The most significant event in my life as an Indian woman happened before I was even born...
What do I mean by this provocative statement?
I mean that my soul (if you believe in souls) was lucky enough to be born to a family that wanted a girl, and that did not see my life as less valuable because I was a girl.
From the moment I was conceived, like most Indian women, I have been at risk.
First, at risk for a sex-selective abortion. In India it's illegal for a provider to tell you the sex of the fetus because of how often families will have an abortion because their child will be a girl. It was illegal in 1992 when I was born and it is illegal in 2021 because this problem persists today.
Next, at risk for female infanticide. If you're not familiar, this is the practice of killing babies soon after their birth because of how undesirable it is to have a child who is a girl.
Because of whom I was born to, I escaped these risks.
While other Indian girls were being married off as child brides (look up the rate of child marriage if you don't believe me), I was given the opportunity to study, to learn, to become educated.
While other young women were being pressured to get married, I was being encouraged to do what was right for me and to make that decision if and when I wanted to.
While other women are forced or coerced to stay in relationships and marriages that are abusive, I know that if I was ever in those circumstances, I would be fully and unconditionally supported to end my marriage. There are many practical barriers to women leaving abusive relationships but many women don't even get the emotional support needed to make that difficult decision. The stigma of being a single woman, a divorced woman, a single mother is still so immense, it's not even considered a viable option.
I could go on and on. I wholeheartedly believe that if I had been born two doors down, my life could have been completely different or even over by now.
This is not a post about how amazing my parents are or how terrible other parents are. This is about a society and a culture that is predicated on women's bodies, labor, and lives being worth less. Raising a daughter with pride is an act of rebellion in and of itself when we live in a society that constantly tells you that women are dispensable and disposable.
It doesn't help us to lay the blame on individual actions but rather to focus on changing the structures and the institutions that have led to the patriarchal society that we live. Yes, we need to address our individual gender biases, but as a budding social epidemiologist, I want us to focus on systems more than on individuals.
How can we change the system so that a new mom doesn't feel compelled to suffocate her own child because of the shame of having a girl? How can we change the system so that women are not seen as objects? So that violence against women is not the norm? So that a husband cannot rape his wife and suffer no consequences because marital rape is not a crime?
Hint: It is not the death penalty.
How can we create a world where women are truly free? There is still a long way to go before there is actual equity in workspaces, relationships, and every facet of our life. I hope this Women's Day we can move away from policing women, from infantilizing women, from objectifying women, from dehumanizing women to actionable steps that will bring about real change in the lives of women all over the world. I want feminism that makes space for *all* women, and yes trans women are included in this.
I don't want a pink rose or a meaningless gesture. Like other women, I want change. I want radical change.
I’ve been thinking about role models a lot as we mourn the loss of my grandfather, and the last of the four grandparents. I’m not sure what we did in our last life, but my sister and I really hit the jackpot on grandparents in this life. Although I was gifted a different amount of time to spend with each, they have all been exceptional role models. Today I want to share them with you...
Ajja (1920 – 1993) was a freedom fighter who left us too early. Although I met him just briefly as an infant, I’ve heard only good things. My older cousin who spent more time with him speaks fondly of his kindness. I often wonder if that’s where my passion for social justice comes from. When I’m demotivated and disheartened, I think about the stories I’ve been told about him, about the time he spent in jail during India’s freedom struggle, and about how the courage of those like him made the lives we have today possible. It gives me hope.
Chottimama (1944 – 2012), who also passed much too soon, was quite the feminist icon. Standing at just around 5 feet – although you wouldn’t know it from her exuberating persona – she filled our lives with joy and with strength. Her wit was like no other, and I definitely inherited a sarcastic streak from her. You could always find her with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. She showed us that to be a woman is to be bold, to be unapologetic, and to take up as much space as you need.
Bapama (1921 – 2017) was the pillar of the family, a true matriarch. Even though she lost her husband and a son, you wouldn’t know it from her delightful personality and her constant radiant energy. I’ve not yet met another person who had such a twinkle in their eye, even in her late 90s! Of all the things she bestowed upon her three granddaughters, I would say having grace is probably the most important one. She moved through the world with a quiet unassuming grace. We can only aspire to that.
Pappa (1936 – 2021) was everything that you would want in a grandfather wrapped up in a thick beard and the smell of Brylcreem hair gel. As kids he entertained me with board games, the only bedtime story he knew (Androcles and the Lion) and took me on “granddaughter-grandfather” dates where he would have a beer and I would have a Canada Dry (served in a beer glass, of course). Born too early to be a tech bro, he picked up computer skills post-retirement and was the only grandfather I know who was on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! He reminded us that age really is just a number.
Although they are gone now, I’m reminded of the precedent they set. To be resilient, to be kind, to be open to new opportunities, to be accepting, and to be ourselves.
Always, to be ourselves.
I use this space to share my thoughts on a variety of academic and non-academic topics! Happy reading!