Tag Archives: Gender

Is Gender Parity in Politics a Distant Dream?

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

As another election season comes to an end in India, it leaves us with lingering doubts – introspection into what could have been avoided and needs to be mended. Aggressive campaigning amidst pandemic led to a rocketing spike of cases, an unexpected setback for the central ruling party.

But the fundamental and crucial issue that remains unnoticed is the staggering ratio between the number of male contenders to female contenders in the election. Have you ever pondered on the count? Well, it’s shocking to note that the count not even close!

This is an issue that is very much prevalent across the globe. In America, we saw the first woman win the vice-presidential election campaign only in the recent 2020 election. Prior to Kamala Harris, the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American vice president, only five women throughout history had made it to a major party’s primary debate stage.

According to the UN Gender statistics 2020, globally, only a quarter of seats in national parliaments are held by women. In local deliberative bodies, the count is hardly 37 percent. When it comes to the world’s government heads, only 6.7 percent are women. With the current rate of progress, the UN believes global gender parity can be achieved only after 2060. And even that looks dicey with the number of gender discrimination cases rising across the world.

Not just for women to come to the fore and hold the reigns of power, the journey of disparity goes a long way back, right from the procurement of the basic right to vote in elections. The odyssey of women’s suffrage is unimaginable considering the outrageous reasons cited for denying voting rights to women. Absurd denial reasons included women’s incompetence to understand politics and how they would neglect home and wreck families if allowed to venture into politics. 

It took more than 75 years of struggle, protests, and agony for women to obtain their basic right to vote. However, it’s surprising to observe the superpowers of today were not among the first on the list to embrace the change. New Zealand was the first country in the world to proclaim the right of women to vote in 1893. Followed by Australia, Finland, and Norway. It took yet another seven years for 28 other countries to join the wagon including the U.S, Germany, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries. For Asian countries, they had to wait until the end of World War II.

Unknown to many, few conservative nations withheld the rights until the start of the Twenty-First Century. Oman approved the rights in 1994 and UAE only in 2006. Saudi Arabia became the most recent country to grant women voting rights in 2015. Currently, Vatican City is the only country in the world to deny voting rights based on sex. 

2021 saw a welcoming dawn with Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, becoming the only country to have both a female president and prime minister. But still, the women leaders who have emerged from the shackles of patriarchy are only a handful, while many others are only in the game to honor family names or to be mere puppets in the hands of male supremacy. 

Through this video story, Tell-A-Story unfolds the historical women’s suffrage movement, the journey of the incredible women in power, current staggering gender economics and the need for miles to go, and millions to empower for a gender-neutral world!


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

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Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

Indian Matchmaking’s Pradhyuman Confronts Toxic Masculinity

If you have watched a reality show lately, chances are it was Indian Matchmaking.

This particular contestant wowed many of us. He wowed us with his miso paneer recipe, his with nitrogen fox nuts, but he really wowed us by keeping his cool under pressure. Dishing out his rich boy charm with a big dollop of humility, Pradhyuman Maloo‘s name managed to stay on in our conversations even after the Indian Matchmaking season one reunion wrapped up. 

Pradhyuman, the young jeweler, is someone you might think most people would view as a great catch for a girl looking for a boy.

Not only will any future ‘match’ have bling galore, but she would also have a partner who whips up all sorts of irresistible yummies the latest being sushi inspired cocktails.

What’s not to love about a boy who knows his jewelry and loves to cook?

Well, apparently the fact that knows he his jewelry and loves to cook.

Yes. Pradhyuman was trolled for not being manly enough. The Insta-fam he never chose proclaimed that he must be gay. He can’t be straight if he likes cooking and jewelry so much…

So how did he cope with this insensitive line of questioning? Well, he used his words – with an Instagram post. A post that made us see him as more than just a celebrity aspirant but as someone who expands the conversation beyond himself. It said, “People will judge you for not being ‘manly’ enough, but I want other men to know that it’s okay to be who you are & do what you love. Stereotypical masculinity is not the rent we need to pay to exist in this world.”

What made you take on the bullies head-on,” I ask in my early morning interview from California, and for him, the end of a long day of work in Mumbai.

