Girl

(c) Woodside High School

(c) Woodside High School

 

Yesterday I was at an Aspirations Day in a North London school talking to a group of year 9 girls about the job that I do and how I got here since finishing my formal education. It was a refreshing event and I was so happy to be in a room full of young girls who had ambitions, felt hopeful at seeing successful women in front of them and wanted to have a better life for themselves.

On my way home I was quite emotional because although I often plague myself with self doubt, it reminded me why I started up my own business and how far I’ve come despite having faced so much adversity.

During my presentation, I shared my own personal story and spoke about something that, until then, only my immediate family had known. I’ve been discussing many topics and having conversations with individuals in the run up to International Women’s Day. I was speaking with Rani Bilkhu, a campaigner and founder of Jeena International, an organisation that is passionate about combating gendercide and sex-selective abortions, when I opened up about something that happened to me when I was younger.

The work that Bilkhu does touched a nerve with me because it’s something that I am all too familiar with. When my parents split up, and my mother abandoned us. At the same time, she also burnt bridges with me. At the time, I was fourteen, and when she left the house I asked her: “Why can’t I come with you?” to which she replied, “I don’t want you. I never did because you’re a girl. Stop talking to me.” It’s sad that I remember this phone call because I didn’t know what it felt like to be unwanted until I heard those words.

Until my presentation yesterday, I hadn’t spoken about this with anyone, because for a long time I felt ashamed to be a girl. I felt like it carried a burden, a pain and was something bad. It hurts me even now that someone who is supposed to love and care for you unconditionally dislikes you because of your gender – even though they were once a girl and ironically come from a very large female-centric family. It affected almost every area of my life and I grew up feeling inadequate; something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Weirdly enough, my paternal family were thrilled when I was born because I was the first girl after 28 years.

I grew up feeling conflicted. On one hand, I was loved and protected, but in the back of my mind I felt like I couldn’t really relax or trust the love that my father’s family gave me.  I even met up with her in my final year of university, with the hope of changing her mind, but even after all those years she hadn’t changed which stung. On my own terms, I knew that there nothing I could do and that it had never been my fault so I cut ties for good. It’s something that I’ve never regretted because I knew that I did everything in my power to try and repair our bond. It just didn’t work out and I am better off for it. I am glad that I am. now, in a position to use my  line of work to give self esteem, hope and confidence to young girls and women of all backgrounds.

Incidentally, yesterday, MPs voted against amending the law to criminalise gender-selective abortion. It is wonderfully explained in this must-read blog. Whilst some may be shaking their heads in disagreement, I’m personally glad that MPs did not vote in favour of this amendment because it would have put a lot of vulnerable women and young girls at risk.

For those who purse their lips in disapproval, amending a law is not going to stop this from happening. Even if the law had been amended, people would have resorted to back-street abortions and gone abroad to abort female foetuses. This is an issue which is deeply embedded in pockets of different ethnic communities and cultures which needs to be addressed. It’s a bit like only giving a person with a broken arm painkillers and not binding their injury. Until we begin to challenge these thought processes, begin to respect and defend women and girls of all ages, then we might see the green shoots of progress and a better tomorrow start to grow.

 

The Crab

 

There was group of four crabs in a small bucket and life was cramped, monotonous and frustrating. They did the same thing day in and day out until one of the crabs decided that enough was enough. “I’m going to see what’s outside,” she declared to the others.

“You can’t do that! No one’s ever gone outside. It’s impossible,” one replied. The others agreed, “It’s too risky and dangerous!”

“Well it has to be better than being stuck in here,” she retorted. “Don’t you want to do something different?”

They murmured among themselves and reluctantly decided to help her. The plan was simple; they would stand on top of each others’ shells until she could reach the edge of the bucket and hoist herself out. As they began, one crab began to panic. What if the others decided to leave the bucket as well? With this in mind, he quietly said to the others: “We don’t do things like this; you know it’s not right.” The other crabs agreed, “But how can we stop her without creating a fuss?”

The first crab smiled and replied, “Copy what I do.” As the other crabs stood on top of each other, he reached up and firmly pulled her claw down. She lost her balance and they all tumbled down. As they tried again, another crab firmly pulled her claw down and they all fell down again. This went on for some time, until the first crab cried: “It’s impossible! We’ll never get you out of here!” The others echoed his words and went away silently praising themselves for thwarting her plans.

In a gentle way you can shake the world ~ Gandhi

My grandmother told me this story when I was in primary school. Initially I thought that it was a nasty story about selfish crabs, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that this simple story is widely applicable to the way that we treat ourselves, our communities and each other.

The last Census showed that 14.5% of the UK is comprised of ethnic minorities. It’s a surprising figure given that when you switch on the television, there’s not that many BAME faces, histories or stories on our screens.. It is estimated that the number of black, Asian and ethnic minorities working in the UK television industry fell by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.

