that dating and falling in love in india is almost a nightmarish proposition. You are likely to encounter unsafe situations, be unable to find a man who is willing to commit and likely to viewed by the ones you do find as someone who has too “loose” a character to consider marrying. If you do find a partner you actually like and want to spend the rest of your life with, tawdry differences over culture, religion and caste make convincing your parents a nightmarish proposition as well.

So what is left, then?

You spend the rest of your life alone or you settle for what society chooses for you. Sometimes that works out well, and others, well, others adjust and compromise.