Reborn

“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”

Valarie Kaur


Before you read below, be sure to check out our podcast on Hate Crimes linked above that inspired this blog post. We talk about the recent shooting in Kent, Washington of a Sikh man. He was shot by a masked, white man right who commanded “Go back to your own country” before firing the bullet.

 

March 3rd at around 8pm a Sikh man, Deep Rai, was shot in his driveway by a tall, white, masked male. Right before the shot was fired, the masked man said, “Go back to your own country.”

This happened in Kent. A city about 46 miles, 55 minutes away from me. A place I visit to get my eyebrows threaded or to visit family friends and to even attend big functions for weddings or engagements.

When I heard this news I don’t know if I would describe myself as surprised or shocked or horrified even. Instead my mind immediately traced back to my childhood after the events of 9/11. I was in the second or third grade then. I didn’t know what was going on but would play the planes crashing into the two big buildings in my head over and over again because that’s all the news showed me. My parents didn’t say much about the incident.

So I carried on life as normal. Going to school, playing with friends. A week after the incident I was waiting outside the front of my school. Classes ended and all my friends and classmates were being picked up. I was waiting for my grandfather who would come walk me back home. One of the girl’s in my class was being picked up by her mom. Other details are a blur, but I remember clearly her mom looking at me in disgust. “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” She said, walking away.

I was stunned.

Today, I see this xenophobia and racism more clearly; I’m much more aware of its presence and prevalence. And I’m not so stunned to hear comments or sentiments suggesting that we go away or that we do not belong.

That’s what scares me.

How has hate become so normalized? It shocks most of us, yes, to hear shootings or beatings or killings against people because of a bias against their skin color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or race.

What hurts more is how fundamentally misunderstood we all are. The Sikh man was shot for his turban, an appearance that unfortunately in America conjures an image of a Muslim which further wrongfully is correlated with being a terrorist. There are so many misunderstandings to unpack right there. Importantly, in the definition of a hate crime, I emphasize a bias motivated crime due to a perceived affiliation to some group or identity. Even further, that negative perception of the assumed group is also false.

For years after 9/11 my grandfather took off his turban and in its place wore a USA flag hat. He’d walk by me and point to his hat and say “U.S. good!” with a thumbs up. He fought so hard to remove himself from an image of a foreigner for his fear of what might happen to him — he wanted to secure his American identity by wearing that hat.

But, why? Why should what we place on our heads or what we wear on our bodies affect how we are perceived to others around us? This is not right. And this logic creates a plethora of problems not just for hate crimes but also for rapes when the victims are blamed for “how they dressed” or even what they drank.

I am encouraged by the support I see against hate crimes. Perhaps it is because technology gives me access to see this support more, or even that this support is being built by the dissemination of news and protests that media brought. However it may be, I find comfort in the people that do come together in solidarity to stand against hate.

But, it is going to take a lot more than being shocked and hurt by violence to make change. It is going to take more than respective communities targeted by hate crimes to educate the communities they are a part of, to make them understand that they are not here to harm, in order to have sustainable positive outcomes. I admire our visit to the Renton Sikh Gurdwara because most people voiced that it was education that was missing, that people need to be told about the Sikh community. They offered we educate in classrooms and make people aware of who we are. 


That is not enough.

Because when feelings are high and there are instances of violence people will be more responsive and listen and try to understand — those listening to the subordinate group may even welcome that education. But, highly emotional moments fade and violent events pass our memories with time, and then it’s all too easy to get back into the routine, normalized environment in which hate crimes occurred in the first place. We need substantial and sustainable change to fight against this. And this can start with education, but it needs to be sustained with hard efforts by people in power, with policy change, and with a larger change in how we educate American society.

This is also a call to the Indian community: we are not safe. And we are obligated to stand in solidarity with all people of color that have been and are marginalized and oppressed in this country. This hate is systematic, and that we must recognize.

 

Right Tracks

“Before becoming a Sikh, a Muslim, a Hindu, or Christian, let’s become a human first.”                                                                            -Guru Nanak

 

Well hello there! By now I’m hoping  you’ve had a chance to listen to the HKP podcast episode on Sikhism. If not, it’s linked up above – check it out! This blog post will supplement that episode. I could give you a history lesson on Sikhism right now but that’s what Wikipedia is for. I’m going to tell you a story instead.

