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.

You’re sitting in your room on your bed with clean, white linen sheets that should feel comfortable and homey. But they feel cold and deserted. There’s a pile of paperwork on the bed; your computer is open in front of you, an unfinished Excel sheet blaring at you just like the eyes of your boss. Your heart starts to race. Your brain starts to cloud. Suddenly everything seems impossible to do and you think – no, you know – you’re not going to make it out alive.

Your breath is catching and your mind is fuzzing. You’re not yourself anymore.

That’s when you know you’re having a well-endowed panic attack that’s going to leave you like a barren earth after a hurricane.

Panic attacks are no jokes. The only people who can make jokes about them are the ones who have gone through it, the ones who have stood on that shaky, unpredictable ground where everything is a bundle of doubts and uncertainty.

Panic attacks aren’t something that you can control while you are having them. They come in like a hailstorm and leave whenever they feel fit, not giving a second thought about what you want. But you can certainly control how frequently you get one (or if you get one at all!) by several small changes that you can make in your lifestyle and your thought process.

Women are more prone to panic attacks than men, because let’s face it, we bear more responsibilities than men in most scenarios. Some of these responsibilities are hidden burdens that most outsiders probably don’t even notice. And not to mention, our premenstrual hormones are pretty infamous for making every situation worse still.

Dealing with panic attacks is a feat that you should pat your back for. It’s no easy hurdle to cross, no matter how inconsequential some media outlets may make it out to be. Moreover, everyone’s experience with panic attacks is very different and very hard to compare.

Above all, I think that it’s especially important that people realize that mental health is just as important as physical health and that mental disorders aren’t something that anyone should be ashamed about.

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.

1984 pt 2

The abundant use of contrasting imagery in 1984 also profoundly helps in developing the meaning of the story and the bases of the plot. The conditions in society are described as desolate, empty, barren, and colorless. The infrastructure is made of steel and grey cement. There is an omnipresent odor of sweat and frustration in the air. The food is dry and bland and nothing – not even the “Victory gin” that they drink to make themselves feel temporarily good – tastes even remotely edible. All of this paints a painstakingly terrible picture of a society that has lost any and all form of happiness. The only thing that emanates beauty in this dead society are the few remnants of the past like the coral glass paperweight. The dire depiction of the world in which Winston lives serves to highlight the sorrowful condition of the society and also further accentuates the warning in the tone of Orwell’s writing against an authoritative regime.

The nuances in Winston’s character also reveal the restless nature of the society. With every form of happiness suppressed by the party, the people are forced to exert their unkempt energy in the devotion to their country. Winston is depicted as an intelligent man who constantly questions the motives of the party and yearns for a time past when things were possibly better. But he too, like the rest of the people, is frustrated with the gory and unsatisfactory nature of the society. Mere service to the Party does not fulfill his wants and he directs this frustration in thoughts of violence. This is particularly evident when he conjures up a picture of himself bashing Julia on the head with a brick, not only because he is scared that she is an agent of the Thought Police, but also because she represents something that he can never have: fulfillment of his physical desires. Winston’s character, as a whole, represents the dilapidated nature of the society that he lives in.

Through 1984, George Orwell is able to scrutinize the effects of a non-democratic, totalitarian political system on the functioning of a society and on the minds of the public. No one who dissents the political system is allowed to survive. Orwell captures this extremist nature of the system through his veritable use of literary devices.

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.

1984 pt 1

George Orwell’s thought-provoking novel, 1984, deals with a political dystopia that results from the establishment of a ruthless and authoritarian regime. 1984 deals with the robot-like nature of a society where human rights have given way to a totalitarian society. It is though this novel that Orwell shines light on the negative aspects of communism and also warns the readers against the stifling effect of an authoritative and non-democratic government.

The story of the dystopia is told through the vigilant eyes of a thirty-nine-year-old Outer Party member, Winston Smith. Being the member of the Outer Party, he is educated, unlike the proles, and possesses certain intellectual capabilities that help him vaguely discern right from wrong amidst the lies enforced by the Party on the society. And unlike the Inner Party members, he is not completely immune to the brutalities of the Party. This makes him the most adequate narrator of the story. As Winston slowly realizes his subdued nature in the society, the readers are also able to see the society for what it truly is: mechanical and impassive. Winston, being an average member of the society, helps in not only imparting more connectivity to the reader with the text, but also helps the reader understand the political system on which the story is based – Ingsoc.

Ingsoc (or English Socialism) is the most aggressive form of socialism that any government can adopt. It is through the depiction of the terrible social conditions under Ingsoc that Orwell warns the readers about the horrible effects of establishing an authoritarian regime.

Furthermore, the connotative meanings of the words that Orwell uses helps him to develop and build the warning in the tone of writing. The motif of evil and death is omnipresent in the story and is complemented by the use of connotative words like “grave” and “ghastly rubbish.” Orwell depicts the people of the society as brain-dead and emotionally empty – they are unable to invoke any feelings in themselves except that of blind patriotism that has been forcefully instilled into them by the Party. During one instance, Winston compares the rebels of the society – those who dare to think astray from the systematic beliefs of the Party and Big Brother – as “corpses waiting to be sent back to the grave.” This dark analogy implies that no one can escape from the clutches of the Party after committing a “thoughtcrime.” This motif of impending death that lurks throughout the story underscores the fatality of human nature under an oppressive government.

Another literary tool employed by Orwell to accentuate his warning against an authoritative political system is connotative diction. Words like “rebellion” and “liberty” that arise in Winston’s mind are a clear contrast to Newspeak, which is the language of Ingsoc. Newspeak was developed through English in such a way that it eliminated any possibility of thoughts about liberty and democracy and thus ensured that no citizen could ever possibly commit a thoughtcrime. The party used Newspeak as a tool to control the minds of the masses and hence, control reality. The brevity of Newspeak contrasts with the conscious and elaborate thinking of Winston, especially after he meets Julia, his lover, and becomes conspicuously rebellious. He constantly dreams of the past and even buys antiquated trivialities like an empty book and a beautiful coral paperweight from Mr. Charrington’s antique shop. Winston’s thoughts are intricate and abundant whereas Newspeak is concise and limited. This contrast illuminates the iridescent human nature in comparison to the rigidity of a totalitarian society. Just like Newspeak can only encompass Winston’s thoughts after he is ruthlessly tortured in the Ministry of Love; an authoritarian regime can only encompass its public though means of violence and inhumane control.

An Open Letter to Pro-Lifers

I can easily point out the day, date and time when I started calling myself a feminist. It was two years ago when I had read a newspaper article about how a fourteen year old girl had been raped and then denied an abortion. This story mortified me, it gave me shivers to know that I live in a world where people so casually deny women the right to their own bodies.

I decided then itself that I was a feminist and that I hated people who wanted to take away my rights and give it to a fetus who was using my body to survive without my consent.

It is so easy to fold your arms across your chest and assign people sides in your mind. The people who do not agree with something you passionately believe in go on the side of people you detest and the ones who do agree with you become your new best friends.

I lived under this canopy of my blindsided belief that people who are anti—choice do not deserve my respect until very recently when I found out that my best friend was against abortions. She was against women (and transgender men and anyone who can get pregnant) having bodily autonomy and having a right to decide what they wish to do with their own bodies. Ironically, this news made me more mortified than the one that made me a feminist.

The person who always stood by me even when I made terrible mistakes and the person who was my very first friend on my first day of elementary school, now stood on the opposite side of one my biggest battlegrounds.

How could I simply drop this person to one of the well divided sides in my mind? I couldn’t.

She called herself ‘pro-life’ for a reason. She was against abortion for a reason. And I hadn’t realized that everyone had a reason, beyond what I could superficially see, for believing what they believed in and the essence of an equal society was to respect each other’s belief. 

I am feverishly against people dictating what I should do with my life. The how can I expect someone else to do what I want them to and to believe in what I think is right?

You learn something priceless from everyone and I learnt from my best friend the power of acceptance and respect. I learnt to respect the people who held beliefs that did a poor job of aligning with mine. It is because of the existence of contrasting people that the world can paint beautiful, abstract images of life. I do not want a world where symmetry in the only way around a good life, I do not want a world like Paris under Napoleon III.

I want a world where we all can have our opinions heard and where we all can paint the pictures of our choice.

So here are a few words to my best friend and all those who call themselves pro-life: I respect your belief and I hope you respect mine too.