In Response

Last year I received a mail from Iona, asking about my views on feminism. At that time, I sent her a response and contemplated publishing the letter on this platform. But since I was busy fighting my own demons, it got delayed.

My parents never had a traditional marriage. Since my mother has Bipolar Disorder, the roles that they played were quite unlike the classic man-woman roles. My Dad was the caretaker, whereas, my Mom is unlike most women you’ll meet. She is the centre of the household. I tread on matters of mental health, marriage, right/wrong rather carefully, since I have seen a lot of grey areas. As a human being, my personal beliefs disallow me to label myself. The world at large does that enough. I am not and will never be a feminist. Just like I will never be a good girl, a smart girl, a polite girl or an activist. If I had to label myself, I would call myself a ‘wanderer’ or a ‘seeker’- someone who looks for.

But since I was asked about my views, here they are-

“I am an odd person to ask about contemporary feminist views. Considering I’m a 35 year old photographer who travels to Rajasthan and Kashmir by road. At times unaccompanied, at times with a house help or an assistant…unlike most women I feel safe driving around in the middle of the day or night. This or when I say I’m not the bra burning type, infuriates all the lovely ladies who I bump into at Jantar Mantar or even artists who have been working for the cause for decades.

According to them I come from a privileged background, I only travel in my SUV; I never use public transport and therefore, in conclusion I’ve never been harassed by a man or I’m unaware of what most women go through! Now, that is a little bit unfair.

I’m well aware of the patriarchal system and especially amongst the class of society I belong to. Hailing from a Sikh business class family where the boy is the sole heir to the family business and the ancestral property, the reason I will inherit anything is because of the untimely demise of my younger brother. Most of my sisters won’t. So patriarchy I understand, through and through.

You ask for my views: therefore, I blabber… indulge me. I can’t quote Simone de Beauvior. Not because I can’t; it ain’t rocket science but because I don’t like to. She writes about the double and deceptive visage of women in the chapter, ‘The Myth of Woman in Five Authors’ in the Second Sex –‘’She incarnates all moral values, from good to evil, and their opposites; she is the substance of action and whatever is an obstacle to it, she is man’s grasp on the world and his frustration: as such she is the source and origin of all man’s reflection on his existence and of whatever expression he is able to give to it; and yet she works to divert him from himself, to make him sink down in silence and in death. She is servant and companion, but he expects her also to be his audience and critic and to confirm him his sense of being: but she opposes him with her indifference, even with her mockery and laughter.’’ So on and so forth; I can pull out my copy of the book, write down a couple of interesting lines and sound like the real deal! A true feminist but I’m not one.

As for the case of feminism in India, there are some feminists I’ve met who I admire. There’s Sheba Chhachhi who can be considered the ‘true feminist artist/photographer’ and Deepti Sharma from Saheli who is staunch supporter of repealing AFSPA and is part of the group, ‘Voices against 377’. Why I mention  these two is because these two veterans have been working quietly for the cause, without judging what others do.

But on the same topic, I have to agree with an essay written by Madhu Kishwar, about the initial phases of the feminist movement in India, which I find is still relevant.’’ In India new opportunities were made available for a small group of western educated women who gravitated towards feminism. Being absorbed in international feminist circles brought upward mobility, in jobs and careers and international conferences and study programmes. This access to jobs, consultancies and grants especially in universities and from international aid organization came relatively easy to those calling themselves feminists as compared to those unversed in feminist rhetoric. This was contrary to the experiences of the western feminists who had to struggle hard to find acceptance in their professions.”

I’m not playing the Devil’s advocate and stating that we don’t require feminism. Nor that women are safe in India or we don’t have to worry about inheritance issues or female infanticide, the economic/ sociological/ psychological issues faced by women. But the feminist movement largely disillusions me. I recently went for a protest against the rape of two Dalit women and the gathering was miniscule. There are some highly publicized events and issues where everyone turns up and some things it seems don’t count. They say it has nothing to do with class! Then there is the way in which we as artists are supposed to portray the issues…the Muslim woman is a clear example. Why am I supposed to portray every Muslim woman, with or without a veil as a totally subservient creature, just to be termed a feminist?

