Priyanka Chopra meets Narendra Modi: What 'sanskaari' trolls tell us of battle over women's bodies
Put a cover around it,
or he will hover around it.
Cross your legs, don’t spread.
Spread your legs, show respect.
Sit straight, tuck it in.
Why then blame him for all the sin?
Hide your melons from the demons.
Be quiet. Don’t shout.
Be sober, don’t pout.
If you don’t listen, you will regret.
You are a woman, don’t you forget.
Recently, I was at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2017. The closing ceremony was hosted by theater actor Asif Ali Beg and radio jockey Rohini Ramnathan. Asif, who was in drag, asked my friend Rohini if she was a woman — to which, she directed his gaze towards her cleavage. Rohini’s mother Kala Ramnathan, seated in the front row, broke into laughter. The mother-daughter duo didn't give two hoots about what anyone else thought.
Why am I speaking about this now? Because Priyanka Chopra’s legs are the talk of the town.
“How dare she expose her legs in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?" people are asking.
I know Priyanka is India’s pride. But Priyanka’s body is not national property. Priyanka Chopra’s legs are her legs. Not yours or mine or the nation’s. There is no extra respect if she covers them, and no less if she doesn’t. She can use them to walk, or to kick some mean ones. And she does it with style. She retorted to those trolls by Instagramming a picture with her mother — in which their legs played a starring role.
And anyway, how is a woman supposed to sit? If she sits with her legs spread, she is asking for it. If she crosses one leg over the other, she is indecent.
I think what people really have an issue with, is that a woman is sitting. Because in many cultures in India, a woman doesn’t sit when a man is around. Priyanka, unintentionally, challenges all of that.
If you think this is just the story of famous people on stage, and TV and films, you are wrong.
My friend Sheetal has breasts. She is proud of them. She has heavy legs and weight around her hips. She is proud of them. She wears what she likes. Sits the way she wishes to. She is who she is, inside out. She is not afraid of her 'bosom bhakts'. If someone appreciated her “melons” (as some lechers like to call them) in the right spirit, she would smile back and say “thank you”. When I ask her to hide the awkward bra strap that pops out of her shoulder, she puts me in place by telling me — if it shows, let it. When I tell her that it looks ugly, she retorts: "Not to me". She is a rebel to many. Her breasts — she is not at war with them. She doesn’t give them more attention than they deserve. She has 'thunder thighs', but they don’t bother her much. They are hers. She asserts her right to her body and is at ease with it.
There are several Rohinis and Sheetals and Tanias and Noor Jahaans in our midst who don’t give a damn. But for those who do, internet trolling and ‘vitriol’ling could be devastating. Besides outraging the modesty of a person in the guise of sanskaars, these guardians of morality are also depicting the mentality of a patriarchal society. Plus, by joining the cacophony of several voices, they are also creating a gang online that could even push someone to the edge of mental trauma — and sometimes to the road of suicide.
Also, I question the vested interest of their “sanskaars”. How many of them had ever trolled a man for his pointed nipples or shamed him for adjusting his crotch in public? Our diktats are all directed toward women. Women need to dress decently and ‘respectfully’, is another way of saying “if you don’t dress that way, you are asking for it”. No one passes these diktats on men.
To be fair, Narendra Modi has not asked Priyanka to dress in a fully-covered salwar kurta with a dupatta covering her head, looking like an Egyptian mummy. He didn’t ask her to wear a nine-yard glittering sari, looking like aluminum foil wrap either. He didn’t expect her to smear her forehead with tax-free sindoor. He, in fact, celebrated her talent. These trolls give Modi a bad name.
Of course, laughter is free. Judgments are easy-peasy. But nothing can take away the right of a woman to be who she wants to be. It is easy to blame a woman for her dress or use it to justify our twisted idea of respect. It is difficult to challenge the patriarchal norms that have been passed on from generation to generation. These women have done it — with just about two-and-a-half metres of cloth. Or much lesser than that.
I'd like to leave you with what one of my short-skirt-wearing friends says: “Taangein hain, black money nahi joh chipaati phirun!” Yes, world — women have legs. Why should they hide them?