Rebel Women, tracing seventy years of personal mutinies

How different is the life of a 20 year old girl in the 1970s from that of a 20 year old girl in 2018? 

In the 1800s a woman wore pants to exhibit her right to vote and perhaps also be comfortable while doing so. Nearly two centuries later in 2017, #metoo questioned work place harassment by calling out predators and tormentors fuelling change with a very different sort of rebellion through social media. We found it interesting that the rebellion of every age represents in some sense the status of women in society in that particular age.

However, it must be said that the status of any group of women in different parts of the world can never be the same at any point in time, divided as they are by geography, economy, race and privilege. Which is why, we chose a small section of society, women belonging to the same economic background but a decade apart in age and interviewed them about their personal rebellions in their 20s. The project is an attempt to document the changing status of women in society. 

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 Rasheeda lives with her daughter-in-law, grandchildren and daughter's family in a quaint and beautiful ancestral home in Crawford market.

Rasheeda lives with her daughter-in-law, grandchildren and daughter's family in a quaint and beautiful ancestral home in Crawford market.

Rasheeda Bansara Officewala, Tutor and Homemaker

Age: 70s

“When I was younger, I had no aspirations, all I wanted to do was get married and settle down. That's how it was then. But it wasn't meant to be, my life is full of heartbreaks. My divorce at that time was the greatest rebellion for me. But although my family was against it, I stood my ground. In fact, when my husband sent thugs to takeover the house I didn’t give in, I was adamant. After the divorce, I raised my kids by myself and chose to lead a simple but dignified life.”

 
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 Rupal a cancer survivor, has never lived by the norm it would seem. She's worked in various professions, as a beautician, hairstylist, model, designer and chef until she found her calling in counselling. 

Rupal a cancer survivor, has never lived by the norm it would seem. She's worked in various professions, as a beautician, hairstylist, model, designer and chef until she found her calling in counselling. 

Rupal Bhatt, Counsellor

Age: Late 50s  

“Getting married again when both of us had kids of our own was a very bold step for me. But I had great support from my mother. In fact, I could only think of another marriage because everyone supported me. Our kids were very encouraging and made an effort to get along with each other. Honestly, I would not change a single thing about my life.”

 
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 Shirley has been a successful garment exporter for nearly two decades while her sister Soni worked as an expert finance controller and now consults companies for optimisation of resources. The two sisters have always chosen their own paths including staying unmarried despite pressure and making a living in professions they loved and not ones that were considered 'correct' for them as women.  

Shirley has been a successful garment exporter for nearly two decades while her sister Soni worked as an expert finance controller and now consults companies for optimisation of resources. The two sisters have always chosen their own paths including staying unmarried despite pressure and making a living in professions they loved and not ones that were considered 'correct' for them as women.  

Shirley and Soni, Garment Exporter and Financial Controller

Age: Early 50s

“We decided to go for a late night party. We waited for our father to fall asleep and then put our plan into action. Everything was jugaad that day, our outfits were mismatched, our earrings from here and there only our little ten year old brother who accompanied us wore a coat. I don’t remember how we went, I think we took a cab? The party was on the rooftop of some building, oddly enough our brother remembers seeing a man with a snake around his neck, but I don't recall that. If daddy knew we were going out for a late night party we would've had it, but mummy was in on it. Which is probably why she left the door open, we went through the door, jumped over the grill and got out. For that time our little escapade was unheard of in an upper crust Sindhi family and ‘good character girls' like us.”

 
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 Ruksheda took up psychiatry at a time when it wasn't a popular field in medicine in fact it still isn't, a prominent  TEDx speaker  she has always made unconventional life choices. 

Ruksheda took up psychiatry at a time when it wasn't a popular field in medicine in fact it still isn't, a prominent TEDx speaker she has always made unconventional life choices. 

