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the feminist issue

ISSUE # 14 • SPRING 2017

INDIA NOW

AN EXCLUSIVE WITH RUPI KAUR

COMMUNITIES OF BELONGING

HASAN MINHAJ

Vision Beyond Years with the feminist immigrant poet.

How India embraces the Third Gender & more we might not know about.

What we really think // love about everything he said.

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY MALIN FEZEHAI 1 // s pring 2017


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01 Editor’s Note

FEATURE

CONTENTS

14 Communities of Belonging

FEATURE

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Ishita Malaviya

Student Movements

Waves of Change: India’s first female surfer.

Delhi University issues dress codes for female students.

ESSAY

How India embraces the Third Gender & the movement coming forward.


ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGRE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY MING NOMCHONG.

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Changing Waters

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

The transformation of marriage ideals & throughts on arranged marriages

Thoughts on his take-no-prisoners roast at the White House Correspondence Dinner.

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Vision Beyond Years

Obliteration of Class

An Exclusive with Rupi Kaur: An Indian immigrant in Canada changing perceptions.

ESSAY

ESSAY

COLUMN

Title of Privilege: Age of privilege threatening to be over.

INTERVIEW 5 // s pring 2017


PHOTO TAKEN IN AFGHANISTAN. PHOTOGRAPHED BY FARZANA WAHIDY.

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EDITOR’S LETTER

JONAKI GUHA 7 // s pring 2017

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IFE IN INDIA HAS ALWAYS BEEN A controversial one. Being a fairly new and independant country, it is still in its growing stages but has accomplished so much more than people know off. LGBTQ rights, transgender rights, women rights, demonitization, political scenarios, messages being conveyed through social media and everyday something new takes over and everyday it changes the world. The issue of feminism is what is addressed in this issue. In this feature we wanted to showcase not the fight but all the accomplishments. Yes, the fights are imbued within the article but the overall achievements is what we want to bring light upon. Ishita Malaviya is India’s first ever female surfer. She was recently showcased in a Nike commercial that was released at a global level. Gauri Sawant is changing the way people think about the Indian transgender community. Her advertisement on adoption by women of the third gender is beyond inspiring. Finally, Rupi Kaur, an Indian immigrant based in Canada is changing the perception of women everyday. She works towards erradicating the notion of ostracizing mensturation as if they are something to be ashamed about and kept in hiding, especially for women in Indian communities. Being an Indian women myself, this issue is of great importance to me and my beliefs. Feminism is something that can have many interpretations and in today’s day is often misconstrued. In my opinion, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feminism, it can be whatever we choose to stand up for. One would think that people would get subjugated with the times but the sad state of affairs is that they still need constant reminder. I’d like to thank each and every person involved in the making of this issue and highly appreciate their input, thoughts, time and work ethic. Feminism is a growing movement & deserves to have the spotlight each and everyday.


MASTHEAD

Editor in Chief Jonaki Guha Digital Director Nancy Miller Managing Editor Aditi Lakhtakia Articles Editor Yumi Abe Art Director Czarina Shartle Associate Editor Carli Morin

Chief Executive Officer Keya Mathew Chief Creative Officer Tyler Smith Marketing Director Rob Campbell Account Supervisor Humanshi Jesrani Director of Strategy Ann Huang Office Manager Liz Waldorf

PHOTO TAKEN IN VARANASI, INDIA PHOTOGRAPHED BY KIM SINHA.

India Now 6380 State Street 29th Floor New York NY 0211.

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Special Thanks to Jon Baun, Maxwell Williams, Jude MartinezIsis Krause, Keate Ryan, Andre Grant, Kanye West, Jim Thoburn, JK Simmons, Brian Nilson and Sacha Simmons.


CARLI MORIN

Carli is from Boston, MA. She got her BFA in Graphic Design and has been providing design support to India. Now ever since its birth. She and her team have worked extensively on all articles of this issue. She works in collaboration with Veronica to get the right aesthetic and feel for the given issue as it is very near to everything she stands for.

TANIYA ARORA

Taniya is from Sydney, Australia. She is an Indian Immigrant over there and is an avid advacate for racism and stereotypes against Indians. She has provided facts and art direction support for all the artciles in this issue and works full time for India Now.

DAVIS GEORGE

Davis is from Bangalore, India. He is a poet, writer and self taught artist. He provided all the material for Ishita Malaviya’s artcile and also did some poetry workshops with Rupi Kaur. He works full time for India Now but also provides a monthly column for Hindustan Times while professing his views on Indian society.

KOMAL MIRANI

Veronica is a photographer from Colombia and has been an advocate for feminist rights and issues ever since high school. She provided photographs for Rupi Kaur and all her work. She works freelance for India Now and a number of other notable publishers.

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VERONICA PEDROSA

CONTRIBUTORS

Komal is from London, UK. She got her BA Honors in Economics and Literature from Exeter University. She is an avid traveller and did extensive research for the article on the ‘third gender’ all over India. She writes freelance for India Now and works almost exclusively through email as she diminishes each corner of the world through her words.

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TO THE EDITOR

To the Editor, Like so many other Americans, I have spent the week in shock, anger, and grief over this week’s events. Each new story of loss is a heart wrenching reminder of the preciousness of every human life. Every one of those thousands of casualties means untold pain to so many others. Now, added to the grief and anger, comes a very sickening dread. Will our country stoop to morality f the terrorists by inflicting similar pain on innocent people of other countries? Will women, men, and children who are unfortunate enough to live under regimes defined as US enemies be subjected to American bombs and missiles? I believe that the guilty should be brought to the account. But I also believe that the US should stand up to our highest principles, not stoop to inflicting carnage on the innocent as the terrorists have done. We are a lawful country, and should operate within international law. We Americans believe in protecting the innocent until proven guilty. We Americans value every human life. I have two children. I believe what we do in the next few days will determine whether they grow up in a world that respects human life, or one that believes that violent retaliation is justified, even if untold numbers of the innocent are killed and maimed in the process.

