Dealing with the comments of a rapist

TW: contains potentially disturbing material dealing with sexual violence

This week, the words of Mukesh Singh, one of the men convicted of the Delhi 2012 gang rape have been ringing in my ears. Speaking from prison, for an interview that will form part of BBC documentary “India’s Daughter” which aired last night, he said:

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands.”

“ Boy and girl are not equal. About 20 per cent of girls are good. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night.”

“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

Wow. I’ll give you a moment while those comments sink in.

Isn’t it incredulous that as women and girls we live side by side men who think we shouldn’t fight back when being raped?

Rape is not just India’s problem

And before you say or think that these comments are reserved to Indian men in India, let’s not be naive: rape is not a Third World problem. Sad to say, rape is everyone’s problem. Violence against women is everyone’s problem. A child will learn early on that violence is ok and carry that attitude with them into adulthood. Where does a child learn that it’s ok to hit? Well parents, have you ever told your child to punch back when the playground bully strikes them? We mustn’t legitimise violence, whatever form it takes, even if it’s seen as ‘sticking up for yourself’.

Dealing with South Asian rape culture

But sadly, we cannot deny that these sexist and misogynistic attitudes are common in India, proven particularly when you look at the rape crime statistics. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of rapes actually went up between 2012 and 2013- despite all the protests and awareness raising that came after the December 2012 gang rape. This makes me hang my head in shame.

Mukesh Singh touched upon gender roles in his comment. That women belong in certain spaces and should occupy certain roles in society. It’s easy to write off the comments of a convicted rapist, but really, there are many men- and women in Asian culture that think a ‘good woman’, a ‘decent woman’ is a certain type of person. Until those attitudes are dealt with, people will go on justifying rape by blaming the victim and her ‘wrong actions and wrong clothes’.  What about holding the attacker to account? Where does that fit in the discussion of India’s rape culture?

It’s not sex, it’s violence

And I’ve said it before but I will say it again. Rape is not about sex. It’s certainly not about love and it’s not even about lust. It’s about power. And it’s about a deep-seated disregard of women: misogyny, and a sense of male entitlement- both of which are rife in the Asian culture, I’m so sad to say. If International Women’s Day is about honouring women, let’s do that every day- not just on a specific day that the UN have marked out for us. Every woman or girl attacked is someone’s sister, mother, daughter or cousin. And let’s face it: family is a language that we Asians speak very fluently so let’s use it every day.

Interestingly the lawyers that represented the gang convicted for the Delhi 2012 rape shared the same views as the rapists: that women shouldn’t venture out at night, that it’s not decent for them to do so.

How can we change attitudes to rape and indeed women if this kind of thinking is widespread even amongst the institutions that are meant to keep us safe?

10 years of marriage and I don’t regret what I did

My bridal bouquet. My maid of honour caught it and still has it- I think!

A decade of being married. I can still hardly believe that much time has passed. I don’t feel older, neither of us do. It’s such a cliché, but really, where has that time gone?

There have been so many incredible memories and milestones in that time. One of them was having our daughter which continues to be a wonderful journey of discovery. But marriage is about so much more than the children. The Asian culture places so much emphasis on family, children, in-laws, community. When really, marriage is fundamentally about two people.

My marriage is my life. It’s my Monday morning when I don’t want to do the school run. It’s my cup of tea in bed when I’m sick. It’s the hugs and tissues when I’m scared about cancer, or the future or some other monster in the closet. It’s the person I care for, who I root for. It’s the person I’ve watched get older but who still looks the same to me as when we met 15 years ago.Yes, my marriage is my life.

My family didn’t give us their blessing and they refused to come to our wedding. I had chosen to marry outside of their wishes and expectations so I guess they thought we wouldn’t go ahead if they dug their heals in. We were told of another couple who postponed their wedding because of a similar situation. To us that was never an option: our marriage was always for the two of us, not about the joining of two suitable families. It didn’t matter if the people around us didn’t get that.

My wedding day was glorious- even without them there. I had never envisioned a situation where they would be, so I was very mentally prepared. Our friends and my in-laws were so wonderfully supportive. No one made me feel weird about the fact that there was no father- of -the- bride. There was an unspoken understanding and it was ok.

I’ve been lucky enough that my relationship with my parents has been restored to some extent. I know a lot of Asian women in my position aren’t as lucky as me in that respect. But there are still sections of my community that are a no-go. We are purposely shunned on a lot of important family occasions because “I didn’t marry a suitable person.” Well that’s just makes me laugh at how ridiculous a statement it is. I’ll decide who is suitable for me, thank you.

