A Labyrinth of Genders

Although it is increasingly being realized that there are more than just two heteronormative genders, it is still not determined how many genders really exist. Most of the conservatives will tell you that there are only two genders: male and female, and most liberals will refute this statement, and while I will always be amongst the latter, I too am not sure how many genders there are and if this indefinite number will increase in the future.

But that really doesn’t matter.

The whole concept of gender was created to give human beings an identity on the basis of their sex. It is human nature to want an identity, it satisfies our incessant need and want to be a part of something but at the same time stand out as unique individuals. An identity helps us do exactly that, whether that is religious, racial, or even being a part of a school group.

Overtime it has started to become obvious that the confined definition of gender that was prevalent since human beings acquired the ability to segregate and classify, restricts the actual identity of an individual.

We have been imposing a very limited definition of gender on people for a very long time. If you were born with a certain reproductive organ, you were directly classified as either female or male. This restrictive identity can have a negative impact on the well-being of those who are unable to identify with either a male or female gender or those who feel that they do not belong to the gender that they had been designated to at birth.

It is, therefore, important that the concept and idea of a gender-based identity expands to incorporate the affinities of all human beings i.e. non-heteronormative people.

Open Sexism in Indian Colleges – The Curfew System

There is a rather peculiar system that works within Indian colleges and that is the system of curfews that is unquestionably established in almost all girls’ hostels. Boys are not subject to this curfew, but somehow the authorities of educational institutions (institutions which are supposed to be imparting education and not imposing sexist and unnecessary rules) think that it’s okay to subject their female students with the curfew.

This curfew is usually at nine o’clock at night and all the girls staying at the hostel (which is pretty much ninety five percent of the female college students) have to come back to their dorms by nine at night and not even a minute more.

There are two things that are inherently wrong with this curfew system.

  1. Firstly, almost all college students are above eighteen years old and shouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary rules that restrict their freedom of movement. College is supposed to prepare you for the real world and there is no curfew in the real world. Instead of forcing the students (and in this case only the female students) to return back to their hostels at nine so that they don’t act “irresponsibly” at night, they should be influencing and educating all of the students to act responsibly on their own. Colleges should be promoting the importance of individual agency rather than collective suppression.
  2. Secondly, and this is more imperative than the former, this curfew system that works within almost all the colleges in India is downright sexist. When you differentiate someone merely on the basis of their gender it is called sexism, and in this case the colleges are discriminating against their female students.

The Indian constitution states that differential treatment on the basis of factors like creed, religion, and sex are a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens of India. Colleges are basically violating the fundamental rights of their female students and hiding behind the façade of “protecting” them. For how long are we going to deny women and girls equal opportunity because we want to “shelter” them? For how long are we going to treat them as commodities that need to be protected?

We need to give women equal opportunities and equal rights in all fields of life, including their living conditions in college. We need to break the curfew system.

Notions of Humanity

Me

People see a colored view of the world around them; it is palpable and vibrant and that is what makes it very hard to conceive in black and white and produce in front of those very people who have already witnessed the colorful reality. But that is what artists do; they take the labyrinth of life and the unfathomability of human emotion and try their best to compress it into a limited dimensional layer that can perhaps be better preserved than our mortal memory.

It is this plethora of creative expressions that – though can never really capture the real essence of existence – forms the basis of the notions of humanity that we see prevalent around our very atmosphere.

I remember reading The Great Gatsby almost two years back and the first thing that struck me about that book was its raw portrayal of human nature in America back in the roaring twenties. Virginia’s Woolf’s layered characterization and narrative led me to realize the nuances within human identities. Life of Pi revealed to me the bravery in cowardice and vice versa – the paradox of existence and the drive of commitment. Humans of New York showed me the multi-dimensional world of the people living across the globe through one-dimensional pages bought from a well-loved book shop.

My perception of humanity evolved (and is still evolving, as is everybody else’s) through the books that I have read, movies that I have watched, songs that I have listened to, and art that I have admired. I find it a privilege to be able to discover a part of myself in the expressions of artists around me. These are the roads that pave my notions of humanity.