My mom and I took a trip to India in 2007 for about three months in the summer. It was hotter than the devil’s buttcrack and the villages didn’t have air conditioning, and because of rolling blackouts due to a corrupt and ineffective government, the electric fans would stop blowing their cooling breaths on us randomly throughout the day (usually around the time that grandma and I were laying down for our afternoon nap). But hey, I was sweating out all my toxins and losing weight by just sitting there so it wasn’t all bad. What really tested my resolve was the two day long train ride we took from Punjab to Nanded, Maharastra. We were going to Hazur Sahib, one of the panj takhats (5 thrones). This is where the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, lived until he was attacked by assassins. He killed the assassins but was fatally wounded and passed a few days later. Hazur Sahib is a very sacred place for Sikhs. (It’s where my grandmother went to pray for me when my parents were having trouble conceiving. She washed her face in one of the sacred fountains that flow from the river Godavri and swears that as she cupped her hands, she saw the form of an infant in her palms. I was born later that year. I don’t know if I believe her wish was granted by a particular divine cosmic being or not, but it’s still a great story, especially when she tells it.) But getting back to my story, guys, I was stuck in a loud and crowded moving tube with my mom and a bunch of sweaty strangers for two days without a cell phone. And spoiler, the train didn’t have air conditioning either.

We left early in the morning while it was still cool, but by just 9 in the morning, everything was baking. Dust was flying in through the open train windows and pasting itself to my sweaty face. I had sweated through my cotton kamiz (traditional top for Punjabi women worn with a salwar or pants) and was pretty sure I’d left a sweaty buttprint on the plasticky train seat. I looked so sexy.

All the heat had pretty much murdered my appetite but if you sweat enough, you have to replenish the nutrients you’re losing. Mom and I knew that getting off the train to look for food meant delaying our trip even more and we didn’t have time for that. And eating the food on the train looked pretty unbearable. There was nothing substantial. But as the evening started cooling just a wee bit and the sky took on a pinkish cotton candy glow, a crew of men in orange turbans jumped on the train as it slowed and started handing out free bundles of food. They dropped the bundles in extended hands, racing through the train compartments. After filling as many hands as they could, they quickly hopped off the train as it started gaining speed again to head to the next stop.

The group of volunteers were from a nearby gurdwara (Sikh temple) and were making sure travelers on the train would have an evening meal. India’s trains often have stow-aways and beggars hitching a ride from one town to the next. The gurdwaras share their langar with everyone. To Sikhs, since all living things carry divinity within them, feeding a hungry person is to feed the divinity within.

For a country so torn between religious and caste divisions, this kind of even handed service blew me away. These volunteers probably spent all day in front of giant fires and stoves in the already unforgiving Indian sun to prepare meals for strangers FOR FREE! Who does that? It’s amazing. I couldn’t have been more filled with pride and gratitude to these people. Memories like this always inspire me to live a life dedicated to service and love.

I hope you will do more of your own research and exploration of who the Sikhs are. I’ve been living and studying the culture for a while now and I still am surprised by what I learn.

Check in next week to the podcast for more on Sikhs and hate crimes. We hope that meaningful discussion will start to bring some changes.

Ciao for now,

Gia

 

 

Superstitions

 


Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.
– Mark Twain


Well I’m hoping you’ve listened to our podcast episode on superstitions and are now coming here to supplement your voracious appetite for fun facts and more of my delicious thought babies. Good for you.

I hope to, briefly, deliver some clarification and personal reflection on superstitions because we covered a lot in the podcast (not as much as I wanted to but hey, I gotta try and have a life too) and some of it wasn’t fully fleshed out or just difficult to explain verbally. I mostly want to further elaborate on magical reasoning and how it permeates human life.

Magical or Associative reasoning is when the human mind links or associates one thing or event to another without proper evidence of causality. For example, if a black cat crosses your path and you run into 5 red lights in a row and you were late to work that morning, you may attribute the bad luck of the red lights to the black cat. Even though rationally, you know the red lights run on sensors and timers that are completely out of feline control (hopefully).

In anthropologist James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he breaks down the two types of magical or associative reasoning as sympathetic magic and contagious magic.

Sympathetic magic is based on the idea of similarity or likeness (Metaphor). For example, many cultures associate the sunflower with fertility and loyalty. In Greece, it’s also associated with Apollo, the sun god. Sunflowers are yellow and tilt their heads to loyally follow the sun throughout the day. So they are believed to carry properties of the sun in them and are used in healing rituals. Another example is mangoes in India. They are associated with love and the heart because they have a similar shape to an anatomical heart. They look like hearts so people attribute heart related properties to them. Even wine being associated with the blood of Christ is a type of sympathetic magical reasoning.

Contagious magic is link or association by contact or contagion (Metonymy). For example, lucky charms like rabbit’s feet, or cursed objects would fall into this category. This is an association that keeps people away from “haunted houses” or why people spend thousands on a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair on eBay or go crazy over a celebrity’s sweaty shirt or cry when they lose a wedding ring – because they think that having come into contact with a certain entity or force, these places or objects carry a bit of that contact on with them – that the properties of a particular force, rubbed off on them and have a life of their own. These objects are more than they are – they are symbols for some greater meaning/memories.

