It is my daughter who made me a Human Rights practitioner.
The seeds of feminism and human rights were all sowed in me when I was a teenager. They started with questions swimming in my head, regarding the unequal ways boys and girls were treated by signs of patriarchy, though the word itself never made an appearance till much later, in my life.
Deep in my gut, I knew many things were not right and not fair. I have to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to my mother and her side of the family for showing me glimpses of what equality looked like.
In a household that had helpers from another community and a caste considered lower, I never saw my mother or grandmother treat anyone differently. We all sat together to eat, eating from plates and drinking from glasses the family used. It never occurred to me, like I had seen later in my life in other households, to keep a set of plates and glasses for helpers.
We all relaxed together, chatting and laughing. Their kids and we played together, whether indoors or outdoors. We, as children, were not prevented from going to their modest homes that had cow-dung-smeared floors (which kept the floors cool and pest free). In my head, as a child, I just thought that they had lesser money. And that was it.
Studying in a school where we had students and teachers from across the country, helped shape a lot of how I viewed the world later on. Lessons of inclusiveness and equality were furthered in school. I don’t remember any instance where any girl was denied an opportunity in school for anything just because she was a girl. All these experiences shaped how I saw the world and started responding to it.
So, when I started college as a teen and got on with life, experiencing social mores, both in the family and outside, I started getting a taste of patriarchy, inequality, and violation of human rights.
Back then, many instances were so normal that they were not considered violations. But somewhere I knew something was wrong and not fair. I was not comfortable with many things that the world considered normal and against women, be it in real life, movies, or writing.
Transitioning into a woman, working, married, and being a mother gave me experiences that prompted me to explore. They helped me think, study, be aware and raise my voice against inequalities. The associations with like-minded women gave me new lessons, new understanding, new strength, and a new outlook. Many who knew me as a young teen, did not understand the feminist in me. Many men feared the feminist in me. They warned their wives to stay away from me, afraid that I would show them what wrong was happening.
The pandemic accelerated this world to a more equal society. When the world came to a standstill, people had time to access visual material from across the world. People got exposure to other ways of thinking, other ways of living, other people – the whole spectrum. People were exposed to things they had never seen or experienced before, furthering acceptance in many. Being politically correct was in. Equality was in. Feminism was in. Many used social media to express themselves; their lives, interests, hobbies, knowledge, and talent.
Many could voice out. Women could voice out even from the comforts of their own homes, for the world to hear and take note. Issues that were close to a woman’s heart were out there in the open spaces of the world wide web for others to listen to and understand. What generations of women could not do; the pandemic helped it to achieve in a span of 2-3 years. For more of their voices were made to be heard.
As a person who voices her opinions, as someone who responds to issues close to my heart, and as someone who takes the initiative for many things, I thought I was a full-blown feminist and a human rights activist. Till my daughter entered the latter part of her teens. It was easy to help others, give guidance and facilitate many matters of human rights, for others.
When my daughter started exerting her independence and finding her foothold as a young adult, I reacted as a protective mother. Mothers and fathers may or may not uphold human rights. They do what has been essentially taught to them by the previous generation as good and safe. Parents follow the rules of yesteryears to navigate through the futuristic years of their children.
Initially, it was a shocker to me, and had to remind myself that I may be violating her rights as a citizen and a human, several times. Then it got easier to check, whether I was violating her Rights. There was a time when my daughter didn’t want me to touch her. Many times, when all my affection swelled in my chest and longed to hug her, I would ask her whether I could hug her. 99% of the time she said no. And all the time, I had to step back with a heavy heart.
As a mother, I could take the liberty of negating her ‘no’ and force myself on her. But if, I as a mother, did not teach her the lessons of consent, of her ‘no’ being respected, who would?
Similarly, even as an 18-year-old, big enough to vote, there were many things I could do with regard to her, in the name of discipline, her safety, and well-being. It prompted me to check whether I was violating her Rights and whether the rules would be different for my son.
Those years were a time I would check myself constantly and discipline myself. The years with my teen daughter exerting herself and her independence, taught me to imbibe the lessons of human rights deeper than ever and walk the talk with all its meaning. Only your child can teach you the best because you get to practice it from the very core of your being.
She writer Sajitha Rasheed, is the Founder and Chief Mentor, of Mind Mojo