I was watching the Newsnight interview with Arundhati Roy regarding her views on how nationalism has been a potent force in encouraging the Indian rape culture. The brand of nationalism that is practised in India is extremely dangerous for the way that it cuts across class, caste, gender and age in commanding an uber sense of loyalty to religion. I contribute to ‘Feminism in India’ which is a leading South Asian feminist website. Below is an article which I wrote for the website after witnessing the masses of Indian nationals living in the UK who came out onto the streets in Westminster for Modi’s visit to London in April. 

 

You could not have missed that Narendra Modi was in Central London for the hundreds of Indian men and women who turned out to either demonstrate in support of or remonstrate against him. Modi was attending the Commonwealth Heads Summit. In all my years of living in London I have never seen quite so many Indians crowded together in one area within London. Such is the power of Modi but it has attracted much controversy in the British press.

I went along to observe and report for Feminism in India. It was an experience that shook me and left me wondering whether there is any such thing at all as ‘Indian Values’ or have these, if they ever existed at all, been transmuted into ‘anti-women Cultural nationalism’.

I felt as if I had walked into a parallel universe. Both pro-Modi and anti-Modi groups were in attendance but situated a little distance away from each other.  I happened upon the pro-Modi group first but it took me a few seconds to recognise this. The reason for my initial bewilderment was because this group consisted predominantly of women. They were full of defiant swagger and were chanting pro-Modi phrases.

Where was the recognition of the hostile environment that has been created by Modi’s politics which does not take paedophilia and rape seriously? Where were the banners calling for justice for Asifa? Instead there was merry making and music and colourful clothing that one could have been forgiven for wondering whether a wedding was taking place. Quite ironic considering that there are funerals taking place all over India for victims of rape and paedophilia.

The anti-Modi demonstration was, by contrast, much much smaller and serious. They held banners with Asifa’s photograph and against rape. There was no music and their mood subdued but concern over the level of rapes in India has been reflected in UK reporting.

If the numbers of women who turned out in support of Modi in London are anything to go by then Cultural nationalism is Indian feminism’s enemy. I don’t live in India and can only comment on what I saw in London.

I spent all day unravelling my long-held belief that Indian values equalled Liberal values. Perhaps my beliefs were far too subjective and devoid of evidence. There was so much to unpick. Little girls have been raped, tortured and murdered. Their relatives denied justice. The father of one rape victim was killed while in police custody. Having endured colonialism should South Asia not have a higher sense of justice? Even on a simple level of justice paedophilia should not be tolerated.

Modi’s silence has caused controversy worldwide.

After a day of contemplation, I began to see quite clearly the causal connection between long-held Indian prejudices and the current anti-female dogma. The female value was demeaned right from decades ago when female babies were aborted without a hesitation. I remember ‘aunties’ talking about their selective abortions quite openly in my childhood.

Then there was the stigmatisation of women for not dressing in the right way. This fanned out to the use of ‘class’ as a dangerous cleavage between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ women. When girls from well-off families were raped they were referred to as ‘low class’. ‘Undeserving women’ were blamed for rapes and sexual violence, sometimes even for domestic violence. People turned a blind eye to so called ‘cultural practices’ of cruelty to daughters-in-laws.

Those who choose to ignore the plethora of wrong doings are foolish and naïve. In Nazi Germany, there was a Pastor called Martin Niemoller who railed against the German Intellectuals for not speaking up against Hitler. Niemoller’s ever famous phrase, “ …then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me” is part of a wider speech given about how society did not speak up for various persecuted groups as it happened till, finally, the silent were persecuted themselves.

Those who tolerate a lack of female justice take delight in the fact that they see themselves as belonging to some special cultural group which, they think, affords them a high level of protection. Their anti-female hatred is subsumed within Cultural nationalism. What they don’t realise is that any form of nationalism is an abstract concept. It is not material. In practical terms, what this means is that NO woman is safe while hatred against women prevails. When a woman who adheres to the dominant Cultural nationalistic fervour goes out she is just as easy a target as a woman who isn’t. (This, by the way, could apply to any anti-feminist of any race who thinks that the rape culture is contrived and overblown)  

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When I was growing up in Asia feminism was seen as a far away concept associated with White women in the Western world who burned their bras. The secondary role of women in Asian society was accepted as a binding social norm. An Asian woman’s worth was measured in her servility, submissiveness and humility.

Any female self-expression was only socially sanctioned if it was expressed through cookery or clothing. A well dressed Asian woman who cooked delicious curries for armies of relatives and friends was the epitome of womanhood.

It was a pretty unforgiving way of living. Women were forced to put up with domestic abuse. I had female relatives who endured years of abuse because the status accorded to a married woman was non-transferable to a single woman.

A lot of this still goes on in the Asian world but, contrary to the yesteryear societal acceptance of it all, a fightback is in rapid progress. Asian feminism is the  resistance movement to the patriarchal treatment of Asian women.

White feminism and Black feminism receive a lot of publicity but Asian feminism is a little known concept in the Western world. Feminism has enough elasticity to accommodate diversity. Chinese feminism is rapidly gaining momentum too.

