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When 43-year-old college professor Tanu Shree Singh saw that yet another fist fight had broken out in the campus, she angrily cursed under her breath and rushed out of the classroom to intervene. “I can outdo them in their language, and I don’t mind getting physical either,” she says with a dire warning in her tone, and then breaks into a giggle and notes, “but I am not too harsh with my boys. I scared them into stopping the fight then and there.”
A male colleague had once suggested that she keep out of these fights because “it will get awkward if the boys misbehaved.”
“Awkward for who?” she asks, “Not me for sure. Besides, these are my students, and I am not giving up on them.”
Being a psychology professor at a college in rural Haryana, Tanu’s in-your-face assertion of her rights doesn’t really go down very well with her colleagues or her students. “Feminism is a far cry, even getting women to speak up is a challenge here. That’s why my defiance has to be in the small things. We can be badasses in many big ways, but being an everyday badass is tougher,” she says.
She does all that, and in style. She speaks up loud and owns her space; she talks about menstruation and tampons to her students openly; she wears sneakers along with her sarees - and doesn’t care if men think that all this is not “womanly”.
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If Tanu is the professor you don’t mess with, 42-year-old Swapna Deepak is the biker and motorhead who’d make you eat dust as she rides past you on a highway. A media professional based in Bengaluru and a mother of a 15-year-old giving his tenth-grade board exams this year, Swapna values her family a lot - and drives a Thar to work. Her body is on the “healthier side” she says, but that doesn’t stop her from wearing what makes her feel comfortable or stylish. She volunteers part-time as a traffic warden in Bengaluru, despite having a terribly busy job. She likes to go on long roadtrips and rides, and organises parties for her girl-gang where no one is judged. “I am the tomboy of the group and people call me funny names, a little gundi (rowdy) only I am,” she says and breaks into a loud laugh.
In the last year or so, she has formed a club of 200 women who get together whenever they can, just to be themselves. “The reason we created this group was that there are many, many of us who want company where we are not being judged, where we can meet like-minded people, and be ourselves,” she explains.
Swapna on her Thar (left), and sporting the bald look (right).
While Swapna has managed to create a safe space where women can be themselves, Tanu has made her home a place where her two sons learn to be good men. “They have been raised with open conversations. There was never any shame attached to sanitary napkins or underwear. If my boy is going to the market, I would ask him to buy tampons. I ask them to pack my gym back, including my sports bra. Why the shame in what I wear?” she asks.
She carries this attitude to her workplace too. “We have to start, at least by speaking up. I ask in my college why the Hospitality Committee only has women. Can’t men arrange for tea and snacks, or take care of guests?” she asks. When she brought her students together to clean up the sports ground, only the boys were expected to do the physical labour. “Why? The girls are only pretty things or what? I turned up the next day with my sports shoes and saree. I told the girls to get up and do the work, and they were kicked about it,” she recounts.
Tanu Shree Singh (far right), at a school library in Himachal, which she helped build.
It’s the small acts of defiance which define Swapna’s badassery, too. The last time she went to Tirupathi, she saw many people shaving off their heads. She just felt like it, and she too did it. “I thought it was cool so I did it,” she says. "And I have a client-facing role. I used to go to meetings just like that. My husband used to ask me to wear a scarf to work. I was like, ‘Why? That's me!’.”
“I cannot accept the definition of what a proper woman is, the way people define it. As an individual, I think that I have the right to live life on my own terms. People have their own perceptions, that a woman should be like this, she should be like that. I don’t care,” she says.
Have a badass moment to share with us? Send us your story with a photo on Instagram with #PropahLady, and tag @thenewsminute and @pumaindia
This article has been produced by TNM Brand Studio in association with Puma, and not by TNM Editorial.