Letter from a sexually liberal girl – Destigmatising female sexuality

Dear men and women,

There’s a nude sculpture of Yakshi – the mythical being of Hindu mythology – in the Malampuzha garden of Palakkad, Kerala. Yakshis are considered as the guardians of the treasure hidden in the earth and often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous with wide hips, narrow waists, broad shoulders and exaggerated spherical breasts. So, why am I telling this and how is this relevant to the topic?
I, just by simply posing for a pic with this sculpture, raised many eyebrows in the garden. So, I know many people have by now felt a little qualmish after reading the title of the article itself.
On Women’s Day, when on one hand we talk about gender equality and women’s rights, why our community on the other hand discourages women from being confident in their sexuality?
(Mind you, being ‘sexy’ and being ‘sexual’ are different)
Now, you ask me what gender equality and women’s rights has to do with women’s sexual liberty. But before that, let us talk over the stereotypes about a sexually liberated woman.

Stereotypes

The first sexist hetero-normative assumption for a sexually liberated woman is that she is not normal. Why so? Is it because our view of women as less sexual stems from our view of women as less human?
The virgin/whore dichotomous belief comes from the second assumption that women who talk openly about sex is a ‘slut’. Talking about sexual desires doesn’t mean that a woman is interested in casual sex. Along with physical intimacy, an openly sexual woman wants to and has a right to experience emotional intimacy too.
The third assumption – that openly sexual women are kinky – freaks me out. Just because she’s open about sex, people assume that she’s sexually adventurous. Men deduce that she’s into ménage à trois or sodomy or literally anything or everything they want.
A woman can be completely vanilla and have high sex drive, and someone can be super kink and be less sexual. These things are not related.[1]
Another ridiculous assumption about the sexualities of women are made based on their race: Latina women are “spicy,” Middle Eastern and South Asian women are simultaneously “exotic” and “repressed,” Asian women are “submissive,” black women are “wild” or “animalistic”.[2][3][4]
It is to be understood that any skin colour, race, creed or religion of a woman do not determine the degree of sexuality in her.
Well, we don’t really have these stereotypes about men, so why do we treat women as unusual?
History behind

The most important piece of a woman’s sexuality did not directly relate to what women believed about their own sexuality, but more so the roles assigned to them through the beliefs, superstitions, and decrees of the Church, the law, and men. These three entities came to define female sexuality and sexual identity in the Middle Ages.
There were an abundance of superstitions and beliefs about women’s sexuality during the medieval period. Medieval women were assumed to be far more insatiable than men and a woman’s lust would have been considered her ultimate sin. Aside from these beliefs, medieval men did not take female sexuality seriously except insofar as it threatened male privilege or the natural hierarchy of genders.[5][6]
New England Puritanism (1630-1660) and the Victorian era (1837 -1901) was downturn when hypersexuality was often treated as an exclusively female disorder, diagnosed on the grounds of as little as masturbation alone.[7] Moreover, this era led to the creation of counter image of mid-nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady – Jezebel – an African ‘black’ woman with sexual appetite. The idea that black women were sexually promiscuous stemmed from Europeans’ first encounter with African women. Unaccustomed to the requirements of a tropical climate, Europeans mistook semi-nudity for lewdness. The practice of polygamy among Africans was attributed to uncontrolled lust, and tribal dances were construed as orgies.[8] This image also gave the impression that black women could not be rape victims because they always desired sex, thereby legitimizing sexual assault of black female slaves by white males.[9]

As far as my home-country India is concerned, there are historical evidences, like the sculpture of Ajanta caves, the Kamashastra and many more, showing sexual liberalism in ancient India. Built around 9th to 12th century, Khajuraho in central India showcases some of India’s most famous ancient works of art, depicting romantic themes and situations. Then when did India became regressive on matters of sexuality?

