At what point in your life did you consider yourself a feminist? Was it an event or a process?
I think I was always a feminist. My younger years of facing violence and social attitudes of disrespect for my identity as a girl made me understand inequality from a young age and work towards being more equality oriented.
Who most influenced your awareness of your feminism?
My grandmother. She constantly made me think. It was March 8, 2007. International Women’s Day, and it had coincided with a festival specific to my community where women follow a small ritual praying for the longevity of the men in their lives. I asked her where this occasion had its origins, and the story was told to me, once more.
I was enraged.
I mean, did this woman not have self-respect? Why run after a man’s life after that? Would he love her as much, would he do this much for her?
My grandmother smiled when I asked her this, my angry face must have amused her abundantly. What she told me has pretty much shaped the way I think today. Savitri did what she wanted, and because she was so sure of what she wanted and acted on it in free will, she was empowered like no one else. She had the capacity to love, and so unconditionally at that, that even Death was shamed into returning what he had sought to steal. Love like Savitri’s did not discriminate, it did not think about parochial considerations such as gender or identity, it did not think about anything that could contain or pigeon-hole it. Instead, it acted, it proved to be the fulcrum for something so poignant, so sincere, so pure that precious little could take away from it.
That day, my grandmother redefined my myopic feminism: It is just a promoter of equality.Not absolute equality or the warped notion that a man = woman = man = woman. But rather, equality warts and all. Equality among equals, equality of respect and value, and equality of worth. It isn’t about denouncing a man because he is a man, or upholding a woman because she is a woman. It is, rather, about being considerate to the human being – no matter what attributes maybe involved.
In what ways has your feminism informed your life choices?
It has made me more empathy and compassion driven, and has made me strengthen my own understanding of the needs of people around me, and to work for it with dedication.
In what ways do you share your feminism with others?
In that I believe that everyone in the world has a place in the sun, and that at the end of the day all of us need food, shelter, clothing, education and safety for ourselves and our loved ones. I believe in collaborating, not competing.
Describe your vision of a feminist world.
A world of equality, respect and peace, where gender is not a disabler, and is not an enabler at the cost of any right.
How I Define Feminism:
Feminism is Equality.
Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, writer and artist based out of Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative working for gender equality through storytelling. She is also the author of two books (fiction) called The Dove's Lament and Stories of Hope, and the author of three non-fiction books centred around gender, peace and international law. Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Award (gold, silver and bronze) from President Barack Obama. Her interest and experience over all lie in Afghanistan, the Middle East, DR Congo and South-Asia.