By Prakshi Saha:
When YKA asked me to write a personal story, I wasn’t at all sure whether I was capable of even doing it. I asked them, “Do you think people would want to read about my story?” Their instant affirmation made me realise people have a great deal of faith in my work, more than I had expected.
In the face of injustice, your act of speaking up is as political as remaining quiet. Someone told me this a while ago. It precisely sums up why all of it started.
Growing up wasn’t all that bad for me. While my father wanted me to become a bureaucrat and my mother wanted me to be a doctor, I was always taught to become self-sufficient, independent and ambitious. Never once were marriage or domestic chores or stereotyped behaviour patterns drilled into my head. I was never brought up in a way that was any different from my brother. I have been so fortunate to get such a familial environment while growing up. But that also made me realise, being in a state of privilege, it is of a greater significance to speak up for the ones who aren’t in the right state of conditions, for the ones who can’t find that voice inside their head that asks them to break away from their unjust circumstances.
I have always been a very sensitive person. I am not sure my 11-year-old self exactly understood what rape meant but I cried constantly for two hours straight, on hearing that detailed description of brutality of the 2012 Delhi gang rape. The chaos of thoughts in my head at that instant cannot be expressed in words. That was the first time I realised if an injustice happened somewhere far away from the set of situations I was cushioned around, I felt that pang of helplessness in my heart.
As days and years passed by, it seemed that the number of such dreadful instances in every corner of my country multiplied. I knew that just sitting back and watching was not something I could afford to do. Rohtak, Assam, Kerala, Mumbai, Jammu, Bengal; the names and locations changed, but the description of the brutality was the same. Their faces looked alike. Then, slowly it wasn’t them anymore. It became us. As I stepped into my teens, I started recognising my vulnerabilities. At every instant, the thought rang in my head, what if it was me? That is exactly what women of this country go through. There isn’t an ounce of exaggeration in that. It’s shameful for us, as a country, that we failed half of our population.
One thing that disturbed me a lot was the unapologetic and proud attitude of men in power. Not only men in power, every other aunty in my neighbouhood or that old man in the bus stop who says, “Was she drunk? What was she wearing? Oh, she was partying with men late at night!” It was the culture of victim blaming and shaming and normalising violence against women that was more dangerous than the crime itself. That was providing incentive for continuance and manifold increase in the numbers. All of it was piling up in my head. With each passing day I was constantly looking for a medium to vent through, apart from ranting about feminism with my friends over tea. I was looking for a way to channel my thoughts in a way that was productive for others.
It started with an Instagram page, opened just the day Trump took over office. I was so disgusted with the idea of incentivising and glorifying sheer sexism. I absolutely had no idea that that day’s random decision would lead to something so significant in my life. The best thing that happened was to be able to connect to people across the globe. Ecuador, Washington, Poland, Geneva, Australia, Mumbai, Delhi, Udaipur, I have got tons of stories from people across all these places. Stories that connected me to them. Religious, cultural, or geographic, none of the differences even mattered. The stories of our fights and battles and our dreams and aspirations were so alike, yet different from one another. So, I decided to start my blog to tell such stories. Each of their stories would inspire me, and I thought there are so many others who deserve to be inspired that way too.
I started off with women’s rights as my sole agenda but it is because of the wonderful conversations I had with so many beautiful people that I slowly became a queer rights advocate as well. This blog has not only been a medium of educating others and spreading awareness. It has been a constant process of growing for me, for educating myself. I have studied and learned so much about trans-sexuality, gender fluidity, intersectionality in feminism, things that are still not ‘mainstream’. I got to hear personal stories of the fights and challenges of people. That made me understand things so much better and I became mentally and emotionally attached to the agenda I’m working on.
Through my page, I have also raised a sustained digital advocacy campaign against taxation of sanitary napkins, and one called #NotAskingForIt, against bodyshaming among others.
Because my blog has quite a high viewership from outside India, I try to talk about things with a broader or global outlook. That is why I started writing on Youth Ki Awaaz for the stories that were particularly significant for the country’s perspective.
The person who has had the greatest influence on my work is She Says’ founder Trisha Shetty. Trisha’s organisation and their work has been my greatest source of inspiration. It was a great experience to work as the Gender Advocacy Hero with her UN-accredited non profit women’s rights organisation, receiving training on conducting gender sensitisation workshops. I still remember that the work criteria had an age bracket, which I obviously didn’t fit into. I had quite casually filled in the application form and submitted it. After a two step process, which involved a personal interview over the phone with the organisation’s Gender Advocacy Lead heading the Program, I realised I was one of the only two people who got selected from Calcutta. I was slightly overwhelmed back then. Right now, I feel humbled and fortunate to have got to experience that.
Then, I wrote to Postcards For Peace (PFP) for their Ambassadorship application. PFP is a UK-registered charity foundation and peace organisation that works to eliminate injustice, discrimination, and hate, in order to spread peace. They operate in every continent through their ambassadors. Then, I became their Global Goodwill Ambassador from India. The 1.5 year old activism and advocacy of my 17-year-old self isn’t a tale of great things. It is a tale of tiny efforts and great dreams and a lot of hope. I have got a long, long way ahead. But this is to remind all of you that I started my activism at 15, coming from the most favourable of familial circumstances.
I didn’t have a story of struggle to tell the world. But I tried to be a medium for the stories of countless others. Something crazy or sudden or drastic doesn’t have to lead you to start your big revolution. The smallest efforts count the most. It is important for young people to realise that every moment, while you are being reluctant or ignorant, there’s somebody facing injustice out there. So, the least we could do is speak up and put in efforts in whichever way possible.
I’ll end with one of my favourite quotes by Audre Lord, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”