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Sexuality of women has always been controlled by brahminical patriarchy, ensuring they’re conditioned to feel desire within caste class religion boundaries.
While there is the in-your-face “love jihad” along with “honour killing”, patriarchy is sneaky in the way it conditions us to find partners within our social boundaries. An excellent way to police whom women may marry, love, or even desire, in a way we don’t even realise.
I recently watched Rajeev Masand’s The Actresses Roundtable 2020, featuring Shabana Azmi, Tillotama Shome, Taapsee Pannu, Deepika Padukone, Rasika Dugal, Janhvi Kapoor, Kiara Advani, and Tripti Dimri, and was deeply struck by some points that Tilottama Shome made, about how love and desire are bound by differences of class.
Tilottama said that her role in Sir, brought her the awareness that all the “kachra” (garbage) that the film was critiquing, was within her. “The people who cook for us – they cook our food, it goes inside our mouth; make our beds, we sleep on it, our skin is on it, and yet we cannot even imagine a world in which we could fall in love or in which desire, and that really broke my heart. It broke my heart that I know equality doesn’t exist. It broke my heart that I was implicit, that it was so deeply ingrained in me…It was not nice to know that about oneself.”
Tilottama here speaks of class, but I must note that in India, class and caste are often inseparably intertwined, and caste, as much as class, dictates who we feel attracted to.
As Christina Dhanaraj writes in her powerful essay, Swipe Me Left, I’m Dalit, “not only can caste play a role in determining the success of one’s romantic pursuit, it can also shape one’s competence, desirability, and confidence within a relationship. And love, contrary to what we have been taught, may not be the most sacred of all feelings, insulated form the world and pure in its expression; it is a choice that we make based on who we are and where we come from. Our attraction for another is a function of our social locations, defined by caste, class, race, and religion. Our decision in choosing a companion is dependent on how reluctant we are to challenge status quos.”
She goes on to discuss how modern dating apps, that we see as having ‘democratized’ love, actually carry forward the same cultural biases that values non-Dalit women and perceives them as being worthy of romantic love, and devalues Dalit women as being undesirable and promiscuous. Similarly, modern hook-up culture, that we savarna feminists hail as being ‘sex positive,’ is used by savarna men to further exploit Dalit women.
Even though savarna women are much more privileged than DBA women, Brahminical patriarchy controls who they can fall in love with, marry or have sex with, so that power stays with savarna men. Honour killings are one of the most extreme manifestations of this, but it also happens in many other ways.
I think about the number of times I have heard it being ‘jokingly’ said to young women (and men!) in my circle – ‘You can love whoever you want, but don’t love a Muslim/Christian/person from another caste.’
It makes me wonder, how much my own ‘choices’ with respect to who I experience love and desire for are governed by my conditioning. I have to understand it, to ensure that I do not pass it on to the next generation.
We like to think that since we don’t practice extreme forms of discrimination and untouchability, we are ‘not casteist.’
However, while we may not be exactly the same as Bhoora Soni and Santosh Pal who beat a Dalit man to death for touching food at a feast, if we are not examining and questioning the little things that we defend as our ‘choices,’ we are, whether or not we like it, contributing to the same oppressive structures.
When we dismiss such incidents as being ‘one-off cases’ to pretend that casteism does not exist, and avoid examining how it plays out in our own lives, we become part of that injustice.
This year has truly brought home to me that I am the beneficiary of a system which has long trampled upon the basic rights of others. I feel a sense of responsibility, as a citizen, and as a human being to change that.
I may not be able to change the entire country, or even my own family, but I can question and change what I, as an individual do, even if it is something as tiny as understanding that who I see as attractive or not; who I love, or do not, is a matter of conditioning.
Image source: a still from the film Sir and the film Sairaat
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