Damn cool lady.
I so deeply admire women who speak out about these taboo, stigmatized issues in these sorts of societies – knowing the kinds of horrific comments and jugments (and potentially dangerous retaliations) that are going to be thrust upon them and those close to them, not just in relation to their views on these things but in associating with everything else they do and how they choose to live their lives forever onwards. And so interesting how other judgments that have absolutely nothing (at least overtly) to do with the matter at hand – like calling someone a Naxalite or seditious/anti-national (see recent accusations against John Dreze’s partner) – are so often tacked on to obfuscate the issue and promote alienation of any woman that dares speak out.
I, having been raised in a (relatively) progressive family in the U.S. have at times found myself self-censoring, self-constrainting, and overall feeling unable or ashamed even of speaking out about things like this with many in my communities- for fear of the sorts of “loose morals” that they will think that I have, how they will treat me in so many other areas of my life if they know where I stand on issues like this, the daily alienation that I might suffer from them knowing that I just think this way, and their assumption that I only think this way because I have let certain “impure” Western values corrupt me and cannot relate at all to Indian/South Asian values, etc. Many cannot imagine that I may have grown up living between two worlds, and even been a grown-up who has chosen to continue living between the two, and thought deeply about these issues and arrived at my own conclusions.
Regardless of any of her other views or ideological standings, how Kavita Krishnan, as a woman raised in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, finds the courage, to publicly speak out, is astounding to me – and quite inspiring. Seeing this makes me see just how much more one can do, and how much more one can aspire to say. I only wish that one didn’t have to necessarily be labeled as an “activist” to speak out. Why shouldn’t all women be able to? Certainly one could expect it for those of us who are “free” (as one is, presumably, in the U.S. and India)?
In a related matter (the freedom of women to decide what to do with their bodies), worth listening to this This American Life podcast – Act One is about a woman who was born in Karachi in a particular sect, some of whom practice female genital mutilation (for the sake of limiting a woman’s desire), then moved to the U.S. and started asking and studying more about what had been done to her as a 7-year-old. She delved into what the social, religious, and familial forces behind it were (and continue to be); independently of her, her brother became one of the most vocal and public from their community about ending the practice, and her mother had unsuccessfully struggled against the norm in their own family. The resulting discussion about the reactions and views around this issue through generations in their family and the society (religious and social) that the family is embedded in are particularly telling and familiar. Note: she only started confronting these issues once she was in a college environment, rather than the Texan community that she grew up in, where sex was, similarly to her experience in Karachi, a pretty taboo and under-discussed issue. Many of the places we think are free are, perhaps, less than we think.
Secrecy, and lack of discussion, around these “controversial” issues (about women’s bodies) among even best friends and family members is a chilling parallel that I see in so many societies where social norms around limited freedoms (even when de jure freedoms may exist) continue on.
The success of a society is to be evaluated primarily by the freedoms that members of the society enjoy. -Amartya Sen

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