Arpita Das is a PhD student in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She has worked on women’s rights, gender and sexuality, young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and is interested in biopolitics, intersex issues, and disability. She is trying to discover herself while exploring the worlds of academia and activism. In no particular order, she loves reading, watching movies and sleeping.
Raised as a woman in small town India in one of its more socially and economically backward states, I sway with a multitude of experiences which transcend across neat boundaries and often get enmeshed together.
Owning myself as a woman has been a process and remains a constant journey – it has meant growing up as a silent, obedient and an ideal child within a context of unequal power relations and internalising ideas of being a subservient woman who must care for all in the family and can invite ridicule and punishment for flouting rules, written and otherwise. It has also meant rebelling and seething in anger at these rules and learning over time that it is okay to question, confront, even mock them; that these rules have been written in a patriarchal code which does not fit ideas of a just and equal society. Ever since I learnt to ask ‘why’ for the first time, I haven’t stopped being as a dangerous woman.
My sense and degree of danger however is hardly static. Sometimes I’m ruthless and uncaring, mad and seething. Other times, I care and engage. I argue. I writhe in pain. Go through the motions of taking the other person along, at least try doing so. And, many a times fail miserably.
Families are accommodating. While they don’t tell me anything outright, I can sense the snigger, the lowering of the eyes, the uncomfortable half-laughter telling me I shouldn’t be talking about violence that women shouldn’t have to suffer, about periods, taboos and bodies. I need not tell people that I have worked as a social worker in a police station talking to strangers, mostly men, that they shouldn’t be beating up their wives, or girlfriends, or mothers, or daughters. They shouldn’t be raping them (of course it is not ‘rape’ when it’s within marriage!). I need not tell anyone that I work on sexuality and rights. No one need know that. While I must know which cousin is studying to be a doctor and which uncle is an engineer and who just finished their MBA.
I am told I need not tell people that I chose to enter a temple on days I am menstruating, although I ordinarily do not visit one. I do it to prove a point, to rebel against the patriarchal code. My mother tells me I need not tell anyone I eat beef (coming from a Hindu believing family). I go ahead and tell people regardless. Sometimes the rebellion is only against myself.
I go ahead and publish an article on the dilemmas between my feminist self and my queer self on buying a dildo. Writing the piece becomes my act of rebellion, although I do get bashful and squirm in my own skin sometimes and wonder how people would see me – as feminist, as queer, as a woman thinking about buying a dildo, and as a woman shamelessly writing about it. This act of rebellion though is mostly a tongue-in-cheek game that I play with myself.
Why unnecessarily tell people that I visited and stayed with my (now) partner for months before our wedding, I am told. Did I not care for what people had to think about my ‘character’ and ‘loose morals’? I go ahead and tell because it is important to keep creating counter-narratives, to simply keep telling.
I am dangerous in spaces where I ask uncomfortable questions, challenge the patriarchal code. Unperturbed (and sometimes perturbed too) I go ahead and do what I want to do, speak up, dissent, refuse to please, follow my nature.
Many friends have shunned me or may have been ‘too decent’ to do so on their own. I have therefore felt additional responsibility to cut them loose and help them by moving away. I am told I must tone myself down. I cannot though as dissent is my right and responsibility.
My friends are few. But those few are solid, with lifetime warranty. Even disruptors deserve a few good ones.
These acts of rebellion, make me dangerous but keep me sane.