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Cyber Bullies

I recently watched this film called cyber bully – the movie revolves around teens and their cliques and how internet with its anonymity factor has given so much power that people often forget to use their own judgements while posting things or saying “stuff!”

I wont deny that there have been moments when I have wanted to say harsh things to people with whom I disagree, and given that I am on the internet I don’t have to face them I could say anything and get away with it. Things get further complicated when this is on an online forum, where you identify folks just with a user name.

I recently had this experience where “a person” who disagreed with me made a very disparaging comment about my work. Is it fair to question a person’s work ethic when you disagree with them? My first thought after reading that comment was to tell this person “f -off you sexist a-hole. you actually justified the sterotype that ‘Most’ Indian men are scared of women that challenge them intellectually!” but a few calm breaths later I realized that if I did this I would never be able to face myself. Not only would I be stooping to this person’s level but Also I would be challenging the person and not their behavior or attitude and I personally dont beleve in attacking a person’s personality or job just because I disagree with them.

Why I think this person is cyber bullying me? This person created a false id just to challenge me, this person has been stalking me on other social networking sites and might turn up on my blog too but 🙂 and if you are here then my message to you is. Read up on male privilege and victim blaming maybe that would help you become a less sexist person and not ask a survivor of domestic violence questions like “why did your husband beat you?” This might also help you to understand that when a woman says “no man has the right to touch a woman even if she is naked” does not mean that a “man has the right to touch a woman if she is not naked!” Yes, this person actually said this!

Also maybe it would help if you worked on your debating skills and rationalize your arguments better rather than enjoy a false notion of pride or have a “yeehaw I put a feminist in her place by questioning her work!” But you know what here is my challenge to you, why don’t you work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault for two weeks and then we can talk about my job skills? Maybe you will have some special insights for me and i could use that perspective!

Also stand up to what you say in stead of creating fake ids – take pride and ownership of your comments. And stop bullying hassled women on an online forum and try finding a better hobby for yourself

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I need feminism because

Indian Feminist

I need Feminism

I recently chanced upon this exciting tumblr page that goes by the name of I need feminism because…. (http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/who+needs+feminism) Folks of all gender identities pose with placards telling why the need feminism.I loved the idea and came up with some of my own reasons….

1) I need feminism because I am tired of women putting other women down, of women joining men in slut shaming other women….

2) I need feminism because I am tired of Assholes thinking that my body is for their viewing pleasure and who think that women want to be stared at and complimented.

3) I need feminism because I am tired of living in a culture where women constantly judge other women and the choices these women make.

4) I need feminism because I want my daughter, the one I don’t have yet, to live in an equal world. To live in a world that does not judge her and lets her be herself. I want her to have hope and optimism and be herself

5) I need feminism because I want to be able to step out of my house without thinking what I am wearing and not feel guilty if some asshole tries to grope me…

6) I need feminism because I am proud to be a woman

7) I need feminism because I grew up in a family that honored and respected women and womenhood. Where education for women was not a privilege but a basic necessity…

8) I need feminism because I am tired of men talking about women and their issues….

9) I need feminism because I am tired of men telling women that they should “stand up for themselves” rather than telling other men to stop being abusive.

10) I need feminism because I am heartbroken that other women, especially my urban educated and privileged sisters, don’t care for their other sisters who fight each day of their life. Rather they say “if I can do it, why cannot you!”

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Peeling the Onion

The Peeling of Onions

One of my favorite things to compare an individual’s personality happens to be the humble vegetable Onion. I remember studying human beings in conjunction to onions in my 11th standard psychology class. “Human beings are like Onions, as you peel out each layer of an onion you explore or discover a different layer… Humans are like that as well,” said my psychology professor. I do not think we discussed the multiple identities or multiple layers that human beings possess ever after in the two-years of Psychology that I learnt.