Still the isolation and rejection hurts sometimes- I’m not that strong minded every day. But I’m overcoming that- as I see more and more that I don’t want to be a part of that culture, that closed-minded mentality. Moreover, I don’t want to raise my daughter in a culture so riddled with judgement and so built on status and vanity. I want to give her choices I never had. To know that as a woman, she is equal to a man in God’s eyes, and that she will be loved by us unconditionally.

People ask me if I regret my choice to marry outside of the community. It makes me smile to even think about it. I am so pleased I did what I did. There’s never been a moment of regret. Yes family is a huge deal for us Asians, and there have been moments in the last ten years when I’ve ached for them so much I could barely breathe.

But you know what? Now we are our own family. And I get to live out my own notions of what family should be: unconditional love, boundaries without judgement, acceptance.

And have I told you how safe I feel? With my little family, I am not afraid anymore.

 

He always makes me feel safe.

Thank you for ten wonderful years together darling.

No sex please, we’re Asian

intimate couple

Is it ok to talk about sex for a moment?

Because it seems Asians are not very good at talking about sex. I mean we’re very good at skirting around the issue (no pun of course). Bollywood films and Bhangra videos are full of highly sexualised content. And yet no one really talks openly about sex in the Asian community.

So let’s just deal with the elephant in the room first. Whether we’re talking about it or not, Asians are having sex. Outside of marriage. People need to deal with that. Teenagers are doing it without their parents knowing (their parents don’t even know they’re dating!) Couples who have no specific intention of getting married try each other out to see if they’re sexually compatible. Engaged couples do the sex-dependant- on- marriage- thing. And there are all the other permutations in between. Work colleagues. Marital affairs.  University students. Holiday flings. Bar hook-ups. One night stands. And on and on…

Why is sex still such a taboo subject amongst the Asian community?

Writer Abhilasha Purwar claims that “our old Indian society is trapped in the shackles of its values and traditions, and often repeats to the new generation: “Sex is for procreation, not for recreation”.

In other words there are some who still equate sex with the duty of having good Asian sons children and not with pleasure. It’s those people who judge others who have sex for pleasure or intimacy. One Asian editor asked me not to mention sex in an article about dating, go figure, because she didn’t think it was ‘nice’.

Come on people! We need to give a language to this practise.  Because it is a reality- people are having sex outside of the South Asian cultural, religious and traditional bounds. And at what point should I mention that it was Indians that gave the world the Kama Sutra?

Yes for some sections of the community, religion prohibits sex outside of marriage, so it’s a matter of sexual purity. I see nothing wrong with that at all. I’m not saying here I endorse sex outside of marriage; I’m not giving you my specific views on it. What I want is to allow those who choose to be sexually active outside of marriage to talk about it without causing shock and alarm and certainly without all the slut-shaming- which is rife.

I had wanted this article to be about whether British Asian women should have more sexual freedom. I wanted to ask whether it’s time to acknowledge that our culture is evolving and sexual freedom is one of the products of that evolution. But I realised that as a community, we are not there yet- we’re simply not ready to ask that yet.

But we do need to have a constructive and honest dialogue on the subject. It could enable us to deal with double standards, such as turning a blind eye to a man who “has his fun” before marriage, but insisting that women are virgins.  We can teach our young people about the emotional realities of a sexual relationship, not to mention the health implications; and yes, talk about the benefits of waiting for a committed relationship or marriage.

We can attempt to deal with rape culture by teaching our sons to respect women, and that sex is a sacred and consensual act; not something they are entitled to and can simply take from a woman (or sadly, a child). This would enable us to deal better with domestic abuse and sexual violence in our culture.

Instead we pretend that Asians only have sex after we marry and maintain a façade that no one is doing it. It’s time we do away with the silence and the judgement and have a mature and realistic discussion.

Let’s talk about our periods

Tampon1

Last month, British tennis player Heather Watson attributed her defeat at the Australian Open to her period. She claimed PMS-related dizziness, nausea and tiredness affected her performance.

According to the Telegraph she had broken sports’ last taboo, by talking openly about periods.
I’m glad it’s not just Asians that have a problem talking about periods. Dr Miranda A Farage, a research fellow at Procter & Gamble (a massive global producer of sanitary products), remarked that it is “a topic that virtually all cultures are uncomfortable discussing at some level”.

My mum never told me about periods or puberty. I was only ten when I got my first period so perhaps it took her by surprise and she wasn’t yet ‘ready’ to tell me. Prior to this, I had heard various playground rumours around periods, sex and pregnancy, none of which were correct of course. In the meantime I learnt the truth by reading a book my mum had stashed away for me- which she later gave me. It would’ve been nice to have some advance warning instead of being taken by surprise by this brown stain one morning. Why was it brown not bright red? Why did my back hurt? If I ran in the playground would blood stream down my legs? Come on mum, my ten-year-old self needs a little information here.

Why is it that periods remain so shrouded in silence even today? Half the population experience them and yet it is still such a taboo subject even in the West. Thankfully, and for once it’s not just us Asians being backwards about a totally everyday subject.

One theory I have is that it’s because periods are so intrinsically linked to sexuality. It’s the stuff of so many playground rumours: “ooh you’re gonna get pregnant if you kiss a boy now!” and all the other ridiculous and worrying things young girls (and boys) tell each other.

In some sections of the Asian community, starting your period is called “attending age”. I was thinking about the meaning of that phrase. What age? Childbearing age? Marriageable age? My maternal grandmother was married at the age of 13 and had her first child at 14. I’d be willing to put money on the notion that had been matched to my granddad when she was very young, and as soon as she hit puberty and was able to bear children she was married. Is that what a woman’s value is to a man- that she can give him children? Is that a woman’s value in the Asian culture- that she can give her mother-in-law a grandson now? It sounds almost medieval but it’s not a million miles away from the truth is it?

Starting your periods isn’t just about having babies. It is a huge rite of passage for a girl, I’d argue one of the most significant. And there are so many more elements involved in “becoming a woman.” Yes the onset of menstruation is the biological marker but it’s not the only determinant of being a woman. The fact that she can now bear children is one (no less significant) by- product. The emotional and psychological ramifications are huge- too many to even list here. And yet society- all of society, not just Asian culture, equates menstruation and womanhood with the ability to bear children. This just reduces us to nothing more than breeding machines! What if a woman chooses not to have children- does that make her less of a woman by this definition? Or worse still, what if she cannot get pregnant at all, what then?

And let’s just deal with the idea that a menstruating woman is unclean, because a lot of the stigma, certainly in Eastern cultures comes from this. In Islam, a woman on her period cannot touch a Quran and she is not allowed to worship. Hello? Having a period is a natural as urinating- it’s a normal bodily function. So why is a woman labelled unclean and somehow unworthy- too unworthy to come before the God who made her?

It seems that it’s not just girls and boys in the playground that need to grow up when it comes to talking about periods.

(Fact: my back hurts and I have a terrible headache. I am actually getting my period.)

Managing your online identity

From left to right: Sarah Tomczak Red Features Editor; Janvi Patel founder of Halebury Law; Ella Woodward founder of Deliciously Ella; Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes

From left to right: Sarah Tomczak Red Features Editor; Janvi Patel founder of Halebury law firm; Ella Woodward founder of Deliciously Ella; Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes

 

Last week I attended a Red magazine Digital Masterclass. The speakers, British Asian business woman Janvi Patel; founder of Deliciously Ella, Ella Woodward; and Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes are all award-winners and leaders in their fields.

The evening covered everything from SEO to how to effectively use social networks. For me, the most thought-provoking part of the evening was the talk around digital identities.

Now this is a really important subject to me as I manage my online personality and my digital footprint very carefully. I put very little personal stuff online about myself or my family. I blog anonymously as this works for me right now. I have often wondered though: if people connect with people, how are they going to connect with me?

But then listening to these ladies, I realised, we don’t connect with each other online, not really. We connect with the versions of ourselves that we create.

Take Ella for example. She has been incredibly open about her illness and what it’s led to in terms of the diet and lifestyle she’s created. But her illness and her recipes are not all that there is to her. She revealed at the masterclass, that she’d never share photos of her boyfriend or her sister; and she even has a separate Twitter account-with protected tweets, that is only for her family and very close friends. She says:

“Maintain your boundaries online. You can still have so much personality.”  Deliciously Ella

This coming from the blogger who, by her own admission, lives most of her life on Instagram, is really reassuring.

If it sounds calculating, well it’s not. It’s smart. What’s more, its basic marketing!  Janvi put it this way:

“Find your own online identity. Decide beforehand, where you want to be.” Janvi Patel

In other words, work out how you want to position yourself and only share those bits of your life online. Be discriminating. Never just brain-dump online- no one needs a play-by-play of your whole day or your every emotion. We all know people who do that don’t we? They’re the tweets we skim past, the updates we ignore.

