Through the Fall, We Fly

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They told me to walk following the arrows and signs of other’s streets
Don’t look down, just up
And so I listened and I swallowed your maps and I looked both ways and up and up – what a good girl! – I even ran to get there faster faster faster
Following all the directions, running the race, ran ran ran

Until I fell into the forbidden Down
And stared it straight into its face
Only to find in that loud silence my voice once more
An xo and an arrow
Love now the guide, not you

Why didn’t they ever tell us that down there lies the true path we’d all been looking for?

-Through the fall, we fly

Silence the Snakes

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Your sexuality measured by symbols on a strap

Your sense of self determined by the scale

Six-plus digits society calls success.

They’re snakes.

Your own soul, now a stranger

Silence society or silence yourself.

-Silence the Snakes

You Can Be Indian And Not Hindu: An Agnostic Indian’s Thoughts: Brown Girl Magazine

http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2014/08/can-indian-hindu-agnostic-indians-thoughts/
India: A land of many identities, not just one

I read an otherwise well-written piece arguing Urban outfitters indulged in cultural appropriation when they chose to sell products featuring Lord Ganesh. While I agree that their actions were insensitive to Hinduism as a religion, I had qualms with BG Saumya’s assertion that this was cultural appropriation.

I am Indian, but don’t feel offended by Urban Outfitter’s actions for one crucial but simple fact: while I grew up Hindu, I rejected organized religion as a teenager and describe myself as an agnostic theist now. Thus, is it still considered culturally insensitive if one doesn’t identify as Hindu? I, as a non-religious Indian, don’t feel my culture has been insulted because religion has nothing to do with my cultural identity as an Indian.

I’ll even go one step further and state that I don’t think any Indian, Hindu or not, should feel that Indian culture has been attacked, because I don’t think we should even be associating any religion with our cultural identities in the first place.

I’m sure such an idea sounds counter-intuitive. Realizing it or not, we have all been sold an idea of Indians as being synonymous with Hinduism. When non-Indians think of India, they often think of the ashrams and spirituality. Think back to most of the Indian social events you have gone to. Likely right along the Bollywood music and saris,  pictures of Hindu deities or other Hindu symbols were present.

So why is this problematic and needs to be changed? Well, just like the West doesn’t have the right to define and dominate my culture, why should a single religious group? So much so that they impose their values onto me by linking religious symbols to my cultural identity as an Indian? It’s just as wrong for Indian-Hindus to do it as it is for American-Christians to force their way of life and iconography onto the rest of us.

This is especially significant as India is technically supposed to be a secular country, while Hinduism is supposed to be a religion at its core that promotes peace. Yet, when the majority of Indians fuse these two together to create their personal identities, it has often led to the demeaning of both the Indian constitution and the religion.

For example, such a strong association between Hinduism and Indian identity has largely contributed to oppression of non-religious and religious minorities, like Muslims. This is an especially poignant point to consider given this year’s election of Indian Prime Minister Hindu nationalist Narenda Modi, the same former Gujarat chief minister who refused to apologize for the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The riots, the worst in Indian history, led to the death of more than a thousand Indian fathers, wives, and children. Their crime? Being Muslim.

Now, at this point, some might argue that with such a heavily entrenched fusion of identities, it is not possible to construct a culture that is still very much Indian without also being very much Hindu. After all, Hinduism has played an important role in India’s development.

I argue, however, that it not only is very much possible – India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, after all, was agnostic – but needed to represent the voices of all Indians, not just Hindus. Certainly Hinduism has heavily influenced Indian culture, but the fusion of Indian and Hindu identity is not fixed and is constantly changing in its relationship with each other.

For example, a brief look at Hinduism’s early and modern history reflects this well. It was actually the Mughals, or Muslims, who invented the term “Hindu” to identify the citizens of the invaded country. AsAjita Kamal explains, Indians created what is now known as Hinduism to protect their existing culture:

To the Indians, Islam was an alien ideology which was capable of replacing all local knowledge and culture with it’s own self-contained narrative. Their response was the formation of a reactionary element against Islam from within the Indian community (this happened by cultural evolution over many generations, as well as by concerted efforts of individuals and groups). This part-organic, part-organized movement adopted the label conferred on it by this enemy. Hinduism was born.”

‘Hinduism’ in its modern form was born from colonial times. Like the Mughal invaders, White colonialists ironically generalized and labeled all Indians as “Hindus,” and consequently those Indians fighting for freedom adopted the term with the religion as a tool to unite Indians against the British.

Ajita Kamal continues:

The entire early history of India had become synonymous with a religious ideology by the time India gained independence from Britain.”

Clearly the relationship between Hindu and the Indian identity is not a rigid one. It’s one we must divorce from each other if we want our culture and country to progress and become a more truer representative of all Indian voices.

There are a number of ways we could do this; Indian media outlets abroad and in the U.S. could perhaps represent Hinduism less, and report more on other aspects of our culture that are not tied to religion. They could give a voice to Indian atheists or other Indian religious minorities. At home, we could hold Indian social events that are not predominantly influenced by Hinduism, thus symbolically opening the doors for other religious and non-religious Indians to attend and feel accepted.