However, I talked about human beings, onions and the multiple identities in a mandatory diversity workshop I had to take before I began my Masters Program. I think that workshop was probably the most educative experience of my life yet! We were a randomly put together group of about 30 people and none of us knew each other from before. As the facilitator of the group called out different identities, we had to step in front of the circle if we identified with the category she called out. Some of the categories included general stuff – Male, Female, Race, Sexual Identity and then it got more complicated – things like “have you ever been homeless” “have you ever been randomly stopped and frisked,” “have you been discriminated against because of your race?”

When I walked into that room I had a different perspective about the folks in that room with me but as I walked out, I no longer viewed them as isolated identities. Why do we use just one word or identity to define a person when there is so much more to them. And every identity is accompanied with certain privileges and sometimes with certain marginalizations.

I remember one of my mentors, when I first began working – one of my male colleagues, adopted me as a child. I think he saw me as a lost child trying to come to terms with the fact that real world journalism is different from journalism learnt in classrooms.

As we sat in front of our computer desks racking our brains and trying to think of writing captions for over-the-top celebrity pictures, we talked mostly about stupid stuff and in rare times about meaningful stuff. In one of those meaningful talks, we spoke about religion and my friend who was a non-practicing Muslim told me about having difficulty in buying an apartment. And I asked him because he was not religious did it bother him that he had to bear the brunt of someone else’s action! Because I certainly have a lot of resentment and issues with Catholics and my friend told me, “I am so much more privileged than other Muslims who live in low income neighborhoods. I know the police will not come knocking at my door each time a terror attack happens. In fact, I feel guilty that I am so privileged while others like me are not…We often like to see ourselves as victims but we forget the times when we have enjoyed a certain privilege when compared to others. Especially those of us, privileged minorities – educated women do that and minorities with privilege do that.”

I have always wondered how my life would be different if years ago my ancestors would not have converted to Christianity. While I think growing up as a Christian has been challenging because of the stereotypes associated with my religion, it has also accorded me many privileges. I have tried to list some : 1)I was able to go to a place of worship of my choice 2) Friends and alike did not have a problem touching me or playing with me 3) Nobody ever thought twice about coming home and having food with us…4) If I received admission in a course I sought after nobody would blame it on my caste…

In 2010, I visited Uttar Pradesh, where my father-in-law is from for the first time. I visited one of the families, in the kitchen a 15-year-old girl was cooking and cleaning. She was the house-help. The lady of the house called me and asked me to give leftovers from lunch to the teenager, whose face I could not even see, because it was covered by a ragged ghoonghat. I started conversing with the girl asking her where she lived, much to the amazement of other women around me. As I walked to handover the food to her, the lady of the house pulled me back and told me I was not supposed to touch the person I am giving food to because she was a “chamar.” It was explained to me that the girl would extend her shawl and I would throw two rotis into her shawl…. disgusted, I refused to do so; they said that as a new daughter-in-law I should not touch such “unlucky” and “lowly” people. I wonder what these people would say if they learn that, I am as “lowly” as that child…is.

Strangely, I have never attended a diversity training or workshop in India. Strange because we are a very diverse country and are proud of our “cosmopolitan” “secular” and “tolerant” attitudes. I think it we need a reality check; we need to peel the layers of our onions to understand ourselves better and look at how we perceive others.

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H-4 Diaries Chapter 3…. To be or not to be

Cute little girls in pink frocks scare me, and little boys they make me nervous too…. Well, no I am not scared of little children or their smiles I am just scared of myself. When I see friends pull a little one’s cheek and gush “cho chweet” “OMG she is so cute,” I scratch my head and wonder if something is wrong with me, because I don’t get that excited when I see children….

After all ain’t I an Indian woman, children should make me happy and children do make me happy but I don’t know if I want to give birth to one (well, not as of now) but everywhere I go the message both subtle and direct is “You are incomplete if you do not have a child!” “Becoming a mother is the best thing that happened to me” “Motherhood changed me completely”….

When I married I was 24, soon I moved to the US and was at home all day twiddling my fingers. Someone suggested that I have children because that is the best thing for women on H-4 to do, well put your time to good use was the advice. But what if that is not what you want in life? So I decided to be the rebel and ignore what my fellow H-4’s were telling me, I just felt too young. And in hindsight I think it was the right decision. Despite having dated for almost 7 and a half years, that first-year of marriage was quite a teething challenge for both of us. There were moments when we both felt if we were wrong….did we rush into marriage….on my part it was “OMG, I never knew you asked your sis each and everything!” on his part it was… “OMG, I never thought you would get upset at such silly things!”

But a year later, wiser and smarter we both realized that we had stopped being friends and were becoming too much “husband” and “wife” we learned that maybe “Mr and Mrs.” was not a role that suited us well and started working on where we had left our relationship 7 and 1/2 years ago – we became friends again…

In my late 20’s my resolve not to have kids began to get stronger, furthered by the husband who did not want to have children either. However, everyone around us kept having children and we kept going to birthdays, help out with the decoration, help with the pack-up and at the end of every party we heard “Oh, we will return the favor once you have kids”….” the husband and I would give each other that mischievous smile that two children who have a special secret that nobody should know give each other.

At 28 I was convinced motherhood is not for me, and I never felt “less of a woman” or “guilty” despite people around me giving me at times subtle and at times more direct hints. But I guess, when you are younger and have a lot of conviction you are able to deal better with difference of opinion and do not get frustrated easily. However, what really helped was having my husband’s support – it was a decision that we both made together.

However, when I turned the much dreaded “30” they got to me….I remember one of my close friend was expecting her second child. I had finished my first year at school, when I went to meet my friend she shared her sonogram with me, kept rubbing her belly and told me she couldn’t wait for me to have a child and was wondering why I was not having children. I did not pay much attention, however, she was relentless in her suggestions. She later said that she knew a lot of people like me who delayed having kids and when they wanted to have children they never had. She was worried the same thing was going to happen to me – I had several answers in my mind that I could give her, which would have resulted in the end of our friendship but I decided I did not want to be as cruel as her!

That has to be the most cruel thing someone has ever told me. I guess, that is the moment when I started fearing all the “what ifs…..” I personally do not think that giving birth would help me determine or discover what it means to be a “woman” I think I am very much in tune with it. However, the constant jabs started getting to me and I wondered what if tomorrow I want to become a mother and I don’t become one!

I sat down myself and said Good heavens! The unthinkable is happening to me – they are getting to me. Who are they? Well, all the mothers….I cannot let this happen to me.

Don’t get me wrong motherhood is great – but it is not for me (as of now, as of today) maybe two-years from now I will think differently and want to have children, but today I want to be in your words “crazy and stupid” and not think about it….

Today I choose to be “myself,”…. Being on H-4 and not being able to find a job does not mean my I should put my uterus to use….If you decided to do so I am happy for you, I will lovingly plan a baby shower for you but can you respect my decision, just like I respect yours….

After all we are all women bound together by H-4!

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H-4 Diaries Chapter 2 – The Interview

Had an interview today, the first question the person said was

1) Your resume looks very impressive, but before continuing further I want to know about your visa status

2) I tell them I am on H-4

3) Long static on the phone followed by “please get in touch with us, if your visa status changes!”

4) What bothers me is that someone refused to even interview me or talk to me because of my visa status – Thank you so much!

5) I usually do not write in points but I had to get this angst I feel out of my system. This is the unfairness of the H-4 visa, people do not want to even interview you or consider your application. If I fail the interview, don’t give me the job but at least let me compete!

6) And mind you this job required me to relocate to another coast. My husband would be living in  the East Coast (our family would be divided), offered no relocation cost, no benefits but I was ready to take up the challenge because I believed in the work and wanted to work with this population that is very much under-served! But the agency would not even talk to me because I am on H-4!

7) The unfairness of the H-4 visa, all South Asian advocacy agencies talk about it but nobody wants to challenge it or do anything about it! People do not even want to give you a chance – this helplessness can be understood only by another person that is on H-4!

