After a painfully long journey to the movie screens, Lipstick Under My Burkha is creating a stir with its ‘woman-oriented’ portrayal of sexuality. An overwhelming opposition to CBFC’s Pahlaj Nihalani’s refusal to accept female sexuality helped bring the movie much more than its share of media attention. Some appreciate the well-rounded strong female leads, some say the film falls short of being feminist.
But this film has given us the ability to analyse the male characters completely from a female perspective. The men are one-dimensional, spineless, and only exist to further the plots and characters of the women. We analyse Woody Allen’s women, we criticise Karan Johar’s pseudo-progressive heroines. So why not take a look at Alankrita Shrivastava’s men?
Rahim Aslam, Shirin’s husband (Sushant Singh)
Rahim, Shirin’s abusive, cheating husband is himself a victim of patriarchy. He is supposed to be the bread-winner of the family. He is supposed to have a career. In spite of being a failure at that, he continues to take advantage of a social structure that lets him abuse his wife’s body and mind without even taking up the responsibility of contraception. He has children, but since it is his wife’s responsibility to carry them and look after them, the number of offsprings is a minor detail to him. He doesn’t see Shirin as a person. To him she is a slave, bound to him by holy matrimony. He is having an affair with another woman and treats her with a little more respect, only because she has no obligation to him and isn’t ‘his’ to bully and harass.
Dhruv, Rihanna’s boyfriend (Shashank Arora)
Dhruv’s musical talent and confident demeanour attract a lot of female attention, and he’s well aware of his sexuality. He impregnates a girl, swiftly moves on to another (Rihanna). He neither has to worry about pregnancy, nor about society denying him control of his sexuality. His self-assuredness at such a young age makes other youngsters believe he is ‘cool’, and many of his impressionable and vulnerable peers (much like Rihanna) will act according to what he thinks is agreeable behaviour. As long as women are attracted to him, he can go on without developing any other aspects of his personality.
Arshad, Leela’s boyfriend (Vikrant Massey)
Arshad has strong feelings for Leela. He also judges her for her sexual liberty. Arshad does feel possessive about Leela, but leaves all the hard work of gathering money and planning an escape to her. He dislikes her being close with the man she’s arranged to get married to, but will happily flirt with the foreigner woman walking into his photo studio. He is unsure whether he wants to fight for Leela, judge her, or run away with her. But he’s sure he will not take too much effort in whatever he chooses.
Manoj, Leela’s fiance (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi)
Manoj is the ‘good guy’: the polite, family-oriented and obedient man. He is getting married at the right age, to a woman chosen by his family. He feels lucky that he is with an attractive woman, though he knows nothing much about her personality. He believes whatever feistiness is left in her will soon get subdued after she ‘settles down’ with him. However, he is vastly less entitled than Shirin’s husband. Manoj would probably never take advantage of his wife’s body or yell at her.
He assumes she will not work after marriage, because he will be providing her all she needs. He doesn’t believe there are women who work, smoke or have sex before marriage. Even if they do exist, he’s been taught to judge them as being of questionable character.
Jaspal, Usha’s love interest (Jagat Singh Solanki)
Jaspal works hard on his body, and loves himself. When he starts getting erotically charged phone calls, he assumes they’re coming from a nubile woman around his own age. He treats Usha, the old lady who comes to learn swimming, with respect. But he doesn’t imagine her as a sexual being. When he realises that he had been having phone sex with a woman way past her prime, it hurts his masculine ego. He is enraged that the ‘affair’ he willingly participated in did not adhere to his notion of beauty and sexuality. He thinks he deserves better quality female attention. So he does all he can with the power that society assigns him. He initiates the public shaming of Usha. He knows she would have no power or say in this; he has nothing to lose. He’s a ‘victim’.
Special mention: The mob that shames Usha
This mob, consisting of both men and women, is the self-assigned moral police, the saviour of ‘tradition and decency’. They turn against their Usha buaji, a woman they revered and worshipped until she was proven to have sexual urges. What enraged them further was that she read erotic books instead of spiritual ones. She broke away from their concept of what an old lady should be. It would be unfair to assign a gender to this mob. However, this mob is unfair, and a danger only to one gender.
Since the US Republican Presidential debate in 2016, and more so since the entry of Donald Trump into mainstream politics, hands have played an important role in political discourse. “And he referred to my hands, ‘if they’re small something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee it,” Trump had said, in response to Senator Marco Rubio’s comment about him having rather small hands.
