I Am An Indian Girl Who Refuses To Be Silent: Author Priya-Alika Elias
In one of the chapters of her book Besharam titled, ‘India’s Sons,’ Priya-Alika Elias reflects on the gruesome Delhi gang-rape of 2012 with a scathing analogy of the society – “It is easy, in the face of unspeakable violence, to analyse it as an anomaly.” That these specific men on the bus, these perpetrators are heinous monsters; that women or young girls don’t have any threat in the comfort of their own homes or any other place they choose to inhabit during a respectable time of the day. But the author wants you to acknowledge that “these were men raised in a world where violence against women is nothing out of the ordinary.”
I am an example of an Indian girl who refuses to be silent, and hopefully inspire others to speak up too.
She brazenly continues, “Nirbhaya was given the title of ‘India’s daughter.’ But it is not enough to claim the victim without claiming the perpetrator. Look, India. Turn your gazes away from the women you call your daughters. Remember, these are your sons.”
Besharam explores and dismantles the idea of shame that has been ingrained in young girls from a very young age. A writer and a lawyer, Priya wants young girls to know that there is nothing wrong with them. That it is okay to be themselves. The author remembers growing up in a small town in Kerala, and her first thought was always, “I need to get out of here! I knew that I wanted to travel, to see what kinds of other lives were possible. I went to America at seventeen, and spent ten of my most formative years there.”
Besharam explores and dismantles the idea of shame that has been ingrained in young girls from a very young age.
And writing always had a special place in her life, she’d scribble in stolen notebooks from the time she was seven or eight years old, “Poems, ideas for stories – whatever I could dream up. But I never imagined that I could be a writer. I didn’t think that career was an option for me. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realised it could be – so I came to writing very late,” she adds.
But she is glad that she went to law school, because thanks to such a rigorous training, she learned how to think more clearly, and argue more incisively, which are good skills for any writer to have.
“More importantly, being a criminal lawyer gave me a look at the face of injustice in the world. The things I saw gave me a real commitment to social justice and an eye for fairness (much of my writing deals with injustice and oppression). I no longer practice law, but if I did go back, I would be a defence lawyer.”
The book stemmed from a realization that young Indians – particularly young Indian girls – are feeling a severe lack of mentorship, of guidance. As South Asians, we are expert at pretending that issues like premarital sex, dating, depression, mental health struggles don’t exist in our society. As a result of this, “young people don’t really have anywhere to go: they don’t have any judgement-free spaces in which they can learn.”
“More importantly, being a criminal lawyer gave me a look at the face of injustice in the world. The things I saw gave me a real commitment to social justice and an eye for fairness.”
Although the author feels this is changing and people have become a little more open about their struggles, this change is only happening in privileged spaces. It’s not something that’s accessible to everybody.
Priya, who has spent considerable time in the US, studying and working, asserts that patriarchy has a different face in the West. While women might seem to have more freedom there, she would argue it’s a different kind of sexism at play, “Women are expected to ‘Have It All’ and be caregivers in addition to being capable working women. Rape culture exists there too: in places like college frats and so on. It’s worth noting that America has still not elected a single female President.”
Needless to say, misogyny is much more obvious in India, where a woman’s movements are much more restricted. Priya explains, “Women are revered as sacred, as benevolent beings who are better than men. Who are expected to sacrifice their own needs to nurture their communities. Indian women are told to bear the heavy yoke of oppression in silence. That is one of the most difficult things for this society to unlearn.”
“Women are expected to ‘Have It All’ and be caregivers in addition to being capable working women. Rape culture exists there too: in places like college frats and so on. It’s worth noting that America has still not elected a single female President.”
In the book, the author discusses a gamut of issues – from men who masturbate to how to deal with a broken heart. She admits that she has never been a fan of restraint and likes taking on big things and writing about a range of issues! She drew inspiration from Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking (“an elegant, spare meditation on memory and loss”) to write about grief. And at age 15, Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl moved her deeply.
“Anne wrote with so much wisdom and tenacity: she was so far ahead of her time. She wrote, “Men are respected as soldiers, but so are women – women are more courageous and tough than any of the heroes we revere.” Her diary taught me feminist principles before I even knew what feminism meant.”
Besharam challenges the notion that Indian women need to be told as to how to conduct themselves. We need absolutely no one teaching us how to sit, dress, behave in public or behind closed doors and worse still, how to fit in the mould of a “good Indian girl.”
We need absolutely no one teaching us how to sit, dress, behave in public or behind closed doors and worse still, how to fit in the mould of a “good Indian girl.”
Priya concludes, “We don’t give them any space to be, and we tell them to shut up about their insecurities and their emotions. I would like my readers to feel that they are not alone: I am an example of an Indian girl who refuses to be silent, and hopefully inspire others to speak up too. We need each other, in a world that is actively hostile to us.”