In the Western world Bollywood is the cultural epitome of Asian representation. Not all of us can sing and dance. Nor do we dress up in an endless array of expensive and colourful clothing while bursting into song and dance at the drop of the hat. The worst part about Bollywood romance is the endless harassment of women in the guise of ‘eve teasing’.

Asian feminism is a fightback to the way the patriarchy requires us all to live a singular life with a predetermined trajectory of education, marriage and children with submissiveness being the thread that is woven through every tapestry of our lives.

We do not live the Asian equivalent of ‘Stepford Wives’. We are active in Asian liberation struggles in our own ways. As a result, I am going to explore Asian feminism in my blog and to show case those Asian women who are doing great things.

I write for an India based website called ‘Feminism In India’ which constantly pushes boundaries and breaks down barriers that obstruct our lives. The articles challenge the caste and class system through forensic feminist analysis.

‘Women’s Republic’ is run by Sai Sailaja Seshadri, a 20 year old Asian student who is studying Political Science at Arizona State University. She is the founder of ‘Women’s Republic’, an online magazine that serves as a platform to discuss women’s rights and empowerment. Sai’s main goal is to be able to give women of all backgrounds a voice through ‘Women’s Republic’.

There is a movement on Twitter with the hashtag #SouthAsianWriters to raise awareness of South Asian literary works. It was started by Nadia Hadid on https://twitter.com/cocoapatootie. Nadia blogs at ‘My life as an imposter’ about Asian intersectional issues. 

Here is a badass article about more Indian women who have made a difference.

Being an Asian women is a politicized experience. As examples, I am often asked for my views on the Rotherham case and whether having Asian British politicians in office makes me happy. These are my answers – the men who were guilty of child abuse in Rotherham and Rochdale are evil men who deserve to be put away for life. Right wing Asian politicians whether men or women do not represent my values.

My Asian feminism is therefore an integral part of my existence.

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I am no longer going to be silent about racism. I am no longer going to pretend that racism is a thing of the past. Racism never went away. Ask any person of colour. Racism is alive but lies hidden under the carpet of Liberalism and so-called ‘progressive politics’.

What is manifest is what I describe as ‘pop-up measures’ or, to be blunt, ‘tokenism gestures’ like diversity tick-box initiatives and training in ‘Unconscious Bias’ so favoured by corporations as knee-jerk actions to demonstrate a ‘willingness’ to tackle racism. These are no more than attempts to blunt racism and not to deal with it.

How do you tackle something when you don’t acknowledge it in the first place?

People have become so fearful of talking about race that even people of colour don’t want to discuss it openly. The number of times I have encountered the latter who brush racism aside as an inevitable that should be accepted and internalised is galling. When pressed further these people of colour will cave in and admit that, yes, it happens to them and they are fearful of raising the issue for fear of being seen as ‘troublemakers’.

The belittled don’t want to upset the belittlers despite the belittlers seemingly going to some lengths to address the problem of racism. The belittled don’t want to seem ungrateful so lie low in attempts to deflect labels such as ‘troublesome’.

The belittlers. to be fair, are often well-meaning and don’t realise that they are part of the problem. They too will brush aside discussions on racism. I have been given the most ludicrous of reasons for why they think racism does not exist anymore – because Britain is now a multicultural country and because Ethnic Minorities regularly appear on TV. EastEnders is held up as a prime example. The classic reason though has to be the one about how racism could not possibly exist in the Western world anymore after Barack Obama’s appointment as President of the USA not once but twice.

A Black and an Asian family on a popular TV soap does not equal the snuffing out of racism. Multiculturalism often is used as a byword for ‘large numbers’ as in ‘there are so many of you here that you can’t possibly be discriminated against’. Well, UKIP has used multi-culturalism to ignite racism quite well hasn’t it? In reverse, their reference to multi-culturalism has been a byword for numbers too in stoking fears over how there are so many of us that we will take away life and liberty from the dominant culture.

Dealing with manifestations of racism through corporate training and ‘be nice to your Asian neighbour’ behaviours isn’t the solution. Burning the Daily Mail before it hits the shops might be but that isn’t a practical solution either.

It’s a structural problem, stupid.

Applying the historical approach of the long duree towards nation building since the days of the Empire goes a long way towards explaining how and why racism is a structural problem.

There exists a paradox though because if Liberalism, which advocates equality, has been the prevailing political ideology in Britain since the post-war consensus then why does structural racism still exist?

Liberalism and racism, sadly, do make for compatible bedfellows. In an article that appeared in The New York Times the origins of racism in Liberalism are described as being found in John Locke’s ‘Second Treatise of Government’. Locke states that the social contract and the right to own property is withdrawn from “lunatics and idiots, women and savages”. Locke’s treatise also offers a “Just War” theory of slavery.

I am not a historian but my lived experience and those of countless people of colour speaks of racism still being alive and, sadly, doing quite well in the Brexit age and Trumpism under Liberalism.

