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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Women Get Labelled Every Time They Shake The Narratives Of Patriarchy: Sabika Abbas Naqvi

  • IWB Post
  •  March 28, 2019

Doesn’t the following poem by Sabika Abbas Naqvi perfectly encapsulate the resilience of the female spirit?

Aur hum

Humara kya hai

Hum toh besharam, gunahgaar dayan aurtein hain jo

Aagey badhtey jaayengey

Pinjre todey jaayengey

Aur raat nigaltey jaayengey

Aur chaand hamare maathey par

Bindi ban kar chamkega.

A performance poet, gender rights activist, translator, and storyteller, Sabika is an individual who thrives on the words and the impact they have. She is well aware of the fact that words and the way we use them have power.

With the streets as her choice of stage and the resolve to change the world with her art, there is nothing that comes in her way, not even labels which are liberally attested to her every now and then.

In a recent interaction that I had with Sabika, she talked about labelling, why it has stopped bothering her, and why it should stop bothering every other woman.

Here are excerpts from the interaction:

Since you deal in words, let’s begin our conversation with the rhetoric of language. Have you ever felt burdened by the language or all the ideologies associated with it? 

I have never felt burdened by language, I am not a purist. You will see that most of my poems don’t strictly adhere to a particular language and if there are words from Urdu in a Hindi poem, there would also be words from English in the same. I think that the only purpose of language is communication and whatever word from any language suits my idea of expression I just use it. Language should never be a barrier.

I just don’t abide to the purist ideologies and ideas like “things have to be like this, like that, or in the perfect meter.” I don’t write in the form that many like or prefer, I have my own form. Nor do I think that the rhetoric of the language or already assigned parameters of poetry should ever become restricting factors because it is about the purpose. My reason of writing poetry is to express myself primarily and that expression has to come with my own idea of communication.

Be it the precepts of language or the mode of expressing oneself, for a woman who transgresses any premises of what is considered right or appropriate by the society, labelling comes in easy. Tell me about the labels that you have to live with or respond to on a daily basis.

It is not just me, there are certain labels that have always been used for women. For instance, if you talk softly “you are too shy,” if you talk too loud, “you are too bold.” Whatever we do, there will always be labels.

You have been doing a lot of street poetry and sometimes you go solo and people certainly are not used to it. How about the labels that were flung at you for choosing the mode of expression that you have chosen?

It’s always “shareef ghar ki ladkiyan don’t do this, shareef ghar ki ladkiyan don’t do that” but what is sharafat anyway? Other than that I have been called anti-national, I have been called anti-Hindu and anti-men. Actually, on my face people rarely do that, when I perform in public I get a lot of appreciation. When these videos go online then people have so much to say.

How does labelling affect you, if at all?

Initially, when it started happening I felt a little bad but eventually I realized that whatever people write on social media is a reflection of their own selves and if I start caring about it I would never be able to do all that I want to do.

What do you think is the right way to deal with all these unsolicited labels?

I think there are two ways to deal with labels: either subvert them or reclaim them and I think women do that every day. Labels exist because the patriarchal factions have to fit us into parameters, they want us to be slaves of the headings that they give us. They have this entire urge to control how we talk, how we walk, how we live our lives.

However, women have been subverting these labels for centuries, even if it was just from under the carpets at many occasions, so many of the women have done it and we are the grand-daughters of those women and thus, we will do it too.

In a country obsessed with outer appearances, do you think that the labels we get also have a lot to do with how we choose to dress up and live our lives?

Oh, its’s so often that so many of us hear things like “I didn’t expect that you’d date someone” just because we wear a particular kind of clothing, talk in a particular way, come from a particular family background. They find it hard to grasp that a woman wearing a particular kind of outfit which they think is sanskaari can do something which they don’t think is sanskaari.

We are basically shaking their narratives, we are shaking the basis of patriarchy, we are shaking their belief system which is very, very insecure because it is based on propaganda, it is based on oppression, and based on this hyper idea of masculinity and they want to hold on to it.

A woman standing at a tapri having a chai, a woman working late in the night, a woman choosing to marry on her own, one not choosing to marry or adopt a child, anything that challenges their belief system that thrives on oppressing women, scares them. Darr jaate hain yeh log. And how are they going to react to it? They are going to react to it with more sentences, more words, and that’s what they do.

Also, people somehow find it very convenient to sexually target a woman each time she expresses a social or political view? Why, do you think, is it done so unabashedly?

Because historically sexual threats and rape have always been a tool of power. They have been used by armies, rulers, oppressors to control women and women’s bodies are places where a lot of politics happen. Why do you think a woman from one cast is not allowed to marry a person from another caste? It is less about love and more about the sex and the offspring. People are scared that a child will be born out of an alliance that doesn’t serve their power structure purposes. All of it comes from the idea that women’s bodies can be used to express power.

Have you been addressing issues pertaining to women’s sexuality and how it is curbed by patriarchy through your poetry? How do people react to it?

I talk about it a lot. I will share an incident, I was at an event where I narrated a poem that revolved around sexuality. It was a mushaira and I was the only woman among a bunch of old men. After the performance a guy caught me backstage saying that he wanted to talk to me about something.

I thought I was going to have an intellectual conversation on poetry and perspective and then he said, “I just wanted to know if you are married.” I was like ” excuse me,” and he said, “no because you talked about sexuality, I thought you are married because if you are not then you are not experienced in all this, then how can you write about it.”

I said, “Listen, half of the men here have never experienced kaali ghani julgein falling on their shoulders and they still write about it, right? Even if I have experienced or not experienced something, it is none of your business, has nothing to do with my marital status, and why do you even care? How dare you ask me? Did I ever ask you if you are an oppressor when you write misogynistic poetry?”

Loved how Sabika is so emotionally invested in everything she says? If yes, then we have something really exciting for you. Sabika has been busy curating a special poem, where she would be addressing issues pertaining to women’s sexuality, desires, and the judgement that they have to go through, for our ongoing campaign “The Cuntry.” Keep watching this space for more.

Constantly striving to be a wholesome voice in contemporary feminism, IWB has come up with the campaign “ The Cuntry” to stand up for sexual choices of women for pleasure and not just for procreating. The campaign will take you across the country as we navigate the sexuality of women, how it has been repressed all this while, and seek ways of freeing it.

Campaign partner Kamasutra has joined us in our quest and will help us in taking you across the Cuntry as we navigate the dynamics of women’s sexuality in India and attempt to free it from the confining fetters of repressed ideologies.

We invite you to bring your love/lust stories to find power in the spoken word and set yourself free. We’d love to know how you rose above the burden of stigma that the society so liberally throws on our shoulders. We seek your stories to inspire, empower, and liberate those hesitant to make the first move towards claiming their agency in sexual pleasure.

You can reach out to us on hello@indianwomenblog.com. You can also DM your story to our Facebook and Instagram handles(P.S. Confidentiality would be ensured if you ask for it).

But wait, we have something more to get you excited. Kamasutra is offering a 10% discount to everyone who uses our special campaign coupon code ‘CNTRYKS’. This discount is over and above current discounts /offers running on the KamaSutra range. (Approx. 15% discount is offered on all their products on the platform.) Now, how exciting is that! Click here to avail our reader special discount. 

First published on Dec 14, 2018.

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