When we were thinking aloud how to go on with the third edition of “Call Against Patriarchy” we all knew that the immediacy of the rape incident in Delhi which initiated this movement has subsided. May be the brutality of Delhi incident got so much of media attention that it created an unprecedented commotion in the public sphere. It inaugurated a lot of talk about sex, gender, man-woman relationship and also how patriarchy in order to maintain its stronghold repeatedly tortures those at the receiving ends –women, people from non-normative sexualities, inter-sex or transgender communities et all. Our promise was not to let these very important voices be subdued amidst the everyday cycle of repetitions. So it was going to be the 3rd edition of the event we started in 31st December, 2012-1st January, 2013, midnight. We decided to resume our protest on May 11th. Now, it is a challenge to keep the fire of protest burning. People get used to their wounds very fast. This has been the case for ages. Only in certain moments of history like challenging Sati, establishment of widow remarriage act, introduction of women’s schools and colleges in India society has tried to shake its manacle. We believe we are passing through such a moment and we need to keep the fire burning.
When the world outside is not coming to us anymore, as we have noticed in our second march (where the participation tumbled down significantly), we felt the need to reach out to the world. In the 2nd edition of our movement we added a play to our walk. It was called “Get well soon”. It was a message to the patriarchal society to get cured. Society is made of people after all and we have no choice but to feel sorry for this mass which is embedded in patriarchy – the rule of fathers – the superiority of man over other beings. Society as a whole needs to get well soon. When people would ask “can you change anything?” we would smile and reply – not us, but you – you and me together can bring change. Don’t expect someone else to drink your potion – you yourself have to get well soon – take care of your health – society’s health! The street play in the form of third theatre performed by members of Ekushe Natyagoshthi was to reach out to the world. But could we actually manage to know what people were thinking? They gathered, they watched, they moved away. For us they remained a mob watching any other tamasha. This time therefore we needed to do something different along with what we have done before.
So this time we decided to take people’s response on the kind of movement we are doing. This time we decided to walk from Lake Town to Baguiati, where we would gather public response and then organize the street performance. The location was decided as Baguiati is a very busy loaclity and it is situated in the border of Kolkata metropolis where the city is in the process of expansion. We wanted to take our movement out of the so-called city centers such as Rabindra Sadan, Park Street, Park Circus or Gariahat where we have organized such events before.
On 11th afternoon we gathered at Lake Town More and started the walk. Being in a disadvantageous position of mounting a rickshaw from where I was alternating the promotional speech on behalf of our movement with Dhimoyee, one of our members, it was impossible to make how many people it actually reached. Still our kokila voice was flowing and I have a strong faith that some people at least followed what we were saying, if not attracted to our modulations, at least driven by the variety of posters which was on display. Each protester was walking with a poster carrying messages against patriarchy, against violence on women, need for sex education, making the public space and the night time safe for women etc. I could make out from people’s faces that they could at least guess that we were not on a rally motivated by any political party and we were walking on our own accord as we felt for the cause. I was sure from the curiosity inscribed in faces and enthusiasm shown in collecting our pamphlets that we were reaching out.
