After dinner at home, Amma would always ask me to carry the plates to sink and then later, wash them. I never questioned her, because I didn’t know I had the option to dissent.
‘Dissent’ – a word that did not exist in my dictionary until some years ago; a word that still does not exist in the dictionaries of many people I know.
Thanks to my Malayali orthodox (read: patriarchal) upbringing, I did not know that I could refuse to do the dishes. I did not ask my mother why she was okay with my brother going up to his room while I did the dishes. I did not ask my mother why it was okay for my brother to walk on the roads wearing his boxers while I had to wear a kurta and pants covering my ankles.
I was an unquestioning kid who did not recognise the gender-based restrictions imposed upon me – all in the name of my ‘safety’. I did not challenge these restrictions because it was internalised within me that they were important for me to be ‘socially accepted’.
When I was growing up, being a feminist was never an option, because the Indian education system never thought about inculcating gender equality within young minds, even while talking about the ‘Rule of Law’ in the very first chapter of class VIII political science textbook.
The classroom structure, even today, in most schools propagates gender disparity – the girls sit on the right while the boys on the other side. During the physical education period, boys have the entire football field to themselves, while girls have to play less athletic games on the margins.
Margins – that’s where many women have located themselves all these years.
I used to find myself on the margins too, and was often scared to come to the centre. I was scared of being humiliated, confused whether it was really my “place” and afraid of my ideas being rejected. I started having issues even communicating with the opposite gender.
Downtrodden with an extreme lack of self-esteem arising out of the internalised gender divide, I realised that the best way to stay unharmed was to accept what others said as correct and never argue. This carried on for some time until I started feeling worthless — and it was suffocating.
I came to know that the belief system with which my family brought me up had made it difficult for me to even make friends. I decided it was time for a change, major change.
I began questioning the norms at home. I got frequent haircuts, because I liked having short hair. I chose my comfort at wearing T-shirts over wearing kurtas. I walked out of home looking homeless. I stopped caring about the vocal disapproval of my family. I found a close friend in a boy for the first time and did not listen when my parents told me he would end up being “harmful” to me. I ate what I liked, despite being warned about my increasing PCOS symptoms.
I stood up for myself and convinced my parents to let me pursue my higher education in Delhi and ended up at Miranda House — a strong proponent of feminism. I learnt more about the misogyny that exists in this society, I realised that there are many more like me, who were never aware of their voice.
I started asking questions, I stayed out till late at night and managed to return safely. I joined the protest culture and understood the power of dissent.
I am yet to completely let go of my parents’ ideologies, but I am slowly creating my own ideology, one based on equality on all levels, taking it out of the textbooks and smashing it down on whatever hinders me, every single day.
I am not generalising the experiences of all kids growing up. Many might have had a better childhood where they felt secure in their identities; where they did not have to think twice before voicing their opinions.
However, this goes out to all those who have felt unheard – there is a choice. There is a choice of neglecting those voices that bring you down.
I just needed my college life to completely comprehend that. And I did!
Geethanjali is pursuing literature at Miranda House and writes random pieces (which she later posts on Instagram as long captions) when she is not indulging in ‘The Office’.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty