Archive | Taboo

Let’s talk taboos

Posted on 21 July 2010 by .

Aqsa Parvez, 17, slain in the name of family honor in 2007. Amandeep Kaur Dhillon, 22, stabbled to death by her father-in-law due to dowry disputes in 2009. Khatera Sadiqi, 20, was fatally shot by her brother in 2006. Farah Khan, 5, brutally murdered and dismembered by her father and step-mother in 2000.

While these individuals may be of different age groups, they have something in common. The burden of being a female in a South Asian household. The acts of brutality and violence against women have been commonplace in the subcontinent, most common are the rituals like karo-kari – honor killings; female infanticide; spousal abuse and dowry related deaths.

As the immigrant populations grow in Canada, so does the concept of values synonymous with these cultures. However, South Asians need to make sure that such social ills stay away and try to eradicate such practices from communities abroad.

Women are not only facing abusive households, but they also are underrepresented in the sectors of education, law and order, and health and well being.

While cases of violence are not as common in the South Asian communities in Canada as they are in South Asian, they need to be addressed none the less. South Asians abroad need to be shining examples for their counterparts. Violence against women should not be tolerated what-so-ever. A strong stand should be taken to help battered women in Canada and in the subcontinent, both emotionally and financially.

Newspapers and media outlets only share stories of extreme cases. Usually, moderate cases of domestic violence and verbal and psychological abuse go unnoticed by outsiders. Friends of Amandeep Dhillon and Aqsa Pervez tell us that both were afraid for their lives and suffered constant emotional and physical abuse months before they were brutally killed. However, nothing was done by anyone to save these women from meeting their untimely demise.

In a male dominated society, like that of South Asia, there is an extreme need for addressing family violence. Women need to be told of their rights, and a way out of abusive relationships should be made clear. Tougher laws need to be introduced and implemented to counter domestic violence. Laws such as the British domestic violence laws, where the courts will continue the prosecution against the suspects, even if the victims take back their statements. This shows that the lawmakers are aware of victims being strong-armed by their families or communities to take back the pleas of help. Such laws could help lower the rates of domestic violence in any society.

There is a need for help lines for South Asian women facing abusive relationships. The police and the government should take action to show their support for the women. Leaving behind an abusive relationship, should be welcomed by members of the family. South Asian community leaders need to stop shying away from talking against domestic violence. This is not a personal matter, as it is clear from the fact that South Asians have the highest rate of domestic violence in Canada. There must be something wrong, and the leaders need to address and try their best to correct the wrong sentiments which many males harbour about women.

The sad reality is that most of the atrocities, which are perpetrated against women, are seen as family or private issues. Outsiders are not welcome to comment or to offer help. This can easily be the reason why most victims keep their lips sealed, which leads the perpetrators to continue their vicious triad.

If we do nothing today, tomorrow it will be our daughters, our sisters who will be facing the wrath of silence and an abusive society.

Author: Qasim A. Nihang


Honour Killings are “heinous” and “have no place in Canada” – Minister Ambrose

“Killing or mutilating anyone, least of all a family member, is utterly unacceptable under all circumstances,” Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Status of Women, said at Punjabi Community Health Services in Mississauga.

“Repression, oppression and violence to maintain a family’s honour may even happen because a girl wants to wear westernized clothing, date a boy who may not be from her own religion or culture or simply wanting to wear make-up.”

The minister’s appearance at the Punjabi Community Health Services offices on Derry Rd. came after the weekend release of a report that examines abuse of women and girls in immigrant communities across the country.

The report, authored by social worker Aruna Papp for the Frontier Centre on Public Policy, contains 14 recommendations for the federal government, including mandatory orientation for male sponsors and the women they sponsor about Canadian rights.

The report recommends that sponsoring men should have criminal checks done in Canada and the country they came from to determine if there is any record of violence in their past.

Ambrose said Ottawa has already begun counseling sessions for women coming to Canada in their home country and is looking at implementing other recommendations in the report.

Ambrose said up to 5,000 women and girls are the victims of honour killings around the world each year.

Papp’s report said there have been 15 such killings in Canada since 2002.

The report points to killings such as the New Year’s Day 2009 slaying of Amandeep Kaur Dhillion in Malton and the December 2007 murder of Mississauga teen Aqsa Parvez, both which had overtones of “honour” killings to redeem a family’s reputation.

Papp said she crafted the report after noticing that violence issues have spread to second-generation immigrant families.

She said most cases involves families in the South Asian community, where people are afraid to speak out against family violence because they fear it will bring negative attention to their community.

Ambrose said the federal government is also considering adding honour killing to the Criminal Code of Canada.

Baldev Mutta, CEO of the Punjabi health centre, said it’s important to recognize honour killings for what they are so that root issues can be addressed to prevent them in the future.

