“Can a pink lipstick bring about a revolution?” This is the question that Diksha Bijlani, a 23-year-old Lamp Fellow and one of the most well-known spoken word artists in the country, asked on Instagram recently. And while the question may have seemed too idealistic, it has certainly hit a nerve with a substantially large group of people in the country.
On 18th June, Bijlani posted a thread of tweets on her feed explaining how one of her 9-year old cousins, Little Cuz*, got bullied by family members for putting on one of his mother’s lipsticks. Immediately, the impressionable kid was called a “chakka”. Embarrassed, he went and hid under the bed and refused to come out. As Bijlani pointed out in her tweet, “Somehow, it is always the moms that feel most embarrassed with their masculine, hardy sons trying makeup. Or anything feminine (sic).”
The firebrand sister that she has always strived to be, Diksha and her 21-year-old brother, Geet Bijlani also went ahead and applied lipstick. Once Little Cuz saw his elder cousins put on lipstick, especially Geet, he felt comfortable enough to crawl out from under the bed and click selfies with them.
The entire clan of cousins wore lipstick to make Little Cuz feel comfortable
The next day, when Little Cuz was riding his sister’s pink bicycle, another incorrigible family member ridiculed him. This time, however, Little Cuz gave it back, “Gender is not real. Today... both elder brother and I applied lipstick with our sister. Ask them if you don’t believe me!”
However, at what cost does this defiance come, especially when one rebels against such sensitive issues in Indian small towns?
“There has been no angry exchange per se, just an awkward silence. So it’s hard to gauge, but some family members validated the act once it appeared in the media. Now they can’t tease him because he can say ‘The world supported me’,” says Diksha.
“Little Cuz saw some articles and today when I video called him, he confidently showed me all of his mom’s lipsticks and kept me on hold for 10 minutes while he meticulously applied the lipstick and showed me. Turns out his favourite lip shade is maroon! He couldn’t have been this confident without all the support and validation he received,” she adds.
It is probably too soon to expect the family to change their views on gender non-conformity overnight, but does she see an inkling of hope?
“I hope so. I shared the story to support all those people who want to help undo the gender stereotypes in their families but do not know how to, and all those kids who need help but do not have anyone. I do hope parents also take a cue from this story and validate self expression in their kids regardless of gender binaries,” she says. Diksha and Geet’s actions may inspire other families to become more considerate towards gender related issues. For parents and teachers, Diksha offers some advice, “Families and teachers have to remember that their own definitions of gender roles should not come in the way of simple acts of self-expression in their children. They have to constantly remind kids that gender is a spectrum, not a black and white concept of male and female. They have to teach them the ‘they’ pronoun, and to accept and respect the pronouns of others.”
Diksha praises her brother Geet Bijlani. “My brother gave up any toxic masculinity and complied to influence Little Cuz.”
Meanwhile, Diksha, a graduate in Psychology from Delhi University’s Gargi College says she wants to pursue a career in public policy and is soon heading to the prestigious Harvard University to pursue her Master's degree in the same.