I look at you over the dal and rice and cannot help but think to myself, that I have done a fair job of parenting. I have tried to raise you with a lot of integrity, and honesty. I have prided myself in never lying to you. I have worked hard to paint this difficult world out to you and make you believe that you can take it on. I have aspired to give you a version of adulthood that is worth dreaming for; I have told you to stand tall and live with your head held high. I have taught you never to apologise for your beliefs and opinions.
I have taught you that your body is yours and no one gets to tell you what to do with it. I have decried patriarchal control at every step and you have watched me fight for a world that I have believed in my heart, that you deserve.
But tonight, dear daughter, I can’t help but feel that I may have lied to you.
When I see the grotesque images of patriarchal savagery in Bengaluru, I think about all the times that I have shared my unyielding idealism with you, and all the time you have secretly thought that I am so full of it. After all, I do pick you up from school, follow you on those trips to the mall and I want to know where you are going when you are out with friends. Organise parties at home so you can hang out with them here.
It’s because in this country, a woman who raises her voice to challenge boundaries is faced with the enduring strength of those who would like to force her back into shackles. That our lives are a constant negotiation between a renewed desire to seize our agency and those who will deny that we should have any. It is a reality that I sometimes manage to push to the corners of my ideological vision; because it makes it easier to pass on the values of independence and freedom to you.
However, I am torn when this conflict puts itself in the forefront and stares me in the eye. I don’t know how to tell you, that of course, you should set your sights up high, and of course, you should do what you want; when this country reminds you in the most violent ways that you in fact, can’t.
It is not a conflict that we asked for. It is not a war that we waged. This conflict has been on for centuries of our long and arduous history. It is strengthened by generations of unchallenged feudalism, lent legitimacy to by movies, pop culture, tradition, festivals and rituals.
These plots are hatched in privileged homes and living rooms, where young boys are fed ideas of respectability. These wars were waged in stuffy classrooms where boys were told which women ‘deserve’ respect and which ones do not. The roadmap for our tragedies are mapped in the winding arc of masculinity and the entrenched idea of entitlement.
We are not the first generation to face this. You probably won’t be the last. But most importantly, you are not the only people to face it.
What we witnessed was male-lash. A retribution of a vengeful society against the perceived transgressions of those they deem to be subservient. It is a retribution that is felt all too often not only by women, but gay men, trans women, trans men, gender non-conforming people and anyone who challenges their binary worldview. It is a retribution against all those who have transcended their bounds of morality and respectability and sought to define their own normal.
Contrary to what it may seem so far, this letter is not about loss or dismay. This letter is about hope. The voices that we shout with, the voices that we speak with, have had to be fought for. They have been similarly negotiated, by those that came before you and those who fought so you would be free to fight other battles.
My point is, that if I could do it all over again, I will still teach you the same things, as fraught with lies and rosy imagery as it is. Because even if we don’t have that world today, it still leaves you with an image of a world to aspire for, to want to bequeath, to eventually be worthy of.
I will stand with you all the way. We will stand together at the crossroads of our democracy. And we shall seek to redeem Martin Luther King’s words: “Let us realise that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
– Sonali Khan is Vice President and Country Director for Breakthrough, a human rights organisation working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable.
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