“We told the minister that when something bad happens, that is the thing that gives a community a bad name, not talking about how we’re going to address that in Canada,” he told the Star.

“If we don’t uphold Canadian values of peace, equality, decency, working together and obeying Canadian laws, we will be in for a long haul where some reactionary elements within each ethnic community will hijack the agenda.

“That will be a disaster in the making,” she continued.

“We cannot say there’s a huge number of cases, but now the cases are increasing, and very soon we’ll have a problem in Canada,” said Amin Muhammad, a professor of psychiatry at Memorial University of Newfoundland who specializes in transcultural psychiatry.
“Honour killing is a premeditated murder based on a cultural mindset that people bring with them. It is a wrong notion of perceived notion of dishonour to the family,” Dr. Muhammad said.

“They restore the honour of the family by eliminating the wayward person. That has been going on through the ages in many countries and now in the United States and the United Kingdom. And in Canada.

“There are a number of organizations which don’t accept the idea of honour killing; they say it’s a Western-propagated myth by the media, but it’s not true,” he said. “Honour killing is there, and we should acknowledge it, and Canada should take it seriously.”

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Parental Leeway to Leaving the Desi Nest

Posted on 07 July 2010 by .

When I was somewhere around the pre-teen age, I was given seemingly useless advice from my dad about post-secondary education. He said when it’s my turn to choose which institution to attend, I should choose whichever one I want to go to and is best for me, even if it’s away from home. At the time, the only thing running through my mind was, “Let me at least finish high school first!” It hadn’t occurred to me that this was a ‘wow’ moment in the life of a South Asian girl; having my dad tell me that it’s okay to move away from home for school, without any sort of vocally expressed thought from my end.

Four or five years later, I had my eyes set on attending York University and not because of the journalism and social work programs I applied to, but because it was the closest to home so I would just commute there everyday via Go Transit. My father’s advice had taken a backseat in my family and obligation-oriented mind, but can you blame me? I’m the middle daughter squished in between two brothers…I had my list of reasons of why I should stay at home and my mind was pretty much made up, until I received a letter of acceptance from McMaster University one morning. Grudgingly, I told my parents I was accepted there as well and tossed the letter aside. But for them, the seed of opportunity was planted.

To this day, people are still surprised when I tell them that if my parents hadn’t strongly encouraged me the one time that they did to consider attending McMaster, I would have missed out on the best (so far) 4 years of my life.

I remember thinking to myself, before accepting the acceptance that after I finish university, there won’t be that many years left for me to spend at home. I’m a South Asian girl – we’re subliminally taught to think this way. Issues of transportation, residential expenses, roommates, and so on occurred to me but they didn’t stand out as much probably because there are so many outlets of working with these, like OSAP, bank loans, finding a job or two in the summer, students deals, etc. But there is hardly anything out there to help figure out how to balance cultural and familial values with one’s own desires for education and independence.

Well, nothing except parental advice and a slight push of encouragement, masked with permission. And who better to aid in such a quandary?

I learned a ridiculous number of lessons from my years at McMaster but this was one of the first and boldest of all. I realized that I had held a typical assumption about my immigrant parents; that they wouldn’t allow me to move away from home before I get married, live with my friends or even worse, with strangers who became lifelong friends.  I was passively going to attend a school for all the wrong reasons yet I didn’t realize it. I was so much further from South Asian and Western cultural integration than my parents, and unlike them, I was born and raised here. It was an instance of how things work out in light of coinciding values; family values were pressuring me to continue living at home but it was the value of education from my family that trumped the presumption in my mind about them.

So the tables don’t have to be turned, sometimes they already are.

Author: Poonam Patel

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Domestic violence: traditional or current issue?

Posted on 02 June 2010 by .

If no one talks about, then no one knows about it. Such a statement echoes the ever hidden issue of domestic violence against women in South Asian communities.  Why is this issue kept hidden? Guilt, shame, and acceptance are three reasons why. A woman feels guilt at having brought upon her position of vulnerability, shameful to have her friends know, and has chosen to accept this domestic abuse as normal. If she does not challenge what it means to be domestically abused, then it is not a problem. Issues are defined by the connotations that we place on them, and excuses can always be made if we want to simplify societal issues.

One of these excuses is “tradition.” There is an unreasonable belief that South Asian culture has a tradition of placing women in such a downcast role. Traditions are the foundation of a community, which can be built upon by advancements and further diversification. When we demonize the tradition of a community, we demonize the community itself. It is not an innate South Asian belief that women are worthless, this is something that society has perpetuated. In fact, for arguments sake, South Asian tradition has a great emphasis on respecting one’s elders and on the pivotal role of the Mother as being most sacred and respected.  There is a spiritual respect for the “Matrabhumi”, or Motherland, and the respect of a family can be defined and portrayed by its daughters.  So how has it become, that South Asian culture is known to disrespect women? We know it is true statistically, because of what we see on the news and what is being explored in research. We cannot deny that high percentages of South Asian wives and daughters are beaten and emotionally abused by their husbands and fathers. The question is, why?

