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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times


The words “paagal aurat”, “badtameez aurat”, “besharam aurat” are often

sprinkled in conversations casually and thrown around like birdseeds. Tales of

women whom the society has deemed crazy are shrouded in the wool of a

reductionist narrative that seems to water down the lived experiences of everyone

but the parties in power. If one is to sift though the wool, I wonder what one would

encounter instead of paagal, badtamzeez auratein.

Concurrently, it is also not uncommon to encounter words like chudail or

bhootni, and it is often the woman who finds herself inextricably linked to these

supernatural beings. Women laughing, dancing around, crying, speaking gibberish,

swinging their hair around or simply, women possessed by evil spirits are common

sights in faith healing centers like Balaji temple. In addition to the psychiatric

explanations and those from a cultural lens of mental illness, a stream of

explanation tries to focus on the interplay of stringent gender roles, gender

violence, female suppression and an overarching patriarchal set up to account for


The movie Bulbbul plays along similar lines when the protagonist exacts

justice by being a “chudail”. What this means is that the woman is supposed to be

timid, dutiful, shy, quiet, nurturing and servile. She oversteps, she speaks up, she

defies, she stops caring- is when she stops being “normal”. The standard by which

women are deemed mentally sound then seems to be tilted in favor of traditional

gender roles where a woman is safe from labels until she doesn’t disobey. On the

other hand, also proposed is this idea of a supernatural possession as perhaps an

outlet for woman otherwise buried under layers of oppression. A woman then

standing up for herself and other women, seeking justice for all the wrong done, by

realizing her inner strength is labeled a ‘chudail’. A kind of safe space which women have identified as possible outlets for freedom of expression, perhaps the

only way they can rebel, voice their opinion or ‘just be’. A place that grants them

the cultural license to seek help, find support, demand recognition, and speak out.

I’m also reminded of the notion of hysterical women, which prevailed amongst

mental health practitioners for centuries and still finds itself being used to

explain away feminist voices as “hysterical women acting out”. The principle of

righteous outrage, followed by labeling, shaming, ostracism is much too common.

Labeling women as crazy or deviant serves the purpose of silencing dissenting

voices, it maintains the illusion of power, strengthens the resolve of the oppressor

and invalidates opposition as moody, crazy and possessed. Shrugging off voices in

the name of irrational is also employed heavily because the mere idea of a woman

speaking up threatens the cozy comfort of patriarchal structures that maintains

power through control. With this in mind, I wonder how many deviant, abnormal,

ajeeb, paagal people we find who’ve paid the price for buttressing the continuance

of this iron fisted dystopia.

I wish there was a simple fix to this problem. It is my hope that we can all

try to be mindful of vocabulary that invalidates or trivializes experiences, be

curious enough to look beyond the labels and flag things that don’t seem

appropriate. A woman standing up for herself, calling out the wrong shouldn’t be

called paagal anymore. Honestly, she seems powerful to me. Change can be

uncomfortable, discussions that challenge norms can elicit varied reactions-

sometimes unpleasant ones, but the quest to indulge in dialogue and support these

through actions mustn’t be slowed down.

- Arjita Sharda

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