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[Interviews] I wasn’t allowed to choose my career or love whom I wanted to love: Anuradha Bhagwati.

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Post time: 4-7-2019 11:17:30 Posted From Mobile Phone
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Anuradha Bhagwati (Book cover: Simon & Schuster)
▼  Anuradha Bhagwati’s parents are famous economists who pushed her hard to be a good Indian girl and conform to the desi diaspora’s norms. She chose to join the Marines — the most macho wing of the US military. Bisexual and brown (“in a sea of white dudes”), she butted heads with its misogyny, racism and also fought to get women combat roles. She speaks to TOI about her book,Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience, and her remarkable journey.
As a “nerd, an Indian and a woman”, you said you didn’t feel like a natural Marine. How did you end up choosing this path?
Joining the Marines was my way of asserting myself when I felt I had no voice. I was raised in New York City by parents who put immense pressure on me to excel academically, and conform to Indian expectations around sexuality and gender, regardless of the cost to my psyche or wellbeing. I excelled, but felt isolated, depressed, and lost. I wasn’t allowed to choose my career, express myself or love whom I wanted to love. So I joined an institution in which my parents would have no influence over me. At the time I didn’t realise that I was replacing the control my family asserted over me with an even fiercer and more violent form of patriarchy.
Around the world, there is resistance to women in combat, including in India. You’ve faced sexual harassment in the Marines, why do you think women should be in combat?
As long as human beings are engaging in warfighting, we need to ensure that the most able-bodied and committed people are signing up, and that includes women. Some of the fiercest, most capable athletes and leaders I know are women. Anyone who thinks women can’t do these jobs is ignoring both history and current reality. Women are on the front lines of today’s wars and performing brilliantly in multiple armed forces, including in the US.
Some folks say that integrating women into the military endangers their welfare, and exposes them to dangers like sexual assault. But first, ending sexual assault requires kicking sexual predators out of the military, not keeping women from joining the military. Second, rape and assault are about power, period. In the United States military, as I suspect in most, the majority of victims of sexual assault are male. If we want to get rid of rape culture, we have to be clear that the armed forces has no place for sex offenders. The military should uphold the best ideals of a nation, not the worst.
In India too, we are seeing a new glorification of militarised nationalism. How do you feel about this cult of the uniform?
Unfortunately, the rise of nationalism around the world has often been associated with a rise in militarism, and arrogant ceremonial displays of military power. In the US, we currently have a president who creates division abroad, and endangers vulnerable populations at home. He uses violent rhetoric and encourages it in others. We have seen a rise in hate crimes. That is the horror show that nationalism — “making America great again”— has brought us. I hope that other world leaders steer clear of this kind of destructive propaganda.
Your parents are big-name economists, and you write openly about their insecurities and the dominant values of the desi community. Your life has been a direct challenge to these values. What makes you a dissident rather than a fitter-in?
I don’t think I would have been a dissident had I not been raised by my mother. When I was a child, I noticed how much Indian folks praised my father (Jagdish Bhagwati) for his professional accomplishments, while overlooking my mother (Padma Desai), who built her equally impressive career from the ground up while also taking care of me, my father and the household.
InUnbecoming, I write about discovering how much my mother sacrificed as a woman in India, and how much her trials shaped me. She had an abusive (first) marriage, and the courage to leave it despite the pushback she would get from society. Her decision to start a new life in the US was heroic. And yet, Indian culture shamed her — for what? It’s her abusive husband who should have been ashamed. Why do we continue to blame victims and condone the behaviour of violent and manipulative men?
In lots of ways, my book and my choice to become an activist for women was in response to my mother’s trauma. As someone who had the privilege of being born in a more progressive era and place, it felt like my dharma to speak up for her, for myself, for others who had been harmed by abusive men or sexist institutions.
You have now found peace with yoga and vipassana. How has that changed you?
Yoga and vipassana have been life-changing. They have been tools for me to gather my mind, cultivate equanimity, and explore the effects of patriarchy, white supremacy and homophobia on my consciousness. I walked away from the Marine Corps filled with self-hatred and shame. I needed to remember my own strength, forgive others for their violence, and forgive myself for my ignorance or mistakes.

This interview was originally published here: Source
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