After the tumultuous 2020, 2021 began as a year of hope. We collectively hoped for the pandemic to become less restrictive on our lives and struggled with loss, grief, professional setbacks, as well as the failure of public health infrastructure.
Most of us found relief in the digital world, books, exchange of opinions, art and relationships. At FII also, we spent 2021 working from home, only meeting our team members through the screen. But our growing community of readers, writers and supporters helped us to sail through and we were able to curate some relevant, moving, important content despite the challenges.
You sustained us, and we hope we helped you hang on too, with our work. Here are 21 pieces on FII from 2021 that you loved reading.
The article is a commentary on how it is essential to critically navigate the discourse of sex and the culture that encompasses it and that it should never be divorced from the material reality of a patriarchal system. When sex liberation came to the feminist scene in early 1990s, several questions regarding the coercion of women’s agency to perform for the patriarchy were raised. It wasn’t long before BDSM became a mainstream part of sex culture.
The essay attempts to advocate looking at sex with a positive, empowering approach. Sadomasochism and limitless sexual availability, as represented in porn and pop culture, has become the benchmark of a sexually liberated female person. It is important that we start telling young girls who are afraid of being seen as prudes by their peers that sex should be about them.
Written by Aazhi, the article dissects how anti-caste discourse often uses diversion tactics to create controversies around Periyar’s marriage with Maniammai. While reading articles on Periyar, we would definitely come across comments like “He married his adopted daughter… is this feminism?”, “a pedophile who married his daughter”, “a womaniser” and an innocent looking “is it true he married his own daughter (adopted)?”.
These blatantly ignorant comments intended to throw shade at Periyar that appear not-so-harmful are quite dangerous in fact. Aazhi delves into the facts of Periyar’s marriage putting to rest several rumours and presenting the case of an equitable companionship. She writes: One of the most popular photographs of Maniammai and Periyar shows both of them seated together: quite different from the conventional photographs taken of married couples where one person is seated and another stands. This photo is reflective of their marriage- two equals, two consenting adults who have gotten into the contract of marriage. Who is anyone to say anything about it?
Written by Meghna Mehra, this article focuses on how several women from upper caste, privileged households, instead of acknowledging their privileges, throw all women under the bus (metaphorically) when it comes to talking about gender equality. A social commentary, the article observes how this includes bashing women for not having a work-life balance, using choice as an excuse without understanding that every woman doesn’t have similar choices to make. The essay observes how some women’s internalised misogyny harms all women.
However, Meghna clarifies that this article is not a personal attack; rather, it is an observation and viewpoint to provide criticism and to explain why a certain group of women do so.
Written by Sadhika Saha, the article talks about the culture of glorifying the sacrificial aspect of motherhood. This, in turn, has led mothers to be put on a pedestal verbally while simultaneously erasing the fact that she is ultimately human and has needs just like every other person in the family.
Sadhika raises poignant questions: Should the strength of endurance be compared to the mental strength of a person? More importantly, is it even voluntary endurance when she does not have a choice but to adhere to the expectations and labels the society has set on her?
Written by Anvi as Enjoy Enjaami was rapidly breaking chartbuster records, the article attempts to look at the song for what it essentially is: a song of resistance, the vivacity of the visuals of which so striking that Anvi had to play Enjoy Enjaami twice before she was able to turn her attention to the ‘deeper meaning’ of the lyrics.
The article is the result of Anvi’s understanding of the caste politics that the song aims to subvert. She observes how Dalit art has always been a celebration of transgression of the regressive caste boundaries that have been imposed upon them. The mainstream ‘Indian’ music scene is, as Arivu himself states, Brahmanical and patriarchal, and is hostile to subaltern artists. So, when the video of Enjoy Enjaami opens with the lush green forest and drumbeats that are loud enough to shake the earth below them, it is a sense of freshness that engulfs the senses of the viewers.
Written by Sudipta Das, this review attempts to comprehend the messiness of feelings while watching Geeli Pucchi, the short from the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Dastaan, that attempts to unravel intersectionalities of caste, sexuality, power, and privilege.
Sudipta observes how the Neeraj Ghaywan short doesn’t shy away from portraying women characters who make questionable moral choices, though the contextualisation of their intent and action eventually makes it difficult to hold them accountable on moral grounds. The story is elusive in its depiction of the vulnerability of queerness and caste, it breaks the monotony of ‘aspirational heroines’, it wistfully taps on desire — desire of both kinds, of love and dignity, Sudipta writes.
Written by Mansi Bhalerao, this is an analytical essay that attempts to trace the trajectory of moral policing in India, wherein the most recurring area of contestation is sexuality. Controlling the sexuality, especially of women and sexual minorities takes center stage since expressions of non-normative sexualities and desires are considered as ‘western’ imports. Mansi observes how the family becomes the site where the material body is disciplined and socialised and the female body becomes a site for social control.