It has been more than a year since this adolescent-level display of machismo in a completely inappropriate setting. Yet, Trump’s hands, and jokes surrounding their size have remained a constant in political coverage as well as late night comedy shows.
This hand obsession followed Trump in his first foreign trip as the President of the United States. A video of Melania Trump swatting away his hand as they walked on the red carpet at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport went viral. Even as talks about the Trumps’ unhappy marriage were doing the rounds, Donald’s little hands got even more coverage.
Trump’s awkward style of shaking hands was in public focus long before he embarked on this international voyage. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expression after a painfully long handshake with Trump, Canadian President Justin Trudeau’s resistance to Trump’s awkward hand-yanking, Trump ignoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request for a handshake, and French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump’s tense handshake were all widely covered, and spoken about. Newly elected Macron, who is seen as a counter against the wave of nationalistic politicians rising across Europe, explained his handshake saying, “One must show that we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones.”
Trudeau and Macron, both considered forward-thinking modern leaders, were hailed as the heroes who emerged victorious in this show of powerful handshakes, a topic that barely made news in the pre-Trump era.
Whilst the show of masculine prowess was still being discussed around the world, it took a woman, Merkel, to stand up and state in clear terms that Europe could no longer rely on their former allies, and had to take their destiny in their own hands. Some said that her actions may be poised for the upcoming German elections, where her opponents are taking a thoroughly anti-Trump stance, thus pressuring her to become more vocal about Trump’s policies. The need for a stronger, more united Europe after the shock of Brexit may also have prompted her actions. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-trump-idUSKBN18P0VV) Be that as it may, she was the first European leader to make a definitive statement about Europe’s opinions on Trump where others have only tiptoed.
Angela Merkel may have her own awkward handshake moments, where she appears to have dodged a handshake from our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a similar manner. But like the consummate professional that she is, never has she gotten into statements or discussions of meaningless one-upmanship. She may never have deemed that as necessary, being the leader of Europe’s strongest economy.
On June 1, 2017, Trump made the decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, which is a global agreement with 194 countries (including India), pledging to reduce carbon emissions and work towards a future with clean energy. While dismay at this decision was expressed by many of the developed nations bound by the agreement, Merkel was her usual composed but clear self, called the decision “extremely regrettable,” also saying, “I’m expressing myself in very restrained terms.”
Being a woman in a man’s world, perhaps she is not expected to participate in strenuous handshakes. But no one, not even Trump, doubts her great capability as one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Perhaps Merkel’s greatest strength is to speak clearly and consistently, nevertheless emphasizing on Germany’s willingness to co-operate with other nations. Then again, maybe her greatest strength is to act calmly and rationally, in spite of the constant show of machismo that surrounds her.
It scares me that we are worried about attacks on minorities in the U.S.A, when we overlook, or quickly forget attacks on our own dalits and Muslims. Because the life of one Rohith Vemulla is nothing compared to the lives of hundreds of soldiers isn’t it?
That we are worried about the loss of press freedom in that country, when we allow our politicians to choose their own sycophantic journalists as interviewers, or when we allow them not to speak about issues that are uncomfortable to them.
That we are worried about women’s rights in the U.S.A when we pick and choose the female victims to feel pity for, based on their caste, their dress, their profession.
And that we are so outraged about an authoritarian anti-establishment Islamophobe, when we let the same happen to us more than two years ago. That we are so horrified whom Americans chose to vote for, when many of us didn’t even bother voting. Because politicians are all the same, aren’t they?
It’s been more than a month since the JNU debate. And the left/right, black/white, hot/cold, new/old, rational/national debate has no end in sight.
What was essentially a student rally was seen as a dangerous attack on the nation’s safety (because that’s what extremists do: hold rallies and express their opinions). Kanhaiya Kumar was presented as Satan himself as he was arrested, and Arnab Goswami shrieked awake every nationalistic conscience with back-up vocals by banshee Nupur Sharma.
This event was a revelation in many ways. It showed that the nation will not tolerate any comments on its intolerance; the nation does not want to know what the dissidents think.
But most importantly, the nation revealed that it is not going to forgive a humanities student for not taking up science.