If we go to the root of the problem, we find ourselves in the midst of tradition. It is so easy to interpret aspects of a culture to fit into motivated agendas. If we are looking to find domestic violence against women in South Asian tradition, then surely we will find it. However if we consider the bigger picture, we will realize that it is much more complicated than this. Gender hierarchies exist cross-culturally.

South Asia is typically a patriarchal society, where women take their husband’s names and deal more closely with their husband’s side of the family. Many works have been written to blame this aspect of tradition on domestic violence. Yet realistically, there are also matriarchal organizations to South Asian society that see no variation in domestic violence against women. Statistics also show that the victims of domestic violence occupy varying levels of status in society. Domestic violence occurs from educated women in professional positions, to those who are in a “dependent visa status” situation.

In discussing this issue, we have two levels of analysis. We can choose to blame the foundation of the problem, or that which perpetuates it. One could say that without the foundation of an issue, the issue would not exist. In this case, the foundation of domestic violence in South Asian communities could potentially be considered tradition.  An example of a traditional practice that has been continued is the stigma attached to divorce. A women who is being physically abused may fear being judged if she were to divorce her husband. The fear of dishonouring her parents and ostracizing herself from her community causes a woman to ignore that she is being compromised.

However, another perspective conveys that without the current factor that perpetuates the problem, the issue could have disappeared. This is my problem with how this issue has been considered in the South Asian community. Blaming tradition makes things easier for us. It allows for us to believe that our current society is progressive and ideal in how different it is from our traditional past. Yet the reality is, there are newly found aspects of current society than only perpetuate the issues of the past.

What is it that is perpetuating domestic violence in South Asian communities?

There is no easy answer to this question, since it often varies by individual basis. However, we can find factors that influence South Asian communities to think a certain way about women, and how some people interpret this in a way that condones domestic violence against women.

A huge part of the issue, in my opinion, is media. For South Asian communities, a major tie to our “culture” is derived through media like Bollywood. If you have ever been exposed to Bollywood film before, you may have noted the reoccurring skimpy dresses and lack of personality that the heroine has.  She always bends her will to what the “hero” wants, and with romantic music and a dream-like ending, the reality of her vulnerability is overshadowed. So why wouldn’t South Asian men think that women are weak and can be pushed around? Bollywood focuses on a women’s aesthetic appeal and not on any other aspect of her.  This can account for the statistics that show the wide range of women who are abused, from professional to economically dependent. Either way men are shown by media, like Bollywood film, that women can bend to their will.  This belief can take the form of verbal abuse or even physical abuse.

Now we cannot make a causal relationship between beautifully empty heroines from Bollywood and domestic violence, but we can definitely consider it a major factor in shaping the belief systems of the current South Asian communities here. For those in Canada, movies are often the only tie left to their native land. This commercialized version of their culture is all they may have to hold on to, and this can be more deadly than those older generations that are holding onto their traditions.

While we analyze this issue through a consideration of both traditional beliefs and factors that are perpetuating gender hierarchies, the fact of the matter is that an open forum must be created. Domestic violence can continue, because abused women are not able to turn to anybody with their problems. This problem has been recognized, to a certain degree, and there have been some support systems created specifically for South Asian Women dealing with domestic violence here in Canada. Through humanity, education and increased communication, this problem can and will be dealt with.

Author:Myuri Komaragiri

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Standing Still on South Asia’s Slippery Sense

Posted on 02 June 2010 by .

The other day, when my people were not looking, my battered body met with its broken bones. We met at a time not known to the clock, a time when my body took its bones back into its care. We wept at our condition and we knew that we had our pain performed on us. Something that did not make sense made my people believe that my bones and my body needed to be fixed. In trying to straighten me and fix me, they battered my body down until my bones broke. I knew it was my fault for allowing  this to happen; I should have sensed better. Instead I slipped – I said I was queer. What is worse for my people is that I haven’t learnt my lesson. Just before my people were ready to look again, both body and bone decided to speak again: we are queer, Ali is queer. I decided not to make sense any more. I decided to walk across South Asia’s slippery sense with a sense of defiant hope. I am still standing.
People of the place of South Asia, what you have read is a history of the moment. How can I renounce the past of the present?
My body and bones are matter in motion, and it matters that I trace their travels. It is in these travels that I have found the essence of my existence. This makes me of interest to my people. Every time they try to take my find away from me, they have failed. I am still standing and they cannot find me.
People of the place of South Asia, how can you fix a word without knowing its meaning?
My people have yet to find out why I call myself queer. Yet they think they can fix me. They seem to believe that being queer is all about having my brains stuffed in my balls. It is quite the opposite. They slip in their own sense. Without knowing what they are looking for, they mock me for being queer. They think they can fix the word without even knowing its meaning. From body to bones, they try to fix them all. Instead they break it. Yet I am still standing and they cannot find me.

