I get asked several questions everyday. I have to encounter several allegations on an everyday basis. From being called a Transman in denial to a misogynistic man who is not willing to accept his gender, I have heard it all. But the fact remains that I don’t want to identify as a man. And I will never fit into any gender stereotypes. In my idea of an ideal world everybody should have the “choice” to live and perform their genders as they want to. For me looking the way I am and loving who I choose to has always been a major struggle. But then life is a negotiation at every point. Conformity and rebellion exists across a spectrum. So this new year I would just request everyone to KEEP CALM AND EMBRACE GENDER FLUIDITY. I am genderqueer and a lot more.
I am writing this letter to you because I need a feminist friend to hear me out and help me look for answers. The social networking sites and my cell phone notifications are all full of my friends sharing and posting pictures of this certain movement that has taken over these days. A feminist movement called ‘whyloiter’ that urges women to loiter in public spaces and slams victim blaming.
While I agree to every ounce of what this movement says, my heart sinks when I imagine loitering in public places alone. I flip through some news pieces that hit the newspapers over 2014 only to find news articles about rape cases at home, school, workplaces, and streets. And we are urging women to loiter? Where? These very places? That we must continue to gather and reclaim these spaces while some of us continue to get raped, teased, harassed, assaulted while accessing public places. Yes! We need women to come out and be able to access public spaces freely but can we do that alone by just coming out in big numbers? Did these movements not flood our social networking sites after the December Rape case, 2012? What did we achieve? A list of rape cases that happened that very week, that month and in the days that followed. The movement is symbolic. But the women who work on the streets of Mumbai for a daily living – the ragpickers, the garbage collectors, the cleaners who mostly are lower caste women, will this movement make things easier for them? Is ‘symbolic’ enough? Will I be able to sit alone on Marine Drive and not get stared at because of this online campaign urges women to come out?
Yes, we need men to get habituated to seeing women loiter and understand that they should be able to loiter just as freely as a group of guys. But does the infrastructure, the roads, the lights, the PCR vans allow us to? While we are at it, in this movement, uniting to be able to access public spaces – we need not just a symbolic campaign but more radical ideas that allow us to be able to go out there and loiter. Voices that articulate our demands in a way that can be manifested into results that provide safety to women from across caste, class, religion. Women get sexually harassed as they walk out with a can of water to use their community toilets. Does this campaign bring out a change in mindsets that lets women practice their basic right?
For me, loitering is just not enough. I get chills when I see a selfie in an abandoned place with a hashtag whyloiter! I worry about the safety of that person because of the everyday violence that fills the news articles everyday. We cannot just loiter and glorify women’s freedom in a state where infrastructure alone limits this loitering
While I ask all these questions, I do not doubt that movements like these are necessary. I am just disillusioned about our safety in the face of everyday violence that takes place in so many ways. Women vendors get sexually assaulted and yet we do not have a law that includes women in the unorganised sector (While Sexual Harassment law, 2013 covers the women in the unorganised sector, the Local Complaints Committee has still not been formed under the law that covers women in unorganised sector). PWDVA, 2005 tells women to continue staying with abusive husbands and women ‘chose’ to stay with abusive husbands because the shelter homes are way more unsafe then their own homes. Lack of lighting and dingy places become hubs for places where women are raped, teased and assaulted. Are we targeting these essential elements while we question our ability to take risks and roam freely in the streets? Or have we forgotten the ideology behind it and have switched to a celebratory mode. Because that is where my problem lies. It is problematic just as yet to celebrate women’s (restricted) access to public places and places of recreation. While several women continue to get raped inside their ‘private’ spaces, we as women, do not get to celebrate being able to access public spaces. While we create and publicise these movements, must we not expand the gamut to stakeholders and institutions who restrict our movement? Considering the following and the unity that this movement experiences in terms of various feminist groups, must we not move beyond asking women to just loiter? We need unabashed radical movements like slut walk, reclaim the night and why loiter. . . But we must turn these movements into feminist voices that demand change not just by an online campaign and restrict our ability to bring change. In these very difficult times, we need more. More than just a campaign on women’s safety. We need to be able to derive various strands that restrict mobility of women, include women from various classes and castes and ACT by articulating the barriers in our safety.
I want my fellow comrades to not just stop as yet, to take this fight ahead to be able to do more than just facebook. Maybe this jitter is arising because these movements gives us hope, and then the hope is slammed by another rape case or a news piece of a celebrity being slapped because the perpetrator was sexually attracted to her. We have a very long way to go . . . and as much as these movement are a part of the fight, we must take them beyond the realms of social media and discussion rooms and pictures. We have to act.
First, I am sorry for the delay in responding to your email. Now that we have exchanged courtesies, I will try loitering in this space you’ve carved. ‘Whyloiter’ from the point of view of intersectionality is deeply problematic, like every other Internet based revolution of our time. It is true that these movements are not conscientious of people from different classes, castes, gender and other social categories. Forget about being conscientious, these movements are almost alienating to those who do not have access to the Internet. So I understand your concerns about the seemingly piecemeal nature of these movements (or rather events). I also feel that you’re slightly bitter that we are stuck at the same approaches despite so much mass awakening in the past couple of months. We are still at the fundamentals, and the movements are not growing to become inclusive. Instead, these movements are growing, but rather fashionably. No?
