Stigma, Shame and lots of Pain: My Period Story

You are about to read a narrative full of pain, shame, privacy concerns and blood! Yes, they comprise the story of my monthly ordeal named “periods”. As a person who heavily suffers, who cries from menstrual cramps, I think that what I would consider worse than the pain is the stigma around menstruation.

My story begins when I was in class VII. I noticed blood on my skirt but I assumed that I must have got hurt. The carelessness and casual attitude that I had allowed me to assume it. But the “secret” was not kept from me for long. I had to face it the next month and learn to deal with it.

I was also the one who struggled a lot with stains so yes, I have many experiences which have been like lessons on patriarchy. I remember that once in school, I had stained my skirt and had to take a napkin and borrow a skirt from the school office. I had to return it the next day and when the office lady approached my teacher, my teacher felt very uncomfortable communicating the office order to me.

The stigma around menstruation, the dirt and shame seems to have been accepted by most of the people at school as well. A stain was seen with horror, disgust and accepted by mockery and humiliation. An exception to this rule was a classmate and friend, Amrita Arora (I think she deserves to be named) who did not create a scene, helped me get over the shame that day and earned respect from me.

Even without the stigma, the taboo, we also grow up believing that we are impure when we are menstruating. The most urban of us are also advised not to touch pickle or to participate in any religious activity. Some of my friends have told me the existence of several other restrictions like menstruating women not to enter the kitchen, serve food or do any household activity. While these are and can be justified by arguing that our scripture writers wanted women to rest but the part about us being impure just cannot be justified. How can blood be pure or impure?

Menstruation is a natural, biological process just like reproduction. It is high time that we start taking talks around reproduction, reproductive health and sanitation in a serious manner. A lot of us, especially women, suffer because of the stigma. While the monthly pain which consists of extreme weakness, abdominal pain, back ache, pain in every part of the body is unbearable for us. The pain varies among women and for some, these are literal the worst days of the month. Yet, this pain has been so underestimated. A female friend had once told me that I am “exaggerating the pain”.The fact of insufficient research around menstrual pain and the ways to deal with it contributes to such a thinking among women as well.

Menstruation is a fact, deal with it! For ladies out there, it is not going to stop till we reach our 50s maybe and yes, is a better companion than some people so get to know about it better. For “gentlemen”, please read about menstruation. It is not unhygienic and impure to read about it. Let’s together break the taboo around talks of menstruation and reproductive health.

This article has been published on Women Chapter (English)

Advertisements

Hindu New Year: A Celebration of Unity and Heterogeneity

The Hindu New Year or Nav Varsh is celebrated with different festivals – Navratri, Gudi Padwa, Ugadi, Navreh, Cheti Chand symbolising the intermingling of religion with local culture and rituals and celebrating the beauty of heterogeneity, cultural assimilation and diversity.

It beautifully tells us that no culture is superior, while we should be proud of our culture, we must also respect the culture of others, that unity may not always be in homogeneity, we can be different and we have to learn to respect and celebrate the difference, that there is a certain beauty in co-existing which cannot be experienced in dominating and replacing. We must understand what our festivals try to teach us.. focus on the underlying essence, the ideas not the visible, the material.

Nav Varsh ki Hardik Shubhkaamnaye!

Petite Women and Body Shaming: My Personal Experience

skinnyshaming1

Photo Source: Internet

We live in a web of definitions, roles and expectations weaved by the society, the threads made strong and shiny with ideal images that invokes a sense of happiness and comfort. While we are all trapped, not all of us may realise it. Some of us realise or rather are made to realise it when we fail to ‘naturally’ meet the expectation. 

While the society controls every aspect of our being, in the present context, I am talking about the expectation regarding our physical appearance. Growing up, always looking half my age and being tiny in size, l have personally experienced the societal ‘reality’, the societal expectation to be of the pre-defined ideal size, height, colour, qualities and a mindset that all these pre-defined specifications are perfectly fine.

Always been tiny, I am so used to hearing people express their disbelief at my age that it surprises me when someone doesn’t seem shocked! I don’t mind people being surprised but I certainly wish that they would keep the after thoughts to themselves though they don’t affect me anymore. I am far more used to it and at peace with myself, with my body. Though there would be a time and I must confess, still there are moments when the comments affect me, trouble me enough to force me to look for solutions.

