Even before I begin my rant, it is important to mention that smoking and drinking alcohol is bad for everyone's health, be it a man or a woman.
However, as a girl who does smoke and drink, I've realized that for me the harm is much greater than the one to my health. My body, usually seen as fragile, isn't the one that takes all the backlash for my habits, it is my izzat, my morality, that takes the biggest hit when I light a cigarette or pop a cold beer.
Even when I was a child, there was the single woman touching her 40s in my neighbourhood. She loved her liquor and that meant that she had no friendly neighbours. I would hear the aunties whispering to each other with facial expressions like they had bitten into a lemon. "Yeh aurat toh drink karti hai, shayad tabhi shaadi bhi nahi ki. Yeh drink karne wali auratein aisi hi hoti hain," they would say.
I also remember my mother firing the house help who smoked beedis. She wasn't smoking in our house but had been spotted smoking by my mother in a market. Tagged as a bad woman immediately, my mother settled all her dues and she was gone even before I knew it.
Since I was young enough to understand anything at all, I was taught that a woman using any sort of substance is a sin while a man indulging in the same substances is a sign of his manliness.
The thing is that we have certain definitions of the typical adarsh bharatiya naari. The moment you step out of that definition, the society comes banging at your door to tell your mummy about what her grown-up, legally adult daughter is doing.
Back in college when I picked up my very first cigarette, partly due to peer pressure and partly because of the pain of a breakup, I didn't know that smoking and all was only for boys. I never knew that Old Monk with hot water is a luxury only those with a penis can afford and I definitely was not aware of the social fact that if a girl does all this, she becomes 'easy', 'bigdi hui' or, to put it simply, 'a bad girl.'
No matter how many marks I got or how good my internships were, I was still that girl who was drinking and smoking and that, my friend, is a matter of shame that calls for a big bout of 'hawws' from Pinky Sharma, Pammi Aunty, and most of all, those strangers on the streets who I'm sure were well-wishing.
The boys at all the places I've interned at looked at me as being 'easy'. "Ladki agar smoke aur drink kare toh matlab uske bohot saare boyfriends hain," said a fellow intern at one of my internships. I asked him the logic behind it and he had none.
That's the point where I figured it all out: there is an intense power struggle.
Girls who smoke or drink do it out of their own choice. These are women who have consciously made a decision to indulge in habits which only men are ''supposed'' to harbour.
A girl who starts making her own decisions becomes a 'slut', 'bad', 'easy', 'besharam' and a lot of other things only because she dares to step out of the boundaries she's pushed into by the society.
But it's high time some things are clarified:
I know I'm playing with my health every time I smoke or drink, but it should be none of your business. Do not look at me like I'm a creature with three eyes. It is disrespectful and irritating.
Smoking or drinking doesn't mean consent for you to hit on me. These habits have nothing to do with my love life or my sexuality. These are mere habits and not a symptom of how much sex I'm having.