That time of the year is here when the internet is flooded with advertisements ahead of ‘Women’s day’. From clothing line to bath essentials, each and every brand is affixed on the idea of selling their best products with a ‘responsible’ social message. Despite changes, we have a long way to go to get rid of the patriarchal menace. This is a long battle and there have to be many systemic fixes to be able to build an egalitarian society. And how long will it take is a difficult question to answer!
A couple of years earlier, I had an adventure of dragging my landlord to the Sarojini Nagar Police Station in Delhi. I was still a student then, and dealing with the ordeals of everyday patriarchal nonsense did take a toll on my mental well being. It was a harassing experience as I got innumerable lecherous stares from the owner of the apartment I was living in, day in and day out. It was worse for my flatmate who hailed from Nagaland. A few friends, who would come over for tea to our flat, would caution us about ‘our whammies’.
My flatmate has diverse tribal roots, is a Christian, and is a woman. I am an Assamese, a Muslim, and a woman. This consequently meant people had issues with our food habits and dietary practices.
As days passed by, I realised diversity and intersectionality are often perceived as a threat to the majoritarian groups who often harbour deep-seated patriarchal notions. In the case of classic patriarchy, as witnessed in South Asia, family systems are based around rigid value systems that automatically teaches women to enter into a ‘patriarchal bargain’. As the name suggests, it is a way in which women adjust and manipulate an existing system, for their personal gains and benefits.
So, in a way, it becomes a decision taken by women where they accept gender rules, norms and roles which are not advantageous to and are rather disadvantageous to, other women. As the landlord misbehaved with us, so did his wife. With every passing day, I only realised that the owner used his spouse to vomit his patriarchal rants! As earning from the apartment was his only source of income and with his other sources of incomes crashing, his frustration kept growing.
Mainstream societies also have issues digesting the fact that women who come from minority communities or tribal belts can excel in professions that have primarily been dominated by them. In their heads, these communities are best suited to work as air hostesses, waitresses, masseuses or to work in job roles that accentuate the gig economy. There is a constant endeavour to dehumanise such professions as there has been a normalisation of the highest order of racism and casteism. Our not so mainstream identities were somehow always brought to the limelight because we, being master’s students or having aims of taking up higher studies, did not fit their stereotypes.
I was 25-years-old then and seeing me roam around independently, I was always subject to scrutiny. The same is hardly faced by men of our age and it gets worse when such men do not acknowledge their male privilege. I had to listen to things like ‘acchi ghar ki ladkiyaan ghar main jaldi ghusti hain’ (girls from ‘good homes’ reach home quickly/don’t stay out too late). which I had to counter almost on a daily basis.
It got worse towards the end when I planned to shift out of that property. The stories around landlords not refunding security deposits is a very common one. I started preparing myself mentally that I would receive further intimidation and harassment. When I had to fight it out with my landlord and the property dealer, I had to literally fight out the toxic masculinity that leaves one aghast and stranded with a possible threat to life in the middle of nowhere. It took one dialogue from this landlord that compelled me to take this case with the police. He said, “Tum jaisi ladkiyon ki aukaat Rs 4,000-5,000 main rehne ki hain”. (Girls like you only deserve to stay in a place worth Rs 4,000-5,000.)
It took me close to 20 days to finally get my money back from the landlord. Even after filing an FIR, he was least bothered to establish a contact and would openly defy the police. It was only during this time that I learnt that police stations under the Delhi Police have special ‘northeast cells’ to deal with cases around racist attacks. On the D-day, there was yet again a string of rants that were patriarchal in nature. Example: One of the police constables was trying to pacify me by saying, “Humare India main justice system accha hain. Aap kyon chinta kar rahe ho? Yeh Pakistan thode na hain?’” (In India, the justice system is good. Why are you worried? This isn’t Pakistan.)
Everything somehow boils down to India vs. Pakistan, yet there was no attempt to recognise the fact that the plight of women has only been deteriorating day-by-day with multiple challenges at hand! Even as ties between countries worsen, it needs to be reiterated that alpha males are busy carrying out battles of civilisation while formulating a few policies of women empowerment here and there. Women’s Day is also a time I am particularly interested in tracking down various events of Aurat March that happens across different cities of Pakistan. And every year, some awful men leave no stone unturned to make headlines that are extremely disrespectful towards women. Hence, patriarchy is a South Asian disease!
The Aishwarya Rai-starrer Provoked gave an insight into violence and domestic abuse that so many women have to undergo in a patriarchal setting throughout South Asia and this vicious cycle of abuse continues even if families live abroad. The cultural shock in a foreign country makes things worse for South Asian women as they are always brought under the radar when it comes to their needs and choices pertaining to food, who they befriend, the clothes women want and don’t want to wear, the money they spend, their employment and educational needs, etc. In other words, very few women are given the choice to do whatever they want in their lives and if they are found not adhering to societal standards they are subjected to physical, mental and emotional harassment.
Coming to my issue of harassment, I was adamant about not getting bogged down by intimidation. And after more than two hours of not-so-peaceful dialogue, I was able to get my money back! This incident gave me a lot of confidence to be able to battle it out with misogynists who don’t think twice before making casual sexist remarks daily!
The next question that lies ahead of me: how well am I prepared to face a new set of challenges that are patriarchal but in a different environment?