The problem I have with Census 2011

The Census lady just visited my house in Delhi with her long list of questions. With every question, I felt more and more disconnected with our government’s thinking and also angry. In their need to compartmentalize our beautifully diverse population, the government is killing our multiplicity—or wants to. You will be forcefully put in one compartment or the other and sadly have no choice about the matter. Here’s what five minutes of interacting with the census lady told me. Be prepared for a mental onslaught when the Census probe comes knocking by your door!

  1. The census begins by asking you who is the HEAD of the family section—which of course is assumed to be a man. I wonder what happens in the household with only women? All the other people living in the house are made relatives of the said ‘Head’ of the family. How can a government which is talking about Women equality and creating bills and laws to protect its women be so patriarchal in its forms? I always had a problem with the forms which asked Father/Husband only – as if a woman cannot exist alone. Always made by a male babu of course.
  2. The next question is RELIGION with six choices – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist. If you don’t have a religion, I am sorry but you cannot exist for our dear government.

    Boxed in by your caste
  3. The major issue which a lot of us coffee-house argumentative so-called-intellectuals have been talking about since months is the fact that we don’t want to give out our CASTE. We always hoped (without any action of course) that the government will be sensible enough to give us a choice of NO CASTE. That’s the third question and no, before you ask me, you don’t have a choice of saying NO CASTE. If you say so, the census lady will simply have to put one you depending on your mother tongue. You have to belong to a CASTE else you simply don’t exist for the votes that the government in power needs.

After these three initial questions, I was too emotional (and too scared) to read more of the census questions. It’s unfortunate when you start to see our government deliberately chopping our diverse society into cubes of castes. Our freedom fighters and social reformers must be turning in their graves. This is their nightmare come true.

Same sex feminism

Let me not ramble on the concept, but show you what happens. Friend A and Friend B meet after a long time. Both have been college mates and are in their late 20s or 30s.

‘Where are you working now?’ asks friend A; trying to make friendly conversation.

‘Oh, I am doing nothing. Family takes up all my time,’ answers friend B vaguely.

‘Oh, you left your job?’ asks friend A.

‘Yes, I couldn’t take the stress of taking care of a child/home/husband/in laws and working,’ says friend B now, her eyes flitting uncomfortably from one side to another.

‘But, B! You have to take control of your life! You cannot sacrifice your needs, yourself for your family! They will have to adjust,’ says friend A, concerned, proudly single, living alone in a two bedroom apartment and earning in lakhs.

Friend B looks at the table corner, trying to find a flint of dirt there and feeling that her life sucks.

Of course you would have figured out that the conversation is between two females (I really don’t see men asking these questions of each other or even being concerned about this–tell me if I am wrong). Friend A is a traditional feminist, with a successful career and a ‘living for myself’ mantra. Friend B represents everything the traditional feminists protest against—family bindings, sacrifice, traditional woman roles. They are of the same age.

But this blog is not about who’s wrong or who’s right. That would be belittling both their choices. This is about how women are the ones expecting women to fit into an idea of feminist role or into an idea of traditional role. It’s not the men. We don’t need them there. Women are the protectors and keepers of roles—be it traditional or liberated roles.

Traditionally (and still), it was the mother/mother-in-law figure who ensured that the girl would play a certain role. The elder woman is in this way a spokesperson for our patriarchal society—for the roles set for women, for decorum, for morality. (Beautiful shown by this old National Geographic cover.)

Feminism was a protest against these traditional roles in society. The women wanted equality, the women wanted to be the superior sex, the women wanted to work outside and to have freedom of choice. Some years (or decades, depending on which country /area you see) down the lines, feminism has made itself a ‘role’, a comfortable box, to live in. The definition varies, but not that much. It’s defined as exact opposite of the traditional role of women. If you don’t work, you are not a feminist. If you sacrifice your happiness for your family, you are not a feminist. If you wear a bra, you are not a feminist. If you dress sexy, you are not a feminist. If you leave a job and have babies, you are not a feminist. If you don’t distrust men, you are not a feminist. If you do a man’s cleaning, you are not a feminist. If you work in the kitchen, you are not a feminist. Somehow, feminism is defined by all the things that you should or shouldn’t do.

And ironically, it is we, the ‘liberated’ women living in urban cities who are trying to put these boxes on our gal pals, our cousins, our sisters—same age females—and make a judgment on them. Again, no men, if you notice.

I have been on both ends of the conversation. I have played the role of Friend A as well as Friend B. But then I wonder. Shouldn’t feminism be something that just lets you be whatever you choose to be? That doesn’t have rules? Isn’t it about freedom of choice?

Oh, there are loads of disclaimers for the terms used in this blog, but maybe I will leave it open to criticism. Suicide I know, but well.