Paromita Vohra: #NotLikeUs

By  Paromita Vohra | Posted  08-Jan-2017

In 2008, two women were molested by a mob of 70 to 80 men at Mumbai's Juhu area in the early hours of New Year's Day. Pic/Shadab Khan
In 2008, two women were molested by a mob of 70 to 80 men at Mumbai's Juhu area in the early hours of New Year's Day. Pic/Shadab Khan

In 2008, a gang of 70-80 men molested two women on Juhu Beach. We woke up on New Year's day to these nightmarish images and a deep sense of shock. We've come a long way since to now, where incidents of violence do not create a sense of shock or unease. Instead they become an impetus to produce even more violence through narratives of violence. We speak about our own experience of violence. Increasingly, groups reject these, covering their ears and going #nanananannotallmen."

The counter-narrative to this is often about women's access to public space and the defining of who threatens this access and freedom. Often this threat is defined as an unknown working class man, a migrant, someone disaffected. Not a man like us or ours. Men and women both play out this narrative. Following the gang rape and killing of Jyoti Pande in Delhi, we have constantly discussed women in public space. But that phrase has begun to sound empty, hollow.

Public space has been made to sound like a destination and a goal when in fact it is a transient space – something we traverse as private citizens with diverse histories and diverse private identities of gender, class, caste and religion. Without the right to that private self, our presence in public space is, not to be too literal about it, neither here nor there. Being in public space is the outcome of our private journeys.

Sometimes it seems public space becomes a way to not talk enough about private space. To not really investigate the undercurrents of gender that happen within our, not someone else's, office spaces — the oversexualisation and minimisation of women; to not really talk about what happens between men and women in personal, private relationships, even between women friends, sexual violence in families.

The glossing over of personal dynamics that refuse to recognise women's desire, freedom, their right to have fun, right to be lazy, sporty, oversleep, the right to not be overachievers and yet not marry or have children or cook and keep house or whatever combinations of personal choices they make. Without a genuine examination of this world of the home and relationships and the control they exercise on us — the real crux of feminism that asks how we subtly use and misuse power, not just possess or not possess power by our external identities or rights — we exist in a violently divided way.

Outside we can pay lip service to equality, fairness and freedom – but deep inside we hold on to notions of the real place of women and men. If, in the private realm, we do not deeply and genuinely acknowledge women as full, free beings with an inner life that wants leisure and pleasure like anyone else, how are we going to cope with them in the public realm? How are we going to reshape the public realm to imagine these private beings inhabiting it, if, in truth, we can carry a hashtag to prove we're progressive – the real progressive, more-progressive-than-thou-really — but can comfortably leave that hashtag outside the door when we go home? When our bodies move in the world, they carry within our hearts and minds. Without changing these, our change remains skin deep. Ours, not someone else's.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com