The context of choice

The word of the week, was, for better or for worse, choice. Thanks to a certain empowerment video, it was used in several expressive registers. The video used it with earnestness, with a child's sense of being bold which made some grown-ups giggle (mea culpa) and stricter grown-ups bristle. People responded by using it indignantly, analytically and parodically (mea culpa again).

Deepika Padukone in the recently-released My Choice video
Deepika Padukone in the recently-released My Choice video

This video taught me something important. Even the most opinionated among us (mea culpa) sometimes feel it's hard being in the minority when the majority feels very annoyed by minority dissent.

So it was, that though I was aghast at the video, I decided to say nothing. I didn't want to waste several hours explaining myself and still end up feeling unpopular. Again.

Thanks to my reprobate friends and my inability to resist a joke, this exemplary self-restraint didn't last long. And this time around, I found there were a lot more people roughly in the corner where I was standing than I'm used to. In fact, as more articles and parodies followed, many commented on social media with: Oh thank God, I thought I was the only one. In every sense, I guess.

When something is 'viralising' people get annoyed with dissenters. They did now as well -- people were being cynical. Something is better than nothing. Come on, yaar, it's a fashion magazine, what do you expect? It's a social awareness campaign -- what are they getting from it?

Never mind that there's no reason to stereotype fashion magazines, poor little rich things, as incapable of thought. That's like saying pretty girls will always be bimbos. Come on. Secondly, they do get something from it -- brand building via an issue that matters very much to a lot of people right now, even if everyone is grappling with many confusions around 'the woman question.'

The important thing is -- why should all criticism be categorised under “haters gonna hate”? This is a clever (but stupid in the long term) way of not listening. It is to act as if those who criticise have no identity except to be occupational rabble rousers and so, dismiss the work they do, their research, analysis, activism, insight all of which may have been built up over years. You don't have to agree with what they say, but you needn't be threatened by it. If you can see the context it's offering, you might find it has something to do with your context too.

There is a word for this uni-dimensional absolute agreement: totalitarianism. We arrive at it by denying that there are contexts other than ours. By insisting that we are all in an identical context, we insist that everyone must see things one way or they are a fishy lot.

In fact if Homi Adajania's video suffered from something besides derivative imagery and baby-drool commentary, it is precisely this: it seems to have no awareness that there are other people outside the video's somewhat crony-istic context whose insights offer a different way of talking about these same ideas. Cronyism robs us of multiple contexts in our thinking and it leads us to mediocrity.

The refusal to enjoy diversity in debate is enforcing a cronyism of opinion. Those who fear counter opinions, should just remember -- it is the unpopular, counter opinions of feminists over decades that have allowed the word 'choice' to be a cornerstone of our existence today, to become an idea we take for granted, to circulate in the mainstream. For the ongoing enrichment of us all, for the struggle against a mediocre existence, this dissenting expression should be celebrated not feared (note to self).

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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