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Casually surfing for content, I came across this daily show titled Sohag Chand that runs on Colors Bangla, and it had me looking for more episodes. Why? Simply because the female lead of this story is not a TV Bahu of memes. She has an education, works at a bank, wears salwar kameez (they haven’t vanished from her wardrobe just because she is married), and to top it all, Sohag is plus-sized. The only other plus-sized character I remember distinctly is Mahi from Mahi Way, the Indian rip-off of Bridgette Jones. It was indeed refreshing to find a character that was relatable, as she doesn’t run to God to solve all her problems dramatically and isn’t mortally afraid of her inlaws. Neither does she move around with an unrealistic pallu on her head.
She is feisty and a wonderful dancer. But what distinguishes this show is the fact that Sohag is overweight. As she performs on stage, aesthetically and beautifully, one of the judges (a female) calls her out and tells her that she could have bagged the first prize; however, dancers need to be slimmer in order to look pleasing to the eye. While Sohag reminds her that many famous choreographers are plus-sized, the scene holds a mirror of society. How often have we judged a plus-sized woman for dancing her heart out, being on the ramp, or on an advertisement?
Like Mahi (Mahi Way), Sohag is body shamed, even though she brings a lot more to the table than the women that were given the award for looking \’aesthetic\’. As infuriating as the scene in the episode is, maybe it is too real for TV. Aren’t plus-sized women always pushed to the corner? Aren’t they always called out for being overweight? Mahi in Mahi Way was bullied in the office, just for being fat. She wrote an agony aunt column. Not because she was incapable. But she was fat, and fat women do not write columns on fashion.
Sohag reminded me of my friend, who had to pay with her life. After years of fat-shaming by her husband and people she thought were close to them, she yearned just to be loved for who she was. If there is rebirth, I hope she is born in a world that will not judge her for her weight, skin color, hair volume, etc.
What makes plus-sized women different from women who fit the societal standard of the feminine figure? The weight doesn’t stop these women from getting an education, developing a hobby, or spreading joy around them. And yet, these women are not what we want. Not on advertisements, not on matrimonials. So where do ‘fat’ women go? To corners where they wouldn’t be noticed so we can continue with our cruel standards of beauty?
It must be a miracle if a woman, especially a thick woman, hasn’t been body shamed in India. How often have we heard people say this – for a fat woman, she does have a cute face or she’s achieved a lot, but things would be perfect had she lost a few kgs at least? And God forbid if the bride is plus-sized at a wedding reception, no one will talk of her beauty or her achievements but her weight and the mythical babies she might miss out on making because of her weight.
As I began to gain weight (went from XS to XL in less than a decade), most people who would comment on my weight did so not out of concern that this could be due to a health condition. They were more worried that I had lost my ‘hourglass’ figure. What I now find funny is that no one thought it could be a medical condition that triggered my weight gain.
Stories about plus-sized or even chubby women are not usually mainstream in India. Because no one wants to see them. But women in India haven’t been waif-thin, and as much as we blame it on lifestyle, weight gain is beyond our control with jobs demanding odd hours, a sedentary lifestyle, a medical condition, etc. However much we look at byte-sized videos telling women they need to find out just an hour for themselves, the idea is sometimes idyllic and unreal in the Indian setup. Long hours at work, long commutes back home, and then domestic chores drain out all the energy someone could have. Patriarchy calls women superheroes, expects them to keep working until burnout, and ensures women have no time for self-care.
As someone who was overweight for a brief period of time, I know how much of a toll the constant pressure to lose an inch has on us. The gym I used to go to was full of women, much younger than me, hitting the treadmill because of the constant pressure from their partners or families to lose weight. Their respective gynecologists had advised the same, and the look on their faces every time the scales said they weren’t anywhere near achieving their target would break hearts. Now, I am not saying this because I support an unhealthy lifestyle or do not understand how a lot of excess weight affects our health. But to see women always walking on eggshells, giving up on everything they liked to eat, trying and have the last meal of the day early even though they crave otherwise. How does doing activities that take a toll on mental health do well for physical health?
Till the time kindness doesn’t come, maybe every woman who gets body-shamed should just soak in self-love and nurture themselves, their dreams, and their goals. Society isn’t changing anytime soon. The world isn’t getting any less cruel. The least women can do is grow and focus their energy on self-care and sisterhood.
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Indian students dream of studying abroad, but these deaths and the racism we feel ask the question - are we travelling there to only lose our lives?
Trigger warning: This speaks of racism and death of Indian students, and may be triggering to survivors.
Today morning while I was on my way to the office, I was scrolling Instagram and immediately my eyes got stuck on a post having the headline, “US Policeman ran over an Indian Student in Seattle”. Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old Northeast University Graduate student from Andhra Pradesh was struck and killed in January this year by a Seattle cop, Kevin Dave, while driving 74 mph on the way to a report of an overdose call.”
Further, I read that the investigating agency while watching the body-worn camera that captured the whole incident, were laughing and joking about the death and commented that her life had “limited value”. If the deceased had been a US citizen, would they have behaved in the similar way, I feel not?
I struggled to reconcile the two aspects- the formidable talent who literally moulded kathak into its modern form and the man who took advantage of women in his charge.
Trigger Warning: This speaks of sexual abuse and grooming by someone in a position of power and may be triggering for survivors.
The noted Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away two years back. His death affected me greatly because I had just become a student of kathak and the composition we were learning then was one of his. For the next couple of days, I let his baritone voice comfort me while I mourned the fact that I would never see him teach or perform live.
Then the allegations of sexual harassment started coming out, which left me stunned. There was no question of not believing the victims/ survivors. Anyone who understands how power dynamics work knows that the classical music and dance space offers immense scope for sexual abuse. As a woman and as a feminist, I offered nothing less than unconditional support to the women speaking up.
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