I like to think that I’m a liberal at heart.
I live. Let live. All that jazz.
In times of today, some would call me woke.
In a positive context, it means that I’m politically correct. Mindful of my privileges. Hyper-aware of the changes that need to be made in this society.
In a negative context, it means I’m an out-of-touch wannabe, a know-it-all-who-doesn’t-know-at-all.
Right now, at the ripe old age of 26, I am self-aware enough to say that I am both. Politically correct AND a know-it-all-who-doesn’t-know-at-all.
The thing is, I wasn’t just born this way or became ‘woke’, one day, spontaneously, a la Gautam Buddha getting enlightenment. I was – and very much am – shaped by my surroundings.
For you see, I come from a very politically liberal, Non-Resident Keralite family. Whenever we meet up or chat on WhatsApp family groups, we have lively debates about the current political scenario and what can be done right. These debates, more often than not, are friendly in nature, with no hard feelings.
Most of my family members have grown up in multicultural societies and have embraced this diversity.
This, in turn, has been critical for me to be accepting towards differences and pluralities. It’s what’s made me woke, so to speak.
For the most part, I’m glad that I’m a woke person. I feel that this attitude has pushed me to be a more mindful person and someone who has a bit of a discerning perspective towards things.
But now-a-days, I do feel that wokeness as a whole is now reaching a dangerous territory.
I see a loud minority, in the name of being woke, attacking others (who may not share the same opinions) with metaphorical pitchforks. I see people cherry-picking and making mountains out of molehills. I see people falsely applying current POVs into past scenarios, without even understanding the whole context.
I am scared to say that that wokeness is soon going to be the other side of the coin we call ‘conservative bigotry’.
And so, with this piece, I really want to look at wokeness a lot more critically, and not from the benign laissez-faire attitude that I always saw it from.
I think 99% of the time, a lot of people who claim they are woke (and not those who are actually woke) forget one small, tiny thing: they don’t think before they respond.
Whenever some incident happens, these legends automatically apply woke principles without understanding the nuances and the context.
When I talk about this, a very strong example that that comes to mind, for me, is the whole brouhaha about Padmavat movie, about six-ish years ago.
A lot of ‘woke’ people criticized how the movie showed jauhar, an act of self-immolation by the queen and her courtesans when the men of their kingdom lost the war and died. Actor Swara Bhaskar went on to say that she felt like a vagina when she saw that scene if I’m not mistaken.
And till this date, I’m baffled by people’s responses back then.
Because Padmavat is a story set in medieval India. Women during those times had little-to-no-agency apart from this act of jauhar. Rani Padmavati couldn’t get an AK-47 and start firing Khilji, left, right and centre and become the ruler of her land.
Also, there’s a strong debate whether she existed or not. But let’s not go there.
It would’ve been awesome to watch Padmavati go all Bruce Lee on Khilji, I won’t lie. But Sanjay Leela Bhansali made a version that was exactly in line with what the original poem had and he made this movie keeping the context of medieval India in mind. He didn’t make Padmavat to be a woke revisionist period drama like Bridgerton.
Plus, Ranveer and Deepika are smoking hot. Their chemistry is off the charts legendary and they can make all the Bridgerton couples look like paani-kam-chai
More importantly, if you look at cold facts, women of that era had very limited means to protect themselves. Jauhar for women, as per historical records, was their only solution. Padmavati didn’t have that kind of strength or support to single-handedly destroy Khilji. And so, Jauhar was sadly the way to go. These women were NOT the women of today. They were women of an era where women were nothing but decorative showpieces.
This lack of contextualization also leads to a lot of confusion. For instance, a lot of ‘woke’ people confuse Jauhar with Sati. Let’s be honest: Jauhar CATEGORICALLY wasn’t like the sati system, which conversely was an agonizing act of cruelty against widowed women to ensure that they don’t have a stake in the family wealth.
This kind of selective application of wokeness, without any nuance, can be very dangerous.
It can actually end up doing more harm than good. Instead of actively seeing things for as they are, they just apply 21st century principles and automatically start sniping.
In such a scenario, all I can say is:
A lot of people who claim that they’re ‘woke’ have this strong tendency to…
And they don’t judge those who actively promote hateful propaganda. (There’s a special place in hell for those who perpetrate evil beliefs – and that’s a conversation for another article)
A lot of ‘woke’ people love to lash out at those who may say things out of ignorance, and not out of malice.
A very strong representation of this can be a scene from Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani, where Rocky (played by my all-time favourite actor, Ranveer Singh) calls out his girlfriend’s family for constantly chastising him for not saying politically correct things. During his moving monologue, he asserts how he was never raised that way and whatever he said in the past, was a result of his upbringing and not out of intentional hatred.
When I first saw that scene in the theatre, one thing really did hit me:
Wokeness, so to speak, is a product of privilege. A lot of people who we all know as woke are those who have had privilege of some level.
Some woke people are woke because they come from generational wealth. Some woke people are woke because they’ve keenly educated themselves in the matters of the world. And some woke people like me are woke because of the way they’ve been brought up and how they ape their family’s response. Some are woke because they’re all three.
And historically, if you look at a lot of liberal leaders, they were all privileged.
And so, while woke people claim that they’re privileged and often talk about it, they don’t acknowledge to themselves how privileged they really are.
Because of this privilege, they can afford to be politically correct. The ones who are woke and ‘woke’ know what to say and what not to say.
But the general public isn’t politically correct. A person from the heartland has no clue about the various spectrums of gender or undertones of misogyny.
I’m very sorry to say this, but this is the reality.
A lot of Indians have just not been brought up this way. One has to be cognizant of the fact.
And so, instead of caustically judging them for their beliefs to be wrong, we need to educate them. As mindfully and empathetically as we can, because these are deep-rooted beliefs that cannot be dropped abruptly.
Sadly? A lot of ‘woke’ people don’t realize that. They just roll their eyes and go, ‘India is so regressive.’ Without even actually bothering to actively discuss these things through with the other person with empathy.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of my all-time favourite shows. It’s a brilliant period piece about Midge Maisel, a Jewish housewife trying to break into standup comedy that factors in modern day nuances of today, while being true to the ethos of 1960s America (both good and bad).
Why am I mentioning this all of a sudden?
Because you see, in this show, there’s a scene that really makes you think about wokeness differently.
Midge is practicing her lines for a radio ad that she’s doing for a female politician who’s going to be (or has been?) elected for a position in the local political office. Midge thinks it’s incredible, because hey, a woman in the office in 1950s America? How amazing.
Her father, Abe, overhears the lines while she practices and he’s shocked.
Because guess what? The politician is a bigot of the highest order. And while she’s a woman in the political office, she’s a horrible human being who shouldn’t be the representative of the people at all.
And so, Abe tells Midge, “You have a voice. Use it carefully.”
And this is what I really want to conclude this piece with.
All of us have opinions. And all of us have some means or the other to voice those opinions.
It may not seem so, but having a voice and the means to express our voice is powerful. And with great power, comes great responsibility.
So, more than anything else, we all need to learn to use this voice mindfully.
We’re living in contentious times. Times when we’re promised growth but at the same time, more than growth, there’s an active Justin Bieber-ification of some figures (both spiritual and political). Times where intolerance threatens to break the sacrosanct sanctity of our secularity.
In such a scenario, we can’t afford to be ‘woke’ and take up petty battles. We have to accept the fact that we’re living in a pluralistic world and instead of fighting with each other and becoming another extremist side?
We have to actually wake up and actively work towards making a difference. In whatever way we can.