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American pop-star Britney Spears’s fight against excessive control by her own family has much in common with the struggles of Indian women.
Britney Spears redefined teen pop-culture with her breakthrough album ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ when she was just 18 years old. But over the last decade, she has been battling with the Conservatorship arrangement which gave her father, Jamie Spears control over her estate, health, business deals and social communications. This has become an invisible noose around her neck.
Britney’s current dire state has attracted a lot of support and the #FreeBritney movement has been trending on Indian social media as well. We explore how Britney’s spirited battle has commonalities with the everyday struggles of Indian women.
Since her conservatorship arrangement, the 39-year-old pop icon has released four albums, completed a global tour and broken several records. But she cannot spend her own hard-earned money and is allowed only $2000 weekly. She cannot meet her own kids without permission and has no say in choosing her therapist, medical support or even the housekeeper. In a recent court hearing, Britney said, “I worked seven days a week, no days off”. Isn’t it surprising that such a successful woman is still controlled by her family? That hits close to home, doesn’t it?
For that is how Indian families tend to control women– despite the age or educational qualification! If you are a young girl, what you wear, study or choose as your career is more the family’s decision than your choice. If you are a grown woman, whether you get to work or get married is not your prerogative, but their decision. After marriage, the reins of control are passed from parents to husband and in-laws. Like Britney, the Indian woman is seldom allowed to become a full adult with agency and freedom to take her own decisions.
Britney’s conservatorship was instituted in 2008 with her father Jamie Spears assuming 100% financial control over her assets. Not just that, he also takes all her work-related decisions and even controls her medication. Britney has confessed, “Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad.”
In the Indian context, we often see that even well- meaning fathers are controlling, even with adult daughters, especially when it comes to finances. From an early age, financial decisions are taken by fathers, and empowering daughters by allowing them to take financial decisions is rare. Likewise, choosing the life partner or career are spaces where fathers have the final say. It is painful to note that a paternal relationship can turn into a dictatorship from which escaping is nearly impossible. Britney’s conservatorship has been a 13-year debacle now – but Indian women face this their entire life.
In the long list of troubling things regarding the conservatorship, the most disturbing one is the restriction on Britney’s chance to become pregnant. In a shocking statement, Britney said “I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take it out, so I could start trying to have another baby. But the so-called team won’t let me go to a doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have any more children”.
Sounds very familiar to the Indian context where motherhood seems entirely manipulated by everyone except the woman. Women are often nudged to start a family immediately after marriage, without the slightest thought on whether they are ready for it. It is a very common but unsettling behaviour when families insist on prioritizing a baby over career or pressurize the woman to have another baby in the hope for a male child.
A woman’s right to decide when to have a child, or whether she wants to experience motherhood at all, is sadly overlooked by the society. And the situation has not evolved despite decades of arguments on family planning, abortions or a choice of contraceptives.
The image of Britney in tears holding her child when hiding from reporters is heart-breaking. She is fighting not just her family but also the media and society that are exploiting the situation for their own benefit. But now, the tide is turning as Britney is speaking up and fighting to free herself from the conservatorship. And she has found support from celebrities around the world. Even in India, several celebs including Rhea Chakraborty, who went through a trial by fire herself, have come out in support of Britney.
Back home, Indian women are definitely speaking up for their right to marry, reproductive freedom, action against sexual harassment, share in property, etc. Though dowry deaths, honour killings, forced marriages and mistreatments continue to occur, women are bold enough to report them to authorities and go to the court seek justice.
In India several brave women have taken their perpetrators to court only to face delayed or no justice at all. Kausalya Shankar was a victim of a caste-driven honour killing incident in Udumalpet, Tamil Nadu in 2016 where her own parents conspired to murder her and her husband, Shankar.
Though Kausalya lost her husband in the gruesome incident, she sued her parents over the next few years and is today a prominent figure in anti-caste activism. Quite recently, the Madras High court overturned the landmark verdict by sessions court and acquitted her parents. Despite strong evidences, the ruling was not in her favour, but she has resolved to continue her fight.
Another brave young woman reported the sexual harassment she faced at work against a renowned journalist, Tarun Tejpal. But after 7 years, he has walked scot-free due to lack of sufficient evidence. In many instances, the judiciary tends to be unsympathetic to the plight of the victims and discourages others to speak up or fight.
Recently, in a shocking development, the courts rejected Britney’s appeal to end the conservatorship. In an emotional moment she said, “It’s my wish and dream for all this to end”. Despite hearing her explosive testimony, seeing the overwhelming sympathy and raging support for the ‘Free Britney’ movement, the judge still ruled in favour of the conservatorship arrangement.
Only the future will tell whether Britney will be able to get her life back – still she continues to be an aspirational figure, not just as an artist but also for putting up a tough fight for her rights!
Image Source: Still from music video/YouTube
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