We use metaphor and metonymy in speech all the time! We use simile and metaphor without even thinking about it. How many times have you heard things like: “she was a well of knowledge” or “his eyes were blue as the sky”?

Metonymy is something people tend to be less familiar with. An example is “the pen is mightier than the sword” where the pen is standing in for language and communication or the written word and the sword represents force and violence. One object is standing in for larger concepts here.

Whether or not you are familiar with linguistics or Noam Chomsky, it probably won’t surprise you to consider that our brains are naturally wired for language acquisition and language is associative – pattern based. And abstract. And language is how we view the world. How we interpret it. So naturally, our brains are wired for pattern seeking and abstract thinking. This type of reasoning is highly adaptive – it’s because your mind can connect cause and effect that you avoid certain foods that could do you harm or avoid dangerous things – you associate them with pain. Or the reason you seek out companionship and good food – it brings you pleasure. However, many times, those patterns are put together or interpreted incorrectly. Unchecked superstitious thought can hold a society back and drown it in paranoia and fear. There are many people in India that consider widows to be bad luck and will avoid helping needy people due to a completely unfounded fear. Sometimes these superstitions become forms of social oppression that circumvent laws.

It would be foolish and downright depressing to eliminate magical reasoning.This type of reasoning makes more than survival possible. Getting rid of it would take so much of the whimsy out of life. It’s what makes science and art possible. It wasn’t until the time of Galileo and his scuffle with the Catholic Church that religious/philosophical and magical reasoning started to formally separate from science. The same part of the mind that comes up with fantastic stories and art and superstitions, comes up with scientific advancement. The only difference is that science has logical checks on itself to eliminate extraneous and inconsistent data to allow for more reliable patterns to emerge. It is our system of peer review and fact checking that allows us to rule out the magical associations that lead us down the path of fear and superstition. And now more than ever, it is important that we check our own beliefs and see if they stand up to scrutiny and hold our media responsible for proper facts and investigation.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a nearly prophetic quote from Carl Sagan: 

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

 

I was sitting on the couch a few weeks ago gazing out the large window situated above the front door to our house. It was dark, I could see the stars and I saw the moon; big, bold, and beautiful.

A short side tangent — I am obsessed with moons. My horoscope is Cancer and moon is my planet. I even grew up watching Sailor Moon and I can almost swear it was because of the “Moon” being in the title (also great storyline with women warriors saving the world! And dreamy characters like NAME, duh.) I also have a half moon tattoo… So yeah, I like moons.

So I was staring at this big, bold, beautiful moon shining through the large window. It was dreamlike; I was really happy.

My mom walks over right then and sees me staring out the window. She gasps a little and informs me I’d better stop gazing less I want to be cursed for the year. “Anu, stop looking at the moon!” I look at her curiously and then realize my mother often makes such remarks and continue gazing. She started explaining then how that very night was the night of the lunar eclipse and how back in Punjab it was forbidden to gaze at the moon on those nights.

I was curious then. “What do you mean?” She explained. “There is a moment of darkness when the moon is eclipsed. This is a bad omen.” She told me that during both lunar and solar eclipses everyone in the villages would huddle into their homes, not eat or drink during this period. Pregnant women especially had to be careful for these occurrences could negatively affect the child — they had to untie their pants during this time. It was so serious that even pregnant female cows’ leashes were loosened.

I stared at her in disbelief but also fascination. Now I am no newbie to such superstitions — my mom in fact is very superstitious. She makes me eat sweet yogurt every time before a big interview or test to bring me luck; she puts a black kohl dot on the back of my ear when I get dressed up for a party so to deflect the “evil eye”; to rid of said evil eye, she burns her hand over a hot pan to wipe over my face — “burn away evil magic!”

I grew up in superstitions. I’d always roll my eyes when my mom performed these acts or told me such things because I never really believed in them. At least I don’t think I did. I’d still partake in them — to appease my mom or perhaps at some level I began endorsing them because they were so a part of my home life. I don’t know.

So, where does that leave me?

My intensely rational side demands I suspect all and any superstitions. To dismiss my mom’s beliefs as ridiculous and scoff when she tries to prevent me from leaving the house because I sneezed (In Indian superstition you can’t leave the house after sneezing unless you eat something sweet.) I tend to also blow things up: If I endorse any one superstition, what precedent does that set for other superstitions? Where are superstitions founded upon? I think it to be founded in uncertainty, fear, and also hope. People look for means to cement understandings and to also simplify them: Superstitions do that.

I think of what’s happening today. With the state of our politics and our current President a big part of me says: “SEE THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO THINK RATIONALLY AND NOT BE STUPID TO IGNORE FACTS AND SCIENCE FOR MOMENTS OF WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE!!” I mean lot of this political season involved many middle-class white folks frustrated with their economics situations and so angered by President Obama that they were desperate to cling to any token or tool that could give them certainty in their identity in this country. That tool was Trump. He used these people’s frustrations and fear to his advantage, conjuring up his own “alternative facts” to best fill their needs. And those alternative facts I would argue are founded by superstitious behavior.

