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?

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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. 

Expectations that kill: A case for parenting in India

I grew up in a home where girls were not really expected to soar to heights in their career, and were expected to be demure little things stirring the porridge in the kitchen. While that came with baggage of its own, I believe I narrowly escaped the catastrophe of what intense academic pressure could do to you.

My masters thesis was about the perception of school in children, and even in my current work, I come across children and teenagers facing academic and career issues.

The problem is not the stress they face, because each  situation in life will have stress, but it is the peculiar way that patentable expectations have become so set in stone that question their rationality is never a question.

‘Make my parents proud’ was written by almost each 9th std kid who answered my Masters thesis survey. This meant that he or she wanted to keep scoring impossibly high and end up in an IIT or an IIM or be an MD. Anything else was unimaginable.

The parent is a child’s first reference point of the world. We take our parents very seriously. In this country, all the more so because of the culture of obedience. It becomes very difficult for us to fathom that our parents have unrealistic expectations from us.

The result: We start to feel that the problem is within me. I must be dumb or stupid. Or else, why can’t I score like my elder brother or my neighbor’s kid?
Pretty soon, I start to doubt my self image and become a bundle of nerves. Extreme anxiety can make me kill myself. But I will not dare question my parents.

An important part of childhood is to explore and understand yourself. While we like sending our kids to expensive classes and buying world class toys for them, we do not let them be free and think. The result being that a 15 year old cannot answer a question as simple as ‘what are some things you have been good at since childhood?’

How can he, when all he was told is how bad he was, how he was letting everyone down, and how he must do better still.

India is facing a parenting crisis. Right from setting realistic expectations to handling failure to managing the sexuality of the child, we are not at all up to the task. While many parents, especially parents of children with special needs are in fact learning these things, the masses seem to still be following the age old rigmarole.

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Here’s some facts to wrap your head around if you are a parent: each child is not going to be an engineer or a doctor or an IAS officer. If money or a good career could buy happiness, 36% of India would not be depressed. 30% of young people have mental health issues.

The question before you is this, can you accept a child for his unique strengths and capacities or would you want your child to be a self-hating bundle of anxiety? Or worse, dead?

The Suffocating Effect of Guests That Makes You Question Your Existence

Guests are an obligation much like a loan, except it is not as voluntary a decision.

When guests come to my house, it is like other-imposed Hotel California-ness. Once they come, it’s like something supernatural prevents them from leaving.

The problem is not so much of shared space, because be it our trains, buses or Marine Drive, sharing space has never been a problem for Mumbaikars.

Then, the problem with guests come down to two aspects: The ownership they show around things that they do not belong to them (they often belong to me), and the judgment with which they view me and my choices.

They often voice vile and judgmental opinions, but the world is an exhausting space and all I want to do is find the nearest blanket to cuddle. But then, while I am trying my best to ignore what is being said, they then go out of their way to question MY judgement and opinions.. I mean, the nerve!

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And I do not really need to elaborate on the sense of ownership part, do I? They simply pick up and use stuff that is not theirs because they took ‘apna hi ghar samjho’ quite literally – whereas we, or at least I, never said it.

While I grow weary defending my belongings and my opinions, there have been moments of doubt – not that I thought I was wrong, no, but I did think whether I should have gone with the easier choice of just agreeing with them on their face, to make life easy for everyone.

But the answer has been a loud and resounding NO. How can I agree when they say Hell will be filled with women because they deserve it? While they condemn us before we can commit sins or good acts? How can I sit by and let them be unjust to each and every marginalized group imaginable? How can I sit while they pretend to be nice and abuse our hospitality? How can I pretend to agree while they perpetuate unjust stereotypes and systems?

While the tenure of guests is definitely overrun in this country, I think my doubts have helped me to not only sharpen my arguments but also to develop a thick skin when needed. Sometimes, even I am surprised at how, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

The solution to fundamentalism, wastage and mediocrity is the same.

Why are we wasting water despite the draught in Maharashtra?

Why do we continue to live in outdated ways that are eating up our environment?

Why do we keep becoming fundamentalists, and keep funding fundamentalism?

The answer is that because we are using our mind, our thinking capacities all wrong. Those aspects of us, like belief and the ability to ignore when needed, as well as to conform to social rules to help avoid crimes and chaos – we are using all of these qualities to turn a blind eye to prevalent problems, and to not change our ways. We grew up this way – don’t question, just cover your own interests, you are too small to matter in any way.

When you socialize the child in this way, and beat out all sorts of divergent thinking patterns in schools and other institutions as he or she grows, are you surprised that so many people take to fundamentalism, because it finally allows them to feel passion again? Or many become mediocre products of society just buying the mass products created by it’s markets? Or has such a hard time imagining anything without a video in front of it, that it can’t imagine the shambles that the world is coming to?

To save the pitfalls of the mind, which were twisted for various reasons to shut out voices of dissent, we have to develop two basic skills, and we totally have to cultivate in our children with urgen fervour – these are two skills more important than teaching language, math or science.

These two skills are: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

Recently, there was a mention of ‘a case against empathy’ because it marrs clear thinking. That’s more than a little stupid because humans are complex and so they can surely think critcally, and be empathetic, both together. We are not so droll as to be able to do only one at a time.

Critical thinking would help us question the logic of strange statements thrown at us, so that belief does not get the better of us and perpetuate a faulty decision. And empathy is required for basic human connection, which would be the motivating factor for any good change, for a person going out of the way to change a convenient habit, because it harms someone.

For example, if I child was taught critical thinking and empathy right from birth and it was just more enhanced in school, he would not buy it if someone told him, that his religion asks him to kill people of another religion. His empathy would help him understand the plight of those who are facing a draught, so he would change his ways to save whatever water he can. These two qualities would ensure that he makes people accountable for environmental damage. Imagination, an offshoot of empathy, would help him visualise an uninhabiltable world, socially and environmentally, and that would help him take all the steps needed to address these situations, without feeling robbed of ‘comforts’.

While some of us do manage to see things a different way, and develop these skills, even our efforts at convincing others will fizzle out if we socially reinforce all the wrong traits. We just need to correct what we are teaching and okaying. The real things need to matter now.