From Engineering to Women’s Studies, Traversing New India

When I was studying an engineering course in computer science, I used to think of ways technology helps society and contributes towards making a more egalitarian world. In an engineering college, there was no space for discussing anything social, economic and political.

These professional colleges systematically keep you away from the knowledge and understanding of social institutions. During graduation, I used to give home tuitions to school children and teach them social science and mathematics. That way, I was doing my schooling again because honestly school never taught me to think, question or learn. It only taught me to cram things, attain merit on that basis and just get all the appreciation you need to be a “good kid”.

Merit is a very capitalist idea in a factory-like school setting, but it helped me convince my parents and relatives that women can do well in studies. I used to fit in their stereotypical understanding of being an intelligent, hardworking kid.

During undergrad, I started reading books by critical thinkers like Ramachandra Guha, Yuval Noah, Arundhati Roy and others and I started developing a curiosity like never before. Engineering seemed hollow and shallow suddenly; it was all well and good to learn new skills but there was no human connection.

I started planning to join a social science college but had no money and to convince my parents to allow me to do a master’s degree seemed impossible. I am the only graduate woman in my family and according to them, I had studied enough.

I joined a start-up and worked there for one year, saved some money and then applied for a master’s course in women’s studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The odds of me not getting selected were high (me being an engineer) and even higher was the cost of living in Mumbai and actually pursuing a course that would not get me a well-paying job. Fortunately, I got in and, somehow, with the support of my friends, I managed to pay the fees.

My journey began and I started reading things systematically. The lectures gave me a perspective to understand those readings better. Initially, it was uncomfortable for me to grasp everything and some readings used to be overwhelming enough to make me sad for extended periods of time. I realised that maybe because of my gender, class and life experiences, I am marginalised – but I was still privileged in so many other ways.

Recognising my privilege and accepting it was very difficult for me because I used to think my life was among the most difficult I knew of because of the impact of my parent’s extramarital affairs on me and also because of the patriarchal structures that surround us.

I learnt a lot from my friends and through our classroom discussions. There were students from diverse backgrounds – which had not been the case in engineering college. There were women who were the only ones from their village to be able to make it to higher education and there were women fighting divorce cases while simultaneously pursuing the course.

It was inevitable for me to reflect more on what my idea of society was (in private schools and in engineering college) and what our society actually is. Looking back at this period, I believe I became a better person. Slowly and gradually, I started thinking critically and my idea of what constitutes a critical thinker also changed. I now study, understand and question anything and everything in the world.

But today, I am scared. I am scared that I am everything that I am not supposed to be in this new India.

I am a thinker who questions the ruling party and its propaganda machines, its unfair and unjust laws, its Hindutva ideology and vision to divide. I see vivid dreams of mass killings and I am mostly scared to go to my library after the police brutality at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.

I feel scared after putting out dissent on social media.

Also read: How to Live in Modi’s India

Yesterday, I had a dream that shook me to the core – all those raising their voices against the present dispensation were made visible to the police and to RSS karyakartas. We were running to save our lives but they were brutally killing our loved ones, our parents and our children. I was trying to hide, but my existence could not be hidden anymore. I was out there being brutally beaten by lathis and waiting for death to come. The streets were crowded with police and Sangh Parivar workers and critical thinkers, intellectuals were the ‘others’, the ‘terrorists’, the ‘anti-nationals’.

Good people who genuinely wants to do good for the society, who believe in the constitution and who are empathetic were being portrayed as the bad ones and the bad ones were being cheered by the majority. They were being cheered for being brutal and hateful. In my dream, looking at the state of affairs, I thought helplessly that nothing is more dangerous than the infiltration of the mind with hatred and bigotry.

My heart told me: “Look what they have done to my people, they have made them real demons; full of hate and no compassion and empathy for anyone who is not a part of their hate-spreading project”.

In New India, being an empathetic and thinking being feels like being a criminal. You are not allowed to love, care or empathise with marginalised communities, with students and other intellectuals. It has become a new crime to be compassionate, to speak the truth and uphold the idea of constitutional justice. Being a Hindu extremist male is the new ideal to be.

Parents, relatives and people in power expect you to be hateful and if you are not, you are an “urban naxal” or a “libtard”. History books, freedom fighters and intellectual leaders are the new demons for them in this intimidating India.

What do you do when irrational, hateful bigots are the accepted ones in the society? Parents are telling their children that they will not send money if they dare speak for minorities and against the government. Those same parents who always wanted us to excel in our studies are now the upholders of WhatsApp university knowledge and disregard our emotional and intellectual labor.

This reality that sounds like a dystopia has become everyday life for me, my friends and students across universities who are studying social sciences. We are right away called anti-national, irrational and stupid and there is no respect or regard for the work we do.

When I am told by engineering friends that I am spreading hate through social media, I feel hopeless. There is anxiety and there are bad dreams. We, the students, do not like this New India and we feel ashamed of coming from families where parents, relatives and even some childhood friends are worshipping the Modi government whose sole purpose is to spread hate and divide our people and just ruin the idea of India.

In these dark times, I keep reminding myself that “a lie told a thousand times do not become the truth”.

We need to stand by the truth.

Shreya is pursuing Masters in Women’s Studies at Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. She strongly believes that Social Science is intrinsic to making people better human beings and aims to convince future generation to pursue arts and humanities.

Featured image credit: Flickr