“She must be out of her mind”. These are the words that we often get to hear from people in our gatherings and in public. “She must be out of her mind”, because, maybe, she went out on her own, maybe she started a career or perhaps is adamant in getting a divorce, because her life has become unbearable. “She must be out of her mind”, because she acquired a hobby, maybe because she is riding a motorcycle, perhaps she wants us to take her seriously when she says that she is in fact part of the public.
“She must be out of her mind”. These are the words that I recently heard, added with a continuation to her charges “that is why she is living in the car”. The person, who uttered these words, in his group of friends, casually harassed a middle-aged woman who currently inhabits a car and is living in the parking lot of Main Market Lahore. The use of the word ‘casual’ here should and must sound outrageous and disturbing, but sadly that is not the case since it is something that has become part of the norms in our society. Casual, because it is not even considered a big deal if we normally comment grossly on ‘her’ while she is simply minding her way on the street or getting her supplies for maintenance of her life. Coming back to the middle-aged woman, labelled as mad, crazy and out of her mind, because she lives in her car, without even asking, empathising and considering the reasons as to what might have led her to such circumstances in the first place.
But that is not the point; no one cares, she is a woman and nothing more after all. It is completely normal to deem such women crazy in this society. But, what about the tens of men who sleep and live right next to her parked car, in the open, with the sky as their roof and footpath as their beds and loos, why are they not ‘out of their minds”?
To answer this question, we must understand the difference between public and private, a concept formally introduced by Aristotle and later taken up by different cultures as the word of law. Though I am not blaming Aristotle for different cultural patriarchal hegemonic structures, for the sake of understanding, we will use his conceptualisation. As described by him, the world as we know is divided into public and private, where public is the political realm, where the being becomes political and by political I mean a being who has the liberty to determine their actions and further consequences. The private is the realm that is hidden from the public or political and is a matter of few individuals. Like the state rules the public, the private is ruled by the hegemonic master and the rest of the members become the subordinates. In case of Aristotle, and our society too, the patriarch appears to be the master, who is both a public and private being, capable enough to give a verdict that supersedes any freewill of the rest of the private beings.
Coming back to the question, one needs to realise that this distinction is now surpassing the privacy of the home and now appearing into the visual world as well. Maybe, for Aristotle, the private ended with the threshold of the household, but currently it appears that the threshold of the private has increased to every woman that seems apparent in public. The distinction has been drawn to genders rather to space, where in our society; women are not accepted as a public being by the ruling patriarch at all. Perhaps, that is the reason that last year, when a reaction appeared against the Aurat March, the slogans such as “dahi khud lai ao” (get the curd yourself) appeared, because the men wanted to put the question of ridicule on a private being, going out of their minds. This is also evident from the behaviour of men on the streets. Commenting on the dressing, saying Astagfirullah in the faces of women that are complete strangers, reassures the concept of how women are not at all accepted as public beings, a being who can determine their own right to live and all other so called public beings become this final authority, powerful enough to give their moral judgments.
For this reason, events like Aurat March become so important. Because, these are the events that are not created by the people who are out of their minds, but are events that are there to give voice to the women walking on the streets while not being considered as human, a women living in her car while not being considered a human. These events are there instead to remind the patriarchal chauvinists that it is them who are out of their minds!