The real-estate brokers call them “bachelor girls”—women armed with degrees, dressed in jeans and exuding an air of seeming self-assurance. Some have voices that still have traces of their small-town accents, while others speak in the modulated tones of people to whom English is as familiar as their native tongues. They come from all over the country and have different academic and professional backgrounds, but they have one thing in common. “I consciously chose independent, upwardly mobile women,” says film-maker Shikha Makan, whose documentary Bachelor Girls focuses on the housing discrimination these women encounter in Mumbai. Edited excerpts:
Did you encounter any trouble when you moved to Mumbai?
I am from Delhi and came to Mumbai 9-10 years ago on a work opportunity. One such day, I came home really late with a male colleague and asked him to drop me to my apartment, which was on the fourth floor of a certain wing, because I didn’t feel comfortable. The minute we entered the gate, the watchman stopped us—this was at 2 in the night—and said that the chairman wanted to talk to me. When the chairman came, he started calling me names, insulting my friend, said every disrespectful thing you can think of to say to a woman. He accused me of doing illicit business here and threatened to take me to the cops. I thought it was a one-off incident that had happened to me and chose to just move on. But over the years, I kept hearing stories of so many girls, women talking about similar scenarios. As a film-maker, I realized that I had a very strong tool to raise my voice. And it was my duty to do so. So I did.
Don’t all single men and women find it hard to find a home in Mumbai? Or is there a gender angle to housing discrimination?
Look, housing discrimination is a huge problem in a city like Mumbai and there are categories that make people discriminate. For instance, your marital status, your children, your food habits—single men also face this discrimination. However, men have been migrating for work for years whereas it is still a fairly new phenomena for women. When you are a woman and single on top of it—there is a lot of baggage associated with you. It means that you are a non-conformist and people are still uncomfortable with it. It is a greater struggle for a woman to ascertain her identity and justify her respectability. Even if I feel that I am a neutral human being and I have made my choices to do what I want in life, just like any other person would, society does not want to look at me like that. I have rooted the theme of this film in housing discrimination because that is where my experience is coming from. But we have to pause and look at how a society is looking at urban independent women. This is a larger dialogue on how to look at the urban woman of today who is self-reliant, financially independent and who wants to make a choice to be on her own.
There is a woman in the film who wanted to live with her partner and faced a lot of flak because of that. How do attitudes like this affect a woman’s independence?
The sexual independence of a woman has always been threatening to any society, more so today because it comes from the relative security of financial independence. We are still very uncomfortable about a woman making a sexual choice—whether of premarital sex, to not have a child, or to remain single.
Actor Kalki Koechlin says in your film that she too had trouble finding a house.
During my research, a friend of mine said that Kalki is going through this problem too. When I reached out to her, Kalki was extremely forthcoming about it. In the movie, she says that it is ironic that they (building residents) love taking photographs with you but they don’t want you to stay there. She also has white skin. So, although she is born and brought up in India, she is French and carries the whole morality of being a white girl. Overall, it becomes a very unappetizing package.
Bachelor Girls will be screened at 7pm on 25 November by Vikalp@Prithvi at Prithvi House, opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road, Mumbai.