David Gorelik Sydeney, Australia

To the Editor, “Fairly or not,” wrote Andrew Rice in his profile of New York mayor Bill de Blasio, “a litany of petty uproars — over late sleeping and tardiness; over his forays around the country to position himself as one of the progressive thoughtful leader; over his sniping with Governor Andrew Cuomo — have begun to coalesce into a deadly critique: The mayor can’t manage” (“How Are You Enjoying the de Blasio Revolution?,” December 28–January 10). Reader Sean M. Kennedy felt that the story demonstrated how public opinion of de Blasio has soured unfairly, saying Rice’s account was a “case study of how a subset of New Yorkers (affluent, liberal) drive perception of city despite facts.” Others agreed the perception of de Blasio seemed divorced from reality. “I don’t have a strong opinion of de Blasio,” wrote francis_s. “But I do have a strong opinion about the media’s incessant push against this guy … when there is so much hard data that refutes it. A $900 million surplus that barely gets a mention, while gropy Elmo gets a week’s worth of headlines? Seriously?” Newsday’s Matthew Chayes responded to one particular detail: Rice’s assertion that “the City Hall press corps … has taken to calling him ‘de Blah-Blah-Blah.’ ” “Never heard anyone in Room 9 call Bill de Blasio ‘de Blah-Blah-Blah,’ but it’s a good one!” he tweeted.

Kimbery McDonald Houston, TX (USA)

To the Editor, Rebecca Traister’s column “The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power” articulated the tension between the increasing political prominence of minorities and women and the increasingly scary rhetoric in the 2016 race (December 28 – January 10). “It is not a coincidence that after seven years of a black president, people are calling for lynchings at Republican rallies,” she writes. Many readers took Traister’s description as a warning that political power for minorities and women would not come without struggle. “Well articulated fear that I also share,” wrote Gabriela RM. “People get more dangerous the more desperate they become.” Some thought Traister cherry picked her examples. “It’s odd how in this [story] on the demise of white male power Rebecca Traister doesn’t consider that Rubio & Cruz are Latino,” tweeted the journalist Doug Henwood. “America is a far more just and fair place than this article lets on. Republicans had both houses of Congress and the White House but didn’t move the needle one inch to the right on social issues at all. They didn’t even cut government; the largest unpaid for entitlement in American history, Medicare Part D, was passed by Republicans. Compare the U.S. now to what it was in 2001 when George W. Bush took office. Gays can serve openly in the military and can marry everywhere, millions more people have insurance, alternative energy that is more and more prevalent.” Others felt Traister’s depiction was spot on. “This article is a pretty good summation of the creeping dread I’ve felt during this election cycle,” tweeted Atchesonate.

Zachery Mckibben New York, NY (USA)

PHOTO TAKEN IN MUMBAI, INDIA PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEVE MCCURRY.

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PHOTO TAKEN IN MUMBAI, INDIA PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEVE MCCURRY.

Rheanne D’souza Mumbai, India

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To the Editor, As the author of “Good Catholic Girls,” spotlighting the courageous efforts of Catholic women challenge the sexism in what is arguably the most patriarchal institution on the planet, I was shocked that Martha Schwendener, in her review of “Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists” (Feb. 26), castigated “writing about women only among their (women) peers” as something that “can actually limit the scope of their achievement” and as representative of “feminism as a ghetto rather than a springboard.” On the contrary: Women writing about women’s achievements in fields and institutions where they have been invisible and without voice has been instrumental in calling attention to their exclusion. Schwendener says that this kind of writing won’t “reverse the course of patriarchal art history.” Of course it won’t. But while one book won’t do it, many books, focusing as Donna Seaman does on the work and lives of women artists, can go a long way toward pointing to the desperate need for change.

To the Editor, Colson Whitehead’s fascinating review of George Saunders’s “Lincoln in the Bardo” (Feb. 12) brought to mind a work by Rod Serling in which Abraham Lincoln also played a significant role in the ushering unmoored souls on their final journey. Called “The Passersby,” it is an episode (Season 3, Episode 4) of his 1960s television show, “The Twilight Zone.” Alone in her decaying house on a desolate road, a middle aged woman awaits the return of her second husband, a Confederate soldier, from the war. Soldiers from both sides wounded in battle and, finally, her own husband stop by the house, but none can linger. They are, we realize, all dead, and are passing down the long road ahead. It is Lincoln, the final man on that road —“the last casualty of the war,” as he puts it— who gently and poignantly helps the woman accept her own demise so she can join her husband, who waits for her in the distance. These two works, separated by half a century, speak to Lincoln’s monumentality and to the continued impact of the Civil War in different generations

To the Editor, Thanks for affirming, through the Bookends whole discussion (Feb. 19), that some readings of canonical works are more accurate than others. Thanks, too, for publishing Rivka Galchen’s and Benjamin Moser’s responses to the question of which canonical works are most frequently misread, in which Moser who identifies the “one political theme” that “runs through the whole” of the Bible: “the many ways a nation can be lost” when they forget “the principles of their foundation.” And Galchen recalls that she “didn’t, on... first reading, pay much attention to the way Don Quixote’s delusions often made others suffer.” Galchen’s misreading recalls the one presented to Broadway audiences in the 1960s (the decade before Galchen’s birth) when, in the musical “Man of La Mancha,” Quixote was represented as nobly struggling against “the unbeatable foe” — easily identified, at that time, with the Viet Cong. Delusions, then, were misread as noble ideals, just as cruelty and greed are now being misrepresented as harsh but necessary self-interest. I’m grateful for the correctives that Galchen’s memory and Moser’s quotations from Jeremiah and other prophets offer us.

Naina Bahl Paris, France

Nikki Chan Boston, MA (USA)

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ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGRE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY MING NOMCHONG.


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Ishita Malaviya is India’s first ever female surfer

By Jack Kenyon IFE WITHOUT AN ADVENTURE is boring and it becomes even more satisfying if you combine adventure and serving a cause. Ishita Malaviya — a surfer who teaches fishermen how to ride the waves so they don’t drown is a living example of that. Born in the City of Dreams, Mumbai, Ishita never thought she will be associated with an adventure sport in India but a 2007 meeting with German student part of an exchange programme made it happen. “It was my first year of graduation in journalism from Manipal. One day I ran into a German based exchange student who had come down to India. He knew surfing. I saw him riding the waves and tried the sport. It was thrill and pure fun. That’s how it all began.” That was the beginning of a love affair between Ishita and sea waves. “Life had never been so fun. I really enjoy it,” she said.

