The Story of a Journey in So Many Words

Kirthi
Posted March 7, 2019 from India

My childhood was filled with formative experiences, that at the time, like most others do while making memories, I ignored. It is interesting how the many lessons you learnt as a child need unlearning. Almost as if they came with an option to uninstall them, much like many computer programs we all use. When opportunities would present themselves in the future, you only needed to find the file and press uninstall. 

But here’s the thing about the human mind – it is capable; of making mistakes, of falling, of learning lessons from those mistakes, and of choosing, with an informed point of view, which way to go.

My journey into feminism began by a conscious choice not to be a feminist. When you are thirteen, you are presented with one worldview that your surroundings reiterate. Growing up in sleepy little conservative Chennai, the city’s adolescence came way after my adolescence had left. I grew up being privileged and oppressed by the conservative social ethos around me. My privilege lent me a cloak of ignorance, which led to me to believe feminism was all about ‘a bunch of angry women.’ My ignorance extended even further to denounce the call for equality, because, well, I was equal to the men in my life. Hindsight, as they say, is 6/6, and I see quite clearly that what I assumed was equality, amounted to hardly even the “e” in equality.

Discernment dawns when it dawns, and I had to wait – had to, without knowing it, of course – for my turn. A system that had showed me its privileges had also shown me its oppressions, but I had dissociated with the latter. My many identities have been a heady mix of privilege and oppression.

My identity as a girl and woman brought me smack in the middle of oppression, as sexual, physical and verbal abuse would follow from all kinds of quarters through my childhood, teenage, and early adulthood years.

My identity as an upper caste girl saw me as an oppressor as I would mindlessly carry out dictum after dictum of my extended family in perpetuating “caste purity” – until the time would come when I would identify how horribly, horribly wrong I was, and begin to mend my ways towards being inclusive, respectful, and to turn my caste privilege on its head.

My identity as a middle-class girl would allow me only so much in terms of what I could afford and access, and yet show me that I still had privilege and could again, make better use of it to fight systems that kept inequality alive.

My identity as an upper caste girl would also come into play where I would be beaten up for my caste identity – no reasons, except for what my caste was. My ignorance would lead me to presume that a classmate from Kalimpong was Chinese and not Indian, because of her features. I did mend my ways, but the damage was done in that I had judged her identity without a second thought. I was a victim of abuse, but I was a horrible person that had privilege, too. I was both. A time would come in the future when I would learn to feed one wolf and starve the other. To date, I strive to starve the privileged wolf.

Molestation, sexual abuse, gender-based bullying, and discrimination were dished out to me with as much generosity as kindness was – except that the impact they left on my body and mind went behind a cloak. A cloak called silence. A cloak woven out of the threads of stigma, fear, predatory threats and pain. A cloak that would come undone when my nation would wake up to the long ignored calls by feminists.

On December 16, 2012, it would come undone.

A footnote in the world’s news channels. ‘Gang-rape in Delhi; girl admitted to hospital,’ would remain emblazoned on the insides of my eyelids and tattooed onto them forevermore. I would go to sleep that night, but only just, and wonder at the many missing pieces of the puzzles inside my heart that didn’t let me feel wholesome on the inside. I would go to receive an award a day after and feel horrible, empty, and like a criminal for receiving an award for ‘women’s empowerment’ when a girl would be battling for her life after a brutal gang-rape.

Six months later, I would awaken a sleeping giant and give birth to my act of resistance – The Red Elephant Foundation. A torrential outpouring of my story would follow, and attempts to heal would arrive in many shapes and sizes, some successful, some unsuccessful, some temporary, some permanent. Uninstall buttons would be pressed, and new learning would arrive. Intersectional Feminism would come to become my oxygen.

Today, I cannot claim to know enough. I will never know enough. But I know for a fact that eight, eleven, thirteen, and sixteen year old Kirthi(s) have come a long way today. I know for a fact that every day will remain a learning experience. That my feminism, like the blood in my veins, will need to be fed and nourished with learning, with an intersectional network of veins that stand for multiple identities and experiences, to be inclusive and genuine.

On this International Women's Day, I send each woman (cis, trans) reading this love, strength, and courage. I send each of you peace and resilience, and walk beside you in this march onward to our collective freedom, our collective emancipation, and within us, our individual freedoms. 

This story was submitted in response to Change Starts With a Story.

Comments 11

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Dawn Arteaga
Mar 07
Mar 07

Thank you for this Kirthi - I love your honesty and humility about your privilege and your struggle with it over a lifetime. I am so inspired by your example of ACTION - so many people are better off because of you today.

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

Thank you Dawn! <3

SIMON MUREU
Mar 07
Mar 07

Continue make it --ha

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

Thank you Simon!

drvjanaki
Mar 08
Mar 08

Kirthi it takes great courage to share as a chennaite myself from a similar background its even more inspiring keep going dear
I am a hearing impaired individual who has her own story ..u can read it in www.enabled.in n share here too hope we can meet God bless happy women's day folks remember the powerful word WITH women n not FOR women therein lies the need for attitudinal change

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

Thank you Janaki ma'am!

Pukhraj Ranjan
Mar 08
Mar 08

I agree with Dawn's comment below! Kirthi you are a true leader and thank you for leading by example. We all are learning from you.

Jill Langhus
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi Lovely Kirthi,

Thanks so much for sharing your brutally honest and insightful account of your privilege as well as your oppression. I can relate to this quite well coming from a white, middle class home in the U.S. where I endured abuse, too. I applaud you for being so transparent and forthcoming around these haunting dichotomies. You are so strong, tenacious, driven and visionary.

Happy IWD, and namaste, dear!

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

<3 Love to you, Jill! Thank you, always!

Jill Langhus
Mar 12
Mar 12

Thanks, dear. You, too!

You're very welcome. Hope you're having a great evening, and week!

Hello, Kirthi,

Thank you for deciding to be a feminist. You’ve done much for women, and you are an inspiration to all of us.

Promoting World Pulse on my social media accounts make my “friends/contacts” feel I became one those angry women who wants to beat up men. There’s that stigma attached to feminism.

But World Pulse showed me the heart of it, and I’m proud to be one, too.

Thank you for sharing your story!