“It is something we really have to take on as a society that whatever we speak, whatever we do, has a consequence. Luckily due to my business and upbringing, I have been hard skinned. I can imagine someone not handling that pressure…I have some friends who are gay and can imagine how difficult it is to deal with this kind of criticism. After the show I got DMs from straight men and gay men asking, are you okay. I was wondering why are they asking me if I am okay? And it struck me, what if that person was really gay and had a difficult time opening up to society. This thought really worried me,” Maloo answered.

Pradhyuman Maloo

By taking the reins of the dialogue around sexuality, Pradhyuman has deftly has taken online negativity and channeled it into some really productive chatter online.

“It is time we re-think what we consider ‘manly enough’. I think what people consider manly enough is what people consider very strong. Physically, mentally. It is what people consider “Haan yeh to mard hai” or yes, he is ‘a man’. It determines that men cannot show emotions, men cannot be weak. They don’t realize that being really strong does not mean that men cannot show emotions. If you overcome those weak times then you are strong and you are man enough.”

Showing emotions is what Pradhyuman is getting a lot of people to do, and it seems to be working from everyone chiming in to answer his questions about everyday feelings to what makes someone ‘beautiful’.

“The ability to stand up and speak your mind is beautiful. Empathizing instead of judging is beautiful. Not making excuses is beautiful. Self-care is beautiful.”

Did Pradhyuman wonder how the world outside India would react to grown men and women being guided so closely by their parents in their search for a partner? The stereotype of Indians and arranged marriages?

“When I was abroad people asked why I stayed with my parents. When you stay together as a family, you operate as a family. Today I might take a life partner and I wouldn’t want to do it without my parents’ point of view…I trust their judgment and value their opinion…I would take it in a positive way and not like a push.

Pradhyuman is evolved and insightful. He doesn’t worry so much about what other people think and is guided by his moral compass. I can’t wait to see more of him!


Amrita Gandhi is a Lifestyle TV host who interviews inspiring personalities on her show ‘So, What’s It Really Like‘ on her Instagram

What I Admire About RBG

Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed to complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020 but Justice Ginsburg will be alive in the annals of American law. She paved the way for American women, one case at a time.

Ginsberg co-founded the Women’s Right Law Reporter, a pioneering law journal at Rutgers where she taught. She advocated as a volunteer attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Union. In the mid 1970s she argued half a dozen gender discrimination cases before the high court winning all but one. Ginsberg was appointed as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Her appointment as the second woman on the US Supreme court in 1993 (guided by Hilary Clinton) was one of the best undertakings by President Bill Clinton.  

The Supreme Court justice who gave an unbiased ear to every argument had a famous quote: Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf!

From the vast ocean of evidence, she created her life. She is a beacon of hope for every woman and is a true American hero. She changed history through her landmark cases and built precedence by methodically arguing for gender equality based on the Fourteenth Amendment. 

And now, every woman can claim equal access to education, equal pay, equal military allowance, access contraception, take maternity leave, cut a man’s hair, buy a drink, administer an estate, serve on the jury, and get equal social security benefits. The list is formidable and speaks of her equally intimidating stance on these issues! She wiped close to 200 laws that discriminated against women off the books. She believed that “women would have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

The personality traits I admire of hers:

  • A brilliant mind always at work
  • A rational minimalist
  • Her slow deliberate speech 
  • Measured sentences spoken with thought
  • Total dedication to work 
  • Her commitment to get the law right
  • Steel trap of a memory and ability to recall every word
  • Profound personal dignity 
  • An innate sense of justice
  • Her “ cool” connection with the Millenials as the “notorious” RBG”
  • Her crusade on gender equality
  • Her sense of humor “Ginsburned”!
  • Her warmth towards her staff, colleagues, friends
  • Her determination to remain healthy despite  multiple cancers
  • She showed up to work every day and handled her full load
  • She was a crusader for gender equality 
  • Her zeal to work with her trainer

When I look upon the black and white photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a two-year-old, I can tell that she will be one of the most influential women of this century. I think the best costume for girls this Halloween and for years to come will be RGB in her black robes and white beaded collar!