A 28-year-old PhD student in African studies who happens to be male is incomprehensible to the mainstream middle class sentiment. And if he’s studying in an institute which solely produces MNC executives (or the occasional terrible writer), our precious tax rupees are not worth it. Yes, all three of the Indian citizens who pay taxes felt this way. Twenty-eight is not an odd age for a PhD student. In fact, there’s no odd age for a PhD student. But then if it’s not the kind of doctor whose financial prowess is inevitable, and whom you can pester about that strange growth on your side, it means nothing.
Several people were infuriated that a 28-year-old man is still studying when his family earns Rs.3000 a month. Yes, if a boy coming from such austere conditions and a moral obligation to become financially successful doesn’t fall into the rat race to a comfortable lifestyle that supports capitalism, it surely must be infuriating.
Kanhaiya was even compared to Sundar Pichai in a post, which systematically proved how a privileged NRI who works for the biggest big brother finds it easier to love India than a financially dependent free-thinker.
Even so, the highlight of this discussion was when Modi awkwardly touched it, as if it were a world leader. Well-meaning patriots wanted to know why a PM who never takes holidays from travelling, and who has constantly worked to make our 70% agrarian nation an industrialist paradise could be criticized. It’s almost as if his bizarre pop culture references in the U.S.A, brushing aside Zuckerberg for a photo-op, and back-hugging Hollande were in vain. A 15-year-old girl challenged Kanhaiya to an open debate. This confused bhakts, who did not understand the concept of arguing without death threats.
The nationalism argument extended to the army as well. Under normal conditions, admission to the Indian Army is tough. But due to numerous requests by the public whose last contact with the army was the movie ‘Border’, they’re now considering letting Kanhaiya Kumar in. As requested, he’s going to “go to border n fyt, den tok”.
He was arrested, detained and attacked. But, like a true politician, he used it to advance his persona and make a powerful (albeit logical) speech. This made his opponents start a wonderful social media trend hashtag: #MeAt28, where they celebrated their privilege and conformity.
Some say that people like Kanhaiya Kumar shouldn’t be given the freedom to say that there’s no space for dissent. I truly believe that he should have taken up science. He would never have had the chance to develop an eloquent stream of thought if he was crumbling under college, coaching classes, job-chasing and other virtues of our education system. So if you have an opinion that bursts the happy privileged bubble of the taxpayers, be prepared to be told by the nation how you are a terrorist who is also a liability (much like babies). Because you didn’t pay for your place in the world. Your opinion has already been paid for.
At the annual Women in the World Summit in New York in 2015, acclaimed journalist Barkha Dutt, speaking about Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency, said that the debate about having a woman leader is not a conversation that we have in India anymore. “We had a woman leader decades ago”, she said (referring to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi). She quoted Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and claiming that statistically the incidence of rape is much higher in the U.S. and UK.
While having a woman leader during the 1960s may be considered progressive for those times, the Indian parliament is yet to pass the Women’s Reservation bill, which reserves 33% of the seats for female Members of Parliament. The bill has been a matter of debate for 18 long years. Currently, women MPs occupy a mere 66 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house. The national average for legislative assemblies of all the states is a dismal 9%. India currently has four states with women chief ministers, but does their leadership necessarily amount to safer conditions for women?
Even though the reported incidents of rape almost doubled in Gujarat from 2013 to 2014, Gujarat is considered one of the safest states for women according to a survey conducted by Tata Strategic Management Group.
A rape victim from Botad district who got pregnant asked for permission for an abortion from the Gujarat High Court, which was denied to her. She even met Anandiben in person, but ended up with a baby boy whom the High Court had urged her to “bravely give birth to”, and her rapist, who is still a free citizen. This court also denied permission to a 14-year-old girl raped by her doctor, who had to move the Supreme Court to abort the baby.
Patel has spoken about wanting to make women’s empowerment a priority for her state. Yet when it comes to such incidents she, much like her predecessor Modi, prefers keeping an undignified silence over the matter.
Rajasthan has the second highest number of women MLAs (14%). This state also records the second highest number of rape incidents. While the state has a history of greater incidence of violence against women, their first woman CM seems to have done little for betterment of this situation. Rapes of minors and women in Rajasthan have been as consistent as Raje’s silence over these cases.
