Visual by Vednt Mathur
Note from the Authors: The italicised portions were written by Anushka and the rest are penned by Rajeev.
Their video “What Activism Really Means” discusses how silence can be a call for action. Their view on activism depends on how we look at activism through the scripts we are born into. They further elucidate that everyone is born into a script, and that’s our story, that’s our privilege. That’s one of the reasons why people get offended when we talk about privilege because we are talking about their stories. However, Khan adds, “Privilege isn’t about what you had to go through. It’s about what you hadn’t had to go through.” Some scripts are contradictions, and some of us defy that, and that’s why marginalised folks are so attacked - we don’t accept the script, we don’t accept our destruction. Sarah Ahmed, writing along similar lines, discusses how queer people who do not or cannot perform according to normative scripts, are seen to 'disrupt the happiness of others.' In turn, those of us who interrupt this 'happiness' by identifying, talking about and challenging the problems with normative power relations that institute and maintain these scripts of living are themselves identified as problems by others. Ahmed's conception of 'aliveness' which suggests 'to leave happiness for life is to become alive to possibility . . . the concept of ‘aliveness’ is held up as an alternative to the social value of happiness' is a critical tool when thinking about activism and the various ‘uncomfortable’ negotiations it involves, simultaneously, for instance, with people one knows and cares for as well as structures of power.
It’s dangerous when our understanding of belonging depends on “who we are not” instead of “who we are.” On activism, they further added that “Activism doesn’t build character, it reveals character.” Transpeople are so threatened because they challenge this rigid script. No one is offended by pronouns, and everyone is offended by the implications. There are all kinds of things to be done in the name of activism, and with unlimited content, it’s challenging to know what’s the most urgent something to look at. One doesn’t have to be remarkable to engage with activism, and we become remarkable when we fight for justice, rights, and liberation. It’s not merely about who we stand with but also with who we sit with.
When discussing Khan’s views on activism, one can’t help but connect it to how they’ve spoken of change. They insist on thinking of change as simply limited to singular epiphanous moments as represented in mainstream cinema across the globe. Change, Khan says, can sometimes look like wearing nail paint or a piece of clothing differently. These everyday expressions that dismantle the scripts of gender, sexuality, and other social markers of identity, constitute our personal and political journeys of change. They speak of art, fashion, and music as some of the significant collective tools of change, specifically in their potential to foster creative control that moves beyond hegemonic scripts of existing.
Speaking of this experience of dissonance with the scripts ‘assigned’ to one, Khan talks about their relationship with their body growing up, which is similar to a lot of trans and non-binary experiences. They talk about how ‘...this is a very non-binary, trans experience, [to] roll your shoulders forward and take emphasis away from your chest.’ As such, marked by the inability to make sense of the scripts of gender ‘assigned’ to them, many trans and non-binary kids grow up actively trying to search for and create unique scripts of their own – ones that make sense for them, where they feel ‘at home.’
However, stepping beyond these scripts comes with its own feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly when one sees such few honest and sincere representations of trans and non-binary lives in mainstream forms of art, including films, literature and so on. Here, Khan interestingly speaks of fashion and expression of one’s identity as intertwined with activism and the question of change. This brings out important connections between personal expression and political activism that are of relevance to dwell on in the contemporary context of social media activism.
This is a stark reminder for the discourse around caste as merely writing about anti-caste politics on social media isn’t engaging with activism. All of us are born into the script of caste. And we carry that forward the anti-discrimination as well. It’s easy to hold conversations over social media and in classrooms to stand in solidarity with the movement but what is needed is to have these conversations where we sit - to have these conversations at our dinner tables. And to resist the script there. That’ll lead to a moment of self-revelation of who we are or how remarkable we are.
Janaya Future Khan: "What Activism Really Means" | BoFVOICES 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipPaYZNCIqw
Ahmed S (2010) Feminist killjoys (and other willful subjects). S&F Online 8(3). Available at: http://sfonline.barnard.edu/polyphonic/ahmed_01.htm#text1 (accessed 10 March 2022)