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Human Rights

What does it mean to cover?

What does the ban on burqinis in Nice really stand for? A ban against oppression – have we ever come across such conflicting terminologies in the history of any oppressed minority group? Or does it imply exactly the opposite, a group of people with the assumption that they know what the greater good is for a society. Continue reading “What does it mean to cover?”

Finally Trumped!

I have never travelled as far as North America. The North-est destination in my travel cap is Toronto, Canada and with exponential intensity, I consider that attainment as a more worthwhile feather in my cap. Raised at a dinner table though where politics happened to have been a constant source of conversation and interest, I have missed nothing on America.donald-trump-funny-face Continue reading “Finally Trumped!”

Homosexuality

This one word raises uncomfortable questions, invites undesirable dissection and contention. However, it has existed for as long as we can remember. My attempt is not to gain support in favour of homosexuality, but more from an educational and informative perspective, raise awareness. I wish to shed light on facts and observations  derived from history, personal experience et al. While it is true what we do not know cannot harm us, it is also true that lack of knowledge and information is the biggest culprit behind most derailed perceptions we hold in this world today and misconstrued anger and frustration. Opportunists always tend to take advantage of these emotions and fuel it to satisfy their ulterior motives. Thus, should you have any confusion, reservation or pure curiosity in regards to homosexuality, please read on, as you would only be doing yourself a favour, only if not to let people take advantage of what you do not know. Alert: myth busters ahead! Continue reading “Homosexuality”

Come let’s discuss Men!

