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Bengali women have been called manipulative witches who do black magic on mainstream media, which follows from the shaming of Rhea Chakraborty in the Sushant Singh Rajput case.
Twitter is flooded this week with some very interesting stuff following Late. Sushant Singh Rajput’s father filing an FIR against his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty.
A controversy that immediately followed, instigated by some folks, had the social media explode – not with the expected speculations (guilty or not guilty), but with the expected extrapolation of a man’s ruin to a strong manipulative woman. These folks who might have had a point at some point on nepotism, gaslighting, and outcast-ing of outsiders being an issue in Bollywood, but have now led their injudicious toilet mouths run so wild that the point is at risk of getting lost in the craziness.
Taking it one step further, the generalization managed to become both misogynist and racist/regional at the same time.
The logic went this way –
I will leave alone here the ‘absurdity’ of the black magic debate. Or the point of women (and men) who are expected to be debating a fair point going insensible and harming their cause. And it doesn’t need to be said that this article isn’t about what might have happened in the SSR suicide matter, i.e. whether the accused are guilty or non-guilty of aiding and abetting.
Because the real matter here is –
~ of stereotyping based on a narrative that is very problematic to begin with (which makes stereotyping double harmful).
~ of women, being so ingrained with patriarchy and patriarchal narratives, that they tear other women down at the slightest provocation with labels.
~ of gender becoming a sub-identity and a sub-cause to bigger causes of family values.
~ of being the “right kind of woman” for a man by not becoming “too strong or manipulative”.
~ of then taking that, and in an attempt to explain ‘inexplicable’ intelligence, liberal living, cerebral interests, strength, free and strong-will (undesirable characteristics in a woman – particularly an Indian woman) further discriminating by grouping and labelling traits as racial/ ethnic/ genetic characteristics.
The issue here clearly, is of bias. Of two-fold – gender and regional – bias.
The same nation that was all shouts a few weeks back on Indian matchmaking and how it touts regressive values as Indian suddenly has remembered again that caste, religion, region, and such does matter after all in matchmaking and has always mattered.
Don’t marry a Bengali woman – they are too independent. Don’t date a Bengali girl, they are too liberal – they will have free sex and force you to leave your family. How are these different from we’d like to have a Marwari bahu of our caste to ensure she fits in?
These comments are not things I pulled out of Twitter (which has no shortage of similar tweets today and that too by other women). These are Facebook posts from my friends/other Bengali women. These are responses to those posts by men and women, who confirm that this indeed is a very valid belief (in some say especially North India) and a well-known narrative.
This is what I have heard personally too. I will describe two such instances below for they will paint the pictures worth thousands of words.
In the US, in a discussion on how a highly successful Bengali woman (who I know to be immensely talented and absolutely worth of her accolades) dominates her husband and makes him do all the housework. Her husband, again, is someone I know well too and is neither as ambitious nor as skilled – and there is nothing wrong in that.
A friend then comments that that’s why he consciously chose not to marry a Bengali woman for they are known to be dominating and putting their careers first.
I asked the friend, a Bengali man, if someone described him (a man) as being someone who puts career first and does what he needs to do to get ahead, would he consider that to be a negative? Will he hear a negative in that comment? My friend didn’t respond.
I have seen this again and again in Indian families (men and women). They would like to have women be earning and educated, but it’d be a problem if she becomes too good. It’d be a problem if she doesn’t become too good either.
So I have asked this question many times in gender exercises I get to do here mentoring women who are made to feel strangely both guilty to be not earning enough/pulling their weight (many come initially on dependent visas) and being too career-focused and ambitious. Because the question here is of what narratives we believe in. We say we believe in narratives of strength for women – but anytime we get a chance, we don’t need men to pull us down – we do it ourselves.
I have no shortage of women I have met who believe what my friend believes.
A common friend discussing matters of marriage and fidelity with another woman (not-Bengali) tells me that he was told to be around Bengali women in the community. “They are much ‘free-r’, ‘have no morals’, and therefore will probably be OK with having affairs.”
I personally see nothing wrong with an affair. But that point is not a simplistic one to be able to explain in a line here, and is also not the point. The point here is of sexual freedom, liberal thoughts – labeling them as undesirable in women and shaming of women – by other women.
And I will not go into the number of times I have heard this myself.
Worship of Ma Kali, big eyes, Bengali women’s ability to reason, and their sense of freedom mish-mashed into a potpourri of “Hey Bengali witch, you all are the same – you talk too much and with too much logic!”
Just like Punjabi girls are “Roadies material and know how to have masti”, you know how to argue. (insert eye roll)
So, firstly, if it indeed is true that overwhelming numbers of women from a certain region seem to be more ‘progressive’ (or regressive based on which side you stand on) on matters of marriage, fidelity, domestic work chore division, what they read, and how they behave – try to rationalize it from a point of view of history, upbringing, the exposure they might have had and readings they might have pursued. Yes, that’s a privilege they have had; not a regional flaw.
Second (and this will be much harder), try to ask if that’s indeed a ‘flaw’. If you have daughters and sons, sit them side by side and ask yourself, which one has a right to be strong, manipulative (for that’s what you would call it if they manage to get their way instead of ‘skilled’, ‘diplomatic’, ‘confident’), and successful.
Ask yourself that when there was the unfortunate death of Sushant Singh by suicide, did you see a lot of posts saying ‘all men’ and ‘all men from a certain state’ are weak and confused because they take their own lives? No. Because if a man has follies – there has to be supernatural manipulation or conditions besides his control. If a woman gets her way – the same must be true.
So stop the shaming already!
Ask yourself if you will choose to believe this, ask yourself what you are going to do to change this narration. Because, tomorrow, a woman will not need to be a Bengali witch – other labels will be found.
Image source: Instagram
Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...
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