With these statistics in mind it is alarming to see this and surely this is a call to action that everyone needs to take, including ethnic minorities themselves. Recently, television programmes such as “Desi Rascals” and “Indian Summers” have brought South Asian faces to the forefront of mainstream television. At a glance, many would – i theory – be happier to see more brown faces on TV. This has been met with a mixed but largely negative response which is understandable. Many British Asians feel that “Desi Rascals” is not an accurate portrayal of Asian communities in London, while many feel that “Indian Summers” is an age old romanticism of the Empire from a white perspective.

I’ve been in a pensive mood since Sunday night having read a lot of people’s comments and opinions about both programmes. The anger directed at “Indian Summers” is justified because it’s an aspect of British history which is largely ignored and idealised with no regard for the colonised. As someone whose history is intertwined with Partition and the British Raj, I felt sad when I started watching “Indian Summers” because it is a very triggering point in my family’s history. I have no family left in Punjab because of it and it’s a part of my heritage that I can only hope to reconnect with one day. And it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about the pain, suffering and number of deaths that occurred as a result of this which mainstream history and television ignores.

But what made me even more thoughtful was why I didn’t feel the same level of anger as others did. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t angry and didn’t feel a sense of outrage that a white man had created a show about the British Raj in Simla. And I’m still wondering why I’m not angry. Is there something wrong with me?

Instead I feel a sense of sadness that this pain exists in many South Asian communities and that it will take a few generations for us to heal from this scar. It is infuriating that the Indian rhetoric has always been hijacked by a white face which manipulated and destroyed the faces, names and souls who were the very essence of that story.

But a part of me also thinks that shows like “Desi Rascals” and “Indian Summers” could provide us all with a starting point to make our voices heard and expose the reality of what the British Empire really did to its colonies. Of course, they’re not the ominous be-all-and-end-all solution, but surely it is a stepping stone in the morally right direction?

It is all too easy to dismiss, shoot down and criticise those who strive to make a change for the benefit of others. This can rub people up the wrong way especially if they believe that an inaccurate portrayal of historical events or a specific ethnic group is being wrongly presented. By all means, voice your concerns, because it is imperative that we continue to speak up against injustices and discrimination. However, it is also worth remembering to speak up in defence of those who are trying to change things for the better and give them the leg up that they need.

 

 

Words have power

Avid Scribbler at Migreat conference

(c) Migreat

 

I have had a brilliant weekend that I want to share with you all. On Saturday I attended a day of talks and workshops aimed at South Asian bloggers in London by Migreat. Before the event, I was also asked to give a talk about my experience as an influential blogger and give advice to the audience.

I remember feeling daunted and thought: “Me? Seriously? I’m too young; I don’t think I can do this.”  

For many, especially women, it has become almost “natural” for us to doubt our abilities and skills. We have grown accustomed to being quiet and not drawing attention to ourselves, our intellect and our ambitions. It’s no wonder that we grow up to become women who are reluctant to openly discuss our talents. Yes we may be intelligent, have the qualifications and expertise required in our fields of work, but it is our lack of confidence and self belief that continually holds us back.

And it was this thinking that fuelled my initial feelings of self doubt. In fact, for many years it has been this type of thinking which has held me back from achieving my true potential and ambition. I’m sure it has been the case for many other women as well.

When I arrived at the event, I was delighted to see a room full of South Asian women. Although the event had stated any blogger was welcome, it was quite a sight to see so many vivacious, intelligent and ambitious women of all ages and backgrounds. In all honesty, it warmed my heart because it’s not something that I get to experience every day.

“A word after a word after a word is power.” ~ Margaret Atwood

At the very heart of blogging lie two things. Firstly, the ability to write well. Secondly, the ability to connect with people via emotions. When combined, these two components create an authentic voice. This is something more powerful than any of us actually realise. If you can manage to achieve and maintain a balance between these two things, you’re onto a winner.

(c) Migreat

(c) Migreat

Writing and to be able to write well is a skill and an act of defiance. In the morning, a panellist (who is a man) remarked: “There are so many women here. I’m not sure why” – this annoyed me because it felt like he said it with a hint of negativity. I knew exactly why there were so many women bloggers in that room; blogging gives people – whom we wouldn’t normally hear from – a voice and outlet for expression. It also is a safer space where one can air their views and, in time, garner influence. In the real world, this hasn’t fully materialised for women yet, but in the blogosphere it certainly has.

Writing has been and always will be a source of power, regardless of whether or not a piece of work gets published. It is the sense of relief one feels after writing down their feelings or true opinions into a blog that gives us power. In our hands, our words have the power to lift others or destroy them.

I felt immensely proud and privileged to be in a room full of South Asian women with personalities that the world doesn’t associate with us. Intelligent, ambitious, feisty, lively and fierce. It gave me so much hope because this is what South Asian women are really like; we have hopes, dreams and ambitions just like any other woman. It feels stupid for me to outline this, but given the way that South Asian women are represented in today’s world, I feel it necessary to do so.

For many years, I’ve come across women (of all backgrounds and ethnic groups) who drag each other down. It was empowering to be surrounded by women who genuinely wanted each other to do well. We all have a responsibility to promote this way of thinking for many other young girls and women.