I Was Part Of A Report By France 2, French National Channel

Hello everyone, I was part of this super report by the national French channel, France 2, on gender and activism in India. I talk about my experience of molestation in the Delhi metro, the status of women’s safety in India and the feminist platform Feminism in India that I have initiated also features right at the end with me signing off. Do check it out, although it’s in French. I appear at 0:56

Deux portraits de femmes, deux visages de l’Inde d’aujourd’hui au féminin : Ishrat Praveen est mère au foyer et ne se voit pas sortir de son rôle traditionnel, Japleen Pasricha est une jeune féministe engagée dans le combat pour l’égalité. (Two portraits of women, two faces of India today for women: Ishrat Praveen is a housewife and is not seen out of its traditional role. Japleen Pasricha is a young feminist engaged in the fight for equality.)

Au revoir Freedom! Hope to see you back home too..

Dear Freedom,

I’m writing this letter to you because it’s time to bid farewell now. It has been a wonderful time with you as my company and I think I owe you at least a farewell note. I hope when you read it, you are inspired to accompany me further. Right now, you are leaving me stranded. I don’t blame you, but I hope to see you again not where you are right now, but at my home, in my city and in my country.

I was away from home, in a far-off land. I roamed the streets alone with my camera and a book in my hand. I wandered day and night with no sign of fear in sight. I walked, ran and danced, without carrying a pepper spray in my hand. I wore a bikini at the beach and a coat when it was cold. The weather decided my clothes and not age-old customs or poking noses. I sat in my room and read the news back home. Their voices made my heart gloom, but I still enjoyed my foreign ride. I slowly forgot to look behind my shoulder from the corner of my eyes or to make an angry face while walking past a group of men. Not once did I feel why it is so difficult to be a woman. I went to bars and clubs for a drink or two and returned home drunk yet safe. I have waited for night buses at wee hours or early mornings. I have traveled in empty metros after a night full of fun and frolic. I had keys to my front door and could walk in and out whenever I wanted. I sat down under a tree or at a bench for hours, without encountering any weird gestures or awkward questions. Nobody asked me where I was going, with whom I was going and when will I be back. I had no one to answer except myself. I didn’t have to plan my outings before sunset or ask a trustworthy friend to drop me home. I made friends with men and women alike. I was alone with strangers at a lot of occasions without fearing the outcome. I asked for directions and help from different kinds of people. Not once did I fear that they would misdirect or misuse me. I talked with strangers on buses and trains during my various travels and shared a joke or two with them or ate lunch together. I did not avoid meeting anyone’s eyes as those eyes didn’t seek my flesh. Sometimes I felt, I’m another person living a distant dream and the things I experience don’t belong to me. It tasted bittersweet. I swam in the Mediterranean and climbed up the Alps. I did adventure sports from bungee jumping to scuba diving to sky diving. Nobody said how could a girl do this. I spent an entire night at a railway station in a country whose language I did not speak. I woke up the next morning untouched and unscathed. I did the simple act of walking back to my home at night. I felt so ecstatic while doing this. I felt as if I have some sort of power which I can finally use. I have been brought up in a relatively free-er environment than I would say my fellow citizens. But I would still never forget the time I spent with you, with zero incidences of sexual harassment or something even close to it. I used to talk of freedom well before that, but I never would’ve imagined what freedom really is if I hadn’t lived outside of my country. Even now, I sometimes cannot believe that I have lived the better part of my life in a lack of basic freedom.

I have to go now, it is my time. It will take some time getting used to do things without you, to be careful again, to not trust strangers so easily, to dress cautiously, to not wander alone, to come home before it gets dark and to many other things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m inviting you over, will you come Freedom? Will you visit me in my home? And will you stay with me forever? Will you? …

P.S. This post is in reference to my five-month research stay in Germany and to my various travels in and around Europe.

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Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web and Youth Ki Awaaz

The vicious circle of menstrual taboos

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“Today I learned something new at school. Periods. Mamma says I’m a big girl now. I should be careful and should not talk about it in front of Papa and my brother. I should also sit with closed legs and behave properly.”

These are some of the eternal statements that young girls usually get to hear from their mothers. I don’t really remember the story of my first menses, but they were a few taboos that I found unacceptable even back then as a teen and upon which I would now like to throw some light.