Dr Ruksheda Syeda, Psychiatrist/Tedx Speaker

Age: 40s

 “I think being a minority is something I have fallen into and I choose. Being born as an Indian woman and as a Muslim citizen, is a universal second-class citizenship. I’m above the average height for Indian women, that again is some sort of a minority and then I choose to wear a hijab. So, when I started wearing a hijab in 1992, there were hardly any people who would wear one. Naturally, people did not know how to react to me and what I wore in my medical college. Old matrons would come and ask me why I wear a hijab when I’m so educated and I would tell them, you also wear a mangalsutra, a bindi and a saree to the conferences, you are also educated. All my life I have probably made very different choices but I did not even think I was rebelling. I just did what I felt like.”

 
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 Sharin runs the popular art and culture space HIVE and black box theatre Cuckoo Club. You can also find her chatting up your favourite authors and readers on  Books on Toast  on YouTube. 

Sharin runs the popular art and culture space HIVE and black box theatre Cuckoo Club. You can also find her chatting up your favourite authors and readers on Books on Toast on YouTube. 

Sharin Bhatti, Culture Entrepreneur and Creative Consultant

Age: 30s

(Sharin wrote to us about her rebellion)

I have a strange confession to make. I love to do laundry. While most people dread the pile, wash, dry and fold routine - for me it's the most meditative moment of the day. Something about the soap and rinse routine makes me feel that everything can be washed away and made to feel soapy new. A lot like long showers, where my best ideas come from. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to break free - from home, from school, from society, from myself. My parents would worry about this inane rebellious streak in me, specifically because it was without cause. I grew up in a very loving and protective household in Chandigarh and our nuclear unit was very nurturing. Yet my mind would take off on its own flights of fancy yearning for a sense of purpose. After much trial and error from wanting to becoming a doctor to a psychologist to a poet to journalist to writer and now a culture entrepreneur - I spent my 20s rebelling against everything and everyone with a quiet temerity that was obstinate and well, silly. I moved cities, careers, addresses, cliques, from loves ones, to loved ones, from molesting uncles, abusive relationships, judgemental societies who frowned upon 'bachelor' girls to freedom - all in a singular purpose to find myself. Every misstep and failure taught me something new and I came out stronger, surer, fresher, purposeful. A lot like doing laundry. The spin cycle set to a quick wash cleanses everything - even a quiet rebellion.  

 
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 An ex-copywriter, Manaswi now writes for the wildly popular AIB, she co-wrote the sketch  A Woman's Besties  amongst many others. 

An ex-copywriter, Manaswi now writes for the wildly popular AIB, she co-wrote the sketch A Woman's Besties amongst many others. 

Manaswi Mohata, Writer at AIB

Age: Late 20s

 “I remember when I was getting out of college my teacher said something to the effect of  ‘Oh, you will get a job very easily, you’re a pretty girl!’ I was so taken aback with that statement, I think that has always been an insecurity and I tend to overcompensate for it. I remember I used to dress down and I’d go around like a slob, a part of it was because I did not want to be recognised just for what I wear and how I look…”

 
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 Angelique, fondly called Angie who identifies as gender queer and does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions, is a spoken word artist amongst other things. In an interesting conversation we discussed everything from their insights on the LGBTQIA community and their campaigning for mental health awareness and fight against rape culture. 

Angelique, fondly called Angie who identifies as gender queer and does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions, is a spoken word artist amongst other things. In an interesting conversation we discussed everything from their insights on the LGBTQIA community and their campaigning for mental health awareness and fight against rape culture. 

Angelique Pinto, Student/ Activist   

Age: Early 20s

"My world views are very different from those of my parents. They (my parents) are very radical but there are many things that they don’t get. In our family we don’t talk about what is going on in society. Even though my mental health issues have been around since I was 12, there has never been a conversation about it and it is frustrating for me. So, I don’t know… it’s complicated but we are working on it.” 

 

Story by Aparna Varma

Photography by Anish Sarai

Editor/Creative Director Meera Ganapathi

 

 

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