Bhangra is a traditional folk dance and a genre of music that originated in the northern state of Punjab, India. It was first performed during the month of Vaisakhi, which usually begins on April 13. It’s during the festival of Vaisakhi that Punjabi farmers harvest their crops and celebrate the coming of spring.
A bhangra performance is typically eight minutes long and consists of dance and prop segments including sapps, khundey, jhoomer, mirza and jugni/chaal, to name a few. Decades ago, bhangra music was performed live and consisted of instruments such as the dhol, chimta ,and algoze. With its growing popularity, bhangra transformed to include hip-hop beats and other forms of Western rhythms. Nowadays, it is performed worldwide in countries such as the U.S.A,
With its growing popularity, bhangra transformed to include hip-hop beats and other forms of western rhythms.
Nowadays, it is performed worldwide in countries such as the U.S.A, Canada and the U.K. Bhangra dance competitions have risen in popularity in these countries with many independent and collegiate teams competing yearly.
My freshman year at Ohio State was the first time I joined a bhangra team and it was also the first time I danced on stage in front of hundreds of people. My team, Buckeye Bhangra, had the opportunity to compete at five competitions and showcase one exhibition act. Our final competition was Bhangra Blowout XXII in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2015.
Since in 1993, Bhangra Blowout has been known as the collegiate championship selecting only the best teams from across the country to participate. It takes place at the George Washington University and the South Asian Society has a big hand in organizing the event.
This year, competing teams included Buckeye Bhangra, Cal Bhangra, CMU Bhangra, Cornell Bhangra, Da Real Punjabiz, North Carolina State Bhangra, Northwestern Bhangra and UVA di Shaan. There was a mixer on the night before the day of the competition. This gave the teams an opportunity to mingle and meet people from different universities. Not only did I meet many talented Punjabi dancers, but I also discovered that bhangra has truly touched people of all different races, ethnicities and religions.
The mixer games were short and fun, and the dance floor was open for the rest of the night with Harjot Hundal (founder of Gabroo TV) weaving in and out of the crowd taking pictures.
The competition took place on Saturday evening and watching the best teams perform right before my eyes was an amazing experience. Each team brought an engaging and energized set with some of the best mixes, leaving me nervous yet excited for my own team’s performance.
The renowned judges, most of which are accomplished dancers themselves, announced the placings after much deliberation: 1st place Cornell Bhangra, 2nd UVA di Shaan and 3rd CMU Bhangra.
Although Buckeye Bhangra did not place, I learned that bhangra is, obviously, more than just competing and being the best. Bhangra is about promoting Punjabi culture and fostering a sense of community within the South Asian-American population. Bhangra is about learning about the dance of my ancestors and being able to spread my culture to large audiences.
Trying out for the bhangra team was easily one of the best decisions I made my freshman year of college. It gave me an avenue for stress relief and meeting new people while traveling all over the country. In my opinion, there is no better way to celebrate and spread your culture than to join a dance team and showcase its beauty through art. Whether it is bhangra, raas or Bollywood fusion, I would recommend anyone to try out for dance teams. You never know where dance, the greatest form of expression, may take you.
Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.
Mental health in the South Asian community has long been stigmatized, and South Asian individuals who experience psychological issues might feel hesitant to express their concerns due to the shame they may encounter. Nevertheless, while there has been progress made in studying and openly discussing South Asian mental health, several topics remain in need of further examination; these include studying the relationship between mental health and gender, specifically the role of masculinity on mental health outcomes.
What is South Asian masculinity?
Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.
In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances.
These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan.
Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues.
Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health
Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems.
Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power.
What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health
In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:
Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being
It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community.
More South Asian male clinicians
In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating.
More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures
The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.
While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior.
By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.
Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals.
After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center. The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs.
Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career. This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.
How and when did you create ADVP?
“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”
ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projectsinclude building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community.
Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.
“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.
Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”
Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.
What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year?
“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.
In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”
Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.
When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.”
She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”
By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.
How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?
“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”
What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?
“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”
Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational.
To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.
To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.
Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall
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.