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Storytelling with a twist

Feminist project Gulabi Stories believes in narrating personal accounts to normalise conversations that are typically stigmatised, writes Smitha Murthy
Last Updated : 10 June 2023, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2023, 19:15 IST

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“My whole life trajectory has been deeply influenced by stories,” says Meghna Bhat. So much so that Mumbai-born Meghna created an entire feminist project around storytelling.

Meghna describes herself as an introverted and chronically ill child with hypothyroidism who grew up with depression and an unhealthy relationship with food. It was only through a slow process of understanding that she came to love the adult she grew into. Today, Meghna is the founder of Gulabi Stories, a South Asian healing initiative that uses oral and written storytelling to normalise conversations that are typically stigmatised like those around health, intimacy, identity, relationships, and the body.

“Gulabi Stories was born from my own struggles and experiences with chronic health issues as a child in India to being an immigrant brown woman in the US. Whether it was unexplained chronic pain, fatigue, debilitating heavy menstruation, reproductive challenges, PTSD, fibroids, or other hurdles I encountered around depression and anxiety (mental health) — I felt alone, ashamed, and isolated as a South Asian immigrant woman,” Meghna explains. “For most, there is a culture of silence and discomfort when topics such as sexual and domestic violence, trauma, toxic and difficult relationships, sexual agency, intimacy, intergenerational differences in parenting, dating, divorce, caste and class struggles, sexism, homophobia, etc., are highlighted or addressed,” she adds. Gulabi Stories was created as a two-fold initiative: to share the gift of storytelling with other South Asian folks and to provide them with an opportunity to share their stories on the Gulabi Stories website.

Why stories, though? “Stories have the power to make people feel seen, empowered, and less isolated. When we talk about storytelling for Gulabi Stories, we mean true personal stories shared from a first-person voice or narrative drawn from real lived experiences,” Meghna says.

The feminist scholar who started off with doing her Master’s in Criminal Justice in Philadelphia has completed her PhD in Criminology, Law, and Justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a specialisation in Gender and Women Studies.

There has always been an intimate relationship between gender inequality and traditional storytelling. It was in the 1970s that the term ‘herstory’ was first coined during the feminist movement in the US to refer to history viewed from a feminist perspective. Since then, storytelling has been a powerful tool for amplifying women’s voices. In fact, this year, UN Women also launched the ‘Storytelling for Gender Equality’ project to use storytelling as a tool for advocacy and promotion of equality and ‘positive gender norms.’

Gulabi Stories centres on the stories and voices of those identifying as women, non-binary, genderqueer, or genderfluid. However, the one-year project did recently open up to South Asian men as well. “Even the men in our diaspora and homelands struggle with their identities and how the “man box” comprising of traditional gender roles, and expectations makes it harder for men to break these stereotypes and find healthy coping ways to heal or seek help,” she explains.

The goal is to create a safe space within South Asian communities where people are seen and validated. From the time Gulabi Stories was launched in February this year, the project has received more than 47 applications from those who were willing to share their stories, with about 84.8% of those applications from those who identify as women and 11% who identify as genderqueer or gender-fluid.

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Published 10 June 2023, 18:54 IST

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