Most people are (hopefully) already kind of discerning on how they present themselves online. Checking in when you arrive at a trendy bar, an update about your child’s latest achievement, or photos of your holiday/new outfit/new baby etc- it’s the bits of our lives we want people to see.

When do we really post something real- like the last time you felt lonely, or scared? None of us want to share those parts of lives with others, and it’s right that we hold some things back. We need to keep boundaries, hold onto something for ourselves. Otherwise we erode any kind of line between the public and the private.

What about the trolls?

The fact is if you put yourself out there in any capacity online, you have to accept that you might get trolled. But once again, you can anticipate that to some extent by managing what you share. Do people really need to see that photo of you- even if you worked out for months for it? Be aware that you might get weirdos suddenly lurking around your profile. Does the world really need your opinions on terrorism, if it’s likely to invite vitriolic comments?

A word about privacy settings

I know what you’re thinking: every social network has some level of privacy controls. But the truth is there are so many layers to how they work that in the end, you always leave a digital footprint. Remember the Snappening? Those photos were meant to go away. Hacking including cloning passwords and account details are shockingly easy to do. So nothing is ever sacred online.

Real life happens when you’re not online

Since social networking really took off in the last seven years or so, we’ve learnt a lot. It does feel like we’re entering a new, more safety-conscious era. It was reassuring listening to these women- who have all built some really successful brands- talk about how they draw a line between their online persona and ‘real life':

“I finish all my communication in the taxi on the way to the restaurant, and never take my phone to the table” Janvi

“When I go up to bed, I put my phone on airplane mode. No tweet or update needs responding to straight away, you always have an acceptable window of about 5 or 6 hours to respond. Up to 10 if they’re in the States.” Ella

And if you really are glued to your online life like Anne Marie who confessed to sleeping with her smartphone, it’s worth remembering, as she pointed out, that actually, “interesting things- real life- often happen when you’re not online”.

Playful Indian: “You’re the chutney to my samosa”

samosacard-chillipaneercard

The Playful Indian www.theplayfulindian.com

“You’re the chutney to my samosa” and “you’re the chilli to my paneer” are some of the straplines you can find on Playful Indian’s range of greetings cards. These simple, everyday references to Desi culture and life are what make this range of products so appealing, in my opinion. Playful Indian founder Dina Mistry says:

“I felt there has always been a lack of fun Asian cards on the market. I wanted to create cards that would make people smile and laugh, as well as bring Asian cards and gifts up-to-date.”

I love that Playful Indian fills a gap in the market for British Asians. It reflects changing UK consumer demographics and there should be more choices for different ethnic groups. Whilst existing Bollywood themed cards are great in offering a little more choice than is currently available on the UK high street, they have got limited appeal.

Playful Indian brings something fresh into this arena; as well as a bit of everyday Desi humour that is lacking from this market- you know, little references that are almost like insider jokes. For example, it would’ve really made me smile to receive a card that said “Congratulations on your little laddoo” when my daughter was born!

The range covers all the main card- giving occasions; as well as a few Hindu and Sikh religious festivals. There are no cards for Muslim religious festivals; I hope she adds this for the sake of diversity. The Christmas cards are a little disappointing in that, although they are beautifully designed, they aren’t specifically Desi themed- which could put off Asian Christians.

Her most appealing product line is the humorous Hungry Indian range. These are digitally hand-drawn cards that focus on that basic Indian cultural reference point: food! The Hungry Indian line is fun and simple with a young appeal. This is definitely Dina’s strongest line and I would love to see it on the high street-I really think it has mainstream appeal.

all-cards

The Playful Indian www.theplayfulindian.com

Elsewhere there are also plenty of Indian-art inspired cards, as well as the use of the iconic Bollywood font. I particularly love that there are one or two cards in the range that depict brown skinned people- where else do we see this on the high street?

The ordering facility is easy and straightforward. Delivery (to the buyer not the receiver of the card) costs the same as Royal Mail first class; which I think is reasonable given that the cards themselves are priced at around £2.25. It would be great to see a personalisation function where you can add your own message and have it sent straight to the recipient (think Funky Pigeon et al).

I do think that ethnic cards in general, Playful Indian included, run the risk of slightly objectifying Desi culture. It’s important that manufacturers don’t rely on a handful of jokes, phrases and nuances within the Asian culture and keep churning these out – this will only serve to perpetuate negative stereotypes. What’s more, once you’ve bought one or two of these cards for friends and family, there’ll be nothing to get you to return to the range- unless new humour and designs are added.

But this is not to detract from what Playful Indian brings to the market. Dina’s offering is a step in the right direction in terms of British Asian consumer product representation. And with her entrepreneurial vision (“in 2012 I approached the Prince’s Trust for funding. I’m still only a small company but my customer base is fast growing and now includes America, Australia and India- how cool is that!”)  she’s definitely one to watch- I look forward to seeing further growth and innovation from Playful Indian.

Got to www.theplayfulindian.com for the full range of cards and gifts, and check out www.facebook.com/ThePlayfulIndian, @Playful_Indian

This is a personal blog, written and edited by me. I did not receive payment to write this review. Any payment for any advertising, sponsorship or product reviews will never influence content, topics, posts or opinions in this blog. 

Gurinder Chadha talks to me about her new show Desi Rascals

Desi Rascals

Don’t miss the new series of Desi Rascals on Sky Living HD from Tuesday January 20th at 8pm.

When I first heard about Desi Rascals, I must admit I was mildly sceptical. I’ve spoken before about the limited, usually stereotyped media representation of British Asians and the disappointing lack of positive roles we have. And with this show, I was really expecting more of the same. What I wasn’t counting on, was that with award-winning director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice) behind it, Desi Rascals isn’t going to be anything like we’ve seen before. This non-scripted, reality TV show featuring British Asians, shot in real time is going to be ground-breaking for the Asian community.

I talked to Gurinder about what we can expect from the show, how it reflects the diversity in today’s British Asian community and some of it’s boundary pushing characters.

“I am supremely confident that it will fit the bill in terms of showcasing the diversity in the British Asian community,” Gurinder told me. “The characters we have gives it a very multi-dimensional view.

There’s a great mix within the cast: Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bangladeshis- amongst others. There’s different social stratas represented, from small business owners to one very wealthy family who own a chain of luxury hotels.

It’s multi-generational too, which is a really important element. Having the older generations in our show allows us to show how the pressures on that generation are as important as those of the younger people. Parents sometimes put pressure on their kids, but there’s also pressure on them because they want to do the best for their kids as well as upholding certain traditions and values, which is where the tension and drama really comes from.

Ultimately, a more three-dimensional portrayal of the British Asian community will come from the fact that it’s non-scripted drama, that allows for spontaneous and real exchanges between the characters- you couldn’t write drama like this! And what’s also great is that we are not limited to any one person’s vision of the Asian community. Desi Rascals shows you how English we are as well as how British Asian we are.”

“I think you can safely say you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this” Gurinder Chadha

Tell me a bit about the cast members?

“Well there’s Owais who is a property developer. He spent a lot of his youth trying to overcome a stutter. Then there’s Amita who runs her own business- she’s a beautician and is also a single mum. There are the boys Anj and Nurat- a uncle and nephew team who own their own gym.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Amita Patel from the cast of Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

One of my favourite characters on the show is Naman who is an openly gay Muslim. He’s extremely family orientated and very sweet, very warm; and very close to our single mother Amita. He’s not just a gay guy, he’s very much part of our world. I think his journey is going to be hard, as an ‘out’ gay guy.

And he has been very supported by everyone on the show, including Owais, who has said “as a fellow Muslim, I’m extremely proud of you.”

“It really is the people that are going to take this into different areas-the types of people that have come forward to be a part of the show are what’s really going to drive it- who knows where they will take it- and there will be lots of surprises! The main thing that you’re going to see is not what you’re going to be expecting. I think you can safely say that you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this.”

As the show features a beautician, a Bollywood dancer and a makeup artist I shared my concern with Gurinder that her portrayal of Desi women was limited to rather, shall we say, girly pursuits.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Expect to see some strong desi women in Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

“Well what do think?! With my name attached, what do you think?! Anything that I do is not going to be namby-pamby you can safely assume, when it comes to women!” 

I think we can safely assume that anything Gurinder puts her name to will not be ‘namby pamby’ as she put it. And that’s what makes her such an important British Asian figure and such a hugely influential person in her field. Her contribution to positively shaping how the world sees British Asians has been really important- think of how Bend It Like Beckham brought the richness of Asian family, community and tradition onto our screens 12 years ago.

I’ve no doubt that Desi Rascals will do the same for us, 10 or so years on. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to see this happen. In our current news climate, where sections of the Asian community take a constant battering, it’s really time we see something else of who our community are. And I’m hopeful Gurinder’s Desi Rascals will do this for us- and perhaps give us some really positive role models to boot.

‘Desi Rascals’ premieres on Tuesday 20 January at 8pm on Sky Living. Watch the trailer below

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