Peace through becoming, not fighting: India’s Independence Day

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Gandhi used to sit and study in this area as a young student. I like to just reflect here with a coffee sometimes, pondering not necessarily him – he was both a deeply loved and controversial man, and I don’t like to put people on pedestals – but his ideas and what he represents: non-violence. Peace. Grace confronting the worst of humanity. And winning.

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world” floats through my mind, as does an “eye for eye makes the whole world blind”. Especially poignant and ironic words given that across this very street, a bus was bombed that fateful day July 7, 2005 by Al Qaeda.

For me, India’s Independence Day is more than just another holiday. It stands out from America’s Independence Day because August 15, 1947 doesn’t commemorate a battle between good and evil, like how the American Revolution eventually led to independence from the colonizer.

India’s Independence Day is a day that symbolizes the triumph of humanity over our darker, broken shadow sides. There was literally no resistance. It was simply the surrender, the embodiment of peace rather than the ironic fighting for it, that helped melt away “evil.”

Peace helping wash away the walls that harden us as humans, leading to liberation. Achieving peace through becoming, not fighting.

Peace as the way to peace.

Words for both the inner and outer world to ponder.

Happy Independence Day, India.

Understanding the “Privileged”

Another piece I wrote for The F-Word UK: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/07/understanding_the

Individual #1: Racial minority, woman brought up in a single-parent household with a deceased Dad, experienced financial hardship as a young child.

Individual #2: British citizen, well-educated, from a loving family, raised in some of the world’s safest areas, no physical impairments, middle-class upbringing.

It’s easy to identify which is the privileged one, yet they both describe the same person: me.

For a long time, I identified more with the first description. While aware of other types of privileges, the predominant in my mind was wealthy white male heterosexual privilege. Consequently, I was on the losing side.

That is, until I had a conversation with a white male heterosexual friend about race and gender. We discussed the concept of wealthy white male heterosexual privilege, which he found offensive.

I initially felt anger, but as he was my friend, I thought I’d calmly explain why he was wrong to feel offended. I elaborated by talking about how white male privilege adversely affected my life.

My friend listened compassionately, and seemed shocked.

“I’m so sorry to hear about that. I knew before that it’s hard to be a woman and an ethnic minority, and wasn’t trying to say it wasn’t, but I get it now. I am so sorry.”

I felt pride and asked if that helped him understand his privilege.

“Well, I still feel there’s something wrong I didn’t communicate well before. It’s more the way it’s often spoken about,” he replied. “I feel there’s this underlying assumption many have when they speak of the concept. Like that because I experience privilege as a white heterosexual man means I have the overall better life, when that’s not the case.”

He went on to talk about his past. He’d experienced tremendous poverty and abuse growing up. He felt he suffered from depression, but never asked for help due to the stigma he felt as a man he’d receive for it.

It was now my turn to feel shocked. All I’d known was his current situation – in which his family was wealthy – and the image he conveyed: tall, confident, and muscular.

It made me re-consider my belief that because I was less privileged in some ways, I had the worse life. While I lost my Dad at a young age, I lived a safe, stable middle-class upbringing. As a child, my supportive family and education-oriented culture taught me to value academics and family. My friend, on the other hand, suffered from neglect, experiencing brief stints at foster homes and street fighting.

It was like I’d created this mental hierarchy measuring people based on privilege, rich white men and women were further up, and thus had greater lives. When I realised I was more blessed in some ways than my friend, I saw how flawed that logic was. After all, I hadn’t had it easier than him in life overall just because I grew up with love. I’ve battled with emotional health issues, some actually indirectly a result of sexism, racism, and my socioeconomic background.

Yet I also asked for and received mental health treatment because I knew my family would help me. Reflecting on it deeper, I likely also benefited from the fact it’s societally more acceptable for a woman to ask for help than a man.

I realised what my friend was saying: just because you’ve the upper hand in one area of life doesn’t mean you’ve the happier life. Nobody’s immune from pain, no matter her or his gender, race, or wealth. After all, depression and suicide can affect anybody.

My heart softened. I learned an important lesson: if one wants real understanding between the sexes, or even non-white feminists and white feminists- we’ve got to respectfully talk and call somebody out on their privilege. The intention has to be to promote unity rather than separation, which is more likely to occur when one communicates as opposed to aggressively confronts.

In similar past situations, I’d get mad. Why should I “respectfully” educate and listen to him when I feel disrespected? It shouldn’t even be my responsibility as a non-white minority to teach him in the first place.

Yet because of structural racism, the average person isn’t taught about these concepts. I myself didn’t know about white male privilege until university. Is it really productive to get mad at him personally, taking out what is actually my anger at society, for being born into a world that didn’t teach either of us better earlier? Wouldn’t it be more productive to instead respectfully explain it to him and hear him out, given people usually listen when they feel heard?

It turned out it was. That day my privileged white male friend became an advocate for women and racial minorities’ rights, and I became a better human being.