Fearing specific groups of people for their religion is superstitious.

Profiling folks based on what they wear is superstitious. Etc etc.

There are very real effects for deeply held societal myths and superstitions.

In India for example this is especially true of menstruation. As a part of Hinduism, bodily excretions are believed to be “polluting” and “impure”.(1) Many temples and holy places in India will refuse admittance when a girl is on her period. In some parts of India a menstruating woman is not allowed to touch a cow for belief that the cow will then become infertile! Central to all these myths is scrutinizing women’s natural bodies as being inherently impure and demonic — they devalue women. And these superstitious beliefs just reinforce and perpetuate a women’s lower status in Indian society.

Because of these myths, menstruation is such a taboo in India. This leads to ignoring the hygienic and health concerns related to menstruation. More than 77% of women in India use old cloth in place of proper sanitary pads or tampons during their period because it is taboo to offer hygienic products for something considered so taboo. It is recorded that over 22% of girls drop out of school once they start their period for fear of what is happening to their bodies, and in many places because it is believed the start of menstruation is indicative of the time to be married off — because our only goal is to bear children.(1) 

Those are real consequences of superstitions. 

I think back to the evil omen of the lunar eclipse my mom started this whole post with. This seems harmless to me, and I understand how villages would cling to this superstition as a way of understanding their relationship with the sun and moon particularly by Indian mythology. But what are the bigger implications of this one belief? People might look to blame such occurrences for real health dangers such as difficulties in childbirth. My mom said one of my Aunt’s had two childbirths after a lunar eclipse she didn’t untie her pants for and so they all believe it is because of this reason that her children were born with health problems. This does many things: 1.) It ignores the actual medical problems associated with the children’s’ health and 2.) It inadvertently puts blame on the mother for not heeding to the lunar eclipse superstitions and untying her pants.

This is wrong. And this is where superstitions get dangerous.

I’ll keep to my daily horoscopes consciously aware that whenever it reads that “today I will find the love of my life” that it is likely not true, unless I interpret the finding of girl scout cookies as the love of my life which would be true and then I’d be reinforcing the belief my horoscope told me to believe in — what a cycle! And that is one I can get on board with.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408698/

rape culture


our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry
-rupi kaur


Last Thursday at dinner, my dad and I got into a bit of a verbal scuffle after he played down marital rape as something women use as a tactic against men to win sympathy instead of justice. Playing the “victim card,” if you will. “They’ll have 4-5 kids with the man and then one day say he raped me,” he casually waved off. The comment did not compute in my head. Didn’t he understand that you can want to have sex one day with your husband, have his kids, and yet not feel like it some other times? Didn’t he understand consent? Was a woman not allowed to refuse sex to her husband? Is it because he owns her body? Is that how he treated my mom in the past?

“What are you talking about?” I demanded, my voice and the color in my face rising. He didn’t look me in the eye.

When I was a kid, my parents would say “We think of you as our son.” and act like they were doing me a huge honor. But it always irked me. Wasn’t that statement inherently demeaning – wasn’t it saying girls were lesser but they were elevating me in their hearts? I grew up projecting a much more tomboyish demeanor and even thinking less of other girls who were more traditionally feminine because of this. I had to rediscover my own femininity as I grew. I had to teach myself that being a girl was okay, that it was good, that it was fucking great. That I didn’t have to be ashamed to be what I was. And that I didn’t have to compete with everyone for approval. As I’ve grown, I’ve had to fight for autonomy in a very different way than most American kids. “Good girls stay quiet, good girls stay home, good girls listen, good girls don’t question.” I am quiet, but I laugh loudly, I’m a homebody with spontaneous wanderlust and I like going out, I listen but I talk back, and I fucking question everything. So it was a struggle. And my parents have grown to be more understanding. But every now and then I see the insecure and unfounded rise in authoritarian stances that are either surfacing because my dad is having to deal with two very independent and capable women in the house (me and my sister) or because I’m now just starting to pay attention to something that was already there. Perhaps both. But what irked me more than my dad’s statement was my mom’s silence.

But, going back to my dad’s point on deceitful women – granted, there may be women who lie and manipulate men for their advantage – human garbage comes in all genders – but most women, and especially middle class and poverty stricken women in India, would hardly see any benefit in such tactics. Women are ashamed to admit when they’ve been victimized and don’t look forward to recounting their trauma to strangers over and over again as doctors and lawyers and gawkers look on to pass judgment on them. The culture in India (though America is not often better – remember Brock Turner?) is so horrible to women who admit to being raped due to concepts of purity, that remaining silent is usually preferred. Especially because police rarely investigate further into the cases leaving the anti-rape laws and justice completely impotent. The women are bribed and threatened until they and their families are silent as the statues of the Gods they adorn their huts with for protection.

