In conversation with Nainika Singh

Nainika is a graduate from University of Delhi and a former president of Women’s Development Cell of her college. She is a radical, intersectional feminist. She wants to be a social worker and constantly work against oppression to bridge the wide gap in gender equality. She can be found in a corner sniffing and reading books- Feminist literature, famous fiction, etc. She loves sketching and doodling and cannot live without at least 3 cups of black coffee a day.

What is the aim of ‘Women’s Development Cell’?
The aim of WDC is basically to spread awareness among the youth of college and initiate the process of change to bridge the gap of gender inequality because the youth is the flagbearer of the revolution for gender equality.

Why is it important that society as a whole should recognize and respect the diverse Gender Identities and pronouns of people?

Recognizing and respecting diverse gender identities and pronouns of people is important because if a heterosexual cisgender person will put themselves in their shoes then they will realize how frustrating and insulting it is to be called not who you are but what the other person assumes you to be. To make it simpler, if my name is Nainika and my pronouns are she/her and if someone keeps calling me Rajeev and uses pronouns, he/him then obviously it will be frustrating and insulting for me.

The recent controversy regarding ‘Fair and Lovely’ brought to light India’s obsession with Fair Skin as a sign of superiority and success. Why do you think such ideals are flourishing in India, when it is in fact is one of the most racially diverse nations in the world?

Well, the majority of Indians are definitely obsessed with fair skin. Here in our country, people leave no chance to ridicule and discriminate against someone on the basis of color. British dominated us for around 200 years and they kept on telling us that they are superior to us because they are more sophisticated, hygienic, and fair. Now, it is in our minds since our childhood that only Fair skin tone is beautiful and dark is not. People with dark skin tone are constantly reminded that they are not beautiful and compelled to start working on their skin to make it fair if they want respect and praise from society. One never questions that how a color
can be beautiful? Our perceptions are manipulated since childhood and thus all we have to do is to question them and change the set notions and standard of beauty.

Where are we standing as a civil society to understand the notion of love other than the heteronormatively defined ideals?

I think as we are talking and understanding more and more about LGBTQIA+ community and the diverse nature of relationships we are constantly changing our notion of the heteronormative standards of love and sex. Through this process of change is really slow but it is really important to acknowledge the change which is taking place in this notion so that others may understand and be encouraged to push this change.

What message would you like to pass onto individuals who bully members of LGBTQIA+ Community?
Please stop misusing the power and privilege granted to you by society. It cannot be that hard to just accept and respect individuals as they are. Bullying someone to satisfy our ego is not cool.

According to you, what is the root cause of ‘Gender Inequality’?
I believe the root cause of gender equality is patriarchy and the transfer of power and authority to one gender referred to as ‘superior’. The strength of women was made to believe as their biggest weakness (referring to reproduction). This perpetuating culture of patriarchy needs to be taken down bit by bit because no individual should be in a position of authority just because of their gender.

What are the ways according to you through which we can reduce the Gender divide?
There are many small ways that can help bridge this gender gap. If we are just a bit conscious of what we are saying and how we are reacting to things and try to question the notions set in our society in this regard, it will bring a great deal of change. Start with your children and younger brothers and sisters. Tell them the importance of consent and respecting every individual human being. Tell them what is wrong with this existing system of inequality and why they should not adopt it. For us and our parents- we have to start questioning the system that very carefully has inculcated this very rigid patriarchal environment in our lives.

How open was the educational institution you studied in/are currently studying in to discuss issues related to gender? Have you faced any issues because of your gender identity or sexuality on your campus?
I have studied in two very reputed and ‘advanced’ schools and none of them were open to talking about issues related to gender or sex. Though I have studied in two really reputed schools of our country, they were filled with stereotypes, and the teachers and the concerned institution never took any initiative to change it.
Yes, I did face a lot of issues because I was a girl. I was slut-shamed and made fun of during my periods because of bloodstains. I was made to feel ashamed of the fact that I am menstruating. I was stalked to my home and on social media. But college was comparatively an open space to talk about these issues.

