Man, Please Don’t Preach About Divorce If You Haven’t Heard HER Story

I’ve never understood the fuss over Bill Gates and Melinda Gates divorce in a country where divorce is normalized. But, we cannot say the same for our country, India, where divorce is still taboo in 2021.

What makes it even tougher is when you have sexists all over the place and in your face, spreading their tentacles like monster green creeper plants across all sections of our society.

Indian billionaire Harsh Goenka recently made a deeply problematic and sexist comment on Twitter.

“Bill Gates divorced.

Jeff Bezos divorced.

Moral: Don’t earn so much money that the wife finds divorce alimony more appealing than the husband. Keep spending money on yourself.”

Unfortunately, this tweet by Goenka is no joke. The man’s preaching to his fellow countrymen to be wise, not to trust their wives, and spend their money on themselves. Goenka’s moral of the story is a fucking lie in a country where we put our goddesses on a shiny pedestal, and we literally and metaphorically rape our women daily.  

If Goenka’s message is aimed at all poor and naive countrymen, then perhaps he could ask them to develop some aatmanirbharta and stop asking for dowry. Maybe he could tell them to stop treating their daughters like pariahs and giving them away like a commodity in marriage as free labour. Perhaps he could tell them not to treat their women worse than their gaumata. Maybe he could tell them not to be a rich arse like him, who can buy everything in the world except grace, fairness, and empathy. 

The divorce rate in India is 1%, and it gives the illusion of successful marriages here. The credit for these figures goes entirely to our rigid patriarchal system, which has thwarted the freedom and dreams of millions of women by relegating them to their kitchen and caregiving duties for life for their spouse and family. If the woman brings in dowry and a working woman with no financial charge, that’s hitting the jackpot for our men. 

“So, the question is, who are the real gold-diggers here, Mr. Goenka?” 

Don’t play innocent and give a long rope to your gender for their misgivings. There is persistent discrimination against women, denying them equal land and property rights as they own less than 20% of the world’s land.

So, what’s HER story? 

Both Melinda Gates and Mackenzie Scott are as ingenious as their ex-spouses, if not more.

Melinda Gates is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. As a child, she was brilliant in academics and put in the advanced math class, and her first job was tutoring children in mathematics and computer programming. She joined Microsoft in their product development team in 1987. 

Melinda Gates was responsible for the development of various multimedia products such as Cinemania, Encarta, Publisher, Microsoft Bob, Money, Works (Macintosh), and Word. She was later appointed as the General Manager of Information Products in Microsoft but quit the company to focus on family and philanthropic work.

Let’s also not forget that Mackenzie Scott is the co-founder of Amazon. She built the company from scratch, literally the couple’s garage, including putting her finances into it. She contributed to the company’s name, business plan, accounts, and shipping early orders. 

Scott was always a writer at heart, with her first book at the age of six, The Book Worm, a 142-page book destroyed in flood. Her first job was at D. E. Shaw in New York, as a research associate where she worked to “pay the bills while working on her novels.” Jeff Bezos, the then vice-president at D. E. Shaw, took her interview, which also happened to be their first meeting. 

When Amazon began to succeed, Scott took a less active role in the company to pursue her writing career and concentrate on family and philanthropy. She wrote her debut novel in 2005, The Testing of Luther Albright, which won her the American Book Award (2006.) It took her 10 years to write her debut alongside building Amazon with her husband, birthing three children, adopting one child, and raising four children. Her writing mentor, Toni Morrison, had this to say about her debut book – “a rarity: a sophisticated novel that breaks and swells the heart.” Scott is currently married to Dan Jewett, a high school chemistry teacher.

It’s extremely callous and in poor taste for Harsh Goenka to dismiss the achievements of two highly successful and powerful women in their own right and insinuate that they are gold diggers.

But that’s not the only bone of contention here. A woman doesn’t need to be a Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Scott for her to be respected, heard, and given the empathy she deserves.

Do men like to have the cake and eat it too? 

It’s also an eye-brow-raising concern that while Harsh Goenka dismisses women as gold diggers, he doesn’t prescribe divorce as the solution, thus further propagating the stigma around divorce in our country.

Goenka’s marriage advice to men reminds me of a friend who’s currently in a live-in relationship with a married man. The man claims he’s been forcibly married to a woman who’s his parent’s choice. Both his parents are no more, and he’s left his wife alone and moved cities on the excuse of work. He met my spinster friend on Tinder and started living with her. He’s convinced his girlfriend that divorce is a long-drawn procedure that might take several years, and he’s trying to find legal ways to escape alimony since he claims he doesn’t have much money with him. So, he doesn’t want to hold back his girlfriend, who’s madly in love with him, and she’s free to move out and find another partner whenever she feels like it. Isn’t it a classic case of having your cake and eating it too?