Chivalry is a concept I have often struggled with. While the vast majority of times, I see women eyeing the ‘gentlemen’ qualities in a man admirably, a notion creep up at the back of my head to contaminate the hunky dory features of an otherwise commendable phenomena. Fast disappearing in certain parts of the world, you still manage to glimpse men volunteering to vacate their seats for their women counterparts, either refrain from or immediately apologise, if apprehended at expressing profanities in a lady’s presence, unwilling to share certain kind of jokes, only considered appropriate out of the ranges of a lady’s earshot. This is an act widely in practice, without the interference of any other disparity such as age or physical location, solely based on gender differences. It is avoidance in fear of ruffling a fragile female façade. It is an epidemic.
It all goes back to the medieval times, a more chivalrous era so to speak, where this code of conduct evolved partly from knighthood and partly from the trend and ideals of courtly love and based on my readings so far had been established with the noblest of intentions – to respect the honour of women! But just like all other ancient customs, the viability of such a tradition in today’s world and perspective is debatable. It poses an important question of whether or not an idea of this nature should be entertained by a group of modern women striving for sexual equality.
In my last post, I have hinted slightly about my sardonic sense of humour being quite un-ladylike and hence widely unpopular. While most often it draws a chuckle or an entertained gasp from the male sector, it almost always draws a frown of annoyance from my women audience. This is solely because it is considered to pertain certain crudeness, unexpected and unsolicited from females. This takes me back to the 3 F’s – fragile female façade – and how the emotional status of a woman is often confused with her physical abilities and there seems to be a need to protect the women psyche as well. Does it remind anyone about any other scenario, where often we resort to using euphemism so not to offend a particular group? Yes, you are right, the only other group is children!
Without further ado, allow me to make my point: in a world where we are so caught up with empowering women and fighting for their rights (quite rightly so), is not there a part of us that neglect the fact that progress can only actualise when all the relatable wheels are in motion together, i.e. empowerment of women alone would not suffice until or unless we spend time trying to understand the male psyche as well.
See, bluntly put, men are the sperm bearers. They are equipped with the biological responsibility to impregnate and as a result quite naturally their sexual drive would be much more active and rash compared to that of females. Why should we hold it against them? If women are not held responsible for their ability to fall pregnant ‘easily’, why should men be humiliated for their natural need to procreate? A man’s more pressing sexual needs is a fact and finding it offensive or denying it is the same as crying over how, as women, are stuck with the childbearing duties! These are natural phenomena and instead of having a war with nature, we should accept what has been given to us, and look to achieve a mutually beneficial balance.
I am a firm believer in the practicalities of human nature. There are certain traits that make us human and surpass time, age and eras – love is still love, hate is still hate and greed is still greed. Generations have had no effect on these traits and they have outlived all others. So when a person is caught lying, he is only acting on the impulses he was genetically manufactured with – where is the surprise element – he is just being human, with warts and all. We spend all our lives in a dilemma, killing ourselves over thwarting the evil in us – an evil whose presence is as prevalent and tantamount as the goodness. Thus, let us not beat ourselves over a slip and accept that we can never become the perfect person because in truth, each of us are already perfect – it is our flaws that make us perfect human beings.
Beginning of this year, when the Delhi rape created headlines all around the world, I remember having an argument with an older female relative of mine, over the popular meme shared on facebook that showed a woman holding a banner that read ‘Do not teach us what to wear. Teach your sons not to rape.’ Her argument against the meme was that we as women could not shun the responsibility of dressing decently. In fact it was vital to ensure we do not attract the wrong kind of attention and to follow it up she said ‘offering a fresh stack of meat in front of a lion and expecting it to walk away responsibly is an act of foolishness.’ I found this comment, especially coming from a female, extremely derogatory (to say the least) and disillusioned merely because our men are not lions and I would like to think we are more than just a stack of meat. Our men will always be expected to exercise restraint from an act of coerciveness because they are not animals – they are human. I think men are misunderstood here, and given a label through incorrect social messages to appear more like an ape – still stuck in phase 1 of evolution. Through such messages from women, we are not only further deteriorating harmony between the two sexes, but also endorsing something heinous as violence.  This is what I mean when I say there is a need for an increased interest into the male psyche from us females before we can hope to achieve a drastic development in this area.
I mentioned in my last post on women power about never wishing to come back to this world as a male and I meant it for more than one reason. Firstly, because of the lack of romanticism in not being the natural hero but also because of the pressure of expectation every man is born with! From the moment they are conceived expectations are embedded into their system: the immense pressure of displaying physical strength – if you are weak you get bullied in school – followed by an inherited form of responsibility whereby the fathers set a certain standard that the successor is expected to equal, if not exceed, as part of carrying the name forward. The pressure just keeps building on – once they are done proving themselves to their families, then comes the wife and children and the expectation mongers constantly cheering or booing in the background – there is never a moment of peace. Women on the other hand, mostly in the South Asian societies, are completely exempt from these responsibilities. This is a form of male discrimination, whereby they experience a sensation of living inside a pressure cooker, both from family and society to prove themselves in terms of being successful and earning a truckload of money and women in our society to a certain extent contribute towards creating that pressure, by taking the nonchalant or borderline flippant role in their responsibilities toward the earnings of a household. The absence of the peer pressure on females automatically adds to the men’s burden! And consequently contributes toward shaping their perception of women in general.
Back in my university years, I remember a female friend blatantly putting forward that she could never ever settle for an unsuccessful man. My question to her was simply this- why was it important? Her response was quite simple too – it was disgraceful for a man not to be successful! The memory of that conversation always make me wonder if some of us are not, after all, a little childlike deep down and perhaps mentally disabled too in certain leadership areas which allow us only to accept successful and powerful men into our lives. But men are expected to look at our 3 F’s (fragile female façade) and accept us for better and for worse. It is perhaps not chivalry then that has survived in the form of displaying honour, but this eyelash-batting, helpless dame-in-distress attitude that still make men vacate and offer that seat to us.

Women Power – zindabaad!

