A different relationship to land

Updated: Aug 17, 2019, 20:29 IST | Paromita Vohra

Why these matrimonial fantasists think women around them are not desirable or marriageable is unclear, or maybe, hopefully it's the other way round

A different relationship to land
Illustration/Uday Mohite

GuideDo you remember those old Hindi films in which there would often be a particular type of fellow: weak, venal, who would become enamoured by the fantasy woman of the club. She, in turn, was rarely interested in him, and if she was, he almost always treated her badly in the end. Meanwhile, a woman at home, mother, sister, sometimes wife, in tattered sari, would look desperately at empty tins of grain and wonder how to buy medicine for a feverish child. Sometimes, her suffering in sobbing silence would result in a prodigal return. Sometimes she dies, causing belated remorse.

These movies came to mind when the BJP MLA from Muzaffarpur district declared that bachelors could now marry 'gori' Kashmiri girls, now that Kashmir has been declared a Union Territory. That Kashmiri women might have some say, yaniki, choice in the matter does not seem to be part of the script of this fantasy film. Well, gents are not exactly toppers in the subject of choice and consent, nor are these modes most of us are encouraged to think in, in a culture of rote roles and milestones.

Why these matrimonial fantasists think women around them are not desirable or marriageable is unclear, or maybe, hopefully it's the other way round. I wonder if women around these men feel angry when they hear such all-round disrespect. But perhaps, they have been schooled into subsuming their identity as women into their community or regional identities. Perhaps, they know their anger counts only when supporting this dominant anger.

Such declarations reveal as much about the attitude to women as the attitude to land, a territorial attitude of conquest and taking, rather than the approach of a relationship on mutual terms. Land and women are to be owned; their desires, their roles, their purpose are defined solely by the desiring party.

Where has this approach of territoriality over respect, singular development over rooted progress actually led? For a week now, Sangli, Kolhapur, various parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka have seen unprecedented flooding. People have been posting pictures of houses eight feet deep in water and videos of boats capsizing. The government was missing and people have been trying their best to help themselves. A friend shared pictures of a rickshaw driver, who took off the fibreglass hood of his rickshaw to make a makeshift boat for others.

As with Mumbai's annual monsoon breakdowns, citizens helplessly helping themselves is always praised as resilience, much like women with restricted lives suffering silently are praised as the epitome of noble sacrifice, as if they had a choice.

Laws in which women cannot be surrogates as workers, but can do so 'altruistically', nobly; triple talaq bill, which criminalise men instead of protecting women cater to patriarchal fantasies rather than responding to women's reality. That would require seeing women as individuals with divergent choices. Colonial approaches, capitalist approaches, nationalist approaches that look at land as territory to own and exploit, not a place people live in, play out fantasies of domination, and have left us with gathering crises of climate, flooding, drought, deprivation as well as political and cultural violence.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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