Of hope, cynicism and changing the world

Can I change the world? 

How many times have you asked yourself thisquestion? I have, countless times and every time depending on where I was in mylife I have gotten a different answer… let me elaborate. Even though I was born
in a privileged section of India, I have always had a very strong sense of the
inequality around me and I have always wanted to do something about it. As a
teenager I was optimistic to the extent of being unrealistic (its one of the
side-effects of privilege I guess.) I was sure that I could change the world,
all I had to do is talk to a few people, lock away a few bad guys and voila! There
would be a new better world. 

I walking on this cloud I stumbled into a gender studies classroom and my life,
as I knew it had changed forever! Finally I felt at home, I had found my place.
Everything that I had always felt was being articulated by inspiring women who
had lived centuries before me. But wait a minute, they were saying something more…
it was not enough to lock up the bad guys. In fact there were no bad guys! It
was here, in a modest little, women’s studies center
named after the first Indian feminist, that the monstrous structures that
govern our lives were revealed to me. I understood the importance of
intersectionality as well as the dangers of assuming a single truth. And while
I fell in love with the messiness of our societies all my optimism vanished
like a cloud of dust after the rain. My naïve ignorance was replaced by critical
cynicism and I realized in that instant that nobody could change the world.
But I was hooked, I needed to know more about why the world is like this. This
led me to the Institute of Social Studies. Here I met more like-minded people;
we would sit around tables and talk for hours on end about everything that is
wrong with the world. ‘Be critical, problematize everything’ we reminded
ourselves. And while this got us good grades soon I started feeling hopeless. Hope
cannot breathe in so much cynicism. If we cannot change the world then what is
the point of anything, I wondered?
the lo and behold, like an answer to my anguish I was offered the opportunity
to intern at Oxfam Novib and be part of the Academy. First two days into the
internship things already started to look better. Here, I met all these amazing
young people with very diverse backgrounds but they all had something in common
with me. We were all connected – we all wanted to change something in the
And suddenly it hit me that I had been asking the wrong question all
this while. The question should not have been can I change the world, but rather – Can we change the world? (With this realization bells rang in the skies
and heavenly choirs burst into song!) Yes
we can. Together, we can
. Being part of Oxfam Novib makes me feel part of
something bigger – an organization that has been working relentlessly to make
people’s lives better. Can we completely eradicate poverty? Can we make the
world gender just and an equal place for everyone? May be not, but surely for
some. And that would be good enough.

I now
truly understand the wise words of my late mentor and friend Sharmila Rege, “Your job is to carry the baton in the
relay race as far as you can, you cannot run the whole race. Just make sure to
run to the best of your ability for as long as you can.”

So long as we run our bit, the world will change itself.  

Srushti Mahamuni

Srushti is working on SRHR in the Women’s Bodily Integrity team at Oxfam Novib and is currently studying at the Institute of Social Studies.  Born and raised in India, any mention of body politics can trigger passionate (and interesting) bursts of conversation lasting hours. 


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