IHM asked a very pertinent question today-
Does an average Indian man or woman have any idea that they own their own bodies, minds, souls and sexualities?
I’d venture to say that many don’t , and even among those who do, claiming that ownership is goddamn hard.
Now, claiming ownership of your mind is the harder of the two to do,given the years and years of conditioning that have gone into making our minds anyone’s but ours. Learning to think for yourself is so liberating, yet in an Indian context- accompanied by oodles of guilt.
In my case, I was brought up outwardly ‘liberal’ parents but with the kind of conservative values that existed in 1950’s America ( i.e, present day India) . I saw through most of their BS before I was 15. At that age, I remember wondering that if sex was really so wrong and dirty, how was marriage going to make it ‘right?’ ( My reasoning was this- if sex is dirty, and marriage is essentially social/God’s sanction to have sex, it still doesn’t follow that marriage rituals automatically makes sex clean/right- so one may as well go ahead and give in :))
I knew better than to share such heresy with family. I considered myself, by age 17, to be quite ‘independent’ in my thinking- then college happened.
College in India is where most people are first confronted by booze , smoking and physical relationships. After extensive research( code for watching a lot of American movies), I concluded that college in India is where most people gain the emotional maturity that our counterparts in Western countries have reached in high school. I struggled with the notion of promiscuity and ‘sleeping around’ and in my mind, condemned people for it- but eventually learnt not to judge.
It was in college that I gained some ownership of my body-initially weighed down by immense guilt but later with nary a thought to my ‘reputation’/arranged-marriage prospects. Of course, I wasn’t exactly looking to marry my college BF, but I considered myself ‘evolved’ enough to deal with that.
I recently had a ‘conversation’ with my parents- where in the same goddamn breath they not only told me that I should get married but also gave me a mini-lecture on how physical relationships are against their value system- i.e we’re okay if you f**k (any) guy, just make sure you have black beads around your neck while doing so.
Such conversations ruin my mood and fill me with self doubt- have I really been successful in establishing autonomy over my body? Does your sense of ownership even count- if other people still think they own it?
I’m glad I learnt the ownership lesson early in life, from my school principal no less, who in 11th grade told us that our bodies are our own- not our parents, or husbands or boyfriends.She said that it was important to remember this, because the moment we fell in love, we would gladly forget it. That true ownership meant not only the ability to give consent to physical relationships, but also WITHHOLD it.
I also feel a twinge of sadness when I see some female classmates , one by one, get married the arranged way- these are the girls who studied well and stayed the hell away from boys- and their ‘reward’ is this- the giving away away of their bodies in marriage to men deemed nice enough. It bothers me that these women never even tried to claim ownership of their bodies in the slightest, and quite literally transferred the rights to their bodies from one family to another.
I guess then my answer to IHM’s question is no- most young women I know don’t even know that their bodies and minds can be fully their own.And this is the so-called educated class I’m talking about. I have no idea about young men though.
Apology to any lurking Tagore-lovers.