When it is that-time-of-the-year again, you know, that uncomfortable time of the year, heralded by a restless feeling, accentuated by several mood swings and a pang – a pang in my lower abdomen that tends to become a knot of discomfort. It is called the International Women’s Day in my calendar.
For those of you unaware, I have managed to shed off the cloak of disclaimers with my last piece and with this one I intend to take it up a notch, throw a stone at the beehive and risk being stung! All in an attempt to project: the greater good of course.
I have reservations regarding the term feminism – strong, visceral reservations. I may add that I have been branded as an anti-feminist in multiple demographics for my rather crude and often insensitive (guilty!) remarks revolving this school of thought. I did try to be helpful by suggesting an alternative term to those nice ladies out there I had managed to rudely offend in the past, that the term they were perhaps looking for was anti-chauvinist but to no avail. It did not deter them from treating me as their enemy and I am not exactly sure I would be making more friends through this present attempt of mine. My impertinence must be borne one last time here as I unload certain things off my chest and my sardonic sense of humour too would probably not be very ladylike, after all as Oscar Wilde had once blatantly stated ‘Nothing spoils romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.’ Based on this quote, there is nothing romantic about this piece I am afraid.
Let me cut through the rhetoric and jump straight into phase 1 of my assertion: Why are we still changing last names? Actually, let me rephrase. Why are respectable, college-educated, progressive women still fiddling around with their identities? It was in the 1800s that Lucy Stone decided to stand against it as part of her battle for women rights in the U.S. and what had happened to her legacy? We have stoned the living daylights out of it (pun very much intended), that’s what, and this has happened at the hands of the so-called advanced, capable and privileged section of the population, with United kingdom pioneering this motion under their umbrella of common law and the rest of the educated world following suit. The clear evidence that this ridiculous arrangement had been peacefully accepted by majority of women across the world lies in the fact that it is still the norm today and anyone breaking the mould has to rather justify herself.
Women only very recently in most countries have learnt to understand that physical abuse is unacceptable, reportable if possible. Domestic violence or a forceful intercourse (despite being lawfully married) is unacceptable. Only just. Yet women across almost all demography do not seem to see a lack of reasoning behind changing their last names. Why you ask – perhaps because it is all too complicated – even if it is at the expense of their self-respect, at the expense of their individuality and what of the sexist inequality it encourages? Nothing.
Is it really that complicated to imagine a world where a person exists solely as herself and not through her aliases of a mother, sister or wife? The argument or contemplation over the fact that you inherit your patrilineal surname or whether or not your children will be able to adopt it and bear the torch of it in the future comes at a much later stage and is totally irrelevant when it comes to your own identity. Let us focus on one thing at a time. Let us grasp the true implication of the fact that if after all the progress we have made in this world, we still voluntarily change the very first thing about us people reckon with – our name, the truth unfortunately is that we choose this existence and should be willing to accept the associated complexities that come with this choice.
                                        ~~End of Rebuke: Phase 1 ~~
While I leave you to ruminate over the issue addressed in phase 1, I will allow a little break and like to engage you into an interesting story: –
When I hear women today being extremely vocal about the power struggle with their male counterparts or simply speak about a revolution, it always remind me of Digamvari Debi and how she had managed to successfully achieve nothing short of a revolution some odd 189 years ago!
See the Tagore clan’s history spans over more than 300 years. It was one of the most imminent families from Calcutta in colonial India, a key influence in the Bengal Renaissance and produced both men and women who were way ahead of their time. This story is about Dwarkanath Tagore, born in 1794 and more importantly about the woman he married – Digamvari Debi – paternal grandmother of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Digamvari Debi, married at the age of 6, represents a milieu when child marriage, polygamy and ‘sati’ were as real as the fact that women were completely shunned from the outside world and forbidden from even a glimpse at the sun. Their days were spent within the closed private chambers of the house and their sole identity being that associated with their husband or father. In a time and age, governed by a social structure as such, Digamvari Debi accomplished a feat that changed the course of women’s lives in India thereafter.
Anguished with her husband’s philandering ways with meat and liquor, one night she had decided to out-step the social boundaries and witness her husband’s activities at a social gathering first-hand. Her young daughter and a few other female relatives of the house accompanied her to the garden house that her husband had built to entertain guests, where she witnessed, dumbfounded, her wayward husband, sharing a seat with foreigners, male and female – both sahibs and memsahibs – drinking and submerged in an act of debauchery. Upon failing on an attempt to revoke her husband’s waywardness, Digamvari Debi declared her own personal form of mutiny from that day onwards: she refused to share her bed with her husband! Till her last breath, Digamvari Debi fulfilled all other wifely duties except cohabit with her husband. [1]
And this is how, almost 200 years ago; a woman with a fearless mind had silently given voice to her inner rebellion. Moral of this story for me lies in the chunk of her sacrifice, of how easily she could have forgiven her husband and proceeded with a normal conjugal life, that was and normally is still expected of a woman, regardless of the era. How easy it would have been.
All massive upheavals, changes in the course of history have come at a great price, often at the expense of human lives or in the least, a comfortable life. I have not heard of a revolution yet that was simply accepted and given away – a right to one’s existence, identity and self-respect is something that needs to be earned, often with great sacrifices.
                                    ~~Rebuke: Phase 2~~
Since we are on the topic of South-Asian history and heroes, before I delve into phase 2, I would like to discuss an issue that is quite Indian-subcontinent focused.
Why are we still living with our spouse’s parents? Is it tradition or convenience or stroking the male ego that we have a massive talent for? Because if it is only a question of affordability and ensuing reasons about saving money through rent-free means, why is it that I see so many stranded widowed parents of the female, leading a lonesome existence despite having more than one child and their only plausible flaw I can find is the gender of these children! On a scale of fairness and humanity, what kind of a daughter or a person does that make you if you are actually willing to abandon your own parents at their old and ailing age, only because you or your husband are not strong enough to stand against the flow of social norm?
