Ask me why I fight. I fight because I know friends who’ve been raped and abused, harassed and stalked and made to feel uncomfortable. I fight for the friend who just turned 22 with her family wanting to marry her off. For the stares that make you fix your clothes, for the lady in my neighbourhood who can’t step out without her husband’s permission. For my friend who saw a man masturbate in front of her on a road, cum dripping down his fingers. For the men who leer, catcall and jeer till we shrivel up and wish to cease existing. For the boys I know who know not how to cry and the men they’ll grow up to be, believing that aggressive and detached is what the world wants them to be. So, don’t tell me this isn’t a war because blood has been shed. We are fighting for survival, not to get ahead.
What I learnt on the football field almost 15 years ago holds true even today. One of my body parts discredits almost everything that the rest of my body does. Over the years, the world has tried to systematically remind me of my inferiority, beating me down the more I push back. I’ve been harassed, abused, ridiculed and more, for demanding a place of my own in the world. I’ve seen and heard experiences which made me wake up screaming in the middle of the night, unable to comprehend the horror.
Even before I could know what misogyny was, I started fighting it, asserting my right to play football with a bunch of boys much bigger than me, being bullied and beaten every day but refusing to give up. I found that I was a misfit among both girls and boys, because I could never fit into the stereotypical notion of what a girl should be. As I grew older, I also found myself receiving a lot of unwanted male attention and then the shattering experience of realising that ‘my body’ did not always mean ‘my choice’. I’ve experienced first-hand what patriarchy does to men as well. Over the years, I’ve garnered stories from across the spectrum – men, women and those who don’t adhere to the gender binary.
All this culminated in my Ted Talk, “Why are we scared to call ourselves feminists?” The beautiful response I received prompted me to write this piece, hoping that I can share the story enshrined within the talk with many more people.
Hundreds of young men and women have opened up to me, sharing their own experiences and telling me how hearing me speak out gave them the courage to do so as well. In the age of #TimesUp and #MeToo, not just the powerful should have a say. So, I’m placing my dream before you, asking you for a chance to share it with the world.
I wish to be a journalist and I’m currently studying journalism at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR). I now work to empower marginalised women with the Connecting Dreams Foundation and run an NGO of my own to improve teenage mental health. Here’s an excerpt from my talk.
“So, if you ask me again, why I choose to do this, to stay up nights reading through articles, marking what I want to change, to stand in the metro typing out this speech to and fro from college every day, to choose a life as a journalist and feminist advocate, I’ll tell you the same thing. Stories – for my friend whose cut lips I helped bandage because her father hit her with a belt every night, for my friend whose father made her watch him beating her mother, for my domestic helps who have shown up with cut faces and sore eyes one time too many, for my friend whose boyfriend tries to control her entire life, for my friend who is a trans woman, for all my friends who have been slut-shamed, for my friend who has a hard lot in life but never eases his burden though expression because boys don’t talk about their feelings. For the sex workers at GB Road who talk about how even the police refuses to help them as their profession makes them less than a human in society’s eyes. For the women who still have to live in purdah in a village 15 minutes from here. For the girls I work with at the Hunar Foundation whose parents hesitate to send them even to school two minutes away from their house. For all the women who, unlike me, haven’t had the privilege of being born, being educated or of standing here today.
“We often forget that the fight isn’t just about us. We usually protest only when incidents hit too close to home when things affect us directly. But as a millennial woman, today I’m fighting not just for body positivity or the right to wear what I want but also against domestic violence, for menstrual hygiene, for abortive rights, against marital rape and so on. We shouldn’t have to view people through the prism of the function they occupy in someone else’s life – they don’t need to be our mothers or daughters or brothers, man or woman or transgender. The entire men’s rights vs women’s rights debate takes away the mettle of this movement. We must remember that all we’re fighting for is the fundamental worth of a human life. We’re more than just a collection of atoms and molecules, more than just XX or XY chromosomes, more than what social constructs demand of us to be. We believe that revolutions are people spilling out onto streets, shouting and waving flags. But we forget that they begin here, with you and I.
“I can’t tell you what to believe or provide a one size fits all solution, all I can ask of you is to ask. So ask away. Question everything. I read somewhere that the first thought that crosses your mind is the one that you’ve been conditioned to believe and the next one reflects who you’re trying to be. So the next time you walk by a girl and judge her by her clothes, ask yourself whether you truly believe it to be a reflection of her character? Ask why ads choose to show women in stereotypical homemaker roles, why we accept our heroes stalking women on screen, why we choose to laugh at sexist jokes, why we still listen to item numbers? And why is this important? Because the same society that lets a man get away with sexist comments makes him believe he can get away with worse, it makes women afraid to speak up, it reinforces the patriarchy in our lives every day. So go ahead and question the norms. Just because something has continued for a long time doesn’t make it right. Sati was a norm once, as was apartheid.
“The greatest crime today is the systematic subjugation of almost half the human race and that is what we are fighting to change. It’s a long and hard road but the drill remains the same as it was when I was eight on the football field; no matter how many times you get pushed down, you get up and dust yourself off, wipe what’s bleeding and get back in the game. Sometimes it’s your knees that are bleeding and sometimes it’s your heart and whether the game is a 90-minute match or your entire life, giving up has never been an option.
“So today, all I ask of you is to fight in whatever way you can and to question everything. But first of all, question why, if at all, you’re scared to call yourself a feminist.”