Some, will say “she was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt, or wore make-up, or was out in the daylight and had a vagina. It’s like saying you shouldn’t buy an iPhone or nice watch because you may get mugged. No one is asking to be victimized. This dichotomy between the “pure” and “sullied” the Madonna and the Whore, it needs to stop. And perhaps this will change as more and more people move towards secularism and away from rigid religious and cultural traditions derived from a patriarchal world view. Especially because India has a very violent rape problem with women often being gang raped, beaten and set on fire afterward. No one is asking for that.

Why do I blame religion? First of all, I don’t blame all devotees or religions. Not everyone interprets the scriptures in the same way. Sikhism, for example, actually grants women full parity with men in many of the scriptures. However it’s a diverse set of beliefs and I’m also not sure just how consistent this equality is since it rarely plays out in practice, as demonstrated with my father who considers himself a devout Sikh. I personally find Sikh philosophies to be quite progressive and devoted to equality and service and admiring and preserving the natural world. But Sikhism is a pretty new religion, barely 500 years old (and there are many different sects that worship differently). There is a larger cultural mindset that is influenced by centuries of patriarchal Hindu and Islamic traditions that are harder to root out. And Hinduism’s caste system (that was hugely exacerbated by British meddling) creates divisions in society and assigns inherent “worth” to people so some people would naturally be less worthy. Less human. Some believe India’s violent rape pandemic is because of the skewed sex ratios caused by decades of female infanticide (another lovely side-effect of patriarchy). This is an alarming factor, however, China, another country with a skewed sex ratio, does not have this problem to this degree. Though there has been an uptick in violence in China too, the men are not violent towards women in the same way. So why? It’s the caste and communal structures in India. China does not have the same complicated set of religious narratives floating around. Women in India are not seen as people, but something to be mistrusted, used and discarded or kept as property with varying levels of worth depending on their quality. People are all about status and women tend to be on the bottom of the pyramid. The Hindu religious scriptures often depict rape but show no consequences of it to the perpetrator. Not unlike Greek and Roman mythology of the West. Women are referred to as snakes and dangerous liars or tricksters put on earth to be temptations. Not unlike Eve bringing about original sin by tricking Adam into taking a bite of the apple.

Sure, Indians also worship female deities (and actually have some awesome mythology to go with it) and not all Hindu devotees have the same view of the scriptures – However, a large section of the fundamentalists see things differently and they set the standards for a large group. For example, the Brahmin tradition of marrying child brides comes from the desire for purity and virginity – the younger the girl, the more likely she is “pure”.

The goddesses are referred to as Ma or Mata, the Hindi word for mother – so still defined by a biological role. They are providers and protectors and powerful but ultimately not human. They are often cause for fear as well. People fear their wrath and curses and bring offerings to them in order to be spared misfortune. Not exactly warm huggy deities. (Which is a shame because with that many arms, hugs would be awesome) Human women are often given some level of status but only as mothers who produce sons. Other than motherhood, they really have no worth.

“In a society where the national narrative conditions people to think that rape has no consequences; where violence has been unleashed by an imbalanced sex ratio; and where women have little or no cultural respect, 37,000 reported rapes per year is not shocking, or even surprising. It is just par for the course (The Daily Beast).”

And with India’s current PM Modi who is a Hindu Nationalist and is linked with state sponsored terrorism and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujrat in 2002 – we are bound to see more of this violent behavior. But with education and technology growing, and groups like the Gulaabi Gang taking matters into their own hands, people are continuing to resist. Women have always been a powerful force in Indian and the world, despite efforts to hold them back. I still have hope.

As for my father, he’s is not a bad man. Nor is he usually mean. But he has a hard time accepting disagreement and I am guilty of constantly questioning his world view and rather aggressively too.