This matter, in a lot of cases, is actually direr than we think. First of all, there is a similar ‘dilemma’ applicable as is with the surname in phase 1 – my family or his family? I say neither. The whole objective that the institution of marriage ratifies is cohabitation between two individuals with the intention of constructing a home together, not to revamp or re-build someone else’s. Then comes the most common flimsy defence of how it is difficult for a couple to afford to live or have a house on their own. Sounds quite realistic, excusable and pragmatic even, as opposed to my own idealistic argument, does it not? No, not really, I call five aces on that too because where the average budget of a South-Asian wedding ceremony is anywhere between $50,000 to $150,000, a person able to afford that but unwilling to invest the same amount into long-term wellbeing, for me, has already made the choice between a rational lifestyle and one driven by social custom; and the only education her college degree had perhaps bought her is the ability to thwart questions that trouble her conscience and design falsified reasons that would convince herself to believe in something the most instinctive part of her recognises to be completely untrue. If you cannot afford to lead a married life then you should not be married in the first place and least of all be able to afford a luxurious wedding ceremony – I am sorry, it is a two-way street!
The only instance where I perhaps would not hold it against a couple deciding to reside with the male’s parents/family is where the converse is true and one or more of the male’s family members are ailing and in need of constant attention, i.e. a classic dependent situation. In these circumstances it is only human to have those family members closer to you, who are actually in need but it is also essential that if circumstances reverse, the male should be more than willing to accompany his spouse to live with her family and look after them as well! If a man is truly a man, in all the masculine glory of the word, then I really do hope before the end of time he remembers that the root the word has been derived from is: hu-man.
This brings me to address phase 2 of my assertion, which is a little more universal and refers to the general psyche of womanhood and the part of us that wants to be rescued. Yes, this phrase does always remind me of an episode from the pathetic show Sex and the city, which probably stands out as a prolific example of a program that struts out all the deepest and darkest of female vulnerabilities on a plate and the only statement that it does make is that of fashion – I would have to give them credit for that!
Yes we are physically disadvantaged; the doubts that cloud our mind range from our monthly cramps in the abdominal region to being at the disadvantaged end of having to bear the consequences of a sexual experience gone wrong to our child-bearing agonies but then again where is the fun being a hero who does not rise against all odds and has not tasted the bitter sense of suffering, and where is the sense of achievement in a battle that is not often punctuated with small defeats and disappointments? At least being the ‘weaker’ sex has clearly defined our goals for generations! Coming back to the incessant need for being rescued, I cannot deny this myself that there is an embodied feeling of glee being manned by a man, which often become the initial reason for attraction between men and women but that feeling of romanticism should perhaps be strictly held within the proximities of the bedroom – where you should feel free to be thrashed around by your male counterpart and feel completely aroused by it but when it comes to the more serious, decision-making aspect of life, doubts that you are incapable of surviving or upholding a set of belief without it being endorsed by your male counterpart is a complete loss of individuality. So very often I see women in interactions falling completely silent when their male counterparts speak up and what is worse, often echoing their voices because somewhere deep down they actually consider them to be superior. This attitude tends to surpass age, qualification or individual accomplishments in life, for e.g. it could be a couple where both practices medicine, had gone to the same college, had similar grades but the woman still feels the need to consult her partner before voicing out an opinion. Just because you decide to spend your life with a person does not justify you leaving behind your old values, beliefs, orientations and opinions that make you who you are. Thus, from what I have seen, when a woman decides to spend her life with the man of her dreams, she invariably tends to leave behind a lot more than just her maiden name.
It would be completely unfair not to mention a recent social campaign, while I am still on the topic, called MARD[2](Men Against Rape and Discrimination), which had taken a contemporary approach towards upholding women rights, through educating men and encouraging them to raise their voice to drive home the message that women need to be respected. A similar and more implemental campaign in Bangladesh is called ‘The Brave Men’ [3] which looks into targeting boys aged between 12-15 to motivate them to break their silence on violence against women in the community. These are exemplary initiatives and perhaps the only kind of ‘rescue’ and support we should welcome from our men!
I do realise that most of the topics broached here today talk about issues that are quite urbane in nature and the connotations contained is not relevant to the section of the society whose survival is endangered, such as women battling against infant mortality rate, maternal survival ratio, for whom changing their last names is not the option to ponder upon but rather life is. But then again this piece is not aimed at that underprivileged section to comprehend, rather at that particular sector of women who has taken the responsibility and decided to engage themselves in representing these women in crisis. I strongly believe we need to intrinsically become the change we want to see around us before becoming an advocate for it and realise it is a 3-step process: we need to have enough conviction to show we a) want it, b) are willing to fight for it and make sacrifices along the way and c) are willing to work hard enough to earn it.
My feminism is extended as far as the disadvantaged people out there are concerned..and you would notice I say people, not women. Grouping women and children together is offensive to say the least, however, grouping women together, clearly distinguishing them from men, is perhaps even worse. There already exists way too much segregation in terms of race, colour, and geographical boundaries – where is the need to expand the list any further? The only exception here is perhaps sports or anything associated with physical strength where I would take a backseat but that is also where I draw the line. For everything else concerned, our sole identity should be as people, with a common goal of wellbeing. I speak to the group of women out there who engage in the empowerment of others – whose voices cannot be heard – but from where I can see things, it is particularly this group that need to be rescued first! Honestly, how many of you out there are involved in women empowerment as a side project under your husband’s elite umbrella that allow the privilege, and how many are actually there because you have freed yourself already and wish to extend the same favour to the rest of the world? So my endnote to all fellow women out there is simply this – rescue yourself first – you are best equipped for the job and give all those silent heroes watching something real to fight for.