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14 // i n d i a n o w . c o m SHITA MALAVIYA IN KARNATAKA, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY TOM PARKER.


PIONEERING INDIAN SURFER ISHITA MALAVIYA IS ONE IN A BILLION AND NOW HER CHILDHOOD CONSTRAINTS ARE A THING OF THE PAST.

“Before they started surfing they used to look up to the big city life. They don’t really know the reality‚” says Ishita‚ who’s now seeing people leave the cities to live besides them. “When they realise what they have, they are just much more empowered to make decisions.”

Expanding after two years, they bought a second board. “By the time we graduated, we couldn’t imagine moving back to the city and doing same nine - to - five job,” says Ishita. Despite finishing with competitive degrees in architecture, she and Tushar decided to officially establish a surf school, a decision both of their parents could not understand. “What is this? You’re becoming beach bums?!” Ishita’s mother would holler at her always whenever they broached the topic. Convinced it was like bungee jumping, an activity you try once, there was little support from either family. Despite the disapproval, they went right ahead anyway, starting the Shaka Surf Club in Udupi, Karnataka (about 300km south of Goa) in 2007. Although the country’s 7,000km of coastline is littered with waves, most people in India do not believe you can surf there. “Everyone just laughed it off,” she says, describing their struggle when they first founded the business. Almost exclusively attracting foreign travellers, most locals were skeptical. A countrywide estimate of surfers sits below 500, a surprisingly low number that has roots in India’s beach culture, which as we know it in the West — ostensibly doesn’t exist. As Ishita explains it, in India you either picnic on the beach or go to Goa, get drunk, and throw beer bottles into the sea; even the concept of swimming in the ocean is foreign. “Most of the fishermen who go out for days on end, they them selves don’t know how to swim.” In the village beside their school, adults are terrified of the water, a fear passed down from one generation to the next. Dedicating space to the locals, gained many of the fishermen’s trust and have taught their children how to swim. “It’s like a community centre for them,” she says. Growing older, these kids are beginning to teach others. With Indian society still based on a caste system a rigid hierarchy you are born into — this rural migration is having an impact on how fishermen view themselves. Considered a low caste, their children often believe they are unlucky to be raised in a tropical paradise. With no life background and little help, Ishita has appeared from nowhere to stamp her country on the surfing map. Nurturing the next generation of girls and boys, she is India’s figurehead for the sport. In her simple pursuit of the good life.

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WHEN YOU’RE BORN INTO a country of 1.25 billion people, it’s hard to imagine being the first person to do anything. So it’s understandable that Ishita Malaviya didn’t believe what she was told, seven years ago. Raised far from a clean ocean, in the heart of congested Mumbai, her childhood was spent studying and doing little else. Travelling south to University, her life twisted upside down in the first year, with the arrival of a German exchange student. “What are you doing with a surfboard in India?” she remembers her boyfriend, Tushar Pathiya, giggling when they saw the student carrying this foreign object. Along with most people she “I thought you had to go abroad to do it,” she says soberly. Eager to be proven wrong, she and Tushar followed that one student to a local temple beside the ocean. In awe, they saw two American yogis out in the water, teaching devotees how to surf. Returning days later to join in, the instructors spoke to Ishita on the beach. In a country of 1.25 billion people, she became India’s first female surfer. “I wasn’t doing it to be a role model, I wasn’t thinking about breaking barriers,” says Ishita, reflecting on years passed since then. “I just enjoyed it.” Now just a sponsored athlete and running her own surf school with Tushar, she’s frequently in the international spotlight for challenging the traditional path expected of all Indian women— consisting of education, marriage, pregnancy — and choosing the road less travelled. She stands out, literally, with a deeply tanned complexion in a country where “everyone glorifies fair skin”. Refusing to be offended by the criticism levelled at her, she laughs at it. “Surfing saved me,” she says. “It changed our lives completely.” After their first taste, she and Tushar got hooked. Pawning everything they could find, they pooled their money together to buy a board. Before classes they would head to the beach with their friends, taking turns; one surfing, the rest clapping. The idea of surfing in India, was absurd to her. With no grand plan in mind, they began teaching others what they were learning.


ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGRE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY MING NOMCHONG.

Refusing to be offended by the criticism leveled at her, she laughs at it. “Surfing saved me!”she says. “It changed our lives completely.”

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Back then surf shops didn’t exist and the idea of a woman going anywhere near one was taboo. Local people, who believe fair skin equates to beauty, were also not used to seeing a young woman get tanned and mocked Malaviya for her colour. ‘A lot of my friends and professors would say “Ishita you have become so dark, so black, you look like charcoal”. ‘I said “are you serious? You think I’m ugly?” That was a little disturbing.’ Fast forward seven years, and Malaviya is posing for photoshoots and sponsored by huge international surf brand Roxy. She also runs her own surf shop with her architect boyfriend, after they both ditched promising professional careers to pursue their passion for the sport. India’s first female surfer will make more waves documentary film about her gender boundary breaking achievements, filmed by award winning best of best cinematographer Dave Homcy, screens at Byron Bay Surf Festival, in NSW. In the movie Malaviya travels with an international group of female surfers including Byron Bay resident Lauren Hill, American director Crystal Thornburg Homcy, conservationist Liz Clark, humanitarian Emi Koch, and yoga teacher Kate Baldwin. The women approached Malaviya totravel with them through Southern India as they documented the ways in which surfing, as well as yoga and ecological creativity, are helping the local people. Hill, who splits her time between her childhood home in Florida and the world class

