• Breaking it Down: The Modern Indian Woman

    The Shilpa Shetty moment this week should be ample evidence to all of you that culture does matter. Literature and reading may be important for no other reason in the 21st century than to avoid tripping up on social media. Be warned!

    Of course I’m joking — the point of literature, apart from elevating your soul, is probably to help you learn more about people, the world, empathy, and even, what makes you tick. Reading can teach you about cultures, history, it expands your universe and horizons (and imagination), in a way that no stodgy text book can do. And while writing a book can also help you process and distil some of your own world-view, nothing like chatting with writers to get a macro-picture of some realities.

    Also Read: SheThePeople.TV Panel at the TOI Literature Festival

    This past week, at the Times Lit fest, I got the chance to moderate a panel with three amazing women, all writers — investigative journalist Swati Chaturvedi,  Kavita Kane, and Malavika Rajkotia, a lawyer specialising in family law, who is also soon going to be out with her book Intimacy Undone. We were gathered to discuss the “devi-dayan trap” for modern Indian women — and actually had a blast doing so.

    Also Watch: Excerpts from the Devi-Dayan Session 

    What struck me was how quickly women can develop a sort of shared bond or sense of camaraderie while talking about ways in which they’ve been stereotyped by gender, even as we all prefer to move past or plough on through to a gender-neutral world.

    So a little ambition might be good and practical, but ambitious women? Kindly step aside. This isn’t the stuff of fiction: Malavika Rajkotia detailed how it comes up in divorce petitions.

    A little sexual empowerment may be good (and objectification – amirite?) but a sexually empowered, confident woman? Makes people uncomfortable. (And notice I said people – it’s not just men who get rattled.)

    Girls can be “tomboys” but as they grow into women, please, a little femininity. Is that too much to ask for? And for god’s sake, women, please pick appropriate profession or at least areas within your inappropriate professions that are gender-appropriate. Goodness knows the world is topsy-turvy enough. Swati Chaturvedi has stories aplenty about being a senior investigative journalist, navigating a boy’s club and also… not being taken seriously by interns because of her gender.

    Amrita Breaking it Down banner

    Also Read: Swati Chaturvedi on Her Novel Daddy’s Girl

    We had a blast discussing all of this, while looking at breaking stereotypes — and acknowledging the privilege from which we speak — even as privately we laughed about all the inappropriate questions we’ve fielded over the years (journalists might trump all for these stories).

    We did get a range of interesting questions — including for Kavita Kane on why she chooses to focus on the “bad” characters in Indian mythology, those with shades of grey… she likes looking at marginalised characters and comes up against the stereotypes there. There were probing questions on feminism and gender rights, as well as how gender/ the gender conversations will stack up in a world that will be dominated by AI. Ulp. Coming soon! To a reality near you.

    Also Read: Kavita Kane  Tells Stories of Unsung Women from Mythology

    All said and done, it was a fun conversation and the audience was amazing — first time I saw a majority of a group identify with the idea of equal rights for all genders & identify as feminists. That’s a shiny silver lining to the often-dismal news we hear. Hold on to these pockets of resistance.