The period of sexual liberation was cut-short with British occupation of India.[10] Victorian values stigmatized Indian sexual liberalism. The pluralism of Hinduism, and its liberal attitudes were condemned as “barbaric” and proof of inferiority of the East. A number of movements were set up to work for the “reform” of Indian private and public life. Paradoxically while this new consciousness led to the promotion of education for women and (eventually) a raise in the age of consent and reluctant acceptance of remarriage for widows, it also produced puritanical attitude to sex even within marriage and the home.[11]
Effects

Stereotypes about sexuality can impact perceptions of sexual assault. The very idea that a woman’s sexual purpose is to be the object of man’s desires is catastrophic. It perpetuates discrimination, violence and humiliation. Stereotyping can impede access to legal rights and protection for victims of violence. It also impacts the reproductive and sexual health and rights of women and girls. The Executive Director of the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development,Yetnebersh Nigussie highlighted that women with disabilities are believed to be sexually inactive and therefore unsuitable for marriage. They are also the least likely to acquire an education for fear that they could be abducted, raped or subject to other forms of violence in school. Further, women with intellectual disabilities in particular, including when they are victims of sexual violence, were seldom considered reliable witnesses in courts.[13]
What can be done?

Alike men, women’s wants and needs are also to acknowledged. Any attempt to demystify sexuality must involve men first. As Harish Sadani of Men against Violence and Abuse(MAVA) says, it is impossible to talk about gender equality and women’s rights, without first sensitizing men on these issues.[14]
A very patriarchal notion of sex and sexuality is propagated – sometimes unconsciously and inadvertently – within the family that conditions the minds of children, especially boys, about what is acceptable. I feel it is the parents’/ partner’s role how they shape their children’s/mate’s attitude towards sexuality. Sexual emancipation, circumscription of sexual violence and elevation of women’s rights can be promoted through open dialogue only. Last but not the least, the media should also cease to stereotype female sexuality.

Wrapping up my letter, I hope it encourages healthy and open discussion and equal acceptance of male and female sexuality.

By the way, HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY 2017.

Yours sincerely,

just another deviant woman

References:

  1. 4 Bogus Stereotypes You Might Believe About Openly Sexual Women” Suzannah Weiss, everyday feminism(Oct 20, 2016)

2.  “Women of Color Seen As Always Sexually Available” Jaclyn Friedman (Oct 29, 2011)

3. Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States wikipedia.com

4. “Where the ‘Spicy Latina’ Stereotype Came From – And Why It’s Still Racist Today” Katherine Garcia, everyday feminism (Dec 7, 2015)

5. Judith M. Bennett et al., Sisters and Workers in the Middle Ages (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 176, 179, 87, 101.
6. Vern L. Bollough and James A. Brundage, eds., Handbook of Medieval Sexuality (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996), 199, 44.

7. Frick, Katie L. (2002). “Women’s Mental Illness: A Response to Oppression“. University of Texas at Austin

8. White, Deborah Gray (1999). Ar’n’t I a Woman. W.W. Norton & Company.
9. West, Carolyn (2008). “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an ‘Oppositional Gaze’ Towards the Images of Black Women“. Lectures on the Psychology of Women (4)

10. “Tracing Sexuality in Indian culture” Shweta Kothari, HuffingtonPost (Aug 30 2014)

11. “Indian concepts on sexuality” Kaustav Chakraborty and Rajarshi Guha Thakurata

 

12. “EXOTIC FEMININITY: PROSTITUTION REVIEWS AND THE SEXUAL STEREOTYPING OF ASIAN WOMEN” Devyn T. Dougherty, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS (Dec, 2014)

13. “The harms of gender stereotyping” (June 20, 2014)
14. “Let’s talk about sex” Divya Gandhi and Julie Merin Verghese, The Hindu (May 08, 2016)

Letter to ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens – Retelling Uniform Civil code

Dear ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens,

With the Law Commission currently seeking public opinion on the Uniform Civil Code, issues related to the implementation of UCC across India have once again come to the fore. It is upto us how we as Indian citizens counter these issues.
For the uninitiated, what is UCC?
UCC is the proposal to replace personal laws of each religious community of India with a common set governing every citizen. Article 44 of the Indian constitution specifies that ,” The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. ”
Since the Directive Principles are only guidelines, it is not mandatory to use them.
Why UCC is needed?
Currently, there is a Hindu Marriage Act, a Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937, a Christian Marriage Act and a Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act. Hindu Marriage Act applies to any person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion. There is also a Special Marriage Act 1954 under which people can perform marriage irrespective of the religion followed by either person. These laws deal with matters involving marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintainence of the respective religions.
Existence of personal laws based on religion has kept the nation divided into watertight compartments in many aspects of life and thus, keeping India back from advancing to nationhood.
Unlike stated by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board(AIMPLB) or the Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad ( a group that claims to represent interests of 11 crore tribals) that implementing UCC will hamper India’s secularism [1,2], UCC will in turn eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion.
What the opponents of UCC fail to understand is that their very argument is fallacious and self-contradictory as secularism means equal treatment of all religions by the state.
In an affidavit filed in court, AIMPLB said, ” … it is the issue of freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Article 25 and 26 read with Article 29 of the constitution” [1]
It seems that they’re disoriented as Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free propagation of religion) and Article 26(freedom to manage religious affairs) are “subject to public order, morality and health. The right to practice religion is disparate from the individual rights relating to inheritance, marriage or divorce.
Through UCC, circumscriptions or barring of practices such as witchcraft, superstition, child marriage, prohibitions against window remarriage, polygamy, polyandry, triple talaq, Maitri Karar in Gujarat, Natha Pratha in Rajasthan’s Bhil community will distemper gender injustice. Women are grossly discriminated in the name of religion. One definitive example is of a legally married wife who filed a bigamy suit under CPC Section 494 in Ahmedabad as her husband had entered a liaison in the name of Maitri Karar (A Gujrati social custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act)[3].
As far as the Muslims are concerned, I would like to quote a verse of Quran which is sacred law of the Muslims –
” And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry women who seem good to you, two or three or four and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so marry) then one(only) or (the captives) that the right hand possess. Thus, it is more likely that ye will not do.”
It is clear that the Quran only permits, does not enjoin polygamy and that too only in those cases where the man finds it impossible to safeguard the interests of widows and orphans. If the man doesn’t feel confident of treating all the wives equally without discriminating against any of them, he should have only one. Is it possible for a man to give equal love and affection to all four wives ? It is quite impossible. Therefore the arbitrary power of the Muslim husband to have more than one wife has been controlled almost in all the Muslim countries[4]. If Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan have reformed Muslim Personal law, why should Indian Muslims fall behind?
And yes, does Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad(RAEP) look after the interest of tribal men and not women?
Isn’t Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur vs Durga Charan Hansdah case[5] a classic exposition of male chauvinism in alliance with religious conservatism?
Not to mention Shah Bano case 1978 where the appellant was denied the right to maintainence. Similarly, I see pro-male rules in Section 10(A) of the Christian Divorce Law that makes the separation period of two years mandatory for mutual divorce whereas in other statutes, the requirement of separation is one year. Also the Succession Act 1925 gives Christian mothers no right in property of the deceased kids[6].
The right to equality of the Fundamental Rights of the constitution speaks of equal protection of the laws, regardless of race, class, religion or gender. So, implementation of UCC will entail safeguarding of this basic fundamental right.
Why is it difficult to have a UCC?
Ignorance amongst the mass is the cardinal factor. When the RAEP claimed that the tribals had their own personal laws and do not come in the category of Hindus[2] , it was easily understood that they failed to comprehend what UCC is. UCC is being perceived as the imposition of the Hindu code and procedures, and as result of this erroneous religious ideologue amongst the minorities, a rational debate on its implementation has become an arduous task (It’s mainly due to over-zealous bhakts waving the UCC flag quite mindlessly).
It will do away not only with Muslim Personal Law or Christian Law or any other tribal law but all other laws on the statute books that grant legal sanctity to unique practices (read: mal-practices :P) of the diverse communities of India.
Moreover, despiteful communal politics has led to distortion and misdirection of UCC, thus stalling the process of social reform.
The argument that UCC will lead to the loss of cultural identity among minorities is factitious. As a matter of fact, uniform civil code will focus on rights, leaving the rituals embodied in personal law intact within the bounds of constitutional propriety[7]. Goa’s uniform civil code – derived from the Portugese Civil Procedure code 1937 – is our case in point.

