Last night, when I was watching television, I heard the word ‘behenji’. It’s not that I haven’t heard the word before, but it’s the context in which it was used that drew my attention. It has now become an abusive word for a certain section of our society.
The word ‘behenji’ literarily means elder sister. It is often used to address a woman with respect. Just like the term ‘bhaiya’ is used by every other lady to address vendors, shopkeepers and even strangers in India.
Coming back to yesterday’s episode of hearing the word ‘behenji’. I observed that it was used as a taunt for a college girl whose appearance was very simple. Now, the word ‘behenji’ is synonymous with a ‘simple-looking’ woman who supposedly doesn’t have a sense of style. People will call her ‘behenji’ if she chooses not to wear jeans, miniskirts or shorts. Then, she is not cool enough to be called a fashionista. The word is mostly used to ridicule. It has lost its primary meaning and grace. A word with regard and respect has been transformed into a disrespectful word. Many young girls and women get extremely furious if somebody uses this word for them. So if any girl in a metro city is not seen as ‘hot or sexy’, then she has to hear the word ‘Behenji’. The word has just been stereotyped.
This reminds me of another type of people who call themselves the ambassadors of Indian culture. According to them, a girl who wears jeans, has a male friend, goes out for a movie at night, is a characterless girl.
When I travel to rural parts of India, I observe that there too, girls bear some tags. Only the scenario and tags are different. Falling in love with a boy of her choice makes a girl characterless; girls and their clothes are held responsible for instances of harassment and molestation.
Basically, our country is divided into two sections. Both the sections are judgmental; both have their own image of the perfect girl. In case a girl belongs to an orthodox section of society, then she has to follow the rules which include sacrificing all her wishes, not wearing any western apparel even if it covers her whole body. She can’t have a boyfriend or even be friends with men. Her character is judged by her clothes.
On the other side, we have the ‘modern’ section where a girl has to have a boyfriend, she has to wear western clothes or else or she’ll be called ‘desi gawar’. Skin show is a sign that a girl is progressive and independent. A girl has to fit into these adjectives: bombshell, hot, chic and so on. Otherwise, a ‘behenji’ tag awaits her. That’s why so-called modern girls don’t like this tag and sometimes can go to any extent to get rid of this tag.
But the most disturbing thing for me that forced me to write this article is the attitude of girls. Why do they feel offended by the word ‘behenji’? It seems like modernism is only limited to looks and clothes for many people. It’s still a long way for us to be open-minded and revel in a sense of acceptance. Accepting and embracing our own self without caring much about predefined notions of an orthodox or a modern society.
It’s high time that girls start appreciating and respecting themselves. It’s okay to be a ‘behenji’, don’t take it as an offence. It’s completely fine to wear a kurta over your jeans. Women have come a long way by breaking many prejudiced, undignified rules prevailing in our conservative society. Now, what’s the point of repeating the same mistake in the modern society, and succumbing to the same judgement yet again?