The Monster Within

This week my heart feels heavy. My heart aches, it screams in anger and it cries out in pain as to what has happened.

The murder of Qandeel Baloch is one which has shaken people to the core – especially South Asian women and girls who were born and/or live in the Diaspora.

It is an aspect of South Asian cultures and societies that the Western world knows about, judges all South Asians against, but doesn’t fully understand. I say all South Asians, because this issue is not exclusive to Pakistanis or the South Asian Muslim community. This is not an excuse to bash Pakistanis for their culture, to say that your faith or your culture is better than theirs or say that this kind of behaviour only happens in Muslim communities.

I say this because 94% of Indian women don’t feel safe travelling alone, because dozens of South Asian women (of all faiths) I personally know have experienced childhood sexual abuse and because British Asian women are three times more likely to commit suicide than a white woman – regardless of their faith. The latter is from seven years ago: I shudder to think what it’s like now.

Qandeel’s murder (yes I’m calling it for what it is: murder) has affected every single one of us because it is a reminder of what each and every one of us is up against and has been from the time that we were born. It’s also a reminder of the price we could potentially pay for wanting to live life on our own terms.

There are hundreds of South Asian women who blog. These are women of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities, ethnic groups and religions. I know some of them personally and we all have a mutual understanding as to why we blog and express ourselves online for a myriad of reasons. But one stands out because of how common it is.

Last year, I spoke at a Bloggers Conference which was open to South Asian bloggers in London. There weren’t any requirements: you just had to be South Asian, have a blog or be interested in blogging. That day the entire room was full of South Asian women of all ages: particularly older women. There wasn’t a single South Asian man in sight.

One of the guest speakers, a South Asian man, commented: “There’s so many women here: I don’t understand why.”

His words hit me that day: so much so that I still remember them and who he is. I remember them because of the rush of anger, the shock and the frustration I felt inside when he said those words. Because I, like so many other South Asian women, know why.

It’s because, deep down, many of us know that whatever we blog about is stuff we can’t say without being judged, ostracised, threatened or told that we are bringing shame on ourselves and our families.

We worry about losing our families, our home and the safety net of our cultures because it is all that we have known and we blindly accepted it thinking that we were nothing without it. We have never been taught to be alone, to be our own person, to have our own individual identity, to fully believe in ourselves and to not care what people will say about us.

This isn’t our fault: it’s probably the only model of communal values and living that we know. The very thought of going against these things, is enough to silence many of us. It silenced our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-aunts and countless women before them.

But this generation of South Asian women refuse to stay silent and for that we get labelled as being too curt, too outspoken and too opinionated. We are told that no man will marry us because we are not ‘good, simple’ girls, AKA, easy to control and manipulate.

We are shamed for wanting to live life on our own terms and for wanting to experience it. We are born into societies and a mesh of cultures which shames us, calls us burdens upon our families yet we are constantly told that we hold the family honour. How can someone who is degraded and viewed with disdain be a vessel of family honour?

When a woman is murdered for ‘bringing shame’ upon the family we feel shock, sadness and anger. But then we blame society, we blame religion and we blame our culture. The reality is that we should be blaming each other because we make up our societies and we make up the ideas which form our cultures. If we don’t stand up against micro-aggressions towards South Asian women, we do not stand a chance of combating domestic violence, rape, sexual assaults and feticide which happens across the sub-continent and the Diaspora.

So many South Asian cultures, despite having a strong history of powerful women, have an overwhelming patriarchy and it destroys the spirit of South Asian women everywhere.

It almost feels like South Asian men, subconsciously, are prepared to do anything to keep them in line and under their control: even if it means raping them or murdering them to maintain ‘family honour.’ This blog, by Saurav Dutt, explains this concept beautifully.

Violence against women happens anywhere; regardless of your faith, your culture, your ethnic background or the amount of money you have in the bank. This is a problem; a huge social problem which we are all responsible for because we still can’t even talk about it honestly. And the fact that our collective way of thinking still results in the lives of women being taken before their time makes me sick to my soul. Shame and dishonour don’t kill our girls. We do. We are the monsters within who destroy our girls.