People of the place of South Asia, what is it about what you know that makes you think that you know all that needs to be known?
My people don’t know my experience and when I introduce them to it, it’s the shame of their ignorance that brings them to arms. The fear of having their knowledge challenged is a fear that fuels their existence. Each whack on my body, my bones moves with the power of their fear. They think they can make me meet their fear through my own body and bones. They trap me into slipping, slipping out of my sense into their sense. Yet I am still standing and they cannot find me. People of the place of South Asia, why do you mock me for simply not conforming, for simply being queer? Is choosing to be a writer over an engineer a crime of such extent?

I have said what I wanted to say. If you thought that being queer was all about what I said then you know that a word wounded you only because you thought it did. The act of being queer caused you to react. How could you react without even knowing the act? This is why I am still standing but am now letting you find me.

South Asia has a very slippery sense of how I ought to be, and I will not allow myself to slip. I want you to slip, slip until you realize that your sense needs to make way for the sense of the other. It’s the only way I will cease to be the other, the rest within the rest.

Author:Ali Abbas

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Changing Roles of Men & Women – Time to make adjustments!

Posted on 26 May 2010 by .

Traditionally women needed men for safety and security. Back in our days, if you were an unmarried woman, you were a fair game for every horny man. It made your life living hell – many women did commit suicide instead of living that life. Thank God those days are long gone.

Then women needed men for sex and sperm. If you were 35 year old single it was hard for you to get your booty call in Desi society. And being pregnant outside marriage was to tarnish the reputation of your family for seven generations. Now sex part is no more a requirement. Desi women are creative enough and able to meet their physical need without being punished for it. Slowly she is also learning that you really do not need a husband to become a mother. By the way we have not talked about the fact that a woman is likely to miss being a mother more than being a wife. However, it is still not a commonplace in our society to be a single mom with no father’s name attached to the child. This can change. 🙁

So men have lost this traditional role as a husband – provider of safety – security – sex and sperm. Along with it, today’s independent women can be self sufficient – manage her money – make major purchases- travel to far places etc. All these roles not too long ago were delegated to the man in the family by and large. Men must feel like a ‘Maytag repairmen!’ This is not as bad as it sounds. However this paradigm shift has happened too fast. Desi men did not have time to get adjusted to the changing environment. Men have an inherent need to be wanted that is what gives him the elusive control over female.

So-called respect or power for the man in the house came from some of those roles man had been playing. So when he lost the essential job description he lost the ‘bonus’ or sometimes he lost the job!!! It is great that the Desi woman still has that desire for nuclear family (which many western women do not have to the same degree) that they are making serious effort to engage in this painful process of search for the spouse.

It is not really bad news for the man. He may have lost a huge part of his job description but there is still a vital need only he can provide – be a loving, caring and understanding companion. Not withstanding all this newly found assets, most women still long for that ‘man’ in their life. So while you are hot if you make a lot of money or have an illustrious career but at home your value as a husband is more of a function of your ability to be the best companion she can hope for. Successful husband is one who may not make the most money, may not wield the most power but whose wife can look at the crowd of Desi women and honestly say, ‘I am so lucky to have a loving caring understanding man!’

Empowered or strong women are plenty around you. She may not be educated, may not be making a lot of money or heading a corporation but she is powerful by her sheer presence. She does not demand but commands love and respect by just being her. Over the years, she has loved, sacrificed enough, that without really striving for it, she automatically became the one who was the pillar of strength in the family. You might find this woman in your mom, aunties, grand ma etc. She is not loud or bossy; her power comes from her emotional strength. Now, if she happens to be educated or very successful it is an icing on the cake. If you wish to emulate her do not look at her material success but her wisdom – perseverance and ability to love. We love this woman so much that subconsciously for marriage the man is looking for that empowered woman. Unfortunately these empowered women are becoming extinct species.

Highly successful gorgeous Ivy Leaguer Desi women find themselves at an impasse in spousal search. First, their success comes at the cost of lack of free time (time is an essential commodity in a relationship). Second, the success does make them difficult to deal with it. Assertiveness in professional life may not translate in to a desirable attribute in marriage. Third, their expectations are high which is understandable given their achievements. Fourth many men even though they themselves maybe successful are not necessarily looking for empowered woman. So many of these women see their success in professional life as a handicap in personal life.

