Japleen is the founder of Feminism in India (FII), a digital intersectional feminist platform that’s available on all social media sites, even a WhatsApp broadcast list. First created as a Facebook page in 2013, Feminism in India has come a long way and now has a large, extremely loyal following.
It all began when Japleen, who was a German Studies lecturer at JNU, Delhi, set out to explore the extensive domain of feminism, especially in India. To her disappointment, however, information about the topic was limited to dense theoretical articles.
Consequently, FII came into being with the clear objective of facilitating a free, easy-to-understand and accessible platform for feminist content, “written by Indian women for Indian women”, as Japleen puts it.
“The idea is to increase the representation of women and marginalised communities on the internet – their stories and histories. We amplify these usually unheard stories using digital storytelling techniques, pop culture references, and new media,” explains the 29-year-old.
But storytelling, despite its digitisation, is a demanding business. As Japleen says, one big hurdle for all online platforms in today’s time is acquiring partners. She expands, “We find it difficult to find clients who want to pay for social media and digital security workshops as well as for issue-based campaigns.”
Another challenge, she says, is ensuring the resonance of the content put up by the FII team with those who need it the most. “Working in the social sector, it is important to keep building diversity and making sure that the privileged do not speak over the voices of the marginalised. The majority of our writers, while women, don’t belong to only the privileged section of society. We have, in fact, instituted an editorial policy in order to centre the voices of the marginalised,” she says.
At FII, she adds, they ensure that “men will not speak for women, upper-castes will not speak for lower-castes and cis-heterosexual people will not speak for the queer community. For too long, dominant communities have controlled the narratives and the stories of marginalised communities.”
FII has uploaded nearly 200 articles so far, focusing on the perspectives of the marginalised. Topics go from gender-based school bullying, to marital rape, to sexism at work.
Ayesha Asif, an aspiring clinical psychologist, is the admin of
@feministflowercrown, an Instagram page that collects quotes and stories centred around the concerns of women’s empowerment, environmentalism, abusive relationships, mental health, casteism and self-love.
“I believe feminism without intersectionality is shallow and self-serving,” says Ayesha. “It is important to consider the various social intersections of wealth, caste, religion and disability while talking about feminism because the oppression of all women is not the same.”
Ayesha’s Instagram page, which has over 20,000 followers, helps facilitate a safe space for victims of any kind of abuse by providing a means for them to come forward and share their stories anonymously.
“As an ally to the marginalised, and also as a supporter of victims of abuse, it is not my job to speak for them. It is my job to step down from my platform and ‘pass the mic’. I feel the need to give space and visibility to the work and emotional labour put in by members of disadvantaged communities to educate us about their struggles instead of me speaking over them,” says Ayesha.
One of the many reasons that Ayesha created the page was to harness knowledge about social issues herself. “I thought of putting myself in the middle of an online activist community that would provide me with the exposure I wanted. And I was right, the journey has been incredibly enlightening,” says Ayesha, who is doing her Bachelor’s in psychology and works at a play school.
In addition to the vast, and equally manifold, avenue of feminism,
feministflowercrown also deals ardently with the concept of mental health. Having suffered from the shallows of depression, the Kanpur-based 22-year-old found herself face-to-face with people’s dangerously ignorant attitude towards mental illness.
She adds, “Seeing this happen first-hand and also to my close friends made me aware of the urgency with which we needed to work towards normalising and destigmatising neurodivergent people seeking help for their disorders.”
The journey that Ayesha has chosen to embark on is a strenuous but a necessary one. The mere realisation that her page holds the potential to create a positive change in even a single person is what keeps her going.
In fact, Ayesha is now planning to expand the scope of the page to set up workshops in schools about sex education and warning signs of unhealthy or toxic situations. She also plans on teaming up and volunteering with NGOs.
“More than tackling sexuality, I was invested in creating a space to discuss vulnerabilities that women have regarding their bodies,” says Anushka Kelkar, the Mumbai-based admin of a fascinating Instagram account,
@browngirlgazin. Anushka’s objective was to click and share more honest portraits of people who identify as women and to redefine beauty.
The problem, Anushka elaborates, is that women don’t quite find themselves represented enough, authentically at least, in popular media. Recalling her own experience, the 21-year-old adds, “When I was younger, I often felt that my body was very different from all the ‘beautiful’ women I saw on TV, or in the media that I consumed. They all looked flawless in a way that I found impossible to replicate – skinny but with curves in all the right places, glowing, fair skin with no blemishes, long hair that never had split ends like mine.”
This scenario diminished women’s self-confidence and magnified their need to create, or rather feign, perfection – at least online.
Anushka, owing to her work as a photographer, was able to detect that in order to forge this supposed online perfection, people often curate their personalities, thoughts, and even insecurities.
Her college experience opened her eyes to the insecurities women deal with every day – about having dark skin, being overweight or having pimples to the ‘problem’ of body hair. Her page became a way to highlight and even celebrate these issues, and to make it a kind of cathartic outpouring for the women in the pictures.
The response came quickly: scores of comments identifying with the pictures and thousands of followers within months.
browngirlgazin has two meanings for me – it alludes to the stereotypes and pressures that often come with being seen as a ‘brown girl’ or being an Indian woman today. On the other hand, I also wanted to imply that I was the brown girl who was gazing at all the women around me, trying to re-construct my own gaze and understand what it means to be a brown girl,” says the Ashoka University alumna.
Photographs become strangely unnerving, Anushka expands, because one almost always fails to visualise what one might look like in them. “Expectations and reality hardly ever intersect.”
First published in eShe magazine