I have never heard of these things happen in Indian culture. Do you think maybe these girls are lying?
A statement I heard from a male acquaintance from India a few years ago. Just because you don’t hear people talking about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. Point blank.
Being a brown girl and a survivor of sexual assault is a double-edged sword. When you grow up being told that “these things don’t happen amongst desis,” you may feel anxious about sharing your experience. You may worry about not being believed. You may worry about shaming your own family (who wants to be the topic of unwanted gossip?). You may feel obligated to protect the model minority reputation of desis.
You may be dependent on your perpetrator. You may be told that you’re unmarriageable. You may worry about other people judging you. You may worry about looking weak. Or, you may be a very private brown girl who doesn’t know how to put her experiences into words (and that’s okay). With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder why some brown girls keep their abuse a secret.
If you reach a point where you are ready to process what’s happened to you, what to do first can feel overwhelming. Based on my professional experience, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Express how you feel to the right people.
Who are you hanging around with? Some brown people who I have worked with weren’t taught healthy boundaries, nor were they taught how to recognize abusive relationships. Unfortunately, survivors of sexual assault can find themselves in a string of abusive and manipulative situations.
Predators and toxic people prey on the vulnerability and isolation of a survivor. Survivors may then feel obligated to stay with people, who mistreat them. When you feel stuck with the wrong people, it’s no surprise why a survivor may feel like they can’t get over things. Healing happens when you open up to kind and respectful people, who validate you.
2. Accept that your current feelings are a normal reaction to sexual assault.
Mental health issues are taboo to talk about in the South Asian community. A lot of brown girls are under intense pressure to look like the perfect daughter with the good grades, a great career and a line of marriage proposals. But, you may be dealing with an eating disorder, extreme anxiety, suicidal thoughts, people-pleasing, rage or low self-esteem. Whatever you’re experiencing is your brain’s way of adapting to the trauma that you experienced. Dealing with mental health issues doesn’t mean that you’re a bad brown girl, crazy, weird or not trying hard enough.
3. Let go of any blame or shame.
You may struggle with beating yourself up for going along with the sexual assault, not fighting back or ruminating over whatever decision you made when the assault happened. Maybe you have internalized the message that you’re damaged goods. Maybe you’re worried about how your partner will view you. Despite what victim-blamers say, it’s never the victim’s fault. The blame goes back to the person who sexually assaulted you. When you admit to yourself that you didn’t deserve what happened to you, it’s easier to give yourself the compassion that you need.
4. Find a culturally competent therapist, who specializes in sexual trauma.
If you’re ready to talk to a professional, please be aware that not all therapists specialize in sexual assault, nor are they all familiar with South Asian culture. Some survivors may turn to life coaches, astrologers and priests, only to also find out that these people give damaging advice. It’s important to seek help from someone who has the expertise that you’re looking for. If you’re not connecting with a therapist, you are well within your rights to find a new therapist. Working with a knowledgeable and insightful therapist is a key factor in your recovery.
Being a brown girl with immigrant parents is hard as it is. You get strict messages from Indian culture, yet your non-brown friends tell you something totally different. Add sexual assault to your minority color experience. Your identity gets shattered. This leads survivors to ignore and second-guess their feelings, opinions, needs, and thoughts.
When survivors don’t trust themselves, they may feel like they have to accommodate to what other people want them to do. Realize that you have the right to be your own person, who can trust her instincts, her perceptions, how she feels about things, and the choices she makes. Trust yourself, because nobody knows yourself as well as you do.
With that all being said, remember that every survivor of sexual assault is unique. There is no wrong or right way to react to trauma, nor is recovery a linear process. It’s up to you to find out what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you. Moving on from sexual assault can have it’s ups, downs and feelings of giving up. But, know that you are strong enough to overcome whatever has happened to you. If other survivors of sexual assault can heal and feel happy again, brown girls can do it too.
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
I’ve never considered myself to be a part of the fashion world here in New York. Until a few years ago, I couldn’t even tell you what my style was. Today, it’s clear how much my clothes are influenced by my time living in India for six years as a teenager. You’ll usually see me pair a sari blouse with a pair of pants, a khadi print skirt, or a dress that my family’s tailor back in Kolkata made of cloth my mother and I spotted and loved in the store next door.
My Indian heritage is an integral part of my identity, so when I was asked if I could write about South Asian designers debuting their collections, how could I say no?
I first heard about South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW) last year from a friend who walked the runway for one of the designers. I’d heard about the infamous New York Fashion Week of course, but based on the name, I assumed this venture was to increase the representation of South Asian designers, especially because fashion is an industry with high barriers to entry, making it especially difficult for BIPOC designers to break through and showcase their talent.
I wasn’t far off the mark, according to one of this season’s designers, Sandeep Tupili, cofounder of the brand Maison Tai.
“I come from the South of India and growing up I never saw clothes like this on the runway,” he said. “Now, as a gay Indian designer, I’ve never really been supported like this, in a space like this. This community is truly incredible.”
Community is what I found in the days I ran around attending the various SANYFW events, which took place between September 9 and September 13, starting with actress Richa Moorjani headlining for Raas, a contemporary luxury clothing brand from India. I’m a journalist who reports on BIPOC influencers, I’m Indian, and I used to be an editor at Brown Girl Magazine, so I knew a lot of faces in the room already when I walked into the press gathering, the first event of the week. I was unprepared, though, for the immediate warmth from the people I just met. Faces that lit up whenever they saw me, engaging in conversations about representation, and checking in to see how my day was going.
It’s that kind of community that Shipra Sharma and Hetal Patel, cofounders of SANYFW, have been working so hard to cultivate this second time around, based on learning lessons from season one.
