By Prakruti Maniar:
The Supreme Court last week asked the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA) to allow female make-up artists in the film industry. It’s a practice that for the past 59 years, has restricted women to hairstyling jobs. What’s even worse, they have had to work in the background, share their credits and salary with men (who don’t do the work) because of this clause in the Association’s Constitution.
This marks a sort of half-victory for petitioner Charu Khurana, who fought a year-long legal battle and went through over five years of professional struggle. When I spoke to her, she still hadn’t received a membership to the union, which is a pre-requisite to work on films and she confided that there was a deep resentment in the union regarding the decision. So much so that she went to file her application after the order, with police protection.
My first reaction to the judgment was one of bewilderment – the fact that women were not allowed to work as make-up artists seems to defy logic, and social convention. How do you even separate blush and lipstick from us? It was bizarre.
When speaking to Charu, another realization hit me hard. “Have you ever seen women hairstylists anywhere around some of the biggest stars of our country?” she asked me. I hadn’t even noticed.
So I looked around me. What were the women doing? Handling boutiques, working in banks, and so many other things. Yet, men far outnumbered them – from the closest nariyal paaniwala to drivers of public transport, in shops and bars, in films and behind the scenes too.
I was reminded of my childhood – I loved a game called Mechanix – a construction game for kids complete with tiny spanners and nuts and bolts. Yet I can’t recall thinking about engineering seriously. Educationally, we have moved forward from that era. In USA, women make for only 12 per cent of engineers and only 6.3 per cent of engineering managers are women. Are we focusing too much on academics, less on its application then?
There is no need for a Rise of The Planet of the Women where we barge into every male bastion just to prove a point, but what is it that keeps women in the background? Is it society? It’s probably that we haven’t even thought of the possibilities of certain occupations. I decided to look this up. And there they were, the women pioneers who are slowly but surely making their way into what are considered to be essentially ‘male’ professions, a glance:
Mechanics – How many of us have ever fixed a car or even a leaking faucet? Meet Shanti Devi, who started out as a tea-stall owner and expanded, along with her husband into repairs. For about a decade now, she has been a truck mechanic. Yes, trucks. On the Delhi route, where they had their tea-stall, it seemed a logical step forward. And her story is a fine example of how common sense and hardwork defy odds, that no ‘rural’ tag can stop you from doing anything you want or must.
Take another case – that of Savita Kabirdas, from Choti Madhaiyan fondly called “Mechanic Sir” in her village. She has the responsibility of repairing hand-pumps. That’s not all. The Washington Post did a story on her 10 years back in 2004! For a social environment where women bring water from the pumps, how convenient it is that they know how to fix it? Kabirdas and her team are among 45 illiterate lower-caste women in the district who were trained 10 years ago in pump repair.
The impact is multi-fold. Not only do women set an example but also in times of crisis such as a broken water pump, people forget caste prejudices. This social impact indeed, is as important as the gender impact.
On a side note – have you ever met a female plumber?
Public transport – “Bhaiya, insert place chaloge?” As a resident of Mumbai, buses, rickshaws and taxis are my home. I fear to travel late hours by these modes and even so, have never questioned why women never drove them (not even after Bachchna Ae Haseeno).
In March 2014, 341 woman auto drivers received permits to drive autos. Yet, one hardly sees them on Mumbai roads. Even before that, Anita Kudtarkar, from Vasai, became the first female rickshaw driver in 2010, braving many odds, including questioning attitudes by her co-drivers. 50 others were trained with her a decade ago. None hit the roads.
It isn’t always a pleasant experience to break the patriarchal pattern of things. Ask Yogita Raghuvanshi, who, in 2013 set heads turning (few with an approving glance) as she steered a truck carrying 16-tonnes of potatoes into the APMC market at Vashi in 2013, amid catcalls and much booing. It was her determination to be unaffected that finally won others to her cause.
Fire-fighters – Globally, women have been fire-fighters for a long time. It wasn’t until 2003 that India got its first woman in the team of men ‘who serve to save’ – a motto that inspired Meenakshi Vijayakumar. She joined the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Service in 2003 as a Divisional Officer, after a gruelling six-month training session. In 2012, Mumbai (Wadala Fire Station) inducted five women fire-fighters, because there had been complaints by victims that they didn’t feel comfortable being rescued by men. Other states have followed with baby steps. Without women themselves participating and coming ahead, they will never be anything more.
Bouncers – Let’s shift our focus to the happy hours of modern life – bars. Big burly men, towering over everyone, clad in all black, have achieved symbolic status. Refusing to let this stereotype stop her from earning her living, Sunita became a bouncer in 2008. Women in bars do not paint a pretty picture but things changed eventually, she said to BBC in 2013.
This trend is increasing, especially on occasions like the New Year when extra hands are needed. Chandigarh, Punjab, Delhi are all seeing women bouncers, especially given the security concern in the NCR.
Bartenders – We can’t leave them behind can we? This is probably the coolest of jobs and one where urban India finally finds a voice – women from leading metros have taken up bartending as a profession. Aided by (yet another) landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in 2007 that changed a law that barred women from tending bars in the NCR, today they are less rare than before.
Collete Pereira, one of the first women to take up the profession had said in an interview, “It is interesting to see how mainstream media usually portrays bartenders, even in the West – take Moe from The Simpsons or Nick Miller from New Girl”
Combat – In January 2013, the U.S military ended its policy excluding women from combat jobs and opened direct combat units to female troops.
In India, since 1992 women have been a part of the army, but not on the frontlines. In August 2014, IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha hinted at the possibility – of women in combat. The CRPF, for the first time, has deployed women paramilitary troops to fight the Naxals in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh – makes sense, given that women constitute nearly 50 percent of the Maoist forces. This however, is an exception.
Train Drivers – Eleven years ago, Surekha Yadav became Asia’s first female passenger train driver in Mumbai and since then 50 others have followed. She was also responsible for the inclusion of for-women-only trains, having been witness to harassment, personally driving the Lady’s Special into Victoria Terminus for inauguration.
These women are examples that if you think big enough, the obstacles won’t seem too big to conquer – without reservations, that too.
Engineers, chiropractors, detectives, investigating officers, pilots, – why, pan shop owners, brewers, butchers, driving instructors, F1 racer –anything you want, you can be.
The core of feminism is to give women an opportunity, yet if we continue to have blocked minds and narrow visions about the size of the actual playing field, it won’t be enough. We have degrees, we demand for equal pay, we demand to wear what we want, we ask the boys to help at home, we speak against violence and we stand up to every challenge life throws at us. Now, it is time to think about whether we are truly looking at the big picture. It is time to question what we see, the dominating presence or absence of males and/or females. Not because we are rebels, but because equality is still a little farther down the road, and we want to reach it quicker.