In the anti-Romeo climate we live in, can Juliet survive? And by Juliet, I mean a woman who can fearlessly wear her heart on her sleeve and pick her Romeo, without being judged for it, in whatever part of India she may live in.
Recently, a friend asked why I was being a “liberal”. He shared memories of studying in a government school in north India over two decades ago, along with his sister. His mother recalled her daughter returning home traumatised from school, because she would be scared off by boys who hid under blankets and then emerged to boo their female classmates. Her brother, then about 14 years old, remembers the boys (rather men, aged about 22 since they had flunked repeatedly) would ask to be introduced to the girls he was friendly with. To quote him, “If a girl so much as looked up at them, they would take it as a sign of interest.”
In Allahabad, he remembers girls hardly venturing out at night, making him wonder if the sex ratio of the city was skewed. The only females he met growing up were aunts and cousins. But does that mean men and women can’t be friends, as declared by several in positions of authority? Definitely not. As the true liberal that he is, he agreed with me.
While the threat of eve-teasing is real, the solution isn’t to lock girls inside the home and boys behind bars. As journalist Ravish Kumar’s stirring piece for a website recently pointed out, “Tum devi ho, Juliet nahin” (You can be a goddess, but not a Juliet). Women are complicit in making villains out of boyfriends, lovers and friends through their silence, thus giving society the right to control and curb our movement.
In the film Anarkali of Arrah, Swara Bhaskar’s character takes on a public figure and teaches him a lesson on learning to pay heed when a woman says no. When she makes her escape to Delhi, as men lust after her in an eatery, her saviour comes in the form of a gentleman, who falls at her feet, calling her a “Devi”. Why can’t a woman be a Devi and a Juliet?
Take the case of Irom Sharmila, who faced a humiliating defeat at the election, simply because she declared that love (and her boyfriend who she planned to marry) was a priority. The electorate couldn’t handle their goddess, who had sacrificed so much for them over the years, suddenly deciding to turn into a Juliet.
On the other hand, it was left to Shashi Tharoor to politely shut down a campaign that wanted him declared as Prime Ministerial candidate, notwithstanding murky details of his private life spilling out not so long ago, without apparently denting his public profile. Actor Kangana Ranaut, too, has faced the brunt of unpopularity, simply because she never set out to be liked in the first place. The only women who seem to win are the ones who can maintain a balance, between being opinionated and nurturing, such as Sushma Swaraj, who was even offered kidneys by a fawning Twitterati when she needed a transplant. All because she goes out of her way to reunite families and deals with requests in an efficient, but matronly fashion.
It’s time for us women to step off the pedestal and be dealt with on our terms. We may need our pepper sprays and a helpline number that responds timely, but definitely don’t need moral policing. We must not be afraid to upset the balance or to publicly redeem the Romeos that need saving, while exposing the frogs as we give our inner Juliet free rein.