Your yearbook quote can leave a lasting impression as you finish up your final year in high school. It’s a lasting legacy that you leave behind, in print. It’s hard to come up with something that sums up your four years perfectly or even the message you want to end your high school career with. That too, in the limited space that is provided under your formal senior picture.
So, it’s entirely refreshing to see Muslim women, generally stereotyped by the media as being subservient and oppressed, use their words so poignantly in the face of widespread, FOX news-induced Islamophobia, of which Muslim women tend to take the brunt of the blow. Also, looks like young Muslim women are just funnier than men. (Where are you, brothers?)
These pictures have been going viral all over Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. I figured it was time to put them all in the same place, with other like-minded women, in all their glory. Some of these women poke fun at the anti-Muslim gaze, a couple of them find confidence in their choices to wear a headscarf and others speak of the woes of dealing with the number of questions they had to answer about their religious choices.
Overall, these women are able to make you laugh with them in their struggles of being a young Muslim-American who practices Hijab. Meet some of the fabulous young Muslim women below, who find humor in how they’re viewed by their peers when it comes to their religion.
Ainee Fatima is a nationally recognized spoken word artist with a B.A. in Islamic World Studies from DePaul University. Her work deals with Islamic feminism, interfaith dialogue, and diplomacy. You can follow her on Instagram @ainee.f or on Facebook.
Featured Photo Credit Kevita Junior | Left to Right: Tu hiya ka kare he, Tu kaha bate, Tu hamar ke bate
Thundering waves clawed on the body of the vessel as the sea swallowed the voices of terrified passengers. They clung to the shreds of the Eagle Speed as each hour submerged the ship deeper within the kala pani (dark waters). Steamer ships were sent for rescue, finding two children alone, clenching to the remains of the mast. The unscathed captain and crew fled in boats, leaving the lives of coolies (indentured laborers) to the fate of the dark waters. TheEagle Speed set sail on August 19th, 1865 from Calcutta to Demerara. This tragedy took the lives of over 300 hundred indentured laborers. The coolies onboard were not just casualties of the kala pani, but a larger system of British colonialism.
The crossing of these tumultuous seas wasforbidden for Hindus, as it meant the severance of reincarnation and the unraveling of caste. Yet more than 2 million Indians were taken across the kala pani. The forbidden water carried stories along its transatlantic waves, bearing witness to history lost against its tides. The restraints of caste drowned along the voyages as surnames and relations were cast across the seas. They became Singhs (lions) and Maharaj’s (great kings), Brahmins by boatinstead of birth.
These indentured workers were mainly taken from regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to different corners of the globe, with some of the largest to the Caribbean. Guyana experienced around238,909 workers, Trinidad 143,939 and Suriname 34,304. With 399 Indians, the Lalla Rookh docked on June 5, 1873, at Nieuw Amsterdam in Suriname, later becoming known as the coolie depot. As workers poured out of ships and onto plantations, they experienced violence and oppression at alarming rates, especially against women.
They were nameless and barefooted with gold jhumkas and bangles adorning their bodies. As tourism increased in the Caribbean’s, photographing indentured women on postcards became part of its selling point. These women became subjects to appease the white colonizer gaze and fetishized exotic ‘Coolie belles.’ A bulk of these postcards were shot in Trinidad and sold in local shops to visiting tourists. Yet these postcards failed to translate the hierarchy of power between the photographed and those behind the camera. The white European men who carried out these photoshoots chose backdrops that masked the real conditions of sugar cane fields and living quarters. Who were these women? What were their names? The women were juxtaposed with the term ‘Coolie,’ a slur for laborer and ‘Belle,’ the French word for beautiful. They were coined as laborers of beauty, yet their eyes tell a story of fear of pain.
