And with this month, the year draws to a close. It has been a hurried sort of year. Not for it the graciousness of growing on us, letting us absorb at leisure the need to change writing 2018 to 2019, to assimilate the fact that we have just one more year left on this decade before it passes us by.
The previous century had the Roaring Twenties. The twenties for this century have been rather staid in comparison. Nothing about it has roared. There have been a lot of whimpers and some real cries of pain, but the roaring, if any has long passed. This year too has seen some whimpering, and a little roaring, but here’s what stood out for me in this past year, the good, the bad, the ugly. All these patched together make up what will be 2019 in my memories in the years to come.
The biggest roaring we’ve had this year is from a 16 year old from Sweden, who sat outside her Parliament every Friday to protest against climate change barely a year or two ago and is now the Time Person of the Year 2019. Greta Thunberg sitting outside her Parliament, alone. Greta Thunberg addressing crowds of thousands. Greta Thunberg sailing across the Atlantic to address powerful men is an image that will not go away too easily. That a young teen by her sheer doggedness, is now the icon for climate change rebellion, is something that gives me hope. The children will save us yet, us the generation of the infernally complacent who did nothing to stop the earth from coming to the tipping point, and now leave behind a planet poised on the brink of climate cataclysm for the kids to inherit.
The biggest roaring we’ve had this year is from a 16 year old from Sweden, who sat outside her Parliament every Friday to protest against climate change barely a year or two ago and is now the Time Person of the Year 2019.
In May, we re-elected the BJP back to power with a thumping majority, and we got ourselves a woman heading the Finance Ministry. After Indira Gandhi, Nirmala Sitharaman became the first woman to head the all-important Finance Ministry of the country and she had inherited a tough burden to bear, post demonetisation and GST. She is also now 34th in the Forbes List of the Most Powerful Women of 2019, an achievement we must all commend. The other Indian women to make it to this list are Roshni Nadar Malhotra, CEO and Executive Director of HCL Corporation and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder of Biocon.
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In May too, Dutee Chand became perhaps the first Indian athlete to come out publicly and declare herself in a same sex relationship. Her dogged determination to not be silenced about her sexuality despite pressure from her family had her win hearts across the country.
In July, a passenger at the Ranaghat railway station in West Bengal recorded a woman singing Lata Mangeshkar’s Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma hai and uploaded the clip onto social media. That clip went viral and how. Soon Ranu Mondal was the toast of the town, and even bagged a singing contract with music director Himesh Reshammiya. It was a story that warmed the cockles of one’s heart, but also underlined the bittersweet fact that there is so much untapped, unacknowledged talent out there just waiting for the right moment and luck to take it out to the world.
As October and Diwali came on us, North India reeled under unimaginable levels of pollution. Levels were well beyond severe most times, leading to schools being shut and a state of medical emergency being declared with government advisories requesting people to stay within the house if not absolutely essential. Children, who should have been playing out in the parks, were confined to homes, wearing masks. Many with their weakened immunity fell ill, seriously ill, paying a price for our collective lack of will to find a long term solution to this pollution crisis. As the country’s capital and most of the Indo Gangetic basin was transformed into a toxic gas chamber, we really need to ask ourselves as citizens as to what is it that we need to do to push for more effective air pollution reforms and have them implemented, rather than reactive outrage every year at this time.
In November, Emma Watson, who will ever remain Hermoine Granger to me until she does something that completely overshadows the Harry Potter movies, announced that she was ‘self partnered.’
In October too, the Booker was awarded to two female authors—in defiance of the norm that awarded it to one author. The award was shared by Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo, something I couldn’t quite reconcile myself with, despite loving Atwood’s work. Was it fair to have Bernadine share her prize with someone who had enough acclaim of her own? Why did it seem that the jury had diminished her achievement of being the first black woman to win the award by latching on an already acclaimed white woman to it?
Also in other literary awards, the 2018 Nobel went to Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, who has received much acclaim for her feminist writing. Debut author Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field won both the JCB prize and the Tata Literature Live! award this year. Women authors have pretty much been ruling the roost in terms of awards this year. But despite having pondered over the division of the Booker, Olivia Laing’s insistence on sharing the James Tait Black prize for fiction with her fellow nominees because, as she stated, “competition has no place in art” did warm the cockles of my jaded heart.
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In November, Emma Watson, who will ever remain Hermoine Granger to me until she does something that completely overshadows the Harry Potter movies, announced that she was ‘self partnered.’ The announcement was a long time coming, to me. The fact that women have to publically state that they are very happy and content being on their own, and didn’t need a partner, male or female, to complete them was a sign that women are saying out loud now what they’ve been thinking privately for decades now. It gave hope to all the singletons out there that being single didn’t necessarily mean they were outcasts, that they didn’t fit into the norms of so-called social constructs of mandatory partnering. It underlines that they were fully entitled to choose not to be partnered, and it was a completely valid life choice.
November left us with the shock of gang rape and killing in Hyderabad that sent a shiver of fear down every woman’s spine. A vet had her scooter tyre punctured and was then raped and set on fire. This terrified every woman who read it because this was something that could happen to anyone returning home from work. It was a busy road, a toll naka not too far away and yet, as her parents and family were shuttled between police station, she was being raped and set ablaze. A few days later, the accused were shot dead in an ‘encounter’ after being taken into custody. The incident underlined just how precarious women’s safety and security continues to be in India and how, no matter what, Indians will make Hyderabad Gang Rape Video one of the most googled terms of the month, in the perverted hope that the perpetrators actually filmed themselves doing the unspeakable. It makes one question the mindset of the people around us. We end 2019 grappling with the same issues that the country grappled with back in December 2012, that of women’s safety. From Nirbhaya to the vet in Hyderabad and the countless other cases that don’t get mentioned in the newspapers at all, those that are reduced to a mere city brief, those that have women fighting to be heard despite all they shout for justice.
But we end on a note of hope. The statement by the newly crowned Miss Universe 2019, South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi is what we need every young girl to listen to. She’s not mouthing platitudes of world peace as is the norm at most of these pageants, she’s asking girls to do something really, really simple. Teach young girls leadership and to take up space. And I hope in 2020 and in all the years that are to come, we can do just that. For far too long women have been taught to shrink themselves, high time we taught the next generation of girls to take up space. To claim their equal space under the sky.
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Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.