I recently caught someone trying to look down my conservatively buttoned shirt in an upscale Mumbai store, which led me to think about how defensively I have been entering public spaces since the age of 10, when a man put his hand up my skirt in a double decker BEST bus in Mumbai. At that time, hardly anyone talked about these things and I kept this incident – the first of many unforgettable ones – to myself.
Some years later, as a teenager, I was waiting for a local train one Sunday morning. I was dressed in a churidar and was possibly the only female on the platform. And suddenly scores of men on a passing train sang a lewd Hindi film song to me. It was just fun for them, but even after I began crying, they continued singing and laughing. From that day on things changed for me – I learnt, like most Indian women have, that it did not matter what I did, knew, thought, how educated I was, or what I wore or looked like – I had to learn to protect my body (and mind) from unwanted looks, words and touches. I also learnt that even if in my personal life I was surrounded by nothing less than wonderful men, when venturing in public I had to always be guarded.
For S** Men, I wanted an image that would convey with some humor the situation almost every woman in India has to deal with on a daily basis: that men may look at her body as an object, touch her inappropriately, pass lewd comments, and in the worst case, mistreat her body with unimaginable violent acts.
The S is for Superman, what many men think they are. Or what many women want men to be – the provider and protector, but that is a whole other discussion. But the S also stands for what many males actually are or can be. Sexman. Sleazeman.
The men in this image represent our patriarchal society in which women aren’t usually treated as equals, or in the extreme, are treated as possessions or sex objects. I also wanted the men to almost be clones of each other – it’s in a group that men preying upon a woman seem to feel invincible.
In the image, the book the woman is carrying symbolizes the fact that however educated she might be, however global or emancipated her worldview, in India she has to always be prepared to be viewed as a sex object.
The glittery liquid oozing out of the book expanding into a puddle is a metaphor for the fact that although education is the only way to alter how women are viewed in India, people’s mindsets remain unchanged.
When I read about the daily rapes in India, I think I have the same thoughts as most other people. Fear. Revulsion. Disbelief. Anger. Empathy. But the protests against the brutal Delhi gang rape showed me that with unity and persistence, enlightened people could effect at least some change in society. But I also realized that this power is usually exercised only when something affects these same people. I realized that there are far fewer voices being raised for the underprivileged and uneducated, who face cruelty on a daily basis.
About Dhruvi Acharya
Using wry and dark humor rather than anger, Dhruvi Acharya’s work focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of an urban woman’s life, in a world teeming with discord, violence and pollution. In her painted world, thoughts become as visible as ‘reality’, the narratives both comic and brutal.
Born in 1971 and raised in Mumbai, Dhruvi began painting her memories of a real and imagined homeland soon after reaching the USA in 1995. She received her Masters in Painting from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1998 and has been showing internationally since then. Dhruvi was awarded the Aditya Birla Kalakiran Puraskar and nominated for the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award in 2006, and was featured on the cover of India Today magazine in 2005. Her paintings have been shown in museums, galleries and art fairs around the world. Dhruvi lived and worked in New York until 2004, and now resides in Mumbai. More at http://www.dhruvi.com/WORDS.html
We asked artist Dhruvi Acharya to respond to December 16, 2012 and the year since. What emerged is this witty, dystopic vision.By Dhruvi Acharya | Grist Media – Mon 16 Dec, 2013
ALSO ON YAHOO ORIGINALS
- Why Atul Kumar is House FullWed 5 Mar, 2014
For three decades Atul Kumar has been ready to do anything to pursue his particular obsessions with theatre. Learn French to read Genet or Kathakali to understand his guru. Move to Kerala or Manipur or France. Today, his obsessions are translating into packed shows across the country.
- How to Spend Money, Win Friends And Alienate PeopleTue 4 Mar, 2014
You may have skipped his primetime TV interview but you can’t have missed his face on billboards everywhere. The Congress is pumping Rs 500 crore – triple what it spent in the last elections – on building Rahul Gandhi’s brand. But it seems to be to no avail – the ad campaign has received stinging criticism and Gandhi’s media interactions remain as bland as ever. Now the campaign’s approach has been scrapped and a new message is being formulated to showcase other Congress leaders as well – but will it be too little too late?
- What They Are Planning To Do With The Rs 1,000 crore Nirbhaya FundMon 3 Mar, 2014
Perhaps it won't surprise you that one year after the fund was announced the government is still at the starting line. But what if they intend to run backward?
- Wait, Mr Dak Runner, Look And SeeFri 28 Feb, 2014
You can trace the history of India through its postage stamps. But what of the dramatic history of the Indian post and its ancestor, the dak runner? An excerpt from a new book that intertwines both narratives.
- Has Chidambaram Left a Poison Pill for the Next Government?Thu 27 Feb, 2014
The finance minister’s interim budget has quietly trebled central funds to states while desiccating the budgets of several central ministries, which will change the relationships between the Centre and the states. It will also make negotiating a stable coalition much more difficult for the next government.
