An absent present father..

Oh, don’t worry. He’s very much there, as in, his physical being is. But he has never been a father to me. He’s been the first to place restrictions, and the last time I remember having love and attention from him is when I was too small to question his view on life.

Father’s usually come with daughters when it’s time to go to college, they help them with the fairly intimidating task of form-filling and documentation and ensuring a college is good enough to go to. My father actively tries to stop me from going to college. He thought too much education would give me ideas. I got the education anyway and I got those ideas he was afraid too, but not without the fear of him withdrawing financial support, every year for seven years of my post-school education. A 16 year old should be worrying about her study schedule, not marriage schedule.

Anyway, as I studied humanities, I got to understand that this was part of his cultural upbringing. Fathers were to be aloof, he was told. They were the rule setters and they got children to conform to what was right. Which is why he tried to ensure I do not get too smart or too independent, because I would not have a husband.

It would be okay if this was all. I have seen many dads in the extended family, who want to make their daughters conform to this. But, there is still an emotional wavelength despite it. None of them have an absolutely selfish, emotionally devoid father like mine.

He grew up in a family that only paid attention to instrumental things – the earning, how much the daughter’s in law could do around the house, and how many children they could bear. My father divorced his first wife because she could not get pregnant. His family claimed this was because they were not told from before about her health issues. It is not that they feel empathy and emotions and they suppress them. No, they only understand power and self satisfaction. That’s just how they’re wired after years of conditioning. That’s why, my dad’s brother who spent his formative years in Karachi, away from this family environment, is a tad better.

So this Father’s Day, I think the only gift I can thank dad is for the many emotions that lived in me, that guided me on my path of healing and social justice. I thank him for the opportunity to study oppression so closely, and to show first hand how, relationships with the oppressor can grow so complicated.

All the absence of love and family, made me know what love and family should look like.

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A Letter To The Unborn Children: We Have No Love to Give You

Hello,

This is a letter to the unborn children.
We decided not to give birth to you because we have had too much tough love and do not want to pass it on.
Our parents never complemented us, no matter what we achieved.
Criticism, however, could always be found, like the fast food restaurants around the corner.
Is that cruel of us? Selfish?
We decided that we are too damaged to ever be good parents.
Our low-self esteem and self-destructive tendencies are too deeply entrenched.
It will go two ways. Either, we will spoil you silly, because we are too afraid to repeat what will happen to us. Or, we will just repeat what was done to us. We will rip you apart with negativity, and make you wish you were not born.
We will make you feel so shitty that you will choose the worst friends and relationships that will feel the negative cycle of bad self worth. You will feel that it is indeed true – you are bad and you deserve nothing.
And all this, because “we don’t praise our children due to the fear that we may spoil you”.

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Well, we have spoiled life for you anyway. By ensuring that you never think well of yourself and keep self sabotaging.
Life will be an endless cycle of pain, in the name of love. Tough love.
And even if some of did experiment, out of our own selfish need to prove ourselves or to have a legacy, then, what kind of a world will you live in anyway? The madness of fascism and the emptiness of capitalism are your only choices.
Not to mention, there’d be very few trees. You would never know Nature, like we did.
No, the spoilt game has gone on for too long. For too long, we have made emotional mistakes, in our homes and on our lands, and then we expect that some child from a future generation will come and fix this. We use this to quell our anxiety of making a big mistake. And we use this line way too often to take the choice of abortion away. Never mind the fact that we have an active child porn and child labour industry which is eating up at children’s lives anyway.

We had a choice once we were capable of thinking. We had compassion and competition both and we decided to fuel competition and envy for a few short gains. And spent centuries justifying it.
Our hypocrisy has gone on for too long. It must stop. Maybe we are wrong and you would indeed have been the generation that saves us and fixes our faults. But why should you have to?
People who cannot pass on love, should not be allowed to pass on mistakes to be fixed.

Muslim men should improve this one thing about themselves this Ramzan

Its the night of the 15th of Shabaan and Muslims all over the world are preparing for an eventful and pious Ramzan. Ramzan is not just a time to abstain from food but also a time to focus on what we have that others don’t and to make it available for them.

I would like to focus today on what Muslim men have that they do not use correctly or share: Agency.

Muslim men, being in a patriarchal world, have privilege and power to help their female counterparts. Yet, so many of them are either blind to what women go through, call it their “natural” role/destiny and do nothing about it, or actively make things worse for women. Does this come as a shock to you? Here is how you may be contributing:

Asking women to cover up in order to avoid rape and being looked at:

This is a particularly messy one because of our culture of Hijab, Niqab and other coverings for women. However, data has shown time and again that men who target women by making them uncomfortable or sexually violating them, do this regardless of what the woman was wearing. If you don’t believe me, check out this video of a man trying to grope an Egyptian woman who is fully covered in a burkha, including a headscarf.

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Keeping your eyes off a woman and asking other men to do so is not just good manners but actually following the footsteps of the prophet.

“Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhu): “Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind Allah’s Messenger (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as his companion rider on the back portion of his she-camel on the day of Nahr (slaughtering of sacrifice, 10th Dhul-Hijja) and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) stopped to give the people verdicts (regarding their matters). In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khatham came, asking the verdict of Allah’s Messenger. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) looked behind while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face (to the other side) in order that he should not gaze at her. She said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! The obligation of performing Hajj enjoined by Allah on his worshippers has become due (compulsory) on my father who is an old man and who cannot sit firmly on the riding animal. Will it be sufficient that I perform Hajj on his behalf?’ He said, ‘Yes.'” [Sahih Bukhari]

This hadith gives several important rulings. One is that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) acted himself, and made other men act, on Allah’s orders to lower their gazes. [Quran 24: 27-29] We see in this hadith, that the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) listened to the woman’s question and answered it while not looking at her. He also turned the face of his cousin to the side who had been staring at the woman’s beautiful face. He (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) did not ask the woman to cover her face. “

If you find a man staring at a woman, muslim or otherwise, stare HIM down and ask him to behave, rather than moral policing the woman.

Not being active in domestic duties or child care:

Yet another thing the prophet was known for, was cooking his own meals, sewing clothes, taking care of the domestic animals and being generally active in the household. However, Muslim men of today sit on the sofa barking orders to the women in the house. Not only is this not following the prophet’s tradition, but going against his active dislike of people who mistreated others and abused power. Housework is not shameful and women are not lesser beings. Step up your game.

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Not letting women have a voice or opinion:

Women are relegated to the kitchen and changing the babies diapers. However, it was the Prophet’s tradition to regularly consult his wives in the matter of household, finances, and even the trajectory of Islam and how to take it forward. He married a businesswoman who had her own identity independent of wife and mother. His last wife took his work forward after his death, so he clearly did not think less of women and neither should you.

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Not letting women be financially independent, educated or aware:

My father and family believe in not letting me travel because I am single. I know how much I had to struggle to get my education and be a working woman. Muslim families still do not allow women to be intellectually and financially independent. They stop them at each step – be it traveling, choosing one’s husband or leaving a bad marriage. They are discouraged from growing their education and understanding, and having a say in matters, especially finance. This goes against not only how the prophet behaved with his wives but also Islam’s tradition of lifelong learning.

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This Ramzan, vow to be a better man, a better human, and stop adding to systematic inequalities. For tips on parenting to raise muslim boys so that they become good muslim men who respect women and treat them well, click here.

P.S: I know that there are some problematic discourses within Islam but this post was purposely centered on using proofs from within Islam because these are some proofs/verses that everyone agrees with and so it helps to start getting believers to act more responsibly at home and around women. 

Changing your family is the most necessary and the most difficult life task

It was the year 2008, and I had just finished my 10th std. To my shock, my father did not want me to study further. I knew my family was conservative, but not this much. He said that I could only study if I wore the burkha. At that point, I was not entirely convinced of the burkha. My mom wore it, but out of choice. I knew women who wore and did not, and I do not think the cloth per se made them more or less pious. We somehow got him to agree that I would do it post my 12th.

Two years later, I was still not convinced. I researched a lot, and the evidence was sketchy at best, about it’s requirements. Besides, the burkha as it is came because of Khomeini’s campaign in Iran during the 70s. Back then, I was still unsure of my arguing powers so we settled on the midway of a headscarf. I stopped wearing it after a while. I didn’t think it was necessary to wear a piece of cloth to prove my worth to anyone.

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Now, my stance on that was very clear. I guess somewhere my father had realised that. I would be ready with all Quranic evidence and hadith always. Another fact was that I would bring up what men were “supposed” to do as well, according to Islam. That would shut them up.

But what mattered along with that was that my academic record was impeccable, I would go out of my way to help out at home and get a lot of tasks done. And yes, there were never any late nights and for the longest time, most of my family did not think I have male friends. In an ideal world, I should not have to be a typical “good girl” to get basic rights like education and freedom. But this is not an ideal world.

While I was working up to my education, I agreed to certain things and challenged certain things. My dad said I could do my masters only if I agreed to seeing potential grooms after the first year. I agreed. But I’m still not married at 24. Most of these things don’t even happen. It was just a way for him to show him who is in control. While I agreed here, I started challenging that women should eat yesterday’s rotis if they were left. I said, divide the leftovers equally. I helped mom to start questioning things. I helped her stop being a slave for my brothers and bring them down from the pedestal.

The point is, change is slow. And, change is difficult when you have to change the people you love. Because repulsion for their beliefs and love for them as people – both have to exist together and that makes it hard for you.

But it’s possible. Its all about the negotiation. Agree to certain things, and push them for other things. Shifts in reality are always slow.

Recently, a cousin of mine was almost forced into an engagement. She wanted to talk to the guy a little more before deciding, but her parents did not let her, because their society did not allow that. They valued society’s opinion more over their daughter’s happiness.

When my dad came to know this, he said “How can they do something which will surely make their child unhappy?”

Would my dad of 2008 have said this? If this is not change, what is?

