We can only truly have feminism in this country when we begin at the biggest problems and then work our way round to sexist-trying-to-be-trendy signboards, not the other way round.
Two things happened concurrently this last month. One: a young girl called Delta Meghwal was raped by the physical training instructor of the hostel she was staying at as she trained to be a teacher. Later, Delta's body was found in the communal water tank and was carted away by a garbage truck. While many suspect she was murdered—Delta was a prize-winning artist and not one to bear sexual abuse lightly; as soon as the incident occurred she called her parents to tell them—the police in the small town of Nokha in Bikaner aren't able to confirm that yet. Or perhaps they just won't.
The second thing that happened is that a South Delhi restaurant decided to jump on the hipster bandwagon and put up a chalkboard sign with a “funny” saying on it. Maybe whoever managed the restaurant had just seen a list on the internet of “Top 10 Funny Signs Outside Pubs”. Maybe he or she thought, “Hey, it's a slow day, why not get more customers in?” I'm thinking this person was probably a man, because the sign in its entirety read: “We don't serve women. You must bring your own...” Har de har har. Right? This is where your male colleagues would chuckle and smile to themselves. All is well in the world when sexist jokes can still elicit a little giggle. However, Feminism Won The Day, when film critic Raja Sen happened to walk by and take a photo of it and post it on Twitter. It blew up, and it's probably all you saw on your social media for the next few weeks. I certainly did. Along with petitions to “ban Imperfecto (the somewhat apt name of the restaurant)” and pleas across Twitter to “do something” and give them a bad review on Zomato.
PLU is a great phrase. I was taught it by a savvy friend—it's a short, snappy acronym that says so much. People Like Us. Suddenly, the world was divided into categories: PLUs and non-PLUs. You could dismiss Tinder, for example, as not filled with PLUs and rave about a certain other dating app that was filled with them. PLUs went to the same schools, the same colleges, have the same homogenised educated-expensively-in-India accent, have English as a first language, dress in expensive but simple clothes or affordable export surplus clothes made only out of cotton because “synthetic is so cheap looking”, sit next to you on the Metro but whip out their iPhone to listen to Lana Del Rey, complain about Uber's surge pricing or Delhi's odd-even rules, are all about “discovering” a new place to travel to and never ever ever take a package tour, the women probably have hiking boots in the cupboard next to their high heels and ballet flats, the men wear loafers without socks and stroke their bellies grown round on Stella Artois through their faded-on-purpose t-shirts. I'm a PLU. You, too, are probably a PLU.
Now, the problematic thing about Trendy Feminism—Beyonce shining it over her head on a marquee, Bollywood stars looking pretty and distressed as they recite paeans of performance poetry on the subject, new websites with funny gifs illustrating sexual violence and posting first person articles on everything that a PLU cares about—no kids, no marriage, one-night stands, yeah! Stand up to the man!—is that it leaves very little or no space to worry about the stuff feminism should be making a difference to.
Like the 200 men who harassed a small group of women activists trying to enter a temple. Two hundred! And that temple had just changed their rules to allow women to enter a certain part of it, provided they dressed according to code. Which these activists did, which means the men were just attacking them because they were angry they had to change in the first place. Or a community which forbids—forbids—women born within it to marry outsiders, because obviously that's something a community decides for you. Or Delta Meghwal. A 17-year-old girl who happened to be a Dalit, and wanted to be a teacher, who was sent to her fate by the principal of her college. Now, to be fair, people are protesting Delta's death. The media has some coverage more than other similar cases get, and everyone's favourite dimple-faced politician Rahul Gandhi has even met with her grieving family. But there are no petitions floating about on my Facebook. Not even a note to #BanTravelToBikaner in protest.
We can only truly have feminism in this country when we begin at the biggest problems and then work our way round to sexist-trying-to-be-trendy signboards, not the other way round. It's like trying to clean up an oil spill by arranging shells on the beach.
Meanwhile, despite all of the hubbub around it, and the handful of one-star reviews, Imperfecto still hangs on to an above-average rating on Zomato. The owner apologised, everyone forgot about it and moved on to the next thing. Which was a sexist TVC by Ola cabs, I believe. The company took it down and apologised, too—but I still haven't been given a ride by a female driver. Nor have I had my groceries delivered by a female delivery person. How's that for your next outrage, guys? It's totally a PLU thing.