It was 2013 when I first came into close contact with the term feminism. Unable to comprehend the depth and vastness of the same, I researched more about it. I wanted to call myself a feminist purely because how could I not? Being a woman, how could I not want equality? Such was the limitation of my understanding, however naive.
The age came when everybody had their own politics. I too wanted a politics of my own. Belonging to an upper caste and upper class household, I had never really had the chance to explore my sexuality because of limited mobility and access to freedom. Thus, I fell back on the only thing I could associate to – being a feminist.
I wasn’t fully aware of the implications of my ideology. “The personal is political,” they said. I never quite understood that until very recently.
I took admission into Tata Institute of Social Sciences for it seemed like a safe space. I was exposed to various shades of politics and took my time to understand what I had never experienced before. What I had probably never anticipated was the deconstruction of my own life. I was always a feminist, but mostly for other people. When the time came to point the term at my own self and life, I felt unease. I felt uncomfortable, and most of all, probably for the very first time in my life, I felt unsafe.
Don’t get me wrong. Living in Delhi meant ‘safety’ was a term my family had already familiarised me with. But there comes a point when the everyday happenings become such a mundane part of your life that you do not stop to think twice and question them. The few times we do question, we are asked to shut up. So, we let it go.
I studied in an air force school. Discipline was looked on in high esteem. For me, the most vivid memory of mine has to be when my male teachers would favour me for no reason over others. They would appreciate my hair openly and proclaim their love for the same in front of my entire class during a poetry session. Yes, this has happened. My female teachers hated me for they believed I used my hair to seduce my male teachers, another thing that was proclaimed openly in front of my entire class.
Once I passed out of school, I started dancing. I was told by my mentors to dress better and to open my hair and dance. They told me how in order to attract students to come to class, I had to look and talk a certain way. I was told to lose weight and get ‘sexier’. To be a good dancer was one thing, but to be a good dancer who looked a certain way – that was what got you fame.
I once dated a guy. After about three months of being with him, I realised how he displayed traits of possessive behavior. He wouldn’t let me talk to another guy, he wouldn’t let me go out, he wouldn’t let me sleep without talking to me. I wanted to break up. However, I was gaslit into believing that it was all very normal for a guy to be possessive about his girl. It just showed that he loved me. Quite honestly, I was scared. There were moments when his anger scared me so that I would just do whatever he asked me. All because it was deemed normal.
Just like any other girl in Delhi, I have traveled extensively in public transport. Someone pinching or groping my butt or falling into my breasts were mundane things. Slapping a guy or screaming at him helplessly as other people just watched you was also a regular mood spoiler but something I would get over in 10 minutes. For it was a part of the routine.
I fancied myself on my confidence. I would wear anything I wanted to and carry it off with confidence. Except for, of course, at nights and especially when I had to travel alone. I might forget my wallet at home but never have I forgotten my jacket or scarf to hide the most intimate parts of myself from the glaring eyes of the vicious passersby.
All of this, in its own right, seems so normal to most of us living in urban spaces deemed ‘unsafe’. All of this, in its own right, seems so normal to most of us girls who have grown up in this country. Most of this transcends class and caste. As a member of the ‘upper echelons’ of society, I have lived a far more privileged life than those who have been pushed down and walked upon. I do believe that collectively, women have deemed a lot of things as ‘normal’ in their lives in order to not be disturbed and traumatised over and over again.
It’s time to unpack the normal.
It was not okay for me to have been sexualised at the age of 14. It was not okay for me to have spent most of my adolescent days in fear of being abducted or raped. It was not okay that it was my mobility that got restricted after dark instead of the people who were out there preying on women. It is not okay that every rape that happens becomes news that carries a momentary sense of despair but then is soon forgotten. It is not okay that my friend is being forced to marry someone she absolutely detests – and for her, this is ‘normal’. It is not okay how eve teasing is just a part of our lives. It is not okay that before wearing something, I have to think twice but not the men whose fear I live in.
Unpacking the normal was probably one of the most difficult thing I’ve done in life. It was also one of the most liberating things that I did. The everyday normal that we women live with is problematic to say the least. It’s harmful. It triggers a domino effect on our future, where we keep normalising abusive behavior in the quest of finding a safe space inside our mind. My mind is turbulent. I am furious. The normal agitates me and questions run wild in my head. I oppose it everyday in my life and its the most difficult battle for most of the time, your opponents are the ones you love. A lot of times, it’s you yourself.
To see yourself as a problem in the bigger framework is the most difficult thing to do. To be able to look at one’s own personal relations and experiences and understand how wrong or right they have been is traumatising to say the least. It took me months to come to terms with the fact that my parents were in an abusive relationship where my mother had over a period of time, normalised my father’s anger as his way of life. It took me months to understand and accept that the fear of my father’s anger which had silenced me for a large part of my life was wrong. But it was necessary. I forgave them for they were a part of society that made them believe what they were doing was okay. But with forgiveness also comes the responsibility of calling them out on their shit. These battles I fight everyday and each day is a step closer to where I want to be.
I understand how this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like I said, I understand my privileges. It’s baffling to see the normal vary from degree to degree and oppressing women collectively. Not everything is tradition, not every tradition is right.
In our own lives, we need to call out abusive behavior for what it is we need to shut it down. Don’t let the normal intimidate you. It’s difficult to fight back. But the personal is political. It’s only now that I’ve come to realise what that means. Unpack your own lives. Unpack your ‘normal’.