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.

What is Privilege?

When I say that you are privileged in this society, in this political system; I am not assaulting your identity or in any way claiming that you are less entitled to fight for the rights that you might have been refrained from.

When I say that you are privileged, I am not accusing you of committing a crime. I am not segregating you into a section of society that does not deserve the status that they have. I am not classifying you into a group of vain people who don’t understand oppression because they have never felt it. In fact, I am not saying that you haven’t ever been oppressed; because in a society that feeds off of repression, every single person has faced oppression because of their social background in one way or another.

When I say that you are privileged, I am telling you that within a multifaceted sphere of our political system, you have some important rights that I am not fully able to utilize.

Privilege is not a one-dimensional statement, it has several implications and nuances that fit from one person to another. A white man might be privileged over a white woman, whereas at the same time a white woman born into an upper-class wealthy family might be privileged over a white man born into a lower-class family.

But the important nuance here is that a white woman is more privileged than a black woman with an identical background and a man is more privileged than a woman with an identical background. This essentially underscores the dynamics of privilege: antiquated ideas prevail and prejudice clouds the way that we are treated in society.

Privilege stems from the unfortunate reality that in every situation there is a class of people that is being oppressed by another single or multi dominated class. It is the sad truth of white-washed feminism, all-lives-matter, and the pro-life movement.

The only way you can erase privilege is by granting the same opportunities and the same facilities to all the people regardless of their gender, religion, sexuality, sexual orientation, etc. This, on a deductive level, incorporates the basic idea of democracy; but hypocritically, there is no democracy in the world that functions on these ideas.

While erasing privilege may be a strive for utopia, there is a definitive hope that in future generations, discrimination can be curbed to a point when privilege will only stem from the identity that the individual creates and not the identity that has been thrusted on the individual against their will.

Victim Blaming: Gender, Race, and Class

Rape victims aren’t the only assault victims that are blamed for the crime that was committed against them. Many black and Hispanic people are blamed for theft that happened on their property or held accountable for the kidnap of their child.

However, in the same situation, white men and women have a much lower chance of being blamed. This suggests that there is a discriminatory pattern among police officers and court verdicts.

For the same reasons women (and men) are blamed for their sexual assault so as to relieve the sex offender from their due punishment. And even in this case, reports show that men of color are much more likely of being charged of sexual assault than white men.

This basically means that if you are a white man, getting away with crime is comparatively much easier for you.

It’s a given fact that racism goes hand in hand with sexism. I, for one, know that even though we are living in the twenty first century and people like Ruby Rose are redefining gender roles, I am going to be looked down upon in the workplace, not only because I am a woman but also because of the color of my skin.

There are a lot of rape cases on college campuses (and in private organizations) that are largely underreported because of the universities’ want to protect their reputation rather than their students. Reports have shown that many rapes that occurred on campus were by members of fraternities who were legacies and contributed a lot to the universities’ financial funding and rankings.

So now let me rephrase the sentence that I have earlier mentioned: if you are a white, rich man, getting away with crime is definitely much easier for you.

I am not trying to make anyone feel bad about their racial or gendered privileges. Our society has been historically shaped in a communist way, some people are more privileged than others in a few walks of their lives. But instead, I am asking these people to use their privileges to support those who don’t have them.

If there is one thing we can learn from socialism in Russia and China, is that socialism eventually dies. So I am not asking for a society that is socialist, but I am asking for us to redefine communism.

We should be equally accredited according to our contribution to the society and we should be equally punished for our crimes. Our gender and our race shouldn’t interfere in this.

There are several instances in college where women report their assault to campus security, and the campus security does not take it seriously and casually dismisses it. And all of this is done solely to protect the university from media criticism.

According to one 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics/Department of Justice study, fewer than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of women in college were reported to law enforcement officials, and that number drops still lower for other forms of sexual assault.

(src: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf)

Victim blaming is, thus, the rawest form of discrimination, and here’s why:

  1. Women are often blamed for their sexual assault when the reported sex offender is an accredited white male.
  2. Men are blamed for their sexual assault because society thinks that they should be strong and they should have fought against their rapist; if they didn’t then they had been ‘asking for it.’ This is sexism at it’ finest.
  3. Women of color are more likely to be blamed than white women because of prevalent racism.

What Rape Culture Stands For

Remember all those Law and Order SVU episodes that you watched? Feeling gripping anger and fear after the end of every show and then realizing that it’s fictional so you didn’t need to worry about those horrible things happening to you.

Well, it’s not.

One in five women have been a victim of sexual assault on college campus in 2015 in the United States. That is a terrifyingly large number.

It’s overwhelming and shocking to know that so many women do not feel safe inside the place where they go to receive education, where they go to build a future for themselves.

It makes you wonder about the safety of women in one of the most progressive countries of the world. The United States of America proudly leads the world’s economy and dominates international organizations, but yet it fails to provide safety to more than half of its population.

The issue regarding sexual violence against women is, by all means, not directed to USA only. In fact UK and a majority of the Asian countries are also experiencing rape as a growing epidemic.

We have to create an environment where women (and men) feel safe so that they can be more productive, healthy and happy. Safety is one of the most important aspects of life. You cannot expect a person to work to their full potential in a place where they do not feel safe.

We must all stand together to bring an end to rape culture. But for that, we should know what rape culture is.