I hope Goenka didn’t mean not spending money on alleged gold-digger wives and instead on alleged gold-digger girlfriends. 

Man, why you so complicated, huh? And then we women are accused of being complicated beings?

Don’t presume why anyone’s marriage fell apart!

Coming back to Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or whosoever’s divorce, how can anyone be sure of what transpired in these marriages and dole out a highly judgemental “moral of the story” blanket statement?

While I don’t want to speculate on matters I am not sure about yet, I’ll conclude with what journalist Rohini Singh had to say in response to Harsh Goenka’s tweet.  

“It appears Bill Gates was preying on women in his office and was also had a disturbingly close relationship with a paedophile. New York Times says the relationship with the paedophile is what bothered Melinda Gates. You don’t think those are serious issues?”

I want to add, isn’t it ironic for a billionaire like Harsh Goenka to blacklist the female gender as untrustworthy, gold-diggers?  

If you’ve not cared to listen to both sides of the story, man, please don’t preach! 

Ripped Jeans Or Minds? Our Business Is Our Business, None Of Your Business!

It’s been bizarre the last few weeks on the political front where we had misogyny on full display instead of social development. 

Take the recent WT% remark by the Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, who described a woman he’d seen in a flight. 

“Jab unki taraf dekha to neeche gumboot they, jab aur upar dekha to ghutne fatey they, haath dekhe to kai kade they… Bachhey do saath me unke they. Maine kaha behan ji kahan jana hai… Delhi jana hai, husband kahan hai… JNU me professor hain, tum kya karti ho… main ek NGO chalati hun. NGO chalati hain, ghutne fatey dikhte hain, samaj ke beech me jaati ho, bachhey saath me hain, kya sanskar dogi?” 

(She was wearing boots, jeans ripped on the knees, and several bracelets. She had two children travelling with her. Her husband is a professor at JNU. You run an NGO, wear jeans ripped at the knees, move about in society, children are with you, what values will you teach?)

CM Saab, with all due respect, what were you doing ogling at women in the flight in the first place? And why are you poking your nose in someone else’s parenting values? Are you a parenting expert? Or are you an expert on all women’s affairs solely because you are born a man?

A few days later, we had Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, who made a condescending below-the-belt remark on the state Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. 

“People don’t want to see her face; that’s why she’s showing her broken leg. She is wearing a saree that covers one leg and shows the other. Never seen someone wear a saree like that. If you want to show your leg, then wear Bermuda.”

After public outrage on his comment, he justified his statement that a woman in a saree flaunting her leg is not a reflection of the Bengali culture. 

“Being a woman chief minister, we certainly expect from her some decency that goes well with the culture and tradition of Bengal and with the values of a Bengali woman.”

Shri. Dilip Ghosh! Do you publicly rebuke your peer male politicians for not following Bengali culture as well when they walk around displaying their legs to the world? Or is Bengali culture to be upheld by its women alone? 

I don’t think Bengali women would agree with you, including your political opponent Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, who rightly questioned,

“..And these perverted depraved monkeys think they are going to win Bengal?”

But it’s not just women politicians vying for power that are the target of hate and control, but laywomen like us as well—every single day. I’m not even talking about the big life decisions about marriage choices, career moves, or financial issues here. I’m talking about similar salty remarks and inane restrictions on trivial things like wearing ripped jeans. 

Here’s sharing some of my lived experiences as a woman in this post. 

1. Smile till your cheeks hurt

I remember this backhanded compliment from a relative on a profile picture I’d uploaded a few years back. 

“Beta, you have such a pretty smile. Why put a picture where you look sad? Remove it and add a nice picture, which shows off your beautiful smile.” 

“But I am not sad. I like the picture, and I’m keeping it.” I replied.

It’s funny how a non-issue becomes an issue. Like a profile picture where you’re not smiling translates to “You’re sad.” Even if I were sad, why hide it from the world? 

It’s a deeply problematic expectation for all women to be wallflowers. As if our mere existence and purpose in life are to add beauty to the world around us with our pleasing appearance and personality. Women are not expected to show sorrow, rage, or even a neutral expression on their faces. 

Talking about smiling reminds me of the next weird assumption. 

2. Selfies? Shame shame! 

Posting selfies indicate flirting and vying for male attention. 

Who knew? I didn’t until someone advised me not to post selfies as it may give the wrong impression. I’m a respectable married woman and a mother, after all. 

Even before smartphones, and the trend of selfies, I’d take pictures of myself on my camera and post them on social media. I hadn’t posted pictures for men earlier, back when I was single and ready to mingle. And no way am I going to stop posting pictures of myself post marriage and motherhood, merely because it may give the wrong impression to someone who I don’t give a damn for in the first place. It’s another thing altogether that I’ve outgrown selfies. But you get the drift, right?

Speaking of selfies giving off the wrong impression post marriage and motherhood brings me to the following stupid assumption. 

3. Marriage symbols – For display purposes only

Remember weddings where the bride is expected to pile on gold like she’s a walking-talking Joy Alukkas jewellery shop? Apparently, the display show doesn’t end at the wedding ceremony. 

I remember distinctly this incident in the first week I joined work in my mid-thirties after nearly a decade-long corporate sabbatical. A twenty-something male colleague who must have just finished college, and thought of himself as some stud boy came up to my desk. He felt this overpowering need to give me a dress down on how married women should look. 

He asked me why I wasn’t wearing toe rings, mangalsutra, and bindi like other married women. I told him we didn’t follow such customs, and besides, I was wearing my wedding ring. The guy wasn’t convinced and somehow wanted to drive home the message that I was misleading the office men with the lack of marriage symbols on my body. 

I asked the young man to concentrate on better things in life than on what I should be wearing. A married woman or not! It’s also the next discussion point.

4. Clothes – Here’s the dress down

Similar to the ripped jeans restrictions, I’m sure all of us must have been told what’s appropriate to wear for a decent woman. It can be anything from sleeveless tops to skinny jeans to chiffon sarees and shorts.

This incident happened when I was in the US and in a public park with my daughter. A random Afghani woman came up to me and struck a conversion. I was in a regular casual half-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. At the end of our conversation, this woman gave me unsolicited advice. 

“Why don’t you wear full-sleeved shirts?” 

I didn’t bother to retort but found it amusing that even my forearms can turn people on and hence must be covered from sight. 

Another piece of advice is to wear a dupatta when you go outside. I’ve never understood the logic of a flimsy material like the dupatta to conceal your breasts. On the contrary, it draws attention to it. Is that the perverted logic behind wearing a dupatta in the first place? It’s ridiculous to see women in shapeless nightgowns with a dupatta who attend to the doorbell or venture out in their apartments. Apparently, all these paraphernalia like dupatta are meant to show the world that you’re a decent and respectable woman. 

More idiotic advice is not to wear bright lipstick especially, or wear flowers on your head, lest you look like a woman from the red-light district. After a certain age, you are expected to dress sober, and hence, brightly coloured outfits, for example, are out of your league. 

5. Conduct – How to be a good woman

 So, you’re not just judged on your appearances but also on how you conduct yourself. Good women don’t sit with their legs wide open or cross-legged. Good women don’t talk or laugh loudly. Please feel free to add to the list of what good women should and should not do.

Here’s another actual incident at a family wedding I attended without my husband. But I was there in attendance with my parents, daughter, siblings, et al. There I was, dancing like no one’s watching with my family, when a creepy relative from the bride’s side got all the wrong signals. The man started pestering me to share my number for friendship and meetings later despite repeatedly denying his requests. So, dancing is also an invitation. Phew! 

But did that incident stop me from dancing and being myself? No way! 

Conclusion

Honestly, the list of being a good woman is never-ending. So, you’re better off not trying to be one in the first place. Do whatever the hell you want. You have one life to live to bother with trivial mentality, issues, and restrictions. 

I have the best advice – 

How about leaving adult women alone to do whatever they want to do with their lives?

Aiyyo Aiyya, After The Recent Zomato incident, Mard Khatre Mein Hain

Is the recent Zomato incident a gender or caste issue? 

This question has divided everyone who’ve picked their sides already. 

Let me tell you at the outset, I’m supporting Kamraj. The recent Zomato incident is another possible example of how some women play the victim card for material benefit. Of course, there are all kinds of men, but listening to both sides, I’m more inclined to believe Kamraj. It’s unfortunate to see Kamraj’s plight as he has much more, if not everything, to lose here. He looked mortified and traumatized in his pleas for justice. Why would a highly rated employee who’s been with Zomato for a few years suddenly punch the woman in question and risk his livelihood? Knowing very well she’s in touch with the customer care team and can escalate the issue? It doesn’t make any sense, as that’s a sure-shot way of losing his job. Unless he’s a psychopath, and that’s the police’s job to investigate who’s the abuser and victim in this case. I do hope the Law is fair and listens to both parties objectively. May truth and justice prevail! 

