“I sat there and I witnessed this injustice. And I just let it happen, I didn’t get involved in the process. I forgot to use my voice” echoes, sometimes, in the background of the callous chaos of my thoughts. Especially when I hear others engage in conflict, with words spluttered and debates fading into the oblivion of complicated and often delusional narratives.
It can be, more often than not, difficult to raise your voice and make your point in social platforms, but when matters are more close to home, and the “others” are your family members, things get even more solemn.
In such cases, Ella Woods’s impassioned speech about speaking up at the end of Legally Blonde 2 holds a lot of resonance, and, recently, on television, when I, by chance, stumbled across a student activist in Hong Kong, I noticed how his feat echoed familiar resonance.
“This is absolutely unexpected -- nobody imagined this would happen,” said Nathan Law.
It was one of those usual Monday nights after dinner, shuffling through all the 150 and more channels in hopes to find something worthwhile to watch, while Baba kept telling me to pick out a DVD from “the classics” collection. Yes, we still watch movies on DVD -- a seldom but pleasant affair nonetheless. It’s usually my tired muscles, and even more tired mind, that refuse to listen to him.
On September 5, I listened, and just when I was about to finally get up, Nathan Law took the stage on all major news channels. And rightfully so, because the 23-year-old won a seat in the Hong Kong parliament.
For the uninitiated, he is one of the front-liners of the Umbrella Movement that ravaged social media and consumed Hong Kong throughout the end of 2014. The movement was triggered by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’s (NPCSC) decision regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system.
Powered by the youth who wanted political change, the Umbrella Movement, like so many other noble causes, was taken to the streets to demand income equality. And many of those much-needed, but never-available things in life.
Fast forward to September 5, 2016 -- Nathan Law achieved a remarkable political feat, which was far from an overnight success story.
I closely watched the news, as the young and enthused student leader was cheered on. And Baba and I both forgot about his classics.
But by next morning, Baba forgot about the news, I would have been as forgetful too, if it hadn’t struck a chord.
The chord is the age-old tradition, especially in sub-continent families, for the young members of a family to not interfere or intervene in family conflicts, even when the younger ones have that yellow light bulb to solve the issues at hand. Age becomes a factor, a factor to undermine views in the most blatant of ways.
“During the Umbrella Movement, young people were constantly criticised, mainly by their elders, for being idealistic and selfish. Idealistic, because their demands for universal suffrage are unlikely to ever materialise, and are certainly doubtful within the parameters stipulated by Beijing. Selfish, because their actions (eg roadblocks) inconvenienced many others, and, in all likelihood, caused their parents to worry,” said Hok-yee Siu, a protester at the Umbrella Movement.
Selfish is what we are said to be, when we speak up against prejudice or downright unjust perceptions. We are called out to be selfish, because, by coming out of our pre-imposed cocoon of silence, we become disrespectful to our elders
Selfish is what we are said to be, when we speak up against prejudice or downright unjust perceptions. We are called out to be selfish, because, by coming out of our pre-imposed cocoon of silence, we become disrespectful to our elders. Selfish because we inconvenience them into hearing us out, our small protest or even an outburst.
We are taught to somehow keep our thoughts to ourselves when some conflict surfaces, and sometimes explodes in the faces of everyone involved.
We are taught that it is respect that should hold us back from interjecting age-old ways and perceptions of older family members. We are told to see them like the can-never-be-wrong clad of people, with only wisdom and righteous values to impart on us. And, if only, that was the case, unicorns and leprechauns would have been our dinner guests.
“Disrespectful” is the stamp we often get for speaking up during turbulent times at home, regardless of how subtle or violent our expression of concern is over a respective matter. Sadly, it isn’t just about having a say in matters that matter in a household, rather it also means standing by immoral and outright medieval notions.
More often than not, silence is what is asked of and from us; that we silently listen to illogical reasoning and quietly gulp down “but this is how things work in this family” syndrome.
I say syndrome, because it is just not one older family member who declares war if a younger member attempts to chime in with a practical and new idea. It’s most, if not all, older family members who take sides and unanimously reject a new thought.
Evidently, this restriction to speak up varies in terms of degree across families and households, but at the end of the day, many succumb to “how things work in this family.”
In such cases, the issue cannot be really taken out to the streets to demand that we are heard. But, rather, we need to contest them, even when sometimes it blurs out that strong family tie. We do it because if we are to be held back in the luxury of our abode, then what can really propel us to speak up elsewhere?
We do it because snippets of fictional characters’ dialogue to student leaders’ political feats make the case for us, the ones who still struggle to shred that silence: Speak up and be heard to change the world, one household at a time.
Nusmila Lohani is a Sub-Editor working at the Dhaka Tribune.