The death of Justice Ginsburg at this tumultuous time is a phenomenal loss to America. There never will be another like her. Her death leaves a great political void. Chief Justice John Roberts no longer holds the controlling vote in cases cleaved right in the middle of liberal-conservative lines. RGB ruminated on this and her last fervent wish was, “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

It behooves the people of the United States to make their views heard before the election and uphold her wish! There are too many transformative cases like Obamacare that lay precariously in the hands of the new Supreme Court. Our “notorious” RBG was curious, laborious, and glorious in her life. Let’s work hard to honor this courageous Supreme Court Judge.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

 

Complexity of a Modern Father

To be a FATHER in the “yesteryears” was easy because he heard only “yes” to every command he gave. Easy but not healthy. It actually kept our culture somewhat stagnant by keeping a father walled off. On the contrary, I consider the modern father to be a lot luckier. 

Education is no more gender-specific.

Father may know the best” but not on all subjects and matters. Women of today, plunge, and successfully so, into almost every sphere of study. Medicine, Law, Technology, Aerospace Engineering, whatever profession you can name, has seen an increase in female involvement.

A few years back, I questioned my medical students about an anecdotal enigma of a young man who was hit on the head by an automobile and was admitted to the ICU.

The Neurosurgeon looked at the patient and exclaimed in agony, “ This is my son!”

The young man, however, said, “This is not my Father.”

“How is that?” I asked the class.

What the older generation of the medical students could not answer was at once answered by the current generation. The Neurosurgeon was his MOTHER.

Hopefully, we should hear more dialogues like, “ Son, I do not know the answer to your science question. Go ask your mom.” With joint help from both parents, children will learn a lot more about not being gender specific., 

Feeding the family can ALSO be a father’s privilege since both parents are usually working.

This applies to other household responsibilities like changing the diapers, bathing children, nursing them when they are sick, etc. Why should hungry, sick, or hurting children always have to run to the mother? My daughter, when a child, always wanted me to shampoo her hair. I am very happy to have done that because that privilege was taken away from me when she grew up.

At the time of our marriage, my wife was busy with her Ph.D. studies. I went to India by myself to buy the wedding clothes and the matching accessories for the occasion. Throughout my journey, I was busy praying that my choice of purchase met her approval!

The gendered myth relating to right and left brain dominance needs to be readjusted.

Boys and girls, alike, gravitate to STEM in their educational upbringing. We need to dispel the earlier notion that boys should lean on science and girls are good only for arts. These young people are our future parents who will need to learn and teach both in their real life. It should be remembered that Corpus Callosum, the wide web connecting the two brains, is going to be the focus of our future, controlling and coordinating the functions of both cerebral hemispheres. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will need STEAM (A for Arts) to nurture the coordinated growth of our future generations. 

 What could be the main reason why children rush to their Mother when in need?

A modern father has to effectively incorporate both sides of his brain, so that children do not differentiate between the two parents. Our concept of Lord Shiva as an Ardhanaarishwara (Half man and half woman) was conceived at a magnificent moment of this perception. The word female incorporates the male in its body anyway.

When the roles of father and mother get reasonably reversible, fathers will feel fortunate to experience their children in an unprecedented way. At that point in time, there may not be separate celebrations of Father’s and Mother’s Days but a combined Parent’s Day, much to the chagrin of the Business community.  

Till then, have a meaningful Father’s Day!

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

Go Women Ninjas!

I stepped out for a walk with my elementary school son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago.

Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. “ I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”

“Maybe it is a spell. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”, I asked.

The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”

I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who had stubbed their toes.

Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance

He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath. “They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Everyone has a power. Jai has?” he looked at me expectantly.

I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the powers of Ninja masters. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me again, and I will do my best to remember them.”

Professors can rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my little Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class.

A few minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer and Evil coursed through his veins.”

“Oh no! His parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”

The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”

Women Ninja time?

It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “ Nya is there. Cole became a Ninja to save his sister Nya.”

I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.

I asked him what he thought of his sister. “Do you love her?”

A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, wiser sister?  She looks after him, plays with him, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Of course I do!” he said, stung by such a blasphemous question.

“How about Amma? Do you like me?”

Affirmative.

I kicked it up a notch. I asked about his friends. There were a few girls in the list. I asked him about his teachers, grandmothers and aunts? Duh! He laughed and said that he liked them all.

“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “

“What?! Why?”, he said.

“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “

His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.

Gender Stereotypes

Research shows that our attitudes regarding genders are formed between the ages of 5 & 6. Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If Superman does everything by himself, why do we think our sons will discuss their problems with us? If in most shows Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap operasthat glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.

