By Karanjeet Kaur Sep. 19, 2016
Pink should have released with a trigger warning for half this country’s population, where living as a woman is an act of jurrat.
o you know what a semen stain looks like?”
It’s a question you never want to be asked in public, much less in a courtroom. But there it hung, heavy.
I clutched the wooden bench I was sitting on in the courtroom. I was only a witness in this high-profile case of grievous sexual assault, but the question made everyone in the room feel like the victim. We should have known that the trial was going to get worse from there on, especially for my colleague who had been assaulted. That the defence lawyers would stretch the exhausting cross-examination procedure into two hours. They would ask her to identify a pornography clip that the accused had shown her during the assault, probe her on how long each of the accused had assaulted her, and when she’d had her last period. In their closing statements, despite the medico-legal reports, they would say that the survivor had invented the gangrape to attain fame.
Not one Bollywood film has come close to the actual horror of how a trial unfolds in Indian courts. Not one has captured the surreality of a sexual assault trial, the logical leaps that are made, the way things devolve swiftly, and the conclusions that are drawn before you can blink an eye.
Pink comes close. Very, very close. Not just in portraying the truth that the path to getting justice in this country is more traumatic than the incident itself but in so many visceral ways. It cuts so close to the bone that it hurts. It gets the lived reality of being a woman in Delhi – or any Indian city – so right that it makes you squirm in your seat.
A few years ago, I took a short sabbatical from work to study film in Pune, a kinder, less jagged city than Delhi where I grew up. One day as we made our short walk to catch an evening screening, my friend stopped in his tracks to ask me why I kept turning around to look over my shoulder every ten seconds. Prior to this, I’d never noticed that I’m trained to fully assess my surroundings at every minute:
Who is walking behind me? Can I dodge them without bodily contact?
What is revolutionary is the mainstreaming of these ideas, and that a film calls out the typifying of women between “achhi ladkiyan”, “waisi ladkiyan”, and “bindi wali force”.
This constant state of awareness is exhausting because there is no reprieve from it, no off-day. So much hangs in my mother’s muttered “khayal rakhna” each time I leave the house. All, so I can be prepared for the moment things go awry.
Pink tells you, in no uncertain terms, how little it takes for things to go awry. How an acceptance of a drink becomes the dime on which things turn into sexual assault. Even then, the trauma of the incident is less important than the trauma of having to come into contact with the state machinery and the world at large. In one of the more quietly heart-breaking scenes in the film, the girls attempt to inject some levity into their lives, to neutralise their anger as good Indian girls are taught, and laugh the whole ordeal off. The savagery, which starts when they have to brush shoulders with colleagues, cops, and lawyers, is a foregone conclusion.
Last year, I woke up at 3 a.m. to the sound of muffled shrieks and things being thrown around. It turned out that my temporary flatmate’s boyfriend (also her colleague) had assaulted her physically: He’d repeatedly slapped her and tried to strangle her thrice before I managed to intervene.
In the days that followed, we tried to convince her to at least lodge a police complaint against him. Unlike the film, we met a wonderful officer who only scolded us for not coming in sooner. As we waited for him to summon the boyfriend, a female officer took the opportunity to air her opinion on the incident. What were you thinking, she hissed at me in a low voice, letting a man into the house at night? Women like you, who have the benefit of an education, ought to know better than to take such risks. Finally, she scoffed, what’s the difference between you and your poor domestic help, if your men are going to beat you up anyway?
The female police officer looked nothing like Sarita from Pink. She was slender but had a more imposing presence than the slight cop from the movie. But her views, her apathy, her derision for her own gender, and the cussedness with which she held my flatmate responsible for what had happened to her were exactly the same.
As were the reams of artery-splitting bad advice that my flatmate received from her close friends: The Falak in our lives who doesn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. “Baat kyun badana hai,” is her war cry, which emanates from a protective instinct. The same instinct drove my flatmate’s friends to encourage her to just forget the whole affair and move on to avoid the inevitable backlash, the “reputation” that she would eventually earn.
Pink should have released with a trigger warning aimed at half this country’s population. Of course, the ideas swirling around the film are not revolutionary for people with more than a passing interest in feminism. What is revolutionary is the mainstreaming of these ideas, and that a film calls out the typifying of women between “achhi ladkiyan”, “waisi ladkiyan”, and “bindi wali force”.
For me, far more than its translation of reality, the triumph of Pink lies in the fact that it addresses the idea of “jurrat”, loosely translated as pluck. Of women daring to live by themselves in a house separate from their parents; of wearing what they please and hanging their lingerie to dry in public view; of having messy, complicated relationships without giving a toss about whether their neighbours will later say “unke yahan log aate thhe”. Of women having the right to take risks – a privilege accorded only to men – to have a drink with a bunch of boys they are not immediately related to or just to go for a jog at twilight.
Because really, whether you step out of your house or call anyone in, living as a woman in this country is an act of jurrat. And this, is where Pink’s unremitting commitment to the idea shines.