I have gone through body shaming in childhood, during teen years, in college and even today, there are people who try. A small physical stature combined with an introvert nature, I would be assumed to be dull, docile, subordinate, powerless, incompetent and a source of pity. While growing up, not reaching a certain height by high school was supposed to be a matter of great concern and shame. I would constantly be made conscious of my height, a friend would constantly hint at how she was trying new things to speed up her growth. She did manage to grow an inch or two taller than me but I don’t remember if I congratulated her for the achievement. I remember that once a junior kid had asked me if I was a dwarf. At that time, I did feel a sense of shame as I explained I am not but now ofcourse, I realise that it is no matter of shame even if I was one. 

But back then, it was hard to fight it. I remember that once I had said to my friend that it doesn’t matter to me if I am short and she frowned which made me think if I really said something so wrong. But eventually, I started accepting myself, my body and doing so, I realized that this was much harder than to grow in height!

I am still made conscious about my tiny stature.  There are people who still treat me, a woman in mid-20s as a “kid”. The snide comments passed off as “jokes” or sentences in “light vein” do not stop. I am still asked if I am ok with looking so young. I am suggested ways to look a bit mature, given free advices on hairstyle, dress sense and way to carry myself. But this doesn’t hold me back anymore.

I have realized that the problem doesn’t lie with me but with such people. I realise that it is actually their own insecurity and failure that they try to impose on me to become happy. They themselves failed to challenge the society that teaches us to give importance to looks than to other things, to challenge the society that teaches us to be of a certain type. They fail to fight to get our right to be the way we want to, look the way we want to. They not only failed but also try to hide their failure by sustaining the order, keeping stiff the web. If they judge me, then the fact is that I judge them more. I feel pity that they could not look beyond my physical appearance. I feel pity that they can’t find a better topic to talk about other than one’s physical appearance. I don’t know and care less whether one may agree or not but this is my tiny perspective on the body that belongs to me.

This article was published on Women Chapter http://en.womenchapter.com/a-tiny-womans-experience-of-body-shaming/

Role of People in Improving Indo-Pak Relations

indo-pak

Photo Source: Internet

While British India became independent and was divided into India and Pakistan for a more peaceful and saner future, we know that this is yet to be realized. Since separation, there has largely been a culture of war and extreme hatred. In these 67 years, there have been 4 major wars, countless ceasefire violations and indirect clashes suffered by divided families, prisoners and fishermen.

Yet, there exists a very pessimistic attitude towards peace. It has also been reduced to an issue of mockery. Working to improve relations is seen as passive and futile. Also, these views emanate not from the stakeholders but from the common masses in both countries. There is
not just a pessimistic attitude but also a severe questioning of it, especially on times of a clash. During any disturbance, the peace groups and activists are targeted. They are rendered accountable. Their loyalty towards their country is questioned. They are asked to prove their love for their country by condemning the other. Their efforts are regarded to be futile and showy.

In general, there exists a view that war and peace are in the hands of those who have political power. What can you and me do about it? The conflict is regarded to be a conflict between the state heads, between New Delhi and Islamabad. Is this true? Do people have no role to play?

What is then the purpose of interactive sessions, seminars, public demonstrations and student exchanges?

Another view that anyone who advocates for peace witnesses is that there can be no peace unless we solve the core issue, the Kashmir or the K-issue. Is this the only way to establish peace?

While the two views regarding the state’s role and the need to resolve core issue are not wrong, they are narrow and insufficient. We use the term “peace process”. The word “process” signifies that peace, like any process, will come under certain conditions and through a systematic way. It will come under a certain culture. While peace and conflict definitely depends on the political head, the decision or the official policy is never in isolation with the views of the people. The states manufacture consent. There is a certain ideological culture that it manufactured to create as well as sustain the official policy. In our context, hatred for India/Pakistan has been manufactured and sustained. There exists a culture of hatred and suspicion on both sides of the border. Both sides have constructed their own stereotypes and misconceptions. These have been aggravated, if not carefully constructed, by the lack of communication and by miscommunication. Both sides believe that they are right and the other is wrong. Both sides think the other does not want peace, the other is unjust and cruel.

These misconceptions are used to justify clashes. The state and public opinion cannot be said to be in isolation with each other. Both affect and influence each other. It was the public anger that killed Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah Ranjay. It is public opinion that determines the action and ‘reaction’ on the borders. If we talk about issues of prisoners and fishermen, it is not just the state but the people’s biases (as prison guards, advocates and judges) that aggravate their sufferings. Thus, it is essential that a culture of peace, respect and understanding is established. People need to become sensitive and need to realize the importance of peace for a better future. They need to realize that the other, like them, wants peace and friendship. It is also this culture that will contribute to resolving of core issues. In the present scenario of jingoism, opinions are only classified as “pro-Indian” and “anti-Indian” or “pro-Pakistani” and “anti-Pakistani”, not in a rational way. They are not seen from a human perspective. It is the culture of peace that will motivate them to think rationally and in a just manner. Peace needs to be created before being established.

Thus, people cannot be regarded to be passive agents. The people of both countries need to take charge for a better future. 

This article got published on The Pakistan Today and CSS Current Affairs Pakistan website

Photo Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/multimedia/dynamic/01261/indo-pak_jpg_1261225g.jpg

Indian Cinema- Only for Entertainment?

Two teenagers meet in a straw-filled carrier of a truck, fell in love and try to create a world of their own in an isolated, rough-terrain area… The father is convinced, “Ja simran jee le apni zindagi”… rags to riches overnight… Heroines are an eye-candy, they are there to sing and dance around trees and to be caught by the villain… the inevitable happy ending.

Cinema is a creative platform to reach out to the society. Thus, it influences and is influenced by it.

Mainstream cinema is famous for painting a superficial image of things. In films, life is oversimplified. The many hurdles are all solved in mere three hours and a ‘happy ending’ is imposed. Movies are, afterall, for mere entertainment, they say. Love stories rule cinema. Even a patriotic movie tends to have some ‘masala’. Love in movies is generally love at first sight. The boy will stalk the girl and after resisting for few days, she will eventually accept the eve-teasing as love. There is also the glorification of first love- “pehla pyaar hi aakhri pyaar hota hai”. In reality, however, it is difficult to distinguish between love and infatuation as symptoms for both may be same (“hawa ka gungunana, dil mei violin bajna.. etc etc”). This notion also forbids the person from moving on. Movies generally terminate with the marriage but in reality, it is after marriage that the real test begins. The deal is not to build a love relationship but to maintain it. Problems arise when the two love birds actually get to live 24*7. But Movies never talk about this. They don’t even consider the differences- inter-caste and inter-religious marriage issues are hardly ever taken up. The issue is generally the difference in status. Love stories also glorify run-away brides and teenagers running away for some ‘adventure’. The society which watches ever step that we take is completely ignored.  In movies, life, in general, is shown to be waiting for that one opportunity.  Take one right step and everything becomes smooth. The complexities and struggles in life is never shown. Why? Because people want to leave the hall with a smiling face. “It only happens in films”, “How filmy”…This is how people understand the movie culture- interesting but unrealistic.

Movies exaggerate but they are definitely not alien in representing the society. Infact, they play a very crucial ‘social duty’ in terms of upholding the ideals and stereotypes of the society.  The basic component of the society is the family. “Marriage is the union of two families” so the approval of the family is very important for a marital relationship. So from getting a family member kidnapped and then faking a rescue to getting beaten up by the girl’s brothers, the boy will do anything to get the acceptance of the family. Marriage is seen as the most sacred institution in our society. The boy’s or the girl’s family may have organized a battalion but the moment the lovebirds reach the mandir, the war will get over and the love-birds will become inseparable. The reason why inter-caste or inter-religious marriages are not a popular theme may be because the society does not approve of them. Cinema is also phenomenal in creating and consolidating gender-related stereotypes. In the beginning of the movie, the boy will describe his kind of girl. It is here that they specify how an ideal girl should be like. Women are seen as mere symbols of love and beauty. With only shakal, no akal, her role is to look pretty and smile. Even today, when the condition is a little better, when asked about their favorite actress, people will oblige some bimbo. The person will then be asked – “and in terms of acting?”.  The role of the heroine ranges from being negligible to consisting of 5-6 dialogs including “bachao”.  As is believed, Women are shown to be helpless.  They also do not have an identity of their own. She will only be someone’s girlfriend, daughter or mother. And Even if in the beginning of the movie, the girl may have some identity, by the end of the movie, she will loose it and become helpless. For the woman, the earth is supposed to be flat. If she ventures out, she will fall off the edge. So when the heroine sets out, the series of events that follows discourage her and she is disillusioned, regretting her decision. This is what the norm of the society is- women should not try to alter the constructed order.                                                                                                             Since the past few years, forces of liberalism are attacking our society. And some of the movies are also trying to represent this change. So the image of the hero is no longer that stereotypical one. Ab mard ko dard hota hai.. he can get beaten up, like pink and can cook and do other household chores(he even manages kids now!)Many strong women characters have come up. The new-age woman(‘the modern woman’) is shown to be independent and career-oriented.  Issues like homosexuality, teen pregnancy, prostitution and other types of social stigma are also entering the mainstream.  So Cinema is also becoming ‘bold’..or I should rather say it is mustering the courage to reflect the changing reality.

