I am an Indian woman who prides herself on being a modern, secular, well-read person. My female friends, like me, are 30-somethings, mostly urban upper/middle class where women enjoy comparatively better status. They have studied in prestigious schools and colleges. They are impeccably groomed and very eloquent... but only on all things fitness and fashion.
Whenever we meet, discussions tend to centre on weight, shopping and mother-in-law problems. To my chagrin whenever issues other than these arise, especially political matters, there is an eerie silence and I am laughed off as someone with "higher intellect". Their lives are busy and they believe that in whatever spare time they manage to get, things are better kept frivolous.
As much as I would like to pretend it's alright if they aren't interested, I am mildly unsettled by this indifference. For me, to be so educated but not really thinking is to be totally disempowered. It's being regressive under a modern garb.
On Twitter, I follow women from across the globe. I can't help but notice the differences in the things that are important in the lives of women from various parts of the world.
"For me, to be so educated but not really thinking is to be totally disempowered."
We in India are privileged to belong to a class where women can afford to be intellectually innocent. In many countries women have absolutely no rights to custody of children, to divorce, to choose their partner. They face forced marriages and genital mutilation. There are horrific stories of what they have endured. Politically they are simply non-existent.
Surprisingly, on social media, it is often women from these conservative places -- where the state doesn't offer protection and often colludes with certain agencies to violate their rights -- who fearlessly express their opinions and dare to ask questions. They are so politically aware.
In an interview, Turkish writer Elif Safak made a pertinent point: "If you are a writer from Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, you don't have the luxury of being apolitical. You can't say 'that's politics; I'm just doing my work'."
My heart goes out to the women of these countries. Many women are putting up a brave front and fighting for a better life. That is so utterly cool and modern. They refuse to suffer in silence. These ordinary women are stuff heroes are made of.
India itself is a study in contrast. Patriarchy and domestic violence are universal problems .You have crazy people everywhere. In certain places it's denser. While the elite in India seem to be liberated, we so often hear of honour killings in rural areas. So there is no us vs. them. Us is not better than them.
We are all the same everywhere. Our hopes, expectations and dreams are amazingly similar. Everybody deserves democracy and human rights regardless of race, east and west. Empathy is something which makes us recognise ourselves in each other. Women need empathy a lot. While it is easy to distance ourselves from each other by thinking, "I am not from the barbaric Middle East. Why should I bother? Or "Oh! Thank God I am not a western woman subjected to so much sexual objectification!" Then there are those who revile politics in general, and are steeped in pessimism. To them, nothing can change, all leaders are liars. Such people are so disappointing too.
You know what would be great?
Political awareness and the willingness to change things. Awareness is critical to developing a culture of human rights. Though we cannot create a rights-aware and a rights-respecting culture overnight, we need to keep the conversation into our daily lives and make this issue one that matters.
Empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight. To put it simply out of sight is out of mind. So what do we do? We need to radically reach out to one another in ways that have never been done before. We need to extend our hands to each other. We have to find ways. We need connections across borders. Solidarity doesn't cost a thing. When we hear someone else's story we are inspired. We recognise the hearts. We need platforms that transcend the boundaries.
This is the age of Facebook, Internet and Twitter. They have extended our line of sight. Don't let things hold you back. Let us support each other in our grand struggles. This is our responsibility.
A very popular but unattributed quote is doing the rounds on social media: "Here's to strong women. May we know them, May we be them. May we raise them". I say "Here's to politically aware women. May we know them.May we be them.May we raise them."