Six months later, I would awaken a sleeping giant and give birth to my act of resistance — The Red Elephant Foundation.
My journey into feminism began with a conscious choice of not to be a feminist. When you are 13, you are presented with one worldview that your surroundings reiterate. Growing up in sleepy little conservative Chennai, the city’s adolescence came way after my adolescence had left. I grew up being privileged and oppressed by the conservative social ethos around me. My privilege lent me a cloak of ignorance, which led to me to believe feminism was all about ‘a bunch of angry women.’
Discernment dawns when it dawns, and I had to wait for my turn. A system that had showed me its privileges had also shown me its oppressions, but I had dissociated with the latter.
My many identities have been a heady mix of privilege and oppression. My identity as a girl and woman brought me smack in the middle of oppression, as sexual, physical and verbal abuse would follow from all kinds of quarters through my childhood, teenage, and early adulthood years.
My identity as an upper caste girl saw me as an oppressor as I would mindlessly carry out dictum after dictum of my extended family in perpetuating “caste purity” — until the time would come when I would identify how horribly wrong I was and begin to mend my ways towards being inclusive and respectful.
Molestation, sexual abuse, gender-based bullying, and discrimination were dished out to me with as much generosity as kindness was — except the impact they left on my body and mind went behind a cloak. A cloak called silence. A cloak woven out of the threads of stigma, fear, predatory threats and pain. A cloak that would come undone when my nation would wake up to the long-ignored calls by feminists.
On December 16, 2012, it would come undone. A footnote in the world’s news channels. ‘Gang rape in Delhi; girl admitted to hospital,’ would remain emblazoned on the insides of my eyelids and tattooed onto them forevermore. I would go to sleep that night, but only just. I would go to receive an award a day later and feel horrible for receiving one for ‘women empowerment’ when a girl would be battling for her life after a brutal gang rape.
Six months later, I would awaken a sleeping giant and give birth to my act of resistance — The Red Elephant Foundation. A torrential outpouring of my story would follow and attempts to heal would arrive in many shapes and sizes — some successful, some unsuccessful, some temporary and some permanent. Uninstall buttons would be pressed and new learning would arrive. Intersectional feminism would come to become my oxygen.
Today, I cannot claim to know enough. But I know for a fact that eight, 11, 13, and 16-year-old Kirthi(s) has come a long way today. I know that my feminism, like the blood in my veins, will need to be fed and nourished with learning, through an intersectional network of veins that stand for multiple identities and experiences.
(The author is an Indian Women’s rights activist, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer)