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My relationship with India: It's complicated


When I think about my relationship with India, I think of the Facebook relationship status ‘It’s complicated’. But like other complicated relationships, I feel like I’ve weathered the ups and downs in recent years, and am now sailing in less stormy waters.

On the one hand, there is no shortage of attitudes to dislike, especially as a woman: being discouraged from playing the more enjoyable ‘boy’ games, getting a ‘bad reputation’ when I used to stay out late dancing as a teenager, being molested several times and then learning from girlfriends that was a common experience, or being stared at by men in public constantly for wearing ‘Western clothes’ which I believe has lead to my often feeling asexual as an adult. The list would get much longer if I talked about politics, Bollywood, or our hierarchical society.

On the other hand, I returned to live in India after nine years in the US because I appreciate our generally warm nature (getting a government official to grant a minor favour through an emotional appeal), our deeply spiritual roots (reflected in my grandfather’s iron-clad ethics), the mind-boggling diversity of cultures to experience across the country, and our delectable food!

After spending some time back home in Bombay and contemplating the dislikes far more than the likes, I realized that I could only be happy if I committed my life to changing the things that most of the people I spoke to dislike. Now it makes me feel better every time I experience an instance of sexism that I run a social venture that empowers women.

But to speak more of the things I would like to change, here is my laundry list:
- Being made to feel ashamed for smoking a cigarette as a woman.
- Being considered XXL at size 16 (US) and having salesmen always tell me as I enter a store, “Madam, we have clothes in YOUR size also”.
- A general intolerance towards dating even though every Hindi movie glorifies romance, which leads to a general social awkwardness between young men and women.
- Being considered ‘past it’ as a single woman over 30.
- Feeling unsafe traveling alone in Delhi (our capital city!) at night.
- Having only one female Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state where I live.
- People assuming I am a bad driver because I am a woman.

I am interested in discussion and theoretical research about changing core social attitudes that cause sexist behaviour in countries like India where patriarchal beliefs are deeply embedded and dissent is discouraged. Since I work in the field of media for social change, I am particularly interested in case studies about successful gender justice media campaigns such as the 'Pink Chaddi' movement. Please comment if you know of case studies, research, writings, etc in this area.



Nusrat Ara's picture

Dear Sapna, Loved your list.

Dear Sapna,

Loved your list. I thought it will be longer. I guess everyone will have one. Good idea maybe all of us should try.

How is it going at wave. Any progress with the funding.



sapnashahani's picture

Thanks Nusrat :)

Yes, it was a great exercise to write this out. Also gave me ideas for my next assignment - the frontline journal. I was thinking about writing about Arundhati Roy's speech about Kashmir, Binayak Sen's imprisonment and basically what roles citizens could take through social media like Facebook to protest against state repression. What do you think?

No funding yet for WAVE. What about you, have you used the camera yet? :)

Nusrat Ara's picture

A good idea indeed. I have

A good idea indeed.

I have received the camera yet. Hope you find some funding soon.



Paulina Lawsin's picture

It's Complicated

What can be complicated is interesting and challenging. It will take a whole generation of women, girls, boys and men to change the way people think and overcome sexism. I hope you get support for your media work soon. Partnering with NGOs and international development agencies who are into women empowerment and may have the funds for communication but do not have the expertise to develop the materials can be a strategy to multiply your efforts. I visited your site. You are doing a great job!

Incidentally, I got introduced to Arundhati Roy this new year through "The God of Small Things".Excellent and sad.

I wish you good luck on your endeavor. Keep on writing, recording, sharing and spreading.


www. paulawsin/

sapnashahani's picture

Thank you Paulina

I appreciate the encouragement. I really hope we get support soon too. You are right in suggesting that we partner with NGOs to develop their communications materials. We are developing a social business model along those lines. I'm glad you met Arundhati Roy - she is a great inspiration to me.
Best :)

Caitlyn's picture

Shared experiences

Thanks for your honest and as always, engaging writing Sapna. I think your experiences as a woman in India would be shared by many women around the world, and I think we all experience some of those same feelings at a time or another, even in the West.

Keep being the voice of India's women and I have no doubt you can bring about the changes it needs. Keep up the good work, gorgeous girl. Just replying to your email about assignment 2 now.


sapnashahani's picture

Thanks Caitlyn :)

That's true, there are certainly parallels in our experiences no matter where we are from. Hope you had a lovely holiday season and thanks for your continuing encouragement!

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