Swarna Rajagopalan is the founder of The Prajnya Trust, an organisation working towards gender equality and peace education. With India and the world going through a major change, and challenging the status quo, patriarchy and gender discrimination, we ask her for her thoughts on feminism in India — the movements, the challenges, and the road ahead.
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An independent scholar who writes on politics, human security and gender issues, Swarna holds a BA in Political Science at Elphinstone College, MA in International Relations at Syracuse University, Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; she says there’s much more to her than just those degrees. “A hundred thousand life-changing movements and formative experiences taught me as much as my formal education did — including a dozen pen-friends around the world, trailing after cousins in the anti-rape women’s movement of the early 1980s, living with people from all over the world and sharing chores in Syracuse’s International Living Centre, travel, working at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi during the VP Singh years, failure and struggle,” Swarna tells SheThePeople.TV.
“There have been many waves or generations of Indian women’s movements, each with a spectrum of political perspectives and orthodoxies and each speaking for a constituency that it sees clearly and particularly,” says Swarna. There is not just one feminist movement; there have been several movements in the past which have of course led to the making of many good laws today.
Educating individuals about a topic as sensitive as gender should be done from an early stage where the question of “equality” can be addressed and explained before it’s too late. But Swarna says, before we do that, a lesson in civics is of utmost importance.
She says, “Civics education should also be overhauled. Gender equality and gender justice are subsets of “Equality” and “Justice” and if we do not learn these as integral, fundamental, political and civic values in our childhood, we will never live them as adult citizens.”
Talking about what the government can do to ensure women empowerment, Swarna says, “I have become a little uneasy looking to the government to make a difference on gender equality. The policy arena is the tip of the iceberg here, and most of the change we need needs to come from within each of us, individually and collectively.”
“While we are getting the message of feminism across, there is a huge backlash that is to be dealt with.” Swarna adds, “We are not talking to each other and we most certainly are not listening to each other. There should always be disagreement and debate, but its purpose should be clarity, not mutual rejection.” We need to be patient and leave room for constructive engagement.
Only a civil dialogue can help things move forward. Pretending to listen but ready to jump at each other’s throat at every statement that does not match your views, is not the solution here.
A message from Swarna to our SheThePeople readers – “Follow your heart and be true to yourself. Your heart may break and your feet may hurt, but it’s still the most worthwhile journey to undertake.”