point breaks of Byron Bay, told Daily Mail Australia the film is ‘the story of five women travelling to India and meeting up with India’s first recognised female surfer’. ‘We are basically going and looking for surf while also volunteering at various orphanages and schools where we share surfing with young kids.’ ‘The ocean has always been a place for the men, they go fish at sea and the women stay at home and it’s never been a place for them so naturally people are apprehensive about women getting in the water,’ Malaviya says as the documentary opens. Malaviya still clearly remembers the first time she defied social norms and got in the clear water. ‘It was really awesome. I hadn’t had that much fun in a really long time, I felt like a kid again. I remember smiling a lot and thinking “yay I am going to do this for the rest of my life”. The 25 year old relished the chance to be out of the ‘crowded and polluted’ city of Mumbai and on the ‘clean and empty beaches’. But that doesn’t mean she found surfing easy to begin with. ‘I sucked, I was really weak because honestly in India our school didn’t promote sports, it was mainly academic... I would get beat up black and blue. The guys were much stronger with their upper body, ‘ she said. She also faced worried questions from her friends and family about what she was doing with her life. ‘First of all our parents didn’t understand the lifestyle. They were like “you tried it once, why did you do it again?”. Malaviya began getting up early every morning to surf and she and her boyfriend Tushar Pathiyan sold most of their possessions to buy the German student’s surfboard once he left India. The more she suffered, the darker her skin got. Malaviya began having to face comments about the way she looked and her role as woman as well as her career choice. ‘In India dark skin is looked down upon. People think fair skin is beauty. A lot of women have tried surfing and enjoy it but one of the biggest reasons they don’t do it again is because they don’t want to get dark.’ Malaviya said. ‘Also, when girls hit puberty families restrict them as they don’t want them in the water with other boys.’ However, as time has gone on Malaviya has seen a change. Just recently she met a mother in water now a handful of women are surfing regularly. She has also been supported by the male surfing community in India, who ask her to surf in local contests.

ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KARNATAKA, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY TARA MICHIE.

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ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KARNATAKA, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY TARA MICHIE.

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“In India dark skin is looked down upon. People think fair skin is beauty. A lot of women have tried surfing and enjoy it but one of the biggest reasons they don't do it again is because they don't want to get dark.” Malaviya said. “Also when girls hit puberty families restrict them as they don't want them in the water with other boys.”


ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGRE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY MING NOMCHONG.

On top of that, she has been inspired to continue her mission to get more women in the water after travelling with the group of international female surfers for the film. ‘I just loved how bold and fearless they are, and I like that they are much more free spirited. They just have that energy, it’s really positive.’ Malaviya may have now won her battle for a place in the water but this week she is faced with a new problem by obtaining a visa in time to make it to Australia for the Byron Bay Film Festival where her story will be shown to a captive ocean-loving audience. ‘I’ve heard about this stuff [Australian surfing]. for so long it would be so nice to be there. ‘When you are in India and you start surfing, when there is no surfing, the only way you can be inspired is to

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watch it online and learn. ‘The best surfers are in Australia—they are the ones we looked up to, they’ve got the vibe and surf culture there too.’ “I think surfing can be a very positive thing for India,” she says. “For the girls who start surfing it’s opening their eyes to a whole new world. There are so many barriers for them— especially once they reach puberty and their interaction with boys can become very limited— but when they’re in the water it can break down some of those barriers.” Malaviya, who is sponsored by surfwear brand Roxy and runs the Shaka Surf Club on the west coast of Karnataka with her partner Tushar Pathiyan, first started surfing in 2007 after a chance meeting with a German exchange student at the university she was attending, who had a board.


ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KARNATAKA, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY TARA MICHIE.

“But now all the kids in the village surf with us. Before‚ none of them were even swimming. They’re conscious of the environment and know how to rescue people from the water. That's the kind of change I want to see.”

the camp now offers a place for visitors to stay in the otherwise remote location, with tents and a beach shelter where travellers can enjoy barbecues and bonfires in the evenings. Pathiyan is keen to set up a Shaka Surf Club in India’s other surfing states, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Malaviya, who grew up in Mumbai, was inducted into the surf lifestyle after visiting the Surf Ashram in Karnataka, founded by American surfer Jack Hebner and run by a group of surfing devotees who have since become known as the “Surfing Swamis”. “We couldn’t afford to stay at the ashram and the lessons were too much for us,” says Malaviya. “But we made a deal with them to bring groups of students from the university in exchange for a group discount. That’s where we came up with the idea of the Shaka Surf Club.” For the next two years Pathiyan and Malaviya shared one surf board between them, learning to surf by watching videos and picking up tips from the Swamis. “We’d take turns; when Tushar was in the water I’d just sit on the beach and clap,” says Malaviya. By the time the couple had graduated from university in 2010 they were completely smitten. “Our parents were like what? What is surfing?” says Malaviya. “They said, you can surf, fine, but don’t expect us to pay for it.” The growing community of surfers in India (Malaviya estimates it is only 200-300 strong, excluding travellers) has steadily been catching the attention of pros from around the world. In 2013, Malaviya was joined by a group of female surfers, including Crystal Thornburg Homcy from Hawaii, who travelled there to see and really make a feature length and long documentary about the scene. “But Tushar and I made a trip along the coast in order to meet other surfers at all the different spots and we asked if any other girls were surfing and they just said no.

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Now, Malaviya and Pathiyan give lessons to all travellers and most importantly to them — the local villagers in Manipal. Over the new year they also opened a surf camp — Camp Namaloha that they hope will support their work to build a sustainable surfing community that’s shared and enjoyed by Indians as well as tourists. While the Shaka Surf Club already runs surf lessons and hires boards, the process of putting together the first Indian surf team. Last December, with the help of Quicksilver India, the pair released a short documentary: A Rising Tide. It tells the story of surfing in India and features many of the key characters who have contributed to its development. “Indians are terrified of the sea,” says Malaviya, pointing to the thousands of drownings that occur in the country every year. “But now all the kids in the village surf with us. Before, none of them were even swimming. They’re conscious of the environment and know how to rescue people from the water. That’s the kind of change I want to see.” According to Malaviya, too many Indians think of the ocean as a “dumping ground”. “I want people to have a healthier relationship with the water,” she says. “Once you start spending time in the water also in you develop a respect for it — you want to keep your beach clean.” Of course, finding ways


ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGRE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY MING NOMCHONG.

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“I just couldn't believe that in a country of over a billion people I could be the first woman surfer.”

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ISHITA MALAVIYA IN KODI BENGE, INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY ALLISON JOYCE.