Tu hamár ke bate? (Who are you to me?) Tu hiyá ká kare he? (What are you doing here?) Tu kahá báte? (Where are you?) Artist Nazrina Rodjan posits these questions that rummage through the minds of many Indo Caribbean descendants. Who were my ancestors? What did they experience? Rodjan aims to explore the experiences of indentured women through her oil painting series “Kala Pani.” In this series, she reimagines the postcards of indentured women alike the depictions of European nobility. In conversation with Rodjan she mentions,
I’ve thought long and hard about whether it would be ethical to reproduce these staged images of women who might have felt scared and uncomfortable being brought into these studios to be photographed by men. I will never know their true experiences and how they might have felt knowing a stranger in the future will decide to paint them in the same positions they were put in for the original photograph.
Rodjan’s art series started as a way to commemorate 150 years since the first indentured workers arrived in Suriname and expanded to include regions like Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica.
Wanting to reclaim these images comes from feelings of injustice whenever I see these postcards. They were made from a dehumanizing perspective. Reclaiming these images becomes necessary knowing how the violence Indo-Caribbean women still face today is just a continuation of the violence brought onto indentured Indian women then. To me, creating this piece, symbolized the acceptance of questions remaining unanswered, stories being lost forever, and realizing that after a history full of trauma, there’s a treasure in the women that are still here to tell their stories.
The ratio of men to women arriving on these ships left little to no autonomy for women. Experiences of violence on ships and plantations were common throughout the Caribbean. Despite this, indentured women became trailblazers and pioneers in uprisings against poor working conditions.
Everything about these women seems to be a question we can never answer, but I decided to give them titles in Hindustani that are questions they might have for me as the painter who looks at them and sees both a stranger and a loved one. Tu hamár ke báte? Who are you to me?
Living in the Netherlands, Rodjan talks about her experiences tracing her ancestry and honoring this history:
Unfortunately, in the Netherlands learning about the history of Dutch colonization only meant memorizing all the different spices they brought in and listening to teachers talking proudly about the Dutch East India Company in elementary school. Tracing back my ancestors has so far only led to a picture of my parnani and a few more names in the family tree.
OnMay 5, 1838, Anat Ram stepped foot on the rich grounds of Berbice, becoming the first Indian laborer in Guyana. The Whitby and Hesperus departed from Calcutta on January 13 and arrived in Berbice first then West Demerara. Over the course of 79 years, approximately259 ships voyaged from India to Guyana. While the experiences of these ancestors may remain unknown, artists like Suchitra Mattai aims to revitalize the voices of our indentured ancestors.
Suchitra Mattai is an Indo Guyanese multi-disciplinary artist. Through her work, she uses the experience of her family’s migration and the history of indentureship to rewrite and expand our notions of history. In her piece, Life-line, a rope of saris pours out of a tilted boat, mirroring the experiences of her ancestor’s journey across the transatlantic. The saris serve as both water and a connection to two lands, India and Guyana. Mattai further explores indentureship in the piece “Coolie Woman,” depicting a woman seated with a sari, embellished with jewelry and flowers.
I wanted to reimagine the photo to give her agency. I also wanted to address the desire for people of the diaspora to connect to their homelands and ancestral pasts. The painted wallpaper drips and fades to parallel the way my memory of Guyana ebbs and flows, Mattai says.
Anchoring at the Port of Spain on April 22, 1917, the last ship to ever carry indentured Indians made its final stop. A system that bound Indians to an unknown land finally ended after 79 years.
To invoke conversation and pay homage to their memory, artist Gabrielle Francis creatively analyzes indentureship. Gabrielle Francis is an Indo Trinidadian queer interdisciplinary artist, writer and organizer from Queens, New York. In her piece “206:21 Queer Altar Mixed Media Performance,” Francis pays homage to her indentured ancestors with a focus on queer identities. The title 206:21 reflects the ratio of men to women that journeyed on the Fatel Razack, the first ship from India to Trinidad. A mirror is decorated with the colors of Trinidad’s flag along with six candles embodying the pride flag and vibrant red carnations. Written across the mirror is, “I wonder how many of you were queer?” A question that allows for openness and conversation around potential queer ancestors. Written records around indentureship were translated and produced by European men, leaving little to no room for women or queer folks. Francis’s work aims to transform and challenge Eurocentric narratives surrounding indentured history.
