So much has already been said and written on the daily horrors faced by women in India. So what can a dancer add? Some rasa, perhaps! Women in the classical world are a tad more fortunate than all other women simply because the classical dance scene in India has evolved primarily as a women-centric and women-dominated profession. In dance they are not just on the top, they are the centre-stage, basking in the spotlight, celebrated in all media platforms — and denying space to the male counterparts. Men in the classical arts feel threatened by the female-force, and behind-the-back complaints from male members of the classical dance fraternity is not unusual!
Classical dance celebrates the female. Female emotion is delineated in its fullest detail. Every inflection to her body and soul is celebrated. Every micro-emotion is unveiled in great detail. And the way the classical dance repertoire has evolved, the paucity of male themes and male-oriented themes forces male dancers to embrace female themes and delineate female emotions! So being a man in a primarily female world is as difficult as being a female in a predominantly male outside world. Am I being understood?
My concerns about the female space in urban spaces is linked directly to the feeling of insecurity that my all-female battery of students face. If rehearsals are delayed at night, they cannot access public transport. If they have to buy supplies from a local market, they have to bunch up in sets of twos and threes. Safety for them is in numbers; solo is vulnerable. Even my daughter, empowered and strong, calls home before boarding the metro so that a vehicle meets her as she disembarks. Yes, the metro is safe. But the brief walk home from the station at the other end is not. Catcalls, hoots, brazen body grazes, the commodification of a woman’s person is a constant cultural hazard even in urbane urban India. What can be done? I would like to share some ideas. Let us unveil what I have labelled the Charter of the Vowels. It returns us to the very basics. A: Assuring Access—This is a first key step in women’s security. All structures, the state, civil society, media and society have to commit themselves in providing access to women. Politically, socially and economically, women need to be assured of better access of to rights and services. A majority of women in our nation cannot even access sanitary supplies!
E: Ensuring Equality and Equity — This is a huge cultural challenge and requires a tsunami in changing mindsets. Despite so many laws and legal decisions and interpretations in jurisprudence, the Indian mindset is an unchanging staccato. The idea of equality is abhorrent to millions of men in India and equity remains a foggy frontier.
I: Identifying Injustice: The challenge remains of identifying injustices that women are meted from conception to cremation. Throughout her whole life-cycle women are perennial victims of innumerable injustices. Justice is often portrayed as female. In fact, it is the absence of justice that should play the female role.
O: Obtaining Opportunities: The struggle for women to obtain opportunities in all domains is a constant. Women are now facing e-discrimination. As the society progresses, more and more domains are added to those that do not offer fair opportunities to women.
U: Unlearning the Unconstitutional: The Indian Constitution is one of the finest in the world. Yet we need to see that it does not remain a piece of ineffective fiction in the lives of half of our population. We need to unceasingly evaluate whatever is unconstitutional and must embrace unlearning to erase all such practices.
My Charter of the Vowels is simple. Do we have the guts to go for it? Let’s dance towards it with all ten toes!