You might have a maa-behen but don’t consider me one

Pallavi Sareen

Everyone is familiar with the “tumhare ghar mei maa behen nhi hai kya” dialogue which acts as a go-to catchphrase whenever respect for women is talked about. But the funny matter is how the same people who refer to this catchphrase, accompany it with a string of cuss words abusing the same mother and sister that one is demanding respect for. Or perhaps a different mother and sister but nonetheless, just the two. The aunts, daughters or let’s say even individuals who refuse to be bound by these relation tags are excluded from this contradictory mess.

And I would say I much prefer those who avoid it. I have seen my brother say ‘behenchod’ in front of me, his sister. And I have seen plenty of people (even girls) cussing in the name of the same gender that they are trying to defend or demand respect for.

Because this is a common practice, these words almost a daily slang and who doesn’t cuss in today’s time? It’s a way of outpouring frustrations and everyone knows we got lots of those.

We live in a society of invisible force fields. These might be called hegemonic propaganda but to confer the term in easier words, it is better to picture it as a force field which makes the obvious invisible to us. The logic goes out the window, rationality is overpowered by casual practices and even the sanest of being falls prey to it every once in a while.

It is a common practice, almost one of respect that you don’t call a ‘deaf’ a ‘deaf’ to his face. You don’t call a blind, blind or a poor, poor. It’s common knowledge. He knows it. You know it. And it is not something to be audibly acknowledged.

Yet the same courtesy doesn’t seem to extend to women. I often hear these words:

You’re a woman. Know your limits.

You’re a woman after all.

You know how today’s world is for women.

Somehow, the preachers of these chants forget that a woman knows who she is, what she is, what she can and can’t do, what she shouldn’t and shan’t do.

Have you heard that little story about an old woman crossing the road? A little boy goes and helps her cross the road while she keeps yelling at the boy. The boy gets angry and asks her, “why are you yelling at me? I just helped you cross the road.” The lady says, “I never wanted to cross the road in the first place. I already crossed it. My home is on the other side.”

Somehow the common courtesy of helping the ones who need it gets over-exaggerated in women’s case as well. It is good to help someone who wants to be helped or needs genuine support.

Yet, not every woman does. It is just as derogatory and misogynistic to assume that every woman requires assistance in everything. The cases of Love Jihad showcase it. How young women who don’t know what they are doing are ‘helped’ by mobs who lynch their husbands!

Because, of course, a woman, no matter how old, cannot make a rational decision about who she marries. So, of course, there must be some assistance from the men in the family, or even from outsiders in helping her make those decisions.

Get the gist of it? Now you understand what I mean by the invisibility of logic?

This kind of scene is most evident in the corporate world, or let’s say ‘working’ world. Where is that help when a woman actually needs it? In rearing a child, in household work and let’s not forget, cooking. It’s a real pain.

Are these the things everyone assumes a woman acquires naturally?

Are these not areas she might need help in?

But unfortunately, the assistance is extended in only specified areas, and often undesired ones. I remember how I once had a fight with my brother in a theatre hall and a man sitting behind me came to the forefront, slapped my brother first and then asked me what was wrong.

He was only protecting me from being harassed or disrespected, he said. And I asked if I had actually asked for help or yelled that someone was harassing me?

On the other hand, when I was actually travelling in a train once and found myself in an unwanted situation where a person came to sit next to me and started verbally harassing me, I looked around me for any sort of help, shocked to the core and baffled as to what I could do. And yet, there was nothing and no one.

The man had waited until another man travelling with me had left to make his move. This shows the kind of invisible domination tendency that men share with one another.

Why is it that you cannot harass a girl if she is with a guy but if she is alone or with a girl, it is free reign?

Why is it that a girl on her own might require help and assistance, even unwanted intervention but if it is a personal matter between a husband and a wife, even one of domestic abuse, the invisible respect for a man ensures no other man speaks up?

Why is there such invisible misogyny that is ever existing in everyone’s minds?

And when you call yourself a feminist, are you really one? Or are you an invisible misogynist/ unwanted bodyguard?