“Chudiyan Pehen lunga”, the derogatory dialogue that came under fire when Akshay Kumar said it in his latest film Laxmii is again in news for reinforcing its stereotypes. Bollywood actor Pulkit Samrat recently posted an appreciation tweet for Kumar’s Laxmii which was replete with misogyny and sexism. He tweeted, “Agar ye movie bumper hit nhi hui to main choodiayan pehen lunga. What an entertainer!” Even more shocking was the response that his tweet received from some people who rather than questioning his derogatory remark, tried to legitimise it. Since the movie Laxmii did not do well, many people ridiculed Samrat’s tweet and asked him to wear bangles, saree and bindi. A Twitter user said, “Let’s ensure he either remains a man of his words or else, “you know what, No Man”!!!”
Wasn’t it enough for Bollywood to perpetuate misogyny by popularising the dialogue “Chudiyan Pehen Lunga” through Laxmii that another famous Bollywood star used it so casually? Samrat’s tweet and responses and their blatant ignorance why their comments are problematic expose the deeply rooted binary of feminine and masculine in our society and language. Why are bangles, bindi or saree used again and again to shame men or emasculate them? Only because it is related to femininity? And does being feminine or a woman implies shame, weakness or uselessness? Does it mean that a woman who wears bangles and bindis deserves no respect at all?
This is not the first time that bangles have been used to shame men who failed in their job. Apart from Bollywood, this derogatory co-relation is rampant in politics also, used by both male and female politicians. Lalu Yadav, ex-Chief Minister of Bihar and RJD leader called out BJP leader Giriraj Singh for his racist comment against Sonia Gandhi. He shamed Singh by saying, “He should be made to wear bangles, vermilion, bindi, and his face should be blackened as he has crossed the limit of indecency,” An educated lawyer and politician, Kapil Sibal had asked the ruling Government to “take off bangles” and initiate strict actions on Pakistan when incidents of Indian army’s bodies being mutilated increased. This was in response to politician Smriti Irani’s comment that the then PM Manmohan Singh should wear bangles if he cannot take actions against Pakistan.
No doubt these derogatory remarks are common in our daily lives and language also. Even today men who work slowly are called out by saying “pair mein mehendi lagi hai kya”. Even today if men wear pink top, skinny jeans or anything that is “feminine”, are ridiculed. In fact, a school teacher in Gujarat forced his male students to wear bangles to “shame” them for not completing their homework. Because women have always been seen as subordinate sex who is weak, stays at home and does “nothing of worth”, femininity is used as a shame for dominant and deserving masculine gender.
But if the most influencing edifices of the society- Bollywood and Politics- use such sexist and misogynist comments so casually, can we expect our daily lives to be better? Just like a positive step taken by a famous person leaves an unerasable influence on many people, a negative comment goes a far way in legitimising the stereotypes we are fighting for so long.
Bangles, saree or bindi, and the person who wears them, irrespective of gender, are not derogatory and do not define any gender binary. These are rather the medium to express our choice, self-love and, to some extent, our love for culture and traditions too. It is not right either to relate bangles and bindis exclusively with femininity. Many men, transgenders wear bangles and sarees while many women don’t. In fact, Hindu Gods too are adorned with necklace, earrings and hand-accessories. Moreover, if bangles, saree and bindi denote shame or something bad, then why does the Indian culture force a woman to wear them? Why is there still a distaste for women who wear jeans or shorts? Doesn’t it point out to society’s double standards that it never wants to address?
This all points out to how gender binaries, representation and judgement are deeply related to the appearance of a person.
Men and women are raised with a particular idea of masculinity and femininity by policing what they wear, how they speak, walk and react. But by just wearing saree, bindi and bangles, a man cannot be a woman, or a transgender, as Kumar’s movie tries hard to portray. Or a woman is a respectable and equal citizen, whether she wears bindi, saree and bangles or not. As I said, bangles and bindis are medium of expressing our identity and not the identity itself.
Despite all the efforts to establish social equality and gender fluidity in society, why such stereotypes manage to seep into our language and lives? Is there a lack of knowledge and understanding or is the patriarchal conditioning too pervasive to be evaded? If such stereotypes are reinforced even today through movies, actors and political speeches, will the efforts to achieve equality ever reach its epoch?