LOVE LIFTED ME.
“11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
1Corinthians 13, New International Version (NIV)
Any change for the better especially a psychological one reminds me of this text. A culmination of ignorance, to a call to LOVE.
From the time I remember I was a staunch feminist. The prime reason that I became one, was the realisation that boys were handed out special treats, for just being born as one. Time restrictions, behaviour curtailment, duty bound tasks were never their ilk. As for girls one had to adhere to strict norms and rules, numerous cultural inhibitions restricting them to bondage in many areas of their lives. Another aspect which hit me was this whole aspect of dowry. Observing this vast irreparable inequalities between the sexes, I was automatically drawn towards establishing an egalitarian society, which was just to both the sexes whereby all would be offered equitable opportunities.
I was and still am a voracious reader. The Women’s Suffrage Movement, The Anti-Apartheid Movement, The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our very own Gandhian Non Violent struggle for freedom, impacted me deeply. I had sworn to do away with the unjust society and in its stead establish a totally free and unified one, by abolishing all that was evil. I believed any struggle had to start with my life and that would effect other people’s freedom, as well in the bargain.
My first act of rebellion was as a small girl in the 4th standard on an occasion of the Sunday Mass, in one of the most regressive churches in Kerala (even today it is), during the rite of Holy Communion. Till date men and women stand in separate lines to receive the Lord, and there is a clear demarcation as to how both of the sexes sit in the church as well. Although Jesus redeemed all, the Kerala, Syro Malabar rite does not think so. They believe in demarcating their sheep into male and female and woe to those who even think otherwise! The priest had finished giving communion to the men as their line was small in comparison to the women’s line. One more interesting thing to be observed is that for the women, only the religious have to offer communion while the men are administered communion by the priest. That day I realised that it can never be interchanged. Since the men’s line was over, I walked upto the priest for the communion, he simply walked away as if I did not exist at all, without giving me the bread of life! Can you imagine how much indignant I was, all my life drained off into the pool of embarrassment. Since I was of such a tender age, I was not yet clear of my stand point. So I walked away without receiving the bread. Although my ego was badly hit, in my heart I knew that I had done the right thing.
I decided there and then I will not suffer any injustice at the hands of nobody. This resolve inspired me to hit men with whatever was available at hand, many a time umbrellas, bag, or just scratch them with my nails and so on, if they pinched my bottom or my breast. Many a times I have accosted lecherous meant into an argument as to why do they reduce women only to breasts or hips and nothing more, to which they would feign ignorance as if I was hallucinating.
I remember one incident, at a station, as soon as I alighted a train, there was this man sitting on the bench right in front of the ladies compartment, ogling at women. My blood boiled and I went upto him and asked him very condescendingly as to who had paid him to sit here and stare at women. He glared at me ferociously and would have slapped me had not there been others joining in the fiasco. He had to just walk away from his picture perfect spot to safety. I used to share all my battles with my mother who used to dissuade me saying that one day some disgruntled man would pour acid on my face, but I continued in my struggle unabashedly. In fact I used to be very happy to have challenged such debase men, it was as if I was standing up for the rights of all women who were suffering in a similar manner of indignity and harassment.
Seeing my enthusiasm and my commitment to woman’s rights, one of the Catechism teacher who taught me many years and recognising the fire brand within me, guided me to join the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan. The first day when I stepped in to the college I knew I have reached HOME.
I experienced a sense of freedom, wholeness, support which I had never felt in my life. I was given the freedom of movement, speech and thought by the faculty who taught there. We were formed into fearless, right demanding individuals. I participated in many Morchas, Dharnas, feeling so emancipated in having avenged all the wrong doers of society.
There was however a huge set back as a student social worker. One of our seniors, a fiery activist who was forefront of any and every woman struggle after her marriage, came back to the very college seeking for help as her husband was ill treating her. Her parents would not support her in the most hour of need. I saw her face all battered and bruised and I was shocked. After a few weeks I learnt that she was burnt to death by her husband, neither the college nor the her family could help her. This was a huge set back to my make believe world of the college and my own imagination. I thought my efforts will be rewarded but this one incident started creating holes in my beliefs.
I realised that an educational institution is not ultimately going to offer any protection or support in the light of injustice nor is it going to make an individual courageous. What it can do is only clarify doubts and show us limitations and strengths of the individual. Nothing more nothing less. What has to be done has to be by only the individual. Thus it is true that, ONE CAN LIFT UP ONESELF ONLY BY ONESELF AND NO OTHER.
I worked for one and a half years in an NGO, arguing, being let down, blood boiling, imagine that state of perpetual hatred against a certain section of society, always up in arms. Now when I think of those days, I think I was suited to be a lawyer more than a social worker or a feminist.
I became more stuck in my ways, a fanatic. I would loftily proclaim that I would never marry a Malayali because of the evil practise of dowry. Finally out of frustration as I was past the marriageable age, my mother allowed me to marry a non Malayali boy. When my mother used to tell me to learn cooking I would retort, will learn only with my husband. My slogan was, “I will cut half an onion and the other half has to be cut by my husband. “
Life carried on even after marriage with my strong views and opinions. I would argue incessantly on the notions of freedom and justice and quote, Gandhi, Marx and Engels in the same breath. Not to miss out Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the oppressed. Many of my friends just stopped talking to me as I was such a bore. There was only black and white in life and there was never a grey, ie a middle path. Baying for blood.
Till the day I was to marry my only goal in life was to look for equal opportunities, dispensing judgement and ensuring justice. Little did I know this so called mind set of my rigid mind was to go for a toss. Thanks to my husband who showed me the path of love.
He would be amused at my complicated words, quotes and ideas. Very soon he showed me how hollow my words were. The word justice itself did not serve any purpose if it flowed from a flawed sense of condemnation. Never did he condemn nor did he justify a wrong doing. He showed me by his very behaviour that equity is not something to be shouted from the roof top. It was to be first experienced from within. All dogmas, certitudes, rules just melted into his arms of love. His unconditional acceptance of me and the absolute freedom he offered me to flower into my own personhood redefined what being human meant. Life was not meant to be a struggle or a battle but a challenge which had to be overcome as creatively as possible. That is what love did, offer creative and loving and impossible solutions, and there no longer need to be any struggle.
Thus I could sort out my own struggles and indifferences with my extended family and people I could not see eye to eye. I realised justice and equality is not strictly a female or male prerogative but it is to be an attitude developed in every individual irrespective of the sex one is born into.
The word equality is totally redundant if it is seen with respect to only one section of society and the other section is totally isolated from the whole process. Equality only comes about when all individuals in a society sees for themselves as to how they can flower to the best of their ability. There are no hand me downs, no starting early or late. It’s only an individual effort as per what the said individual possessed capacity, to honour one’s potential. I find St.Paul says it best,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”
Today it is eighteen years of my married life. All thanks to my husband who through his unconditional love showed me the true meaning of feminism and all that which follows it. I have realised Love is the only equation one has to realise in one’s life, and the rest will follow. I end with St.Paul.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1Corinthians 13, New International Version (NIV)