Mamata Banerjee has several infamous statements about rape to her credit, the most peculiar one being that rapes are caused because of girls and boys interacting freely with each other. When a 70-year-old nun was gang raped in March 2015, Mamata handed the case over to the CBI, asking for quick action. However, approach to this crime seems ageist as it was she who, in 2013, dismissed that Late Suzzette Jordan (sometimes referred to as the Park Street rape victim), as a story that was “cooked up to malign the government”.
Tamil Nadu was the first state to have a female-staffed police station, first all-female police commando unit, and now the first women’s special-forces police battalion. Jayalalitha has personally vouched for the state as being safe for women. Dowry deaths and sexual assault on women have seen a steady decline during her regime, especially since 2010.
Jayalalitha was the first Tamil actress to appear in a skirt on screen in her former years as an actress. Even so, the state has had an ongoing problem of moral policing. Several colleges in the state have been known to enforce outdated dress codes and moralistic rules especially on female students in Chennai’s engineering college.
Women leaders are as conducive, or as detrimental to female citizens as their male counterparts. Mamata Banerjee is inconsistent in response to sexual assault in her state, and Vasundhara Raje seems to have done little for the state which already had abysmal conditions for women’s rights. Even though Anandiben Patel and Jayalalitha have made certain strides in empowering women, they seem to suffer from the fatal flaw that most of our leaders seem to have: moral policing.
It’s fascinating how something as beloved as a male child turns into something so threatening to our society as an adult unmarried individual. More than having 24 hour electricity and water supply, a point of immense pride for the landlords is ‘no bachelors’. It seems to be a great achievement for landlords to have warded off the ominous presence of bachelors.
House rentals might be one of the few places where single women have it easier. Perhaps it’s because people think they may turn the house into a minor disaster area, having had no previous contact with chores, especially the ones related to the kitchen area. Perhaps it’s because they may turn the home into a drugs-alcohol-orgy sanctuary, because that’s what young people do. Besides, its much easier to judge and publicly shame the females. Maybe landlords are afraid bachelors may start a drug racket. Or worse, have a gay party. I mean, there are only that many gay parties the police can crash per night.
Being married seems to be the best quality that tenants can have. That makes sense, because proof of having gone through the several wedding ceremonies is a true mark of patience and tolerance. This is one of the reasons an organisation like ISIS cannot survive in India. All their members would give in to the Auntyji pressure group and get hitched.
Even though there are better ways to judge the character of a potential tenant (such as non-ironically retweeting Kamaal R Khan), we choose to pick bachelorhood as the guiding stone. But you can see how people may think bachelors are evil satanic beings. In fact, some of us only stopped judging Narendra Modi’s intentions after we found out about his secret wife. Him ignoring the existence of his wife made the common man identify with him more than any other politician.
It’s wonderful how our society has come up with a universal solution to all your problems: get married. Marriage may not solve anything, but at least you can pretend to laugh at the same husband-wife forwarded jokes like everyone else.
Mahesh Shinde is an engineer from Pune, India, who works for a manufacturing company. He’s also the President of the Men’s Rights Association (M.R.A), a registered NGO working solely to protect the honour and dignity of men. This is just one of the many organisations worldwide that have taken up this particular cause. On International Men’s Day, (November 19), Let’s take a look into what Men’s Rights actually mean to these organisations. Here’s an interview with Mr. Shinde about the organisation, its goals and philosophy.
Tell me a little about Men’s Rights Association. How did you get involved with the NGO? How often does the group meet?
Men’s Rights Association (MRA) is an organization whose sole purpose is to fight for the elusive Men’s Rights. MRA is very revolutionary in its concepts.It has been listed in the Top 100 social organizations of Maharashtra.
We believe that men should not be made to suffer so that women can enjoy. Society should not be divided on the basis of gender. Men often tend to carry a lot of baggage due to societal pressure. They are thrust into the role of ‘provider and protector’.
Nowadays, there’s a trend to denounce men for all the problems of humanity. Indian media continuously portrays all men as the perpetrators of crime, and women as the perpetual victim. Such biased propaganda will have serious repercussions, some of which has already been seen.
In India, the suicide rate of men is much higher than that of women. (According to a report by the World Health Organization, 258,075 people committed suicide in India in 2012, with 99,977 women and 158,098 men taking their own lives). But society is apathetic to the suicides of men, whereas women’s suicides have received a lot of attention
Just because a few (less than 1%) men have power doesn’t means that we are a male-dominated society. What happens to the remaining 99%? And it is an open truth that most of these so-called Alpha males are hen-pecked, and end up dominating other men. It is stupid to call this as male dominance.
Below is some of the important work done by MRA
Provide free legal help and counseling to men in distress.
Create awareness about anti-male laws and attitude
Remove negativity against the male gender, and spread positive thoughts
Work towards reducing suicides of male.
Sensitize law making bodies about men’s issues.
Reduce violence against men.
MRA works in all spheres of life.
What do you think are the main reasons that the high rate of suicides among men goes ignored?
The suicides are ignored because society treats Men as disposable. Since society doesn’t consider Men as human beings, their suicides aren’t a serious matter for society.
What are your major demands?
We are fighting for gender equality. Our main demands are:
That both genders should be treated equally
There should be no prejudice against men
Treat men as humans
What kind of activities/events do you organize?
Our activities are divided into two major parts. One is helping men in distress. The other is to spread awareness, through various actions like writing campaign letters to higher authorities, RTI (Right to Information) application, police station visits to generate awareness of the law process, various awareness campaign and protests, celebrating Father’s Day, Men’s Day, etc. For the past one year we have been doing collective projects with other NGOs as well.
India has been ranked as the worst country amongst the G20 nations to be a woman. How do men’s rights figure into the scenario?
This is a canard which is used to subjugate men, and impose more inhuman conditions on men. This is a totally baseless and extremely flawed ranking. We dare those who publish such nonsense to come and have an open debate with us. We will tear their arguments to shreds.
Do you receive flak any flak regarding MRA?
Since our society is so biased against men, we are the subject of several jokes. If anyone fights for women’s rights, they are glorified, while those fighting for men’s rights are ridiculed.
Do you believe in equal treatment of both the genders?
Absolutely… And this is NOT happening, which is our main grouse.
What are your feelings about reservation for women in the parliament and other spheres?
They talk about equal rights, and then ask for reservation. This is robbery. Those asking for reservation for women, imply that women are incompetent.
What according to you are the major issues faced by men in India?
There are several. Men are trained to work hard, and what do they get in return? A man’s entire life goes in doing things for others. He has to work to provide for his wife, children, sisters. Society expects men to work for others.
Sexual abuse laws in India are often framed with terminology like ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. Does the MRA deal with male victims of abuse? How can these laws be framed to be more inclusive regarding men?
Of course we do. In fact, in the last two years, we have seen an increase in such male victims of abuse. One of our demand is to make these laws gender neutral. Currently, male victims aren’t even considered by law.
One of your demands is to eliminate false rape, dowry and other cases. Have you received many complaints about this? What are viable solutions to this problem? How does one differentiate between the legitimate cases and the fake ones?
Yes, we continuously receive complaints about false dowry, rape, etc. The viable solution to this problem is to modify these laws, to prevent misuse. In their present form, these laws are downright idiotic. No rational person can justify these wicked laws. If anyone reads the complaint itself, it is very clear, that it is false. And yet, complaints are being lodged because of biased laws, and the anti-male legal system.
What might be the reasons that women lodge false rape and dowry complaints?
A primary reason is extortion. The complaints are filed to extract money from men. Otherwise, it may be to harass the husband/concerned man, harass his parents, siblings and other dear ones, humiliate him and destroy his mental peace; to push him towards suicide, or harm himself.
Can you provide some examples of the kind of complaints you receive?
With regards to dowry harassment, wives harassing their husbands for not listening to her absurd demands is quite a common complaint. The husband’s life becomes a living nightmare. The wife has a whole array of laws which she can misuse against the husband. The woman simply has to go to any police station/court and lodge complaint against her husband, and she has the upper hand. Even in cases where no complaints are lodged, mere threatening is good enough to harrass the husband. Many men take the extreme step of committing suicide because of the daily torture they face from their unscrupulous wives.
With regards to sexual harassment at workplaces, some women employees harass their male colleagues. Some women at senior posts want the men working under them to be their play-things. If the man resists, he faces further harrassment. Even with colleagues, men have faced harassment. In another case, a junior female employee filed harassment complaint against her boss, because she was asked to be more professional by him.
Do you think the new Modi government will bring about any changes for men’s rights?
No, we do not think so. However, we would like to have a dialogue with the government. We have petitioned previous governments, which didn’t pay heed to our demands. When we show factual data to the officials, all they do is accept that our demands are legitimate, but they do not have the courage and the political will power to act on it.