Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Respectable Indian Woman

Respect is a common enough word. We are told to respect our parents, teachers and elders. Children are taught to respect the law. Hopefully, even respect each other, and perhaps all sentient beings, and above all respect oneself.

 "Respectable", on the other hand is a different cup of tea. "Respectable"- a word every Indian woman grows up with, internalizes, and finally lives in the shade of, all her life. Because this is not an inherent respect afforded her for being a human, an entity capable of her own decisions, desires or even her own damnation, if she so wishes.

 It is a word that rules a woman's life. Sit this way, talk like this and dress only that way. Be seen here, don't go there. Never laugh out loud. Heck, women aren't even supposed to sneeze loudly; so what if she bursts a vein trying to stop the sneeze. Respectability has to be maintained at all costs.

Only "respectable" girls will fetch a good groom, you see. After all, that's the end result we're looking for. Marriage, which is the sole purpose of a woman's existence, and for a "good" marriage virginity is a pre requisite. The family's honour and "respect" is so vested in their women's vaginas because nothing less than a virgin will do for marriage. 

Fathers, brothers and even mothers are all designated protectors of a woman's virtue till she is married off, safely, as per family and societal norms. All hail endogamy !

God forbid a woman should go out with a guy, and horror of horrors, should they have premarital sex, what then? She's no longer "fit" for marriage and all honour, all "respect" is lost. Then the only saving grace is to kill her. That's the only option they have left, the men, the brothers, the patriarchs.

And this respect is supposed to keep you safe. If you're honourable no man will ogle you, you will not be harassed in the streets, family members will not abuse you and of course your husband will not beat you. After all, in Indian culture we "respect" our women. Or so the fable is told. Scratch the surface and you see that's patently untrue. The more patriarchal the society, the less the freedom women enjoy and the greater the violence they must bear. 

All the hullabaloo over "loose women" invading our "respectable" localities stems from this desperate drive to keep women's sexuality in check, get them married into approved homes, keep the sperms and genes within limited circulation. In so doing, patriarchy can ensure the property, its hallmark -its raison d'etre-  is passed on only to an identified, familiar seed.

The one thing patriarchy fears the most is a woman's sexuality. 
A woman who exercises control over her sexuality is to be reviled. 
The " loose woman" or the prostitute who exercises control over her body, even to an extent over her sexuality is patriarchy's worst enemy.  She must be driven from the "honourable" locaities for this very reason. 

The message to Indian women is loud and clear "stay honourable, stay safe". Stay within the bounds of patriarchy. 


  1. Very well written. Respect is a perfectly intangible virtue (nothing like tangibly help those in need) which is crafted in order for people (women!?) to keep chasing it and never take a pause to think whether it is worth the effort. Intellectual laziness is the greatest evil in this world and until people start truly thinking, the world will never change. Like George Carlin said, stop teaching children what to do. Instead, give them two hours every day to just do nothing and daydream, think.

  2. well, letting a child do nothing isn't easy, as I've figured out.:P Having said that, yes, critical thinking is the eaxct opposite of what we put so much store by, heirarchy and kow towing to the powers-that-be. Iconoclasm is anathema to us, so.... thanks so much for your input.