So I guess May is dirty dancing month. First, a video of Suraj Thakur, president of the Mumbai unit of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Congress party's student wing went viral. He was dancing in it -- naked, or perhaps undressed. Two other members of the party, said one paper, were also caught “shaking their leg with him.” This made me giggle, but the Congress was not amused and promptly suspended him.
Then there was a young lady who, after a little partying one night at the MIG club in Bandra east, was walking to her car via the short cut through their cricket maidan, when she decided the party wasn't over and decided to strip right there and dance. “It seemed like her idea of fun,” said a member.
Unlike the NSUI which had merely suspended the allegedly- misbehaving member, the MIG club decided to punish everyone. They shut the grounds after 8 pm, so now no one can use it as a short-cut to their cars, including happy strippers. Na bajega baans, na bajegi bansuri one can hear them say.
Personally, I think Mr Thakur’s private shenanigans are no one’s business -- he wasn’t hurting anyone by what he did. That the video ended up in a public forum allowed people to be offended, but his act was a private one. Suspension is a tacit acknowledgement of this grey area -- it is merely a reprimand meant to appease protestors and tick the offender off for being caught.
The MIG lady stripper was of course in a public space. While she may not have been causing discomfort to anyone but herself, it is undeniable that her behaviour disrespected some unsaid norms of behaviour of the club. In an inversion of Groucho Marx one could say if you don’t like the people of your club, don’t join that club.
So, to have penalised the woman would have been fair enough. But to penalise everyone seems curious.
Yet it’s not so unusual. The very presence of women in public spaces continues to be a matter of unease. Their behaving in a less than conforming manner -- whether for good or for ill -- seems to call up a desire to clamp down. This could be shutting down dance bars or cops saying couples should not be out at night because they can’t be responsible for the safety of canoodlers. The underlying message is always that women in the public space are inherently a problem for the public. The disciplinary responses imply that were women not out and about, the space could continue as before. Everything would be ‘normal’.
It is the same in the newer public spaces -- like the virtual world. The feminist activist Kavitha Krishnan recently faced terrible sexual abuse on a Rediff public chat, and despite complaints, Rediff was rather sluggish in responding to the situation. Women who speak up online -- and are in fact sometimes offensive in doing so -- bring out a violently aggressive response especially from men.
But getting police or web administrators to respond is usually hard. Their complaints are often not taken seriously (it’s only virtual) and police have been known to ask why it’s necessary for women to give their opinions on social media. It’s as if to say -- were the women not there, the atmosphere would never be vitiated, and so, the only way to make the world a better place would be for women to never be out in
Sometimes you understand why women get so damn pissed off, they just want to strip in your face and blow the supposed niceties of the world out of the window, no?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.