Written by Meghna Mohandas, this is a deeply personal yet a scathing commentary on policing the bodies of women while normalising how “men will be men”. Right from the age of 13 when Meghna was shamed by the boys in her class for her developing breasts to the age of 18 when she was body-shamed by people in college to the extent of justifying how “it would motivate me to make my body better” to now as a person with PCOS at the age of 28 still coming to terms with her body, there is a lot in Meghna’s essay to relate to.
Written by Tapti Bose, the article dives right into how the concept of an ideal worker or employee could only apply to an able-bodied, upper-caste or upper-class, privileged man and not women, especially if they are mothers trying to figure out work-life balance in a post pandemic era.
Such an employee is one who has no other engagement beyond the work and workplace and prioritises the same above everything else. Such an employee is available 24×7 on email or phone and even physically. The ideal employee is one who can travel at short notice any time, does not need to take leave for the sake of children and works till late hours, Tapti succinctly observes.
Priyanka Singh interviews the inimitable and relentless Nrithya Pillai, who in the Bharatanatyam world, is known to be a powerful voice of dissent, asking tough questions and taking a critical look at the dance form and its problematic history. The 33-year-old Bharatanatyam artist and teacher, is connected to the dance form by a prestigious lineage of artistes, dancers, and teachers and her late grandfather Guru Swamimalai K. Rajarathnam Pillai was an acclaimed teacher(nattuvanar).
She belongs to the Isaivellalar caste, the hereditary dancing community who were practitioners of the “Sadir” – “Bharatanatyam” traditions. (Both terms were used by hereditary practitioners throughout the nineteenth century.)
Since art is political, Nrithya is a force to be reckoned with, as she finds her space, claims her identity and position, while speaking her truth and representing her ancestors in the contemporary Bharatanatyam scene, Priyanka observes.
Written by Karishma VP, this article dissects the Malayalam movie, “The Great Indian Kitchen”, which is arguably one of the best contributions not just to the world of cinema but to the feminist movement as well. The movie is a scathing indictment of the patriarchal institution that marriage is in India, even in the 21st century (or perhaps all over the world?).
The Great Indian Kitchen makes you see how patriarchy is structured to give men all the time in the world to pursue their hobbies, develop their minds, and nourish their bodies, whether they are young or old, working or retired. While the only time that women get to themselves is when they menstruate, but this is more of a forced isolation that is more of a humiliation than a gesture of love and care for their needs, observes Karishma.
Written by Brishti Sen Banerjee, the article comments on the recent incidents of sexual violence in movemental spaces which provoke us once again to take a look at the nature of movemental spaces like rallies, protests, gatherings and demonstrations with respect to the safety of women.
Women who consciously take part in civil political movements are often subjected to different forms of sexual abuse and are asked to keep it a ‘secret’ to maintain the ‘reputation’ of the movement. This is not a new phenomenon and has been present since the Naxalbari movement which took place in West Bengal but is rarely talked about in the name of ‘protecting’ the movement.
The author of this piece, Sara Bardhan, says that Adichie is no stranger to these vexations. Adichie has spoken about how the feminist movement leaves out black women in the past which means she clearly recognises the power dynamics at play within feminism. Therefore, it is confusing, above all, how she has chosen to do the same with trans* folks. Adichie’s case is particularly alarming, simply because as a famous, powerful person, one who identifies as a feminist — her words can have a detrimental impact on the lives of trans* folks who have already been marginalized in every sense.
Ultimately, ‘IT IS OBSCENE’ goes to show that not every celebrity remark is authoritative, and not every feminist is inclusive, and there is room to grow even when situations seem bleak—if you want to.
Among the ‘influencer’ videos which have recently surfaced on the Internet, some oppressor caste women can be seen mocking the indigenous languages of the domestic workers, others ridiculing their living habits, and accusing them of lack of hygiene – writes Ankita Apurva in this article.
She elaborates on how in at least one of the videos, the workers could be seen hiding their faces in discomfort, as they are systemically rendered powerless so as to not be able to say ‘No’ to the employer, given the power dynamics.
Co-authored by Padmini Chennapragada and Aman Mishra, this article brings to light the predicament of Sameeha Barwin, a female deaf athlete who was left out of the squad for the 4th World Deaf Athletics Championships scheduled between August 23-28 in Lublin, Poland. Barwin’s mother Salamath was told by the All India Sport Council for the Deaf (AISCD) that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) was unwilling to send her daughter, the only female deaf athlete from India, along with the team of five deaf male athletes.
18-year-old Sameeha Barwin, a resident of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, is a 100m track athlete and a long jumper who has medalled at three consecutive national athletic championships for deaf athletes. During the trials in New Delhi, Barwin cleared the qualifying mark of 4.25m in the Long Jump event for women with ease.