However, the support for Kamraj has exposed the reality of our society. The filth and ugliness of mankind. From being slut-shamed and called a ‘Randi,’ ‘Pishachini,’ ‘Soorpankha,’ (a jibe at her bruised nose), Hitesha Chandranee is the new scapegoat for men to bash feminism. Now, all feminists are fake and pseudo. And suddenly, “Mard kathrey mein hain” and “Mard ko bhi dard hota hain” So, there’s a dire need for a Men’s Commission to save all Indian men from Indian feminists. 

But you know what? We are seeing women supporting the men’s commission. Hell, we have a men’s activist named Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, who fights for men who’ve been falsely accused and implicated by women? 

Women, including feminists, are secure in their skin and okay with the idea of a separate Men’s Commission as long as men have a place to fight their case, if they’ve been victimized. So, dear men, please calm your penises! 

Feminism is equality and not blindly supporting women. If you don’t listen to both sides of the story objectively, you’re no feminist. 

I’ve seen two responses of feminists in the Zomato case. Either they have disassociated themselves from supporting Hitesha Chandranee and offered their support to Kamraj. Or they’ve not picked any side and have left it to the Law to make the final judgement. 

So, who are these fake feminists that our Indian men are badmouthing on social media? 

Also, where are the men supporting women who’ve been victims of gender-based abuse and violence? They’ll watch like zombies when women are being raped in broad daylight or like voyeurs of such scenes on screen.

But they’ll roar like lions on social media when one of their kind is accused, like in the Zomato case between Kamraj and Hitesha Chandranee. You have to give it to men, though, for prioritising their interests at the topmost. We, women, have to learn from our male counterparts how to unite despite all differences and be selfish regarding our self-interests and rights. 

Because we still have educated women who proudly claim they are not feminists as if it’s a fashion statement. Worse still, a sneaky opportunity to instigate the majority male population in our country, and get into their good books. These sexist women provoke and mislead them into believing that feminism is an anti-men mob. When the truth is, feminism stands for equal rights. Feminism is not misandry, as is the popular misconception. 

Forget about supporting women’s rights and feminism; where are these men when there are incidents of caste-based abuse and crimes? 

People like Kamraj hold no value in our current social fabric. Most of our citizens don’t understand the concept of dignity of labour, and there’s unaddressed and widespread exploitation. 

I remember a male relative who visited me at the hospital after my daughter’s birth asked my mother about the nurses and other help. He advised her to make the most of them. 

“Use them as much as you can!” he winked. 

Exploit them as much as you can! That was his crooked message.

“Why don’t they use the staircase? We’re the ones paying for maintenance?” said the male neighbour in our apartment who detests the thought of domestic maids, drivers, and the lower economic class using the elevator. 

I know another middle-aged couple who’s known for extracting the maximum work in minimum wages from their domestic help. The man, who’s the official head of the house, sits mum, as his wife verbally abuses the maid for the slightest mistake. If the maid is late to make and serve the fatted couple their breakfast, both man and wife join hands to threaten and emotionally blackmail her. 

“You are poor because it’s your fault. All of you are just so dumb. You deserve this life of poverty.” I heard a rich lady once scream at the top of her lungs at her male house help. 

These are not fictional stories. There are countless stories of abuse of the lesser privileged sections of our society. 

Are these men sleeping when the abuse of lesser privileged people happens right under their noses in their homes, workplace, and elsewhere? No, they are silent bystanders, if not abusers and enablers. 

So, yes, I find it a tad amusing that the men have fully exposed themselves in their pursuit for a Men’s Commission in a nation where the crimes against women are the highest in the world. 

According to a 2018 global study conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation,

  • India ranks No.1 at sexual violence, human trafficking, culture, and religion against women. 
  • India ranks No. 3 at discrimination which includes discrimination against women in daily life like in education, in a job, lack of access to adequate nutrition, property or inheritance rights, etc. 
  • India ranks No. 4 for health access and includes maternal mortality, lack of healthcare access, lack of control over reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. 
  • India ranks No. 3 at non-sexual violence and includes domestic physical and mental abuse, conflict-related violence comes under non-sexual violence.     

We’d have been a country with a majority of women had it not been for female infanticide. A barbaric practice that reflects our nation’s sick mindset, which worships Goddesses on one hand for material prosperity and kills its female offsprings for financial savings. 

The truth is that we Indians have scant respect for women or people belonging to the lower caste. 

Still think “Mard kathrey mein hain?” 

Yes? 

Well then, Hypocrisy, thy name is Man! 

Final Thoughts

Can a man be a victim? 

Of course, yes! A man or anyone belonging to an upper caste can be a victim. 

But these are exceptions in the current social landscape of our country. Look at the statistics and the magnitude of crimes against women in our country and the world. There is no comparison. 

So, let’s not tear down feminism and caste activism at the slightest opportunity to cover up for our hypocrisy, and lack of empathy, knowledge, and insight into the actual problems that plague our society.

In the Spotlight: Celebrating People with Disabilities and Their Journeys and How We Can Ally To Build An Inclusive World

As writers, we come across diverse people. One such special friend is Faisal Ashraf Nomani, an ardent and supportive reader. He approached me for Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend, the current project he was part of, and wanted me to meet the team behind the concept.

When I learned about the innovative and inclusive project, I felt that the message had to reach as many people as possible. It’s a beautiful initiative, which brings into light the subject of people with disabilities and how, as a society, we can do so much more to build an equal world for everyone.

Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend brings together the talents of various individuals to break the common myths around people with disabilities. Let’s understand the project better and learn how our participation can make a difference in their words—handing over the mic to them to share their thoughts on the subject and experiences working on this project.

What is Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend? 

Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend is not just a regular calendar for 2021. Launched on 3rd December 2020 supported by UNV. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD,) the project focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development as anticipated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as a cross-cutting issue, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The observance of IDPD aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and

mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also

seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from integrating persons with

disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life. 

The inclusive calendar highlights models to spread awareness regarding their disability, life journey, and personal efforts within the disability sector. This initiative aims to give them their due recognition for their inspiring work and efforts to bring a change in our society. 

The purpose is also to raise funds and distribute them to organizations working for the betterment of people with disabilities. 

Meet the Organizers and Models 

“It was an exhilarating experience for me. I enjoyed every bit of the shoot. I was anxious about how to pull off this idea amidst the pandemic. We wanted to create a safe environment for all our guest models. I hope I was able to capture the essence of strength and joyfulness of people with disabilities through my lens. I want the calendar to exhibit diversity in disability and promote inclusivity. ” – Rishab Dahiya

The concept designers of Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend are Rishab Dahiya and Purva Mittal. The two co-organizers pulled off this feat by making their vision turn into reality in a quick turnaround.  The initial plan was to include 12 models but because of the pandemic restrictions, they could shoot the calendar with six models including Purva herself. 

The 6 models featured in the calendar include a person with autism, burn survivor as well as a chronic illness advocate. 

Rishab Dahiya

Rishab Dahiya is a celebrity photographer and filmmaker based in Mumbai. He has shot with various celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Richa Chaddha, Raima Sen, Sanaa Khan, Late Om Puri, Rahul Dev, Ravi Kishen, and various other Film and TV Actors.His Instagram account has a following of more than 100K and has been featured in Mumbai Coworking’s list of “Top 50 Instagrammers in Mumbai”. He has done over 500 shoots in the last 8 years and has worked with various brands like FBB Femina Miss India, Times Music, Abbot International, Alcatel Mobile, Consolidated Coin Company, Delhi Daredevils Merchandise, Stylior, FHM Magazine, Good Times Magazine, La’officiel Magazine, and various export houses.

What was the inspiration behind this calendar?

Rishab: I always look for opportunities to do something different and socially relevant, and I realised that there weren’t any such photo shoots done in India, especially in the fashion or entertainment industry. I realised that since I have the resources and I can do it, I will do it. I know Purva from the last 8 years and have tremendous appreciation for her work in the field. I shared my Idea with her, coincidentally she also had a similar concept in mind and we decided to take it a step forward. That is how Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend was born, a 2021 fashion calendar featuring people with disabilities. 

How different this calendar shoot was from your regular shoots?

Rishab: Normally my shoots are with actors and professional models. So whenever I get an opportunity to do something different like this, it really excites me. This shoot was different from my regular shoots in a lot of ways as the challenges were different. We had to find a studio which is accessible, understand the requirements of all the featured models, and handle unique situations due to the pandemic and work towards it. But more than that, it was different because I never usually get a chance to interact and work with people with disabilities. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about how to talk to them or behave around them. I was a bit nervous, but it turned out to be a total blast and we had a lot of fun.