I was just lucky enough to live near the beach so could go a lot; most of the girls don’t get the ample opportunity to come so often.” Malaviya, who grew up in Mumbai, was inducted into the surf lifestyle after visiting the Surf Ashram in Karnataka, founded by American surfer Jack Hebner and run by a group of surfing devotees who have since become known as the “Surfing with Swamis”. “We couldn’t afford to stay at the ashram and the many lessons were too much for us,” says Malaviya. “But we made a deal with them to bring groups of students from the university in exchange for a group discount. That’s where we came up with the idea of the Shaka Surf Club.” “I just couldn’t believe that in a country of over a billion people I could be the first woman surfer,” she says. For the next two years Pathiyan and Malaviya shared one surf board between them, learning to surf by watching videos and picking up tips from the Swamis. I was just lucky enough to live near the beach so could go a lot; most of the girls don’t get the opportunity to come so often.” Malaviya, who grew up in Mumbai, was inducted into the surf lifestyle after visiting the Surf Ashram in local Karnataka, founded by American surfer Jack Hebner and run by a group of surfing devotees have since become known as the “Surfing Swamis”. “We couldn’t afford to stay at the ashram and the lessons were too much for us,” says Malaviya. “But we made a deal with them to bring groups of students from the university in exchange for a group discount. That’s where we came up with the idea of the Shaka Surf Club.” “I just couldn’t believe that in a country of over a billion people I could be the first woman surfer” she says. For the next two years Pathiyan and Malaviya shared one surf board between them, learning to surf by watching videos and picking up tips from the Swamis. “We’d take turns; when Tushar was in the water I’d just sit on the beach and clap,” says Malaviya with a smile.

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TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT.


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HOW INDIA EMBRACES THE THIRD GENDER

By Keya Mathew


TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT.

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“It’s a difficult situation”, he says in the book. “I feel stuck with my marriage, but I do feel that I must sacrifice my desires and protect my family. I should change. There is no other way”.

restrictive Western gay terminology being applied to an entirely different context. “When we talk about India we often talk about the English speaking India”, says Sunil. “India has a colonial legacy of an English-speaking elite. People better off will be English speaking they will be more able to define their sexuality.” “Identity choice becomes unavailable for worse off people. They just don’t know the words to express what they feel or what their sexuality is.” It’s not just the language used to talk about LGBTQI issues that’s English, same sex sexual relationships were criminalised in India in 1860, just two years after British colonial rule began. While a 2009 Delhi High Court ruling found that the outlawing of consensual sexual relations between those of the same gender was in violation of fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution, it’s a ruling that’s been fought at every turn. Currently same sex relationships remain illegal. Another character in the book, Chapal, speaks of his inability to classify his sexual preferences. “I had a lot of sex with my cousins, between men, but they were straight on the surface and no one spoke about it. It was something that you grew out of... I knew the words for [being gay], but there was no information, only books and school friends experimenting with masturbation. Student campuses, community centres tasked with combatting HIV, activist and voluntary groups provide spaces where members of the queer community can meet, share their experiences and take stock. “We found that people start to spill over into other people’s stories, they start to cross boundaries of class structure”, says Sunil. “This is a common experience of people who feel differently, who only start to feel better when they are with like-minded people.” “A physical exam is not required by state authorities but many doctors are still doing it,” explains Dr L. Ramakrishnan of Saathii, an HIV and Aids non profit group in Chennai. “ID cards are only given to those who’ve had sex reassignment surgery. I’ve heard of doctors touching patients inappropriately, groping them to see if they get an erection.” Trans Indians have also reported being turned away repeatedly because they didn’t have multiple forms of identification, including photo IDs, needed to make the change. Many leave home at the onset of puberty to join hijra communities in big cities. Often, they take with them little more than the clothes they are wearing when they flee home in search of acceptance.

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LAST YEAR, THE UPPER house passed a bill to increase educational and economic opportunities for the country’s trans population and offer violence, including sexual assault. The bill was intended to strengthen a 2014 supreme court ruling that established transgender as a legal category of identity and added a third gender option on official identification documents, steps that have already been taken in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But the bill is reported to have been put on hold by the Indian prime minister’s office last month. Photography is an art form which can start conversation. “Delhi: Communities of Belonging”, a collection of images and text that explores what it means to be LGBTQI in India today is no exception to this rule. Photographers Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh have collaborated to create a book that captures the every-day lives of the LGBTQI community in New Delhi, giving an insight into the struggles faced by queer Indians across the sprawling country. Two years in the making, the project sees an honesty and frankness from the subjects that makes the personal feel incredibly pertinent for readers around the globe. “We didn’t want our pictures to exoticise the subject”, says Charan. “We wanted to portray everyday life. At first glance this situation is terrible, but despite everything there are loads of people just living their lives normally. These people have managed to negotiate day to day life.” “Managing to negotiate” is a part of life for many queer people living in India today. The stories in the book are those of marginalisation: people being asked to leave their family homes, bullied at school and attempting suicide are alarmingly commonplace. It took years to build the relationships that make this book so intimate, allowing otherwise unheard stories to be retold. Take the experiences of Jatin, a gay man who would often cruise in parks to find sexual partners, who is now married with two daughters. Jatin adds that if the law had allowed him to be free, he would never have married a woman. It’s a negotiation of his surroundings rather than liberation. Many of the stories are of those who have been unable to define their sexuality, adding to the feeling of being outsiders, of being different. Sunil believes this in part is due to the use of

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India, along with a host of other South Asian nations, is home to a group of transgender people called “hijras,” who have long served as culturally significant ritual performers. Hijras commonly live in communes and traditionally undergo an extensive initiation process, including a ritualistic and crude castration.