In the media culture, Cinema has emerged to be the most important weapon.  It, thus, can be and should be used interactively and positively to reach out to the masses. It can, thus, be used to bring out that desired change.

Children and the reality shows

Little girls showcasing their ‘talent’ through racy, anarkali numbers, where they are marked for their expressions. Pre-teens singing intense love songs. A 10-year-old boy was asked if he had dedicated his performance to his girlfriend. A little girl ends his life when her parents refused to let her participate in a reality show.

There was a time when ‘reality shows’ for kids meant quiz competitions. Boggie Woggie was just a dancing competition. Children either won or take back with chocolates. But today, all major channels offer ‘great opportunities’ to kids- toddlers, kids and adolescents. They can be seen singing their larynx out, dancing till their little feet swell and cracking jokes on issues they hardly understand and sometimes, its better that they don’t even try to.

It is always a delight to see kids perform- the cuties beam with innocence. But today, people judge them on ‘real’ talent. Today, they either win or take back failure and rejection. As children, we always wanted to speed up our growth somehow and become adults. But now we know how beautiful the process of growing up actually is. We now cherish that innocence, the care-free attitude and a simple and optimistic outlook towards life. But today, children are being judged by their capability of acting and behaving like adults. We learnt with time and experience. They learn by ever-increasing competition. Young children are being exposed to ‘the mad world’ for which they are not ready yet. They are being exposed to the world of glamour. They don’t understand the risks involved. The adults find it difficult to cope with the competition. The mad-rush sucks life out of people. How can we expect kids to deal with this? We were exposed to competition gradually…But they are being exposed to high-level competition at an early age. Why? And who is to be blamed for this?

School? Media? Or peer pressure?  Well there is a closer agent. A group of people who tirelessly remarks about the ‘Gen-X’ or the “Aaj kal ke bachche”. They lament how in their time, they never had so many facilities or the exposure. They idealize their childhood…How they used to spend their vacations in their villages, how they neither had nor required TVs and cellphones…And how their lives were ‘simple’. So what has compelled them to give a different childhood to their kids? They say the times have changed.. “aaj ke bachcho pe bohot pressure hai”. What kind of pressure are they talking about? Who is creating that pressure?

The state of our economy is always the scapegoat. Money alone speaks. They say, for money, people can give away everything. And in this case, people are even ready to sell their kids’ childhood. Talent, competition, pressure…it all boils down to one thing and that is money. It’s like the economy is the stove, the capitalist forces are the flames and the children are pressure cookers. Isn’t this child labour? 

Akshara v/s Anandi

Show#1 The baby-faced protagonist is all excited to go to her husband’s place. But there she finds out that she has to share him with another woman. The tagline of the show is “sindoor mera batta par patnidharma nibhaungi sada”.
Show#2 Fresh college pass outs struggling to become the ultimate bahu and biwi.
Show#3 The young widow is married off to her husband’s murderer. She happily fulfils her duties as a wife and bahu while her husband romances openly with his girlfriend.

