An Open Letter: Why Swara Bhasker's Vagina monologues don't add up

A Pinkvilla reader penned her thoughts on why she does not agree with Swara Bhasker's open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Swara had written an open letter after watching Padmaavat.
Discussion,Swara Bhasker
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An avid Pinkvilla reader- Mansi Sharma (A Part-time Writer, Full-time Feminist (the real kind), & Eternal Indian Cinema Advocate.) penned her thoughts on Swara Bhasker's letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali and why she disagrees with her point of view. Here’s her take on Swara’s letter:-

Dear Ms. Bhasker,

            Firstly, congratulations on writing an incredibly bold, thought provoking, and well written criticism at a time when national discourse on the movie is either frivolous or borderline despotic. You’ve had the balls - or dare I say vagina - to exert your influence in constructive ways instead of mindlessly accepting what was being thrown at you as a viewer and for that I commend you. What first read like a beautiful Zoya Akhtar produced Sheryl Sanderberg-esque monologue ended up being dangerously lopsided upon closer scrutiny.

            A woman’s right to life is ‘actually pretty basic’ as you say if not obvious, but for some reason in the midst of discussing this film you’ve jumbled your arguments with irrelevant layers thus invalidating your own points. Firstly, your interchangeable use of the word “Sati” and “Jauhar” is misleading. When you say “sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset” and loosely use terms that don’t make much sense such as “a Sati-Jauhar apologist” you are grouping Jauhar with Sati, thus equating it with rape if we were to follow your logic. This is fundamentally wrong to say the least. While the difference may seem slim at first, the underlying reasons for the two vary in a way that is imperative to consider. Here’s a mini history lesson –

            Sati is when a woman (sometimes involuntarily) is thrown in a fire upon the death of her husband to somehow join him in the afterlife. This was done despite the alternative possibility of leading a decent life sans husband if one weren’t to jump.

            Jauhar is a form of suicide en masse conducted by women who were certain of their kingdom’s defeat. It was done to avoid their inescapable eventuality of becoming a sex slave to the enemy as a result of political defeat with little hope for an entire sect of people. Again - they both result in women dying, but the arguments you have proposed for one cannot be exchanged for the other, and here’s why.

Women - raped, widowed, young, old, pregnant, prepubescent have an undoubted right to live and anyone who disagrees with that clear-as-daylight fact needs to be institutionally quarantined and never be allowed back into our world. And while Jauhar in and of itself is nauseating, its causes were overlooked by many of us equally ‘hot blooded’, ‘brave’ and ‘pure’ modern-day liberals - myself included, as I proudly announced my disdain for it during the final credits, before my friends and I headed to drinks, played charades and you know...determine our own fate.

Unfortunately, in 13th century Chittor, or for that matter Ranthambore, these women were faced by a far more perilous choice that cannot be undermined by easily outraged vanity-van-latte sipping liberals. Choosing between being a sex slave to men who will annihilate your soul or dying is hopefully not something that many of us will do and thankfully so. Sure, death over life is not empowering for our urban, credit card swiping generation, but it was to those who did not live our reality. That’s hard to hear and even more difficult to accept, but that’s always the case with a harsh truth.

Additionally, You cannot just brush off Jauhar as an event by saying “These happened. I understand they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences” because they weren’t just a segment of breaking news on India TV. These women were not all just mentally sick and suicide loving. Life was sacred then, and it is sacred now. We as a species were reflexively afraid of mortality then, and we are afraid of it now. Instead of painting this whole occurrence with a broad paint brush of regressive ideology, you need to at least try to imagine how it is like to have a giant pit of fire in front of you and Khiljian soldiers ready to ravage your flesh behind (and no I am not telling you to go to some Naxal town and try getting raped so please don’t play that card on me).

I loved your point about “the context of art being the time and place of when it was created and consumed” - but again, your follow up analogy with the 15 year old Dalit girl and the gang rape horror in Delhi is wrong. The victim in Delhi fought for her life courageously until her last breath. She denied the sexual advances of 6 cowardly sub-human animals who were raised to see women as piles of flesh and nothing else. The 13th century act of Jauhar you are somehow illogically comparing this to, was a result of defeat in a whole war where it was not only acceptable but also expected for kingdoms to conquer not just other kingdoms, but also their women as property. The morality of it was overlooked, similar to how the morality of unequal pay, arranged marriage, and under the table dowry is often overlooked on an international level in our world today. The context of art IS the time and place it is created and consumed in, but the context WITHIN the art is not.

Ms. Bhasker, I felt uncomfortable watching the climax too. As a woman, my stomach lurched when I saw the close up of pregnant women and young girls jumping into the fire. But our stomachs lurched because we do not and cannot even fathom the brutalities that were imminent for these women should they have chosen to live. As intelligent, tenacious and empathetic as you are - you are not in a position to unabashedly label things like Jauhar in the 13th century or its portrayal as reductive. You and I as empowered women are a product of the progress women have made through the several feats they have achieved in the last 500 years. We are a product of empowerment, not desperation - unlike this queen and her sisterhood.

All of this being said Ms. Bhasker, I’m not sure if you’ll even read this or get to the bottom of it, but I want to thank you for expressing your views in an environment of toxic discourse. But I just hope that along with making great use of words, you also exercise some empathy the next time you choose to label history as something it is not. And while you’re at it, I hope you choose not to condone stalking in B grade flicks both set in and consumed by 21st century society.

