Illustrator Vrushali Scares Lechers Away With Her Sarcastic Nazar Battus
- IWB Post
- August 27, 2017
“Wait, are you sure you want to wear such a tiny dress to the mall? What if something happens?” Yes, because that’s what the world revolves around, the dress I’m wearing.
If by chance, I muster up the courage to think that I look sexy in a dress, after months of body-shaming myself, someone or the other will tell me that I shouldn’t wear a short skirt because men will ogle at my legs. Well, but that’s not all the disappointment my day ends with. There’s knowing that I cannot touch the milk bowl because, pehele prasad, baad me impure haath.
I know a lot of you can relate to what I’m talking about, and also that it is a common reason for most of us to lose our sh*tz. At that, I’d like to thank Vrushali Somavanshi for making things a wee bit better for me.
Vrushali started the XX-Files, a photo narrative that pretty much sums up what we feel every day. The design student uses a nazar battu as a motif in all of her images. As you read further, you’ll go on to sniff some sarcasm in her work that brings out the reality of our society. Let’s face it, this is us.
Indian Women Blog: When you didn’t know what nazar battus were, what stories did you make up about them, in your imagination, back in the childhood?
Vrushali: As a kid, I mostly found them a bit scary looking and thought they were meant to scare off people. I wondered why people would hang it in front of their houses, as I’m assuming, everyone in a normal scenario would want their house to look welcoming, inviting and pleasant!
I didn’t know their purpose.
Indian Women Blog: What is in your Starter pack for a “lecher”?
Vrushali: Should have a good playlist of degrading songs like “fevicol se”
Say Hi babes; Should be able to read out the quotes on a girl’s t-shirt loudly;
Should never look at a woman’s face coz well, you know; Make inappropriate comments about her looks and figure rather than her work; Take every good thing she says about him as an invitation to something else; and of course the wolf-whistle!
We could call this pack Lechergiri 101!
Indian Women Blog: Apart from your illustrations, how else do you ward off the evil mindset?
Vrushali: I try my best to engage in peaceful conversations with people who have unfair opinions about how women should be. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Mostly it’s just being who I am. I think every day you are presented with an opportunity to fight off this mindset as it’s everywhere. We should be sensitive towards it and correct people then and there if we feel someone is unfair. Speaking up for yourself, knowing your rights as a woman, standing up for your female friends… there are so many simple things that I believe in doing which help fight this mindset.
Indian Women Blog: “She could be someone’s sister or mother,” how would you explain who a woman is, beyond just these two designations?
Vrushali: This has happened to me, and I find it extremely annoying. I was traveling with my mother on a bus, and I was given a seat next to a boy who was probably as old as me. He looked like a decent guy, and people started to enquire if I’m comfortable sitting with him and I said I have no problem. So one guy said, “Yes, of course, you both can just assume you are brother and sister and sit together.” Problem solved apparently.
I just don’t get it. Do men not respect any other women other than their sister or mother? Is it a pre-requisite to establishing a generally non-sexual relationship (sister, mother, cousin what not) with a man before getting his respect? I understand the good intentions behind it, but the strategy seems deeply ingenuous to me. I think any male should respect me and my private space as I am a fellow person/human/individual. I don’t want to adopt the role of a stranger’s sister just so he can sit beside me.
Just to give people a reality check, we all know some men rape their own sisters, mothers, daughters, etc. so it’s not like the relationship is so sacrosanct that it prevents the man from committing a crime. I’m not saying all men are like this, but a majority of them need to understand how to respect women.
Indian Women Blog: An incident that triggered you to fight against victim-blaming?
Vrushali: I don’t think there was one particular incident. I suddenly got very involved when I started my Post Graduation degree; new horizons had suddenly opened up for me, and I had started thinking differently. I started to read up a lot about feminism and talking to a lot of people about it. I realized it made me feel very positive and empowered as a woman.
I also interacted with Blank Noise which is a community in Bangalore that tackles street sexual harassment which helped me understand the inner workings of victim-blaming. I am currently doing my final year project with them as I completely believe in their ideas. I think victim-blaming is one of the very terrible problems we have today which is rooted in the fact that women should be controlled and behave a certain way only. This is a horrendous notion, and I’m totally against this constant policing of what we are wearing, where we are going and who we are with etc., women never ask for it.
Indian Women Blog: The beauty standards around the world constantly point out our imperfections. It is all a vicious wheel. How can we break the wheel? (I know you’re a GoT fan)
Vrushali: Haha, you got me there. I feel we, especially as women who understand the unreasonable standards of beauty the world has for us, should not pull down other women. I feel some women are often very critical of other women. I think it’s good to build a sisterhood and be supportive of each other, so all of us don’t try to kill ourselves in our attempts to look just a little bit better.
It’s not a competition. The best way to deal with this is to surround yourself with people who are appreciative and supportive of who you really are and what you are capable of so I would suggest picking your friends well. I would love to say that the ability to love yourself always comes from within, but I feel it’s not something that is always long lasting if it’s built in isolation. But this is just my own experience it can be different for other people.