Empowered woman should not be confused with high achiever or hot woman. Here in many cases her success is her failure. Over the years she is used to have ‘my way or high way’. She is our Indian American Princess. Her expectations are high, sometimes unrealistic. When her expectations are not met she is not likely to let go. Her major currency is her accomplishment not the love and sacrifice. “I am bringing so much to the table, so why should I settle for any less? ” Ironically her attitude does make her settle for less but she cannot see it at this time. Life is a marathon and not a sprint. So what may seem like wining strategy in the first inning of a nine-inning game may not be so at the end. Many of these women are perfect 10. They cannot understand as to why their success is their handicap. It is not the success that is her handicap but the attitude that comes with it!

So there is a lot of work that needs to be done on both ends. New man has to learn to respect woman, be happy that new woman is so self-sufficient. Stop looking for empowered women of the past who excelled both outside and inside the house (she even played a docile role in public). That model has been discontinued. Rejoice the fact that by and large our Desi women are still looking for a monogamous relationship in the framework of marriage. She still wants a father for her child.

As complicated and draining marriage may sound I still believe in most cases it beats alternative. So be creative. Think out of the box. Figure out what exactly are you looking for in a spouse – a partnership for 50 years with new challenges coming your way constantly. Look at the total package. How well he/she  performs in different circumstances. Decrease the relative value of curb appeal. Eliminate the relative value of the game he/she played. After few years it won’t matter who called whom. What would matter is did you find the best possible mom or dad for your future children.

I am well aware of how many of you thought that most marriages in your parents’ generation were either dysfunctional or outright worthy of divorce. Trust me, in spite of all our imperfections we provided a stable home where you had the same dad and same mom. The phenomenal success your generation has a lot to do with two parents remaining plugged in your welfare during the thick and thin of life. The power of a nuclear family in shaping our next generation is infinite. Let us not make our women and men discover a convenient truth – ‘no ring no regrets’ or ‘road to motherhood does not have to go by wifehood.’ If it were to happen, the price your grand children will pay would be catastrophic

Author: Uncle Vijay

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Pursuing Not So Desi Professions

Posted on 26 May 2010 by .

I can think of at least one person who could have attempted to pursue a career as a professional hockey player with a big chance of succeeding, and I could probably think of a few more for other sports; and I’m sure you can come up with a handful of people who put aside their ‘unrealistic’ dream and instead settled for the likes of stinking like formaldehyde while cutting up cadavers.

Kudos to Robin Bawa (a fellow Canadian!) who set the precedent for players of South Asian descent in the National Hockey League in 1989 and an even bigger kudos to French-Canadian Manny Malhotra of Punjab descent for reinforcing Bawa’s precedent and jumping all over the place, finally landing with the Sharks last year.

They’re the only two players who have a South Asian background, and have been or are playing in the NHL; in a way, they’re representing the duo-cultural way of life we have going on here in good ol’ Canada.

Plain and simple, it’s challenging to live in a South Asian household that is governed by standardized ways of living and earning. Popular media, newspapers, interviews, movies, and books all reinforce what we may not be actually talking about enough, and that is that we are somehow ‘made’ to fit in the category of: a doctor, an engineer, or a business person. Of course, there are also loads of things that are gradually surfacing in our society, that are beginning to stray from these over-ingrained ideas of professions we should pursue, such as politics, social services, and literature … but how often do you hear about the brown kid across the street being drafted by the Leafs or the Pens?

Go on, try arguing with me that the only sport that matters to Indians is cricket, that hockey is ‘too violent’, or that its stereotypical association with beer and crazed fans is overrated and a commercial hoax, following our larger-than-life wins for the men’s and women’s Olympic teams and the fact that Montreal’s present standing for the Stanley Cup have South Asian-Canadians donning jerseys and lingering around water coolers in the office.

To our immigrant parents and grandparents, making a living on an ice rink or even a basketball court, is a foreign concept to grasp.  They didn’t Air India it over to Canada for their pay cheques to go towards their kids’ costly sports equipment; they came so that we may learn the essence of hard work through education and have a world of opportunity open to us in the workforce. Rather than learning this as we make critical decisions that shape our lives, we seem to be inevitably limited to understand hard work through trying ever-so-hard to keep our shoulders up from the mounting pressures to become what other people would like and expect us to be.

But people like Bawa, Malhotra, Ruby Dhalla, and Russell Peters are prime examples that these attitudes can change and that it’s quite alright to step out of the socially constructed boundaries and pursue what makes you happy. At the end of the day, the values of perseverance, dedication, and enjoying what you do still stand strong, alongside cultural integration.