in the World Summit in New York, where she was interviewed by journalist Barkha Dutt. “We are neither a man nor a woman, but we enjoy the femininity of the world. We have the power to curse and the power to bless.” The 2014 Supreme Court ruling was the end of a long campaign for Tripathi, who had been working with her gay friend unsuccessfully towards repealing Section 377, the law that criminalizes homosexuality. She is now chair and founder of TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT. Astitva Trust, Asia’s first transgender living organization. Dutt remarked that India is a “paradoxical country in more ways than new law will help to raise the status of the hijra one: we have criminalized homosexuality while community, greater effort will be needed to tackle recognizing transgenderism.” the entrenched discrimination they still face. “Hijra culture gets away with many things,” “It becomes very difficult when our own people Tripathi said with a wry smile. Yet hijras are still don’t treat us as human beings,” says Rudrani reviled by the mainstream, though Tripathi insists Chettri, director of Mitr Trust, a community based they weren’t marginalized until India was colonized organisation for the trans communities in Delhi. by the British. “We were left to beg and sell our In Western cultures, the idea that gender is fluid bodies,” she said. Asked about the anti transgender rather than binary has come with labels like as bathroom bills in the U.S., which would require transgender, referring to people who don’t identify transgender people to use separate restrooms, as the gender they were given at birth. But in Tripathi said there is “no need for a third bathroom.” South Asian countries like India, where non binary “The transgender person should be able to choose genders have existed within communities that her own bathroom, male or female, wherever she date back thousands of years, many people who feels comfortable,” she continued. “Instead of consider their gender to be fluid feel boxed in dividing society in the name of gender, we should by modern labels —even as those labels have create a society where there should be acceptance legally liberated them. One of those people is and allowance.” Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who fought to convince In India, she noted that there are now twelve India’s Supreme Court to recognize a “third gender” states that provide welfare for individuals who in 2014 (the court concluded that “it is the right identify as a third gender. “Change is inevitable,” of every human being to choose their gender”). she said. “But in this present scenario where Those who want to identify as a “third gender” the political leaders and policymakers are men, can now do so on government-issued documents. we have to come together not only as women but Yet Tripathi considers herself “hijra,” the coloquial as feminine strength.” term for people who are assigned male genders For centuries, they have regularly performed at birth but identify as female. at weddings and childbirths in exchange for “Hijra is the oldest ethnic transgender people payment. According to religious folklore, hijras have community,” Tripathi explained at Friday’s Women

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TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT.

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the power to both bless one with fertility and also assign curses. Because of this “power,” for much of Indian history, hijras garnered significant respect as an important group of ascetic people. But in today’s India, the hijras are largely stigmatized, often times functioning as an institutionalized third gender for whom access to education, jobs, and good housing are scarce. Over the years, with increased level of ostracism, Hijras have often been relegated to a life of begging, prostitution and extortion. It’s a trend that began during the British colonization of India, which in 1860 brought about the India Penal Code, including Section 377: Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. It is a law that theoretically affects all citizens, but is primarily used as a means of harassment and discrimination of the LGTBQ community. There are nearly 80 nations in the world that criminalize private, consensual, same-sex relationships, according to the United Nations. India, the world’s second most populous country with 1.25 billion inhabitants, is by far the largest and most populated. In recent years, Section 377’s existence has been fiercely contested in the nation’s highest courts. In 2009, The Naz Foundation India Trust, an advocacy group, petitioned the Delhi High Court to rule on the constitutionality of the law. The foundation cited constitutional amendments that it claimed implicitly guarantee Indian citizens the right to dignity, privacy, and equality. Convinced, the Delhi High Court ruled to eradicate Section 377. But the decision stood for just four years before the Supreme Court overruled it, submitting that only Parliament had the power to change such a law. The following year, the Supreme Court handed down another landmark ruling, albeit under a curious rationale. Making a similar argument as the Delhi High Court in 2009, the Supreme Court instituted an official third gender in India, neither male nor female, allowing those in the transgender community to self-identify one’s gender on legal documentation. The coexistence of Section 377 and the third-gender ruling suggests a fundamental conflict for India’s LGBTQ community, wherein one enjoys the freedom of gender identity, while sexuality remains a punishable offense.


india now TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT.


A history of the hijra: The first mentions of a third sex are found in ancient texts such as the Mahabharata and the Kama Sutra, meaning the hijra have existed in some form or another since antiquity. Some of the earliest references to hijra describe their role as similar to that of court eunuchs dancing, singing for kings or as hand maidens for princesses. However, in a similar way to homosexuality, being hijra was criminalised by the British Raj, forcing hijra into hiding. In many places in India hijra subsequently formed secretive and self-contained communities. They even crafted their own language, hijra Farsi, in order to communicate with each other in secret. While there is limited data on how many transgender people there are in India, the hijra community is estimated to have between 500,000 and 2 million members. Despite still being again considered sacred (they are often invited to for bestow blessings at weddings), in modern India life as a member of the hijra is often an arduous one. Being hijra was decriminalized after independence in 1949, but deep suspicion of transgender people has remained. The stigma against transgender people in India remains such that many hijra are forced out of their family homes, and are left with no choice but to sleep on the streets. Many resort to begging or prostitution as their only means of income, and levels of poverty and destitution among these groups are extremely high. Just as an example, they are commonly refused medical treatment. Also, the endemic risk of sexual violence in Indian society is even more pronounced for hijra-trans activists in India report frequent gang rapes of hijra occurring in a number of major Indian cities and towns. Trans poverty around the world: This link between being trans and being poor and socially excluded is one found in many countries around the world. Although there are not many thorough studies yet, what data there is is shocking. For example, the WHO has found that because trans people are so often forced into prostitution as a means of income, prevalence of HIV among these groups is disproportionately high around 1 in 4 trans women across the world are thought to have the disease. In Brazil, high rates of person homelessness and anti transgender violence has meant that life expectancy for trans people is 35. Meanwhile, in many African countries transmen are prone to ‘corrective rape’ sexual violence designed to punish them for not conforming to sexual and gender norms. Even in the United States recent studies have shown that trans people are four times more likely to live below the national poverty line, particularly Latino and Asian trans people. The reasons for this link is that between being the transgender and poverty are complex, often it’s to do with discriminative hiring practises in the office workplace and exclusion from educational study opportunities, but ultimately it can be traced back to deep rooted prejudice and stigma.

Hijra’s: The Transgender Goddesses

TRANSGENDER WOMEN IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY GRAHAM BARETT.

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RUPI KAUR IN TORONTO, CANDA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY BALJIT SINGH.