How good a defense is “this is our (or against our) culture?

Because I feel so illiterate about a lot of history and modern politics, I decided to take this free online course that would help we re-caputure on modern history. Modern world being the period from 1600s-1700s till today. A bunch of stuff happened here that was distinct from the traditional world, but that’s beside the point.

What struck me is that a lot of what we call culture and which we use as a defense during victim blaming or abusive bull fighing, is really, such a shifting concept. I mean, think of the fact that modern armies were first developed by Eurpoeans and then caught on by the rest of the world. Writing language was invented in Mesopotemia and the Printing press in the Roman Empire. Now imagine, if the rest of the world shot up their hands saying, “No, the printing press was invented in the Roman Empire, it’s not our culture” – where would we be today in terms of dissemination of knowledge?

The fact is that culture and ways of life come not only from your geographic location, but ever since we entered the modern world, culture also comes from an exchange of ideas. And we are very happy when culture infiltrates. I mean, aren’t our weddings all the more colourful thanks to the addition of cocktails and bachelor parties?

We see other people with different ideas, different ways of life and then we take some aspects on. Because that’s the point – to make life better. So, this  “culture” which we seem to be gaurding, which seems to be the reason why we are so resistant to change – this concept of culture has itself never been the same. Culture has always been evolving and because it is evolving, we got so far.

Now, a bunch of xenophobic people are inducing mass hysteria and paranoia in others, with notions like “they will take your jobs” or “this is against our values” – you know why? Because their power is rooted in the old ways of life. For example, if we really did see the light of the day and do something about all the animal abuse happening at bull fighting sports, obviously, all the people who arrange for the sport will get affected. Of course they don’t want to let it go!

Culture? The real reason for staying back, is commerce. The commercial interests of a few people.

Can you be compassionate towards animals even if you eat non-veg food?

As I collect my mail, I see that PETA has sent something. I look at the cover. It is rabbit, but something is wrong with its eyes. The cover boldly screams that rabbits are being used to test cosmetic products in labs. PETA needs my help in pushing the Indian judicial system to ban these drug tests. I have an automatic monthly donation to PETA anyway, but I vow to myself that I will either try to donate some more, or send a letter to the concerned department creating pressure for a faster and positive judgement on this.

This question plagues me many times: If I feel so compassionate towards animals, how do I manage to eat non-veg every now and then? Compared to the tastes and appetites of my family, I probably have the diet of a goat, but I do still eat non-veg every now and then.

I once read this very interesting article on Scroll about how, there’s no getting away from the violence that comes with survival. And that being “brahmin” is merely about putting the violent and dirty work on to the outer circles of the groups, i.e., the untouchables.

Some other news also comes to my mind about how plants have feelings too and can probably feel hurt as we pluck them.

But at the same time, I am not okay with the cruelty of the meat industry, the weird festivals and practices we have with animals – circuses are a big example, and of course, lab testing of animals.

Till I find my answers, I feel this much for sure: That eating animals may still be exempted since our diets cultuarally formed when our ancestors ate what was available years ago. Because even plants being plucked for eating get hurt.

But the rest of the stuff: Animal abuse in various forms, is just like deforestation – not necessary, as long as we can be bothered to find other ways. So yes, I do find myself to be compassionate towards animals, and plants.

Till we find a way to gain nutrition without eating plants or animals, we can still care for them. We can be compasstionate when breeding them, and be least harmful in other ways – giving up animal, products, animal testing, not taking up their habitat, not hunting and not trying to tame them. Because of the way the food chain functions currently, we do end up eating some animals – but do we have to trample them and treat them as lesser being justs because of this? I don’t think so.

How your Islamophobia is helping  Islamic Radicalism. 

There are many people who will tell you that Islam is a peaceful religion. There will be some who say that it does allow some violence, in some contexts, but not terrorism. But here’s the catch: by being islamophobic, you are adding fuel to the fire and leading to more Radicalism. 

There are many ways that people will deal with attacks on the religion they belong to. One may be a practicing or a cultural Muslim, but when the conversation turns to terrorism and Islamic State, even the least practicing of us feel the need to defend ourself. 

The reason is simple. It is a part of our identity. Just like we would defend India in front of an attack from a foreigner,  despite not liking how we do things internally (Salman Khan, Dadri),  similarly, we feel the need to make people see that there’s more than one version of the story. 

However, there are people who are  unclear about religion and morality. These may also be people who are experiencing a void in life and who need something strong to make life meaningful. Given their current spiritual state, your hatred will only push them towards radical teachings. 

Why? It’s the logic of ‘let me commit the crime I’m already being punished for’. Since these young people are already facing discrimination, coupled with the wrong leaders and unclear principles and an empty life, they fall into the dangerous mix of radicalization. 

If you would like to help this global problem, stop treating each Muslim you meet as a stereotypical presentation.  There are varieties within. Even those on the precarious borders of violence, may yet be convinced with acceptance.

 It is up to you, whether you choose to scorn at the headscarf or try to know deeply the mind within.