A senior leader of India’s leading IT Services Company took a moment on March 8th to send a note to his colleagues wishing them on International Women’s Day. In the mailer, he also exhorted his colleagues, among other things, to strive towards building an environment that appreciates variety. The variety of Race, Ethnicity, Gender or Generation! He did not stop there, but went on to talk about drawing strength from these differences. Caste, quite evidently, is conspicuous by its absence in the corporate discourse on diversity (or variety as they also like to call it).
We received two brief submissions separately sent by two women, reflecting on incidents in their childhood or youth that returned to haunt them more recently. Rethinking, reworking their own sense of self, they present before us questions both timely and urgent.
AYSHWARIA SEKHER looks back on her ignorance of caste, PRANETA JHA revisits a childhood game that taught her about sexual violence.
I was seventeen, and an undergraduate when I met this friend at hostel. She was from a southern district of Tamilnadu almost near Kanyakumari. I was always amused by her southern dialect and teased her immensely, for it was very different from what I was used to speaking, being a northerner. She lived next door at hostel, so we got into conversations every time we bumped into each other. One evening she was sweeping her room and cleaning it. I stopped by to see the way she swept so I could bully her. As I observed I did realise that she was so much better than me at it and did it with ease. As we got talking, she revealed that she always did it at her home, and it was not a task for her.
Ignorantly I enquired why they did not have a help at home, which according to me was something that every household possessed. She looked at me, and brushed aside the question plainly, saying simply that they just didn’t have any help. I pestered with the question giving her no space. She stopped sweeping and rested her hand against the wall and said that people would not come to her house to work. I was amazed at why people would not go to a home for work. So my cross questions persisted and she had no choice but to answer.
Nine years ago, on a hot summer day, I was sitting in the New Delhi railway station waiting for a train to Dharamsala where I had planned to do my summer internship in a human rights organisation. There, I met a person who used to live in the same locality as I did when I was a child. He asked me where I was headed and I excitedly told him about the summer internship I was going for. He gave me a sympathetic look and said in Nepali “God, what all, daughters have to do these days”. I was taken aback by his statement but I knew where it was coming from. I come from Sikkim, a beautiful state in the foothills of the Himalayas. Students from Sikkim generally come to Delhi for graduation and after completing their higher studies most of them return back. After their return, they either start their own businesses or get into comfortable government jobs and live with their parents. This is how things work there. So, I think he felt bad for me since he thought that I was being made to “face the big bad world” when I could have gone back home happily. I didn’t agree to his logic then and have not till date. Continue reading Letting Go of Fear: Tenzing Choesang→
Rarely does a city experience the sort of upheaval that Delhi is witnessing. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone has an opinion. It is impossible to walk down the street without overhearing snatches of conversation. Issues that usually find brief mention in some obscure corner of the newspaper are now being subject to analysis by every passer-by. A rickshaw driver refuses to take any money when he realises I am on my way to a protest. I remember the old man at a photocopy shop who had looked up and asked no one in particular: do you think she will die? The receptionist at the doctor’s clinic is distraught, providing waiting patients her explanation for the recent events. Men huddled around tiny fires littered across the foggy city carp on about the state of politics, the police and the government. Everyone is invested in this moment of reckoning.
[ Click to play above Youtube video of young women and men, led by Com.Lokesh (‘Lucky’) of Stree Mukti Sangathan (Women’s Liberation Organization) articulate their desires on the ‘Take Back the Night’ night walk and street party from Anupam PVR Complex to the road outside Select City Walk in Saket, New Delhi on the night of the last night of 2012 and into the early hours of 2013. ]
A couple of months ago, I was given two books which I was asked to review. Published in India, both were compilations of abridged versions of popular children’s fairy tales and fables. One book, however, had a pink cover; the other was bound in blue. The former said clearly, on the cover, that it was meant for ‘little girls’, the latter was for ‘little boys’.
Having grown up surrounded by books, I wondered, when I saw these two copies, as to how one could tell which stories were meant for girls and which were meant for boys. As a child, I never saw the difference. Lo and behold, the tables of content in both books gave me my answer (and destroyed my peace of mind): the volume with the pink cover was full of stories about lost princesses and damsels in distress seeking saviours; the one with the blue cover had stories such as ‘the boy who cried wolf’. Continue reading Stop gendering children: Urooj Zia→
Below are excerpts from an interview I did with a fascinating artists and activist who initiated a process in me, simple and obvious, and yet complicated and hardly ever embarked upon- vis-a-vis the politics of gender and sexuality. Ins has challenged the routine of the politics we engage in and the world view we sometimes unintentionally take for granted and thus make static, Hoping for an engaging discussion on the issues Ins lays out below.
Also, something to think about: how we write articles in popular media about difficult, unspoken of issues to just put them out there. To bring about some visibility but at the cost of some of the complexity? Sometimes visibility even at the cost of compromise on our politics of how we speak of pain and pleasure in all our lives and in the context of the frameworks of oppression? I see myself having done this below in my fleeting account of Ins’s life and work. How then do we engage with the mainstream media and find the language to articulate complexities approachably and regularly? It’s the eternal question but lets ask it again because, as we all know, we have to. :) Continue reading Interview with Ins Kromminga, German intersex activist and artist→