Female. Indian. Bisexual. Former Marine Officer. These labels don’t often go together. What if I added Writer, Advocate, yoga instructor? Anuradha Bhagwati was born to a conservative Indian family. Since her mother was a professor at Columbia and her father an MIT professor, she grew up in a world of academia and high expectations. Her parents chose her courses all the way through the end of her undergraduate education, refused to be accepting of her romantic relationships, and later her sexual orientation. She felt a sense of suffocation under the control of her parents. Overcome by the need to find herself and have control of her body, Anuradha dropped out of an Ivy League graduate school, much to her parents’ dismay, and joined the Marines.
The environment of the Marines, however rewarding it may have been, made it more difficult to gain that control she longed for. She challenged, with great indignation, the lower physical standards placed on women in the infantry. Being a woman of color meant that her skill was constantly questioned, and her body constantly judged. In fact, one of the staff sergeants once exclaimed, “Bhagwati, looking at you makes me never wanna have sex with a woman again,”. Her sexuality came under scrutiny once again under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Becoming a Marine changed her life, just not the way she had hoped. When Anuradha’s attempt to bring justice to a sex offender within the corps failed, she had had enough. The combination of misogyny, racism, sexual assault, and physical injuries that Anu experienced led to her mental and physical struggles after returning to civilian life.
The years of service left her diagnosed with depression and PTSD–not from combat, but from the constant feeling of being marginalized, doubted, and sexually harassed. Anuradha left the Marines feeling like a quitter, disheartened that she could not prove wrong all the people who doubted her.
“I ran away from the Marines as quickly and furiously, and thoroughly as I’d run away from my parents. But it was becoming increasingly apparent that the person I most wanted to run away from was me.”
VA hospitals often undermined her needs and drugs could only do so much to help Anuradha as she fell deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of her mind. When all hope seemed lost, she turned to yoga. Physical injuries meant that Anu was no longer in control of her body. But yoga stretched her meaning of what it means to be in control. She had to practice letting go of the force and grit developed in the corps and literally learn to relax and ease into various poses. Meditating was physically impossible at first, leaving her restless and alone with her thoughts. With time, however, it forced Anuradha to face her trauma, and learn to love her body and mind.
After getting certified as a yoga instructor, Anu decided to hold free yoga classes for veterans. Through this, not only did she support the healing of others, but she also established a healthy relationship with this community rather than one filled with trauma, helplessness, and, anger. This further supported her journey towards healing and leaving behind the resentment she held onto. Through yoga, Anuradha has finally regained complete control of her mind and body. As a result, her relationships with the veteran community, as well as her parents, have been strengthened.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Anuradha founded the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) to vocalize the issues of sexual violence within the military. She worked to bring equality and safety to women in service. Through SWAN, Anu managed to revoke the ban on women in combat, a huge victory in terms of assimilating male and female infantries across the military. Although she is no longer leading SWAN, Anuradha is still teaching yoga and maintains an active voice on issues pertaining to mental health, the armed forces, and women’s rights.