Guerrilla Feminist Focus: Manisha
Welcome to our weekly column, Guerrilla Feminist Focus, where we feature one badass Guerrilla Feminist!
Location: Kolkata, India
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you currently working on?
I’m a journalist, activist, community organizer and aspiring slam poet. I’m the founding editor of the indie feminist-run zine, Eyezine, which is the main project of Eye Art Collective, a feminist artivist (art-activist) collective founded by Aranya and I in 2014. Eyezine, being our primary project, takes up the bulk of our time: it is an entirely volunteer-run operation that focuses on news, art and culture, which we’ve been running for two years thanks to the tireless work of web developers, publishers, editors and writers who contribute to the webzine from time to time. Our work mostly involves coverage of feminist news and grassroots social movements censored or ignored by mainstream corporate-controlled media, and we also interview feminist artists, slam poets, activists and filmmakers to give exposure to contemporary herstories. The Collective has also worked with community projects, like graffiti drives, and Hysteria, a feminist convention we organized in 2014 which got us a great response from the international feminist community and solidarity groups. I also work with some local activists in Kolkata for the rescue and adoption of stray dogs and cats in the city, and provide counseling to survivors of domestic abuse and trauma. Being an art-activism oriented group, Eye has also produced 2 films, which I helped create: the Hysteria video made it to the filmsforaction shortlist for best videos on gender, and Maya, our feature film, will soon be sent to festivals for screening. I’m currently taking time off from editing to get some writing done and catch up on my reading before I join college. I want to help organize Hysteria 2.0 sometime soon, but we have a lot of planning left to do.
2. What are you passionate about? Why?
Well, a lot of things. Feminism, writing, libertarian socialism, cats, slam poetry, it’s a rather long and confusing list. In terms of social justice, I believe in speaking truth to power, because in order to smash it and help create a non-hierarchical alternative to the mainstream, we need our voices to be heard first, and not remain in the niche. I witnessed first hand, during the student protests this year and during hokkolorob, how the state and mainstream media conspire to create propaganda that misinforms the public against protesters and their demands. George Orwell famously said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” Journalism needs to be reclaimed from the clutches of Big Media, because it functions as an important political weapon in our war against patriarchy, and that is why I am passionate about it. To print the stories they do not want exposed is to challenge their narratives and through it, their unjust oppressive authority.
3. What activist efforts are you involved in? What causes do you support?
A lot of activist efforts that I support have been featured/discussed in Eyezine, because our primary purpose is to try and give exposure to the causes that matter and often get overlooked. Since there are so many, it’s best to redirect there or follow me on social media.
4. What do you like most about doing activist work on social media platforms? Why?
The solidarity networks. In a patriarchal society, the stigma attached to identifying as a feminist can be a very alienating experience, and these networks allow us to reach out and connect with people fighting against the same institutional oppressions. For me, activist work on social media has led to some of the most enduring friendships with awe-inspiring feminists who have helped me through darker times. My interactions online have offered me perspectives on feminism that have broadened my view of it, especially feminist history which is often erased.
Also, social media makes it easier to connect with activists for first-hand news, to organize solidarity projects and exchange ideas on campaigns. For example, when the refugee crisis began, we collaborated with Brush and Bow to feature first-hand accounts, and create an online fundraising campaign, which would have been impossible without the solidarity network on social media.
5. What or who inspires you?
Sisterhood. By that, I mean not just the feminist support networks we work to create but also this lineage of wilful women we descended from, the ones who fought for the rights we have today. Kobane, Assata Shakur, Pinjra Tod, Soni Sori: each fight gives me the courage to persevere, because challenging the status quo is never easy.
6. How do you practice self-care?
I’ll be honest, this is the bit I struggle with. I cannot always switch off and disengage; the nature of my job requires me to be constantly involved with the team because we’re volunteer-run, while being vigilant to pick up news, report on events, interact with survivors etc, some of which can be very triggering. But when I burn out, I find solace in lots and lots of feminist poetry, and alone time with my cat Banksy (who has and continues to be my constant source of happiness).
7. Do you have any advice for those wanting to engage in activism (either online or offline)?
I wouldn’t consider myself an authority on activism so I don’t think I’m fit to dole out advice. But what I’ve learnt to understand from experience is this: remember that your narrative is not the only one, and your oppression not the only oppression. Empathy is key to all activism. Not everyone will have the same privileges or will have faced the same oppression as you, so we need to take the time to understand other realities. There will be a backlash both within and without the group, there always is in any kind of activism, but that is never reason enough to give up, because we have no choice. To quote Arundhati Roy,”once you see it, you can’t unsee it. and once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
8. Where can people follow you online?
You can can also read this excellent piece Manisha wrote for GF earlier this year: