Lost and Found

It struck me suddenly, out of nowhere. I was sitting in a guest lecture, half-listening to the speaker, a celebrated lawyer, while my mind wandered about in idyllic loops of thoughts in a manner that is characteristic of a final year been-there done-that student. But as the talk became more interesting progressively, I felt myself becoming more engaged, caught in the issues that the speaker was talking about.

And suddenly, as the old feeling of the activist inside me getting angry at injustice snuck in, I realised how unfamiliar it was. I was not used to feeling the depths of social issues anymore.

Somewhere along the road, I’d changed, become the ‘normal’ amount of interested – interested enough to debate about issues, that is, and maybe read a few thought-provoking pieces every now and then, but not interested enough to persistently work towards a cause I believed in (did I really believe strongly about anything, anymore?).

Since then, I’ve been reminiscing, trying to see myself as the hot-blooded thing I once was, trying to figure out how it all changed.

During my first year, I volunteered for Slutwalk Bangalore. The city was completely unfamiliar to me then, and travelling alone was discouraged for first years, especially for girls and especially at night, but I disregarded all that I guess, and went about the city, trying to find strange-sounding streets to reach meetings at strangers’ houses, and coming back at night alone in shady autos. I happily took part in flash mobs, promoted the event aggressively on social media, and defended it vehemently in front of anyone who argued against it. It wasn’t just this one event though. I remember this phase as being one of learning about things I had no exposure to at all. I would go visit slums alone just to see how it was all like, talk to people who lived there and realise that their world was so different from what is the popular conception.

During my college holidays, I was interning at Tehelka, the news magazine, and was given a pretty free hand as to what to cover. I used this opportunity to research on Islamic feminism, something that had interested me a lot, and tracked down and ended up interviewing one Muslim woman who was an Islamic scholar, and another Muslim woman whose relatives were wrongly imprisoned for ten years. One of those interviews was published I think, in a small insignificant corner somewhere, but the knowledge and exposure I’d gained was the real reward there.

It all felt so terribly empowering, I remember, and yeah, also kind of kickass. It didn’t all end there though. In my second year I felt the strong yearning to actively do something about things apart from just sharing posts on Facebook. I wanted to do something tangible, something that would make a difference…no matter how small. Therein lies the origin of this blog. For the next three years, sometimes regularly, mostly irregularly, I’d often take an everyday phenomenon I could talk about with my limited competence, and try to analyse it from a feminist perspective.

While most of my posts went about unnoticed, some of them, much to my astonishment, became big on my campus and outside, and were even picked up by other sites at times. I was…satisfied. I felt confident that I was doing something I could handle, long-term.

I remember, in the same year, when the infamous incident of the NLS student’s rape near campus took place, I was shocked at the stance our administration took. They (surprise) blamed it all on the victims of these crimes, and ensured that a strict curfew was imposed on all of us. While I was angry at the thought that this was how authorities of the premiere law school in India reacted to the situation, what truly made my blood boil was the fact that most people on campus didn’t care enough to voice their opinion about it. Out of this anger originated one of my first posts on this blog, We The Victim Blamers. But this was not enough – I wanted this post to haunt the campus to the point that no one could escape into their sheltered lives. So I and a couple of my friends went around the campus, sticking print outs of the post Everywhere – from the hostels to the corridors to even the Vice Chancellor’s office (had to do that sneakily at night). Again, I don’t think it made much of a difference either way; it was just me acting on a strong impulse to do Something.

That very year saw me becoming a part of the Law & Society Committee at our college. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Committee at a time it included some very strong-willed, motivated individuals who weren’t afraid of taking on controversial political issues. Through a mixture of movie screenings, talks, events, study circles etc., we tried to get students in law school to engage with different social issues. What I didn’t realise at that point, and only learned in hindsight, was that what was really happening was that *I* was getting to engage with different social issues for the first time, getting the sort of exposure that would stay with me through the years.

It’s funny to think as I’m writing this today that I (secretly) cried when we screened the movie Matrubhoomi in one of the classrooms, and when, post the movie, in the middle of a discussion, one of the students said that she doesn’t voice her feminist opinions publically because she doesn’t want to get in more trouble with the authorities than she already is, I just walked out – without a word or an explanation – shaking with anger at the fact that most of us are cowards, really.

In the next year, apart from trying to keep up my blog, I was involved in something much bigger. I ended up, almost inadvertently, volunteering for Kranti. Kranti was the name we used for this series of events – talks, screenings, dances, etc – that took place across various cities. Its nature was very political – from caste issues to tribal rights – the government was attacked from every front. We actually managed to get some famous activist groups to come to Bangalore and perform/speak here. It was all…too big. What had started as a schoolgirl interest in feminism had culminated into being embroiled in a student-lead movement that wanted to challenge the entire neo-liberal framework. I volunteered, did all the small things that needed to be done here and there, and just tried to observe what was happening, taking in as much as possible, witnessing the world of activism up close and personal.

What after that? Nothing. At all.

Why?

Well. I’m probably writing this post to figure it out myself. After Kranti, I sort of moved onto other things – did a lot of editorial stuff, presented academic papers, engaged with the student academic council… but nothing that even touched the kind of work I’d been doing earlier. I even stopped blogging completely. It’s not that I didn’t want to – my desktop is full of ideas I would want to write about and would even start working on before leaving off midway– but I just…didn’t.

What do I think happened? Just, life.

Maybe it’s just easier to get lethargic about issues as you grow older. A part of it is to do with the increased responsibilities you face in your own life I think – there’s just lesser time with every passing year to muse about things as we all once did in our free earlier years. Then of course, there’s the other good old reason of losing your idealism with age, seeing everything more realistically (or cynically?). It was all this in my case, but it was also more.

I underwent a lot of changes in my personal life, and I think the more complicated things in my life became, the harder it felt to care about social issues. Which is kind of sad, because it makes it sound like social issues, or feminism, are something external, more abstract, than everyday life, but that was how it was. I guess when you’re young, and troubled, and lost, and can’t handle things, you don’t stop to think that there are some things bigger than what is happening in your life that you shouldn’t stop caring about. But humans are self-centred, and selfish, and on some level, we all want our unadultered moping. I see it all as a vicious cycle – the more lost I became due to what was happening in my life, the more out of touch I was with the things I cared about, which in turn lead to me becoming even more lost.

Sadly, what made me return to this blog to write this post was this idea I had – of trying to talk to juniors about activism in law school before I graduate. As I thought more about that idea, it felt all the more necessary to examine what had gone wrong in my case.

I think I’m still lost, but with the knowledge that some things are still capable of stirring the old activist inside. And I’m trying to hold onto that feeling, that feeling of things moving you.

It’s a beautiful feeling, and if nothing else, I’m glad that so many years of my life were full of it. I hope you, dear reader, experience that feeling as well. That feeling when your blood boils and you are moved to do something to fix this broken world of ours. It may not change the world, but it sure does change you.

  • Nivedita Mukhija

Nivedita  is a final year student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. She likes to spend her time writing, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, running, handling reptiles…and trying to fit in law school studies in the middle of all this. You can find her blog here

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