As descendants of indentureship, it becomes difficult to sit with questions that may never have answers. Visiting National Archives or exploringdigital databases can help connect descendants to learn about their own history. As we unravel difficult experiences of the past it’s important to ask, how do we carry the legacies of our ancestors? How do we honor their sacrifices?
As they were stripped of their identities and reduced to passenger numbers, they fostered new relations—jahaji bhai and jahaji bhain (ship brother and sister). From shipmates to family, to present-day melodies of chutney music to the stew of pepper pot on Christmas morning, these bonds of community have evolved and are seen across the diaspora today.
November 18, 2023November 20, 2023 5min readBy Pooja Mehta
Trigger warning: this article contains material related to suicide and mental illness. Discretion is advised. If these topics cause emotional, mental, or physical distress, please call your National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
The only time I wanted to die was to follow in the footsteps of Raj.
Suicide and I, we were not strangers at that point. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with anxiety with auditory hallucinations. Meaning, when I would have panic attacks, I would hear voices in my head, screaming strangers telling me that: nobody loved me, I was a burden on everyone in my life, the world would be better off without me. Most of the time I was able to stay rooted in my reality, where the demons in my head couldn’t overshadow the sunlight through the window, the blanket wrapped around me, the knowledge that they weren’t real.
There were three times where the voices enveloped me, echoing louder and louder until I had to follow through just to make it stop.
But those times, they wanted me gone. I didn’t want to go. On each of those three mornings, I woke up severely dehydrated, covered in vomit, and surrounded by pill bottles. And each of those three mornings are some of the best mornings of my life. Because I was alive. Because my story wasn’t over. Because I had the chance to drag my pitiful body to the shower and wash off the night before and live to see what today could bring. I never wanted to die. Suicide and I were not strangers, but we were not friends. I knew it, I recognized it in the room, but I had no desire to strike up a conversation. I worked hard to make sure I had tools and strategies to hold my own should it sidle up to me. And that worked, for a while.
Then, baby brother, my only sibling, the best person I have met to this day took his own life. 15 minutes before I went up to his room to get him for dinner, I saw him. That moment lives in my head like laps on a stopwatch. Twenty minutes since he sent his last text message. Ninety minutes of CPR. Eight days into the COVID-19 lockdown. Two weeks shy of this 20th birthday. Four weeks since I got my Mental Health First Aid certification, where I learned the signs of suicide, signs that didn’t show in the days leading up to losing Raj. Eight months into me transitioning from his older sister to his friend. And 3 years, 5 months, and 12 days since suicide and I had looked each other in the face.
I had heard about suicide contagion, how one person ending their life has been known to prompt others in the same network to do the same. I had always heard it talked about as something that happened because that was the first time people were introduced to suicide, the first time it even occurred to them as an option. But suicide and I, we had a history. I knew its company, and I was so certain that I could keep it at a distance, the way I had for so long.
I was wrong. I was learning firsthand another reason for suicide contagion–the pain. The confusion of how he could have done this. The guilt that I couldn’t save him. The loneliness of becoming an only child at 25. The shame of being the girl who now became triggered by tv shows and cried at parties. The blow to the soul of losing my brother and the continuing punches each time someone who I thought was forever revealed themselves to be fair weather. All of those emotions constantly pierced me like white hot arrows, and in the moments where it felt like I was blistering from the pain, I found myself wishing I could just be gone.
Suicide kept flitting around me, and the tools that I had to keep it from embracing me felt less effective–indeed, I found myself wondering if we could be friends. In my harder moments, suicide grabbed the seat next to me and filled my ear with promises of peace, stillness, a refuge in the storm. If I ran into its arms, I could finally stop feeling the all-consuming pain. I don’t know what would be waiting for me on the other side, but surely it couldn’t be worse than this…right?