Rape culture sprouts mainly from victim blaming. A lot of the sexual assault survivors face a few people who ardently believe that the victim herself is responsible for what happened to her. Question like, “Did you invite him into your house?” “What dress were you wearing?” “Were you drunk?” are thrown at the survivor. And there are many people out there who think that these questions are actually relevant and legitimate.

Well guess what, it doesn’t matter what she was wearing, where she was going, who she was going with or whether she had been drinking or not (incapacitated rape does exist!), rape is rape and is always equally punishable under any circumstances.

Nearly 19% of freshmen women said that they had been a victim of attempted or completed rape, either by force or while they were incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. (src: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/20/living/feat-rape-freshmen-women-new-study/)

Sustenance of Socially Sensitive Vocabulary

The year 2017 is recovering from the political trauma of Trump’s election, the economic trauma of Brexit, and the social trauma of the Syrian Crises. But what most fail to acknowledge is that 2017 is also recovering from the inadequate and inappropriate usage of the English vocabulary.

As far as we have come in terms of technological and educational progress, this has still not reflected in the way that we communicate with each other. Political correctness is yet but a distant dream of free and unrestricted speech.

Somehow words like “depression,” “OCD,” “anxiety,” and “insomnia,” and phrases like “don’t run or cry like a girl,” have seeped into our vocabulary and have become normalized with daily usage.

But what majority of the public fails to realize is that depression and anxiety, etc. are real mental illnesses and more than a billion people have to deal with them. These words should be eliminated in 2017 because their usage trivializes what patients with actual mental disorders go through.

The phrase “don’t run like a girl” or “you throw a ball like a girl” are extremely derogative to women. These imply that female is a weaker gender and that being a girl means that you are automatically weaker than a boy. By using these phrases, we are instilling in the malleable minds of young children that sexism is okay and that women are less equipped to become leaders than men.

The 21st century prides itself in being a major turning point for the way that women are treated in the society; but the usage of these phrases simply perpetuates sexism.

Let 2017 be the time that we change our vocabulary for the better.

A Matter of Opinions

I am unconditionally pro-choice and I am proud to hold this liberal belief. Even though this more often than not means that I have to encounter some nasty situations from people who might think differently than me.

I can remember clearly this one time when I was with a group of my friends. We were laughing over inconsequential things like the latest episode of The Bachelor and eating pizza. And then one of my friend brought that one topic that no one should mention at a casual hangout because it is bound to create a threatening drift amongst the people involved: abortion.

Of course, the group almost immediately split up into those who were pro-choice and those who were pro-life. Unfortunately for me, there was only one person who was pro-choice, and that was me. In the heated and unnerving discussion that followed, I was heavily inclined to compromise what I believed in just so I could avoid the hyperbolic charges from the group of people who were only minutes ago laughing with me.

But thank God, I didn’t. There is only one thing worse than being the only one in a room with a distinctive, controversial opinion, and that is comprising your opinion just to satiate others. (Unless, of course you feel unsafe in voicing your opinion or detect hostility in the environment. Then by all means, pack up your bag and just leave, because nothing is worth putting yourself in a situation you can’t get out of).

We live in a democracy, in a country bound by diversity. And I’m not just talking about the diversity of race, religion, and sexuality; but also about the beautiful foliage of the diversity of opinions. It’s really hard to walk more than a mile and not come across someone who has a different opinion than you on some particular topic. But that shouldn’t stand out as an issue, because after all, a homogenous society is a boring and mundane society.

The heart of every humane value contains that everyone has the right to hold their own opinion. But I guess some of us just have a much harder time grasping that concept.

Never let anyone tell you that what you believe in is not valid. In this time when we have conservative ideas being pushed down our throat, it is so important for liberal women to stand up and agitate against oppression. And how are you going to do that if you let someone tell you to lower your voice?

Rosa Parks didn’t stop her activism against racial discrimination even when she was thrown in jail. Susan B. Anthony didn’t agitate amongst traditionalist men to win women the right to vote. All women throughout history didn’t raise their voice together for you to turn down your right to raise yours.

But I know, from experience, that it can be hard to keep holding onto your belief, especially when you are surrounded by people who think so different from you. So here are some ways that you can always keep your head high and your voice bold.

Never, ever let anything said by someone make you irrationally upset. Whenever you come across someone who is being obnoxiously rude, just imagine all the things Cecile Richards probably has to put up with. And she’s still so strong, and she’s still advocating for women’s (and trans men’s) reproductive rights. Don’t let one or two possibly uneducated opinions stray you away from what you think – no, what you know – is right.

I have had my fair share of encounters with people who feed on trotting over other’s opinions or stuffing their unrequited belief down others’ throat. Remember, that you have just as much right to speak your mind than they do. If we can have a strong political figure say that sexual assault is, “locker room banter,” then we can most definitely make room for your agitation against rape.

It can also be very hard to sustain your beliefs when your own family seems to disagree with you. If your sister or you brother is being sexist or homophobic, you should most definitely call them out on that; and if the relationship gets healthy then you are in your right mind to walk away from it. Living amongst the people you love dearly and knowing that their views contradict yours can be a struggle and can even push you to change your opinion. In this case it’s so important that you realize that just because someone thinks differently than you, it doesn’t mean you have to stop loving them, or that you have to love them any less.

And above all, don’t forget to respect others. Just like you want your voice to be taken seriously, others do to. Listen and try to understand your “opposition’s” perspective and then bring out your own. Mature discussions are the only way that you can build a society anywhere near as close to the utopia that you want.

So here’s to staying strong in the face of negative criticism. Here’s to holding on to what you believe in.