The Unbeatable Charm of Today’s Rebel Women
On Saturday, before entering Morland Road, stationed police officers handed out notices under multiple sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to any woman who passed them.Updated: Feb 08, 2020 23:43 IST
The morning after the Mumbai Police filed a first information report (FIR) against the protesters at Morland Road — or Mumbai Bagh as it’s been renamed since January 26 — one woman was confused about the charges levelled against her and approximately 300 others. “The police are accusing us of causing traffic jams? In Mumbai?” she asked incredulously.
Upon learning that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had complained that it was unable to complete the work on Morland Road because of Mumbai Bagh, another protester said, “Chalo, maybe now they’ll actually finish the repairs. Even if we can’t stop the NPR [National Population Register], at least we’ll be able to say we got the road fixed.”
On Saturday, before entering Morland Road, stationed police officers handed out notices under multiple sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to any woman who passed them. It’s like the Mumbai Police is the pre-cog Agatha from Minority Report — they know you’re going to protest before you do.
“Next they’ll be giving it to anyone who asks for the menu at Arabia Hotel,” someone observed wryly. (Not that anyone’s asked for a menu at Arabia Hotel in living memory. You just go for the tandoori chicken or keema with your eyes closed.)
Rumour has it that we are in a golden age of strong women. This rumour generally comes around every March (just in time for Women’s Day sales and offers. What a coinkidink), but this year, feminine grit has been making news ahead of time, thanks to the women-led protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). It’s also been on screen, in films like the critically-acclaimed Little Women, which has been nominated for six Oscars.
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel, director Greta Gerwig tried to give Little Women a modern makeover. Aside from being a bit bland, as a feminist effort, Little Women is a little confused. On one hand, there’s Gerwig suggesting the real happy ending is a woman novelist holding on to her novel’s copyrights rather than a man, but on the other, everyone in the film is so well-behaved, it’s difficult to raise a fist in solidarity. Gerwig’s rebel women are the kind that society feels unthreatened by because they don’t actually defy any conventions.
The question of whether someone is radical depends, to a large extent, on the immediate social context. For instance, Jo being a feisty tomboy wouldn’t be considered admirable in Alcott’s time, while conforming to the feminine conventions of Alcott’s society would likely be met with derision by modern audiences. Alcott’s decision to pair Jo with a grumpy old professor was also a tiny mutiny against what would be considered ideal. When Gerwig chooses to reimagine Professor Bhaer as a smouldering Frenchman and fashions Jo as an outspoken feminist, she’s actually being the opposite of radical. She’s giving the audience what it wants: Feminism in a pretty, easily-digestible, unchallenging package.
It’s not often that reality beats fiction, but when it comes to rebel women, the flesh-and-blood variety are far more inspirational than the imaginary set.
In contemporary India, for example, the spontaneous anti-CAA movements started by women — mostly Muslim, and from middle and lower-middle classes — have marked a stronger resistance than what any political party has been able to cobble together.
What too many men — including “community leaders” and the Mumbai Police — don’t understand is that these women haven’t been “provoked” by other men. Unlike many of their detractors, the protesters have educated themselves on the CAA, NRC and NPR by discussing these subjects with lawyers and activists late into the night.
They know what they’re fighting for and quite a few are thoroughly enjoying how they’re confusing both the conservatives and the liberals.
Raising the slogans that they do in their burqas and hijabs, they’re conforming to no one’s preconceived notions and fulfilling only their own expectations.