Author: Poonam Patel

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Desis Believe in Arranged Love

Posted on 26 May 2010 by .

You would think that after several years of OMNI television’s screening of the (in)famous weekly Sunday Bollywood films  that an analysis of South Asian romance would be a little less than on the verge of pathetic. Take the following as an example;

Tina Turner may have had a point in her 1984 hit single ;“What’s Love Got to Do with it”, with the genius of lyrics describing love as something that makes the pulse react, a boy meeting girl ‘opposites attract’.

(Student): OMG, I think arranged marriages are like totally unfair, and some people like have to do it like…South Asians and such as…because of their CULT-UURE—, and like they have to marry people they don’t even know—like in the Bollywood movies, like, how can you love someone you don’t even know–

(Teacher): “eh…eh…(wipes sweat off brow) remember we have to keep in mind that we need to be sensitive of other people’s culture and respectful and understanding of practices that may be different from our own.”

Now, even those with the most sadistic understanding of Bollywood films should know that the lovers who cop glances at each other from behind bushes and run circular laps on expansive lush green fields do so—why?  BECAUSE THEY ARE IN LOVE.

And despite this, someone should give all South Asians in this country a life time achievement award for spending at least half of their lives answering the question; “are you going to have a love marriage or an arranged”?

In re-assuring other’s that I too, believe that love marriages are the way to go, the mere insistence and cohesive argumentation of my response- the who (someone with similar interests), the when (in my 30s and 40s), under what circumstances (once I’m established in my career and life), elicits a somewhat uncanny defence of love- that is the arranged-ness of it all.

Yet, how does one overcome this contradiction? ‘Love’ and ‘arranged’ are opposites, the former always resisting the blueprints of the latter. But can love truly be autonomous from the constraints and expectations that we place on it?

You only need to go to a bookstore to see the different shelves that deal with the topic of love. Books and magazine headlines read the following;“ The 10 Rules of Marriage Success”, “ How to Keep your Man for more than 30 days”,  “The #1 Tip on How to Stay in Love,” “Receding waistlines add 5 years to your love life.”

Numbers, statistics, rules, tips and formulas. What else is this but love arranged.

Tina Turner may have had a point in her 1984 hit single ;“What’s Love Got to Do with it”, with the genius of lyrics describing  love as something that makes the pulse  react, a boy meeting girl ‘opposites attract’. Turner continues; “There is a name for it; a phrase that fits. It is physical, only logical. What is love but a second hand emotion? “

Like Tina, I do feel that the rationalizations and formulations of love are not unwarranted. In trying to realize the relevance of an amorphous concept like ‘love’, all of us tend to bring it down to life size, and in doing so we try to give it a shape, and make it into something that fits our visions of reality.

And despite this, I feel that it is the nature of love to resist the cohesiveness of what we expect from it. Love doesn’t fit in numbers, it doesn’t fit well with the 5 W’s of what, when, where, why and who. And it most definitely doesn’t rest in bookshelves.

So maybe we can start asking different questions, more than just the ones that bounce between arranged and love marriages. Perhaps we can ask ourselves; “are we going to have love arranged”?

Having said all of this, I know that I for one, cannot distance myself from these manuals, statistics, songs, poems, literature that expose our centuries old preoccupation with love. In fact, it only rightfully shows how ‘love’ is truly a thing that we will never understand.

Peter Gabriel said it best when he said; “ the book of love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing, it’s full of charts, facts, figures and instructions for dancing.  But I love it when you read to me, you can read me anything.”

Author: Sana Hashmi

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“D” Word in Desi Marriage

Posted on 19 May 2010 by .

Dear Uncle,

“As you know divorces in our community have risen in past few years, and we all know this is not accepted as a norm in our culture, people that are divorced are having a very hard time finding a life partner and meeting with someone who are alike and have been through the same situation, I think you should open another category for that calling… “Giving life a second chance or starting over again.”

First, I would like to admit that when I was looking for a spouse more than 37 years ago, I would have automatically ruled out a prospect regardless of all other wonderful qualities had she been divorced or for that matter if she were not a virgin!!

The divorce rate for a couple getting married these days is more than 50% within first ten years of married life. This percentage goes up to 66% if one of the spouses is divorced and 75% or so if both were divorced. In spite of such high prevalence it does not make it easy to recover from them. So numbers are definitely against the people with history of previous blunder of ‘going round and round (Paa) and then changing mind!’ This gets far complicated if there is a child involved.

Just as a desi marriage is marriage of two families, a desi divorce is a divorce of two families. So the aftershock of divorce extends far beyond those two people who get divorced. It is said that you never know anyone how low they can go until you divorce them – and that is partially true. Divorce is one of the most painful experiences. So it is possible that a divorcee may have many unresolved issues.