The effect spirals over time as well. If you look at the average amount of time spent in unpaid housework, women spend a significantly greater amount of time than men do. In some countries, they spend almost double the time doing unpaid housework as men.  

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes the extent of the problem and has dedicated $1Billion in 2018 towards empowering Women. They recognize that every aspect of life (lower poverty rates, increased health care & life expectancy), improves when women are empowered. In the introductory chapter of the book, Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes: Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” 

International Women’s Month is here and we will be celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Literature, and Leadership; ​​instead of stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.

Biases sneak in sometimes without our knowledge, and setting it right may start with the simple step of recognizing its existence.

 “Wait!”, said the little fellow. “Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is a girl-Ninja now.”

“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle,  The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

What Will My Next President Look Like?

As I’ve watched the Democratic Party debates over the past couple days, one thing has struck me – we have come a long way America! When JFK ran for election, it was a big deal because he was potentially the first Catholic President. In 2008, the election of Obama as our first black President prompted a national conversation about race. And more recently, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as a woman caused equal controversy. For each of these individuals, the question of identity took front and center. Each faced intense pressure and endless questions.

Are you black enough? Are you too black? Are you likeable?  Are you strong enough? Can you be Commander in Chief?

Now look at the podium. No one seems to be asking those questions. We have 6 women running for President. We have candidates that are black, brown and Asian. Some are young and some not quite. Most are heterosexual and one, not so. The persona we expect to see in our President is no longer one-dimensional and we are all better off because of it.

The real victory isn’t just for the actual candidates but for all of us. The “first” ones always have the hardest time as they have to work hard to prove themselves. But their experience has paved the path for the rest . What is striking is that it is not just their looks, but the backgrounds of the candidates that are diverse; there is not one proven path to run for that office.

We can thank our first Reality Show President for that!

This unprecedented diversity of backgrounds, life experiences, gender and careers is a game changer.  Look at the topics being discussed on a national stage – health care, women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration, climate change, criminal justice etc. Most of these issues, which affect every American, never got airtime before. What is significant about this diverse array of candidates is what it represents about the new democratic base.  The increasing diversity of democratic voters demands better representation. There is a battle of values and ideas within the party and this wide gamut is represented by this vast array of presidential candidates.

The next few months will be intriguing.  Some candidates will falter, others will bow out and eventually only one of them will make it to the final night. But I am excited to see that we have come to a place in our country where we can debate the merits of the ideas and policies that the candidates propose and not what they look like or where they came from.

What will my next President look like? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

All I care about is what their policies are like.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

The Whitesplaining of History Is Over

When the academy was the exclusive playground of white men, it produced the theories of race, gender, and Western cultural superiority that underwrote imperialism abroad and inequality at home. In recent decades, women and people of color have been critical to producing new knowledge breaking down those long-dominant narratives. Sociological research confirms that greater diversity improves scholarship.

Yet the struggle to diversify the academy remains an uphill battle; institutional biases are deeply ingrained, and change evokes nostalgia for times past. Both of these obstacles were fully in evidence at a recent Applied History conference at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Although history is a discipline with a growing number of nonwhite faculty members, and a healthy percentage of female scholars — indeed, women constitute more than a third of the faculty in Stanford’s own history department, across the bike lane from the Hoover Institution — the Hoover conference was made up of 30 white men (and one woman, who chaired a panel). These white men gathered to discuss the supposed fact that the “majority of academic historians have tended to shy away from questions of contemporary interest, especially to policy makers.””Previous generations were less shy of such questions,” the conference website claimed.

Has the current generation of historians in fact abdicated its responsibility to consider questions of contemporary interest? Most historians would find this claim silly; history is always about questions of contemporary interest, always “applied.” So how has the new, more diverse generation of historians produced work with policy implications?

The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for fully exposing the violence of British decolonization in Kenya, puncturing longstanding myths about peaceful withdrawal. Her work has resulted in successful civil lawsuits against the British government by Kenyan survivors.

Catherine Hall of University College London chairs a group of historians assembling a database of British slave owners. In showing how slave ownership has skewed racial and class relations in Britain for centuries, their work opens up a range of international and domestic policy possibilities for righting historical wrongs.

The problem is not that historians are irrelevant, but that they cast a critical light on the political order.

Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, was a key promoter of eugenicist theories of race. Now, Allyson Hobbs, an African-American historian at Stanford, has written an award-winning history of racial passing showing both the constructed nature of racial identity and the arbitrary nature of racial laws — with implications for policies about social identification and race today.Another Stanford historian, Ana Raquel Minian, who grew up in Mexico, has utterly punctured myths about welfare-scrounging Mexican immigration to the United States in the 20th century — a burning political issue with pressing policy implications right now, which Professor Minian has discussed in various public venues.

Also at Stanford, the eminent historian of science and colonialism Londa Schiebinger has led international governmental efforts to address the fact that medical treatments and other technologies developed without attention to differing effects on men and women have historically posed enormous health risks—and market costs.

These are just a handful of examples from my immediate field and home department. All over the academy, historians are producing work relevant to policy and easily accessible to policy makers. Many work hard to share their work with the public.

The problem is not that historians don’t produce policy-relevant research but that their work tends to cast a critical light on the current political order, and policy makers therefore often willfully ignore it.

Many historians have shown that the Second Amendment was about the right to arms for military, not civilian, purposes, but policy makers like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida ignore that research. Indeed, a group of distinguished historians including Lois Schwoerer and Jack Rakove filed an amicus brief on the Second Amendment during the landmark 2008 D.C. v. Heller case, but Justice Antonin Scalia proved impervious to it. The resulting decision held up a dangerously expansive — and historically inaccurate — understanding of the amendment.

Historians also warned us about the dangers of the Iraq War. In particular, the Middle East scholar Juan Cole, from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, acquired an enormous following through his blog by laying out the case against the war. But such discouraging views were not heeded by an administration so bent on war that it not only ignored history but faked it — cooking up a fable of weapons of mass destruction.

Given the proclivities of policy makers, the historian’s real role is, in fact, to speak to the public, so that people may exert pressure on their elected representatives.This idea is itself born of the imperial past. When a British missionary in India named Edward Thompson joined British forces in an earlier invasion of Iraq — as an army chaplain during World War I ­­— the experience disillusioned him profoundly. He sought to atone by correcting the British public’s understanding of the colonial enterprise. So, this white man wrote a history of the massive Indian Rebellion of 1857, which Britons had long portrayed as a diabolical attack on an entirely benevolent British presence. His account acknowledged the real political protest the rebels expressed and the British violence that provoked their own. It was 1925, and Thompson’s book became part of public debate about the increasingly powerful Indian nationalist movement.

Thompson developed a passionate faith in the historian’s craft as the most effective means of truth-telling against the state. His son, the historian and political activist E.P. Thompson, grew up “expecting governments to be mendacious and imperialist and expecting that one’s stance ought to be hostile to government.” He looked to the historic libertarian tradition of working-class people for ways to check the excesses of the “secret state” in the Cold War era that shaped his life. He realized that modern democracy, simply by virtue of its insistent demand for openness, tends to foster an almost paranoid official secrecy and that the historian is the archetype of the active citizen. Thus emerged our 20th-century understanding of the historian as a critic of government.

Of course, there are many other sources of the idea of the historian-as-critic; I offer this “great white man” version ironically. E.P. himself pushed back against the “Great Man” version of history, encouraging a new trend of writing “history from below.” In 1988, Joan Wallach Scott, professor emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study, pointed out the gendered nature of his work, the way working-class men stood in for both men and women. Another field was born. And so on, inclusivity breeding inclusivity, by degrees, in fits and starts.

To be sure, historians have, in some ways, ceded our claim to policy expertise to other kinds of scholars: economists, political scientists, sociologists. This is partly the result of new dogmas equating expertise and quantitative analysis. It is also part of an intrinsically antihistorical, universalist approach to understanding political change, which imagines that what worked in Country A will work in Country B regardless of history and context — that, for instance, the forces that drove the industrial revolution in 18th-century Britain will do the same in a different place centuries later, or that, since the defeat of Hitler gave rise to a liberal democracy in West Germany, removal of dictators will always and necessarily do so. Recent history is littered with evidence of the folly of such logic.

Historical interpretation is crucial to contemporary issues like gun control, immigration, and the “war on terror.” Historians must continue to assert their expertise on such matters against the monopolistic claims of social scientists — and against those who would prefer a cloistered group of white men to remonopolize that role.

