Tasneem Kakal is an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Born and raised in Mumbai, she spent 5 years taking a daily train to and from university. In this interview with Girls’ Globe, Tasneem tells us what the experience taught her about navigating public space as a young woman.
“I would walk up the stairs and go to my platform in this huge crowd of people. And I realized I was doing something that I didn’t know I was doing…”
We all have the right to move through the world without fear. Public space should be accessible to all, regardless of gender. By raising her voice and bringing attention to the everyday nature of inequality, Tasneem stands in solidarity with other women and girls.
“I had to push the boundaries, little by little.”
This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.
In India, the caste system, dowries, and arranged marriages are sustaining a hostile environment for women in the country.
Immersing yourself in a culture or population to find out its needs and not imposing your beliefs upon others are lessons that have been vital in my study and practice of public service and public health. As cultures come together and the world grows smaller, this is not the time to abandon tradition, pass judgment, or foster hatred. Throughout history, fear and misunderstanding of differences have cost our world far too much. However, the shrinking of the world has also created an opportunity to investigate the fine line between tradition and injustice. Injustices can be passed on under the guise of tradition, and are costing individuals opportunities, health, and in some cases even their lives. These things need to be talked about.
It is an accepted practice for men of India’s Perna caste to “pimp” their wives as a way to earn income for the family. A detailed article in the Pacific Standard examines the lives of Perna women and includes the following quotes:
“She met her husband on the day of her wedding, becoming his second wife at the age of 17…two years later, his prostitute”.
“I knew it would happen, it’s very normal,” she said. “I do it to earn for my family.”
“It happens to every girl.”
“You get used to it.”
The article also explains why an entire village was absent of women ages 15-45. “They are all in Bombay…” Families are paid, sometimes as little as $50 for their daughters. In Calcutta (also known as Kolkata) and Bombay (also known as Mumbai), the girls are priced according to beauty and age. “Pimps (give) them to brothel managers for “seasoning”—repeated rape—and the girls, many between 9 and 13 years old, (are) then kept in bonded labor, expected to service 10 or more customers a night for an average of $3 each.”
A recent BBC article revealed that women in Kerala, India, are being abandoned by their husbands at an alarming rate. Due to economic hardship in the area, men are getting married, taking their dowries, and moving elsewhere to find work, often times never returning. The women of Kerala, who are told that the most important aspect of their lives is to become a wife, have now lost everything. These women lack opportunity to create a life independent of their husbands, and are currently facing high rates of depression.
To me, the dowry suggests that women are inferior to men, and it often costs women much more than its monetary worth.
Outright violence such as dowry killings that occur if a man believes he should have been paid a larger dowry, or families being torn apart because of dowry discrepancies, are some of the severe consequences of dowry practice. What I hope to present here, is the problem with a tradition that creates a lack of opportunity and independence for women and sends out the message that prostituting and abandoning your wife is acceptable. This is the underlying dilemma.
Buying and selling of women is a global phenomenon. As we work to eradicate this problem, usually occurring behind closed doors, we must remember that it is also occurring in plain sight. Women are bought and sold in broad day light under the guise of marriage.
Rukshira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap, an organization that creates alternative opportunities for children of sex workers in New Dehli, explains that women in India are in danger from conception to death. “They could be victims of sex-selective abortion, if they are born they may be left out to die, if they survive they’ll get less food than their brothers, be pulled out of school to help with chores at home, be married early, risk death during pregnancy, be sold into prostitution, or die begging as widows.”
A ‘Women in the World’ article outlines inadequacies in current legislation aimed at protecting women in India, and how the caste system is playing a role in its failures.
What will it take to improve the status of women in India? Where should the line be drawn between custom and injustice?
*All images by Liz Fortier. People portrayed in the images are not related to the post.
For centuries, humans are seen as the ‘most intelligent’ of the earth-dwellers, as organisms that possess the faculties to think, exhibit and control. Our mental faculties are meant set us apart from animals— giving us better control over our animalistic instincts and thereby lending sophistication to our social behavior.
However, humankind seems to be experiencing ‘turn-ons’ and ‘turnoffs’—tiny button-like movements within us—that we can’t seem to control. Our inability to control our animalistic behavior, or situations that lead to ‘turn-ons’, make us aggressive and animalistic. When we can’t control ourselves any longer, we begin to make irrational and impulsive decisions.
The Municipal Council of Mumbai, India, has decided to take action against what seems to be a breach in the law of human behavior. Post the number of severe rape cases India has witnessed, they will be taking serious measures to prevent such occurrence, by getting rid of the stimulus that leads to such impulsive behavior.
The Municipal Council passed a resolution last month banning the display of lingerie mannequins in the city of Mumbai. These scantily clad mannequins act as ‘turn-ons’ for men who see them, making them inclined to sexually abuse women, said the Council.
City Council member Ritu Tawde said she proposed the ban of mannequins because such displays instigate men to sexually abuse women and are degrading to the image of women.
She expressed a need to revert to the traditional Indian lifestyle, one that restrained self-expression for women, confining them to the acceptable.
“Mannequins do not suit Indian culture,” said Tawde, adding that a mannequin is a replica of a woman’s body and therefore, should be dressed conservatively.
Positively speaking, I’m happy for Tawde that she thinks this way. What’s better than being restricted to wear certain kinds of clothing yourself and enforcing your fortune, or the lack of it, on the generations of women in India who might have to suffer because of your inability to adapt to change?
Tawde, and the rest of the Council believes, that the ban will effectively reduce the number of rape cases in the city of Mumbai, since men will not be ‘turned-on’ by looking at these “skimpily” clad plastic beings.
Really, I had no idea that a plastic body had the ability to sexually provoke people, but it seems like the Council has discovered a new scientific development.
Mannequins on display don’t give people the power of ‘choice’, Tawde said. “If someone wants to watch pornography on the net, it is a conscious choice they are making. In this case mannequins are everywhere and they do not have a choice.”
Tawde claims those lingerie mannequins, or any mannequin that sports a two-piece revealing outfit, displays women in an “indecent” manner.
“As per the provisions of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, women cannot be depicted in an indecent or derogatory manner that is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals” she explained herself to a news channel.
Mannequins serve as more than just instigators—they harm ‘public morality’—or beliefs that question the morality of women being emulated by the mannequins on display, and subsequently, making the men lose their morals. In other words, mannequins provoke sex-drives in men making them rape women. They outdo the porn industry. They’re the sex symbols of India. Wow.
Certainly, Tawde has no faith in the mental faculties possessed by men. I would like to bring to her attention that sexual drives originate in the mind, and essentially are subject to control. What takes a man to be turned on is irrelevant and not the question to be discussed here.
My major problem is with the fact that the Council feels the need to curb the sexual drives of men by banning the objects that drive them. Their measures seek to set a measure to the amount of clothing that is morally right to be sported by a woman. Today, they ban the display of mannequins. Tomorrow, they might start preventing women to dress in a certain way, or to walk on the roads, if we serve as a sexual stimulus.
Honestly, we can’t control who and what instigates a man. We can’t control what choices they make within their head and what makes them rape. But we certainly can control what they do.
It is up to us to put an end to the reactor, not the stimulus. We need to educate our men on rape culture. We need to kill the very existence of rapes. That won’t happen by banning the display of a mannequin, or by curbing the expression of a woman.