Journalist and activist Ruchira Gupta has extensively worked for women's rights and issues surrounding minorities throughout her career. Gupta, who is also the founder of Apne Aap, an NGO dedicated to the cause of eradicating sex trafficking and fighting for women's rights, is now out with her book I Kick And I Fly.
In conversation with SheThePeople at the latest edition of the Women Writers Fest, author and novelist Ruchira Gupta talks about the motive behind the book, showcasing the significance of feminism through her characters, her upcoming projects, and why self-defence is an integral link of empowerment.
I Kick And I Fly
Gupta, talking about her new book, said, "I wrote I Kick And I Fly because I wanted to inspire young people, educate older people, and create a conversation among people about human trafficking."
Elaborating on the plot of the book, the author explained, "The backdrop of my book is the organized crime of sex trafficking. The story is narrated by a 14-year-old girl named Hira who is from a nomadic tribe on the border of Nepal in a little agricultural town in Forbisganj, Bihar. She is about to be sold into prostitution when the cattle fair comes to town while also being bullied at school. She can't focus on class and is expelled when she kicks out the teeth of a class bully. After the incident, she knows her days are numbered. The story then revolves around how this girl escapes the sex trade with the help of Kung Fu."
On Linking Blends Self Defence And Empowerment In The Book
Explaining how Kung Fu and self-defence make the major part of her story, she says, "There are many factors at play; a mother who fights for her daughter, a woman's right advocate who believes that the power of our body can help us discover other powers of our senses, a Kung Fu program, a girls hostel safe from the traffickers, and a red light area with hunger, poverty and threats."
My story is about kidnapping, bullying, body shaming, and sexual abuse. Many things which all young people face.
Feminism Through Fictional Characters
When asked about as to why Gupta's target audience is young women, the novelist said, "The characters my lead interacts with are young people. Her brother, 15, is just a year older than her; her classmate, 14, who bullies her; her friend, Rosie goes missing. The reason why the whole story revolves around them is that of 49 million human trafficking victims worldwide, 70% are young females, between the ages of 9 and 30. I wanted our young generation to empathise with their counterparts."
I also wanted to break the silence about issues of body shaming, bullying, and sexual abuse among the youth. When a child reads the book, they will understand it's the system that's crazy, not them. I also wanted to inspire young people to fight back and stand up to injustice. It triggers a conversation between adults and young people. The book is a fast-paced, social justice adventure.
Conversation Starter With Older Generation
Explaining how the book will educate the older generation and become a bridge between the two generations, Gupta said, "I've created resources, with the help of Scholastic, which is actually for old people, parents and teachers, so that they don't feel uncomfortable talking about these issues. By breaking the culture of silence, I can change the air. This is a story of hope. It's an easy way to talk to people about a difficult subject."
How She Found Inspiration In Kung Fu For Her Story
Talking about strength and how Kung Fu plays a major part in determining the right over her own body for her lead, Gupta says, "Bodily autonomy has always been very important to me, as a woman, as an activist, as a feminist. We are often shamed because of our bodies, the guilt of just being a woman. Body shaming is part of controlling a person. It may not happen in a brothel, but it happens to every person. It affects our self-esteem, which then affects our actions externally.'
Sharing the anecdote of what inspired the idea of Kung Fu for her story, Gupta shared how, in Bihar, she saw two karate teachers in a rice field when she was going to her community centre, to teach karate. She stopped and asked them if they are willing to come to her hostel and community centre to take karate classes. She continues, "And they agreed. It really helped the girls because they were first-generation learners. Even though they were not able to compete in the class, they were excelling in karate because they came from a nomadic tribe which knew tightrope walking, and wrestling. They were agile and flexible. One girl in my NGO told me that learning self-defence taught me that I have self-worth defending."
On Building Her Lead Character
Sharing the story of how she came around to calling her lead Hira, the author said, "Hira means diamond. And my Hira is an untucked diamond. And with Karate and Kung Fu, she becomes a polished person who learns to control her energy within to balance with her energy outside. Once she learns to centre her chi and energy, she becomes a better fighter.'
"Hira, my character, is not the only one in her strip lane, being taught that her body is an asset. Every girl in that lane is being taught that when she attains puberty, she will be sold into the sex trade and this is what her body is worth. At very early ages, they are taught to desexualise the personality and then sexualise it. They begin to hate this contradiction inside themselves and begin to suffer from fear, shame and guilt."
On Women Taking Charge & Prioritising Wellbeing
When asked about what advice she will give to women about taking charge of their health, and their physical and emotional well-being, Gupta said, "Gender digs a trench into our brain, into which all other inequalities fall because we begin to think that hierarchy is normal. We begin to accept the hierarchy of caste, of race, of other things. We begin to imagine that the structure of power is the head of the household, who's a man, and whatever he says, right or wrong, women must believe in it. We go out longing to replicate that same structure of power because that's our comfort zone. So, we are not able to imagine a different kind of power structure, where there can be correlation and co-existence. Gender roles are very segregated. Men must be breadwinners and women must be caregivers."
'It deprives both genders of possibilities. If a man isn't a breadwinner, he's told he's a sissy, and if a woman wants to breakthrough she's labelled ambitious."
Leaving with an integral thought, Gupta says, "Imagine a world with zero stereotypes, where a woman can bring home food and a man can be a caretaker. It will make men more gentle and free them from toxic masculinity whereas women will be awarded power."
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