The Healthcare Crossroads

Obamacare, though not the most suitable healthcare plan for USA, had addressed some basic healthcare needs for women and the disables. This is something that is exponentially lacking in the AHCA (Affordable Healthcare Act).

AHCA, stripped down to its fundamentals, serves only the rich men who do not suffer from any birth defects, or in other words, those people who are born into the top one percent of the privilege hierarchy.

Although at the superficial level AHCA may seem like a good option, especially for all those who are ardently pro-life, but a closer look at it shows that AHCA ignores the basic healthcare needs for women. Most of the Republicans rejected Obamacare because they didn’t want their taxes going into the funding of the immediate medical needs of the poorer section of the society, although they seem to have no problem in their taxes being directed into the funding of a futile “security measure” i.e. the building of the wall in the southern border.

Moreover, AHCA ignores the medical needs for children with chronic illnesses acquired at birth. This means that many of the parent/s who earlier could pay for the sustenance of their children though their medical insurance can no longer do so. AHCA will have a direct negative impact of the lives of thousands of children (and their parents) who, out of no fault of their own, have to live with a chronic illness.

Under AHCA, employers have the right to deny birth control under their insurance policy, which means that the several people suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome or ovarian cancer or some other disease (which oh-so-fortunately doesn’t affect cis-men) will lose access to the one medication that helps them lead a healthy life.

Although a more comprehensive healthcare act still needs to be formulated in the US, the direction in which the country is currently heading can potentially destruct the lives of several sections of its society. USA is at a crossroad and I strongly believe that it should diverge from the path leading up to AHCA, even if that means reverting to Obamacare.

Importance of Individual Agency

All societies across the world are bound by certain traditions and culture that predate the evolution of individual agency. In ancient times, man was always considered to be a part of the whole and not the whole in itself. And while this former presentiment is still true to some extent, there is no denying the importance of individual agency and effort.

Human beings are validated through society. In the long run, their contributions and efforts help to benefit the society and it goes without saying that man is incomplete without the society that he lives in.

However, the fact which is often overlooked but equally important is that the society is incomplete without man.

The scientific discoveries and socio-political changes that have evolved primitive lifestyles into adaptive and more modern ways of living have all been initiated by induvials who advocated for something outside of the limits of their society.

While the society in which we live gives us a home, an identity, and a means of comfort, it also sets a boundary to our potential. It is only when we work against certain boundaries set by the society that we can actually achieve a prominent change and make a difference in the world.

Susan B. Anthony did not win women their right to vote while working within the confines of twentieth century America. She and a thousand other women with her strived for something that their society did not provide for and their individual efforts helped make that same society a much better place for themselves as well as the coming generations.

Each and every one of us has the capacity to push against the walls that surround us. We need to expand on antiquated traditions and evolve them into practices that are increasingly egalitarian. We, especially the youth, shouldn’t be afraid to press against issues of sexism, racism, class ascendancy, etc. just because their society has been nurturing such discriminatory practices.

As Gandhi had said, we need to be the change that we wish to see in the world. It is our individual agency that can reform our society.

Perceptions and Stereotypes

We live in an integrated world where our existence affects and is effected by the actions and even thoughts of those around us. This forms the basis of how we are treated in the society. No matter what our potential or caliber is, whether we are successful in what we do is to a certain extent influenced by how we are perceived in society.

Perceptions that are prevalent in society more often than not stem from existing stereotypes. This is why most women working in male-dominated work areas like engineering, astronomy, computer sciences, etc. often face workplace sexism and are subject to a lesser salary than their equally qualified male counterparts. This doesn’t happen because women in these specific fields perform less than men, but it’s because of the existing stereotypes that influence how their employers perceive them and their contribution to the office.

Movements like feminism in the twentieth century and Black Lives Matter in the twenty-first century were all started in an attempt to challenge these stereotypes and change how these marginalized groups were viewed in the society.