I find it very problematic that most of the mothers don’t discuss this with their daughters before they begin to menstruate. This discussion always takes place after the shock and for a girl between the ages of 10-14 or even younger, it really does come as a shock to see their favourite dress stained with blood one fine day all of a sudden. Some might even think that they are sick or got themselves hurt ‘in the place where they pee from’. Yes, that’s what it’s called. I have had experiences of mothers either pointing downwards or using the phrase above but never really explaining things the right way.

Then there is the school which plays its part in further hushing up the topic and creating more confusion in the minds of young girls and majorly in boys as well. I remember when we once had a seminar on menses when I was in the seventh grade. Mine hadn’t started yet, but I had a vague idea about them. While the boys were sent out to play, the girls were made to gather in a room where they were introduced to menstruation and sanitary napkins for the first time. As expected later, the girls were all giggly and the boys were seen strutting around, hinting that they knew what it was all about and additionally shouting out the names of popular sanitary napkin companies in order to embarrass the girls. Schools really do a great job in messing up young girls and boys in this regard because Instead of having a co-ed seminar and focusing on sensitising the topic, they go for the most convenient route they can find, which is by segregation.

Another thing that I remember during those first years was how I and/or the other girls were taught to keep this hushed up. So you should not mention it in front of your father, uncles, brothers, elders and such. Again, this kind of attitude just reinforces the fact that menstruation is something to be embarrassed about and should be kept a secret. Or the time when you go to buy a packet of sanitary napkin, the discomfort you feel to tell the man standing behind the counter that you need Whisper Ultra which is then compounded by the fact that he in turn puts it into a black polythene bag. So nobody should see what a girl is carrying because it is shameful, right? In the later years that follow, boys again make fun of girls which further forces them to go inside their shells.

There was another incident where I got to know about yet another taboo around menses and this not time, it was not by an adult, but by a female friend who belonged to my age group. When I wanted to accompany my friend to a temple, I was prevented from doing so because according to the reason furnished by her, I was not allowed to enter the temple because I was menstruating. Since I am not a Hindu, I was not aware of this fact and apologised appropriately as I didn’t want to hurt the religious sentiments of my friend. Later I was explained that in Hinduism, as women are considered unclean during this period anything they touch is also believed to lose its power. So if they touch anything in the prayer room for instance, the deity that is being worshipped will leave and evil will take over the idol. One will then be praying to some spirit and not the deity one has in their mind and faith and the whole area would then have to be cleansed by calling a priest or a saint. Same goes for the kitchen. Menstruating women and girls should not enter the kitchen, touch the utensils or cook because yes, you’ve got it right, they are considered to be unclean and impure. At that time and during that age I did not realise that I was not doing something wrong, rather being wronged or that my brainwashed friend should be the one who should apologise in the first place. However, I don’t see it as her fault, she only reproduced what she had been taught was right.

Sadly, there are still a lot of women and not just middle-ages mothers and elderly grandmas but also many educated women who still contribute to the tabooing of menstruation and the process of shaming and embarrassing young girls on its account. We still do not take our ability to menstruate as a pride.

On this note, I would like to end my take on people’s attitude towards menstruation and the taboos surrounding it and would additionally recommend everyone to read Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate for a hearty laugh and for taking pride in your monthly struggle.

Image courtesy: Menstrupedia
P.S. This article was originally published on Menstrupedia’s blog and later on The Alternative and Youth Ki Awaaz.

What to expect if you are dating a feminist woman

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So you thought dating a feminist woman would be a nightmare? It’s actually not and it can be very refreshing for men, especially when it takes quite a load off you. Feminist women are really easy, a lot easier than people think. They support equality between the sexes. Yes, it’s that simple. And no, feminists don’t hate men. They neither think men are evil nor that all men are rapists. Yes, you can fall in love and be a feminist. And most importantly, anyone can be a feminist – male, female or other. A feminist is a gender neutral noun.

When it comes to dating a feminist woman, it is actually quite contrary to the popular belief that feminist women can be a head ache. Some men are intimidated but here are some reasons why you should be glad about it.

  1. Picking up the tab. We all know that you are a gentleman, but she might not want you to pay for her or pay every time whenever you go out on dates. She would like to pay sometimes for herself or for both of you. Respect that and you may earn brownie points 😉
  2. Lightening the load. Let her carry her heavy bags herself. You may want to ask once for sheer chivalry but if she refuses, don’t push it. She is a strong woman who can carry her stuff herself.
  3. Giving out your hand. Many men offer their hand for support if while walking there is a rocky terrain or steps or a bad road or anything even a slightly unkempt. I know you are just being chivalrous. But she might not appreciate this. After all, she is not feather light that she will fall down a couple of steps. She can walk alright.
  4. Chuck those petty gentleman habits. Opening the door of the car for her, pulling the chair for her, offering your help any time or every time. If she likes you, she likes you. You don’t require these courtesies to impress her.
  5. Ordering the meals. You would not want to do this at any cost. This is a big no. This kind of behaviour also comes off as being inconsiderate or rude or worse, she may think you are trying to curb her freedom. After you have decided yours, ask what would she like to have and refrain from giving suggestions, unless asked for.
  6. Don’t fight her battles. She is in a mess, let her clear it up herself. Feminist women have grown out of fantasy myths such as ‘knight in shining armour’ or the ‘damsel in distress’. She is needs no prince charming to save her. She can handle that mess.
  7. Don’t try to own her. Another grave mistake you would not want to do my friend. Questioning constantly about her whereabouts would only land you in trouble. She will think you are typical MCP (male chauvinist pig) who is trying to possess her.
  8. Say no to sexist jokes. No, sexist jokes are not funny and they are certainly not acceptable. And, no she is not being overtly sensitive. And no, it cannot be taken lightly. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
  9. No crying, no drama. See, this one works in your favour. 🙂 You are saved from all the crocodile tears and silly, useless giggling. She is not going to cry at the drop of a hat and neither is she going to use her tears to get her way around you. She is more likely to bail than wail.
  10. You will have a lot to talk about. She is not just a feminist, but also a well-read woman. So you are going to have a lot to talk about. Really a lot. And those topics can range from human rights to capitalism v/s socialism, from environment to sports, etc. She tends to read, write, travel, photograph, play and hold interesting jobs.
  11. Encourage her career. There is nothing else she would like other than this. You support her all the way in her career and she might have something in store for you. Surprise surprise! Never tell her that she doesn’t need to work as you have well-paying job. Grave mistake on your side, which might even cost you your relationship.
  12. Ready in a jiffy. This one again works for you as she won’t put much thought into her outfit or apply a few kilo of make-up or take hours getting out of the shower. She is a pretty confident woman who is not brainwashed by media and the glamorous fashion industry. She is not going to stand hours in front of the mirror deciding what to wear. She might utilise that time in doing totally something else. 😉
  13. No waiting for calls. No, she is not the kind who will wait for you to call her first or ask her out because that’s how it has always been. If she likes you, she will ask you out and if she wants to talk to you, she will call you. You are saved from taking the first initiatives every time. As I said before, she is confident and knows what she is doing.
  14. Saved from V-day. This one made you sigh in relief, didn’t it? Yes, she is above all those illusions of cupid and Valentine’s day. Forget about making it special or buying gifts, you don’t even have to acknowledge it as a special day. It is just another date and just another day in your life. Showing your love need not be on V-day, it can be today, tomorrow, any day or every day.
  15. No wrong ideas of romance. Did I tell that she is not brainwashed? Yes, she has no perfect filmi ideas of romance. Desi movies and Hollywood Rom-coms did not mess with her brain. I’m sure you are glad about this.
  16. Acknowledge the awkward. Don’t try to be smooth if you’re not smooth.  It’s okay to say “I feel shy about asking you out, but I like you.
  17. Listen to the other person. Listen more than you talk. Pay attention to the actual interaction that is taking place and not the one in your head.
  18. Don’t be the tough guy always. We know you care for her, but you don’t have to be the tough guy or the mummy always. You can also sometimes let go of your guard and tell her that you are feeling low and want to be pampered. Trust me, she will love it that you are sharing not just your happiness but also your low points and weakness with her. You can also cry in front of her. She is not going to make fun of you or think what a loser you are.

To be updated as and when more points strike my mind and life. Feel free to contribute. 🙂

Disclaimer: These are author’s personal views and by no means is the author suggesting that every person stick to these points or fall under this category.