Kirthi Jayakumar is a Lawyer, specialized in Public International Law and Human Rights. A graduate of the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, Kirthi has diversified into Research and Writing in Public International Law, Arbitration and Human Rights. She has worked as a UN Volunteer, specializing in Human Rights research in pertinence to issues in Africa, India and Central Asia and the Middle East. Kirthi has worked extensively with grass root organizations that focus on women's rights. She also runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on International Law, called A38. Kirthi's main interests lie in International Law, International Relations, Peace and Conflict studies and Human Rights. She has also dabbled with Art and writing Short Fiction, which she showcases through her Blogs devoted to the same.
Ten years ago, a history lesson at school on the Second World War and a lost opportunity to participate in a Model UN session owing to a health setback decided the career front of the funny trajectory that is my life.
I decided I would join the United Nations.
The lure was magnetic- I would stand as a representative of my country, or of an oppressed people. I would work with grass-root organizations and proffer them the benefits of humanitarian aid and assistance. I would be their voice. I would be their advocate. I would fight for them. I would ensure they would get justice.
But I would not be an empty, jingoistic activist, I told myself. I would never, ever stand and scream hoarse saying that I wanted rights as a woman, as a member of any kind of a minority, as a victim of anything. I counted on myself as empowered, and found it ridiculous to outrageous, to hear over-the-top campaigns and cries that alleged sufferance of “deprivation” of rights. I found it stupid that actually empowered people would stand and argue in Parliaments, demanding that they be given legal rights. Blame it on my upbringing. My parents brought me up treating me as a human being. I was never deprived of anything by virtue of my gender, nor offered any special treatment owing to my gender or anything. I was normal, life was normal.
Bit by bit, I began uncovering the entire spectrum of work that had to go into making the dream real. Not meaning to forget the hurdles altogether, I’ll save them for another post on another day, and for now, focus on the things I learned so far.
Ten years later, I found myself somewhere near my goal. Without the requisite educational qualification of a Masters’ Degree, I had something like a foot in the United Nations through some volunteering opportunities. I soon grew to become part of several activist and feminist organizations that worked for women’s rights.
And that is when the true essence of feminism- the grain of true activism separated from the chaff of jingoism- smacked me hard in the face. I learned the importance and imbibed the practicality of being a feminist for the woman in need, and not for the already empowered woman in greed.
When I worked with these organizations (I still do- I love each of them, sincerely), I was just a writer. That was what I was – a meagre nerd across continents and oceans from where these organizations functioned, staring at a computer screen and churning piece after piece after piece, following copious research. What difference are you making, anyway? I’d ask. My family would ask. My friends would ask. You’re just writing. I’d tell myself. My family would tell me. My friends would tell me. Does your writing bring any justice to the ones in need? I’d ask myself. My family would ask me. My friends would ask me.
I have no idea. Does it make any difference? Did it make any difference?
To them, I don’t know. To me, it did, it does and it will always do so.
When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world of real stories, of stories that were so real, they had to be fictionalized for the world to digest, of sordid and morbid realities that could leave you shaken. I told the world of the things women went through, children went through. I told the world what it already knew- or at least, most of the world already knew.
Stories of Rape.
Deprivation on gender-based grounds.
And as I wrote, I grew. I grew because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. I realized that what were just words for me here was the reality, the harsh truth for a woman, miles away. I realized that as much as the world was “ahead”, it was also terribly backward.
I travelled in my research. I went to war stricken Afghanistan where women bear the brunt of living a crippled life- facing domestic violence, honour killings, rape and an abject deprivation from their every right. I went to DR Congo where women still bear the brunt of Sexual Violence aplenty, and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. I went to different parts of India, where I learned of girl foetuses being killed in the womb because they were girls, where tribal women are forced to dance naked to be able to get a meal. I travelled to parts of the Middle East where women are the property of their men, and could even be killed or raped, with no one asking. I went to Nigeria, where girls are subjected to the harsh malpractice of genital mutilation, and their cries were too loud, that they were silent. I went to Pakistan and Palestine, where women are subjected to the awful nightmare of murder in the name of protecting their familial honour. I went to South East Asia where girls are born into brothels, and lived their lives there, without knowing that they were made slaves. I travelled to Kosovo and Houston, Texas, where their dirtiest secret is the filthy game of human trafficking has many a woman under its fold. I went to Latin America where “poverty has a woman’s face”.
I realized that in the same world where a woman had the freedom to work as an equal with a man, a woman was also subservient to a man and could not work whatsoever. I realized that in the same world where a woman had the right to be educated, a woman was also forced to give up school because her society ordained otherwise. I realized that in the same world where a woman was free to choose who she would marry and when she would marry, a woman was forced to marry a man many years older than her while she would be a mere child. I realized that in the same world where women would be respected and their honour safeguarded with dignity, a woman would also be used as a miserable sex-slave. I realized that in the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged ceaselessly, devoid of all compunction.
And then I learned more - that where for every little girl that was abused, there was also a little boy; that for every case of abuse, there was silence. So much silence, that it deafened you. I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of society and humanity. I realized that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unravelled, society is crippled.
I may not be an expert. I may be far more ordinary than I know I am. I may lack expertise in totality, and “intellectually stimulating” might hardly be a justifiable title for the kind of stuff I write. But I do know one thing. I am a drop in the ocean, but a drop, nevertheless. I am one among the scores of other women who serve as a conduit between the oppressed and the outside world.
And that is why I am proud to be an activist. I may be armchair-bound for now – but I have words in tow, words that can make people realize, see, and understand. Staying silent is the biggest crime next to committing the main crime itself. I’ll talk. Will you?
Contact Kirthi via Twitter @kirthijayakumar
and her blog http://www.kirthijayakumar.blogspot.co.uk/