In my home-country, India, class ascendancy and caste-based discrimination is extremely prevalent. While it was started because of a complex creed, its notions prevailed in the society because Indians continued to view those belonging to the lower caste as less than human. Their perception of the lower caste population continued to be degrading and demoralizing and it was this very thought process that continues to make its way into the way the lower-caste members are treated in the Indian society.

But just like Dr. BR Ambedkar, who belonged to the lowermost caste in the Indian society, made his way to the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution; we, too, can change the way that we are perceived in the society. During his work in the drafting committee, Dr. Ambedkar was able to pursuade the committee and the politicians to set up a clause in the constitutions that especially protected the rights of the lower-caste population. This clause is still upheld in the Indian constitution and has significantly changed the way the lower-caste members are treated.

We, too, need to challenge the stereotypes that have seeped into our institutions. We need to create an egalitarian space for ourselves and for the members of the section of the society that we represent where our potential can grow beyond the limitations that had been previously set for us.

On The Road With a Helping Hand

I love travelling.

It is one of those soothing activities, like writing a journal that clears your mind and helps you put your life in a newer perspective. There’s something about seeing places you’ve only ever seen on glossy papers of magazines at grocery stores that makes you feel more appreciative about your existence.

There is one thing that I have learnt from my travel experience (although I am no expert, I have only travelled to about six countries. But the things I have learnt from my experiences are still rich and fresh in my mind, and I believe that is going to be the case for the next few decades too) and that is:

Travelling is only ever fun when you do/see something thought-provoking. While seeing a few historical sites is a wonderful way to feel relaxed, don’t just leave what you see over there. Take it home with you and do something with it that will make you proud.

What is the use of going to a wonderful country when you don’t do something there that stays with you for the rest of your life? And I am not talking about plastic smiles on a camera.

I am talking about using the knowledge you gain to help you reach to your optimum potential. For me that was bringing something that I was passionate about and giving it to the country that I travelled to over the summer.

I love animals. I am a member of the PETA 2 (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Street Team and I am a vegetarian. There is nothing that hurts me more than seeing an animal in trouble.

When I was volunteering for an organization while travelling, I found this adorable little dog that was born with a disability that made her hind limbs bigger than her forelimbs rendering her unable to walk. I felt so sad looking at that dog, but the dog – her name is Sally – didn’t look sad at all. She was happy and excited to meet me. And in the few weeks that I worked in the organization I learnt that that little pup was filled with hope and determination. When we would open her cage in the morning (we kept her in a cage during the night so that she wouldn’t wander off and get hurt) she would leap out and start barking. All ready to start a new day! We all can learn so much from her.

So this year, instead of going to India and just visiting my grandparents and sitting on their sofa moaning about how hot it was, I decided to volunteer in an organization.

Jeev Ashrya (an Indian organization affiliated with SPCA) is absolutely beautiful and the people who work here are really passionate about what they are doing. I volunteered for about two weeks there when I was staying with my grandparents in Lucknow. I helped looking after the cows that had been found roaming around the streets eating plastic bags and I helped take care of the injured street dogs that are ubiquitously present all over India.

India is a beautiful country, but the streets are filled with homeless animals that need our help. Jeev Ashrya takes care of these animals and I felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that I was a part of something that helps saves the lives of innocent creatures. Even though I only volunteered for about fourteen days, I learnt a lot in those two weeks.

One of the most important things that I learnt was that helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.

The Stigma Against Menstruation  

Menstruation is considered a tabooed subject in many societies across the world, even in the twenty-first century. And this stigma, that has been somehow attached to one of the most natural processes of the human body, can have a strong detrimental impact on the lives of young girls.

Many girls in south-east Asian countries and African countries drop out of school during the first two years of their middle school when they start menstruating for the mere reason that either them or their parents (or in many cases, both) are too embarrassed to go to school/send their daughter to school.