- Why Are We So Determined to Deny Indians the Cloth They Prefer?Wed 26 Feb, 2014
For years people have been saying that handloom is an unprofitable, 'sunset' industry that can only be saved by the urban market. But local demand for handloom remains robust and exports are growing. The truth is that we're killing our local talent and artistry by focusing only on what we want to consume in the cities and ignoring what most Indians really want to buy and use.
- Welcome to the Great Indian GraveyardTue 25 Feb, 2014
With all the construction boom, India generated 626 million tons of construction and demolition waste in 2013 alone. Most is dumped illegaly all around us since there is no space for millions of tons of this waste, nobody is recycling it and nobody knows what to really do with it. Right now, it’s being dumped on your street, your water body, your mangrove, your coast. The constructions and demolitions are unlikely to stop – so what’s the solution?
- Why You May Not Want to Join the Imtiaz Ali Finishing School for GirlsMon 24 Feb, 2014
Our writer watched every film Imtiaz Ali has ever directed or written and was struck by his recurring obsessions: the life-changing journeys, the janam-janam wala loves and, of course, the great unfreedom of the respectable Indian woman. Why can’t Ali ever let his heroines make their own trip?
- Don’t Spit in CourtFri 21 Feb, 2014
A walk through the Bombay High Court yields surprising resonances.
- Three Things About the Lok Sabha that Will Make You DespairThu 20 Feb, 2014
You’re still shaking your head over the knives, pepper sprays and blackouts. But that’s not all that you need to know about and debate before the elections.
- How to Fight Censorship and Remain FreeWed 19 Feb, 2014
Every day it seems harder and harder to express yourself without fear of intimidation, censorship, mob attack or criminal charges. Reacting to the recent withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus by Penguin India, the writer presents a comprehensive guide to free speech in India, how it’s being attacked and what we can actually do about it.
- Are You The Compulsive Confessor? Are You?Tue 18 Feb, 2014
Ten years ago her honest, funny blog broke into our collective consciousness. A young Indian woman told stories about dates, love, visits to the gynecologist, masturbation, heart-break. We read avidly. We were fans. We were trolls. We were fascinated. Here at last, the story of what came before the blog. And what came after.
- Why the Andaman Islands Are Headed for DisasterMon 17 Feb, 2014
From poaching animals to illegal logging, from sexually exploiting the local tribes to getting them addicted to alcohol, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are facing a crisis that few on the Indian mainland are noticing. Unwilling to halt the ecological and human disaster, the administration is instead now trying to intimidate a senior journalist who has doggedly reported the local corruption and the plight of the tribes.
- On My First Data, My True Love Gave To MeFri 14 Feb, 2014
Websites that rate men, online dating services, singles networks, art-directed first dates. Sure, they can help women meet eligible men but what do they have to do with finding love?
- Roll over, Indian Rock. You’re almost famousThu 13 Feb, 2014
A new book on Indian rock music history in the 60s and 70s galvanises a younger music lover to, in turn, toast his favourite decades and the wild changes they brought.
- How Do You Stage A Rape?Wed 12 Feb, 2014
Theatre groups from around the world grappled with stories of sexual violence at the Sixth International Theatre Festival of Kerala in Thrissur.
- We're Nowhere Near PoribortonTue 11 Feb, 2014
Mamata Banerjee has turned out to be as bad as the 34-year-long Left rule in Bengal. How deep is Bengal's malaise and does it have any political alternatives?
- Lion Comes, Lion Goes, Lion Won't RoarMon 10 Feb, 2014
Last week at his Kolkata rally, Narendra Modi took his toughest test yet of trying to show his pan-Indian appeal. From the airport to the suburbs, from Park Street to the Press Club, from SP Mukherjee road all the way to Brigade ground, our writer tries to decipher why the BJP is notoriously weak in the land of its founding father and why Modi prefers to do nothing about it.
- I Will Tell You How Good Scripts Fall Out Of The SkyFri 7 Feb, 2014
Four Bollywood scriptwriters, two novelists, a filmmaker, a film critic and an anthropologist walk into a movie about Bollywood scriptwriters.
- Good Touch, Bad Touch, Corporate TouchThu 6 Feb, 2014
Inside the bewildered, bewildering world of gender sensitization in IT companies.
- No Piecemeal Change Can Fix Our Terrible Disability BillTue 4 Feb, 2014
The new and secretive draft actually reduces the rights and powers of Indians with disabilities.
- Why our investors should run far from coal plantsMon 3 Feb, 2014
More and more countries are distancing themselves from coal. Their reasons apply to India too
- No One Says 'Curtains' in Pari ImomFri 31 Jan, 2014
A young playwright revisits Shumang Leela, the travelling popular theatre of Manipur she grew up watching. And in its many-splendoured, many-gendered world she discovers controversial scripts, ethnic conflict, the horse-trading of actors and, of course, super hits.
- Where Would You Go If You Were Dying?Thu 30 Jan, 2014
For many Indians, young and old, terminal cancer doesn’t mean just death. It means a lonely, pain-filled wait. Unable to work, they are often also homeless and poorer than they have ever been in this last stage of their lives. A pioneer Bangalore hospice called Karunashraya has been one of the first of its kind in India to offer free palliative care to those beyond medical cure. Scenes from two years spent among the dying and the living.