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“Achhe Din be damned. Indian women are taking the fight into their own hands, owning their spaces and their voices, making us a force the country cannot afford to ignore anymore,” says Ethel Da Costa.
With 2018 setting the tone for #MeToo in India, the bubble has burst. Women’s voices have moved from being in hushed tones to making headlines. Across India, mighty names have bit the dust. The movement is spilling into boardrooms, and edit desks long subjugated into silence and the politics of shame. Women have spoken boldly, loudly, with the names of their perpetrators pulled out from secret shame diaries, making #MeToo a language of gender equality, at work and at home.
However, hold it right there. Not enough has been done yet, as our country took the No 1 spot on the Thompson Reuters Foundation survey as the world’s most dangerous country for women. And recently, the Oxfam Report which called out India for gross economic inequality and unequal distribution of wealth. A stark truth of our times. So, let not any political bhakt tell you otherwise. The monster has been at play in plain sight!
Let me begin with my own story.
As a 22-year-old I was a driven, ambitious, young woman wanting to use my voice to change the world. Fresh out of University, with the advantage of a global minded multi-cultural influence by being born and raised abroad, and just starting to explore myself and who I wanted to be, my marriage happened.
He was 26. After a whirlwind courtship, much to the protest of my father, I had gotten married. I was an idealistic woman, you see. Together (so I thought) we would change the world. But, life decided that it had to teach me to change myself first.
The average Indian male believes that a wife is different from a girlfriend. A wife is seriously his ‘property’. To hold as collateral, to barter against family, to cater to his needs, to abuse and damage at will. I was an educated girl. In fact, more educated than he was. But abuse does not check your degree, your college achievements, or designation, your community or country. Abuse does just that, abuse your self worth.
Each abuse, physical, verbal and emotional, committed on my body and spirit by my perpetrator was to reinstate my worthlessness. Because I had not brought dowry enough to afford a life of comfort. I was not of the same caste, class and social stature. I was not good enough in the kitchen as a cook, not good enough to give in to conjugal demands at his will, not good looking or stylish enough as the wives and girlfriends of friends and family, not wife enough to sacrifice my own dreams to lift his up. Every time I was violated, it was because it was my fault.
At 24, as a victim of shock, shame, and self blame, I had truly began to believe that I was not good enough for anything. So I contemplated suicide. And in fact even tried it once. I had disappointed myself, my parents, those who believed in me.
I distinctly remember the night – when I finally decided at 28 that I had had enough and would not be a crime statistic – my father came to take my battered self home. He reminded me that I was not alone. He reminded me that he extremely proud of me. I was 28, and a battered single mother of two daughters. I began my arduous journey as a single mother with no financial or emotional support from the ex and his family, to cope with. It was also the biggest challenge of my young life. It would either make or break me forever.
I have never looked back at that life since, or, that person, ever again. Today, I am still single and proud.
Much changed for me in my 30s, working head to shoulder with bosses who were men, whilst trying to put my life and career on track, with two little girls to support, and to play both mother and father to. The strength and stamina that I needed to multi-task between these daunting roles, was nothing short of superhuman.
Our society frowns on divorce, especially on a divorced woman, even if that is a woman who seeks divorce from abuse. I had to stand up against that, and found the mental strength in spirituality, and heeding a deep call or purpose, I found blossoming from all of that dark pain. I found a fire in me that I used to fuel myself – because being a single parent in India needs firepower every single morning you step out of your door to fight the battles of survival, to put food on the table, a roof over your head, and clothe those who are dependent on you.
The spiritual strength I found expressed itself in my book around the time I turned 40 – ‘Eve’s Revenge- Stories of Nemesis’ that willed itself to be told, opening up my shame and raw pain to the world.
Why do women have to suffer alone? Because I’m often told by women, and know so from experience as a survivor of abuse and sexual harassment, that our battle is solo fought. It is us against the world.
Even as I fought to survive and thrive as an aware, awakened, feminine goddess all through my 20s, 30s and 40s, making my own voice my weapon despite the social harassment, I realised that I had to take my power into my own hands, take full ownership for my identity, willing all of my inner goddesses to rescue my outer persona to fight this battle I had been chosen for.
Throughout my 25-year-old media career, that took me from a Goan newspaper Herald to the Times of India verticals of lifestyle, fashion and radio, across the varied other designations my work found me, I have been battling prejudices. In India they take all kinds of forms and bodies. Like shape-shifters. And yet it has been my conscious give-back to watch out for my women colleagues working with me because I have been there. A choice made from a sense of personal empowerment which translates into professional empowerment.
This stance has found me friends, well-wishers, and haters. An occupational hazard I’ve learnt to deal with. It has only made me stronger. It has also made me often question – What then is the plight of less educated girls and women who have no recourse to law, counsel, resolve or justice!?
Owning up to my own brand of feminism are battle scars I wear with pride and elan. My constant self analysis a muscle I exercise every single waking day of my life. Being a head-strong mother to two head-strong young daughters is also an exercise in self learning, as I continue to determine that only actions speak louder than words. Therefore, what do your actions speak for!?
Being blunt, straight forward, and calling out hypocrisy as I see it has its price to pay. It is not a burden I frown upon, but a strength that has empowered me to ask more questions and bulldoze through corruption. Because while we, as urban women, find comfort in our education and experiences as a means to empowerment, I also see first hand that our rural sisters continue to struggle just for the right to be born and for staying alive. As a communicator, in my professional spaces for the not-for-profit partners I work with, I find myself with this stark reality.
Therefore they are these struggles that inspire me today to do better as a person, and as a media woman to contribute in the real world with my voice, words, experiences and skills. This is my give-back to why I, and we, have to stand in solidarity with all women, to inspire more women to contribute in action and deed.
Why it is important for me, and for more women, to look beyond ourselves, and reach out to others to help put the broken back on their feet?
Because there is more to me than just being a feminist and “burning a bra”, which anyway is a stereotype for a feminist. It is how I live every day of my life in service to my own beliefs in practise, and uplift those who lean on me, because I can. It is this role and responsibility that needs more from us, collectively, in this age of our sisterhood. Question everything!
Editor’s note: Feminism has exploded over Indian screens and minds in the last few years, bringing what was considered an ‘uncomfortable’ topic into everyday speech, with all its hues and forms, warts and all. Wonder of wonders, it is even becoming an accepted way of life!
In this series, we invite women of note who’ve made a mark in their respective fields to share their Feminism – how they have experienced it, and how their view of it has evolved over the years.
Ethel Da Costa is an award winning Lifestyle & Fashion journalist and influencer, media entrepreneur, and Founder-CEO of Think Geek Media – a Lifestyle & Fashion content media company which believes in a passionate and spirited outlook towards content with quality and purpose.
This is the second article in the series.
Want to know what our other feminists say? Read the thoughts of Sowmya Rajendran here.
Image credit: Ethel Da Costa
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Ethel Da Costa is an award winning Fashion & Lifestyle Journalist-Influencer, Media Entrepreneur and Founder-
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