Gradually the group proceeded towards Baguiati more. It swelled with our friends and well-wishers and also those from the road who chose to walk with us as they felt our cause was right. And then the climax of the story took place. To encounter the real world is not one of happy exchange and emotional support always. Rather mostly it is otherwise. In 31st night though the girls protesting patriarchy had a live experience of it in form of cat calls and rude comments from the passing vehicles (with police nowhere in the scene), it were not the gentle babu, office-goers and middle-class idealists, acting against the movement’s interest. Rather it seemed they preferred to support us in the context of a felt emergency where women of their household might also get attacked. Now that the sense of emergency has subsided we could see a different face of the “public” who are mostly men, or women, who have imbibed and obeyed the diktats of patriarchy. When we invited comments from people initially on behalf of “call against patriarchy” people seemed to be shy and hesitant to come up. Very soon we realized that more people were interested rather to defend patriarchy – to decide upon the behavior of women and their ways in society rather than questioning the age-old torture and confinement of womanhood. One could not withhold himself and pointed out the shorts wore by one of our members asserting that women should dress modestly following the social codes to avoid attack. Another said that rape is about sickness and those who rape children are essentially sick whereas those who rape girls dressed “immodestly” become sick when they see those dresses. Someone pricked from the crowd – “dada, so you are saying you would fall sick seeing another person’s dress?” When asked if he was pointing out towards the dress of any of our members, the person replied that he did not want to hurt her as she was the same age of his daughter. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives – outside these roles nobody could imagine a woman in this society. A man is a man. A woman is something else – only a role to perform. Desire belongs to the man. Demands are his birthright. The man arguing how dresses excite men to rape drew a parallel of marital rape to justify his point. He said just as a husband forces upon a wife when she refuses to sleep with him not being able to keep control over his ‘feelings’, a man who sees a girl in short clothes cannot control himself. I asked – “then you are saying marital rape is justified?” He asserted – “of course! It depends upon husband’s feelings…” A comment flied from the crowd – “and what about the wife’s feelings?” There was of course no answer.
When we felt we had enough of this conversation and when a person was attempting to conclude the debate (with various good intentions) asserting that patriarchy is so old and powerful that it can never end, at that very moment, a lady stepped in. That was the last part of the drama we were seeing live on the street played by onlookers, before we could stage our erstwhile “Get well soon”. The lady started with the role of women in society and proceeded to assert the education received from our parents and grandparents and how girls must use that to protect their modesty. She asserted that “lajja is a woman’s ornament and she must wear it”. Yes, our society still thinks that it is the girl who should be ashamed of and that is why police from Canada to Kolkata everywhere blames the victim who is raped. Politicians dare to call a rape “concocted” – “sajano ghotona”. It is thought of as a liability for women to protect themselves. Danger is everywhere and so the only option is confinement. Yes, the society cannot bear the new found freedom of woman who can enjoy life giving a shit to patriarchy. It does not want to see a woman who is not playing the role of daughter, mother, wife, and sister – in short identities relational to men. The public as such is patriarchal and sexist and the public space is structurally male. I could see the rickshaw pullers and men of all ages jostling, laughing, giggling at each sexist remark and clapping to the lady when she says modesty must be the virtue of a woman. Men and woman in Indian society are used to see women as modest, naïve and harmless. In short women are expected to be like the famous snakes in Sukumar Ray which does not have eyes, horns, nails, which does not move or bite but who are alive still. Most men in India die their lives without even trying to know what women want. Most women have never even thought that that can be important. It is all about the man’s “feelings” which is taken care of from childhood and made into a practice. By feelings we would of course mean exercise of power – desire to beat up, rape and kill. Things which law and ethics protects people from as a general principal can be inflicted on women on account of ‘feelings’. If he feels he can make cat calls, he can molest, he can rape. If his feelings are hurt he can throw the rice bowl on your face. If he is refused he can pour acid to burn your face.
As the conversation got over, the play “Get Well Soon” started with its performance of social messages. People in large numbers gathered and stared just the way they see any other roadside tamasha. I realized that our daily practices are so embedded in patriarchy that often we don’t realize that. The person who talked about the necessity of proper dressing of girls according to social codes asserted – “Well I am not saying that she should wear burqua always but…” I was thinking within myself that burqua is the code of another society – another culture. If our society imposes its moral codes on women then why they shouldn’t? What is worse in imposing burqua over imposing sari? Recently in Indonesia farting in public place is made a cognizable offence for woman. It is thought unwomanly in their ‘society’. It obviously sounds Islamic, barbaric and conservative. Even the most orthodox salaried babu would agree to that. But I wonder how many of them would feel comfortable if there is a social movement where in order to celebrate their bodies hundreds of women shall come out of their homes and systematically fart on the streets in the open. Will our modern, secular, progressive selves wake up then?