Women & Freedom: An Independence Day Special

Kavita, Khabar Lahariya Digital Head and anchor of The Kavita Show, speaks at length about freedom, women, and the freedom of women, in the latest episode of her show, out today. Echo, echo!

As girls, and as young women, you grow up feeling with nothing short of certainty that the most you can ever want out of life is your own freedom. And, more importantly, that you can only reasonably expect it within the confines of a space with invisible ‘boundations’. Stay put, we know, in our rooms with our views.

Plus, it comes at a price.

In the case of Kavita’s friend Shabana, a working woman in Jhansi, it is the absolute, draconian scorn of an entire system levelled against her.

Shabana recently found herself at the bitter end of a long drawn-out series of arguments with her husband when late one night in early August, her husband charged at her with an axe. He’s been abusive before, and is almost always foul-mouthed, especially when speaking to Shabana or to the children – there are five. But something about the look in his eyes that night chilled her down to her bones. They screamed murder.

She did what anybody in their right mind would. She fled to the police station.

But she was in for a nightmare unexpected. A largely uncooperative police force turned positively hostile upon seeing Shabana and hearing her out. One obnoxious cop (excuse our French), articulated the entire unsaid vibe of the room. And even after decades and decades of living in the ugly patriarchal badlands of Bundelkhand, Shabana was unprepared for them. “Tum toh hamesha yahaan wahaan ghoomti rehti ho, bag latkaaye. Madam, bura namaanna lekin aapko dekhkar toh nahi lagta ki aapko koi tang kar raha hai. (You’re always out and about, walking around with your bag on your shoulder – what are you complaining of? Don’t take this wrong way, madam, but it’s hard to believe this – that someone is harassing you.”)

Her husband was put in jail for a while, and then had his mother bail him out. Shabana moved to her parents’ place, 7 kids in tow. What price, freedom, it makes you wonder? Is it worth it?

In the belly of the beast where we work, also known as the heartland, we experience and encounter this, in one form or the other, every single day. All those terms now bandied about, courtesy liberal media – casual sexism, sexual harassment at the workplace, stalking, violence against women – here, deep inside the innards of Bundelkhand, they take on a raw and merciless avatar. Often regurgitated into samjhauta – The Compromise – that ugly, nothing short of evil solution that serves as the abysmal light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s a rejection of that option that pushes Shabana, like so many others, to fight tooth and nail for her existence. Because this can’t be all it is.

And when we see people like Shabana, we realise that this what makes it worth fighting for.

When her office planned an offsite at a scenic location, Shabana, eight months pregnant, fantasised about going. Hell, she even demanded it.

Freedom also means letting your hair down after all. Unfettered.

Something Kavita knows a thing or two about!

Kavita tells us why she’s not going all gung-ho about celebrating Independence Day

The anchor of her own show, a first for Bundelkhand, Kavita knows of this fiendish freedom, and its price too. She knew it in the moment, several decades ago, when she enrolled herself into a women’s education rural programme. She sat right at the back of the classroom, because this was a secret act of rebellion – she had left home stealthily, had lied about how old she was, because there was a minimum age requirement, and she had cursed her chotis. (It’s lucky she got rid of those when she did, right?) Her very own lipstick-under-burkha moment.

Today, when she reiterates it for her audience – from local media movers and shakers to residents of the kasbahs and gaons she’s talking about and bringing into the conversation, every line (some more implicitly than others) spells out her sangharsh, her battles. “I have fought for this freedom at so many levels,” she says in Episode 5, an Independence Day Special of The Kavita Show, “I have fought with my family. I have fought with the system. I have fought with social mores.”

And akin to our freedom fighters, Kavita knows just as well as Shabana and you and me: It might be a steep price, but it’s definitely worth it.