This is a personal essay authored by Priyanka Chatterjee. She writes that it is in the doing of the act that the elderly can stand resilient to the extravagant demands of the times, demands which have been aggravated by an insensitive, incompetent state and its complete breakdown at the face of emergency.
They knew their demands as citizens are as old as themselves, and the exasperation at their unfulfillment as aged as them. Hence the fight has to be on. They know that the online life is an extravagant detour they can very well do without. It can never compete the sensuousness that life offers, the sensuousness which has settled within the folds of their wrinkles.
They will stay strong with or without, and we will always derive life force from them. They will become trees, their shade always a reliable canopy, their endurance and adaptability, a lesson for us.
Written by Mansi Bhalerao, this article draws a critique on the current socio-political discourse in India. It is such that it primarily focuses on instances of inter-religious and inter-caste violence and the activities of political and social organisations that are characterised as communal or casteist.
Such a discourse, according to the writer, is complacent and ignores the larger political and social structures that give birth to communalism and sectarian political and social organisations. However, the rising violence vis-à-vis institutional murders, unlawful arrests of activists and wide-spread communalism in India are calls to delve into the structural nature of casteism and communalism in India, in the light of dissent.
Written by Sukanya Shaji, this article is an analysis of the sensational app – Clubhouse. Clubhouse, a social audio app launched in March, 2020 has gained increasing popularity among users. Clubhouse began as a social media start up and was originally envisioned to be an app for podcasts under the name “Talk Show”. It was then rebranded as Clubhouse and launched for the iOS operating system last year.
In May 2021, Clubhouse was made available to Android users. Initially, joining Clubhouse was only permitted by invitation, but since July 2021, the app is accessible to everyone.
The most defining feature of Clubhouse is that the platform permits the creation of chat rooms based on any topic, where the discussion can be moderated by the admins. This has given people, especially women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community more autonomy and agency to conduct, participate in, and moderate conversations on topics that are often stigmatised or sidelined by other mainstream media. But does it create safe spaces for diverse expression? – asks the writer.
Written by Shriya Roy, this piece analyses Cristiano Ronaldo’s stature in the sports world in context to the accusations of sexual assault against him. Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to his former club Manchester United became a much-celebrated affair amongst the football fans across the world. However, the fanfare and the celebration also once again brought to the forefront a much less talked about part about the footballer’s life. One that is often conveniently forgotten.
Ronaldo has been accused of raping American model Kathryn Mayorga in the past. Ronaldo himself had signed a witness statement that said he had persisted and had sex with Mayorga despite her saying ‘no’ repeatedly. The incident dates back to 2009. The initial charges against Ronaldo were dropped following an out-of-court settlement – one that depended on Mayorga’s silence, which was paid for by the footballer. We decided to make a reference sheet for all Ronaldo rape apologist arguments, so that this important conversation does not stop here – writes Shriya
20. Leena Manimekalai’s Fight For Justice: What Happens When Men In Power Get Accused Of Sexual Harassment?
Written by Soumya Mathew, this article looks into the #metoo movement in the film making industry in the light of film maker Leena Manimekalai’s experiences as a survivor. When Raya Sarkar, a law student, compiled and published a crowdsourced list of alleged sexual harassers in academia (LoSHA) in 2017, many lamented how this could affect the repute of the men who were named.
Soon after, in 2018, Leena Manimekalai, filmmaker, poet and activist, accused Susi Ganesan, a director and scriptwriter, of sexual harassment. Not surprisingly, ever since then it is Manimekalai who has been facing the consequences of speaking up. While Ganesan was quick to slam a defamation case against the Manimekalai in 2018, he also went on to file about 17 petitions that seized her travel documents and restricted her mobility.
It is quite clear that men in power who stand accused of sexual harassment enjoy impunity extended to them not just by their personal echo chambers but also, in so many cases, that extended by the law of the state and media as well – writes Soumya
21. ‘She Was Way Ahead Of Her Time’: In Conversation With Kajri Akhtar, Director of ‘Kamla Bhasin — A Woman, By Choice’
Writer Ankita Apurva documents her conversation with Kajri Akhtar, a South Asian filmmaker, producer and the founder of ‘Icchi the Cat’ Studios. Influenced by the ideals and approaches to issues around gender, development and democracy of the feminist activist and thinker Kamla Bhasin, who passed away on 25 September 2021, Akhtar created a documentary in 2012 on the former’s life. Titled ‘Kamla Bhasin — A Woman, By Choice’, the 18-minute documentary is available to watch on YouTube
For me, the experience was eye-opening, and I learnt a lot more about the feminist movement and why it is so important to keep on with the struggle and throw light on the importance of equality. It’s so important for storytellers to find their Kamlas and tell stories of women who are doing exceptional work behind the scenes, many of whom go unnoticed – says Kajri to Ankita.
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