Freedom is subjective; it has more than one definition. As a citizen in a committed democracy, it may be the right to walk down unaccosted to the local polling booth and vote for the election candidate of your choice. As an employee in a developing nation, it may be the right to go home on time and be paid fair wages for your work. As a young person in a conservative land, it may be the right to choose one’s own profession or partner without having to battle an army for it. As a child anywhere, it may be the right to an education and to be brought up without abuse or neglect. As a husband or a wife, it may be the right to one’s personal space – without having to tussle over the blanket.
Whatever your political stance, private values or public choices, freedom has an intensely personal connotation for all of us. We speak to Indian women from different walks of life and from all across India on what freedom means to them.
Freedom, to me, comes in many formats. Physical freedom means to be able to roam our world as we please, go where we want, whenever we want, wearing whatever we want, without a threat to our person or our lives. Mental and emotional freedom means to be free of family pressures and societal norms, and truly create our lives exactly as we please. Freedom of opportunity is to have equal rights to education, career, relationships, and positions of power, irrespective of gender, caste and sexuality. We as a country are far from freedom on all counts, and the oppressor is our mindsets. Things are changing slowly, for the better and the worse. Maybe this is the storm before the calm.
Freedom for me as a woman and as a professional is about making my own choices and the world letting me live with them. I’m not talking about the good choices, the pat-on-the-shoulder choices, the “always right” choices. I’m talking about terrible choices, the ones who might not work, the ones that might not make sense and mostly, the ones that will help me make the right choices in the future by being stepping stones. And only, if only, the world will let me be happy with my own choices without pointing to the other side and calling it green.
Freedom from fear, freedom to love, freedom to walk away, freedom to draw my lines, freedom to make art, freedom to share, freedom of access, freedom from questions, freedom to question, freedom to be silent, freedom to have the last word – every one of these is a freedom that I try to negotiate, every day, in all my capacities and identities. I don’t hold my identity as ‘Indian’ over any other, as I spent most of my life in other countries. And I hold each individual’s personal autonomy to be a self-evident truth, always.
To me freedom is the ability to think for myself, to do what I wish of my life, to spend my time as I choose, judiciously or otherwise. As a woman, freedom to me is the ability to earn my living, to choose whether I want to be a mother or not and at what point in my life, to choose my life partner, to be able to step out of my home at any time and know that I will be safe. As a writer, freedom to me means putting down words as they come to me, without scratching them out, toning them down, worrying about how they might be interpreted or misinterpreted. Freedom to me is still ephemeral, still a destination, still a journey.
History buff, editor and filmmaker
There are many freedoms given to us. As long as you conform. But a freedom that a set of people do not get is the freedom to be themselves. If you are man or woman, your freedoms are yours to exploit or give away. Yes, women in India aren’t exactly free. There is denial, a societal oppression. However, for transgender people, the oppression is deeper. A denial of the right to be oneself, the right over one’s own body and a suppression of identity.
I am a transwoman. I was designated male at birth, although I’ve felt less and less comfortable in that role. I believe (and to a certain extent, medically it is true) I am more female than male. But growing up in the 80s and 90s in a middle-class south Indian family, I was denied this right to even explore my identity. I do not have agency of myself. I cannot dress, behave, and express myself as a woman without inviting the scorn or judgement of strangers and family.
Freedom is the recognition that there are no binaries. There is a continuing spectrum. A pantheon of gender possibilities and sexual orientation. And that we each are a different shade of pink, blue, red, black, white. Freedom is a society that does not care if you conform to it.
Freedom as a woman means to be able to walk on roads without constantly being on high alert against stalkers, harassers and roadside Romeos. I am okay if this freedom is given at least during the daytime to begin with! Sadly, this menace seems to have no age bar – I thought I’d be safe as I grew older but that does not seem to be the case. Freedom as a woman and a professional also means the right to have my opinions sought, listened to and valued at home and at work without being viewed through “woman-tinted filters”, and decisions taken with my opinions (if relevant) counted and, most importantly, acknowledged. It means to be able to do my job without having to imitate the behaviours of the opposite sex – working for long, unearthly hours, bonding at after-work official parties, and so on. It means having power to act and shape workplace rules and environment to harmonize with my equally important roles as a wife, a mother, a daughter and daughter-in-law.
Freedom for me as a woman and a working professional is freedom from fear. The many fears that haunt the lives of women like me – fear of physical safety, fear of having to succumb to social pressures, fear of losing hard earned financial independence and the fear of losing that elusive game called ‘Balancing It All’. It is noise of these fears that distracts us and makes us lose clarity and direction. It is these fears that make us hedge when the time comes to step up and take what’s ours with pride. The ability to be fulfilled emotionally, creatively, professionally without any of these fears defines independence for me.
Freedom to me is essentially having choices and being able to exercise those choices. It means to be able to walk out of office when I want a cup of coffee. It means to live the choices I have made with gratitude every day – and also to have more choices to change the choices I had first made!
First published on TheNewsMinute.com