“I really want to see these designers create their own network and create their own connections because we can provide the platform, but for the designers to get to the next level, it’s about the people who get involved with their brands,” Sharma said. “I’m honestly so overwhelmed with joy because 10 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom having a space like we do today where they could do this.”
Another one of the designers I met was Sheel Svarini, who graduated college only two years ago and took this season’s SANYFW by storm when she debuted her collection Svarini, which she describes as a “Bridgerton”-inspired play on Indo-Western clothing. When she walked out after the models displaying her designs at the multi-designer fashion show on September 13, she was met with cheers, whistles, and some standing ovations.
“I was designing my clothing as I watched the show last year, so it’s really a full-circle moment for me,” she said. “I didn’t study fashion at all, I was studying engineering, and there’s no way I could have done it without the opportunities I’ve gotten here.”
You could feel Sheel’s joy every time in the space—every time she saw me, she, quite literally, picked me off the floor in a hug. For Archie Agarwal, founder of handmade fine jewelry and accessories brand Studio Kiyan,it was a tap on the shoulder and a long hug whenever she saw me.
“Spaces like this are so critical for the young boys and girls out there to see that they’ll be accepted for who they are,” she said. “I can only imagine how many designers will be here in the next few years, and it could be because they saw us on their social media.”
Maheen Haq, the designer behind Babougie, agrees. At the multi-designer presentations event on September 11, she was one of the people asked to explain more about her brand, and she highlighted how grateful she was to the packed room of South Asians who showed up in support.
“When I was young growing up in Pakistan, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of options because I couldn’t find clothes in my size,” she said. “Not many people, even today, would accept a brand that prioritizes hand-blocking printing from Pakistan so that just shows what kind of community Hetal and Shipra are trying to build.”
Meanwhile, Promiti Prosun of the brand Chaa Latte, embodies the concept of community in her clothes. Our interview was interspersed with revelations about our similarities—we’re both Bengali, we both quit our jobs during the pandemic in 2021 and pivoted careers: me to journalism and her to fashion.
“The space to be seen like this wasn’t there before,” she said. “My collection is about community actually, about feeling comfortable and accepted when you’re walking into spaces dressed in your clothing.”
It’s designer Madiha Dhanani, founder of brand Jamil by MD, who highlighted the unique element of SANYFW on their last night of shows: helping people from the diaspora embrace both sides of their identities.
“We keep our worlds so separate, American and Indian, and it’s time we start blending our backgrounds together,” she said. “That’s what makes SANYFW so important. It’s creating the room for us to showcase the way that fashion is moving forward.”
After Dhanani’s collection debuted on the runway, excited conversations were already breaking out about what next year’s SANYFW would hold and how much bigger it could be, especially given this year’s recognition by outlets like Good Morning America, NBC News, and Bloomberg.
As for me, I’ll eagerly be awaiting the chance to meet more inspirational South Asian designers and creatives next September. It’s goes beyond the designers and clothes for me, it’s about it’s about continuing to support the community that was fostered this year.
Like many 90s kids, I was obsessed with Disney and the beauty of its animation. At four years old, I saw my first move in theaters: The Lion King. I spent the next year watching the movie everyday and singing along to “Hakuna Matata.” Disney was a way to relate to my peers and bridge the gap between my two identities.I remember being especially fond of Jasmine and Pocahontas. Their brown skin and black long hair matched mine. When I wasn’t watching Disney movies with my sisters, we watched Bollywood movies of the Golden Era. As the years passed, I prioritized balancing my passion for Disney with the intersections of my identities.
2022 was the first time Diwali merchandise became available in large retail stores. My town’s library even had a “Diwali” section in the Children’s section. The world is finally transforming and Diwali is becoming “mainstream.” After years of advocacy and cultural awareness, we are finally witnessing the representation of our culture, traditions and holidays. Upon hearing of JASHN Productions’ first-ever Diwali Dance Fest taking place in Walt Disney World, I immediately began planning. My passion for Disney had grown from movies to theme park adventures. Diwali, the festival of lights combined with Disney World magic was bound to be spectacular. And, oh boy (Mickey Mouse voice), did JASHN surpass all expectations.
The first event, held in Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs, was the first Diwali parade. Dancers of the many dance studios performed in 20 minute synchronized dances. Hearing Diwali announced over the PA system had me near tears. The vibration of the dhol beats within the Bollywood rhythms had the shoppers engaged. The sea of dancers adorning the vibrant colors of Diwali fit in perfectly with the Florida sun.
The real dream was seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse on stage with “Diwali” spread across. The Diwali Dance Fest included over 400 youth dancers from across the United States. These dancers, from 17 different dance schools, specializing in a variety of different forms of Indian and Indo-fusion dance, performed in Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo Theatre. Each dance led the audience to different regions of India; the music ranged from classical and folk to Bollywood and hip hop.The hosts Nisha Mathur and Sway Bhatia represented the joining of both worlds. Mathur is known for her SonyTV show, “Keys to Kismat” and Bhatia is the voice of character, Karishma on the very first Disney children’s show Mira the Royal Detective. International singer and performer Raghav, ended the show with his hit, Angel Eyes as a select group of dancers performed beside him.
Hearing the Indian music I had grown up with, brought me endless joy to finally witness such a level of representation, especially in a place so special to me. Experiencing a Diwali celebration in the most magical place on Earth with all generations was one of the best parts.
An after-party for performers and families, took place following the showcase in The Lion King theater. I was dancing and singing to my favorite Bollywood hits after enjoying this Disney Spectacular. Disney has always been my happy place; Walt Disney World will forever be the place where my greatest dreams came true. From enjoying a day at Animal Kingdom, in Indian attire, with Minnie Mouse ears to dancing along to the songs that filled my home. I have experienced a level of representation I never even knew possible. I have finally seen the gap bridged between my two identities. Never have I been more proud to be an Indian-American.