By Veda Nadendla:
This narrative is not for the faint-hearted, and definitely not for the judgmental. As you scroll down, do so with an open mind because what you are about to witness is going to gobsmack you. It is the breaking of societal and cultural norms; a catalyst unlike any other. A message to open our minds and hearts; before we judge, before we limit, before we stereotype and before we objectify. You are about to see photography in its most honest form.
As a college project, a young woman in Bangalore decided to shoot the following photographs to portray that there is nothing wrong with showing skin, it’s all in the way we think and react. Chavi Sethi from New Delhi says that her photo project is a means to make people think. “How can a country grow, when half of its people are not comfortable in their skin?” During my conversation with her, Chavi mentioned that at a family member’s wedding in the recent past, she encountered some aunts and they asked, “Who will marry you if you keep shaking your leg like that?” As a limerick, she added, “Tell my prospective husbands that I have obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
Chavi’s project is a subtle yet powerful portrayal of everything that is wrong with our mentalities. We have all been judgmental and biased, we have all at some point looked at a girl dressed in hot pants and thought, ‘that is so indecent’, or judged a girl for showing her cleavage. Even today, sleeveless clothes are banned in colleges, and adding just two inches of cloth to a sleeveless top apparently, makes it more decent. I ask you, is the absence of those two inches enough to brand someone vulgar, to seek them out and stare at them, to lech at them in public spaces, to leave them uncomfortable and fearful? Is that reason enough to touch them? I am not judging you for being intrusive, so why are you judging me for minding my own business? It seems that the message from this photo project is pretty clear; women in India are uncomfortable in their own skin for fear of judgement and disrespect. You should be able to wear whatever you want, while being able to carry it, without caring about unknown people harming you mentally or physically. Feminism is about a shared responsibility. So women and men alike owe it to each other to be more sensitive and open-minded toward each other.
What is the ideology behind your project?
The general idea is that there are a lot of dogmas attached to general things women use and do, which we as Indian men and women, cannot seem to accept. Buying a pad from a male attendant is an embarrassment because he quickly bills it and wraps it in the newspaper and gives it to you as if it’s an explosive or just leaves it there for you to pick up. What also bothers me is that people think that rape is only about the woman’s body. Rape is perpetrated on babies aged 3 months, little girls and boys, young women and middle-aged women as well as women aged 85. Rape is about aggression and power, it is about control. Also, we can’t assume that men are sex mongers; they too can not want sex and it is not fair to label them so. Our country is stagnating because our beliefs are speed bumps and ditches which refuse to be repaired.
What were the challenges you faced with this project?
I’ll list it down for you so that it becomes simpler:
1. No one agreed to be the model for ‘a revealing shoot’ like mine, so for a moment, I thought I would do self-portraits, till I found the perfect person. She too was very reluctant and stiff in front of the camera and I had to engage her in conversation for quite some time before we started shooting.
2. No one would cover the article except one forum for the fear that it was ‘explicit’ and possibly ‘erotic’.
3. My relatives were against it. They told me, ‘What if someone Googles you and sees this post? No one will marry you.’ I don’t need someone who disagrees with my opinions to marry me, everyone should have that choice. Women are not born so men can accept and reject them for marriage.
4. A few NGOs too disagreed to use the content for awareness drives because it was not art oriented and seemed revealing.
5. My uncle asked me why I am rebelling. I told him that this is not rebellion, this is an opinion. Is having an opinion rebellious?
This is not modernization, this is acceptance. When I wear a crop top, it seems smutty, but the few inches of stomach shown in a saree are not? Our mentalities are holding us back.
This project is a catalyst for change in the way that it compels you to look at the woman in the pictures as a person with her own choices and opinions. Nothing gives us the right to judge her for her choice of clothing or her decision to do the shoot. But how many of you think this way? You’ve seen what you had to; tell us what’s on your mind.