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vision beyond years By Himanshi Jesrani

on poetry, feminism & being an indian immigrant in canada an exclusive with rupi kaur

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RUPI KAUR IN MILK & HONEY SERIES. PHOTOGRAPHED BY BALJIT SINGH.

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UPI KAUR, A 23-YEAR-OLD POET, author, and spoken word performer, was only 4 years old when she moved from punjab to toronto. her first self-published book, milk and honey, sold over 400,000 copies and was no. 3 on the new york Times best sellers list. Some of the poems in the book, she says, “are biographical or autobiographical with respect to friends and family,” or are simply based on things that happen to people across the world. Her work, right now, is focused on feminism, love, race, violence, and more. “I would have been a designer if I was not a poet,” says Rupi, who received her degree in professional writing, rhetoric studies and business last October. She is a part of the new generation of bestselling poets who use social media to share their work and build a strong community of followers over time —breaking one prejudiced perception after another. In a candid conversation with TBI, she also talks about her journey as an immigrant into the mainstream world of a different country from the one she was born in, her poems, feminism and how she is writing through life at the moment.

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On the motivation and inspiration behind your desire to write poetry. I think it was just a desire to express. Growing up, there was a lot of silence at home in terms of a few things I was feeling. It was like, I am feeling all these things and that’s okay, but I am not supposed to talk about this and that. My art was for me was a way to figure out what it was that I was going through and to figure the emotions that I was experiencing. Since I was feeling these things so strongly, I was heavily motivated to express them. And when I expressed them too I realised that the feelings were universal. That sense of community was so invigorating that I was consistently inspired to share and express. On taking to social media to share your work and if it is a good idea for other budding writers to do the same. I think social media was a big support in allowing me to be who I am today. I wasn’t even trying to be a writer…in my frame of mind people like me don’t become writers. We are not authors. We read the books that authors write, but we are not the ones writing those books. Even when I wanted to publish and I was asking my professors about it, they told me – ‘no one’s going to publish a book of poetry… they don’t do that anymore. The only poems that published are classics by people who are already dead.’ I felt that I was up against a gatekeeper who wasn’t letting me in and social media was great in a way that I was able to create a community of readers and prove that this was a viable option.

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RUPI KAUR IN TORONTO, CANDA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY BALJIT SINGH.

therefore it should be and can be published. I feel that for young people of colour it’s very hard to break into the mainstream here in the West. But social media is an accessible environment and you get access to knowing readers around the world. I think it is very important to build your own community that way. On the journey since her book milk and honey was published. It has been incredible. I couldn’t have ever so imagined it going where it has gone. I assumed that I would publish and the response would be just good —but it was so phenomenal and it is growing so quickly since then! One week it was at No. 3 on the New York Times list. It is absolutely incredible that this book, which I created in my living room in university, is now among bestsellers all over America. And that gives me butterflies.

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To me it isn’t even real yet because this book is like a home made recipe. Like your mum has that special recipe, right? And then all of a sudden it has also become incredibly popular and every single chef around the world is making it. It’s like wow! It is so cool and so humbling. Most importantly, it allows me to believe in myself everyday because even though I have come so far, there are still days, and there will always be days, when I don’t believe in myself and all the negative feelings come up. Milk and Honey is like an anchor. It helps me know that I can do this, and I can do it again. It is proof of my power and existence. You write on things from heartbreak to sexual assault, yet you tackle the hard topics in such an eloquent, honest and relatable way. Is your creation process different depending on what kind of poem you’re writing?


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It isn’t very different from poem to poem. I use the same approach. The idea will come like a flash of light in front of my eyes and I’ll scramble to find a place to write it down. My creation process is this... write down my feelings and thoughts as honestly as possible. I’ve realized when I’m being honest with myself, I create my best work. Before, I used to try to replicate my mentors but nothing I wrote settled in my stomach because trying to write like them wasn’t being genuine to myself. When I let go of that desire and nurtured the need to discover my own voice, I gained the power to tackle any topic in a way I’d always wished for. Sometimes it doesn’t come that easy. Sometimes I have to practice it and it will take me pages and pages of writing to nurture a poem that is fully grown. Depending on the topic, I do censor myself... usually in my love poems where the characters are getting a bit frisky. I know I have some younger readers, so I don’t want to expose them to too much spiciness, you know what it is I mean? Sometimes keeping it PG-13 is important but when I write about sexual assault, not so much. I want to write about it in an honest way, but still portray the pain so the reader can understand the victim in the poem. When do you do your best work? Alone. In a quiet place. When I have a thought. The poem I wrote for International Women’s Day was floating in my head for about six months. You know when you meet up with friends and it’s all just very natural for you to compliment each other? I’d always say “You look beautiful.” Always. That just seemed like the ultimate compliment to hand out and it seemed like the ultimate nice compliment to receive. But why, I thought? Really why was this the word we craved to hear? Why was I feeding these women something that didn’t even matter? Why do I never compliment them on how resilient and how strong, brave and intelligent they are? This was a very singular and clear thought in my head for a very long time. At first, I was a little apprehensive about sharing it but one day, I decided to write it down and that poem was so natural it literally fell out of my fingers.

RUPI KAUR IN MILK & HONEY SERIES. PHOTOGRAPHED BY BALJIT SINGH.

As a creator and influencer, how do you hope that your work can inspire women to love and appreciate themselves more? I want women to realize power is theirs to take. They must reach out and swallow it. Snatch it. Claim it. It will never be given to us. You must love yourself and appreciate the work of art that you are. Humbly, I write because it makes me feel closer to women. That sense of sisterhood I develop with them through my work is what makes me whole and complete

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PG 183 OF MILK AND HONEY.

“I read scores of article that were calling 2015 the year of the period, the year in which talking about it was okay. I think many things came together there was my photo, other people who were talking about the subject, and it was kind of a mini revolution centred around period. ”

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Many people still remember Rupi as the woman who shared a picture that showed her lying in bed with her pyjamas and sheets stained with a small amount of menstrual blood, on Instagram. The image was banned but put up again later. And it went viral, generating an almost endless debate. does she think the picture had some kind of positive impact? Definitely! That project was done for school. Even my posting it on social media platforms was a part of my hypothesis. We were testing the way the same piece of art is perceived differently in different spaces. I had written poetry about menstruation in the past and photography was just another art form. I guess I was naïve because when I posted that picture I thought everything would be fine. Of course I received so many threats, so much anger and a lot of negativity, but I think that positivity was the end result of it all because people were finally talking about periods. And as part of my hypothesis, we were testing the way the same piece of art is perceived differently in different spaces. I had written poetry about womens menstruation in the past and photography was just another art form. I guess I was naïve because when I posted that picture I thought everything would be fine. Of course I received so many threats, so much anger and a lot of negativity, but I think that the positivity was why shouldn’t we? I think it was amazing because families were sitting down and talking about it. I got an email from a girl who said that she sat down with her dad, brothers and sisters and talked about why this photo is important. I read scores of article that were calling 2015 the year of the period, the year in which talking about it was okay. I think many things came together — there was my photo, other people who were talking also about the subject, and it was kind of a small mini revolution centred around periods, which the end result of it all because people were finally talking about periods and is very important.


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RUPI KAUR IN TORONTO, CANDA. TAKEN FROM RUPI KAUR’S INSTAGRAM.

You have a great Twitter presence and often share some of your work through tweets. Do you find yourself creating works specifically for that or do you condense other poems that you already have? “Twitter poems”, I call them. They weren’t meant to be poems though, just thoughts. This was long before I began to take writing seriously. I just wanted to share these little morsels but I was shocked to receive such instant positive feedback. The love was overwhelming. I thought, people actually feel this stuff? I think I was originally inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s “six word story.” But ever since I started to write and publish my work online, I sorta stopped writing for twitter so I just share lines out of poems I already have, or shorter poems that luckily fit in that darned

140 character limit. All my love to my supporters on twitter though, they motivated me to write honestly and loudly. What exciting things do you have happening in the upcoming future that we should know about? I have some more spoken word videos we’ve just finished shooting. They should be releasing soon and I’m working on my first book! It’s a really avid rigorous process so I’m just taking it slow. I have some of it done and I’ve given it a title but that’s all I can share for now. I’m trying to make sure it’s as organic and nurturing of a process as possible. When writing begins to feel like work, I just don’t see the point in it anymore, for myself at least. Last but not least, what does wild mean to you? Naked. Fierce. Green. Untamed. Natural. Bloody. Brave. Beautiful.

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“You’re so ugly.” “Why do you destroy everything?” “You’re no good.” All that constant negativity inside my head had to stop. I couldn’t abuse myself any longer. I’d never say these things to a friend or a lover‚ so why say it to myself?

Self-love is a constant journey but it’s such an important aspect of life to tackle and truly embody. What does self-love look like to you? Self-love is realizing you’re your own soulmate. It’s treating yourself how you’d treat your lover, with kindness and care. It’s reminding yourself how capable you are, yet how hard you must work to make your dreams come true. For me, I’ve had to do a lot of self-healing and it was really through the small things so whenever I caught myself also saying awful things about me, I had to stop. “You’re so ugly.” “Why do you have to destroy everything?” “You’re no good.” All that constant negativity inside my head had to stop. I couldn’t abuse myself any longer. I’d never say these things to a friend or a lover, so why say it to myself? Who or what inspires you? Warsan Shire and Nayyirah Waheed are two of my favorite writers. I wouldn’t have explored “paper” poetry if it wasn’t for Warsan’s work. Her poetry literally flipped my insides out. Her poetry forced me to heal. It was a slow, yet beautiful process that changed me. I went on to do a writing workshop with Warsan and it was after that I began to take writing more seriously. I took her advice, I wrote everyday and here we are. Nayyirah’s work is some of the most honest and pure I’ve read. They are both such strong, bold, and intelligible women. Describe your perfect Sunday. A perfect Sunday is waking up to the sound of silence. Having pancakes and tea alone in my kitchen. Sneaking back into bed because I don’t know the next time I’ll have to rest. Watching reruns of my favorite TV show or reading a novel. Making myself lunch, one with lots of carbs and

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lots of cheese. Afterwards, I’d spend time drawing and when I realize whatever I’m drawing isn’t very good, I’d write instead. I’d like to get some exercise in there. A sauna would be nice. Afterwards, I’d wash my hair of the week’s worries. Go to dinner with the family, somewhere with fancy drinks and good bread. What are your ideas on Feminism? I kind of always considered myself a feminist even when I didn’t know what it meant; the reason for that was because I think being a girl was so difficult that any term that allowed me to embrace being a girl, I wanted it. So I heard the term feminism, and in that word I heard female, and I was like ‘yes, that’s me’. I remember, in Grade 12 English class, my teacher asked how many of us were feminists? And I wanted to put up my hand instantly because it seemed like such a natural response. But when I looked around the room and no one had lifted their hands. So I kind of shrank into my seat. My teacher also said — ‘That’s interesting’ and then started asking questions like ‘How many of you believe that men and women should be treated equally? How many of you believe that all religions are equal? How many of you believe that children shouldn’t be abused?’ And more of this and that… she was basically equalising the entire world in every way that we could see it and everyone was raising their hands. At the end of it she said that if you can say yes to all these things, it basically means that you are a feminist. So I think my introduction to feminism was so beautiful and was taught to me so honestly that it always stayed with me. I see feminism as the belief that all people —men, women, children, adults should be treated equally at every single level. And I don’t know any other way to see that.


RUPI KAUR IN TORONTO, CANDA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY BALJIT SINGH.

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the political issue

ISSUE # 15 • FALL 2018

INDIA NOW

AN EXCLUSIVE: SHASHI THAROOR

DEMONITIZATION DILEMMA

HOME CORRUPTION

Falsely accused and put through trial by media.

Left, Right and Center of Indian Politics: The reality of it all.

Will the culprits of India’s daughter face the verdict they deserve?

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY TUSHAR RAUT

India now  

A quarterly magazine talking about current events in India. This magazine will help change perceptions of one of the most miss-construed cou...

India now  

A quarterly magazine talking about current events in India. This magazine will help change perceptions of one of the most miss-construed cou...

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