This appeared in 'The Week'....
A ‘rakhel’ by any other name….
In this, the so-called Age of Enlightenment, when the Dalai Lama himself is sending out a powerful message to the world regarding gender equality by declaring, “ I am certainly not the best Dalai Lama of 14, and certainly not the worst…. if a female reincarnation is more useful, why not?” But is anybody listening to this wise soul? It doesn’t seem so, going by the shocking description used by a senior legal luminary while referring to a live-in girl friend as a ‘keep’. What a nauseatingly old-fashioned and archaic term that is… and how obnoxious, the put down! What was the man thinking? I was vastly relieved and proud when my old friend, the feisty senior counsel Indira Jaisingh, spoke up strongly against the usage and asked a few tough questions. ‘Rakhel’ is the Hindi equvivalent of ‘keep’ and sounds nastier still, even though it is merely a literal translation. It has an abusive ring to it and is frequently hurled at women in relationships outside marriage as the worst insult ever.Designed to denigrate and humiliate the shameless hussy who has dared to defy society by sharing a bed with a man not her husband, it is the sort of word that popular television soaps adore since it is bound to evoke a strong response – mainly from other women. The convention- obsessed moralists who feel sanctimonious and smug about their own legally recognised partners ( same dolts who have tied the precious mangalsutra round their necks). All these absurdities were floating around inside my head while watching a Marathi film that deals squarely with the subject. Based on a true story, it narrates the rather sad tale of a young woman who lives with the village school teacher for thirty years but can never win the respect of the community because she is seen as a ‘rakhel’. Worse, when the upright master dies, leaving her behind in their one room tenement, the old landlord resurfaces to throw out the hapless woman insisting she has no locus standi being just a mistress of the tenant and not his wife. She bravely challenges him in court… and wins. One has to understand the happy ending in the context of when the incident takes place (decades earlier) . Given the fragile status of women at the time ,her victory indeed qualified as a progressive landmark judgement.
But the crude comment we are talking about here is less than a month old. And was made by an erudite judge, no less. Was it just the terminology that sent shock waves throughout the country? Yes, of course. Terminology can never be interpreted in isolation - it is an apt indicator of a person’s mindset. Ms. Jaisingh had raised an important counter question when she’d boldly asked what a man is called when the situation is reversed? Is he also disparagingly dubbed a ‘Keep’ in court? If not, then why not? Why the double standards? As I write this, countless ‘virtuous’ women in North India have just finished fasting for their men. ‘Karwa Chauth’ has become one of the most important dates in the calendar of certain ladies, clearly inspired by the over romanticized portrayal of this ritual in popular cinema. From those melodramatic shots of Kaajol fasting for Shah Rukh Khan ( not yet her husband) in the immensely popular ‘Dilwaley Duhaniya Le Jayengey’ many moons ago, millions of misguided wives have taken to observing ‘KC’ in a big way. This involves not just starving in style , waiting for the moon to rise and the husband to return, but also applying mehendi, dolling up in bridal finery, receiving extravagant gifts and generally bonding with like minded girl friends over music and other distractions. Since ‘KC’ has become such a huge annual farce, it is worth asking why there is no known equivalent that requires a husband to fast for the long life of the long suffering wife! I don’t know of a single custom in our culture that makes any such demand on men. The onus of keeping a marriage going, the children and spouse happy, ensuring prosperity, good health and success for all, rests squarely on the woman’s delicate shoulders. She’s the one who starves, fasts, prays, punishes herself in various ways ‘for the sake of the family’. All that is expected from the man of the house is his mighty presence. So long as he feels like Hercules and is treated like Superman, everyone is pleased, especially the Gods. And guess what? Women who are official ‘Rakhels’ and ‘Keeps’ observe Karwa Chauth, too !
We are fooling nobody. Congress 'sacks' Kalmadi .... and seals several mouths. Ashok Chavan steps down as chief minister ( Wow!) and guess who's likely to stroll in?? Vilasrao! Whether it's Deshmukh, Shinde or Wednesday.... they sail in the same boat. If the High Command is serious about tackling corruption , arrest the scamsters.... go the whole hog. Merely asking tainted fellows to resign is nothing but a sham being made out of a mega scam. Sure, they'll step down.... buy time... fix files... and step right in again. Meanwhile the Raja of all scams is still out there.... scot free and shameless.