Ah Diwali. It’s that time of year when the pollution is the Instagram filter for your mirchi lights. It’s a time of togetherness and celebration. It’s also that time of year when someone thinks it’s a good idea to call you a “pataka,” and it feels nothing like rocking out to Katy Perry’s “Firework” in your bedroom. But we’re here to claim this holiday in our own special desi feminist way!
For some people Diwali morning begins with the Hanuman Chālisā. For us desi feminists, it begins with the story of Sita, as we reflect on the gender dynamics of Rāmāyan. This story begins with a woman being abducted from her husband’s home, and ends with her being forced to prove her fidelity by walking through fire. Real legit stuff. Have things changed for women since Vyasa first penned the epic? Maybe not by much, but instead of a gloomy start to the day, we recommend Nina Paley’s delightful animated film, “Sita Sings The Blues.”
We sure relish our time off during the festive season. And because good desi feminists acknowledge their privilege in a power system that’s splintered by class, caste and so much more, we also know how valuable having time off is for everybody who helps keep our homes in order. Didi coming early morning to clean, the cook who painstakingly prepared our Diwali dinner, or someone who washes the car, and irons our clothes. And there’s also safai karamcharis and security guards – basically everyone whose daily labour helps us keep doing what we do. It’s their Diwali too, so desi feminists respect their time off, and, while they’re at it, send them a special box of mithai, or a sari, or a crisp suit letting them know you appreciate them.
Firecrackers are a big no-no. We know behind every phuljadi arehazardous work conditions, child labour, unequal wages, and a deadly carbon footprint. All us desi feminists gotta stay eco-friendly, and support traditional Indian handicrafts and the people whose livelihood depends on it. We want all our shopping to directly benefit marginalized communities whether it’s buying woven cloth from women’s self-help-groups, or traditional hand-made clay pots, vases, lamps and diyas that kumbhars have been making for centuries. Oh! And one could also hit a college Diwali sale where the proceeds go to local organizations that work with street children, animal shelters, or rehabilitation centres.
Okay nobody actually uses cassettes anymore, but it’s time to create a playlist of songs that are empowering! While everyone else may be content with the sexist and consent-violating fare that many Bollywood songs offer, you can put together a bunch of music from artists who (in their work and personal life both) are committed to that equal and inclusive aesthetic. How about some hits from everyone’s favourite flick “Queen“? How about throwing in some Bikini Kill and Beyonce too? Whatever floats your boat, go wild!
Here’s where you encounter aunty-who-always-remarks-about-people’s-weight, or uncle-who-thinks-good-girls-should-come-home-at-8pm, and other young people giggling about how somebody’s figure isn’t “sexy enough” for a sari and blouse. But us desi feminists go to these local melas together so we can counteract the negative energy that other people are still holding on to. We’re here to focus on what the festival of lights really means to us – the triumph of intersectional feminist solidarity over every patriarchal evil!
Need to recover a bit from that mela? And that unfounded comment about how migrant labourers in the city have made it unsafe for women? Or chachaji loudly declaring that he’d abstained from crackers last year so it’s okay to pollute the air now? Time to head to a room of one’s own – which could also be a cosy corner, the last table at the café, or your favourite dhaba – for a light read. There’s Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana.” And if you’re still squirming about Diwali’s clean-cut vilification of Ravan, there’s also Anand Neelakantan’s “Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished,” written from the “demon-king’s” perspective. Ain’t nobody got no time for those non-nuanced dominant masculinized upper-caste Hindu narratives!
Now to the main attraction! As friends and relatives start trickling in for drinks and dinner, every desi feminist must brace for a barrage of super problematic “banter,” unsolicited advice from relatives who claim to know better, and the usual questions about marriage and children. For the more patient ones among us, it’s time to decisively drape that dupatta over our shoulders, stir our drinks, and really lay into the conversation. Nothing says crackalicious-feminist-diwali like nudging your friends and relatives to check their privilege and prejudices, because you’re having none of that racist, classist, casteist, patriarchal aesthetic to go with your barfis and balushahi, thanks. Aaaand, if you’re looking for friskier approach, try drowning out that “banter” with your own desi feminist rendition of popular bollywood songs. Or quote liberally from Nivedita Menon’s “Seeing Like A Feminist,” to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” You know, for the lulz.
Just seen off all your guests? Still pumped after all that activity? It’s time for us desi feminists to pop in that “mix tape” we made earlier. Because it’s nice end the day on a nice empowering note, and sometimes grooving out to your own little playlist really does the trick.
Diwali is ours for the taking, so remember to have yourself a good time, and smash that patriarchy with a side of motichoor laddoo as well.
P.S.: Have we said ‘No to crackers’ enough?
P.P.S.: What are your desi feminist hacks for the festival season? Drop in comments below or mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org