Growing up in a culture that consistently tells you to cover yourself up because somehow it makes you a sexual being if your bra strap is showing. So wearing less clothing means you must be a “besharam”(shameless) girl away from modesty. The culture I have grown up in has made many women like myself think that sex is dirty and disgusting. For brown women, sexuality and sexual desires are hidden and kept away till marriage. So whenever a sex scene or just the slightest scene of two individuals of the opposite sex are touching on television, the channel is changed before the awkwardness creeps in.
Now, what I find funny is that we come from the land of the Kamasutra, and we find it strange to talk about sex. It is the 21st century and sex is still seen as forbidden, like it is some sort of sin or should I say at least premarital sex is. Within formal institutes of marriage, sex is celebrated while premarital sex is frowned upon.
The 1984 film Utsav is based on Bhasa’s incomplete play called Charudutta and Sudraka’s Mrichchakatikam, which was written around the 400. The movie celebrated sexuality along with every act seen as a work of art. Despite it being a flop at the box office, Ustav for me is an important film that looks at ancient India where sex is not a sin. While we see that Vedic India sees sex as the highest expression as the divine – with the union of Shiv and Shakti – modern India thinks completely differently. Pre-colonial India celebrated nudity and sex which is evident in its erotic temples known as the Khajuraho temples. But with years to follow of colonial rule, it led changes in society and the way a woman’s body is seen. Having the purdah to cover the entire body was expected of honourable woman – which continues to be the case. But men, they always fulfilled their sexual desires. What is acceptable for a man becomes a sin for a woman.
With the concept of virginity, brown women refrain themselves from having sex before marriage. Virginity, to date, effects so many women that some women even get their hymen reconstructed. Often the “suhag raat” (marriage night) has traditional white bedsheets along with the tradition of “Nath-Utarna” – removing the nose ring to show a sign of ending virginity. Blood on bedsheets is something which somehow confirms if a woman is a virgin or not. And in certain cultures, if a woman is not a virgin, it can even lead to honour killings.
Even living in the diaspora, the community still lingers onto the old orthodox views. If a woman does engage with sex before marriage often she’s seen a slut, a whore, and some characterless girl because somehow losing your virginity means you have lost everything about yourself and somehow it defines your identity. With the terms “maryada” (a certain limit/boundary) and “izaat” (honour) cultures and religions place their own moral codes on what is good and what is bad. And premarital sex mostly being seen as a sin.
Along with rules being placed that are just for women… A woman seen with a man in public is a sin. A woman wanting to express herself openly… a sin. A woman wanting to engage in physical intimacy… a sin.
Women are seen as subordinate to men and not equal with her being the “ghar ki izaat” – the honour of the home (absolute bullshit in my option) so she carries herself as an object and not a life, changing her titles but koi aurat se nahi puch tah us ki hasrat kya hai (“nobody asks women what they desire”). Marriage is the first milestone, followed by children being the next and what next? Grandchildren? And then the grave?
“The power of sexuality is far more than simply the mechanisms of human physiology… it transforms flesh into abstraction and causes it to become a vigorous tool of self-expression.” -Rita Banerji, Sex and Power)
Removing the restraints from society on how premarital sex is seen is perhaps only possible when we start talking about sex within our own homes. We need to tell our daughters their body is theirs to own and that they are not anybody’s izaat. Sexuality is an expression of every individual and every individual should be azaad (“free”) to express themselves. We need to create an open dialogue where we can talk about how sexuality is perceived within society for a woman freely without censoring it away, perhaps then things will change.
About the author: Rupinder Kaur is a 22-year-old writer and poet from Birmingham, England. She has a
love for the arts and history. You can find her on twitter @rupinderkw and Instagram