In repentance, to Mrs. Sushm Malhotra
“There’s just one more thing”, I said as I rose from the cushioned chair in the Senior Staffroom “Is Mrs. Malhotra really a feminist?”…
It was an ordinary day in the last term of my last year at school- which meant that it had been awfully boring. I had just finished chatting with my English teacher R.N.-which was my favourite pastime to enjoyably while away time on such ‘ordinary’ days-and was rising up to leave when suddenly something which a friend had told me some weeks ago came hurtling back and I blurted out with that question.
The answer was clear and concise- “Yes, I do think that she is.”
I was triumphant, my assumption had proved to be correct. Mrs. M was indeed a feminist- and a hard boiled on at that! Why, how often does one hear somebody, and that too an Indian Hindu woman, complain while teaching a class full of adolescents a chapter on women’s empowerment and liberation that it was actually futile, that she couldn’t really expect them-her pupils-to grasp the essential point of the matter, for, after all said and done, God too was a man-“aakhir bhagwan bhi to mard hai”?
Not too often!
The remark, of course, created a minor sensation of sorts in Bal Bharati’s twelfth standard society- or at least in that part of it to which I belonged. Mrs. M was quickly and unanimously condemned for what many considered as sacrilege and blasphemy. Even atheists like me conceded that it was a most indiscrete and insensitive comment to let loose in a classroom. For a week or so she became the topic of debates and discussions, unofficial and informal forums which always came to the same, inevitable conclusion- Mrs. M was the worst sort of a woman-a fire breathing dragon in fact! - who completely hated men, did certainly not enjoy happiness in her married life, had perhaps homosexual tendencies and said that provocative thing to just spite the male section of her students (and hence, indirectly, dangerously influence the female portion too!). Anti-social elements like her ought to be bundled off to he savages in some coral island in the Pacific so as to rid society of such raving lunatics.
Now, when I look back at that a year and a half or so later, I once again come to a single, inevitable conclusion- what muddle headed dolts, absolute idiots, complete chauvinists we were. As for me, I-I who had always prided himself for being reasonable, sensible and liberal-I was the worst of them all for the simple yet now embarrassing fact that I actually had the audacity to go ahead and confirm-and that too long after the incident was dead and almost forgotten-whether or not that good woman was a feminist and had then prided myself for being the discoverer of that then derogatory fact.
What a muddle headed dolt was I!
When I now look back to my own school days, I see traces of misogyny-at times blatant, often subtle-spread all throughout them. From the now sepia tinted days of the “We Hate Girls Club” in fourth and the “Girls are Idiots Society” in sixth to the Pygmalion-ised, “Never Let a Woman in Your Life” days in twelfth, I had always been what I now, after a year as an undergraduate student of Literature, recognise and call a misogynist. It wasn’t as if I had been walking down to become a strict patriarch- no, I had always been a champion of women’s rights in my circles, had always written the best reports and articles on women’s empowerment in English exams and had always believed in the urgency of eliminating, totally wiping out from the face of this nation, the twin evils of female foeticide and dowry.
Yet, somehow, I never ceased to hold girls as my mental inferiors. That is not to say that I did not respect my intelligent female colleagues in school for their talents-and there were plenty all rounders who were my superiors-but it was just that I did all of this along with extolling a Henry Higginian sort of attitude towards women.
I’m surprised that it never struck me- I was such a hypocrite in that context.
But then, I suppose I am really not alone in this- this indeed is a class to which most Indian men-and a majority of the women too-belong. Our whole social structure is like that- two (or perhaps more) faced and duplicate a monstrous edifice which on one hand waxes eloquent on women’s rights and such like humanitarian issues and on the other indoctrinates medieval patriarchal concepts and ideologies through the daily humdrum routine of life. For medieval it now seems to have wondered about Mrs. M’s married life- not just medieval but also completely disgusting.
It is one of India’s abiding paradoxes that while we in principle gave women all constitutional rights, we still unabashedly continue to consider them our inferiors. We may all vehemently and vociferously deny this, but nevertheless, there are very few men in whom misogyny has not found a safe haven. That I, a ‘liberal’, ‘enlightened’ and so called ‘forward looking’ mind right in the beginning of the twenty-first century could roundly criticise feminists as dangerous weeds to be plucked out of society is proof enough of this.
Political correctness is a significant factor which all of us ‘enlightened’ minds consciously or not take into consideration when publicly stating out support for so called ‘women’s’ issues (why ‘women’s’? why not ‘human’? why alienate them as things which do not affect men?). So, while many of us ‘officially’, ‘on record’ and ‘publicly’ speak out in favour of reforms and change (and thus unwittingly campaign for what traditionally have been feminist concerns!), we baulk at the very mention of the word feminist and, by dismissing them as either deranged or sexed up lesbians (very few can imagine, let alone accept, the idea of a ‘male’ feminist), betray our poor understanding of the subject. Indeed, the common man’s abysmal comprehension of the same can be gauged from the startlingly amusing fact that many confuse feminist for feminine and thus regard it as a grave affront to any ‘self-respecting man’s manliness’ to be connected in any way whatsoever with the same. I write from personal experience, for I have close friends who have aired exactly the same views.
We are all in some way or the other like the oh-so-admirable Professor Higgins- we all wish to create our own Galatea’s, our most, but not quite, equals in life. We may become accustomed to their faces-to our political correctness- but they’ll still remain the ‘baggages’ and ‘damn nuisances’ which they were right from the very beginning.
Oh Mrs. M, you were so right- ‘Bhagwan’-the Sculptor, the God-too, after all said and done, is naught but a ‘mard’