Interview by Sahiti Kovvuri
Multimedia Journalist By Day, Storyteller 24/7. An empowered powerhouse in the newsroom and a curious mind in the world
Neelima Bhamidipati, a video producer based out of the city of Noida in Uttar Pradesh, India, constantly tackles the world through a curious and thought-provoking lense in both her career and in her daily life.
Neelima is my first cousin, so I would always hear my dad exclaim in excitement whenever she had her latest newscast posted on Youtube. My family and I would gather around an iPad to watch her effortlessly broadcast and take pride in the work she does. We would even take turns during the show to yell, “we know her!” Ever since I was young, I have always been in awe of the many things she has done career-wise as well as as a goal-oriented individual.
Neelima is currently taking an employment break to figure out the direction of her career in the ever-changing world of politics despite having a college degree in Information Technology and a Master's in Mass Communication. She combats the social expectation of knowing exactly what she wants to do in her life at the tender age of 30. I sat down to talk to her at a local cafe in Delhi to learn more about her life, relationship with empowerment and how it has heavily impacted her values and personality.
// Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood?
My childhood was mostly nothing out of the ordinary. It is a standard tale of a girl from a middle-class family who was — for the most part — born and brought up in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Thankfully, I had a loving family that kept all lines of communication open. I never felt the need to hide or lie to them because of fear of shame. Not many of us realize until much later that, that is a great asset to have. I have an older brother who often doubled-up as my bodyguard in my teenage years. By all definitions of the word, mine was a secure childhood and brought along with it the privilege that allowed me to make the choices I have and made me the person I am today.
// What was it like growing up as a woman in Visakhapatnam?
When you grow up in a household like mine, you don’t organically learn about gender disparity. But the moment you step out as a young woman, the experiences you have on the streets teach you how different life is for men and women in this city, this country. In a tier twocity like Vizag [Visakhapatnam], the way you dress and the volume of your conversations on the street are just a couple of things that show you that you don’t have the freedom that boys/men your age have. Going out at a certain hour is another stark indicator, but that one comes a little later in life.
// Tell me about a time you empowered yourself.
When you are young, you don’t know how to empower yourself. Sometimes, you don’t even know that you need to. That’s the unfortunate power of conditioning. But the first time you slap someone on public transport because they tried to rub their knees against your friend, you know there’s more to the story than everyone is telling you. The thing to do is to go back home and discuss the incident with your mother, if not both parents, and learn [some more] about the precautions to take but also about why what you did was the right thing to do. That’s how you learn about empowering yourself, and it was no different for me.
// Can you think of a time you felt particularly aware of your gender and how it leads you to be treated?
Oh, there are many –– the first time you’re told to wear more clothes than you already are. The time your brother is made to escort you back from the bus stop because it’s late aka 7 p.m. The time you’re told to change from shorts to trousers before stepping out of the house –– the phase when your father starts scanning all your clothes before you buy them “just to be sure.” The list goes on.
But here’s what you realize with age and experience. These are precautions taken by many families, and it’s fine to be cautious. But somewhere down the line, we kept teaching our girls/women to be careful but neglected to tell our boys/men why this approach is problematic.
// What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time when you were dealing with that struggle?
I would say, as a woman in this country, you have a tortuous battle ahead. When something goes wrong, sometimes even if it just feels wrong, talk about it. There is a difference between creating a scene and standing up for yourself. There is no pain worth swallowing and torturing yourself over. Talk about it and you will see that many more are experiencing the same and soon enough, life hacks will start pouring in. Discussing what happens to you on a daily basis brings nothing but comfort and good company.
// Do you have any advice for girls who are also trying to realize their power and empower themselves and how should they practice that in their daily life?
Be open about your experiences. Talk, write, draw, paint, box — whatever works for you. Do not suffer in silence. Sometimes, it’s important to project strength even if you don’t feel it. Speak your mind, and soon enough, what you are projecting, will turn into your reality. Half the world, if not much more, is on your side.
// How can the international community help you and your community in a legitimate way? Is there anything you’d like us to know so we can share it with our Global Girlhood community?
Speak. For generations women ignored, suppressed, and even promoted the bad and/or entitled behavior they faced. That silence spoke so loud that it enabled many more to get away with acting a certain way. That behavior spilled over from our homes to the streets. Calling out those wrongs is the first step towards fixing our backward-ass societies. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be a win each time — but it’s a start. There’s no step 53 without a step one. - GGH
CONNECTIVITY CONTRIBUTORS REACTIONS
Reading about women making strides in their communities is always empowering––but what is even more promising to know––is that there are empowering families behind empowering women. As someone who also comes from South Asian culture, I was able to relate to Neelima’s story of having to balance tradition and precautions but also being able to say that there is a problem with what society tells women. Her stories of taking action and talking about even the bad experiences is something that we need to hear more in this world. I was so empowered by her motivation to emphasize the effect that communication can have. As women, for decades, we have been silent about our experiences or have been told that our thoughts and feelings are not important enough. Neelima’s story breaks barriers not just for society in a third world country like India, but barriers for women like us all around the world. Being open, talking about what bothers us, or how we have been wronged by society as women, is extremely important. Her experiences show women like myself that words sometimes hold the biggest fight, break the biggest barriers, and create the best support communities like Global Girlhood.
When Neelima spoke about her family and her childhood––I was able to relate [to] seeing that my own family is so supportive and I have protective brothers as well. While I dress modestly because of my religion, I have always had worrying parents if I come home later at night. I understand it comes with the territory of being a parent, but it always bothers me that my parents have to worry about me and not my brother. It was not a problem with them but of all that is wrong with our societies even today. As a woman, stepping out late at night is something feared. Those ideas (or realities that we live with rather) can make it hard to stay motivated and empowered as a woman. What I loved with Neelima’s interview is how she explains so eloquently the power of speech in this world. We may think that speaking up about our pains and our successes will not do much, but her words really empowered me to think about how human energy is bounced off of each other and that everything is a chain reaction. When Neelima’s words inspire the Global Girlhood community to speak up about their own lives––imagine how many more women we could empower around us? When I speak about my own professional experiences, the more I realize that I’ve already broken barriers I didn’t even think about as a woman of color. Reading others’ stories empowers me to think about my own and gives me the confidence that I too can make a difference in a community like GGH one day.
- Rehmat Sakrani
The womxn interviewed is interested in politics and media. I respect her strong morality and values. She emphasizes the need for womxn to speak about their experiences, and I couldn’t agree more. Through the sharing of stories, we are able to connect and grow strength and confidence. What really moved me is her use of language. You can feel the power of her personality and experiences through the text. I love how the womxn interviewed is not scared to voice her opinions. It is clear from the descriptions of her life that she has learned strength through struggle.
I love how the womxn interviewed is not scared to voice her opinions. It is clear from the descriptions of her life that she has learned strength through struggle. The details about the policing of her clothing and being scared to walk alone at night I am sure can resonate with every womxn reading the interview. Even in America, where you would expect all womxn to be safe, my mom does not let me walk alone at night. This demonstrates the interconnectedness of our experience and the experience of womxn all over the world.