These are the standard models around which revolve popular TV shows on major channels. Marriage defines the life of a woman. Their ultimate goal is to manage the household with utmost hardwork and dedication and become the ideal Bahu, Biwi, Bhabhi and Ma. The Bahu is shown to be the most important component in the household. The Bahu is the sutra of all familial ties. Whether it’s a tussle between her husband and her father-in-law or any issue with her sister-in-law, the Bahu has to intervene and solve the matter. She is responsible for maintaining peace and prosperity in the household. Even the minutest form of negligence like forgetting to oil the evening lamp or more salt in food can prove how worthless their life is. In the introductory trailer of a popular TV show, the protagonist happily admits that she has no identity of her own. She says, “ration card pe naam toh hai par spelling galat hai”. But management of the house is not the only pressure. They always have to look picture-perfect – a fair clear skin with perfectly-shaped eyebrows, not a single strand of unwanted facial hair and heavy, waterproof make-up. This explains why an entire show is devoted to two sisters with the two extreme complexions and the struggle of the fair one to get her dusky sister married. The Bahus do all the household work in expensive silk sarees and diamond jewellery and still feel the need to change when going out. They even go to bed in the sarees with the ghunghat still on and wake up with perfect hairdo still intact. The importance of sindoor is well-known now(thanks to ramesh babu) but the magical powers of the mangalsutra were discovered recently, when a woman used the mangalsutra to drive away a man who was asking for sexual favours, in front of her husband. The mangalsutra had saved the dignity of the woman. Without it, shes a “khuli tijori”. TV shows also defies the concept of a process. They show over-night transformation. The mangalsutra is a tool which changes life the moment u wears it. From a typical modern female urbanite(or ruralite) who wakes up late (or atleast may not be up by 6), wears jeans or kurta pyjama, doesn’t know how to cook(or atleast perfectly) and has a life of her own suddenly becomes a responsible, slow-witted, shy doll sparkling with perfection in every household chore. Her friends disappear after her marriage. She has no support system other than the wise dadima who advise her that the only way-out to a wrecked marital life is to become the ideal bahu. The husband after some dozen extra-marital affairs will eventually come back to her(the power of mangalsutra). And ofcourse, she cannot go back to her parental home as “Goods once delivered cannot be returned”. The one thing that validates the birth of a woman and which is the symbol of a successful married life is the birth of a child(preferably male). The husband may drink, come home late and beat up his wife but it is only when there is no “khush khabri” within few months of marriage that people notice that things are not going good between the husband and the wife.

Women in the small screen(in popular TV shows) are being shown as the non-changing, tradition-bound entities. This is opposed to the reality, where feminism is ‘destroying’ the patriarchal society. Media is always expected to reflect the society. Some consider it as a platform which can initiate a social reform. But here it is trying to restrict the progress. They do seem to be carrying a social responsibility but that is of projecting a kind of social idealism which is patriarchy. To understand this, we should see this in the current political and economic context. Liberalisation and Globalisation entered the Indian economy in the 90s. 90s-2000 can be considered the transitional phase. In the 90s, we had dubbed shows(Star plus was in English), Indian shows with light themes like hum paanch, dekh bhai dekh and some good family shows. Bournvita quiz contest, Boogie woogie and close-up anatakshari were the shows which can be categorised as “reality shows”. With the rapid drive of Industrialisation and commercialisation marched in the ‘k-brigade’ in 2000s. Shows with radical emphasis on familial and cultural values dominated the Indian Television and the light-themed shows migrated to now less-popular channels. Alongside, was the notorious MTV culture. Channel V and MTV was accused of exposing the western culture and misleading the youth. But with the increasing US hegemony, the MTV influence was inescapable. Infact, it even migrated to other channels in the form of ‘reality shows’. Today, Channel V and MTV shows revolve around love, sex and money, thereby representing a full-fledged capitalist society. In Recent years has spranged a fresh wave of shows known as Women-empowerment shows. They, however, represent the existing social evils operating largely in rural India. Though Anandi is now in our hearts, Akshara is on our minds. The current Television industry shows the tendencies and fears of the society. On one hand, it aims for a capitalist economy but fears losing its culture and tradition, on the other. And because Women are considered the epitome of our sanskriti, the small screen is trying to paint the ideal image of a Bahu, Biwi, Bhabhi and Ma. No matter what kaliyuga comes, Women should be women.