He and his four other siblings were raised by my grandmother in a small village in India. My grandfather died in a truck accident when my dad was in his tweens. He had to take on a lot of responsibility from an early age and didn’t get to pursue an education and I think that hardened him to many things. Being raised by a single mother in India has given my dad some idea of how tough women can be. He’s much less authoritarian and crude about the roles of women than many of my uncles. However, he was still entrenched in that culture where hyper-masculinity reigns and even with direct evidence to the contrary, it’s hard for him to see past certain things. He also doesn’t like being wrong. I do see progress with him. His views soften every time we clash, just not instantly. Many people suggested that I should move out and live a more independent life. And part of me does want to “Cut the Cord”. But I was brought up with an Indian sense of duty and moral obligation to family and that too is very deeply entrenched and I don’t want to leave my family on such tense terms. I do want to fly to coop one day soon, but not because I’m running away. My parents did do a lot for me. They care a lot for me. They raised me as well as they knew how and have given my perspectives I never would have otherwise. They gave me a strong sense of empathy. I suppose I will have to forgive them for what they could not give because I was granted enough knowledge to look beyond their shortcomings. Also, I refuse to run away from my problems. America is at a cross-roads and it’s more divided than ever. Sometimes I think we are on the brink of another civil war. People are not talking to each other. Not even trying to see common ground to begin learning from each other. I refuse to cut people out of my life because we disagree about something, even if it’s as fundamental as this. Because if I don’t stay and talk and learn and teach, what will be left but a bitter emptiness echoing through my childhood home? My dad is not perfect by any means. But he’s also just a hard working old dude who made it through a tough immigrant life the best he knew how and created stability enough for me to learn and grow more than he ever had a chance to. It’s not easy, but I refuse to abandon the big fool. You only get one Old Man. But I’m still working on how to forgive him. (As for my mom, we’ll re-vist her in another post.)

In my experience, much of the conception of children in Indian culture has been inherently competitive starting from the day of marriage. Who marries first, to whom they marry (successful, big family being the highest rank) quickly turns to who can produce the most children — boy children.

My mom was safe on the marriage front. She’d married at the modest age of nineteen, dropping her studies to move with my father to America who at the time was twenty-nine. They hadn’t met beforehand so their first meeting was post-marriage. Shortly thereafter they moved countries. But my father came from a large family having two brothers and one sister. And most importantly he provided an opportunity to move to America, a land of possibility, especially true when you come from a farm village of Punjab where anything beyond milking cows and growing crops counts as special opportunity.

Then she got pregnant when she was twenty-two. Everyone back home was ecstatic. They’d have grandchildren! A hope and dream most elderly Indians hold onto. Actually I could argue that it is the drive to their existence; to see their grandchildren.

When my mother’s water broke and she was sent to the hospital I imagine there was great relief and horror. Pushing a baby out can be nothing short of horrific no matter how beautiful it may be in retrospect. Then the relief that it’d finally soon be over… And then I was born.

A brown Indian baby girl. My mom’s first reaction was to cry. Not out of happiness really but because she claimed my skin was too dark and she was afraid there’d be comments. (After the nurses gave me a good scrub though I apparently came out an acceptable brown and my mother was no longer sad. She just bathed me in milk for the next few months to make sure.)

My family in India was telephoned, surpassing the usual letter-writing route (we were nearing the mid-90s, a time of advancement). My family was overjoyed. Raj had a healthy baby! Quickly questions of gender came. In fact most conversations began like this:
“Raj had her child!”
“Great! What’s the gender?”

Reactions to me being a girl were quite mixed but all had the same undertones back in Punjab. “Ahhhh.” Many would say. Others would stifle their disappointment and front a staged happiness, “It’s good she’s had a healthy baby!” Others wouldn’t even try to hide their true feelings. “Ah by the grace of Waheguru (God) she’ll have a boy next.” (Though by Sikhism Waheguru’s response would be: LOVE YO GIRL CAUSE THEY ARE EFFING AWESOME!!! So asking for Waheguru’s grace is a bit awkwardly ironic.) I think my favorite reaction is that within my own immediate family who had also moved to America. One of my Aunts had also conceived a girl a few months before so much of her family was waiting to see what my mom would get. When they heard girl there was great joy. Not for me but for the fact that Raj hadn’t beaten their daughter in the child conceiving front. They’d both had girls! So they were both equally unfortunate and that they could deal with.

It’s funny. I knew this story from an early age. But, I’d never really thought critically about how effed up it all is. I was always an angry child always asserting my abilities to be just as capable as any boy. My anger was almost a way to show that I was tough and not “emotional” as girls are, of course. But, this way of coping was inherently sexist — why must I prove my worth by acting like a boy? Even my family was confused by my strange sense of assertiveness and stubbornness at an early age: You should’ve been a boy.

The way we valuate different genders in India sends a strong message — females are worth less than males. As a male, you are placed on this pedestal of glory; you’re the breadwinner, the strength and pride of the household. Most importantly, you will carry on the family name which for whatever Buddha forsaken reason females just can’t do… The imbalance of power is instilled at an early age; Girls grow up believing they have wronged their family, only giving them a burden of another mouth to feed and a potential liability to the good family name (keeping girls indoors is not for their protection but the protection of the family pride — they can’t have that tarnished by some girl who doesn’t know better.)

So when we hear that India has over a reported 35,000 rape cases a year(1), I am not surprised. I am disgusted and horrified by the number and the fact that it exists at all, but to me it is not outstandingly unbelievable because rape is essentially about power, or an assertion of it. Indian boys are told they are supreme, they see it in Bollywood where men portray fairly class act sexist characters and they observe it in law enforcement who are unwilling to take cases of sexual assault seriously. In extension, out of the 82,000 police officer in India, only 5,000 are female(2). That really tells you something.