This decision to drop out midway through their education is driven by society’s stigma against menstruation. In many cultures, menstruating women and girls cannot step into the kitchen, perform religious activities, touch men or children, and sometimes they are segregated into a separate living space altogether as if they are victims of the nineteenth century plague.

Even in more urban societies where the concept of menstruation may be a bit more open for discussion, there are many instances when girls refuse to go school during the time of their menstruation because of inadequate sanitary facilities.

Transgender men, gender-fluid people, and non-gender confirming people too suffer from the stigma of menstruation. If it’s hard for cis women to talk about periods, it is a hundred times harder for trans men and women to talk about it because they are leaving themselves open and vulnerable to a topic that many people consider tabooed.

Fundamental rights say that every child has the right to education; not just children who are not menstruating. It’s time that menstruation stops becoming a hurdle in accessing education for young girls. And this can be done only through more open discussions about the subject.

It is only when we educate people, spread awareness, and provide adequate facilities that the very act of menstruating can be taken for what it is: bleeding, and not subject to the negative connotations that the society puts on it.

Why Abortion Should be a Fundamental Right

Fundamental rights not only protect citizens from exploitation but also provide a basic framework within which the citizen is protected in a democracy. Under no law does it say that a citizen is required to utilize their own body for the protection of someone else. In fact, fundamental rights in a democratic constitution revolve on the basis that autonomy of an individual should not be compromised.

Proponents of the pro-life propaganda hide behind their statement that the fetus is equivalent to a human being. Even though that has been scientifically refuted, let us take hypothetically that the fetus is equivalent to a human being. Even then, under no state or religious law does it say that an individual should be forced to compromise their bodily autonomy for the protection of another life.

In fact, if you use the body of another human being to protect yourself in any circumstance without said individual’s consent, you are violating their fundamental rights.

Why, then, is abortion still illegal in many democratic countries like India? Why, then, are people so divided on a basic concept of human rights?

Abortion is all about right to bodily autonomy; and if you think about the provisions that a democracy promises, the right to do what you want with your body is not a matter that involves the sate. It is not even a public matter. It is a private matter and the pregnant person who wishes to terminate their pregnancy shouldn’t have to produce an “approved” reason for doing so.

If you say that a person has the right to seek abortion only if she (or he) has been raped, then you are basically saying that a person needs to be sexually violated for them to have basic sexual rights.

In the Indian constitution, we have rights that safeguard our physical assets, but we don’t have a right that safeguards our body from the state. The sexual rights of many women lie in the hands of the government, where they are exploited and subject to succumbing to someone else’s belief.

The right to access to safe and affordable abortion should be incorporated into the provisions of every democracy for the government to be actually called democratic. Otherwise, it is just a democracy for the people who can’t get pregnant.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is a haunting tale of a vengeful man Heathcliff, his lover Catherine and his sworn enemies Edgar and Hindley. Writing in an intimately critical style, Emily Bronte, describes the pitiful life of Heathcliff Earnshaw using Lockwood, a curious spectator, and Nelly, a former residence of Wuthering Heights, as the narrators.

The story revolves around Heathcliff’s sadistic desires to take revenge from Hindley, his step-brother, for abusing him by acquiring Wuthering Heights. He also plans on taking Thrushcross Grange from Edgar Linton for stealing Catherine away from him. Heathcliff is a remorseless and self-destructive man who goes through many means for seeking his revenge.

Stuck in the labyrinth of seeking vengeance, Heathcliff completely disregards his children and Catherine, whom he loves deeply but darkly. In the end, Heathcliff gets both the properties, but he is still mentally unsettled because of the loss of his lover, Catherine. He dies disconcerted and discontented.

The story Wuthering Heights embodies the scandalous side of the nineteenth century society. Heathcliff epitomizes a lost and wounded soul, who has been scarred deeply by wrong-doings and loss.

Even though the book is written in an unrealistically gothic fashion, it doesn’t fail to engross the readers in the complexity of its characters. It is truly a heart-wrenching, bitter-sweet book about internal conflicts, love and loss.