A Feminist Quest

Japleen Pasricha

The founder of Feminism in India, Japleen Pasricha is a force to reckon with. Using the power of knowledge and information to bridge the gap in many spheres, Japleen presents a space for feminist narratives specific to India, all under one roof. Here is her story.

I’m a feminist activist and entrepreneur based in New Delhi. I was born and brought up in New Delhi and was a feminist even before I knew the term. Growing up, I was a rebellious child and was told I’m too loud for a girl. During school, I learnt the German language and was fascinated by it. I took up German in college and also went to Germany thrice for summer schools and exchange programs. I have a BA, MA and M.Phil in German language and literature. However during my M.Phil, I was disillusioned by what I was doing and decided to change tracks. That’s when I started FII as a Facebook page in March 2013.

Feminism in India started out as a Facebook page that curated feminist content from the Internet. It is now a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, an Instagram account, a Youtube channel, and a WhatsApp broadcast list with unique content created everyday.

Setting up Feminism in India
I began the Facebook page when I began my own journey as a feminist. I began to look around on the Internet for accessible resources on the feminist movement in India. All I found was academic articles which were dense, theoretical and mostly behind a paywall, or content from Western feminist platforms like Bitch Media and Feministing. Feminism in India thus, was created with a vision of having easy-to-understand, accessible, popular Indian feminist content on the internet written by Indian women for Indian women.

The Facebook page, created in March 2013, initially contained curated content from all over the Internet, as well as Japleen's opinion pieces. Slowly other people began to start engaging with the page and building up a nascent digital feminist community. So when I put out my plans of creating a website, I immediately began receiving offers to contribute to the website. Thus, the Feminism in India website was created on 19 August 2014, publishing one or two crowdsourced articles a week. Since then it has grown exponentially, with a minimum of four articles published daily, in English and Hindi, on diverse topics under the feminist umbrella, with an ever-expanding writer community.
The main idea is to increase the representation of women and marginalized communities on the internet – their stories and their histories. We amplify these usually unheard stories using digital storytelling techniques, pop culture references, and new media.

I started FII when I was still a student and my tools were social media. I actually did not have a plan when I started in 2013 and only decided to go full-time in 2016. So for the first three years, I was running FII as a passion project voluntarily. Some other members joined me as volunteers in 2014. For the first three years, I just went with the flow and didn’t really have any goals as I wanted to see how it will shape up. Friends and family were very supportive who’d volunteer tech time, social media time, writing time, etc.

In 2016, when I decided to go full-time, I started applying for funds and received many rejections. As a young entrepreneur, I wish I had the training or mentorship on how to go about registering an organisation, doing admin and accounts work, monitoring and evaluation, fund raising, applying for grants, etc. These were the resources that were missing and I wish to help young entrepreneurs today so that they are in a better position to take risks.

In a bid to prevent appropriation and to center the voice of the marginalized, our editorial policy only allows people who occupy a marginalized position to comment on the issues and lived experiences of that community.  So for example, 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 marginalized communities. Individuals belonging to a marginalised group are alienated and silenced. We, at FII, aim to challenge this and provide equal opportunity for all to voice their narratives for themselves. FII has dedicated sections for intersectional experiences – caste, gender, sexuality, religion, race, and also other forms of stigma and discrimination like mental illness and physical disability. (You can read more for the rationale of our editorial policy here.)  

Milestones from the journey
In the wake of the shameful mass molestation case that occurred on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore, the hashtag #NotAllMen was trending on Twitter, used by men seeking to dissociate themselves from these attacks of sexual violence on women. This overshadowed and disrupted the more important and necessary conversation about the sexual violence women constantly battle in public spaces.

L-R: Japleen, Suman, Amudha and Asmita
We put out a call for women to share their experiences of street sexual harassment with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, in a bid to reclaim the conversation. We wanted to steer the discussion to a more fruitful direction about women's right to public spaces, rather than one driven by the insecurities of men unwilling to look beyond their personal innocence to the larger, more toxic problem of sexual harassment which was a lived reality for #YesAllWomen. In a few short hours, the #YesAllWomen hashtag was trending as women poured in with their many, many stories of street sexual harassment. The tweets continued from that day onto the next, by which time, we had been covered by more than 10 media outlets including DNA, Quint, News 18 and Sydney Morning Herald.

The conversation about women's right to public spaces continued across India, and resulted in a nation-wide collective movement called #IWillGoOut, in which more than 30 cities participated in a walk to reclaim public spaces on 21st January 2017. We were actively a part of the social media awareness team for this march, culminating in live-tweeting the Delhi chapter of the march, contributing to it being a trending hashtag on the 21st of January 2017.

We were thus successful in converting a discourse from the defensiveness of men seeking to disassociate from sexual violence to a more important conversation about women’s lived realities in navigating public space.

We recently hired someone and now we are a four-member core team which works full-time and we have one member who works part-time. Our biggest support during such difficult times is each other. We also make sure that we coordinate our leaves with each other so that someone can take up the other person’s work. We also encourage our team to take leaves and focus on their mental and physical health. Being a small team, we really do work as a family!

I have very supportive family and friends who never questioned my choice to change my career, quit my full-time job and start a feminist organisation. I’m grateful for them. I have been trolled quite a lot of times on social media. It is a part and parcel of activism, especially digital activism. At FII, we take online abuse collectively. We all are very supportive of each other when one person is being harassed and jump in together to maximise the support and divide the hate.