Friday, July 3, 2009

Authority, rights and the single woman

Today the High Court annulled Section 377 which criminalized 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature'. This was mainly used to persecute homosexuals, but technically also could be read to prohibit oral sex. Understandably, this is a big day for India- and not just the LGBT community. This is not just the end of a 8 year struggle for gay rights activists in India but hopefully, the beginning of the end of far too many years of judging people by one facet of their lives. It is a good thing, and I am happy.

Interestingly, today I had my own little struggle for my rights, but I have not won yet. Today was the day I told my landlady of the Wonderful One and that he would be coming here. For those who do not know yet, a single-woman tenant needs to ask her landlady for permission before she can have guests over, and permission for guests of the male persuasion is generally not forthcoming. However, I did this in as proper a manner as I could. I got my sister to speak with her to add legitimacy to the whole thing; went to her with mithai in my hands. The response? My landlady, who's 60 if she is a day, needs to ask her mother for permission! and so, I will be on tenterhooks till Monday.

I am saddened by all this. This issue is not just of having the One over, though that is definitely a part of it. I am angered that we need to grovel for wanting something so simple- sharing coffee in the mornings, walking home together from work. Doesn't seem like much to ask for, does it? But I can, and will, move heaven and earth for that. The thing that saddens me is that a single woman, whether 33 or 60 is not allowed respect, not allowed authority.

Take me, for instance. I needed to get my sis, and probably will need to get my mum to speak with the landlady to 'legitimize' my love. In the course of the conversation, my landlady told my sis, " If you take responsibility for her, it's ok". What? Why? I am a sane, functional adult. Why should the person with whom I shared my childhood 'take responsibility' for me? My plan B involves requesting my boss to speak on my behalf. I know this will work. A bearded masculine pillar of local society can convince my landlady the way a female voice from 2000 kms away cannot. But knowing this, I resent it. I resent being forced to ask for help. Asking my sis is bad enough, but only from a feminism point of view. Having to ask my boss for a personal favour is a whole different kettle of fish altogether.

But I feel sorry for my landlady too. Generally, for all 'unpleasant' conversations- i.e. those that involve exercising authority- she brings in her brother as a sort of shadowy bogeyman. " my brother was asking why the rent is late", "my brother wont like it if you have guests over" etc. And today, she brought in her mother. Is it that a woman is refused authority even when a senior citizen?

Why is it that single women are considered children no matter what their actual age might be? People assume that I live off instant noodles cooked off a hotplate when they learn I live alone. No, I don’t. I stopped doing that at 17. Now, I have a functional kitchen and cook pasta from scratch on weekends. I am also aware that children aren't brought by storks or found under cabbages. Would you believe that even now relatives and colleagues change the topic and hush things up saying, " you won't understand" when I walk into a sex-related conversation?

And despite all this, I am lucky. Lucky my mum and sis love the One- if for no reason other than that they once saw him look at me with open love in his eyes. Lucky that the One understands this and is patient when far too many precious online dates are spent agonizing about my landlady troubles. Lucky that I have options.

And above all, as I write this, I think of the Sarpanch of a village I had visited to resolve a water conflict. It was a drought year, and the only water available was in a farm pond constructed by the NGO I worked for then. The main village and the harijan vasti were fighting over rights to use that water. I was upset by this. Seeing my distress, the Sarpanch told me to be glad they have something to fight over. If the pond were not there, there would be no fight, but that would not be preferred, would it?

No, it wouldn't. I am lucky.


wendigo said...

much strength to you... nothing drains us like the judgement of strangers. and yes, that cuppa coffee is so very precious. hugs!

Gina said...

Keep on fighting, sister, even if through "subversive" methods.