India Dissents: How People Found New Ways to Resist Old Norms in 2020
“I asked my older cousin to give me a glass of whiskey.”
The Swaddle asked people across India how they spoke truth to power, found their voices, and stood up for themselves in 2020. In this installment, how three people dissented in unconventional, surprising ways.
I was born in Haryana, and there’s a joke I tell my friends: “Agar main ek ghar chor ke paida hui hoti toh paida hi nahi hui hoti” (if I had been born in the house next to mine, I probably wouldn’t have been born at all). It’s funny because it’s true.
[In Haryana], there is a deep contempt for non-vegetarian food, especially for women. A large part of Haryana is convinced that it has a corrupting influence on vagina owners. I was told early on that our ancestors do not approve of the consumption of meat, especially beef. As I grew up, [I realized] this was just an unsophisticated way of saying “It’s a food item consumed by Muslims, and since our personalities are based on hating them, we must regard it as a grotesque food item that shall not be consumed.”
It’s funny how a lot of people seem to think that food isn’t political.
This year I consumed as much beef I could, particularly to piss off my dead ancestors. In some parts of Haryana depending on your caste, class, and gender you can still lose your social standing, limb, or an eye merely by talking about eating beef. I try to eat as many varieties of meat, not because I care for food. I just do not understand religion or tradition deciding what I put in my mouth. We put a lot of onus on our ancestors in my culture; and the purpose of my existence is to spite them, even if I could still get stabbed for it.
— Smriti, 25
I’m not sure my story is as ballsy as other people’s, who went out onto the streets to fight for what they believe in. My biggest fight was at home this entire year, beginning from the CAA/NRC protests. We have all been forced to share a roof with people who have such different views than us, especially in a time when the country is going through so much. Every conversation has been a heated debate. Shit really hit the fan when I had to listen to Aaj Tak blasting through the house every day, calling Rhea Chakraborty a bitch, a temptress, and whatnot. As a young woman, it was deeply disturbing to see a woman like us get harassed and villainized on national television.
I tried telling my family that we should not be engaging with this because it enables them. I began by explaining how it was emotionally affecting me. Every time, I would get the same answer: “Ab jo TV pe aa raha hai, hum dekhenge. Hum kya kar sakte hain.” (If it’s on TV, we’re obviously going to watch it. What can we do about it?”) So, one day, my brother and I out of the blue decided to go ahead and cancel the [channel] subscription altogether. And so we did! We braced ourselves for a huge scolding or arguments, but funnily enough — no one noticed! It wasn’t that people in my family were actively seeking the tamaasha (show); they were just silent spectators and unaware consumers of the propaganda.
— Shruti Aggarwal, 20
My dad’s side of the family is orthodox and very controlling. This is a stark contrast from my upbringing, my mother being the more unconventional parent. I could go so far as to say that my parents are staunch atheists.
I gave this background for you to understand the type of family I have to bear. Now, it was a New Year’s party when the incident happened. The women in the family, unlike my mother, are very reserved about drinking, like they don’t drink at all. Still, in an attempt to act somewhat ‘cool,’ they served red wine to the women, which most of my aunts refused. I asked my older cousin to give me a glass of whiskey. (I was an adult already, just to clear it up.) He was visibly uncomfortable and kept asking me to drink red wine. On my repeated requests, he asked me to seek permission from my father, which felt really humiliating because nobody else was subject to this treatment. However, I am stubborn so I asked him once again, sternly and he obliged. Now, here I am, sitting with a glass of whiskey and I notice one of my uncles stealing glances. So I paid attention and I noticed that all my uncles kept staring at me and my glass. My reaction was honestly, “What the fuck?!”
— M.R., 19