It’s funny though, the same pain that made me want to run full force to suicide was also the one thing that kept me from doing so. Because suicide was a safe haven–but it was also a one-way ticket. For every part of my head that was desperate to end my pain, there was a part of my heart that knew doing so would just pass that pain to the people who loved me. The only permanence in life is death, and experiencing the aftermath of losing Raj solidified for me how I could never be the reason other people went through that.
I couldn’t die. Suicide and I were not strangers, and we could not be friends. Even though I now found myself looking at the empty seat next to me, wondering where it was, I knew I had to cut it off. I had to work hard to make sure I knew how to hold my own and keep my distance.
The moment I saw my brother dead lives in my head like laps on a stopwatch. It took 1 year, 3 months, and 13 days for me to decide that suicide and I could not be friends, and start developing the new tools, tactics, and strategies to keep it that way. But suicide fought to stay in my life. When I got emails from therapists saying they couldn’t take me as a patient, suicide read over my shoulder. When I drove to and from grief groups where the reason I was there made me a pariah, suicide kept me company in the passenger seat. When I lived on meal replacement shakes because the antidepressants I was on completely suppressed my appetite, suicide scoped out options at CVS with me. When I found myself again searching for another path because the mental health care system presented yet another barrier, suicide reminded me of its empty promises.
Over time I noticed suicide became a more subtle companion. When I stood by my childhood friend on her wedding day, suicide stayed back at the hotel. When I started a job that fulfilled me, suicide only appeared in the small gaps between meetings. When I got to spend time with the kiddos who call me Pooja Maasi (Aunt Pooja), suicide was forgotten among games of peek-a-boo and re-reads of the very hungry caterpillar. In the countless moments of long talks and takeout sushi and zoo visits and fun lattes and the little things that show me who my team is, suicide moved further and further out of focus, sometimes disappearing all together.
The only time I wanted to die was to follow in the footsteps of Raj. Since then, I have fought hard, pushing myself past what I thought I was capable of, to learn how to live again. Suicide still shows up every once in a while, walking past my window, sitting in the crowd when I give a speech, crossing my mind in those quiet moments before falling asleep. As long as I feel the pain of Raj’s absence, suicide will be present in my life. But it will stay on the perimeter, far away from the lights I have sparked in my life.
Suicide and I are not strangers. But through grit and through grace, we will never be friends.
I have many happy memories of celebrating Diwali as a child in suburban Mumbai. Looking back though, I realise that my favourite festival stands on the foundations of patriarchy. At home, all the labour that went into making Diwali special was borne by my mother. She’d wake up early for weeks to clean the house, mop the floors, make the sweets and clean the diyas. In every household, it was always the women who did all the cleaning, cooking, shopping, prepping — so that their families could have the most amazing Diwali.
I’m single, a feminist and the founder of Masala Podcast — tackling those taboo subjects South Asians shy away from. I chose not to follow the traditional Indian path of getting married and having kids. This means that Diwali, with its usual traditions, can be a tough time for me. Because if you don’t meet the quintessential South Asian expectations of having a husband, kids and extended family, it is assumed that you’ll miss out on all the Diwali magic. Who do you burn firecrackers with when you don’t have kids? Who’s going to make all the Diwali sweets when you have a busy career and social life? Who’s going to fight you for the last chakli in the Diwali tin if you’re not that connected with your siblings?
Obviously, this made me a bit sad. So I sat down and thought about all the Diwali traditions I loved and just tweaked them to fit my single, feminist life. If like me, you don’t fit into the mould of a “traditional South Asian woman”, I hope you find my “Feminist Diwali traditions” guide useful.
Show your space some love for Diwali
I was taught as a child, that goddess Laxmi wouldn’t come into a filthy house. But whether you believe this or not, give your space a nice, clean scrub. For me, this literally gets me into a clearer space of mind. Whether you live in a little studio or a large house, I do believe that when you create space in your home (and in your mind!) good things come into that space. So go grab that dustpan!