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A Mexican Standoff

I love old films; even the crazy Spaghetti Western ones. There’s one scene which always grips me with suspense (no matter how old I am) and that’s when the two main characters have a Mexican stand off.

They meet a High Noon, intensely out stare each other, look angry as hell and slyly reach for their guns without breaking eye contact. The first one to show the slightest movement, but isn’t quick enough to get their gun, gets killed on the spot.

I can’t help but think that, mentally, we find ourselves in a Mexican stand off-style situation post-Brexit. 

With the future of the UK hanging in the balance, it’s understandable that many people are currently feeling a sense of unease and insecurity. Nowhere has this been more evident when speaking to young people and British born ethnic minorities.

The backlash and fear that many anticipated is now happening; days after the result was announced we saw that the number of hate crimes being reported to the police had risen by 57%.

Then of course, came the deniers and voices of people saying that such hate crimes were ‘made up.’ I wish the latter were true, but the fact is that when one is racially abused or experiences racial abuse, only they know what it feels like.

Social circumstances have changed; but the psychological experience of leaving one’s country and coming to another hasn’t.

I certainly didn’t expect myself and two young Chinese women to be called ‘dirty f*cking immigrants’ on my way home from work last week. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t get angry and start a fight with the man who’d said it. I looked at him and felt nothing but shock.

Until last week, I hadn’t experienced racism for being Asian for over 12 years. But I was determined to not stay quiet and had my experience written here in The Telegraph by Anita Anand.

We are seeing more and more experts, TV presenters, journalists and papers begin to analyse this spike in racial abuse/attacks.

But the angle which interests me the most is a Mexican stand off between ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants. Nowhere is this compare-and-despair situation more evident than with British Asians/South Asians and newer immigrants.

Now we have a Mexican stand off between ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants.

I’m not too sure how we define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when it comes to talking about waves of immigration to the UK, because humans are so much more complex than simply being ‘good’ and/or ‘bad.’ But there appears to be an unspoken definition as to what a ‘good’ immigrant does versus a ‘bad’ immigrant.

A ‘good’ immigrant does what my family did: you come over, you have economic worth, you build your life here, you already speak a good level of English, you contribute to the system and you integrate (or in some cases assimilate) into British society.

A ‘bad’ immigrant does the opposite and this is what makes people angry . Even individuals who themselves were immigrants 30-40 years ago!

This is what confuses British born ethnic minorities even more. How can an older generation of Asians who arrived as immigrants in the UK play such a large role in demonising newer waves of immigrants?

There are many answers to that question, but one which has continued to fascinate me, is that this particular generation has fundamentally changed the way it views itself. They do not regard themselves as immigrants anymore because they’ve lived in the UK for so long, they speak very good English, hold a British passport, believe themselves to be like the English and are now an integral part of British life.

This was never about outdoing one another in terms of how/why we came to this country.

In their eyes, they did everything by the book and struggled very much to get to where they and their kids are now. And along that journey, they were exposed to horrific racial tensions (the Brixton riots, murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Bradford riots etc), which shaped them into the people they are today.

Despite experiencing so much social, mental and emotional distress, it’s a total surprise to younger Asians to see this level of apathy.

It’s as though they ultimately don’t want to seen as immigrants or the child of immigrants. They are British through and through (whatever that means!). This is then contrasted with my generation who celebrate being children and grandchildren of immigrants, the Empire and are keen to explore that side of our identity both digitally and in real life.

Right now, regardless of nationality, status or economic background, we are having a very dangerous Mexican stand off which we cannot afford to participate in.

The only move we have left now, is to drop our guns and unite for whatever the future will bring, because it will affect every single one of us. And we need to be ready for whatever comes.

 

 

 

Louder, Browner and Prouder

Image source from: https://www.theguardian.com

This week’s blog is one which I have been wanting to write for a number of months now. It’s an issue I feel so strongly about, but am painfully aware of the consequences it may have, which is why I so often kept telling myself to not write it.

