Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

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Gender Inequality

Agrima Joshua is one of many whose voice has been silenced in India

Trigger warnings for mentions of rape and sexual harassment threats.

Agrima Joshua is Indian, a woman, and a stand-up comedian. So of course, her material is open for policing, and her body is a means of control for the Indian patriarchy. Having expressed a slightly offensive joke against a famous Hindu King in one of her stand-ups, Joshua started receiving rape threats from offended Indian parties.

It all started with a different stand up comedian, but it came down to a common thread – religion. On June 30th, Kenny Sebastian, a successful Indian comic, responded to one of his trolls, who had repeatedly attacked him on religious grounds (Sebastian is a Christian). Agrima Joshua, responded in support of her friend and fellow comedian, but her tweet resulted in Joshua being targeted instead. A 16 month old comedy stand-up of hers was dug up, and she was claimed to be “deliberately offensive to” Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a celebrated Marathi king from the 17th century.

In her video, Agrima jokes about a statue of the revered Indian hero being put up in Maharashtra. She mentions a Reddit thread where various followers of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj spoke about how the statue was the best thing for India. The statue, according to them, would have lasers and a GPS, which obviously was joke. She tried to relate India’s current scenario with the building of a statue, but no where did I find she was being offensive to the historical figure in general. Yes, the jokes might have been a little crass for my taste, but at the end, they were jokes. But her jokes ended up costing her so much because Indians hate opinionated women.

Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy.

She started receiving so much hate and rape threats, with verbal sexual abuse being meted out to her. One of the perpetrators had the audacity to threat rape by describing in disgusting detail how he would physically mutilate her body. Others destroyed her stand-up venues and harassed, slut-shamed and trolled her online.

She apologized for having hurt the sentiments of the people who were offended by tweeting out “My heartfelt apologies to followers of the great leader, who I sincerely respect”. But the harassment did not stop.

She was continuously targeted, and for the next couple of days outrage spread like wildfire. Thankfully, the harassers and abusers who used the most unthinkable words and threatened to rape her were arrested, but is that what it has come to? We women can face any amount of harassment for talking and joking about political issues that are literally shaking our country?

Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.

Joshua continued to receive verbal abuse despite tweeting out her apology and deleting her video from YouTube. She is also facing legal consequences too, as a result of insulting a much beloved historical figure. This is the true face of our country, a country where marital rape is legal but expressing opinions isn’t.

Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy. Yes, I can agree with her jokes being offensive to a particular section of the society but did that entail her to receive rape threats and graphic details of how she would be genitally mutilated? It pains me to explain how she was threatened, because I know I am not safe in my country. Dissent isn’t tolerated, opinions aren’t tolerated. Such is the gravity of the situation that other comedians are apologizing for their jokes as well.  Aadar Malik, another comedian, took to twitter to apologize for his “offensive comedy”. But, unfortunately apologies are failing to suffice. Comedians – especially women- are threatened with abuse and death any second of the day.

Journalism is supposed to be objective, unfortunately I can’t be today. In the twenty first century, apparently to ‘teach a woman a lesson’ immediately reckons one physically claiming our body. Our bodies are for everyone to claim, and do whatever you want with them. Every day that I wake up, I am disgusted to face the reality of how normalized rape culture is. Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.

You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.

I am appalled by the nature of hate women can receive for having the ability to joke or speak up about important issues. I am not here trying to explain or to justify Agrima’s comments. I am here for the sake of my kind that is oppressed every goddamn day. I am here because she received verbal abuse that sickened me to my core. You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.

I am glad the people who abused her verbally were arrested, but that’s not enough. This is the reality that we live in, this rape culture that we partake in has become so normalized, it is hard to breathe.

In support of Agrima, comedians such as Vir Das, Kusha Kapila, Srishti Dixit, Mallika Dua and other female comics came up with satiric videos about how dissent and ‘offensive comments’ are highly politically ground-breaking in India when our whole country is in shambles. No, this normalization of rape culture is not going to be tolerated. Our bodies are not yours to abuse, and the fact that I have to goddamn spell this out is offensive to me. Agrima is one of many whose voice has been silenced, who has been coerced into apologizing about her stand up by disgusting people. It is enough, that is what it is. It is just enough.