Silence is a privilege, don’t let it be your voice.
In a recent visit to the largest mosque in UAE, just amidst the dreary deserts of Abu Dhabi, I was stopped at the entrance as the sleeves of my jacket fell short of their standards of modesty by just an inch. The security team insisted that I go back and get seated in our vehicle which unfortunately being a tour bus, had left. My father calmly suggested that we stay right at the entrance, to which the security guard warned that if I was to be found inside the mosque I would be in grave trouble. Patience not quite being my father’s primary virtues, he replied, “I am a very God fearing man, you should take my word.” The guard, agitated, replied, “It is not about God, Sir, it is about rules.”
I assert that the intention of my stating this incident is not to get caught up in the intricacies of a religion that I know very little of. The part that I found bothersome was that one statement that taught me more about the ways of the world than any educational institution ever will. It is always about rules. People, everyday, are judged, policed, badgered in the name of many things. Be it empty statements with no scientific backing to justify toxic gender roles or “God hates fags!”, everyday, these notions are presented as fact, when in reality they are nothing but just a dominant narrative: socially constructed rules that were born out of the hatred in the minds of those whose voices laced with the reek of privilege, preserved them to become the wide spread notion that they are today. It is always about rules. This realization has been key. There’s something about how these false socially constructed rules in the name of “fact” dictate people’s lives to an extent that it sometimes even becomes a matter of life and death that feels so, so wrong that the activism that results feels like a necessity.
Made by Jiyeon Yoo
With social media becoming the primary platform for activism, the credibility of the same has been questioned on various grounds. “Social media activism is too much talk, no action.” People are seen reducing it to just “the new cool millennial thing to do” and trivializing it’s importance, not realizing that for many, activism is not a choice. People feel the need to constantly make strong socio-political statements about their gender, race, sexuality, religion, not because they like to, not because they want to, but because they’re made to. Maybe if every single billboard of Fair and Lovely would disappear, the hundreds of Twitter accounts dedicated to oppose colourism would too. Maybe if the closeted queer kid wasn’t constantly bombarded with society’s heternormative implications, she’d stop with the rants on Tumblr. And maybe, if I wasn’t welcomed with the assumption of my technological ineptness every time I attended a photography competition, feminism could finally be redundant.
I know you’re sick of listening to feminist rants. I am too, but in the same way the lamb next in line for slaughter is tired of the screams of the one being butchered.
Be it in the comments section of a particularly outraged feminist Facebook post or even an occasional casual conversation, I have often been accused of being “too politically correct”, of making “everything about feminism”, and the classic, “playing the victim card”. A majority of the criticism that my activism faces is almost always along the lines of, “Women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive and all you care about is being able to wear AA tennis skirts in the city?” or “Syrian refugees are dying yet you get triggered every time someone says the n-word.” Speaking up against these micro-aggressions may seem insignificant to you, but we need to realize that these are a part of the same bigger mentality, and sending out the message that one can get away with any sort of manifestation of the same is unacceptable.
Regardless, the sheer amount of combinations of words that people can fathom to express their delusions of entitlement over the extent of my activism is laughable.
Just because millennial activism is so widely associated with social media, the emphasis being on the virtual aspect of it, it is often seen as being depersonalized to an extent that we fail to see how it directly affects people. I for one would still have been a racist, homophobic bigot stuck in my ever so subtly misogynistic phase of “I’m not like other girls because I don’t wear makeup and like pink,” had it not been for Twitter’s constant bombardment of girl positivity and #LoveWinsAlways. And had it not been for my being that person at the party, calling out rape jokes that normalize casual sexism, a fair amount of my friends and family would too, still have been sexist, homophobic bigots. Dwight D. Eisenhower called it the domino effect, my brother calls it incremental change and Rachel Platten in her double platinum single, the Fight Song calls it, “Like a small boat in the ocean, sending big waves into motion.”
Change is a process, and I may not bring about a revolution alone but I sure am a catalyst. I guess that sufficiently answers all the overbearing uncles who’ve told me, “Beta akele duniya nahin badalti hai! (translation: you can’t change the world alone!)” I wonder if they’ve ever considered the possibility that if instead of making patronizing statements they’d actually speak up with me and support my cause, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be so alone in the first place. So, as for my activism being “too much talk and no action”, my friend, I fear you underestimate the power of words.
I too had underestimated the power, but that of silence. Amidst the bustle of the charged environment of a typical Indian household in the preparation of a cousin’s wedding, I hear the sound of the distinct claps and brassy singing of a group of hijras in the distance. For those not in touch with Hindu mythology, in the Ramayana, Lord Rama grants hijras (a term used for transgender individuals in South Asia) the boon to confer blessings on people during auspicious inaugural occasions like childbirth and weddings. This boon is the origin of badhai in which hijras sing, dance, and give blessings in return for gifts in cash or kind. While this act of badhai is, in fact, a tradition, it’s interesting to see how even the most ritualistic of people look down upon this practice. I hear comments being made implying how convenient it is for them to extract money this way. What they do not realize is that between social ostracism and the resulting lack of employment opportunities, the only sources of a livelihood of a bare minimum that remain are either this, prostitution or both. I dare ask you which one you’d choose.
Being the youngest in the family, I sense that my opinions will more or less be trivialized so I look to my elder brother, my only familial companion in political correctness, to speak up, only to be met with silence. In that one moment, I am painfully made aware of how prejudice is passed down generations like hand me down sweaters, preserved in the silence of too many diplomatic dispositions.
Following this incident, as #translivesmatter becomes a daily occurrence in my tweets and even now as I ink these words, their distinct customary claps, usually a symbol of protest to their invisibility, resound in my mind like applause, as though the silent black and white film featuring my hypocritical privileged silence is rolling it’s final credits. In the backdrop I hear the petulant cries of “but, all lives matter!”. This is no time to use your occasional inconveniences to silence the long drawn struggles of systemic prejudice.
Next time you want to accuse me of “playing the victim card”, remember that I speak up, not just for myself, but for all those distorted narratives that, like static, fall onto our ears that we intentionally clad with noise cancelling headphones by virtue of the voice of the narrator. There is no self preservation in picking and choosing your battles when the whole world is at war.
Silence is a privilege. Don’t let it be your voice.
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