8) However, I believe in the power of resilience. The resilience that my clients have taught me their ability to survive even when faced with systems of oppression makes me believe that maybe there is hope, sunshine and a bright light at the end of the tunnel!

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What’s in a Name, Apparently A Lot. Just Ask Shah Rukh Khan!

I am no fan of Shah Rukh Khan or his cinema, but I share an identity with him that of being born as a religious minority in a country and a culture that prides itself upon being united in its diversity. However, unlike Shah Rukh I have enjoyed certain privileges that the religious majority in India has enjoyed thanks to my very distinctly Hindu first name. Nobody has ever asked me why I do not hang a cross across on my chest or why I am wearing a salwar kameez and not a mini skirt, because the latter is what catholic girls wear according to the Indian stereotype. All of which my cousins, aunts and uncles who all have Catholic names have been accustomed to… However, the above does not mean that we do not love our country or our religious group – these are two things, like Shah Rukh says, that define us and that we identify with, everything about it we have grown to love and live with.Unlike Shah Rukh, I also do not happen to be a celebrity, so anything I say will not be held as a representative of my entire religious community and nor will my words be twisted and turned around by politicians for their public benefit.So why is Shah Rukh in the news again? In a recent article titled Being a Khan, Shah Rukh talks among other things about being a religious minority in a very religious and multi-faith country. The article has now been interpreted and dissected by both the Indian and Pakistani media to mean something altogether. The meaning they interpret is of Shah Rukh feeling unsafe in India. With “well-intentioned” Pakistani politicians claiming that Shah Rukh needs their protection, to them my answer would be to concentrate on their own citizens and their economy and to leave Indian citizens alone.

To the Indian politicians my answer would be to stop using celebrities as election agendas and do something more productive. How about focusing on issues such as gender sensitization or having more stringent rape laws, I am sure our country has bigger fish to fry than Shah Rukh Khan.

However, I am not surprised with politicians from either of the countries, but what upset me more was the Indian media and journalists. Time and again you give credence to lesser known politicians, who will say anything to stay relevant. Are you so starved for TRP’s that you have to keep replaying Rehman Malik’s comments about Indian Muslims not feeling secure? I am sure there are enough stories happening in India… And we have our own Rehman Malik’s to deal with, we don’t need to focus on the Maliks in our neighborhood.

I read Shah Rukh’s article numerous times and never once did I find any inkling of him complaining about being a Khan or being an Indian. If SRK has indeed written the article, I am amazed by his writing abilities; he is a good writer… What struck me was the last line in his article, which said “I am a Khan, and that’s what it has meant being one, despite the stereotype images that surround me. To be a Khan has been to be loved and love back…” I wish, someday everyone living in India with a last name Khan could say that being a Muslim or a Khan meant being loved and being loved back.

However, after the furor that his article has created Shah Rukh has now issued a statement wherein he says that henceforth he would stick to talking about his films and not about other important things. I don’t blame him, because we cry and rue that our celebrities don’t talk about socially and politically relevant issues but when they do we twist and turn their words to mean something totally different and let alone they hail from a religious minority then their thoughts or views are meant to be a representative of their entire community. While I do understand that celebrities should be more socially responsible. Strangely though, I have not witnessed an instance when a religious majority speaks of something and it was made representative of their entire community. For example, Raj Thackeray has spewed venom on various religious and ethnic minorities at various times but not once have his thoughts been made a representative of how his religious or ethnic group thinks as a collective. But, people were quick to jump on Shah Rukh and cite that religious minorities like to play their victim card when they are criticized. I don’t know how and where they read about Shah Rukh calling himself a victim, because I read his article and I do not think for once he has called himself a victim. On the contrary, he keeps stressing that he has been blessed!

I think it is important that each one of us looks at the privileges that we have enjoyed, for reasons that are beyond our control. What I mean is the privileges that we have enjoyed because we were born in a certain religion, sex, caste or any other group. It is important to recognize our privileges because only then will we be able to empathize with those that have not been accorded with these privileges and acknowledging our privilege is not going to make us small or to make us the oppressor.

I would like to conclude with: Do we want our celebrities to stick to talking about their diets and fashion choices or do we want them to talk about issues that we face as a nation? We may not agree with their view points but let us at least listen to their voices, even if it is not what we expected to hear from them.

At the end of the day all of this may have just been a publicity stunt, but I think it is important to talk about such issues

This write-up appeared in Desiclub.com, a website I contribute to…

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Power Privilege and other not so Important Things

While writing a paper about my own family history, I learned that my family of origin hails from a tiny coastal city in Kerala. I also learned that my ancestors were extremely poor fishermen, who converted to Catholicism to overcome upper caste oppression. This is the story that I know of, unfortunately or fortunately I have never experienced any discrimination based on my caste, simply because nobody cared.

Growing up in Bombay as a Catholic, caste system seemed something alien to me. The only time we talked about it was when it was time for college admissions. The most argued debate should there be a reservation or not! I studied Arts, so this debate never bothered me and I belonged to a generation of teenagers who were not bothered by the social evils around them. As long as we were able to graduate and find jobs we did not care about anything….

Before getting into that hornet’s nest called reservation I want to talk about some of the privileges that I enjoyed, which maybe my ancestors never did.

1) I was able to go to a place of worship
2) Friends and alike did not have a problem touching me or playing with me
3) Nobody ever thought twice about coming home

Would any of it have been different had my last name been something else? I don’t know how it feels to be like a person from a “low” caste and I will probably never know. I never thought about caste because like most people I felt “Why bother about something that does not affect you” but in 2010 I felt its pangs for the first time.

In 2010, I visited India, my father-in-law hails from Uttar Pradesh and his family lives around Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. I visited one of the families, in the kitchen a 15-year-old girl was cooking and cleaning. She seemed like the house help, soon she began to leave via the backdoor. The lady of the house called me and asked me to give left overs from lunch to the teenager, whose face I could not even see, because it was covered by a ragged ghoonghat. I walked towards the girl, and someone held me back and told me that I was not supposed to touch the girl because  she was a “chamar.” It was explained to me that the girl would extend her shawl and I would throw two rotis into her shawl…. I was disgusted, and refused to do so, they said that as a new daughter-in-law I should not even be around such “unlucky” and “lowly” people. I wonder what these people wold say when they learn that I am as “unlucky” and as “lowly” as them…..

I come back to Bombay and tell my husband about it, he is equally disgusted….Circa 2013 and I tell my husband what if your extended family learn that in all probability I am “lowly” and an “untouchable” would they still continue to goad over me! He said that we cannot change certain people…. We watch a movie on untouchability in India, where it is revealed that the Catholics are equally guilty of it, I feel bad that why was I protected all these years? Why did I enjoy certain privileges and what can I do now? I don’t have any answers just more questions – which make me feel disillusioned….Joke of the century is that despite having a Masters in Sociology I never talked about it in class, and have never understood the layers associated with caste…. I have to give credit to my American professors for letting me be self-reflective. The other day a good friend told me that she always felt “Brahmins were extremely intelligent?” When I asked her  if that could have any link that their ancestors had access to the best of food and living conditions she gave me a look, saying I did not know what I was talking about…

When one looks at race and racism, all evidence points out that the dominant White race benefited from the oppression of Blacks and other races. Did the same happen with caste system? And if that did happen, why does nobody acknowledge it? Why don’t people openly say that yes our ancestors were oppressive and they did oppress other castes for their personal benefit! Acknowledging one’s privilege is not going to make one small. Probably it will give one some perspective in life….Acknowledging my privileges has helped me see the world with more clarity, a lot of it makes me feel shitty but I think I am more at peace now.

In most of the debates around caste I have only heard people talk about reservation, not once, have I ever heard a conversation around caste and the oppression that it caused. Is such a conversation possible?