Light up your world with diyas
The sight of glowing diyas (candles) on a dark night is incredibly beautiful. Make your home as bright and beautiful as you can by lighting as many diyas as you can. I literally have around fifty diyas lighting up every corner of my flat. It makes me feel sort of “lit up” from within. Because we want the power of light over darkness, in every area of our lives. And yes, that includes our work lives as well as our love lives.
Create your own kind of rangoli
Rangoli is traditionally used to decorate homes, usually made of intricate patterns using a variety of powdered colours. No rangoli powder? No problem. Just grab whatever you have at hand — from flower petals to beads to marker pens — and make your own version of a rangoli. If you’re using marker pens, you might want to do your rangoli on a sheet of paper or plastic though. Just have fun creating your own kind of rangoli, be it traditional or alternative.
Give yourself a warm oil bath on Diwali morning
I love this Diwali ritual. I’m a South Indian, so growing up my mother would wake me up bright and early on Diwali mornings and give me an oil massage, gently rubbing warm oil all over my body. Then she’d send me off to have a hot shower or bath. I now try and re-create that sense of love for my body by warming up sesame seed oil (you can choose any oil you like!). I light a few diyas, turn up the heaters and give myself a beautiful oil massage, taking my time to care for every part of my body. It feels nurturing; it feels loving to myself. As a woman in the world today, we need all the self-love we can get.
Dress up to ‘Diwali Dazzle’
I love Indian clothes — the dazzle and the shine of it all. Depending on my mood, I might wear a shimmering sari on Diwali day; I love how sexy saris make me feel, how they “fit” my body in a way other clothes don’t. If I want something easy, I wear a glittering salwar kameez. I also like to mix things up. One of my favourite outfits is a business suit made with Indian brocade fabric and I wear this with a gorgeous bright fuchsia top. So pick whatever suits your Diwali mood. And wear it your way!
The smell of ghee in the air is one of my favourite smells during Diwali. I don’t have the time or the skills to make traditional Diwali sweets. But I live in a cosmopolitan city, so I head to a fabulous Indian sweet shop nearby and stock up on all the Diwali treats. I do however, cook one tasty Diwali meal and invite other women friends to join in. This year, I’m in New York during Diwali. And I’ve literally just invited a few amazing women I met last week. I plan to make a simple yet delicious Diwali lunch for them. I do have to go hunting for ingredients and diyas in New York, and I’m sure that’s not too hard; us desis are everywhere! But I’m excited about sharing my Diwali tradition with a bunch of new women friends in a brand new city.
Give yourself a Diwali gift because you are worth it
Traditionally family and friends visit each other and exchange gifts during Diwali. Now I don’t have a big South Asian network or an extended family, but I still treat myself to that Diwali gift. I buy myself something nice. Something luxurious that I’ve saved up for, something that gives me joy. After all, that Diwali gesture of love and goodwill applies to me as much as to anyone else.
Have a chit chat with goddess Laxmi
I don’t usually go to temples or do religious rituals. However, over the past few years, I’ve found a little murti of goddess Laxmi that I love. So I light lots of lamps in front of her, play music that I connect to from the heart, and then just, you know, chat to her. Prayer is a conversation, after all. Goddess Laxmi and I, we usually have a good old chat on Diwali mornings. I might tell her about technical problems with my podcast or moan about relationship issues. She is a great listener. This Diwali, I might even ask her for that holy grail — happiness. Or a gorgeous silk negligee if I’m feeling sexy!
Make this Diwali your own kind of Diwali
Through my podcast, and my feminist platform Soul Sutras, I’ve spent the last five years asking South Asian women to challenge patriarchal systems within our culture. As well as inspiring them to own the most beautiful parts of our culture. Whether that’s our ancient erotic arts like the “Kamasutra” or “Tantra”, or our beautiful festivals like Diwali.