In our times the divorces were rare (women opted for suicide before bringing the shame upon the family by walking out). As it is in recent history women have paid much heavier price for divorce – lack of virginity or being a widow. So we automatically assumed that if someone was divorced there was something totally unacceptable about them. Men were not as affected to the same degree.

It is about time; we decriminalize the divorce as an automatic black mark and start looking at it as one more thing to look into.

First we have to acknowledge that loss of virginity is not as big a deal as it was in my times. Virgins are at a disadvantage in western dating and marriage scene.

There are so many circumstances that lead to a dysfunctional marriage. And many a times I have no hesitation in recommending the divorce than continued misery. I am much better at funeral of the dysfunctional relationship than making a match for functional relationship! So in some cases divorce may be the best thing one can go for under the circumstances.

So my recommendation is not to make divorce a deal breaker but something to seriously look into.

If you are divorced and are now looking to remarry, remember marriage and divorce are a matter of public knowledge. Simple background search can easily uncover the fact. Not only that but in our gossip-rich society there is no way you are going to cover the whole thing up unless you move to the south pole. How you handle the issue of divorce gives out lot more information about you. As painful as it may be you should be prepared to share your past. When you make it look like it was all the fault of the other person – no one believes you.

Look for the honesty as he/she narrates the story of divorce. Look for introspection to see if the person indeed has learned from his/her mistakes. Try to ascertain the factors (there are always more than few) that may have contributed to divorce and if the divorcee has indeed learned any lessons from the past and is willing to make the changes so the next marriage does not end in the same fate.

You do have to factor the negative reaction you might encounter from your parents. After all many of us are still stuck in seventies and in some village in India when it comes to divorce and remarrying. Their first reaction is why are you going for a divorcee when you are never married and a perfect candidate?

Well they have no idea as to how difficult it is to find someone these days. I do not mind talking to those parents. The trick lies in looking at the total package.

It is important to find out who the ex-spouse was? Will the ex-spouse make it hard for him/her to move on? Is there any alimony or palimony involved? How long did the marriage last? How much time has passed since the divorce? Would you have recommended the divorce had he/she been your friend? More important, are you about to make the same mistake that cost someone else a divorce? All these are legitimate questions to seriously consider.

Many a times you might find a bargain among these divorcees because of their past history, their expectations may have lowered and they may have learned some valuable lessons so you are not marrying the same person that ex-spouse divorced.

Do I think that if you are divorced you can only match with the one who have been through the same process? Absolutely Not. My recommendation to all the divorcees is to heal yourself – if that needs professional help, do it. Once you are healed accept your part of responsibility and the lessons learned. Then get back in seriously looking group and learn to look at the total package. Just as your history makes you less than a perfect product there are many out there who for one reason or the other feel the same. Once you look beyond so called imperfection and learn to know the rest of that person, you may be pleasantly surprised. I personally know so many divorcees who are far better candidates now than they might have been at the time of their first marriage.

‘D’ word in Desi marriage situation may automatically disqualify you from the primary market. What is the rational approach to a divorcee? Let us decriminalize the divorce and learn to look at the total picture. A call for logical dialogue and rational approach to challenges of life!

Author: Vijay Uncle

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Inside Multicultural Infernos: 90s South Asian Retro Style

Posted on 12 May 2010 by .

Who knew that a CBC 5th Estate segment from the early 90s could do more than just provide a friendly ‘blast from the past’. By ‘past’ I would hope to be referring to the funky hairstyles and dance moves which decorated the youth culture of those who were the object of inquiry for the archived segment titled; “Polite Revolution”.  Looking more like the cast of Dangerous Minds than the 5th Estate’s ‘gentle dissenters’, the youth told the cameras about their dilemmas of assimilation, and the obstacles of integrating the ‘traditional’ values of their parents with the more ‘open’ and liberal ideas of the society that they had grown up in.

Fair enough. But twenty years later, why is this is still a hot topic? Surely, in the past two decades, something—anything must have budged.

Charged with Vanilla Ice fraud, the early 90s are often discarded as highly irrelevant by those of my generation who were merely (yet thankfully) infants at the time. So when classroom discussions still revolve around “South Asian problems” of arranged marriages, honour killings, beatings, and domestic female incarceration, a part of me wants to spell out from my chair; C.O.R.N.Y.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we definitely have our hands full with some really archaic problems—that cannot be said to be remnants of the last decade but rather remnants of another century.

But who better to look for assistance in navigating this muddled time line than the reporter for the “Polite Revolution”, jungle correspondent Trish Wood, who took startled Canadian audiences on an expedition to observe South Asian gorillas- 50,000 at the time, lurking in suburbs west of Toronto. Asking tough questions to gorillas/ parents such as why they cannot let their children go to nightclubs and why their daughters cannot go out on dates, Trish Wood, could’ve been mistaken as a the burgeoning maestro for South Asian youth.

