Let’s face it – women have been silent bystanders in their own stories.
It happened a couple of months ago. I’d just relocated to New South Wales from New Delhi and I received an email from Anshul. It was a fairly good campaign with a simple request: to tell the world why I write. I thought about a befitting answer for quite some time, and then, with the humdrum of the new place and chores of life as an international student, I thought I’d let it pass. I don’t know what prompted YKA and Anshul to write back to me, posing the same question. The beauty and enigma of it all were that I knew I could elaborate on this three-word topic – and yet, I did not have a sound answer.
Perhaps that is how life is when you’re in the middle of an inferno and are finding who you are, or you are starting a fresh chapter in life with a clean slate. There’s always that one moment of magic. To me, it was receiving this email. Having been a journalist and an author almost all my life, after hundreds of articles and a book, this time, I’d bid the pen goodbye.
I was increasingly disillusioned with what we as writers do. We do pose questions, we voice our dissatisfaction, we get recklessly trolled, our lives are sometimes on the line – but to what purpose? In the age of an information influx, how far does one get when they try to do the balancing act between ethics, principles and a career? I’d decided – this was it. A new profession, a new course and a brand new start. To put it simply – I was running away. To exist as a woman in New Delhi is to subject yourself to a litany of abuses every day. I’d cut my tongue off. I’d accepted silence and complicity. I wanted to lead a normal life. Until it all came blazing down on my face.
An anecdote that made me question the sheer stupidity of my silence was when I felt a crippling sense of unease and when advances were made at me because it is the ‘norm’ when you’re studying abroad. Was this all that my fire had been reduced to? To submit to a group of people who can’t recognize harassment in plain sight – who pass it off as banal and pressurise you to apologise for making the ‘drunk man’ feel so guilty?
If I’ve been able to stand my ground with people constantly denying the validity of my experiences, it’s been because writing has helped me find my strength again. And in the process, I figured that if you do not take up the mantle and stand your ground, you are going to be a site for constant abuse, harassment and gaslighting, by men and women alike. Our politics begins within the ambit of the home and our immediate atmosphere and if all we do is write about a strong feminist ethos and not follow them through in real life, our struggles are but fodder for theatre. Silence in the face of injustice has never helped anybody, and perhaps we owe ourselves the power of our voices.
As women with lived experiences of abuse, violence, torture and harassment – things we face almost every second that we exist – we must write. Write about our abusers. Write about our trauma. Write about our lives. Because if we don’t, nobody will. And things will remain as they are.
Writing is our emancipation. Writing about our lives in times of grave injustice is a political act. When we create records, we create an archaeology of lived experiences – we forge solidarity among women.
My connection with school ended years ago, but teenage has its ways of coming back and revoking memories of benevolent patriarchy. We think that’s just us, but keeping my sister’s experiences in mind – it isn’t. We’re never the ‘only’ generation to have endured slurs for normal and the lewd for the routine. Certainly, there were several strong women before us who had their senses crippled. My grandmother recounts the same horrors and mental exhaustion. Have things changed? I doubt the aura of hype around “yes” and the bland pessimism of “no”. We lie somewhere in between, and this fetid middle ground (where there is only stasis) is only a woman’s place to stay at. Forever in the grey zone.
A lot of people will argue over social media discussions. But times being what they are, social media is our moment of truth. I hope and wish we’re the last generation in the grey zone, and the escalation is only to white. I hope and wish women stop doing patriarchy’s dirty work and lift each other out of an enforced stasis. How can it be love/companionship when all you’re reduced to is neurotic, discounted voices? A connection like that is traumatising. And that’s sadly the trail most defining “relationships” in a woman’s life follow.
I do not know why we’re still here. I do not know why we double-guess and question any little wrong as our fault. I do not know why we raise people (men primarily) to fit a God’s cloak? History’s said it – God’s equally fallible. Even more than humanly possible.
What I do know is that the claustrophobia makes way for air when we write and scream. Do not stop. That’s just what I try to do. And always remember, as adults, whatever we say or do is being watched by many young impressionable kids. Knowingly or unknowingly, in our excessive normalisation of violence and patriarchy, we create monsters. And one day, the circle stops at us and we question,“Whose fault is it?”
For me, writing about my life is one step closer to accepting myself as a person who doesn’t ride high tides all summer. And, that act – wearing yourself out so publicly – is terribly painful and dangerously liberating. To put it simply in one sentence — writing does rescue you when the world bails on you.
Thank you YKA for helping me get back to writing when I’d lost all hope and was dangerously close to settling as a silent bystander in my own story.