By Banamallika Choudhury
There are days when I feel like hiding under the bed and never coming out. Most inconveniently the bed is on the floor these days because of the monkey in the house. Today is one of those days.
Facebook has that a local media ‘news report’ video to show me as soon as I wake up. I ignore it once. It keeps coming. Then I get a few phone calls. Reluctantly I open the video. I want to hide under my bed and never come out.
What is it that bothers some people so much about what others are doing? What is this thing called culture that this super parochial role of our society gets churned by so much? Why always only women? Who told you that women is a singular homogeneous thing and you can make random general comments about them in media? The questions keep on coming back. I thought I had these answered couple of centuries ago. Or was it medieval period?
I do not want to go to the details of what this reporter had to say about women wearing shorts these days on Guwahati streets. Let him be the one whose knickers are in knots over whether girls wear it for comfort in summers or to ruin whatever is left of our culture after Aircel and Airtel started sponsoring Bihu functions. I wear it because they are damn sexy and easy to take off when you are in the heat. Summer or winter. I also do not want to comment on how bad this report is from the point of view of journalism itself. Subject, content, treatment, form, language, ethics…there is not one thing that is right about this report. It will enter media hall of fame for what-not-to-do-when-you-are-doing-journalism for sure.
I am upset over two things –
1) When will they stop making women the un-appointed head of the culture keeping mission? Every few days in Assam, sometimes a Bihu committee, sometimes some politician, journalists, intellectuals, writers, poets, a nobody or anybody is complaining about how ‘our’ women are failing to keep ‘our’ culture alive. As a self-identifying Assamese woman, I really do not remember anybody appointing me with this mission anytime in my life. As far as I remember, they have told me not to get out of the house, not to learn to ride the bike, not to learn to drive the car, not to get too educated, to get married early, produce babies, look after husband and generally keep quiet. No one has ever told me – here, from today you have the responsibility of keeping the lamp of our culture alight. No I do not remember signing any acceptance letter either. And I have asked around, no woman seems to have done it. Then when and how did we get appointed with this responsibility? Were we asked? Did we say yes? Did we decide on the terms and conditions? What will it really entail if I had to keep our culture alive? If I cut a Kanjeevaram saree into two pieces and make it into a mekhela-sador will it be our culture? What if I cut a Mekhela-Sador and make it into a half-pant? I want to know these details of the contract. Will a torchbearer of our culture please tell me?
2) Learn that ‘Women’ or Mohila is not one object. There are all kinds of women in a society – young, old, tall, short, curly haired, straight haired, wavy haired, apple, pear, orange, banana, strawberry, jackfruit, cauliflower and various other fruits and vegetable shaped, polite, angry, smiling, frowning, drowning, swimming, dark, wheatish, fair, cooking, hating cooking, educated… did I leave anyone out? So a generalized comment like ‘women today like to wear shorts’ does not hold any water at all. Look at my mother, she is a woman today and does not like wearing shorts at all. Look at my daughter on the other hand. She is a complete monkey and does not like to wear shorts either. In fact she does not like wearing clothes at all. Every time I am trying to put clothes on her, she brings the entire neighbourhood down. (Tips from experienced people on how to overcome this problem is welcome)
Among those who like to wear shorts, eg. Me, they come from a varied background too. If I like it because it is sexy, someone might like it because it is comfortable, someone else because it is the only clean thing to wear that day, someone because the jeans was too torn and had to be cut short and someone just to spite the torchbearers of our culture. There are these kinds of various serious thoughts and reasons that make a woman chose a pair of half-pants over a mekhela-sador on a given day. What others will feel or think is usually not one of them.
On a serious note, seriously, when will this reporter, his entire news channel and anyone else who agrees with what the report said understand the concept of individual autonomy and bodily integrity?
Individual autonomy is the idea that every person has the capacity to be her or his own person. Radical isn’t it? It also means that every person applies her or his reasoning, has her or his motivations for decisions they make in their lives. These decisions could be about whether to eat crispy honeyed pork belly or tandoori aloo, whether to study science or arts, whether to wear shorts or half-pants etc etc. What respecting individual autonomy means is that just as you will not want anyone else to comment on your choices in life, you will also not comment on others’ choices.
Bodily integrity is another radical idea that says, that a person has rights over her or his own body and that the physical body cannot be violated. It considers that human beings have autonomy over their own body and have the right to self-determine about their bodies. Violation of bodily integrity is an unethical infringement, intrusive and also criminal where applicable. So suppose I know that you do not brush your teeth in the mornings and hence have really dirty teeth. Also all the dirty thoughts from measuring the length of women’s shorts have given you bad breath. So, if I point a camera at your face while you are blabbering away about our culture and use it for a ‘how not to ruin your teeth and get bad breath’ campaign and suggest your teeth be removed, I will be unethically infringing upon your bodily integrity. Is this so difficult to understand?
I am really up till here with these repetitive derogatory talks in the media and sections of society about women, what women do, what women wear, how they behave etc. No, you have lost that one ever since mekhela-sador and gamusas started coming from mills in Andhra Pradesh, since you started taking your children to KFC every excuse for celebration and since our men gave up dhuti-gamusa for the sahebi potlung. Stop talking about women in disrespectful ways. Stop trying to control women’s behavior. Stop restricting women from moving around, doing jobs, getting education, getting property, getting land, participating in governance and politics. Stop violence against women. Stop stopping women from having fun.
I would have remained under the mattress on the floor the whole day. But I thought I need to get out, wear my shorts and go out. We got arrested for that too. But that’s another democratic story.
Today, for those young people who got arrested because they wanted to protest against unethical journalism, whose peaceful democratic ambition to voice their concern got throttled by this police state I just want to say I AM OKAY WITH WHOEVER WEARS WHATEVER. I hope you are too.
The views expressed by the writer are her own.