Way ahead
One must understand that the religion involves relationship between an individual and his/her God and that implementation of UCC doesn’t establish a challenge to faith and religious identity, even after modification of customs.
Hence, we should welcome Law Commission’s exercise of seeking public opinion through questionnaire whose aim is to manifest coexistence of reform in UCC and religious freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Just another ‘open-minded’ Indian citizen

References:

1. “Muslim personal law outside SC jurisdiction, asserts board” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Mar 24, 2016)

2. “Tribal rights group moves SC against Uniform Civil Code” Utkarsh Anand, The Indian Express ( Oct 24, 2016 )

3. “Love pacts: Just good friends” Chander Uday Singh, India Today ( Oct 24, 2013)

4. Shiv Sahai Singh, Unification of Divorce Laws in India, p29-30

5. “Marriage: Scheduled tribes not covered under bigamy law. “

6. “Uniform Civil Code is good but it can wait” RD Sharma, Hindustan Times (Jun 15, 2016)

7. “Who’s afraid of a Uniform Civil Code?” BG Verghese

8. ” Uniform Civil Code because we’ve long ignored real minorities” Sreemoy Talukdar, First Post ( Jul 1, 2016)

9. “Uniform civil code: Law panel seeks public opinion on anti-women practices” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Oct 13, 2016)

10. “ ‘Maitri Karar’: Gujarati Social Custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act” Desh Kapoor, Dristikone ( Jan 3, 2013)

11. “SC Ruling on Hindu Succession Act Lends Credence to Uniform Code Nishtha Gautam, The Quint ( Nov 24, 2015)

P.S. The views expressed here are totally personal and do not intend to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.

Letter from a train-driver’s daughter – Paralympians’ zeal for life

Dear stranger,

Yes, you’re the man who jumped in front of the train that my father drove. Why did you do that? What made you end your life?
When he saw you, he put his brakes on and blew the horn. Even then, you didn’t move away from the railway track and he realised why you were there.
It is a traumatic experience for any driver to have someone commit suicide under their train. Do you realise how severe are the after effects for him and his family? It’s the thing that stays in the vanguard of his mind for months. He knows it’s not his fault. He didn’t cause that to happen. But he does still have pangs of guilt. He doesn’t sleep; he’s tired all the time and gets irritated easily. And our whole family has to deal with him not being his usual self.

Okay, enough advocating for my father. He’ll get over it soon. Now, let me ask you – were you so badly stuck in a terrible life situation that you ended your life? Were your problems so overwhelming? Haven’t you heard Limp Bizkit singing – “cause life is a lesson, you learn it why you’re through” ?

Let me tell you a true story of a man who suffered permanent disability in his right leg at the age of five. Born to single mother, he is one of the five children abandoned by their father. His mother raised him and his siblings, carrying bricks as labourer until becoming a vegetable-seller, earning ₹100 a day. He was just a five-year old kid when he was run over by a drunk bus driver while walking to school; thus crushing his leg below the knee. Despite this tragedy, he completed secondary school, got qualified for Rio Paralympics where he won the gold medal in the men’s high jump T42 finals, and even donated money received from prize to the Government school he studied to improve facilities. He is Mariyappan Thangavelu- the Indian Paralympic high jumper who represented India in the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games.
The Syrian refugee, Ibrahim al Hussein, is also a Paralympic athlete. He lost his leg in a rocket bomb explosion while rushing to the aid of his friend. Just see the plight of those trapped in war-torn countries and those left with no other choice but to risk their lives to try and escape persecution.
I can cite more than thousand such stories that emphasises on do-not-give-up attitude. Were your problems bigger than those?
Heartbreak, financial crisis, being jobless, domestic violence, death of loved ones or any failure – whatever the problem is, the solution’s never going to be death. Unlike others, I won’t call you a coward because I know it takes a huge amount of courage to even harm oneself, let alone suicide. But, if you had applied the same amount of strength and courage to solve your life situation, then you would have made my father a bit less guilty and most importantly, you would have been alive bravely overcoming your hurdles.
If it were possible, I would have been there with you at that moment, to sit with you and talk, face to face and heart to heart.
After all, no body can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

Yours sincerely ,

The train driver’s daughter