‘Aap Bachelor ladies ho? Haan? Niklo Yahaan Se.’ To any single woman house hunting in Mumbai, these words are probably more familiar than the sound of her own breath. In a city as culturally diverse and tolerant as Mumbai, housing discrimination on the basis of gender is the norm. The struggle is real, and we know it - Homegrown is filled to the brim with Bachelor Ladies, all with housing stories that warrant film features. ‘Societies’ in Mumbai have found it their divine purpose in life to adopt the role of ‘Moral Vigilante’ and maintain the moral code of the area within which they reside. Naturally, that means single women are their biggest threat. Shikha Makan’s documentary, ‘Bachelor Girls’ goes on to explore the manifestation of this discrimination, depicting the truth behind this facade of independence and freedom that colours life in Mumbai as we know it. HG got talking to her about her journey through the film, her inspiration for it, and what she has come to discover about the city she calls home.
To begin with, we were curious about the name of the film itself. Shika explains to us that “‘Bachelor Girl’ is how brokers address you, and it’s almost like a prefix that gets attached to a woman when she is single. It carries the baggage of patriarchy with it. A typical bachelor girl is a girl who is on her own, either choosing to remain single or simply single because because she is following her dream. A very important element is that she is financially independent - she is not supported by her parents, a partner or a man. That version of a woman who is so self reliant is what society is finding so hard to digest.”
Finding a home in any new city is literally the number one thing on any independent person’s list, and so was the case with Shikha. She moved to Mumbai with her sister in the pursuit of a flat. Two single girls is a broker’s worst nightmare, and no doubt they made it known that the girls were not welcome. When they did find a home they liked, they felt very uncomfortable with the security guards constantly keeping an eye on their every move and their every visitor.
“It’s a very uncomfortable feeling when people constantly question you in a manner that makes you feel as though you are doing something wrong. I work in films, and I often work late. One evening, I returned home really late with a male colleague who was dropping me, and the security guard started to question me. The chairman of the society came down at 2 am and he started calling me really bad names and screamed at me for coming home so late” Shikha said.
The chairman went on to tell her that she and her sister had 24 hours to vacate the home. That experience left her with a great amount of discomfort, and she realised that what happened with her was no one off instance. This was a phenomenon and there is a clear theme of patriarchy running its course through this story. She started to research instances of housing discrimination that other woman faced and very soon realised there was no dearth of stories. Almost everyone she spoke to knew of someone who had something to say on the matter, both within Mumbai and in other Indian cities like Chennai, Bangalore, and Delhi. A bigger issue, in fact, was getting women to be comfortable enough to share their stories in front of a camera.
The film features women from all walks of life, across all sorts of professions and from different towns and cities in India - and they are all united in this malignant search for a home. A gross realisation from this documentary is that society at large, even in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, are not evolving at the same pace as women are. Women seeking their independence and actually acting upon it is a novel phenomenon in India for the most part. “In the last 10-15 years there has been a huge migration of women from one city to another in India for work, and people are almost unable to handle this reality” Shikha tells us. She recounts one instance where a woman was asked not to wear shorts when she walked in the building because children played downstairs and could see her. Never mind extreme violence shown on television or casual profanity - it is the sight of a woman’s legs that will leave a child morally bankrupt until the end of time.
There is a larger issue here - and that is the fear that a woman may not want to lead a conventional life as deemed right by her family, or society at large. The resistance to single woman shows this deep rooted expectation for women to be married, have children and lead a ‘respectable’ life that has been dictated by everyone else but her. This is nothing but a false sense of empowerment - the belief that a woman can do just as she pleases with the money she earns, as long as she’s married and have a man by her side. And at the root of this reality sits patriarchy. The film explores this fear and reality and the testimonials of these women are ammunition against these archaic beliefs.
While this film focuses on women in Mumbai, Shikha’s research has shown her that this is not just a Bombay problem. She is currently being invited to screen the film from every city in India - indicating that the film is shedding light to a nation wide phenomenon of gender based housing discrimination. “I would imagine that women face problems of all kinds across the country, but I never imagined that housing for single women would be such a problem on this scale!” she admits.
This film addresses something at the core of our reality, and this is something that can no longer be ignored. As Shikha rightly points out, dialogue on gender based discrimination is of utmost importance, and by simply watching this film you have begun to engage with the narrative. Know that there are women who have moved to this city to live their lives the way they want, dare to dream and own their status as ‘Bachelor Girls.’
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