I wish you nothing but the best.

Warmest Regards,

Mansi Sharma

Comments

Dear Mansi,
very well written article, lucid and reasonable counterpoints, you must write more often

How many of these women had the freedom to not jump into the fire? There was a societal pressure that these women HAD to jump , if someone didn't she would have been shunned by her own society and family. As if those marauding soldiers didn't rape the men they captured, they would have done a lot worse to them as Khilji himself had eunch male sex slaves, yet all the surviving men didn't feel the need to jump into the fire. There are many women who would have chosen life despite knowing the risks!! They were robbed of their choice and SLB glorified the sick practise. Stop justifying it, you won't change our minds.

Personally, I believe that Swara Bhaskars comments were attention seeking silly prater. The fact that she hides behind the veil of feminism to make illogical statements make her more disgusting. How can she compare Jauhar with Sati? Both are wrong, but one is forced practice and jauhar is voluntary (albeit wrong), and doesn't she know the plight the sex slaves in the courts of Muslim Invaders? Swap slaves, sodomy and other things were done to them, and it doesn't befit rani padmini to undergo such abhorring things

Brilliantly written by Mansi to give a balanced perspective. Hope to see more of such writings in Pink Villa

I no thori thori anglish my mummy Swahili papa Indian golo gadhero

The movie is a blockbuster. Thanks to people like karni Sena and Swara basket who have given it a lot of free publicity.

Swara basket is a legend.

Her letter is better written than Swaras.Her point comes across better without usong the 'V" word.

I liked it, except for the last line. You lost credibility by saying that. It was unnecessarily rude.

Swara was overreacting. There was no glorification as such nor did he show women actually jumping into the fire. People need to take a chill pill and focus on current issues. I wish Swara took a stance against objectification of women in item songs and dance in the movies or talked about rape and abuse of women.
Love the letter!

I agree with Mansi. This is a movie based in the 13th century and we already know the outcome that there would be a jauhar scene. Sanjay leela chose to show the women as courageous who were not afraid to commit jauhar instead of these crying and sobbing women jumping into the flames. Everyone knows this Swara bhaskar wrote the letter with malice and to get attention. If you look at her Twitter you will see that she hasn't moved on and is stretching her 5 mins of fame to 7 days now. She is trying to gain sympathy playing a victim card and retweeting supportive msgs but hiding others. Is she was open to others opinions she would have taken the brickbats along with the bouquet.

Mansi is clearly a deepika fan as shes calling Raanjhna a b grade movie (sonams movie) when it wasnt.
All her arguements are clearly bias
Stalking was not glorified in raanjhna the way jauhar is in padmaavat
There is no proof of jauhar existing. Even if it did, should we make movies on tribes and cultures that practiced incest and cannibalism and glorify it rather than showing it as tragic?

Love every word written by Mansi ! You stand for meaningful interpretation

last line ...just awesome

Loved it.beautifully written..

This letter writer lacks nuance. just shameful to read such stupid stuff

Dear Mansi Sharma, jauhar is a niche practice of mainly west india. Since, it was confined to a small portion of a country in the world and rarely anyone finds same ritual in any part of India, forget about any other part of the world. And raids, plunder, loots were common during that period, we had mongols conquering eurasia, during the same period and no 'jauhar' has been reported. There are tribes which believe in incest, tomorrow if we make a movie on them and glorify their customs, what is your take on that(it seems unrelated but it fits the bill if an archiac custom is being glorified, some tribes are cannibals, and its their sacred 'ritual', would you glorify it?) just because rajputs believe that they are pride of the nation doesnt mean they were right all the time. Women fought then and they do now, many had rights then, as they have now, many communities. It was the same time when Razia Sultan was the monarch of india, the QUEEN. And had india been so regressive, the practice of jauhar would have been there from ancient times and wouldnt have popped up just in medieval times. Because war and plunder had been a norm till contemporary geographical boundaries came into being. I urge others not go by rhetoric but by logic. Swara's writing wasnt eloquent and she has a narrow fan base as compared to deepika. The lady had to bear the abuses. Rajhana did show stalking undoubtedly, but it didn't glorify and the stalker was a loser indeed. But jauhar has been shown in all its glorify, to show such a niche practice, which is very very confined geographically and saying that it was because they wanted to protect their "izzat and aburu" is regressive. I would like you to know, women across the world didnt do this and still their "izzat and aburu" wasnt questioned, because they fought and fought valiantly. Your letter is quite orgasmic to deepika fandom, but I am sorry it doesnt even address the issue.
Regards,
A ardent pv reader.

Beautiful and so very well written! My respect to Manasi Sharma! Hope miss Bhaskar understands & gets the msg!

Very well written Mansi and your letter gives very balanced approach and perspective. Hope to see more such writings in Pink Villa.

love it. esp the last line about raanjhana

brilliantly written!

I would rather be sex slave than die. May be i am coward. I don’t believe in afterlife and ending life is just the end of everything. If you live life can get better some day somehow. But to each his own. Padmini is legend mainly because of jauhar. Then you don’t want bansali to show wrong history right?

Exactly ! Who are we to dictate how a fictional character ought to have reacted ?

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