By Richa P
I recently went to a protest demanding justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teenager who was killed by a police officer this August. The police officer who killed him got no punishment, rather, the police officer said he had a clear conscience for what he had done. No matter what your take is on this matter, no matter the politics involved, we can’t deny a life was taken unnecessarily. At this protest, there were a few hundred people, we marched on the streets of San Francisco, people watched on from the sidewalks, cars honked as we walked past them. This piece isn’t going to be about the case but rather the act of not acting when we know something isn’t right. Many people choose not speak up when something is wrong, they want to stay insulated in their comfortable bubbles. A few weeks ago, I met a friend of mine for drinks. He just came back from watching a documentary about Syria. He was not having a good day. During the conversation we talked about the situation in Syria, ISIS, and events happening at the Berkeley campus. But what stuck out the most was when he said even if he could not fight everything, he had his voice and his opinions. Perhaps it wouldn’t change anything but the fact that he spoke up is powerful. My husband summed it up perfectly in one word, someone who stands up for what he believes in has integrity.
I was inspired to write this because as we were marching, there were hundreds of shoppers trying to nab deals on Black Friday. It was actually really ironic, people hiding behind glass windows and doors of department stores as we walked by. I am sure many of those people don’t know how bad some stores treat their employees, how some use sweatshops, how some have chemicals in their products. The need for cheap products to save money never includes the lives of others who make those products. Do we ever think about how saving $3 on this shirt may have taken someone’s life? The majority of us don’t.
It is so easy to be overwhelmed and cynical when there are a lot of atrocities that are happening around the world. It’s easy to feel helpless. I have been in a place where I wanted to be isolated from all the bad stuff, just focus on happy things. However, we see injustices all around us, whether its on people, animals, or the environment, and many times we choose to say or do nothing. I admit, I have a hard time saying something when someone is getting harassed on the sidewalk or on the bus because I fear for my own personal safety. I know and accept that I can’t fight every battle, rather, I choose the ones that are most important to me and speak up.
I remember my last day in Achham, a place I had worked for a few months while I was in Nepal. On my last days one of the staff members came and told me and my friend AP that she wanted to leave her husband because he was getting drunk and beating her up. Everyone knew about it in their small village, but there was no support system for her to turn to. I am sure many of her neighbors thought it was her fault that she was getting beaten. The worst part about the whole thing was that her small son, around 9 or 10, was starting to pick up on his father’s behaviors. She had enough and just wanted to get away for awhile. I know domestic violence is a complicated issue, especially because we on the outside are quick to judge the victims. AP and I suggested that she leave town and stay with her family for a while, just to get peace for sometime. I think she did leave for a few weeks with her children but she came back. I don’t know how she is doing now but it was important for her to make that decision, have people to talk to without judging her.
I can’t say this with a hundred percent certainty but I am sure in almost all extended Nepali families there is some form of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or verbal. Between mother in laws and daughter in laws, husbands and wives, parents and children, family members and their hired help, etc. I have seen verbal abuse hurled at hired help, men, women, and children who come from rural areas to work for wealthy families. Domestic violence is definitely a taboo subject, family members don’t want to speak up because they don’t want to bring shame upon their families, things get buried, no one talks about what is happening and the cycle continues. I know that this not unique to Nepal, all countries deal with this issue but I feel that South Asian cultures are more likely turn their heads away from the problem. Due to our patriarchal society, women aren’t regarded as equal to men, no matter how educated we are. People who are identified as the lower caste don’t get the same treatment as those in the upper castes. Nepal has passed a few laws (Domestic Violence Act, Human Trafficking Act, Gender Equality Act) punishing those who perform acts of violence towards women, but in reality these aren’t decreasing the numbers of victims nor are more victims coming forward. I know there are good organizations out on the ground helping victims, but we need more of us to say NO, especially in family dynamics.
I read this report about violence against women in Nepal that was published last year, the number of women who keep their assaults quiet is very high. It’s not surprising since our society is good at hiding our deepest secrets whether it’s violence, homosexuality, money problems, drinking habits, and much more. We are also good at putting blame on others for their troubles. For those of us who live in Western countries, we are very privileged, we don’t have to worry about many things. I think that is why it is important to say something, to move out of this comfort and not ignore the things happening around us, especially when we see people getting mistreated. We can be a voice for the voiceless, we can recognize our privilege and do something about it.
In conclusion, I wanted to write this piece because I think it is crucial to speak up whether it’s against abuse, environmental degradation, bullying, animal slaughter for festivals, whatever you care about. There is a simple cure to inaction and that is to act. Thinking something privately and doing nothing about it won’t CHANGE ANYTHING. Actions don’t have to be big, they might not even be successful, but think of your integrity.
Change doesn’t come from just talking about it with your circle, change comes from action. Yes, it’s impossible to fight for everything, but we need to fight for something!