Model 1: Purva Mittal

“2020 has been a challenging and strenuous year for all of us. I wanted to

usher 2021 with a slight twist. Our calendar, Oddity, wants to celebrate disability in all forms. We want to promote acceptability in our society. Being a marketer, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it by its horns. I have been part of the disability sector for over a decade now. We need to think of innovating ways to further our cause.” – Purva Mittal 

Purva Mittal has a neuromuscular genetic disorder known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. She has an active presence on multiple platforms to voice the urgency of prenatal and carrier testing to avoid rare genetic diseases. She has been working tirelessly with pharmaceuticals and the government of India to increase the availability of the drugs for Indian patients. Currently she is pursuing her PhD in political marketing from FMS and is a marketing consultant for startups. She has been working with multiple organizations for over a decade in the field of education and counselling. She is carving her own way to increase the presence of people with disability in the Indian political scenario.

You are working with Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Would you like to shed some light on your association with them?

Purva: Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (India) TRUST, FSMA India aims to create awareness about SMA and strive to get a cure for SMA patients to all in India. It is our resolve to give support to all SMA families. We stand together to create a better, brighter future for our children and families. We work for pivotal issues like education, employment and healthcare for our members.  All SMA warriors are extremely intelligent, full of creativity and are high achievers, to say the least. FSMA Trust vows to support the kids and aspirants in their journey and dreams. 

You are doing your PhD in political marketing and consultancy. How does this relate with your work in patient advocacy and healthcare activism.

Purva: The term ‘politics’ is thought to be associated with negative wrongdoings. But we conveniently forget that politics can never be taken away from our lives. If we aren’t able to reach out to the right people to voice our concerns, our battleship will sink without any trace. I am trying to understand the language of politics and how the system works. This will enable me to align my efforts and reap better results. Politicians are public representatives. We all need to work in unison for the development of our community and nation. 

Model 2: Faisal Ashraf Nomani

“When someone talks about disability, most people tend to visualise it as something very grim and depressing. I wanted to break this stereotype with my caricatures and quirky humour”. – Faisal Ashraf Nomani

Faisal Ashraf Nomani holds a postgraduate degree in Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy from Jamia Millia Islamia University. He is a bike tinkerer, field researcher, and employment counselor at v-shesh. He is also known as a disability rights activist,  comedian, innovator, and speaker. He has a locomotor disability in his both lower limbs and uses a wheelchair.

You have been known to use different modes and platforms to raise awareness regarding disability. What is the current project you are working on?

Faisal: I use cartoons on Instagram to break widely held stereotypes about disability and disabled people. They are laugh-out-loud and always quirky. @Faisalnama01 on Instagram.

When someone talks about disability, most people tend to visualise it as something very grim and depressing. I wanted to break this stereotype with my caricatures and quirky humour. For me, it is a form of expression which I find to be much more effective. My aim is to make people laugh and introspect.

You call yourself a bike tinkerer. Can you elaborate on it?

Faisal: Shaken by an accident while riding a retrofitted bike, I decided to actively look at designing a more stable retrofitted bike. The end result is GWL 01, an inclusive bike that we developed in partnership with design engineer Tigmanshu Bhatnagar, who is currently doing his Ph.D. in designing for people with disabilities in a London-based university. We brainstormed and came up with the idea of a reverse trike, a motorbike with two wheels in the front and one at the back. We customised the bike and the attempt was successful. The bike was stable and looked good. It offered greater stability and safety and attracted a lot of attention when we went out on it for a ride. We displayed the bike at the Red Brick Summit at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). We have invested a lot of time on the aesthetics and industrial design. The go to market stage will take some time.

Model 3: Manisha Prajapati

“The world is full of love and I want everyone to feel its warmth.” – Manisha Prajapati

Manisha is a born survivor. She was engulfed by the flames at an early age of four years. She has never let her scars dictate her life. Manisha is an artist and teaches art to her students at Ch. Kanhaiya Lal Memorial Foundation. She is gearing up for her exhibition in Lucknow to be held soon.  

We would like to know about you and your journey till now?

Manisha: I was 4 year old when I got involved in a fire accident. That was the turning point of my life. I had to go through multiple surgeries. There came a point in my life when I stopped visiting hospitals for surgeries. Since, that day I vowed to enjoy my life to the fullest and painting became my passion. I can proudly call myself an artist today. 

What are your future projects?

Manisha: I want to organize painting exhibitions. I want to showcase my sketches to the world. In future, I would like to travel the world extensively. I am glad I got an opportunity to be a part of the calendar. This platform will help me raise awareness and instill confidence in all. I wish to extend support to everyone. The world is full of love and I want everyone to feel its warmth.  

Model 4: Dr. Anubha Mahajan

Working on creating awareness about various chronic illnesses and pain conditions and invisible disabilities, Dr. Anubha Mahajan founded Chronic Pain India, in 2017. She is a dentist by profession and is devoted to supporting chronic pain & chronic illness warriors through her organisation. She has a very rare chronic pain condition/illness, CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) which is also an invisible disability. After facing harassment and bullying during her post-graduation, her condition deteriorated when she was again diagnosed with Central Pain syndrome. Despite her chronic pain condition, she is doing extraordinary work on both ends, with patients and doctors.

Model 5: Soniya Malik

Soniya Malik, a double amputee, uses prosthetic legs for her mobility. Soniya had to get her legs amputated because of medical negligence during treatment. She graduated from Mata Sundri College in English and after graduation; she got a job in Vfs Global as a Visa Officer for the last 2 years. She is currently pursuing post-graduation in the English language from Jamia Milia Islamia. 

Model 6: Pranav Bakhshi

Pranav Bakhshi, 20, is India’s first fashion model with Autism. He has delivered TEDx talks twice, been a guest speaker at IIT Bombay e- cell initiative for autism awareness, participated in a podcast initiated for autism awareness by IIT Madras students and been a part of the India Inclusion Youth Summit 2020 as a guest speaker.He is an avid photographer, contributes as a guest writer to a disability based e-mag, possesses an extensive knowledge about contemporary English music and studies graphic designing. He has received extensive media coverage in India and overseas.

How you can make a difference 

You can share your story if you are an individual who has a disability, or know someone with the condition. The world needs to hear more stories so that the divide between the so-called ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ is erased. 

Your support and participation can make a world of difference in removing the stigma and misconceptions around people with disabilities. You can purchase and/or gift the calendar to your loved ones. 

For more details about the calendar, please contact 

Name: Purva Mittal

Phone- +91 9999715802 

Email – purva.m15@gmail.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/oddity2021/

* Published on YouthKiAwaaz

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

How To Support Local Artisans By Buying Beautiful Rugs Made in India

Tina Sequeira Hyderabad Influencer Indian rugs online

We are almost at the end of 2020.

It fills my heart with immense joy and gratitude for surviving an unforgettable pandemic year, that’s turned the entire world upside down. It’s also that time of the year to purge and tidy up the place. To donate things we don’t need around in the home and bring in new additions to the home, which add splendour and sparkle to it.

In an attempt to look for Indian rugs online, I came across the website of Raj Bespoke, which had a variety of rugs in modern, contemporary, traditional, and kids categories. The initial plan was to get something for my tween’s room, but then when my husband and I browsed through their collections, our hearts were set on the YURUK NOMADIC RUG. It had a lovely vintage look to it, and we decided to buy it first before ordering another rug for our daughter’s room.

We bought the YURUK NOMADIC RUG with the upcoming Christmas and New Year festivals in mind. It would look gorgeous next to a Christmas tree, and we cannot wait to set it up for the Holiday season and ring in 2021 in style.

Our rug arrived in perfect condition and was compactly packed. It matched the picture we had seen on the site and true to our ordered specifications of 4’X6’ size. It looks and feels like a rich wool Indian rug. But, unlike wool, it has zero shed. It’s easy to maintain and clean with a vacuum.

We’ve set it up next to our television for now and will move it to the area where we plan to set up the Christmas tree in a few weeks.

I’ve noticed that the rug lends a delightful contrast, when set against a modern backdrop and compliments a traditional decor. We have a blend of different styles in various corners of our home. So, post-New Year, we will move the rug to multiple spaces in our homes – living room, bedroom, dining area.

It is easily one of the best buys of this year for its high quality, durability, convenience, and versatility.

We are looking forward to buying more products for our home from the company. What makes me most excited is that we will renovate our daughter’s room soon, and once the theme is finalized, we cannot wait to upgrade it with the other products from RajBespoke.

Another aspect I’d like to highlight is to support Indian artisans and businesses, more so, during the pandemic. If you want to buy Indian rugs online and add more beauty to your home, this is a good time to do so. Please do check out https://rajbespoke.com/.

Why The Tanishq Ad Celebrating Interracial Harmony Is Not Offensive

The latest Tanishq wedding jewellery advertisement showing interracial harmony has come under fire, with social media ablaze with #BoycottTanishq tweets and posts. The ad has received flak for allegedly promoting ‘love-jihad’ and being offensive to Hinduism.

Is the call for boycott and Tanishq’s subsequent removal of the ad justified? Let’s discuss!

What the ad portrays 

The video advertisement by Tanishq depicts the bond between a Muslim mother-in-law and her Hindu daughter-in-law.