Early on in my life I began to feel these differences; they became a part of my identity. Though my family never deliberately did anything to treat me different — I am so lucky for the mom and dad I am with — these stories and the experiences of the females of my family around me informed me that I was worth less.

But this does not make my family inherently bad. Their way of thinking is a product of an education from their childhood; a process of social norms, institutions, and an environment that nourished understandings of gender as binary, exclusive concepts. And as we’ve mentioned before this does not only happen in India. I started to think a lot about what feminism means and looks like across different cultural contexts because I don’t feel like it can be judged by an unitary or uniform scale. I really thought about this on a recent trip to Punjab, India where I took time to interview a lot of the females (who were essentially all my Aunts #SmallVillageLife).

I went there knowing of the sexist tendencies in Punjab, and the roles of women being very much what I saw as a domestic housewife. So I brought all these biases with me and into a lot of my interviews. I would ask: “So don’t you feel sad for having to cook and clean and be the role that you are in here?” To which most responses were: “???” At first I thought that my Aunts just didn’t know any better — they were raised and breed to be in the role they were in so how could they be unhappy. But, I was still bothered. After all, where was the The Graduate-like-Mrs. Robinson so obvious discontent and sadness that I could pinpoint here?

I had a slap in the face moment at some point in my interviews. One Aunt said this: “I don’t know why I would be sad. We live in the farms. My husband and I both tend to the farms. He stays and cleans up more there and I come home and cook our food. It makes sense.”

I started to really think about how maybe my perceptions of gender and gender roles and what I’d default to be as sexist was actually perhaps a very much Westernized way of thinking — I came from a world where a gRayna number of opportunities exist for pursuing an education, career development, fashion and style…. In Punjab you don’t have most of that. Punjab is largely agricultural based and especially in the small villages like Chahalpur where there are literally perhaps 2 or 3 shops, farming is all they know. Unless of course they make it out to America.

I’m not saying this excuses the behaviors and mindset even in Punjab — they are still so obviously sexist — but it made me check myself more on how I go about understanding sexism and feminism in different contexts because by being angry and imposing a concept I’ve learned in America is not leading to any education or progress; it is only putting groups of people down who have lived different lives. And to me that means I am contributing this oppression. In absence of understanding, we do not progress. Instead, my preaching of “feminism” will be dismissed as “the crazy Indian who lives in America and is privileged to think that these thoughts are an actual possible reality here in Punjab”. My Aunts roasted me, but they also listened. And they began paying attention to other sorts of inequality that happened around them.

At the gurdwara, for example, I note the celebration of gender equality and strength of both males and females in Sikh philosophy. But in practice I saw behaviors very different from what was preached:  women and men were divided in the prayer area; men went to eat langar (a free meal served at the gurdwara open to anyone) first while women waited; men as the main or often only priests; women left to do dishes after langar… I became frustrated and confused. How can you so easily recite these prayers and beliefs of equality only to continue living your life so opposite of those? Like literally a minute after you were nodding your head, clicking your tongue in approval of life being meant for service and in search of equality for men and women, but then it was like “Yes yes women equality….” *prayer ends* “Alright women move out the way, men eat first!”

Obviously the above is wrong in all things spiritual and otherwise. It is so plainly wrong to me that I was shocked to see that no one female or male questioned it, until I did (remember I was an angry, stubborn, “boy” child as my rep lived up in Punjab, too). I refused to eat langar when I saw that the men were served first. I urged everyone around me to question what was happening and to see what I saw. It resonated. People noticed. The days after women from my village came and sat with me and my grandma outside in the evening to talk about how lives of Indian women have been, and why they haven’t changed. “It’s just always been like this, child. I had no choice. I couldn’t run away, I had to marry. Where was I to go?” I listened because that’s what I could do — this was their experience. I questioned when I could — “But why has it become to be this way? How can you all believe in Sikhism and still behave so different?” To this they would click their tongues and shake their heads. “I don’t know.”

I don’t know how India has come to be in the state is has with its gross sexual violence against females and its backwards notion of what it means to be female (though it is an accumulation of factors including a history of oppression birthing a need to prove self-worth through power dominance; a culture rooted in obscure class structure divided by caste attributing worth by attacking identities of people; institutionalized religion that dismisses spirituals guidances and instead becomes another means to oppress and devalue; lack of economic opportunities striking deeply at egos and hopes, particularly in places such as Punjab; an irrational expectation of marriage as a life or death situation perhaps partially birthed by insecurity in economic opportunities, thus pushing a patriarchal mindset because marriage in itself is inherently patriarchal in India… Just to name a few.)