I think most women struggle with their looks and a lot of us look for a certain amount of validation from other people we admire, but it’s better to first make sure those people aren’t assholes themselves. I think it’s good to build your confidence based on more permanent things like character and talent.
Me: If we had to prepare a nazar battu for patriarchy, what would be its components?
Vrushali: This is a very interesting question. Let me think. So it has to be something that Patriarchy is scared of and something which would be able to ward off its effects. Hmm. I think one of the components would definitely be something that depicts a woman’s sexuality because speaking in context to the recent ban of the movie “Lipstick under my Burkha,” I feel conservative patriarchal men are very afraid of a woman’s sexuality and feel it is something to be controlled and repressed.
I am not in favor of tastelessly exploiting freedom of expression too, but I think sexual desire is a part of every person’s physical and mental framework and should not be such a taboo topic. Also, a capable and educated woman who speaks her mind and knows what she deserves is what these type of men would be scared of. So I guess the Nazar Battu would be a very capable and ambitious woman who has the freedom to express herself, is self-sufficient because that’s what these men are scared of.
Me: What began as a part of your “Structures of Narrative” class, has resonated within thousands. With a background in design, how do you wish to take the thought forward?
Vrushali: I think the first simple thing to do is to occupy a space in the industry which enables you to create work for the masses. I think we need more women in every industry so the industry can also cater to women-centric needs. It’s like how architecture was and maybe still is a very men-dominated field hence urban planning is done according to a man’s perspective and movements, I feel if more women joined the workforce we could create safer and more convenient spaces for women.
So in the design world, it works the same way. If you want to design packaging for sanitary pads, you need to ask women what their needs really are and that’s only gonna happen when there are women who can work on such projects.
As a designer I anyway occupy a place of privilege where my work is directly talking to thousands of people, I wish to use this privilege with the responsibility.
Indian Women Blog: Feminism begins at home. How should we imbibe feminism in daily household practices?
Vrushali: I think parents should understand that their children belong to a different generation and their idea of a good life may not match theirs so they should let them pursue what makes them happy and not thrust their own expectations and ideas of happiness upon them.
I think more parents should trust the capabilities of their daughters and support them when they want to pursue their dreams because that’s what my parents did. A lot of parents are hesitant to send their daughters far off to study or feel they will miss getting a good husband if they continue studying after a certain age. It’s these simple things, yaar.
Treat your daughters with respect and trust them to make their own decisions sometimes. Let go of the reins! Yeeee-haw!
Me: Qualities you’d love to inherit from your mother & things you’d like to strike off?
Vrushali: My mother is an extremely brilliant and intelligent woman. There are so many qualities of hers that I admire and would love to have. I would love to inherit her patience to learn and her inquisitiveness to know about different things.
She isn’t really someone who has been conditioned to the way the world is now but yet she has adapted so well and is so modern, sensible and accepting of our views (she also loves ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Game of Thrones” and watches these shows with me and my sister, yes she is very cool). I don’t think many women from her generation are able to make that transition so well. She is a strong and brave woman who has taught my sister and me the right values.
There are certain qualities of her that I know I can never imbibe like the sacrificing nature, her patience and her ability to always put us before her. I also don’t think I’ll be as good as she is at cooking! I am very proud to call her my mom and one day I hope I’ll make her super proud too!
Indian Women Blog: A designer fetish that you’re embarrassed/proud of?
Vrushali: Judging restaurant menus more than the food? Lol.
Indian Women Blog: Feminist argument you ever had with your family (could be the age of marriage amongst other things)?
Vrushali: I really hate curfews. I like staying out late. I have had arguments with my family about that, but I know they always mean well and are only worried about my safety.
But they’re pretty cool and have never stopped me from doing anything I wanted without a valid reason. It’s just that we live in a society where you have to be extremely careful about your own safety.
I don’t think my parents would ever put pressure on me to get married, but they have a fair idea that the whole process is going to be a pain in the ass because I am impossible! They might in the future keep reminding me of my biological clock ticking, I’m not at that stage yet! 😛
Indian Women Blog: One evil in you that turned out to give you a positive outcome.
Vrushali: I can be quite critical of people, and I’m too specific about things I want from people. I get a lot of flak from friends and family for that. Sometimes people think of me as a recluse. It’s all very rooted in the fact that I love “figuring out people” so I’m very sensitive to the way people behave, constantly absorbing information about them and trying to make inferences about who they really are as a person.
I can also be very intrusive in trying to gain that information. Lol. I don’t think everybody generally bothers to notice people around them thaaaaaat much so sometimes my opinions may seem unwarranted to them. But I’m very very interested in people and the fact that I observe them keenly and I’m very specific about who I interact with has enabled me to have long lasting relationships with my friends. They understand me and are super fun as I have spent so much time and energy critically analyzing them to reach the conclusion that they are perfect for me! 😛
Indian Women Blog: One rule of a good Indian girl that you break every day?
Vrushali: I think I raise my voice and complain a lot when I feel something wrong is happening. I seem to have a lot of problems with a lot of things all the time. I can be a difficult person to deal with at times. 😛
I think as a good Indian girl I am supposed to look down and talk softly? Haha.
Photos used with Vrushali’s permission.
This article was first published on March 16, 2017.