The term “consent” has garnered some popularity recently. Ever since it got hitched to sexual assaults. Sexual consent. But doesn’t consent have scope for a broader meaning? For instance, what is consent in Malayali households? Have you noticed the number of times you didn’t have a say in what was happening to you? Not just your recent ‘pennukaanal’ hehe. I’m sure that there are many such moments, right from the time you were on your fours.
Consent in Malayali households pretty much doesn’t exist. Let’s take a look at a few such instances that you presumably gave little to no thought about.
NO is a no, whether you are 3 or 30!
While this may not necessarily be a violation of consent, modern parenting seems to point to this. We have always had an innate tendency to give children too much food. The child is fed till the plate is empty. Even when the child says “mathiyaay”, we introduce the ‘crow coming to take your food’ story Because “kazhichaal alle velthaaullu!” Child experts say that you need to trust your kid when they say no. When they say they are done, stop. Force-feeding can only make them hate food. Do we Malayalis – masters of recipes, slaves to taste buds – need to land there?
Good Touch, Bad Touch
Child assaults are not unknown to us. We have all heard about and seen people who admit that they were victims at an age they never knew what a bad touch was. Let us imagine the birthday party of a one-year-old baby. There are people coming and going. Each lifting the baby, planting kisses on wherever skin is available. Squeezing the breath out of them and whatnot. Even when the child shows reluctance to go with someone, or moves away when they are being kissed they are forced to let it be. They are allowed to be kissed and forced to kiss their aunts and uncles goodbye, whether they like it or not. This conditions a little child into thinking that this is normal while it is not so. So the next time a baby wipes away your kiss, understand that it is not ‘cute’.
Your hobbies, none of my hobbies!
If every parent had this motto in their head, we could probably see more boys in dance classes and more girls in chess classes. There is unsaid segregation of boys’ activities and girls’ activities. While girls are encouraged to take up tailoring, singing and dancing they are less encouraged to take up swimming (“karuthpokum koche!”) or tennis (“kuttikkuppaayam onnm itt thullaan nikkanda!”). The same applies when a boy tries to take up dance (“makeup um paavadem idandi veruo haha!”) or cooking (“enna niyum ammente koode adukkalayil kerikkoda!”). This is not restricted to a few such instances. The reason why the sports quota in our state see fewer female entries are concrete evidence of this endemic.
The freedom to be the driver of your own jeevitham!
Most of us come from homes that are not as understanding as Pooja’s pappa (Om Shanti Oshana). We are more familiar with Faizi’s vaappa (Ustaad Hotel) and his attitude. Some of us were quite shocked at realising that our seats have already been booked at top-notch engineering colleges before we received our results! Those of us who wanted to take other ‘gunam illaatha’ courses, had to just go with! Finish this and if you still have your spirits alive, do the course you want. Dialogues like, “aadyam ee masters onn theerkk, nnit baaki nokkaam” are not rare in our households.
Wish you a ‘happy’ married life
Nice that you wish for a happy married life and all. Appreciate it. But what would be even more appreciated is the privilege to have a ‘voluntary’ married life? Be it, men or women, life is not centred around a wedding. We have careers to look forward to, courses to complete or we might just not be ready yet! Forcing oneself on somebody because society has deemed it to be ‘normal’ and something that you should get used to, does not mean you have to give in. This should not be a punishment. It’s a part of life that should happen when you are ready for it.
Consent, as can be seen, is not a narrow term. It has its scope well beyond what you think you know. These are some examples of things that we don’t really associate with consent at the get-go (except maybe the last one). Know your stand, think straight, understand what you want and stand by it. Nobody is going to talk about you forever if you do something against unwritten societal ways. For a momentary stance of being a ‘good girl or good boy’, do not throw away your dreams like they are trash. In the end, only your happiness matters. And that’s why it is important to talk about consent in Malayali households.