Women can be wives and mothers, while excelling in their careers of choice at the same time.

So says veteran investigative journalist cum filmmaker Mahi Ramakrishnan, 52.

This was her response when asked for her "tips" for women out there who are restrained from pursuing their passion, by familial and societal constraints. According to Mahi, who also runs refugees rights NGO Beyond Borders, parallels should not be drawn between a woman's familial duties and her professional life.

"Women can be mothers, and wives while doing what they love. Women should educate themselves, and be financially independent.

"Our perception of women should change," she told Astro Ulagam in a recent phone interview.

She should know better, as Mahi said her marriage broke up after more than seven years due to the lack of understanding for her career commitments.

Educate Your Sons

Besides, respect for women also boils down to one's upbringing, she added.

"My daughter is now 25-years-old and never a day have I told her how to walk, how to talk, or how to behave. She's an adult and I let her make informed choices.

"The same goes to my son, who is 32 this year. I taught him to respect women well, and he follows it, to this day," she said.

She cited the remark by a Caucasian friend of hers, who often says that true respect is when a man lowers his gaze, even when he walks across a naked woman on the streets.

"All families should shift their focus on educating their sons, instead of protecting their daughters from dangers posed by men," she said.

Dicing With Danger

Speaking of danger, Mahi had been in several such situations, during her investigative journalism days.

These include covering a series on trafficking Rohingya refugees in the country, infiltrating an army camp in Southern Thailand to uncover a story about the Thai army selling weapons to insurgents, and having her home ransacked by unknown persons when she was not at home, when she was covering a trafficking story.

According to her, the person who brought her into the army camp was later killed, and she even received a call from the Royal Thai army, saying that she had ruined their reputation.

"There have been times that when these happened, I wondered whether what I was doing was important enough to see through, but the satisfaction of putting the information out there, for the public to see and make informed decisions, kept me going," she recalled.

Asked if helping refugees gives her satisfaction, Mahi said it is usually the other way round.

"I share what I can, but what I cherish the most is what I learn from them - their resilience, determination, and holding on when there is nothing much left."

'We Are Ugly People'

Mahi also has scathing reviews for Malaysia's treatment of refugees, giving it a mark in the negative region, from a scale of 1 to 10.

"The political will is lacking. Although we are part of a global system that recognizes many rights conventions, we fail to observe it on the homefront.

"There is so much exploitation of refugees, and even migrant workers, happening to the knowledge of the powers that be, but those in the seats of power are doing nothing about it, as they are busy looking out for their own necks," she lamented.

The ill-treatment of migrants and refugees became worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.

"Let me put it this way. We are ugly people and the pandemic just brought it out. The comments on social media against voices that criticized the crackdown on migrants during the pandemic's onset is testament to this."

Next, Mahi is on a quest to shift the perspective on the importance of co-existing with refugees and migrants, who are part of our ecosystem, among university students. Besides, she is also working on a short film about "seeing similarities, rather than differences."

Photos source: Mahi Ramakrishnan