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
- Where do Adivasis stand in Indian law?Fri 27 Feb, 2015
Adivasis constitute 8.6 percent of Indians. The Constitution has always aimed to protect their interests. Has the law?
- Siddharth Vihar is gone. And with it, an important piece of Dalit historyWed 25 Feb, 2015
While the Maharashtra government is going over plans to spend Rs 30 crore to buy the London bungalow that BR Ambedkar once stayed in, Siddharth Vihar, the boys’ hostel in Mumbai that was once the site of important political and cultural activity within the Dalit community, has been demolished. Close to a hundred students have currently been left in the lurch as a result, but here’s why the demolition means so much more.
- What I Learned by Reading Every Budget Speech Since India got IndependenceMon 23 Feb, 2015
In 68 years, Budget speeches have provided an idiosyncratic, potted history of the country. And no aspect of the Budget has been more fascinating than that of income tax. From socialist Strict Uncle-style disapproval of high income and a focus on egalitarian ideals to a markedly capitalist approach, here's how income tax has changed over the years.
- Why Your Car is a Chemistry Lab on WheelsFri 20 Feb, 2015
What makes cars one of the most successful inventions of all time? The answer lies in science.
- Which Players Will We Remember from this World Cup?Wed 18 Feb, 2015
Even in this age of globalized sport, multiple new formats and around-the-clock coverage, the cricket World Cup is unique in how it can transform young players’ performances and reputations. From newcomers to international cricket, like Haris Sohail and Axar Patel to more established young guns like Kane Williamson and Adam Milne, this tournament is already throwing up some fresh faces who are trying to deliver on the promise of a lifetime.
- The Final Sanjana and Other Truths About the New Horrex HeroineMon 16 Feb, 2015
Why do horrex heroines in Bollywood rarely get to take charge when it comes to ghostbusting? What should really scare them is a creature that walks on two legs.
- This Valentine’s Day, should we reserve our love for instant noodles?Fri 13 Feb, 2015
Is happiness an empty word? Is love only about hormones and neurotransmitters? Our writer ruminates on the confusing urge to send romantic love packing. And why she hasn’t done it yet.
- Your Sari Is Like A ThermosWed 11 Feb, 2015
Need the warmth of a sweater in winter and the breeziness of a skirt in summer? A new study finds that the traditional sari is the perfect all-weather clothing – and that everything depends on how you drape it.
- This is one of India's best psychiatric hospitals. Is it enough?Mon 9 Feb, 2015
India has about 78 million people with mental health problems, but only one psychiatrist for every 332,226 people, and one psychologist for every 2,127,660 people. Between the vast shortage of treatment options and colonial-style asylums, where does one look for success stories? Our author visits the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in Chennai for a better view.
- Why Manjunath Kamath Has Returned to His Old and True LoveFri 6 Feb, 2015
With every new show, Manjunath Kamath promises storytelling, absurdity and wit. As for medium or material, all bets are off since he reinvents his work every time. Leaving behind his digital prints, murals, watercolor animations, claymations and fiber glass sculptures, Kamath has returned to the fragile medium of terracotta sculpture in which he began his journey as a leading artist of his generation.
- Why is Delhi Looking for a Second Opinion?Thu 5 Feb, 2015
Here we go again. Delhi is about to elect a new leader amid all the old questions. But this time, the BJP controls both the central government and the municipal corporation. So why are Narendra Modi and his party struggling so much against the perkily resurgent AAP and Arvind Kejriwal? What lode of unpredictability is the capital tapping into?
- Inside The Fellowship Of The Relentlessly PositiveMon 2 Feb, 2015
India is said to have the third highest population of HIV positive people in the world. It’s no longer a disease anyone seems to talk about though there are fresh infections everyday. Funds are drying up and everyone’s looking away. But for those newly diagnosed, for those who have been living with it for years, hope comes from within the community. Their fellow sufferers are the ones who fight prejudiced doctors, make sure they stay on the course with drugs, remind them of tomorrow, remind them of love. Across the country, in every district, it is within these tiny rings of hope that the HIV positive find life again.
- The Questions We Should Be Asking Frequently About the Land Acquisition ActFri 30 Jan, 2015
And answers from an expert
- His Were the StreetsThu 29 Jan, 2015
What’s written on our walls is important because sometimes our death warrants first appear there. Mohammed Hanif remembers his friend Asim Butt, an artist whose wall art seemed to have found a way of marrying JG Ballard to Habib Jalib. From hubcap lice to the backs of trucks, from Eject signs during Musharraf ’s emergency to the mythical perfume chowk, Hanif meanders through Karachi indulging his special fondness for the writing on walls.
- America’s Chanting Guru and His Swaying Indian TourTue 27 Jan, 2015
He’s supposed to be the bestselling chant artist of all time. He performed at the 2013 Grammy awards. Almost 45 years after he first came here, Krishna Das is conducting his first ticketed tour of public kirtans across India and minting some rather unusual fans of Hanuman chanting. Is it all really a spiritual hit back from the West or a long-awaited cashing in?
- Nothing to See Here. Move Along. Just The Uncle-ification of Urdu in IndiaWed 21 Jan, 2015
What else can explain its current he-he-joking, controversy-fearing, good-job loving avatar?
- No historians were hurt in the making of this objectMon 19 Jan, 2015
The 75th Indian History Congress this month should have been the site of another skirmish in the ongoing culture and memory wars. And the Congress waited with bated breath, convinced there'd be bloodshed.
- Who Will Stop The Plagiarists?Sat 17 Jan, 2015
In the drawing room of a suburban West Delhi home sits an elderly vigilante, the head of an organization that has been tracking criminal vice-chancellors, unethical professors and copycat students since 1981. But with only the force of moral authority to help them battle plagiarism in India's scientific community, can the Society for Scientific Values keep up the good fight?
- If you're in your second trimester and want to get an abortion in Maharashtra, good luckWed 14 Jan, 2015
The laws in Maharashtra are pitting those who fight against sex selection and those who fight for abortion rights against each other. Meanwhile it's not fun times for women.
- When parents pay for international schools what do they think they are getting?Mon 12 Jan, 2015
And is it paisa vasool?
- Why are we pretending that there isn’t a growing mountain of menstrual waste we need to deal with?Fri 9 Jan, 2015
And no, burning them is not the best idea ever.
- Love may know no locksmiths but teenage lovers in India can now be stuck with rape chargesWed 7 Jan, 2015
The well-meaning new laws were meant to protect children from adult predators. So why are they now criminalizing underage consensual sex? And how did they become the handy tool of angry parents?
- What Makes Virat Kohli So Brash, Flash and Eager to Smash?Mon 5 Jan, 2015
He likes the cameras, he likes his hero status and he likes to play hard. India's new cricket captain is incredibly different from his revered predecessors in his win-and-enjoy-at-all-costs gusto. Is this the beginning of the age of Kohli?
- Yahoo Originals: The Best of 2014Wed 24 Dec, 2014
The heaviest, coolest and craziest stories of the year. From Kabul to Chennai, from Kashmir to the Andamans, from Manipur to Jharkhand, our writers went everywhere. And found everything that shook us this year: sex, politics, doughnuts, football, gods, deserts, seas and much more.