THE VOICE OF A GENERATION: AN AFTERNOON WITH GURMEHAR KAUR
On February 22, 2017, a little over a year ago, 20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur posted a picture on social media holding a placard that read, “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student in India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP.” What was meant to be an act of solidarity towards her friends and peers who had been attacked during a peaceful protest at Ramjas College by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad turned out to be a turning point in Kaur’s life? Now, more than a year later, Gurmehar Kaur has led a Ted talk, spoken at the Jaipur Literature Festival, and written a book titled Small Acts Of Freedom, all while attending college. We decided to get familiar with the woman who has braved it all and emerged as the voice of a generation.
1. So, how did this all happen?
There was a protest happening at Ramjas College in Delhi University, and some of my friends asked me if I wanted to participate since I was part of the activist circuit. At the time, I refused because I had assignments to submit. So I went to a coffee shop instead, switched off my phone, and decided to work. When I got back to my hostel and switched on my phone, I was bombarded with messages about the violence that had happened at the protest. Friends who had gone for the protest were telling me how their kurtas were ripped, how they were charged with lathis and the brutality of it all. I guess, you could say that at that point I experienced a little bit of survivor’s guilt, but more than that I wanted to show solidarity and some sort of resistance to the violence that was exhibited on student campuses. So, I posted a picture of myself on social media, holding a placard that said that I wasn’t afraid of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
2. In your book, you talk about how the picture you shared of a placard that expressed your stance of #StudentsAgainstABVP changed the focus from the brutality that had happened to nationalism and you. Why do you think that is?
Because that is an easier conversation to have. The reality is that there were so many eyewitnesses, so many videos, so many journalists who had witnessed the brutality that was shown by the right-wing and ABVP goons, it was just easier to shift the conversation to nationalism rather than take responsibility for what happened. I understand why they were talking about nationalism when it came to me because the situation was similar to the Jawaharlal Nehru University agitation but this was different because the right-wing didn’t actually have the veil of nationalism to hide behind.
3. What was the scariest part of the whole ordeal?
It was definitely the rape threats. I didn’t expect that, and that too in such large numbers. When a lot of men are directing vulgar and vile profanities at you, expressing in detail how they want to harm you sexually, it is traumatic and it scars you. I am still dealing with that trauma and that insecurity.
4. Did you feel uncontrollable anger at this point?
I was angry the whole time. But, more than that, I could not understand how it was okay for this conversation to even take place. And I think I was just trying to make sense of the whole thing. How did we even get here? We have been working towards women’s safety with programs like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, and numerous awareness and sensitization initiatives after the Nirbhaya case, but when something like this happens you realize that none of it has worked. We have regressed as a society.
5. Do you think you were lucky because you weren’t demonized to the extent that a lot of others are?
I don’t think it was luck. I think I have to give credit to my family for encouraging me to speak up and not hide. That gave me the confidence to never stop talking. And in my book, Small Acts Of Freedom, I talk about exactly that - the strong female voices that I have grown up with. I am lucky to be born into this family because we know how to stand our ground.
6. You have now become an inspiration for so many. Are there any authors or speakers who inspire you?
There are so many people I absolutely love - Karuna Nundy, Shashi Tharoor, Arundhati Roy, my editor, Manasi is someone who I look up to so much because of the way she has lived her life. Priyanka Gandhi and Fatima Bhutto are two women that I relate to a lot because both of them have experienced tragedies and come out stronger. Priyanka Gandhi overcame her tragedy through forgiveness while Fatima Bhutto overcame hers through writing and activism, and I have done both of those things.
7. What is next on the cards?
I do want to study more because education is really important to me. The subject I choose to pursue my masters in is the life path I will choose. But, I will definitely write more, and I do look forward to doing work that brings about a change in society, whether it is through law, writing or journalism.
8. Is joining politics an option?
I am not sure at this point because I am so young. But, it is definitely not something I will dismiss. Who knows what will happen three years down the line?
9. What do we need to do as a country or a generation to make sure people speak up?
The most important thing that we need to do is to realize that this is our future that we’re talking about, especially the younger generation. Whether it is someone changing the currency overnight or the matter of women’s safety - we, as a generation, need to realize that no one is going to clean up the mess for us. One cannot be passive about what’s happening because this is the life you’re giving your future generations. We live in a democracy; we are the ones who have placed our leaders in those positions, and we have the power to bring them down, so we need to use our voice.
10. What’s your go-to style like? Do you think ANOMALY fits that profile?
I am a big advocate for sustainability. ANOMALY’s clothes are sustainable, environment-friendly, and breezy and that’s what I love about them. Every piece is beautiful and classy. And more than anything else, these clothes make me feel more confident.
Thanks Gurmehar for sharing your inspiring story with us!
Follow Gurmehar: @gurmeharrr
Style and Concept: Aishwarya Dravid @aishwaryadravid
Photography: Aastha Manchanda @manchandaa