Main Teri Dushman…Dushman Tu Meri?

As a teenager, I had a fight with a girl who I regarded as my best friend, because in some argument she chose the side of another friend over me. In hindsight, we were never really suited to each other and our friendship was never meant to stand the test of time. So, it really isn’t surprising that it only lasted a few months at the most. At the time however, it really hurt that not only did she choose to stand with someone else, but also that she made no attempt to understand me. We stopped talking all together.

Then, one day, I saw her crying. I broke my months of silence and asked her what had happened. Turned out, she had been molested by a boy. Some other girls also had gathered by then. We sat her down, gave her water to drink, let her cry and got angry on her behalf.

The next day, we were back to being “enemies.” But for those few minutes, I learnt that sisterhood can exist, even when there is “dushmani.”

Which is why when Anupama Chopra tells Rangoli Chandel, that “dushmani” is not part of her vocabulary, I know exactly what she means.

When I speak of sisterhood between women, two related misunderstandings usually crop up. The first, that because I advocate for sisterhood, I will love and loudly cheer for every woman I ever meet, simply because she is a woman. The sisterhood is visualized as this happy la la land, where all women are bffs.

The second, that this means that I refuse to acknowledge that women too can be abusive/genuinely nasty people, especially towards other women.

The second pops up with unfailing regularity, every time I bring up that the idea “a woman is a woman’s worst enemy,” is the sneakiest weapon of the patriarchy. You know how I know that? Because the ones making that argument, “but women are abusive too,” are always, without fail, other women, who have been conditioned to see women as enemies. Not once have I seen men, even “woke” men, calling out the many, many sins of men in comment sections of my posts calling out men –their “bro club” is a robust and safe place indeed.

Women are often the foot soldiers of patriarchy –I do not deny that. Women are nasty, even harmful to other women. However, they are still not the enemy.

An episode in the second season of the Netflix show Sex Education amply illustrates that. In the episode a group of girls, accused of slandering a female teacher at their school, receive an unique, “punishment.” As one of them thought to tear down another woman, they must now sit down and identify what binds them together as women.

It isn’t an easy task at all for them as they are all different from each other, and worse, two of them once wanted the same boy. As they shout and argue however, a confession by one of the girls, that she has been molested on public transport recently, brings them together. They all share their own experiences with being sexually harassed. The rest of the episode goes on to show how, even though they go on to lead their separate lives, they do show solidarity when required.

A similar sentiment echoes in the Netflix K-drama, When The Camellia Blooms. The protagonist, Dongbaek, is always picked on by the women of her small sea-side town, because she is an unwed single mother. However, when they find out that not only is she the likely target of a serial killer, but also being evicted from her business by her sleazy landlord, they band together to protect her.

I recently spoke to screenwriter- director Alankrita Shrivastava, of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame, for Women’s Web.

In the interview, we spoke about how she chooses to portray sisterhood on screen, and she said, “it is important to allow female characters to have that space to not always do the right thing, and that could mean that they have an oppositional or confrontational relationship with another woman. It’s not that “oh I have to show sisterhood” so I’m never going to show two women at odds with each other. But there is a certain sense of shared truth, a sense of empathy that passes from one woman to another, and it doesn’t have to happen in the most obvious way, but even when two women are opposed to each other, sometimes there is a sense of understanding.”

Women after all, are human. We are not perfect beings. This means that we will have people we do not get along with –some of them women. I too have women who have hurt me to the point of traumatizing me. I have and continue to draw boundaries to protect myself and my mental health. A classmate who bullied me in school sent me a friends request on Facebook a few years ago. I still haven’t accepted. I have forgiven her, but I haven’t forgotten, and I have no desire to interact with her.

At the same time, if I come to know that she, or any other woman I dislike, or who dislikes me, is in trouble, I will help her. Another woman, who has hurt me a lot, and with whom I have had bitter fights, told me a few months ago, that she is receiving unwanted messages from a man in her housing complex. Believe me, I felt an intense anger on her account.

The point of this is not to say, “oh look at me, I’m such a good feminist.” No. I know I have hurt some women, either intentionally or unintentionally. Where I know I am wrong, I have apologized and tried to set things right. I haven’t always been forgiven, and I can only hope that they recognize that I am not their enemy.

In the same interview that I’ve mentioned above, I also spoke to screenwriter Kanika Dhillon, and what she had to say about sisterhood resonated deeply with me. Sisterhood, she says, is a responsibility.

Sisterhood is not all goody-goody, happy-happy. It is messy. It is complicated. It is made of tears and strife. I don’t have all the answers about how to be a good sister to the women around me. Maybe it is naive of me to extend my sisterhood to women who I know will hurt me. All I know is this:

Sisterhood is important. It is the best weapon we have against the patriarchy.

2 thoughts on “Main Teri Dushman…Dushman Tu Meri?

  1. Very true. Sisterhood can never be always goody goody. It has its hate n love relationship. On human grounds we ought to stand up for the one who is being hurt or traumatized.
    Well written n ideas well projected


  2. Yes, women do hurt other women but there’s one thing- Id rather trust a woman than trust a man. Somehow, women are less likely to break your trust. And I guess that’s why my girl friends mean so much to me.


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