by Aqseer Sodhi
(Disclaimer: Views expressed in the post are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the organizations/programmes the author is associated with.)
We’re ridiculous, honestly.
We expect people in power to do what is best for the people who aren’t.
Men, upper castes, the government, the rich, the educated, the liberals. Some of them will, most of them won’t.
Why would maulvis want women entering the sanctum sanctorum of their prized masjids, mucking up the interiors, lessening the pride, privilege and power associated with the restricted access?
Why would half naked priests want to let us into their temples and risk feeling as ordinary as us?
Why would the government want the population to be educated, strident and questioning? A resigned janta expecting no more than TV and a few annas thrown their way before elections is far more manageable.
If the government undertook community building initiatives, or tried to do anything long term about the Naxals, they would actually have to earn their votes instead of dividing them up; and isn’t that too much to expect them to sign up for voluntarily?
EVERYONE takes shortcuts. People in power are no exception.
We, are to blame.
For being naive. For thinking that people in power will check themselves. For expecting them to do what’s best for us. For helping sustain the status quo.
Family halls at Muslim restaurants, “aurat masjids”, sit at home when you’re bleeding from your vagina because you are impure, never mind that YOU WOULD NOT EXIST IF I DID NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO MENSTRUATE YOU TURD, separate coaches for women, separate temples for dalits; we let them disenfranchise us, deprive us and then ghettoize us.
We then thank them properly for carving out reservations in a system so wracked with inequality and lack of opportunity that really, they should thank us for being the placid cattle that we have emulated this entire time.
I have been to upwards of fifty BPL Muslim households in three states these past few months. A few things are the same. The interiors are clean, the exterior usually filthy, the woman is home, sometimes educated, capable of working, but not allowed to by her husband, who obviously would rather his children starve than allow his wife to do everyone the favour of making a little extra on the side. They know NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING about government schemes that are allegedly used as the carrots to buy their votes. They have given up on the public education system. They have no expectations of the government. They make do. They smile. THEY SMILE. THEY ARE NOT ANGRY.
And this gets me, every single time. Actually no, that’s a lie. It got to me today. I wasn’t angry this entire time.
Today, in the one room house of a young woman who supports her family of five by cleaning homes in far away “Mumbai”, TODAY, I felt anger. So far, not having encountered anything like what you see in Slumdog or read about in Shantaram, I was not convinced I was seeing the reality of living below the poverty line. I wanted to see desperate, undignified poverty. I was met with families that like buying clothes, and shoes, and dressing up, and cable, and jewellery, that like food and drink and a good time; but do all of this on infinitesimal budgets and live day to day.
Today, my twentieth day doing this work, today I felt anger. Felt something. Anger at their condition, anger that her father nearly reached his deathbed trying to get his house constructed under the great Awas Yojna named, obviously named, after Dear Departed Mrs. Gandhi, after whom the antarashtriya hawaiadda of the home of the 84 riots is also, oh so appropriately named.
And through the telling of this tale of her father’s debilitation, she smiles, checks her phone, talks to her nieces and nephews and despite repeated requests not to, gets up and makes five cups of tea. They cannot afford five cups of tea. They cannot afford one extra packet of milk a day; she was telling me that five minutes into the interview and making me the most amazing chai at the end of it. There is resignation, and bravery; courage and fortitude and generosity, but there is no anger that can be translated into action.
Because decades of incompetence and a uniquely patronizing attitude has, in a masterstroke, got us to expect nothing of the government. As long as there is a semblance of law and order, hell, a government, and some platitudes, some show of governance and better things to come, we are content.
As long as men buy us flowers and pretend to give a shit when we’re menstruating, pregnant or weeping, we are content.
Do not grope or rape us, kind masters, that is all we can ask of your uncontrollable sexual appetites and wild, wilful natures; we will gladly make ourselves scarce in public, and speak softly, remain invisible so as not to cause any strain to your sensory organs or sensibilities. Thank you ever so kindly for allowing us to breathe and get through a lifetime without our vaginas being torn asunder by your ever mighty penii that we dare not question, literally or figuratively lest you beat our brains out of our skulls. Thank you again for allowing me to go to school and giving me some milk when I was young so I could push your inheritor out of my body after producing five undesirable young girls that you can ill afford. In return for being allowed to live without being raped, and for the privilege of being yours, I will wear forty five marks of ownership, change my last name, give up my rights to property, sweep, dust, clean after you, cook for you, whatever you like master, whatever we can afford, stroke your ego, absorb your anger, tell myself you love me when you slap me so hard it leaves marks on my face, kill myself looking after the five girls and one, crown jewel of a son, collapse my family and friends with yours, forget my life before you were kind enough to take me off of my father’s hands and never, ever, threaten your virile and treacherous masculinity. Is that good enough sire? Or shall I throw some marital rape and all of my parent’s earnings in? Oh and vaginal douches and tightening creams, yes, of course, I will maintain my figure, vaginal elasticity and sweet breath for you. Of course, sire, of course.
I cannot speak for dalits, adivasis and minorities.
In our childish belief that those in power will do right by us, we have surrendered everything we had, our rage included.
Let’s get real. We’ve got to fight. Nothing is coming our way on a silver platter. Nor can we expect it to.
(Aqseer is a Lawyers for Change Fellow and currently works with Centre for Social Justice in Ahmedabad. She graduated from National Law School of India University, Bangalore in 2012. Aqseer blogs at aqseersodhi.blogspot.in and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)