Thursday, February 18, 2021

And hence we celebrate...

Priya Ramani is someone most women professionals of a certain age can identify with.

What happened with her when a senior journalist took her into his hotel room to conduct an interview was the kind of thing that happened to many of us. It was something that made her deeply uncomfortable, yet she stayed silent because thought she was uncomfortable, he didn’t “do anything”.

Most of us have had similar encounters in our career.

Not an overt demand for sexual favours in return for professional growth (or to avoid potential professional death), but situations where the intent is made quite clear. We were uncomfortable, but we chose silence. And we did so for many reasons.

We chose silence because they system is so clearly stacked against women, that even other well meaning women would have rushed in to assure us that we were imagining things if we spoke about how we were made to feel. We would have been assured that we should move on since nothing really happened.

We genuinely believed that harassment took only certain very well defined forms. That unless there was deliberate touch in inappropriate places or unless a clear cut proposition had been made, it was not harassment. It took multiple POSH trainings before most of us accepted that the perception of the victim was as valid as the intent of the perpetrator. That if something made us uncomfortable, we had the right to speak up against it.

We chose silence because of the people we were up against. The men who made us feel uncomfortable were powerful people who could destroy careers. They were also part of a cabal that would brand you as attention seeking- “he can have anyone, why would he waste his energy on you?” They were men who knew that their network would stand by them, and help them destroy any woman who complained.

We chose silence because we subconsciously knew that if we spoke up, we would be put on trial not the perpetrator. And we were right in that perception. When Priya Ramani spoke up against her perpetrator, MJ Akbar responded by filing a defamation suit against her- he knew (as we did) that he would get away.

So, when MJ Akbar with his 97 lawyers accused Priya Ramani of defamation, we felt for her because we have remained silent because of the same fear. For us, it was not just Priya Ramani who was on trial, all our hopes and fears were too.


And hence, Priya Ramani’s victory feels like a vindication for all of us. It assures us that even if the perpetrator is not punished, he will not get away with attempting to turn the tables on you. It sends a strong message across that intimidation no longer works.

Yes, it is pathetic that we should be happy for winning a case that should never have been filed in the first place. But even this case, we were not sure of winning.

And hence, we celebrate. We all celebrate. It is a moment of validation for us.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Silence of the Looms

 It was the silence that hit my friend when she went to the Angara weaving cluster in November.

Everytime she visited her father, she would make at least one trip to the co-operative, spending an entire day chatting with weavers and picking out the sarees her friends asked her to get for them. The clatter of the looms provided a pleasing background score as she checked out the design innovations and gave her expert advice on which designs may or may not work.

She’s often messaged me from the co-operative store, sending me pictures of a saree she thought I would like and asking which of the colours I preferred. If I didn’t respond on time, she’d just buy the one she thought I would like, and she knows my taste so well, she would always get it right.

When she visited last November, she wasn’t quite sure whether to risk visiting the weavers’ co-operative or not- would the people be following adequate masking and physical distancing or not, she couldn’t be sure. But since a friend had given her a laundry list of sarees she wanted, she decided to brave it.

As she walked through the weaving cluster, what struck her was how surreal the scene was. There were fewer people moving around, and all she could hear was one solitary loom valiantly clattering away as the master wearver worked on a customised wedding trousseau. The rest of the looms had fallen silent. With the co-operative society full of stocks which nobody wanted to buy, there was no point in getting further into debt by continuing to weave.

The economic slowdown has hit the weaving industry hard. With money being in tight supply and fewer opportunities to wear new clothes, people are buying less. Not only do the weavers not have an income from sales, their capital is tied up in the inventory that and their debts continue to mount.

Most rural weavers and artists are in similar situations. Their margins are so low that they depend on volumes to earn anything more than a subsistence livelihood. With the economic slowdown, they are actually losing money everyday, because while there is no revenue, loan repayments don’t stop. Any solution proposed by the government has been ad hoc and unsustainable.


There is not much an individual can do, and my friend did what she could. She bought as many sarees as she could afford, hoping to match sarees to owners later. Since she knows I have put a freeze on buying clothes for two years, she got me one as a gift. It was an Angara saree with jamdani motifs- a pleasing Andhra meets Bengal saree which would have been cherished as a design innovation in better times. As I draped it on a short day trip, I wondered anew about the trade-offs we make. At a time like this, should leading a more sustainable life matter more than supporting rural livelihoods?

