Note: this post contains some spoilers As a feminist activist who has worked on systemic violence on Indian women for over 15 years, I have long waited for India to produce a film like Parched. Direct...
For two years, my mother and I have been living in hell. We've been subject to harassment, abuse and intimidation in our own home by a clearly criminal gang that calls itself a "syndicate". Its primary motive is real estate. As my mother holds a good portion of the land title through inheritance, the idea is to subject us to such terror that we flee. Syndicate gangs, like the mafia, have become an open, dirty "secret", a factor of life in West Bengal.
For Calcutta, Christmas is an event where the city celebrates its centuries-old history and its multitudes of immigrant communities, cultures and religions in a manner that they retain their uniqueness, even as they blend, seamlessly, into one big celebration. It's an experience I've not witnessed with any other religious festival in India or anywhere else. It is this joy I share here with a set of pictures I took as I went around the city yesterday, enjoying its pre-Christmas celebration.
Like the original, Sita's Diwali will also be celebrated with lamps. And, the lamps of Sita's Diwali will also symbolise the victory of truth over injustice. But it will be a different truth, and a different injustice. And it will be about a whole different victory. The protagonist of Sita's Diwali will, of course, be Sita. Not just because this is her story, but because Sita is the original "India's Daughter". She is one figure in Indian history and mythology whose life singularly encompasses the truth of Indian womanhood in its entirety.
There is a cultural explanation for Indian women's fixation on their husbands' long lives. Whether a man lives or dies ultimately defines how his wife is socially perceived and treated! A married woman is called Sumangala -- the fortunate one, the bringer of good luck. A widow, on the other hand is called Amangala -- the unfortunate one, the bringer of bad luck. The reverse logic does not apply to men.
"Maya", as a concept in Hinduism and Buddhism, means attachment to the tangible aspects of life and relationships. It is a sentiment which the scriptures sternly warn you off of, as they say it is spiritually unhealthy. They say this is all transient -- an illusion. That it is not the truth. And yet, as my friend chose the name "Maya" for her adoptive daughter, I was struck by the intense attachment she felt for the child.
In India, the perceived "honour" or "dignity" of a woman (that's oddly contingent on what others say or do to her) becomes more important than her safety. And women often jump to defend that "honour" even if it means self-endangerment. What we really need to talk about more in India is that threats or use of physical force to confront street harassment is unsafe, unwise and at times also illegal. In dealing with harassment in any place, safety should be a woman's number one concern. Here are some dos and don'ts.
Growing up in India, I never met or heard about Indians with African lineages. Then in 2005 I watched a dance performance by the Sidi Goma, a group of musicians from an African Indian community, and I was astonished and mesmerised. Since then I've discovered that India's African roots are much older than the Siddis, and are not only evident in numerous other communities, but percolate through direct descent in the blood of at least 600 million Indians.
India sulked when the Obamas skipped the Taj Mahal during their recent visit here. But really, I'm tired of famous people posing with that marble tomb as their endorsement of the idea that it somehow is the ultimate icon of romance. Because the story of how and why Emperor Shah Jahan built this monument for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is anything but romantic.
There is a host of different forms of non-consensual and brutal forms of sexual violence on girls and women, within Indian society, that the legal and criminal systems don't care to deal with, or even regard as rape.
As I began to dig through India's centuries old literary archives, I was astonished by how women's cultural and sexual identities and their social position, even today, made perfect sense in context of the past.