There is a thick air of celebration all around as the mother-in-law gently holds the daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law feels loved and protected. The glow on her face is not just because of pregnancy, but also because of happiness and contentment in her life. When the mother-in-law brings her to the lawn, the daughter-in-law beams even wider to find excited family members waiting for her arrival for the ‘Godh-Barai’ ceremony. When the mother-in-law escorts the daughter-in-law to her cushioned couch, the daughter-in-law holds her hand and asks in appreciation,

“Ma, yeh rasam toh apke ghar mein hote hi nahin hain na?” (Mom, this ceremony isn’t held in your house, no?)

The mother-in-law responds,

“Bitiya ko khush karne ka rasam har ghar mein hote hain.” (Every house has a ceremony of keeping the daughter happy.)

The ad ends with the loving image of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law wrapped in love and happiness amid the ‘Godh-Barai’ festivities in full swing. 

Why the Tanishq ad is not offensive 

It is not derogatory to religion

The ad does not hurt any religious sentiments. It does not insult either Hinduism or Islam.

The ad’s focal setting is the ‘Godh-Barai’ ceremony, an important ritual in Hindu households. The Muslim mother-in-law wants to be part of the Hindu ritual and initiate it for the sake of her daughter-in-law’s happiness. This is a progressive and an empathetic mother-in-law who respects her daughter-in-law’s Hindu roots and faith.

Those making baseless claims that the ad promotes ‘love-jihad’ need to pause and ponder that Muslims can also find the ad offensive to their religion as one protagonist initiates and takes part in a Hindu ritual.

How is the ad offensive only to Hinduism or any religion?

It is inclusive

Some bigots claim that the daughter-in-law is subservient in her own house and looks petrified.

First, we do not know whose house it is? Is it a joint or nuclear family?

If it is a nuclear family, then the mother-in-law is hosting the Hindu ceremony in her house. So, the daughter-in-law is a guest at her in-laws’ place as they play the perfect hosts.

Even if it is a joint family scenario, I’ve seen the ad where the daughter-in-law looks anything but subservient and scared in her house. On the contrary, she seems comfortable and joyous in her state of mind.

Please note that the mother-in-law’s statement, “Bitiya ko khush karne ka rasam har ghar mein hote hain?” is inclusive. She mentions how it is a ritual in ‘har ghar’ (not exclusively referring to a Muslim household) to celebrate their daughter’s happiness. She refers to her daughter-in-law as her own daughter, and likewise, the daughter-in-law refers to her mother-in-law as her own mother, ‘Ma.’

It respects an individual’s agency

Recently, Hemanth Vysyas, a 28-year-old man, was kidnapped and murdered in Hyderabad by Avanthi, his wife’s family. His fault was that he belonged to a lower caste and dared to fall in love and marry a higher caste woman. These incidents are commonplace not just in rural but also in urban India.

How many incidents of interracial relationships and marriages do we know in our social circles? It’s not always ‘love-jihad’ in speculative action when a Hindu woman marries a Muslim man. I know of so many Muslim women friends who have made the first move in a relationship and married Hindu men? What term will the bigots attribute for the reverse phenomenon here?

74 years of Indian Independence, and we still haven’t freed ourselves from the shackles of the caste system or fundamentalist outlook. When will we learn to respect the choice of two consenting adults in a free, democratic country? You can have all the laws in place, but what about the inherent hatred and bigotry in our society?

Coming to the Tanishq ad, why can’t we respect the couple’s agency, a Hindu woman and a Muslim man? Why can’t we respect the agency of the Muslim mother-in-law to practice a Hindu ritual? Who are we to interfere with the agency of adults in their relationships? Isn’t the boycott illegal as per the Right to Freedom in the Constitution of India?

Can we not look at all citizens in India as equals? Not some as more equal or less equal because of their religion, caste, and gender? Maybe then, we will learn to stay within our boundaries and respect an individual’s agency. Is that too much to hope?

Final Thoughts

We might attach ulterior motives to the advertisement, but there is no evidence to justify the reasoning for such unfounded fears.

The fact that Tanishq removed the advertisement after the public outrage is proof enough that their intention was not malicious. If they intended to promote ‘love-jihad’ and Islam in a Hindu majoritarian country like India, they would not pull off the ad and keep it to propagate the ‘alleged’ agenda.

It’s high time we used our intellect and opened our hearts to look at any issue from all the angles, not from our selective lens and myopic beliefs.

The Tanishq ad is anything but offensive to religion or our country. When we have a jaundiced eye, everything we look at will be offensive, including the refreshing, non-stereotypical portrayal of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship and individuals’ agency in relationships.

Even if the unfounded fears ring true, here’s a final question to you-

Is your religion or faith so fragile that it can get broken by a mere advertisement?

*Also published on YouthKiAwaaz and WomensWeb.