28 Jun 2017
10 min read
Even when we realise that the very fabric of our patriarchal society is woven with coarse rules that harm our souls in the name of protecting our skin, and even when the attires cut out from this fabric might not feel comfortable, we accept and wear the uniform prescribed to us by society. This is true for both men and women. Even though I have many issues with the rigid patriarchal system, I do at times find myself conforming to certain norms, putting on, if not the whole uniform, perhaps just the badge or the shoes that are a part of the outfit. This adherence sometimes comes from a fear of being shunned and sometimes simply because I want to make my mother happy. Whatever it is, many aspects of the patriarchy have been drilled into our very systems through repetition and reinforcement, and we must keep reminding ourselves and each other to purge ourselves of these mindless habits.
‘Broken Rules’, a series of portraits of 16 Nepali women by Spanish photographer Aranxta Cedillo is one such reminder. Her exhibit displays these women as their professional selves—to show that they have refused to accept the second-hand dreams and ambitions that women are expected to have in our society. Instead, they have strayed, against all odds, from the prescribed path that society once paved for them.
“It would have been easy to go along with the mainstream idea of packaging women’s bodies and sex appeal, and play that whole game for fame and money, but I didn’t want to conform to the female stereotype of a pop musician,” says Sareena Rai, one of the women featured in the series. Rai is currently a musician with Yuva Ekta, and well known for her previous anarcho-punk band, Rai ko Ris. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Rai over the past two years, and we often talk about how there are a growing number of female vocalists in Nepal but only a few women picking up musical instruments. As a bassist, drummer, dhimay player, rock-climber and a single mother living a DIY lifestyle, Rai has rejected many of the strictures that society has tried to bind her in and encourages others to do the same.
Rai and the women featured in ‘Broken Rules’ have been photographed against a studio backdrop of the sort that used to be the norm in the past. The photographer, Cedillo, says that this was a choice because she wanted to “allow each woman to represent herself and reverse the common form of portraiture where the people photographed usually wore traditional clothes and displayed very serious expressions.” In the photographs, objects symbolic of the women’s professions or work have been used as props. Cedillo’s intent comes across powerfully through her portraits, and the larger series speaks of the daring and strength of these women.
The exhibition also reintroduced me to personalities such as Ani Choying Drolma, a nun who is also a singer and poet; Madan Puraskar awardee, Jhamak Ghimire; and transgender activist Bhumika Shrestha. I also discovered women like Kiran Bajracharya, a Deputy Superintendent of Police who tirelessly works to bring about justice in society and change how the police behave with women and children; and Gita Rasaily—a survivor of the violence born of the decade-long Maoist insurgency who is fighting for justice for families like hers.
Getting to know the stories of these women who stand tall, confident and proud doing what they do should serve as a much-needed reminder for us to break a few rules that constrict us from following our true passions. In the next two weeks, I can imagine a lot of people, especially other girls and women, being inspired by the stories portrayed by ‘Broken Rules’. This exhibition can be viewed at the Manimandap, Patan Durbar Square, until November 3.
Bhumika Shrestha is the first transgender member of the Nepali Congress party. She is also a member of Blue Diamond Society, an organisation working for the rights of sexual minorities.
"I was born as a baby boy, and everybody in my family was happy about me. Even though society didn’t accept me, my family did. It was clear from the beginning the way I felt. We don’t have a law in Nepal that allows us to marry other people. I could not do it anyway because if I got married, I would have to live under a man, and I like to be in control of my life."
Ani Choying Drolma
Ani Choying Drolma is a world-renowned singer who is also a nun. She runs the Nuns’ Welfare Foundation of Nepal, a nonprofit organisation promoting the education and welfare of Buddhist nuns.
"I decided to become a nun because of the ignorance in our society. In that way I could avoid suffering and unpleasant things. My singing makes people happy and brings them pleasure. For me it is not only about singing, but also about ensuring that human values are respected."
Kiran Bajracharya is a police officer who has given self-defence training to over 1,000 police officers and is trying to change police behaviour towards women and children in Nepal. She has also trained in South Africa on the juvenile justice system.
"As a woman I didn’t get the chance to be promoted as a leader. I am trying to change police behaviour towards women and children. I would like to give to women the right to say no. They should learn how to say no. That is why I think they should learn self-defence."
Jhamak Ghimire is a poet who writes with her left foot, having been born with cerebral palsy. She has been awarded the Madan Puraskar, Nepal’s most prestigious literary prize, for her autobiography Jiwan Kanda Ki Phul.
"Power is something that comes from within. I am powerful. I started writing at seven or eight years old. At 16, I started writing poems, essays, stories and articles. Traditions are regularly made by people. If those traditions have positive impact on people then I accept them, otherwise I don’t. There are still many bad traditions in Nepal."
Sareena Rai is the lead singer of punk music group Rai ko Ris. Rai uses her music to advocate for women’s rights in Nepal. She is also a music teacher in her community and she is currently teaching Jeet Kune Do, a martial arts self-defence technique used by the actor Bruce Lee.
"People who don’t fit in anywhere end up in punk. I sing about sexual abuse, anarchism, caste discrimination, gender identity, etc. I wish that sexual assault and rape of women would stop. That’s what I want. But it seems that as long as there are men, it won’t stop. We need more feminists in spirit to make the world a better place to live in. Perhaps, I’ll be burned like a witch one day!"