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.
Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.
IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?
AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to.
Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me.
The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places.
I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.
IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?
AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms.
IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?
AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.
I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!
Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.
IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?
AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully.
IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons?
AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.
The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you.
IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges?
AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.
I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths.
IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?
AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear.
IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?
AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.
Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
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.
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.
With America on the precipice of landmark socio-political change, India Currents invites you to celebrate activism through a virtual poetry reading! This effort is in collaboration with Matwaala, a South-Asian poetry collaborative designed to provide immigrant and POC writers with a literary platform.
In their own words, Matwaala embodies “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Since their formation, they have hosted a number of poetry festivals and writing workshops. Most notably, they recently spearheaded Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood Project, where they created a Poetry Wall in honor of South Asian writers at the Irving Museum and Archives.
Poetry has always represented rebellion — against injustice, against hierarchy, against the status quo. And this event, complete with live readings and a stimulating Q & A session, seeks to honor this sense of rebellion by addressing topics such as women’s rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. This discussion features an all-female panel of Desi poets, who will reflect on their own experiences to analyze these issues from an immigrant perspective.
To find out more about this event and its panelists, stay tuned for updates on our Facebook and Instagram!
Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak.
“With a roar, rise, and fight for your right to education.
Breaking the chains of tradition, go get an education.”
– Savitribai Phule
India’s first school for girls was started in Pune, Maharashtra, by Savitribai Phule – a woman who spearheaded the movement for female education in India. Almost two centuries later, the flame continues to burn bright in Maharashtra, as a new institution, the first of its kind, is set up. A school that Kantabai More, at the age of 74, can proudly say she attends twice a week. Where she gets scolded for not finishing her homework by her teacher, Sheetal More, who also happens to be her daughter-in-law. A school where all her peers are of her age. A school for the ajjis (grandmothers) of Fangane, a village in Maharashtra.
On March 8th, 2016, International Women’s Day, the Ajjibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers’ School), was set up in Fangane at the demand of the ajjis. “
The idea for Ajjibaichi Shaala came to me in Feb 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar. “The ladies in the village were reading out of a ‘paath’ (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s where the idea of a school for them came from, and the whole village rallied behind it.”
After having spent their entire lives dedicated to family by tending to the fields, the harvest, and the business, the ajjis have, at long last, decided to turn to their own lifelong desire—to go to school and get an education.
The crew of Virtual Bharat, a 1000 film journey of India initiated by filmmaker Bharatbala, attempts to capture the ajjis in action, as they don their bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art—and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. In a four-day shoot in Fangane, living amidst the grandmothers, the team saw that telling the story of the Ajjibaichi Shaala was more than filming the classroom and the uniforms. It had to be about capturing its incredible spirit.
As Sitabai Deshmukh, an 85-year-old ajji—the oldest in her class—tells the crew, school, for her, is about more than just the letters that they teach (which she forgets before the next class anyway); she cannot even really see the blackboard or comprehend much of what is taught to her. For her, school is about living a life she never thought she would have access to. A life she has ensured that her children and grandchildren experience. A life that she too can now proudly say she has lived. The Ajjibaichi Shaala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s dream and now serves as source of pride.
Watch the short film on the link below!
Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!
Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel.
An exclusive interview with Alankrita Shrivastava, whose last film, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) was promptly banned in India for its frank portrayal of female desire. Now, with other female film-makers, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, who have co-written the series, she has found a platform on Amazon that circumvents the fusty genteel sensibility of the Indian Censor Board. She spoke to Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain of India Currentsabout how the series Made in Heaven (2019) challenges not just the norms of society but also, with the help of technology, its institutions.
So many women I know are bingeing on Made in Heaven (2019), just released in March, a fast-paced, highly entertaining and thoughtful series that takes on the chhee-chhhee (ewww) topics of homosexuality, adultery, sexual abuse, #metoo, and also women’s rights, ageism, and the Big Fat Indian Wedding.
Tina Fey wondered aloud at the Oscars 2019 if microwave ovens would soon begin to make movies, a nod to how Hollywood studios are now routinely jostling on the red carpet with technology upstarts like Netflix and Amazon. Alankrita Shrivastava explains how streaming services like Amazon help film-makers circumvent the Indian Censor Board, patriarchy, and hetero-normativity.
“There is a subconscious self-censorship that always happens. So that is the conditioning that will take many years to break down. So in India I feel we are kind of conditioned… in the case of Lipstick Under My Burkha, they didn’t know what to do with it — they just banned it. So you have to pass that test, and anything can happen with the Censor board. So it’s very freeing to write stuff, shoot it and then just the way you intended it to be, it played out like that… but having said that, I don’t feel that just because we can tell stories on the digital platform, free from censorship, that we should give up our fight to resist censorship in the theatrical space, or in the broadcast space.”
Hear the full interview below:
Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D., is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.