But I do more definitely know that this is changing. Rape cases in India have been gaining international attention; women and men have been protesting the gross mistreatment of females; laws, albeit slowly, have been changing to adjust to theses concerns; a conversation at the political level has started; and we have warriors such as the Gulabi Gang that are fighting these injustices. I have hope.

And to those Indian American females here in the states — WE are modeling the great potential we have as human beings on this planet. I know an incredibly strong amount of you. So keep being badasses and keep encouraging each other. Who run the world #Girls #Beyonce #ReallyJustBeyonce
Much love ❤

Check out our YouTube video on this topic here

–More info —

(1) http://ncrb.gov.in 

(2) http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/only-442-women-police-stations-across-india-police-research-data/article4236877.ece   

Vice – Gulabi Gang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMnpnd0T4gE&t=42s

Nishtha Jain Documentary Excerpt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgnzWyiFmVQ

How Men are Raised in India https://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/indias-daughters-are-in-danger-because-of-how-parents-raise?utm_term=.dszgg0bXml#.oa9JJ1qkXg

NY Times – Violence Against Women in India https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000002003823

The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/25/what-s-really-behind-india-s-rape-crisis.html

NY Times Women in the World http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/03/16/pink-brigade-fights-for-womens-rights-in-indias-rural-heartland/

 

beginnings


“And suddenly you know:

It’s time to start something new and

trust the magic of beginnings.”

Messier Eckhart 


I’m Gia and I’m pretty happy about it. I was born in Kalra, a small farming village in Punjab, India to a Sikh family. We moved to America when I was two years old. I’ve lived and grown up in the cradle of the ocean and shadow of the mountains and embrace of the forest in Everett, WA pretty much my whole 25 years of existence, except for my brief stints abroad in Rome and London. I graduated from The University of Washington with a Bachelors in English in 2014. I am the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. It’s pretty awesomesauce.

Movies, stand-up, music, podcasts, books, and current events are basically oxygen to me. I love compiling a mental database of fun facts to whip out at will to share with friends and strangers and make people think, smile, or become complicit in minor crimes. Wait no, scratch that last part. Basically, I just like knowing things. Did you know that a blue whale’s tongue weighs 8,000 lbs? That’s as much as one male African elephant! That’s bonkers! I’m pretty much just a big five year old that is constantly blown away by this world and I just have to tell people about it. Whether they like it or not. But honestly, they usually do. Cause people like stories and I like hearing theirs. Not all the things I learn are pleasant, though. But I want to know this world just as it is. And I can’t do it alone. So let’s share some stories – get to know each other, maybe understand the world better, maybe try to fix it. And have some rum. There must always be ample rum.

Hey I’m Anu. Not AnNA, not UhNuh, not HEY YOUUUUU. All of which I’ve been called by substitute teachers to strangers to longtime friends who I’ve just never corrected (LOOK HERE GUYS THIS IS HOW IT’S PRONOUNCED! I still love you, though.)  It’s pronounced Uh-Nu (uh-huh). Ya dig.

I’m a Washington native and like to say I’m from Seattle because few know of the small, often weird place that is Everett. Though for technical purposes I am from Everett (represent). Briefly, though, I spent 5 of my years actually living in Seattle attending the University of Washington after which I picked up a job at the Courthouse. It was pretty neat but I think I enjoyed Seattle more when it was kept at a distant like a shiny snow globe that looks perfect and beautiful, minus the snow.

For a year I also spent some time in Japan giving teaching a go, which I truly loved. My inspiration comes from travel which has given my mom a good few heart attacks. “Anu, where are you?” “Oh, Mom, I decided to take this trip to Prague because you know I felt like getting on a plane and blowing my savings.” “…” The world is a beautiful, frightening place and I want to explore every inch.

I love a lot of things when I’m not taking most of my time criticizing everything else. Ice cream and goats for example will be a constant love, as well as my love of books (seriously if you find yourself hating a lot around you get a book to get lost in another world — if you’re lucky you can just always live vicariously through them and, no, no one will think you’re crazy…)

I am extremely excited to be working on this project with Gia. It’s been a long time coming. I feel like I’ve spent most of my time lost, not realizing the impact of being a first generation Indian American has had on me. I’ve always known it was weird especially when kids would give me dirty looks for bringing curry to elementary school (haters). Or when people would ask if they could get slurpees from my family’s 7/11 after which I felt betrayed because my family had never told me about no 7/11 and where were my free slurpees?! But, in all seriousness, it’s taken me a long time to realize that the weird feeling wasn’t weird at all and deserves some exploring. Especially after my recent trip to India where I had the privilege to talk to a lot of my family in my village, I got to thinking more and more.

To best put what this project means to me, a good friend of mine shared this beautiful quote by Rainer Marie Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Okay Google, let’s do this.

Much love. ❤