Priya Satia is a professor of history at Stanford University and the author of Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution (Penguin, 2018). This piece was first published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Forgotten Tale of Shikhandi

The Forgotten Tale of Shikhandi

The stories that inhabit the Vedas and epics are “whispers of God” says Devdutt Pattanaik as he opens his book Jaya, a retelling of the Mahabharata. It’s true. These books present a startlingly clear vision of the now from the ancient then. The authors of the stories had a seeing eye that modern scientists would give their eye-teeth for. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

Take the notion of Shikhandi. It is both an idea and a character and has so many reflections in this prism we call the “modern family.” The robustness of Shikhandi as a character is astounding and awe inspiring. As each layer is peeled and his/her place in India’s mythological history is uncovered, Shikhandi’s ambiguities of nature and form become moral, ethical and philosophical data points that have withstood generation upon generation of interpretations.

Last July, I interviewed a young man whom I chanced to see in a production called, “The Box.” He was introduced to the audience as J. Jha from India who was seeking asylum in the United States. Binary gender pronouns came up in our conversation and this remarkably talented individual rejected the “he,” “she” format that is the traditional gender distinguisher. Jha preferred “they,” and “theirs,” so I will respect their wish in this article.

Shikhandi is both an idea and a character. Shikhandi’s ambiguities of nature and form become moral, ethical and philosophical data points that have withstood generation upon generation of interpretations.

In their interview, which I wrote for the San Francisco Examiner, Jha told me about being confined by the limitations of heterosexual identity and cisgender norms. Growing up in India, Jha said that they had no homosexual or transgender role model. Jha did not have a single openly gay person among their family or friends that they could relate to. Early on, Jha understood clearly, through reactive and reinforced behavior, that transgender people were personae non gratae. It is only upon leaving India and coming to America that they experienced personal liberation with the freedom to express in gender non-conforming ways.

But how have we come to this place of intolerance where we have blatantly ignored or forgotten the lessons from India’s own wise men?

Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, An Era of Darkness, discusses this very idea. He begins his argument with Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which allows a punishable verdict on “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”  Tharoor claims that this order of nature was established by the British. “The irony is that in India there has always been a place for people of different gender identities and sexual orientations. Indian history and mythology reveal no example of prejudice against sexual difference.” Tharoor goes on to remind us of the gender-morphing Shikhandi.

There are many versions of the Shikhandi story, but in every version, there occurs a sexual transformation to the female form, crossing male-female boundaries. It is remarkable that a country that gave us the Shikhandi prototype persecutes avatars of this remarkable character.

Here in America, with the high school bathroom issue, gender became hotly debated across the country. At the time, I heard people remark dismissively, “isn’t there anything better to do than focus on high-school bathrooms? When people don’t have jobs, why should we worry about gender-neutral bathrooms?” It’s true, it’s an outsize idea, and one we are unable to adjust to because of in-bred conventional normalcy. So, we find ways to minimize its significance.

Even when we do try to relate, we fall short. Take the Louis Vuitton advertisement where Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s son, is shown wearing women’s clothes. It was explained as an ad for women’s clothes featuring a man. Young Smith looked comfortable in the clothes he modeled. He wore it with style and attitude. Yet, it seemed as though he wore women’s clothes because he needed more choices. As Lauren Duca remarked in Teen Vogue, the ad, while looking at the world unconventionally, still “confronted the binary, while participating in it.”

Judith Butler, gender theorist and author of Gender Trouble, argues that gender is not a noun. “Gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject,” she says, and clarifies by saying that gender is “a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame.” So, according to Butler, a person assumes the feminine identity by doing feminine things. As a young child, wearing dresses, growing long hair and playing with dolls reinforces the stereotypes needed for inhabiting a particular gender.

Interestingly enough, one of my daughters, from the time she was five till when she turned fourteen, wore her hair short, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and played Pokemon and Donkey Kong with the boys in her class. Today she is a beautiful young woman, remarkably sure of her femininity. I was cautioned about her gender-bending tendencies by several well-meaning friends when she was growing up. It didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now. Her femininity was hers to discover. Just like Jha’s. [Though it might be worthwhile to admit here that tomboys are more accepted than boys who emulate girls.]

Modern Shikhandi characters abound in the world. They teach us a valuable lesson about how to navigate edge cases in our society without distorting character or creating noise. To pursue this engineering analogy, if we are able to gracefully and seamlessly transact our boundary conditions, we will have ourselves a robust operating strategy for life.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.