Real Stories Matter
Fifteen years ago at school, a history lesson on the Second World War and a brush with the world of the Model United Nations sealed the deal for me. I wanted a career in the development sector, particularly in the humanitarian services.
The lure was magnetic—I would stand as a representative of my country, or of an oppressed section of people. I would work with the grass-root organizations and proffer them the benefits of humanitarian aid and assistance. I would be their voice, their advocate. I would fight for them and I would ensure that they get justice.
Ten years down the line, I found myself stationed somewhere near my goal. Without the requisite educational qualifications, I had something like a toe’s hold in the workings of the United Nations through certain volunteering opportunities. During this stint I saw the true essence and enormity of humanitarian work, the hard-hitting reality now stared at me in the face. However, when I worked as a volunteer with these organizations, I was just a writer. A meagre writer, who was continents and oceans away from where these organizations physically functioned, a writer who sat in front of a computer screen churning piece after piece of diligent, copious research.
Then followed the questions — questions I asked myself, questions my family and friends asked me. What difference are you making, anyway? You’re just writing. Does your writing bring any justice to the ones in need?
Well. I have no idea if it does or it did make any difference to them.
To me, it did. It does and it will always do so.
When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world real stories, of stories that were so real, they had to be fictionalized for the world to digest, of sordid and morbid realities that could leave you shaken. I told the world of the things women went through, children went through. I told the world what it already knew—or at least, most of them did.
These were stories of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, honour killings, gender-based deprivation and inequality, foeticide and infanticide. And as I wrote, I grew. I grew because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. I realized that what were just words for me here was the reality, the harsh truth for a woman, miles away. I realized that as much as the world was ahead, it was also terribly backward.
I travelled through my writing. In war-stricken Afghanistan, I saw how war left society with a crippled life. In DR Congo, I saw how women still bear the brunt of sexual violence and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. During and after the many civil wars in the Middle East as part of the Arab Spring, I watched how massive governments crashed, and how some continued to hold fort with not so much as a dent to show for it. In Palestine, I saw how the once-oppressed turned oppressor and with borrowed hatred continued to keep war and hate alive. In Guatemala, I was chilled to the bone by the stories of the Mayan Ixil genocide. I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of a society with peace. I realized that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unravelled, society cripples.
I am not an expert. I am far more ordinary than I know I am. And yet, I still write. Not in the hope that someone would read, but in the knowledge that this information is necessary for the world. I am not the only one ferrying this information – but I’m a part of the critical mass of a few that are. Real stories matter. Writing about social issues matters. All truths matter and all truths are actionable.
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