In the third episode of ‘Me, the Change’ podcast, gender activist, author and poet Kamla Bhasin speaks up about being sexually abused as a child, the loss of her daughter and her work in the field of women empowerment.
At the age of four, Bhasin says, a male domestic helper made her sit on his lap and sexually abused her.
"“After that, over the next four years, 12 or 13 men, all connected to the family – teacher, tailor, father’s friend, older brother’s friend – did the same.”" - Kamla Bhasin
She says, "So when people ask now why women are speaking ten years later, I say it took me forty years to speak up. It’s because of the women’s movement that this is possible. Soon, this 10 will reduce to two, and one, and eventually young women will speak up on the same day and say, ‘Stop.’"
Growing up, Bhasin says she never conformed to gender norms – she climbed trees, played with boys, and dressed in ‘boys’ clothes’.
‘Still Don’t Know What I’d do to Those Men’
Bhasin describes that she used to imagine what she would do to the men who had abused her. She says:
"“I wrote a book later, called, If only someone broke the silence. In it, I asked – I was an extrovert. I lived with my family with six brothers and sisters… How come I didn’t tell anybody about it? And I made a list of these thirteen fellows, and thought about what I’d do to them all the time. When I grew up and became strong, (I thought about) what I’d do to these fellows, and I still do not know the answer.”"‘We Don’t Protect Boys Like We Protect Girls’
“I really feel that what stops us often is our own fear. That’s why I like the title of your podcast – ‘Me, the Change’. Really it has to be me, the change. It can’t be, ‘You, the government, you change’. Or, 'you, the police, change.’”
"... So ‘Me, the Change’ is something I’ve been saying and working for for 45 years. Encouraging them to change themselves. We have to walk on the two legs of change i.e. me, the change and society, the change. My emphasis has been on changing yourself."
"“With more conversation around the topic, what they’re discovering is – in many states like Kerala, they’re finding that more boys would have been abused. When you have girls, you take care of them. You don’t let them step out. But with boys, you don’t do the same thing. As a woman I can speak out, but they can’t speak. It goes against their masculinity.”" - Kamla Bhasin
On her Daughter’s Battle with Depression
Meeto Bhasin Malik took her own life in 2006 after a battle with depression. In Kamla’s words, Meeto was “a combination of masculine and feminine” that the activist herself could never be.
“She grew up in the Rishi Valley school, vegetarian (school) , in a rural area, no uniforms, no exams till Class IX, and only 300 children. From there, she came to St Stephens (college) to do history. Got a fellowship to go to Oxford. Came back, worked for 3 years in South Asia. She worked for an organisation called Seher. She worked with the Ford Foundation for reproductive rights and women’s rights.”
Kamla says that her daughter Meeto developed clinical depression but stopped taking medicines after sometime. “And the next time depression came back, she committed suicide. That’s been the biggest tragedy of my life and I feel that if I didn’t have this work, I would have perhaps collapsed.”
In the same month as Meeto’s death, Kamla’s marriage hit troubled waters. Her husband, who suffered from manic depression or bipolar disorder, got “involved with another woman who was the same age as my daughter,” the activist says.
The couple’s other child Chotu, 38, is entirely dependent on Kamla. At the age of one, he developed cerebral palsy after a bad reaction to a vaccine. He is confined to a chair, and cannot eat or function without help.
‘Look What We’re Up Against’
Kamla says that she was really happy when she saw that one of her interviews with actor Aamir Khan had been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube.
“I thought, “Wow! That’s great! Aamir Khan’s star power has made me popular!” The next day I saw somewhere that a silly fight between some actress and her sister-in-law had been viewed 12 million times.”
"“I can’t even begin to imagine that 12 million Indians would be interested in listening to this stupid fight. So when we talk about social media campaigns and ‘Me, the Change’ and all, (I think) ‘Yeah, good idea man!’ But look at what we’re competing with on the other side.” " - Kamla Bhasin
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