Unfortunately, Apache Indian sold more records.

As if the trauma couldn’t get any worse, the segment goes on to feature a South Asian social worker who describes how a mother once found her daughter talking to a guy on the phone, took a steel cooking spoon, boiled it, using a glove to hold it, beat the daughter mercilessly while she was stripped naked.

Turning to my friend with my eyes tingling with hot tears I asked what any person watching up to that moment would have asked…; “why are we so messed up?”

And yet, after three minutes of intensive brainstorming, my friend and I decided to ask another question. “Who are we?”

The term “South Asian’ in the Canadian context refers to those groups of people who have migrated from the southern region of the continent of Asia.  Meant to provide some sort of comradeship for people who come from countries with tension ridden relations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the expansive term rarely takes into account the innumerable marginalized ethnic groups, languages, and traditions that are often in conflict for recognition and rights.

I feel like a broken record and I have only just begun. But seriously, how can a ‘group’ of people who obviously have so many differences and particularities, still be consistently responsible for the world’s arranged marriages and unfair treatment of daughters and sons.

How about another blast from the past, this one concerning my grandmother’s sisters and friends who were one of the first females to attend Aligarh University in India in the 1920s to 30s. These women formed a strong movement that advocated for the right to education and equality for all women. One of these women, Ismat Chughtai, went on to become a famous Urdu writer, and wrote the story on which Canadian film maker Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film “Fire” is based.

Providing the world’s largest testing ground for both the experiment and critique and modernity, I find it increasingly difficult to see a stark delineation between the ‘traditional’ values of ‘back home’ and the ‘liberal’ openness of where we find ourselves now.  The time line is too muddled, and, the ‘us’ versus’ ‘them’ compare and contrast exercise is becoming even less appealing.

Perhaps in this inferno of South Asian chaos, it is a lack of cohesion which is most frustrating, yet surprisingly exhilarating part. Maybe, within the precariousness of our category,  being ‘messed up’ isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Author: Sana Hashmi

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Smothering Poverty with Surrogate Mothers

Posted on 05 May 2010 by .

“Troubling questions surround surrogate-born children in India” is an article that was published in The Star earlier this week. Being someone who reads articles with a very critical lens, I was pleased to read how the writer explored various aspects of the issue of surrogate mothers. These ranged from the debate about the citizenship of the surrogate-born offspring to raising awareness about poverty in India, on individual and global scales. Although of course there was the reference to the hit movie “Slumdog Millionaire” that we have all grown used to describing poverty in India. But that’s a whole different feature…

What was most intriguing, to me, about the article were the stream of comments left by readers. While many were against the idea of surrogates and that several Canadians pay thousands of dollars to women in India to bear their child for 9 months, (provided, there were also valid points made that there is a global abundance of orphans), I admired those who defended the poverty-stricken, and often single-mothers who make use of the limited outlets of basic survival that enable them to support their children.

However, not to imply that I don’t value different opinions and free speech, since that would be contradictory to this piece, but amidst the facts, figures, and anecdotes in the article why are there so many readers who are in agreement that Indian women are being exploited by Canadians?

When the surrogate mothers and doctors themselves vouch for the fact that both parties (the surrogate mother and the ‘womb-buyers’, for lack of a better term) gain much out of this system, it is interesting to read that many still believe the surrogates are being exploited. But then again, every coin has two sides. Are there surrogate mothers out there in such a system that will say they are exploited, if provided the opportunity to have a voice?

All sorts of avenues are explored to eradicate poverty; we see it, hear it, and read it, everyday. The article was probably one of the most concrete pieces of evidence I’ve read about in a while that confirms that poverty reduction is in action. Perhaps not on the global scale that we all hope for but such things don’t simply occur overnight. Sure, there is skepticism around the paperwork and citizenship of surrogate-born children; sure, there are other countries with similar issues that are not as scrutinized for, and of course this is more of just an individual issue. So why not fix the system, change the laws, and take a step to support such an act of selflessness and sacrifice for the future generations? We live in a world where strife and life are results of causes and effects; people lose while others gain; people criticize and we also praise.

To some of the medical professionals in Anand, Gujarat (as mentioned in The Star), this may be a daily reality. But perhaps what holds the most significance at the end of the day is that they are providing a helping hand to alleviate the trials and tribulations that surrogate mothers shoulder to be able to provide the basic needs to their family and children; it raises the question of how privileged people, due to their circumstances, can be instrumental in building lives that others not only dream of, but are entitled to.

Author: Poonam Patel

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