More importantly, what is the government doing to alleviate the distress?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Love Is Love

 

Your child brings home
     His Love.
     Exposing
          Layers of bigotry
Caste
   Language
      Class
         Nationality
      Colour
   Religion
         Gender

Why must it be so?
When Love is Love.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

I too will be Free

 

How I long to run
into wind, dewy grass
tickling my soles. My kite

trailing behind me. Unsure
of its place. Flailing
but not giving up.

I don’t care much about
the kite. I want to feel the wind
in my hair. The hill

I must climb. The view
from the summit. My town
lying still at my feet. I run

My kite runs with me. Red
like my menstrual blood.
Powerful. It finds a current

and climbs up. Steadily.
Strongly. Purposefully.
It tugs hard.

It rises high. I struggle
to keep up. One day
I too will be Free

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I can do anything for you

"That's ridiculous. Ask for 
  something else. The moon is 
  beautiful tonight. 
Do you want it?"
"I don't want the moon. 
  Do this so our daughters 
  are born in a better world.”
"So we are having children! 
  I will sprinkle you with stardust. 
  I will love, cherish and 
  protect you. I will climb 
the highest mountains for you."
"I don’t care for all that. 
  All I want is space 
  to be me."
“Who do you think you are? 
  Whores like you sell 
  by the dozen in the bazaar. 
Do you know who I am? 
  I’ll show you.”

*he reached for the acid *


Saturday, January 16, 2021

"You are a girl, you are so lucky"

 “You are a girl. It’s easy for you”, is something every woman who is or aspires to be professionally qualified hears. I heard it too.

“You are a girl, you will get into IIM. We are the ones who have to struggle.”

Well, guess what. Standardized Aptitude Tests aren’t (to the best of my knowledge) calibrated to recognise gender. And someone who’s been on the high school and University debating team has a distinct advantage over the others in GDs and interviews.

Less than a year later, it was back.

“Girls always get summer placement in the first weekend itself.”

Some did. But most of us had to wait, and during every one of those five weeks when others were getting placed, we were constantly reminded of how it is easy for girls.

“Girls get Day Zero placements even if they aren’t I-Schols.”

By then, the statement had almost stopped hurting. But we saw a new aspect of discrimination. After clearing multiple rounds of interviews, when I finally made it to the last interview of my Dream Job, the question came, “what would you do if your child falls ill on a day when you have an important presentation." I fumbled and was out. Why are men never asked that question. Do they not marry or have kids?

The statements never end:

“You are a girl. You will get a cushy department.”

“You are a girl. You will get promoted before us.”

“You are a girl. Nobody will question if you leave early.”

That cushy department was a 6 month deputation where I was the sole occupant of the company guest house. The promotion almost never came because a boss had messed up my appraisal. I did leave earlier than the others, but also checked in long before they did.

Women balanced greater expectations at home, with demands of the workplace. Women missed out on informal networking opportunities because they weren’t a part of the Boys Gang. Women struggled to find washrooms when they had to travel. Women took on the tougher assignments because to refuse would have meant being branded weak.

Women learnt to ignore misogynistic remarks. Women pretended not to notice the condescending manner in which they were treated. Women accepted the fact that they would find it much more difficult to be heard and taken seriously. 

Worst of all, women learnt to shoulder the burden of the gender. When a man made a mistake, it was a mere stumble. When a woman made the same mistake, the entire gender got branded.

And yet, when a women says 'every woman I meet at the top position is extraordinary. Many men I meet at the top position are quite ordinary", she is called out for the statement. Isn't it time men acknowledge the truth. That despite their perceived victimization, it is women who struggle in the workplace.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Gratitude

 


‘It is the height of hypocrisy to celebrate a Harvest Festival when the milk comes out of a plastic pouch, and the rest of the ingredients are picked up from the grocer’, I would rail during my rebellious teenage years.

But gradually, I came to realize that Pongal wasn’t just a Harvest Festival. It was a chance to acknowledge the things you take for granted, to be appreciative of what life has thrown your way, and to hope that you will continue to be that way.

In Gratitude for all I have. In Hope that I will always have enough.

شکر



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