Swara Bhaskar is one of the few vocal feminists in Bollywood. She's never shied away from talking about the rampant sexism in the industry, and outside of it. Recently, she wrote an open letter to sexism for the India Today Woman Summit and Awards, which has been reproduced by DailyO.
In the letter, she writes about how sexism has been following her since the day she was born:
"I met you the day I was born. It was when my dadi had called - Baammaa we say in Telugu - and her first question on learning that it was a granddaughter was: “Is she fair or dark?” My naval officer father who was already dealing with hitherto unknown emotions and replied indifferently saying, “She’s pink - looks like a rat to me."
And how it slowly sneaked into her reflexes:
"As soon as I developed the powers of cognition, I began to realize in some subconscious part of my infant psyche that if I smile, people would fawn over me. That they would LIKE me.
I wonder how many little girls learn this infant lesson “Always smile and you will be liked.”
Now I know you are going to be like it’s not a girl thing – it’s a baby thing. Everyone likes a happy baby. Not really! It’s the girl babies who have to smile to earn the title of Pari, mitthi, misthi, gudiya... The boy babies are all bloody born Raja beta only!"
Which then affected her adult life:
"In the space of my work - you know that contentious thing called the workplace, the “professional” context - when men in positions to hire me, or give me work made a pass at me; or a proposition; or just grabbed me and began to try and neck me... Instead of being offended - I smiled.
I was nice! I didn’t say NO! I was apologetic even. I said, “Please! Please! I can’t.”
- When a director (struggling himself) rejected me for the female lead part saying, “You look too intelligent to be the heroine!” I smiled and said, “I can try and look dumb! See.”
Eventually, she writes, she realized that sexism was her friend:
"I mean, you are what you are, but we can learn SO much from you! You are like the ultimate management lesson. You are like Engel’s “false consciousness”; Gramsci’s “hegemonic manufactured consent” and Prashant Kishor’s election advertising success mantra all rolled into one.
You give us values - collective cultural values and impulses that we as an entire culture inculcate. Different values for girl and boy children.
To the girls you teach us to:
- Be nice!
- Be dutiful.
- Be polite.
- Be responsible (responsible towards others feelings).
- Be obedient (to elders and teachers).
- Be respectful (i.e. obedient).
- Be strong i.e. be sacrificing.
- Be forbearing i.e. suffer in silence.
And the boys… What values do you give them?
She wrote about the new terms she's learned because of sexism:
"You have appropriated the vocabulary of the resistance to your self – and come up with counter terminology... Every time we complain you comeback at us with words… FEMINAZIS…. And Hashtags… #NotAllMen #MenAreTheRealVictims.
YouTube videos – sketches, songs - that is all genuinely funny! Humour – you’ve aced using humour to your offensive strategy – and yeah well we laugh too!
Bra Burning Feminazis. SINBAD: Single Income No BF and Desperate. Feminist who needs a f**k. And my favourite, Flop-Publicity-Hungry-Actress. And maybe let’s throw in anti-national-sluts also. You are the Shakespearean inspiration behind the terms anti-national, presstitute, Libtard of our troll Twitterati."
And, finally, she talks about the people who don't identify as feminists:
"You created a secret army of Non-Feminist-Feminists to counter us Feminist feminists.
You know one Ivanka Trump for every 100 Women’s March activists.
Classic Divide and rule. aapas mein bhidaa do.
I feel like the British imperialists learnt from YOU!
This not-feminist-wala-feminism has that women are equal but biologically different so kinda also not equal thing going on. They will come to us with hormone studies to prove my so many months of paid maternity leave are unnecessary, or with pap smears to tell us how female ambition causes cancer."
You can read the entire letter at DailyO.