Much as I would like to give up talking about racism because it often feels like I am hitting my head against 10 brick walls all at once I will carry on doing so. It is time for Liberals to stop trying to shut me up with their non-lived experiences of racism. Just because a Black man won Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 does not mean that the problem has gone away.

I was inspired to write this blog post after re-reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s articles titled ‘Why I am no longer talking to White people about race’. I completely understand her stance. It is extremely upsetting when political parties put forward ethnic minority candidates in elections so as to be able to boast that they are ‘diverse’ but will happily introduce policies that discriminate and stigmatise people of colour.

The Tory party’s racist stance during the Brexit referendum, London mayoral election and in their unstinting support for racist Donal Trump are fine examples.

This is why I will carry on challenging Liberals about racism. The structural actors hold the power to make changes and will not do it unless challenged by the ‘troublesome’ lot.

Happy New Year

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A mother has called for the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale to be banned from schools for fear that a kissing scene featured could encourage ‘inappropriate behaviour’.  Sarah Hall from Newcastle is concerned about the message the scene is sending to her 6-year old son on consensual relations.  A Prince kissing a sleeping woman who, obviously, has not consented is anathema in the context of the new enlightenment on sexual harassment against women.

The aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations has, predictably, resulted in a binary system of ‘for’ or ‘against’. There are those who applaud the women who have come forward and who are seeking to rewrite society’s rules on how men treat women. The other half are the ‘against-ers’ who are still making excuses for men and blaming women for what happened to them. Sarah Hall has captured the pulse of those in the ‘for’ camp. She is shining the spotlight on a story that has been regurgitated countless times globally to young children.

I wholeheartedly support her campaign for the simple reason that society is a evolving entity. Our thoughts, analyses and opinions are shaped by our experiences and new unfolding circumstances. We would be mugs as mothers for not absorbing and questioning what challenges the status quo. We have a huge responsibility to educate our children and this extends to questioning accepted wisdom and absorbing it into contemporary truths.

Reading fairy tales to our children plays a huge part of our mothering especially when you consider that this is an activity that is done both during the day and at bedtime. When my daughter was under 5 I would read to her mid-morning and in the evening before bath time as a ritual to get her ready for bed. Her father would then read to her after tucking her into bed. Aggregate these hours and you will get a sense of how much children are exposed to fairy-tales. Children are internally absorbing these messages without challenges. We accepted these stories as being cast in stone when we ourselves were children. The act of parental storytelling is also one of passing these stories down unchallenged. Sarah Hall is turning this supposed inevitability around.

I do wonder how much support her campaign will receive from schools though. For every parent who supports her there will be many others who will dispute it and see the taking away of fairy tale telling as somehow diminishing the experience of childhood.

However, she has opened up a discourse that is worth taking forward but one, in my opinion, which ought to recognise the role of mothers as story tellers. My Asian cultural experiences help me add another dimension to this experience. I used to make up stories for my daughter which involved tales of courage and overcoming adversity. Reading from a book isn’t the only way Asian mothers tell stories. I made up stories involving little Asian children who rode elephants, had mothers who were poverty stricken, sick children who needed doctors and little girls who grew up to become independent women. Mother story telling provides large opportunities for reimagining society and being fodders for inspiration.

While some of my stories did reflect the stereo type Asian mother who prioritises educational success there were also nuances on bravery and the importance of values.

If your child is hearing fairy tales that don’t align with your values don’t despair. You, as a mother, are the premier story teller. Yours could incorporate your values and belief system.Our search for rethinking and revaluating the status quo powerfully begins with us. By imparting this wisdom to your children your story telling takes on a persona that contradicts the simple regurgitation of ‘happily ever stories’.

This blog post was ranked 8th in the weekly Golden Dozen published on 26 November 2017

 

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While Priti Patel was ‘holidaying’ in Israel in August, I was on holiday in Benidorm. While Priti Patel, the former International Development Secretary, was unwittingly orchestrating her own downfall by furtively meeting Israeli ministers and the Prime Minister, I was persuading my teenage daughter every morning to get up early enough to have the buffet breakfast that I had paid for.

While, I imagine, Priti was feted in Israel because she was offering ‘cash cow’ type promises in the guise of foreign aid, I was being watched suspiciously for the first half of my holiday by White people not used to seeing an ethnic minority in Benidorm. I could only offer a smile and small talk to bridge the gap. I didn’t have the financial means to offer them hospitals or anything else that they wanted.

The comparison between how Priti spent her August and what I did is so stark and wide as to not even cast a shadow of an overlap. The only similarity between us is that we both have Brown skin. That is the only thing she and I share (colour of skin and not the skin itself, of course).

You may be wondering what the point of all of this is. Listen up. It’s because I am fed up of people assuming that “I must be so pleased” because of the appointment of an Asian person to the Cabinet. A Right Wing disciple of the freemarket is no more representative of me than, say, a Siberian who thinks eating curry is the high point of embracing another culture.

So next time my answer will be ‘Benidorm’ as a metaphor for irrelevance.

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