May 30, 2020
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'Taking bottom-slapping to court is farcical'

Journalist Tavleen Singh recently sparked off a controversy when she wrote in her weekly column in the Indian Express that Indian feminism is not about the "bottom-slapping" of Rupan Deol Bajaj. Such a relatively trivial incident, she suggested, does

'Taking bottom-slapping to court is farcical'

You have been accused of betraying the feminist cause by your article on Rupan Deol Bajaj.

But I have never been a feminist. In fact, as far as the women’s movement is concerned, I am an outcast. I’ve never been part of the sisterhood. I don’t believe in exclusive women’s clubs and I don’t believe in exclusively gender- related issues. I believe that women’s rights are human rights and the struggle for a better life concerns us all, not just as women. Although I was one of the first to report cases of dowry deaths, I have never been part of the women’s movement. As for this case of bottom-slapping, I think it is quite obscene that such a case should be taken to the Supreme Court. There is a different kind of women’s movement going on in the villages which urban feminists are not as concerned with as they should be.

What is your problem with contemporary feminism?

I find the activities of these women far too upper middle class, far too imitative of the West. So much fuss about a bottom-slapping incident— it’s farcical. If you ask me, it’s this obsession with political correctness which is at the root of it all; all this fuss about sexual harassment is what happens in America. Even the Europeans don’t fully understand it. I was shocked at the manner in which this case concerning Rupan Deol Bajaj was reported in the press.

There are women all over India who are carrying on spontaneous struggles who do not find a voice in the press simply because they are not in touch with these upper class women’s groups. These urban women are far too busy going on the conference circuit to China or Rio. And this terrible look of having to be like a tub of lard with oily hair— its like a uniform. As far as journalism is concerned , I could never be a part of ‘purdah’ journalism or ‘zenana’ journalism as I call it. The idea that women should only write about women. Of course, there are exceptions. Madhu Kishwar, for example, is someone who I think is genuinely doing good work for women’s welfare .

You said there is a different sort of women’s movement going on.

Yes, there is. I remember a case in 1987 in Banda village when a woman had been raped by six policemen. Her case was taken up by a lower middle class group of women who succeeded in bringing justice for the woman. So women in the villages really need the support of urban, educated groups, but often such help is not forthcoming. All this talk of contraceptives... but what about basic health care? What about drinking water? Where does a woman go if she needs medical help? Some are doing good work, no doubt, like the Mahila Samakhya organisation. Unfortunately they are not talked about as much as they should be. I know a village where women were trained to be handpump mechanics, so that all the handpumps in the village are now operated by women. Yet urban feminists once made a fuss about a certain type of panties. There are so many other issues to think about.

Such as?

In another village a group of women actully brought a rapist to justice. After the police had failed to arrest him, the women got together, blackened his face and paraded him on a donkey. That’s a case of women in action. That’s why I think taking a case of bottom- slapping to the Supreme Court is so ridiculous. I once told Madhu Kishwar that supplies of surplus grain were being devoured by rats. I said, I’m not an activist, but a journalist, but why don’t you organise a movement with women to raise awareness about this? These are the issues before us.

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