We have been featuring the best writers from our writers’ community for their committed contribution to FII, making it what it is today. FII would not exist if not for the passionate and loyal feminist writers’ community that we have steadily been building over the last three years.
This May, we feature Himalika Mohanty. From talking about how we treat our female politicians to the growing problem of fake news, she writes on issues that allow the readers to reflect on what society has accepted to be the norm. Some of her popular articles include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her deviance in politics, Women who do not fall under the good victim categories, and many more.
FII: Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Himalika Mohanty: This is a slightly complicated question, since I am currently in between things. I was working in a feminist legal organization in Jharkhand for the past year, called Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI). I was part of their resource development and advocacy unit. However, I’ve come back home to Calcutta earlier this month, hoping to be able to resume my education at some point this year. I completed my MA in Women’s Studies before that from Bombay, and I am an Odia from Calcutta.
FII: How did you become a part of the FII writer family?
HM: Well, I discovered FII while doing my MA. I was just beginning to understand the intersectionality theory, and the site has been very informative and engaging for me since then. However, I was always slightly apprehensive of writing, because I really didn’t think I did it very well (I don’t think so now, either). Articulation is an art that I’m still trying to master. But a couple of my friends were writing for or had written for FII, and it was around then that I started toying with the idea of writing for the site. The first article I sent in was earlier this year, and it was a pleasant surprise for me when FII wanted to publish it. Soon after I applied for their contributing writers’ programme, and it’s been a challenging, but fulfilling time for grey cells since.
FII: How and when did you become a feminist? Which issues within feminism are close to your heart?
HM: How and when I became a feminist is such a difficult question to answer. As a student of Sociology during my undergraduate years, gender was one of the courses I was most interested in. Understanding the ideas of feminism, and engaging with the different schools of feminist thought was very captivating for me. My MA in Women’s Studies took that interest forward so that I was now exploring my location, understanding my privileges and questioning the patriarchal annals of the society we live in today. I was also cultivating a sensitivity through the progression of my course. Reading about the issues of the women’s movement freed up the contours of my mind enough to know that I was a feminist. But what I will say sealed the deal for me, so to speak, was realizing the importance the movement alluded to lived experiences and people’s subjectivities. Feminism as a movement has been able to make me more open-minded and address my own biases without judgment, as and when I encounter them, and to recognize the significance of one’s context in shaping our politics. Within the school of feminist thought, I have always been more specifically interested in intimate relations – to penetrate the complexities of intimate relations and be able to debunk the power structures within such relations. My interest is fueled by the fact that these are interesting times for all kinds of intimate relations to cultivate, but that these relations are enmeshed in considerations of caste, class, gender and religion, which renders it a grey area, as opposed to being black and white.
FII: What is your favourite piece on this site that you have written, and your favourite piece on this site that you have read? Why did they strike you?
HM: Over the past couple of years, I’ve been going back again and again to the site for engaging with various issues. Choosing one favourite piece is very difficult, which is why I’m going to speak of two pieces which mirror some of the major problems in the question of women’s empowerment today. The first piece is one on the question of due process in the CJI sexual harassment case by Saumya Jain . This piece is so important today because it asks a very relevant question: is the CJI above the law? Judicial integrity and accountability have been brought under the scanner with this case, and it is important to continue talking about what due process means in material terms for women who are accessing it today.
The second piece was on the banning of abortion in a few states in the USA by Akshita Prasad last week. It was a shocking piece of legislation and it is so important to rise and rage against it. Something as basic as a woman’s right to her body has been compromised with the legislation to ban abortion, and it feels like we’re only going backwards.
Of my own pieces, I enjoyed writing the piece on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a lot, and given the issues being faced by America in Trump-land today, I feel this piece is important because AOC, young and fiery as she is, can be America’s future feminist answer to Trump’s patriarchy. The other piece that is important to conversations today would be the piece on IAAF’s ruling on Caster Semenya, the middle-distance runner from South Africa. The arbitrary nature of the ruling which directs Semenya to take testosterone reducing steroids for six months before any tournament is not only unfair, but also sexist, especially when the IAAF itself cannot be completely sure about the advantages of having high levels of testosterone in your body in the field of sports. This is not a new conversation, but since it is back in the news because of Semenya’s hearing, I feel it is important to keep this conversation going.
FII: What do you like to do when not writing about gender and social justice?
MS: I like to read, although I always feel like I’m just not reading enough. I am currently reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which follows a Korean family and chronicles the nuances of the Japanese-Korean culture. I enjoy watching films and TV shows. I watched Bhobishyoter Bhoot recently, a film directed by Anik Dutta which was banned for a bit in West Bengal because of its criticism of the political scenario of the country today. I am keen on playing the ukulele, a hobby I picked up during my stint in Jharkhand, and I enjoy crooning to it. I spend a lot of my time drawing, mostly colour pencils or pastels – rarely original, but very gratifying. I also scribble in notebooks, and love dancing. What Chandler Bing said about the rhythm getting to us one day has come true for me, haha. I get a kick out of doing the crossword every day and generally like all kinds of word games, and relaxing with the friends whenever they are around.
FII: What do you like about FII and our work? What more would you like to see from us?
HM: What makes FII so special is its overarching theme of intersectionality. The site has articles in Hindi, which shows its commitment to a more inclusive space for individuals to express their opinions. Its campaigns are always gripping – for instance, the #DalitHistoryMonth campaign as well as the #IndianWomenInHistory campaign, which can be a strong step towards reclaiming the patriarchal telling of history, and re-imagining a new form of inclusive history. It also feels like a very personal site, because it talks about all kinds of issues, and is an open forum for a to and fro of opinions to take place. What I would definitely like to see more, though, is more work in the vernacular languages, maybe a digital literacy campaign to reach out to women everywhere with its content.
FII thanks Himalika for her timely and valuable contributions. We are incredibly grateful to have her as a part of our writers’ community and appreciate her for her deeply informative writing. She can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.