Who understands the value of liberation better? Those who do not have liberty, and have to survive with that knowledge? Or those who are oblivious of their rights, and then happen to chance upon them, with the whole world opening up for them? This is a subjective question, since we all live different lives, and our experiences shape our understanding of liberation differently. But one thing is for sure, liberation brings with it a sense of empathy for others. This is yet another reason why the empowerment of women is important; it is a chain reaction, as it can help them liberate others.
This weekend I watched Alankrita Sharma’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, and what intrigued me was how the director has treated Konkona Sen Sharma’s Dolly in the film. This character of a middle-class, mother of two, working woman has a very interesting character arc. Dolly is trapped in a sexless marriage. Her cousin Kitty tells her that her husband touches her inappropriately. Her younger son likes to play with dolls and dress “like girls”. Being the only woman at her office, she is expected to make tea for everyone. Dolly knows things are not right in her life, and yet she chooses to live in denial, rather than face her issues.
Dolly blames her frigidity for her poor sex life. She accuses her cousin (Kajal) of misunderstanding her husband’s intentions and disapproves of that fact that Kajal works at a call centre that “sells romance”. She beats up her son and throws away his dolls in the trash. She continues to tolerate casual sexism at work. And then Dolly has an affair. She realises that she isn’t frigid. Gradually we see her stand up to her boss at work, grow empathetic towards her cousin and accept that her son is different. In fact, in a moving scene towards the end, we see Dolly give her son a pink hairband to wear.
Now, equating liberation with sex and cigarettes is a film trope we are all familiar with, which in itself limits how we define liberation. Being liberated could mean different things to different people. It could mean walking out of a toxic marriage, resuming education or work after a hiatus, becoming financially independent, or picking up a hobby, just because it makes you happy. But liberation of any kind can change your perspective towards the world. It can help you see through the structure of patriarchy that contains women, and even give them a false sense false comfort and empowerment.
Like Dolly, a lot of us live in denial of oppression, especially if it is not blatant or brutal. Ever since childhood, we have been taught to count our blessings, and be “satisfied” with what we have. This approach was intended to help us steer clear of excesses. However, what it ends up doing is creating a trap of guilt that keeps us from seeing our problems as relevant. So what if you are in a sexless marriage? At least your husband doesn’t abuse you. So what if your boss asks you to make tea at the office every day? At least you have a job.
Liberation also helps women realise that it is possible for them to be happier and more assertive at the same time. They can have their way with the world, instead of finding satisfaction with what it gives them. And guess what? Women can relay this message to other women, encouraging them to be dissatisfied and seek more out of their lives. To challenge subtle oppression, no matter how trivial it may seem at first sight.
The views expressed are the author’s own.