My ‘privileged’ existence and my sexual preference (I’m straight), discount me from ever being taken seriously in certain circles. But since I’m not looking for funding, I don’t care. A 100 pieces of me is my way of taking the time to understand the issues of each individual woman I meet, her thoughts, her life and what she wants from it. Not my label of who she is or what she ought to be!

As for how never having been harassed by a man, there are many instances. I am after all an unmarried woman, who does exactly what she pleases. So I get my share of harassment and my share of flak. Plus, each time I travel to a place alone, it’s automatically assumed it’s for a man. But the one thing that will remain imprinted on my mind was a remark that was made by a ‘progressive’ friend, ’ that’s why you’re not married because you’re bossy!’

Men will never be considered too assertive but a woman who means business is considered bossy and then her personal life, marital status etc can be dragged into any conversation. But these are issues that persist everywhere. After all we are under the male gaze.”

Since, we have opened the Pandora’s box, let’s see what I think, now. As usual I have more questions than answers.

In my adolescence, I believed that if I ever did get married, I would never take on my husband’s surname. In my case it would have been taking on, since, I thought that using my father’s name was also a label and that took away my personal identity. I have considered following the Sikh tradition of using the surname ‘Kaur’, but my religious identity is as questionable as the rest of my identity. The cover of my first book, Being- has just my signature on it. My signature till date consists only of my first name. I now call myself ‘Saadiya Kochar’,  due to an attachment to my sibling. But there has been another change in thought, over the years. I wonder if my sense of who I am is really attached to a name?

A lack of a lucid reply. Let’s retrace my steps. This is what I wrote on Fb on the 30th of December 2012.

“We go out and protest for the rights of a girl we didn’t know. Outraged, as we should be! Yet we never stand up for the rights of the women we know. Why don’t sons whack their fathers when they beat up their mothers? Why don’t brothers share their ancestral properties with their sisters? How does a father watch a man emotionally abuse his daughter? Why don’t the women of a household ever standup for any injustices inflicted upon the other female members? Why do we say it’s wrong but ACT like it’s all right? When we can watch it happen to the women we love… this was a girl we didn’t even know! We should demonstrate for Damini. But what happens to those rape cases that go unreported every few hours? Women are abused everyday and we watch it every single day! We women should first teach our sons, brothers and spouses something only then will the society change. That is demonstration!”
I  envy people who can ride the same train of thought. I change my mind at least twice a day, so holding on to a thought from 2012 is too difficult for me. As I read this another question pops up. If every one is going to change the society and the people around them, when are we going to change ourselves?
My entire life, most of my interactions have been with men.  Teachers, mentors, bosses, assistants I have been surrounded by the male species. Though, I went to a convent school, I kept to myself and the few female friends I made, were also like me, always surrounded by male relatives. Though my work has been about the female energy, my personal life has been a far cry from it. But suddenly, there has been an influx of women in my life and I have started to understand many things about my own kind.
Men have an unspoken understanding, the bro-code as they call it. Women have no set of rules to deal with other women. We are the first ones to pull a woman down. A guy will think twice before saying something unsavory, women can say and do anything to each other. Last year I joined an office, where all the women claimed to be feminists but I never heard them say one nice thing about each other. I realized that as long we are fighting for the victims we all stand together. But when it comes to dealing with someone from our class, who directly affects our lives, the rules change.
The only way we are going to change society, is by changing ourselves. The first step is to make your own set of female rules. I have started to make mine.
Let your work be about celebrating the female energy. Stand up for the women you know, not just the women you don’t. Promote the female voice. Don’t try to alter other women to your standard, live and let be.  Increase your interaction with women, even if it’s uncomfortable. Never go after another woman’s man. The mother-in-law is not a monster. Try thinking one good thing about a woman you don’t like. Let your female relatives/friends know you’re always on their side.  Put your money where mouth is and always stand up for yourself.
This is why I can never be a feminist, I’m fighting the wrong person- Myself!

 

 

 

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