Well, these questions disillusion me as well. You’re well aware of my stands on tackling grassroots issues like poverty, feminization of agriculture, food insecurity by means of feminist praxis. But I feel like that however beaten and limited these movements like ‘whyloiter’ or ‘reclaim the night’ are – these are a part of the struggle. I don’t want to deny myself the participation and solidarity with these movements. Even in the upwardly mobile social groups, we are not in a post-feminist state. My mother is always worried about me when I am loitering alone in Delhi, after dark. But I keep telling her ‘ye meri zindagi ka sangharsh hai’ (however melodramatic it sounds). I am scared sometimes but I don’t want to be scared. Let’s assume this to be a revolutionary act rather than a lazy attempt at partaking in a campaign. We do need systemic change but collective individual battles will also pool to change. Even the ocean is made of tiny drops.
I want to perceive the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
You’re absolutely right in all that you’re saying Payal. But! Don’t lose hope! These campaigns are not stopping us from simultaneously working on the bigger picture. The wall is big and all kinds of writings must go on it.
Recently, I have been directed to at least four buzzfeed-esque articles on how if you’re intelligent, ambitious or smart, you’re more likely to be single. This concept of being single is so problematic. (I don’t want to start about the inherent sexism in such statements but, in short:
Why must love be a victim to power struggles? Why must a human being be a threat to another, in the first place? Why must compatibility be such a competition between the sexes?)
I want to blame these discourses for making us believe that being with a partner is the only holistic relationship experience. Some will tell you that couples should spend time apart and do their own thing, others will say that their partner is all-encompassing. I am happy if that’s working for some of us.
But, many of us feel ‘incomplete’ without a companion/ partner due to the omnipresence of these thoughts. Let’s unlearn a little bit. Love can be sound in many kinds of relationships. Why must love be that thing between two people? Why does love have to be secluded with one person alone? Why does love have to be confined in the intimacy of a bedroom? Love is too large to be that restricted. No kind of love is perfect. There will always be misunderstandings and friction. Why chase an idea of the perfect romance?
These narrow ideas of love unsettle my breath. Even I drift and get bogged down by the idea of ending up alone. There’s no doubt that this year is teaching me otherwise. (I am becoming sort of invincible.)
All I want to say is, if we reach out, we will always find love. I still believe in the goodness of the people around me. I know that friends and family LOVE me. Why is this kind of love underrated? Life is not a jigsaw puzzle where this one lover enters and completes the picture. Life is a collage where every little person matters when you put things together, in perspective.
Call it a case of sour grapes or an epiphany – I am done with these unitary ideas of love. Needles to say, love is all we need. Much love be upon you Zehen, for doing this. I have found a comfortable place to let this out and warm my heart. Thank you.
This post is a part of the Redefining Love Campaign, started by The Zehen Collective. Learn more about it, here. In solidarity, for love. ❤
Of late, there have been incidents of communal discord in some parts of the country. The government is quiet. The media is treating at as easy-come-easy-go banter and spurts of attention is being given. I am not sure anymore if breaking the news is an answer.
The Prime Minister came to power with a history of pogrom and separatist thought process. But, I decided that it is better to trust the majoritarian consensus than have any other form of government. I can’t think of any other means to choose leadership other than democracy. So yeah, I will abandon this point here.
This said, as a citizen of the world’s largest democracy, which upholds sovereignty, socialism and secularism as prime, I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has resorted to silence. Meerut and Saharanpur demand empathetic tackling and immediate reconciliatory action.
As citizens, we can try our best to not let the separatist forces take over our minds. But, in a country, where the educated are immersed in a 24/7 news culture, there is little room for conscientious reflection.
This brings me to ‘Love Jihad,’ an allegation made by the Hindu right wing groups against the Muslims. I am appalled and embarrassed that such a trajectory of thought exists in the contemporary reality of India. If we dig into our nascent history, we will see that the values upon which this country stands are libertarian, with equal respect for all religions. Every Indian child is made to write an essay on the ‘unity in diversity’ of India, in school. Alongside, there exist multiple fractions of thought that puncture this united idea of India. There is no one enemy that is creating the divide. All of us are responsible for it.
Then, there is the objectification of women and girls. When the premise of division is not land and other resources, we make women and girls the objects in our separate territories. A woman then is defined as the child-bearing vessel of fertility, whose genitals are the demarcations of her existence. It is gross. Disharmony between communities and groups of people where women become properties to be guarded and kept – the medieval era hasn’t gone by.
The ongoing discussions on communal disharmony have dehumanized women once again. The truth is blaring right out at us. Rapes, sexual harassment and crimes against women are a result of unequal power relations. Religious affiliations and hierarchies among different sections of the society exist, and gendered crime is omnipresent across these categories.
I think that feminism(s) is an ideology that has room for differences. I will always go back and revisit Audre Lorde,
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate difference.”
The Prime Minister must speak. He could probably start with reading Audre Lorde and the make his acclaimed speeches. I believe in systemic change. It is important for the State to provide some solace. This hate should be nipped in the bud with messages of love and togetherness. I also am almost utopian idealist.
Maybe, it is time to look beyond voyeuristic news pieces, piecemeal legislation, and communal affiliation. We need to look for humanitarian solutions. All we need is a tad bit of compassion. The struggles of ordinary people in the country are similar. Of course, socio-economic belonging makes a world of a difference. But, when all of us are trying to make a living – we can afford ourselves some mutual understanding.
Don’t let the hate mongers get inside your head. We must speak of love in these dark times. Despite all odds, we are all human beings.