With the recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against film and TV producer, Harvey Weinstein, people are finally starting to speak out against abuse of power by men in Hollywood and beyond and the mistreatment of women, especially in the workplace. Weinstein has been fired from his company, The Weinstein Company, he has been expelled from the Academy, and many within the Hollywood community have come out against him as more and more accusers step forward and share their stories.
Brown Girl Magazine is proud of those using their voice against a man who has preyed upon countless women, and now we’re seeing our newsfeed flood with countless posts and messages from brave women who are taking the hashtag #MeToo to indicate that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
“They don’t always come in the form of people you don’t know and aren’t comfortable with. They can be people you know. People you interact with. People you smile and say hello to, and think nothing of. I didn’t know all this then, but I know it all too well now. I remember going back to his room, to as he just said, ‘hang out.’ I calmly sat down and grabbed the remote, flipped through channels. And then he came out of the bathroom. And in only a matter of minutes, my entire life changed. I remember my arm twisted behind my back, still clutching the remote. Saying, “stop you’re hurting me,” didn’t make it stop.
There’s this trend of people preying on other people, and getting away with it for so many reasons. In Weinstein’s case, it was his affluence in Hollywood that let him go so long without any implications. It was also the victims’ fear of not being believed. People automatically assume that the victim had something to do with it. That they were assaulted, harassed, etc. because of something THEY did wrong. People don’t get into situations like these because of their clothes, or their bodies. It’s because people like Weinstein exist. Harvey (and yes, I’m going to refer to you by your first name, because you aren’t worthy of any respect), if you’re listening, there’s a saying that says, ‘you reap what you sow.’ You sowed, now reap.” — Vaidehi Gajjar
The Socialization and Entitlement of Men
“The way we socialize the genders is the root of the problem. The typical mentality goes: if you can’t control men from their sexual urges, you control the women by asking them to cover up and be more conservative in their actions. So, then what’s your excuse when the newspaper headlines read that a baby girl was raped and killed? Are you still going to ask what she was wearing? The problem isn’t women’s bodies—it’s the socialization and entitlement of men.
Our cultures are so deeply rooted in the patriarchy that we even ignore the plight of men who have been harassed. The irony of the Harvey Weinstein situation is that the victims are being blamed for ‘not speaking up sooner’ while celebrity men are being praised for their empty words condemning sexual assault. Media has normalized sexual harassment and assault targeted at women. Words are nothing without action. Send positive messages through your medium of art. Socialize children differently. Stop normalizing sexual harassment as signs of love and affection, especially in South Asian films and music videos. Harassment, assault, and rape are about control and nothing else.” — Ravleen Kaur
“When there are allegations of sexual abuse or assault, I often hear things like, ‘Well, why didn’t you come forward earlier?’ or ‘Why didn’t you speak up when you saw something?’ I think there are many reasons why people don’t report sexual assault immediately.
First, you have gender issues. Men will often not report because some men will feel that they are compromising their masculinity by making an allegation. For women, there’s the issue of people discrediting them or accusing them of being hell-bent on ruining the abuser’s reputation. Second, there’s the actual process of reporting abuse. Many people get backlash from their peers and even authority figures for speaking out. Also, rape kits are regularly ignored within police departments and when someone is so emotionally hurt, talking about the abuse can reopen an old wound.
I think the way to combat these two major issues is to believe the victims and their stories and create a better system of reporting sexual abuse. We as a society have to move past our paleolithic views of race, gender, and sexuality. We also have to understand the underlying power structures that are apparent. These all seem to really far-fetched, idealistic goals. However, in the present, we can start to move toward these targets by not staying silent when others are experiencing sexual violence. We have to speak up for those who are too scared and approach these situations with empathy.” — Marina Ali
Nothing is Worth That Agony
“One of my first jobs in the United States was in an Indian-American consulting company. As a migrant worker, your status is dependent on your employer, and you live with the threat over your head that they can pull your status. My faith in my co-workers and countrymen was severely shaken in my few months there.
Every day there was harassment from my bosses and the owners of the company. They’d tell me what to wear (no dress code in my contract), and then tell me I didn’t wear enough makeup. Everyone I talked to told me, this is just stuff that one has to put up with if you want to live and work here.
Finally, I lost my job when one of the bosses decided to hire his wife for my position. I was told she dressed better than me and wore makeup, so she was better ‘qualified.’ I didn’t get paid for the last two months until one of my male friends dragged me back to the office and demanded that they pay me or he’d report them to the Labor Department. I was grudgingly then given a check. It was one of the worst experiences I have had working anywhere, but since then, I’ve always spoken up openly in the workplace when I’ve felt wronged. I also learned to care less about losing my job and status. Nothing is worth that agony.” — Anonymous
This is for the Silent Women
“If you’ve never been harassed or assaulted then you don’t understand the magnitude of the problem, so don’t pull that shit, ‘why didn’t she speak up sooner.’
Do you know how brave a woman must be to hold this horrible truth inside of her? She must have to shower twice as much to rid those dirty fingerprints off her body and she must run away from every mirror she passes in order to avoid making eye contact with herself.
This is for those brave women who kept quiet because you don’t get enough credit for holding onto this burden…and sometimes you do it for life as if it were a 100-year jail sentence.
To all my friends and women far and wide, I applaud you for sharing your stories…for breaking away from the truth and the guilt you’ve had to carry for years and maybe even decades. And because of you, maybe our daughters will never have to carry the same burden as you. Just maybe, #MeToo will disappear because no woman will have to suffer.” — Trisha Sakhuja-Walia
“When I was 21-years-old I experienced unwanted sexual advances that progressed into forced touching of my body parts underneath my clothes while I was pinned down for several minutes before I could struggle free.
I, in a sense, ‘moved on’ from it but you don’t ‘get over’ things like that you just learn to live with them every day. I have vivid flashbacks, along with nightmares which can cause me to become anxious. I don’t often get great sleep despite the seven years that have passed since that incident. But I do know that I’m ‘one of the lucky ones,’ the situation I was in could have been worse, and sadly, many women experience much worse.
How do we fix it? We can better educate our children and it goes without saying that we should do this but we can also take real action.
Someone who I’m truly inspired by is Gretchen Carlson, she’s known for her case against FOX’s ex-CEO Roger Ailes —who sexually harassed her in the workplace. She went on to write legislation to remove arbitration from employment and consumer contracts, so corporations would no longer be able to keep these behaviors a secret. If Congress passes her legislation it will land on President Donald Trump’s—who also has a long list of sexual harassment accusers—desk and he would be forced to sign it.
But, right now, we need to talk to one another. Remember your voice is important. Sexual harassment happens often and if movement’s like #MeToo can show just how often it does then it’s good that the world can see it. It’s good for people to share their stories and get that burden off their chests. It’s good to connect because even as lonely as we can feel — we are not alone.” – Kamini Ramdeen
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
Dear President Biden,
As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.
Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.
“As privileged members of the diaspora, it’s our duty to challenge the repressive practices of the current regime in India. We stand in solidarity with those … opposed to the government’s attempt to reshape the country into a Hindu nationalist state. https://t.co/RxU9wUy2Zy
Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law.
India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index — which examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi.
“If the President meets with PM Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in a majority Hindu India is something worth mentioning…if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities, there’s a strong possibility India starts pulling apart.” Thank you @BarackObama! https://t.co/RhcMNfiqaR
Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.
This morning in DC, on the lawn of The White House at the welcome reception for Modi.
As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.
— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).