[1] Blair B. King, ‘Partner in Empire – Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India’, University of California Press 1946.
[3] http://www.undp.org.bd/info/events.php?newsid=1368&t=In%20News

Labour Crisis in the household: truth or myth?

Honufa was only nine and a half when she took her first steps into our new home. She was a tiny little figure with more bones in her body than flesh. Within a month or so, she flourished into a full-bodied beautiful young girl, who could capture anyone’s affection by just pouting her lips in a disarming smile. There was such longing in her melancholy eyes that it still haunts me and reminds me of the carefree soul of a child trapped in a mindless labyrinth unable to find her way out.

Our camaraderie was circumstantial and inevitable being of the same age and in the same house for most part of our lives but it was not always right for me to express my feelings for her. Individual seating arrangement in the house had early on defined our differences: while I sat on the couch, she would be on the floor by my side and while I slept in my own bedroom, she would make a bed on the kitchen floor! Such was the magnitude of the invisible difference, that it held me back from reaching out to her out of a need to conform to our social norms and customs.

Honufa was a hired help in our house: one of the millions working in a family home for a living in Bangladesh, a large number of who have become a part of our culture over the years. They are all around us leading their meaningless, non-existent lives and represent the non-entities of the society. The educated section of the society, on the other hand, who can afford them turn a blind eye to any responsibility they might have towards their condition apart from providing a salary, food and shelter. Most young people working for these families are aged between 7 to 16 years and every second family in the vicinity of Dhaka city are subconsciously supporting child labour without ever admitting the concept to themselves.

