You are born. You are not a boy. Or maybe you are not born with ‘well-defined’ genitalia. You are not fair enough. You are not born into a upper caste or upper class family. Maybe, you are born into a family which follows a religion which is a minority. Maybe, you are born with eyes which will will define your ‘chinky’ identity for the rest of your life. Maybe, you are born a person with disability. You were just born. But nobody is just born. You were born into a society. A society with defined boundaries. Boundaries which if transgressed, you will be shamed. You will be silenced. For a voice which does not adhere is a dissenting one. And dissent is dangerous. Dangerous to those in power.
You are growing up. You are shamed for not being ‘intelligent’ enough. You are shamed for being a boy and playing with a barbie. You are an adolescent. You are shamed for being fat. You are shamed for having too much body hair. Your friends shame you for not having ‘assets’. You are a slut if you dress a certain way or date more than a boy. You are shamed for being a boy and not liking a girl. Or being a girl and liking a girl. Or not relating at all to strictly being a girl or a boy. Or just not feeling sexual. You get your periods. You are told to hide. You are told to not touch certain things. You are taught not to talk about it.
You are taught what it is to be a good woman and what it is to be a man. An effeminate man? How does that combination fit in this society? Does a good woman sit with her legs wide apart or not wear a dupatta or wears short clothes? Does a good woman go out late at night? Do you have sex before marriage? A girl who gets raped when she is sixteen is her shame. A girl who consensually sleeps with a partner when she is eighteen is also her shame. You ask what is this hypocrisy? How dare you ask? How did your voice survive when all that they taught you was to exist in a certain way and if you failed, to be silent about it. To be ashamed about it.
Your friends shame you if you are a virgin. Your gynaecologist or maybe the man you marry shames you if you are not a virgin. Sometimes blood is good. Sometimes blood is dirty and impure. Consent? What does that mean when your answers have already been decided and even if you say a no it will always be heard as a yes or vice versa. You are not married yet you are living together? You are not married but you want a hotel room? Do you not want to live peacefully even if it means silencing your very own voice?
They harass you. There is no law which says you are wrong. You are not causing anyone harm. But they have a problem. And you are scared. You are scared because they might tell your parents. They might tell everyone. And then you will be the person who did THAT. And then how will you live with the shame? Do you want to speak up and share that painful experience? Do you think sharing will help you heal? Maybe. But what if you share and then they judge you. What will you do then?
Stigma is a word often used by people who understand how it is attached to certain actions, choices which do not necessarily conform to the socially ‘acceptable’ norms. There is an understanding that a negative connotation has been attached to something and that stigma is often exercised from a position of power. However, what constitutes the experience of stigma? What is it like to be living a life stigma, very often, not even knowing that it is not justified or it is not the ‘normal’ order of things or that you are living a life of marginalisation, oppression and exploitation?
For the next few days our attempt will be to unpack these layers of stigma which surround our lives and how our voices often get silenced or only echo within those closed walls. All of us are a product of our learning. A learning imparted to us. Those in power, learnt how to be in power. Those subjected, learnt to be ashamed and silent. However, there is a process of unlearning too.
Experiences form the base of this unlearning. It’s an unlearning where you learn that everybody’s voice matters, everybody has a context and that we owe it to each other, to be the safe space we seek. A safe space where those experiences can be shared, heard, related to. Let’s talk, let’s listen, let’s empathise. You say we leak of idealism? Well, to respond to that, as Lennon sang it, “You say I’m a dreamer…But I am not the only one”.