Khabar Lahariya Digital Head and anchor of The Kavita Show, spoke at length about freedom, women, and the freedom of women, in the latest episode of her show.
Blame it on Virginia Woolf and her room with a view – not to underestimate Woolf’s room with a view – but somehow, as girls, as young women, you grow up feeling with nothing short of certainty that the most you can ever want out of life is your own freedom. More importantly, you believe that you can only reasonably expect it within the confines of a limited space. Stay put, we know, in our rooms with our views.
Plus, it comes at a price.
In the case of Shabana, Kavita’s friend back in Bundelkhand, a working woman in Jhansi, it is the absolute, draconian social scorn of an entire system poised against her.
Shabana recently found herself at the bitter end of a long drawn-out series of arguments with her husband when late one night in early August, her husband charged at her with an axe. He’s been abusive before, and is almost always foul-mouthed especially when speaking to Shabana or the children – they have about seven. But something about the look in his eyes that night chilled her down to her bones.
They spelt blood; they screamed murder.
She did what anybody in their right mind would do and fled.
Escaping the worst, Shabana made her way to the police chowki, but she was in for a nightmare anew. A largely uncooperative police force turned positively hostile upon seeing Shabana and hearing her out. One cop, looking as nonplussed as the rest, articulated what everyone else was thinking – the entire unsaid vibe of the room became real as soon as he said the words. And even after decades and decades of living in the ugly patriarchal badlands of Bundelkhand, Shabana was unprepared for them. “Tum toh hamesha yahaan wahaan ghoomti rehti ho, purse latkaaye. Madam, bura na maanna lekin aapko dekhkar toh nahi lagta ki aapko koi tang kar raha hai. (You’re always out and about, walking around with your purse on your shoulder – what are you complaining of? Don’t take this the wrong way, madam, but it’s hard to believe that you are being troubled.”)
Her husband was put in jail for a while and then had his mother bail him out. Shabana moved to her parents’ place, 7 kids in tow.
Freedom,at what price, makes you wonder? Or even perhaps, what’s the point?
In the belly of the beast where we work, also known as the heartland, we experience and encounter this, in one form or the other, every single day. All those terms that urban India has coined and hence feels an ownership towards – casual sexism, sexual harassment at the workplace, stalking, violence against women – we often feel like they were invented here, deep inside the innards of Bundelkhand. Often regurgitated into samjhauta – that ugly, nothing short of evil solution that serves as the abysmal light at the end of the tunnel.
Hence Shabana, like so many others, fights tooth and nail for her existence, her life, to grab at the purpose we all need, to justify our existentialism.
And this is what makes it worth fighting for.
When her office planned an offsite at a scenic location, Shabana, eight months pregnant, fantasised about going. Hell, she even demanded it.
Freedom also means letting your hair down after all. Unfettered.
Something Kavita knows a thing or two about!
The anchor of her own show, a first for Bundelkhand, Kavita knows of this fiendish freedom, and its price too. She knew it in the moment, several decades ago, when she enrolled herself into a women’s education rural programme. She sat right at the back of the classroom, because this was a secret act of rebellion – she had left home stealthily, had lied about how old she was, because there was a minimum age requirement, and she had cursed her pigtails. Her very own lipstick-under-burkha moment.
Today, when she reiterates it for her audience, people who can now be clubbed under the “fan-following” list – from local media movers and shakers to residents of the kasbahs and gaons she’s talking about and bringing into conversation – she might not be getting into the “backstory” we all crave, but she spells out her sangharsh, her battles. “I have fought for this freedom at so many levels”, she says on Episode 5, an Independence Day Special of The Kavita Show,
“I have fought my family. I have fought the system. I have fought social mores.”
And akin to our freedom fighters, Kavita knows just as well as Shabana and you and me: It might be a steep price, but it’s worth it.
On that note, Happy Independence Day!