On my last trip to Bangladesh, I remember asking my mother how she justified the need of having two extra helping hands in the house besides being a housewife herself. Her defence included some atrocious remarks about people living abroad failing to understand how things are run in Bangladesh and another new angle that woke me up. This new angle shed light to a perspective that all families who have hired help seemed to share. They have this self-satisfying perception that they positively contribute towards the society by employing the impoverished and their salaries give them a better quality life. They also tend to believe that without this financial help they would either perish or be forced to beg on the streets. That all sounds very encouraging but my point is being trapped in a house with no security, doing ungodly hours with no idea about fair pay, no education- is all this really improving the quality of their lives? Is it not crippling another whole generation of people to suffer from illiteracy and lack of self respect? If some people are really that fond of charitable activity, they should donate those hefty amounts to charitable organisations and NGO-who have professional methods to undertake such responsibilities-and not take matters into their own hands. It is a poor excuse used by us for so long that we have actually started to believe in it but it is nothing but a camouflage over the fact that we choose comfort of our bodies over what is right or wrong. Especially the underprivileged children, growing up side by side with the more fortunate ones, will essentially have the same magnitude of differences in the future that Honufa and I had to grow up with and the legacy of this invisible chasm between the two classes will continue forever.

We, as Bangladeshis, have a general habit of blaming everything on the incompetence of the government without stopping to ponder if there is anything each of us can contribute in our daily lives to make life better. In a recent discussion over this issue, a friend commented saying there is no basic framework to control anything in Bangladesh let alone deciding fairness of pay and working conditions of hired help, which is why you just have to work around it or live with it. She pointed out the traffic conditions which is probably at its worst and asked me the simple question whether I would stop driving in Bangladesh and sit at home just because the traffic cannot be regulated by the government efficiently. In my opinion, traffic and the human beings concerned in this issue are very different subjects. If traffic conditions are bad on the streets, I agree there is little we can personally do about it but to let a tradition of locking young people up in our houses and expect children not to act like children continue, is inexcusable. If the government cannot maintain a framework to monitor this condition, it does not mean we can persist with this inhuman behaviour and make poor excuses for it. If the undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate degrees combined cannot teach us the simple lesson of how to treat people with respect, then I have to admit we spend all that money after education in vain!

The main question to ask ourselves, I believe, is whether we can really justify the need for this sort of labour; the same question I asked my mother on my last visit. Is it really that difficult to wash your dishes after you eat or mop the floor that “you” dirty yourself? Everyone seems to be constantly whining about how impossible it has become to get a “good” maid in the house. Is it really necessary to have three different people do the household chores in the house which you can probably manage yourself and all because of cheap labour? I wonder if we ever stop to think about how we take advantage of people, who are in need and not in a position to decide what is right for themselves, forgetting the fact that they cannot think right but “we” can-we are capable of thinking for ourselves and also for them!

Honufa and millions of other children like her are incapable of making a decision on their own. If a family decides to invite a person to come into their home and work for them, they need to realize what an extremely serious responsibility it is. This decision needs to be looked upon as exactly the same as adopting that child and ensure that the minimum basic need of that person is looked into, of which the primary three would be food, living condition and education.

There is a serious need for a wake up call to raise social concerns in our surroundings and to discard old norms and customs that only make people suffer. We need to raise the minimum amount of awareness so we can at least meet our own eyes in the reflection. We need to wake up to the simple truth that only because there is nobody to watch over what we do in privacy, how we treat the ones who only stay in our kitchen, it does not give us the right to mistreat another human being. We have to learn to be accountable to ourselves since there is no system looking over us. If we make a mess, is it not easier to clean it ourselves rather than adopting a system with no regulations whatsoever? If we still decide to take up this practice with humanitarian reason and the like, we need to realize the seriousness of the responsibility, we cannot leave any stones unturned because the children should not have to bear the brunt under any circumstances. We need to take it upon ourselves to return the youth to the likes of Honufa and join the cause in our daily lives to free their soulsImage

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