Do you feel that educational institutions in India are in general a safe and free space for women/people of other sexual minorities or gender identities especially during large-scale student gatherings?
Definitely not! I as a woman never felt safe and free so I cannot expect other individuals belonging from minorities to feel safe. Usually, you will see a privileged boy who believes that he is superior because he is a BOY that he never leaves any opportunity to insult people who do not act according to the notions that he has been always taught, say, he will obviously make fun of a boy if he wears lipstick or a girl with a bald head. They make the lives of women and other gender minorities a living hell because they know that they will get away with it as they are the most privileged gender.

What role does Media (especially platforms like Instagram/Twitter) play in bringing change towards the notion of ‘Gender Equality’ and advocating for ‘Gender Rights’?
These platforms are the biggest support and I believe that the amount of change (as a college society) that we were able to bring together was because of social media. This is the platform of connectivity and knowledge. This is where you will find everyone having fun, calling someone out, sharing information, asking for help, etc. this is the easiest way to reach a mass in a very short span of time.

Can you sum up your journey with WDC in few words?
WDC brought the most important change in my life. I knew and I was aware of the problems that women go through in general in society but after I was appointed as the president of the society, I realized the politics and the root cause of all the problems that all the gender and every human being are facing in some form or the other only because of their sex or gender.
I have learned a lot in this journey. WDC also gave direction to my clueless wandering about what to do in my life! It made me believe and now I am certain that I want to work in the field of gender equality.

How has been the experience of conducting and heading the first two Pride March celebration for consecutively two years in patriarchal institutions? What hurdles did you face?
It was such an adventurous experience that I was shocked, surprised as well as happy to see the reaction and responses of people from all the colleges. Well talking about hurdles, it was definitely not at all an easy task to conduct a pride march in a patriarchal institution like ours. The biggest hurdle was getting permission from the institution. I remember we were struggling for permission till the day before the pride march. Other than that, I think the next biggest problem was the lack of awareness among the students. So, people used to think like, “Oh you are going to participate in pride march, okay, so are you from the community?” If no, then why are you participating at all then? Though it was a slow process we were able to bring a change and successfully conduct a pride march for two consecutive years in our college with good participation and response from the students.

Where do you see the impact of patriarchy the most in your life?
In my house-at my home, it is really tough because though I have been trying but this is a really slow and gradual process and I have been trying to bring an understanding of the facts about gender assigned roles and ingrained patriarchy in our lives and the good part is that my parents do listen to me too now so let’s be positive and keep working on it.

What advice would you like to give to all the women and people of sexual minorities?
I know this is tough work and it takes a lot of effort to speak for ourselves every time instead of sitting back quietly and enjoying our lives and sometimes even I think of giving up and accepting things the way they are but then how will we make this world a warm, welcoming space for our future selves and our next generations? So, we just have to keep doing this work and take one step at a time. In tough times let’s take a break and slow the process but please don’t give up.

Could you tell us about your tenure as the representative of ICC (Internal Complaint Committee)?
In my tenure as the ICC representative, I saw the ground realities and the actual problems faced by the victims of sexual harassment and why they don’t want to come forward to register a formal complaint. I got around 5-6 informal complaints but none of the complainants were ready to come forward and formally register their complaints. Many of the accused were politically influencing figures and complaining against them would mean a threat to the safety of the victim outside the college. In other cases, the victims knew that if she will complain about the accused then they will make their life in college living hell.
And similarly, there are many other problems faced by women and I felt really helpless because I could not do anything about it. Not many people come forward to help in such times because apparently helping in asexual harassment cases will hamper their reputation and will be a ‘jhamela’.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the cases of Domestic Violence have been on a rise. There were even a record number of calls registered on the Government Helpline. Do you think the Indian state is equipped to tackle such grave issues?
No, I don’t think that we are equipped to handle such issues at all. There are extreme forms of domination and violence experienced by women in our country which have increased in this time of the pandemic. Women are not financially stable and independent and this is one of the major causes because of which they are not ready to leave or complain about the abuse. The next problem is the fear of society, what people will say and the matter of home should remain within the four walls of the home. Our society is not at all supportive in such cases. The last thing is that men know that they will get away with it easily and they have also made the victim too dependent on them that they will never go to an extent to complain about it and leave them.
So, it is really clear that these issues are not at all tackled properly otherwise we wouldn’t have seen this surge in the cases of domestic abuse in this pandemic.

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