As a writer, and a journalist, I am bound by something innate to talk about difficult issues and share stories which may unsettle people. I’ve even received death threats and threats to my loved ones for doing this. The reason why I don’t stop, is because it highlights a need for change. If I stop, they win and we don’t see/hear the stories of those who so desperately need to be heard.

It is never easy to criticise one’s culture; especially if you are of South Asian descent as I am. It’s not in our collective mindset to challenge elders, religious leaders, scholars or theology: it’s viewed as a sign of disrespect and those who don’t conform get shamed or ostracised.

I care about the culture that I come from; it’s the fertile soil which has allowed me to thrive in a nation where I am miles away from where my ancestry began.

I care about the culture which runs through my veins, so much so,  that I am prepared to write a blog which could piss a lot of people off. But what I see happening across the quilt of South Asian communities concerns me enough to feel unsettled.

Today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before.

I feel pride when I see Diasporic Asians – and our girls – use social media to reclaim aspects of their heritages, stand up to racial hatred and to write out their experiences in blogs.

In comparison to older generations, today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before. But it is naive to think that such gains have not come without a cost. And it’s a cost which none of us have really foreseen.

We are now seeing levels of extremism pop up in the most unlikeliest of communites. I guess I can describe as a quiet hum which is eventually getting louder, as more and more voices join it.

For example, a self-defense programme has been set up in Uttar Pradesh, India by Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal for Hindus to participate in. I’m all for self-defense and being able to protect yourself, but when a group states that the purpose of this camp is to ward off ‘the enemy,’ without clearly stating who that enemy is, then we have to start asking questions.

Similarly, the debate which Mehdi Hasan challenged Ram Nadhav (former spokesman for the RSS) about the rise of neo-fascism in India is cause for concern in Diasporic Asians. You can watch it here – it’s from last year, which proves that this discussion is very much needed today.

Some readers may pause and think: “Why has she picked on Hindus? Everyone always picks on Hindus! She must be a Hindu-hater and hate her Indian heritage!” Do you see how we can’t even comment on our cultures and religions without being damned?

During my uni days, I was once called a Sikh-killer in broad daylight by a British Sikh man, because he believed that my non-Sikh family were responsible for the events of 1984. Despite the fact that my entire family have been in East Africa for the last three-four generations!

It broke my heart. To actually experience Asians turning against each other in a heartbeat

The reason why a wave of extremism and right-wing thinking in Diasporic South Asian communities (across all faiths) deeply concerns me, is because we’ve got a shared history where being united has allowed us to thrive and survive in the UK.

There are people out there, who will have you believe that there is greater freedom in being divided. I wish I was joking, but I’m not, because this way of thinking has more or less seeped into many pockets of the wider societies and countries that we live in.

When it comes to addressing extremism in South Asian communities, the first one that we all point to are Muslims. It’s the most obvious point of call and living in a post-9/11 world which is racked with austerity, it’s not a complete surprise to see South Asians keen to separate themselves from the Muslim community and Islamophobic attacks.

The irony here, of course, is that we all are still targeted because of our physical appearances: brown skin, dark hair and ‘funny’ sounding names. Therefore this deliberate act of separation is a waste of time and collective energy. Yet there are still so many South Asians across the Diaspora who partake in this type of behaviour.

Post-Brexit, social media has been flooded with the number of Asians who have been racially abused and attacked. Considering how divided we currently are, I can’t see the former unity and solidarity that Asians showed to one another in the 1970s,80s and 90s making an appearance.

For most Diasporic Asians, we’ve acted like sponges and simply absorbed ways of thinking which do not seek to help us evolve and progress. We have become individualistic and now operate in social silos, without realising that we are all inter-connected. If someone falls, we all tumble down too.

If we are unable to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly in ALL of our cultures, our societies and the state of the countries that we live in, then we have truly failed as human beings. And I’m not one to lose faith or hope so easily in us.