Ignorance is all around me, in my home. I’ve always been a stern believer of progressive values and systems. I have been blessed in my life to have had the opportunity to make friends from across countries, castes, religions and classes. Every dissimilarity that I come across makes me more intrigued to understand that dissimilarity, rather than push it away. I often wonder how did I become like this? Because people around me aren’t like that.
These people are my family members, close and distant alike. I hardly engage in passionate debates and discussions with my parents, because more often than not it ends in me being frustrated. I stay in my room, reading books, watching shows and engaging in occasional political conversations with them. However, sometimes such conversations render me unable to keep my mouth shut.
A few weeks ago, while at a dinner party hosted by my dad’s friend, the topic of mental health came up. Now someone who has been open about her anxiety and depression publicly, this topic hits home, or so I thought it did. My dad was quick to dismiss mental health as hogwash. He believed that depression is something that happens to everyone and is just exaggerated by many. That was when I decided to break my unofficial Maun Vrat with him and vomit out facts and figures about mental health. What took me aback was that he somehow refused to easily accept or believe FACTS. He looked at me sceptically when I said that psychology is a science subject. I never realised how strongly engulfed he was in the cloud of his own ignorance that nothing could easily disperse it.
I recently took on an internship where I would be visiting slum areas and other under developed institutions for research. My dad and his friend both made a similar statement upon hearing this : “I would NEVER go to a slum”. I am not sure whether it was said with distaste and disgust towards slums or just an unwillingness to visit somewhere unpleasant. What I do know is, the statement was a prime example of their privilege. My dad’s friend sat opposite me for about 45 minutes, sipping some good black coffee and dishing out some weird notions at the same time. The notions and theories were each fantastical to listen to while also constantly bringing out the expressions of horror and confusion on my face. If you’re someone who’s faint of heart and easily frustrated, I would suggest avoiding reading anything further from here.
The first topic we touched was somewhat loosely related to sexism and rape. I had barely mentioned the recent cases we saw of Hindu babas being accused and convicted of rape when I got the best insight about the nature and truth of such incidents. The theory put forward by my dad’s friend is that women go to these Babas to get blessings to get pregnant. The baba, being the great sacrificer he is, takes them to a room and you know, gives them his blessings to get pregnant and they all have fun. Now if the girl gets pregnant then all well and good but if she doesn’t then what can you do?
What I think he was insinuating with this was that many rape cases stem from the failure of the baba to get these women pregnant. Now there are so many holes in this theory to point out, but I didn’t point out even one. Instead, I found myself politely nodding and smiling at the whole conversation, praying for this topic to change. This is how I find myself at every family discussion. Uncles and aunties, some of the best conspiracy theorists, enlightening me with their new theories and ideas and I just take it all in with a smile and (much needed) drink in my hand. But slowly and slowly, what I realised was that my silence was one of the biggest enablers of the growing ignorance around me.
I have been so engrossed in changing people’s mindsets, people who are someone else’s uncle, aunty, father, mother etc that I forgot to first look at my own set of uncle and aunts. I always remained silent because most of the theories that came out of anyone’s mouth was never backed up by facts or knowledge. Anytime I tried to rebut them with facts, I got told off for being ‘too by the book’ or ‘too hung up on so called accuracy’ or ‘too factual’. My relatives had convinced me that being someone who relies on facts, research and credibility was a great disadvantage I possessed while viewing the world and the issues in it. There are also issues which according to them aren’t even ‘real issues’. Once my father said that LGBTQ rights is mostly an issue for the western world. The Indian society has bigger things to worry about such as rape, unemployment etc. My frustration burst out in the form of me yelling out figures related to India of those who came out as openly gay before section 377 got overturned and showing him articles about discrimination that many face across the country. My dad just looked at me and decided to stay shut. It was hard for me to analyse whether the silence was because he had no rebuttal or because he just saw this as a useless conversation and didn’t want to change his views. Silence is something I get from my dad a lot during such debates.
There are so many stories I have of relatives throwing notions at me which would annoy anyone who believes in change for this country. The annoyance also stems from the realisation that these stubborn relatives of ours are voters, who have the ability and responsibility to hold those in power accountable. Maybe thats why accountability eludes our politicians, because these voters elude reality. When my relatives proudly believe that the incidents I mention of female foeticide, rape, dowry, acid attacks in villages are ‘just a few isolated incidents’ and that ‘our villages our largely modern and perfectly fine’ then how can I expect any change to happen? The same corrupt politicians, masked by different party symbols will keep coming to power, making no change whatsoever around us. If one believes female devotees accusing babas of rape are just devotees who couldn’t get pregnant, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when the voice of wrong is stronger than the voice of right on the streets.
This reality of ignorant family members is worrying and scary. Many would argue with me that our elders have seen the world and we should be respectful to them and their views at all times. But what if they haven’t seen the world? What if they haven’t ever read a book or newspaper in their life but continue throwing such absurd views at you? Am I suppose to sit back and just accept whatever they say even when I know its wrong and hateful? Nobody gets a certificate of absolute knowledge based on their age. Your age or family relation tag shouldn’t enable you to hold views that are untrue, sexist, bigoted and ignorant. If you wouldn’t let a friend or even a Facebook friend get away with such views then why a family member? The level of confidence they display while holding such views is immensely worrying. No matter how many times I try to rebut something with facts, even if I open up the god damn articles on my phone for them, they don’t budge.
Don’t let your relatives convince you that their age and relation to you makes them synonym for knowledge and morality. Don’t let them convince you that your loyalty to facts and figures is blinding you. Don’t let them convince you that you have to sit in silence and nod while they speak about rape incidents actually being displeased women who couldn’t get pregnant. Its natural to want to maintain peace at home, because if many of us start holding our parents and relatives accountable for what they say, then dinner tables will either be surrounded by awkward silences or dinner plates being thrown around. But it is worth it and something we owe to ourselves and to those who become victims of the growing ignorance around us.
Most of all, speak up and now question the ignorance around you, even when its people you know and love. Because lets admit it, we all still love our relatives. But we shouldn’t let them convince us that there are two types of realities, theirs and ours. Reality is one and we all have to live in it together, so we should work towards building a better reality together and sometimes by going against each other.