And that is when the true essence of humanitarian work smacked me hard in the face.
Fifteen years ago, a history lesson at school on the Second World War and a brush with the world of the Model United Nations sealed the deal for me. I wanted a career in the development sector, particularly in humanitarian services.
The lure was magnetic. I would stand as a representative of oppressed people. I would work with grass-root organisations and proffer them the benefits of humanitarian aid and assistance. I would be their voice. I would be their advocate. I would fight for them. I would ensure they would get justice.
Ten years later, I found myself somewhere near my goal. Without the requisite educational qualification of a Masters’ Degree, I had something like a foot in the United Nations through some volunteering opportunities.
And that is when the true essence of humanitarian work smacked me hard in the face. When I worked as a volunteer with these organizations, I was just a writer. A meagrely paid writer across continents and oceans from where these organisations functioned, staring at a computer screen and churning piece after piece after piece, following copious research. What difference are you making, anyway? I’d ask. My family would ask. My friends would ask. You’re just writing. I’d tell myself. Does your writing bring any justice to the ones in need? I’d ask myself. My family would ask me. My friends would ask me.Well, I have no idea.
Does it make any difference? Did it make any difference? To them, I don’t know. To me, it did, it does and it will always do so. When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world of real stories, of stories that were so real that they had to be fictionalised for the world to digest, of sordid and morbid realities that could leave you shaken. I talked about the world of things women and children went through. I told the world what it already knew, or at least, most of the world already knew — stories of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, honour killings, deprivation on gender-based grounds, Gender-based inequality, Foeticide, Infanticide.
And as I wrote, I grew. I grew because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. I realised that what were just words for me here was the reality and harsh truth for a woman, miles away.
I travelled through my writing. In war-stricken Afghanistan, I saw how war left society crippled. In DR Congo, I saw how women still bear the brunt of sexual violence and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. During and after the many civil wars in the Middle East as part of the “Arab Spring”, I watched how massive governments crashed, and how some continue to hold fort, not so much has even dented. In Palestine, I saw how the once-oppressed turned oppressor and borrowed hatred continues to keep war and hatred alive. In Guatemala, I was chilled to the bone by the stories of the Mayan Ixil genocide. I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of society and peace. I realised that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unravelled, society is crippled.Writing about social issues matters. All truths matter; all truths are actionable.
The author is an Indian Women’s rights activist, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer