“I moved to Islamabad for employment purposes and was able to find a hostel which catered to working women. The place was owned by a couple, but it was strange to see that the man tried to use the ‘honour’ narrative to tell me how I was their responsibility simply because I was single. When I called him out, he made sure that my months-long stay becomes difficult.”
This experience was shared by an attendee at the documentary screening of Indian filmmaker Shika Makan’s ‘Bachelor Girls’. The film explores true to life experiences of women who faced difficulties in finding accomodation owing to their relationship status.
Organised by the Documentary Association of Pakistan, the screening was held at the The Second Floor (T2F). The oxymoronic film title was highly symbolic of the interviews of majority of the women residing in Bombay, one of India’s biggest urban centres.
The women are not just denied space, they are also humiliated for living alone. Forced to remain vigilant when outside of their homes, these women could not unwind even inside their houses, as one of the interviewees of the film stated, “A person comes home to feel at home and relax instead of worrying about the very place they live in.”
During the question and answer session, moderated by Sadia Khatri of Girls at Dhabas, with Shika on live video revealed that the film was inspired by her personal experience. “I thought it was just my bad luck that people would ask my status before leasing me a place. I went through a lot of problems, security guards used to keep a tab on me. Being a filmmaker it was more difficult owing to the stereotypes associated with the profession,” she said.
Speaking about the documentary, the filmmaker observed that it wasn’t too difficult to find stories because every other woman who moved to Bombay had the same story to tell. Ironically, some women backed out because they feared the housing society would get stiff with them, she shared.
Speaking of the much acclaimed ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Parhao’ campaign run by the Indian government, Shika said it fails to live up to its name because the society is not willing to accept a girl who goes on to become an independent woman.
“What is the whole point of the campaign? If we educate a girl, she would be on her own..but then we do not want women to be on their own. It’s like we don’t like your independence, we won’t give you a house!”
Similar instances were shared by a few other women seated in the audience; as per one of them, people either politely refuse or assume that the woman would be moving in with a husband.
“Once I managed to get a portion but the moment the landlord found out I was single, he began moral policing me about how I wasn’t allowed to bring friends over especially men,” said one of the attendees.
Speaking to The News via email about the screening in Karachi, Shika said that it wasn’t just Bombay, rather a woman from Chennai had reached out to her following the release of the promo about how she was stalked, while an intruder tried to break into her house to scare her away.
“Often single women are told how they should live their lives, as though they are not capable of being on their own. Sadly this infantalising of women continues irrespective of their age, education, profession or financial independence.”
She also felt that the film was able to break the ice about a problem which is not only plaguing India but other parts of the world as well, and that she can see single women speaking up about an acutely prevalent issue.
“I think the film has encouraged more people to speak up. I am also overwhelmed by the fact that each screening of my film brings out so many more stories about our unequal social systems,” Shika stated.
As for a few women in the audience who felt that the problem wasn’t as bad as it was portrayed, and depended on the financial stability of an individual, Shika observed that the film also portrayed women from an upwardly mobile class but they were not all financially settled.
“However, having a paying capacity does not necessarily make a woman's single status more acceptable. People will still carry prejudices, as you can see in the experiences of women in my film from students to celebrities.
“Also women in urban cities who have the exposure and education are the ones setting the benchmark and aspiration for girls who don't have the same. If independent women like these are also grappling with something as basic as a roof above their heads, one can imagine how grim realities would be for others. The idea of space is both physical and symbolic. Denying a woman her space, and the choice to be single, is denying empowerment,” she said.
Responding to the turnout in Karachi, she felt that the story of Bachelor Girls was universal and, hence, resonated with many people. “Discrimination in housing is a serious issue, existing across the globe in various forms, be it based on gender, religion, race, eating habits or more. Though I have taken a woman's voice, this is really a human story.”
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