The following post was republished from Indus Daily with permission from the author.
I woke up this morning next to a rape survivor. She was preparing for her first day in a new position. It would seem like a celebratory time. I looked at her getting dressed in the new clothes she bought for this special occasion, while she pointed out the parts of her body that she wasn’t happy with. I pointed back how great she looked in her confident resilience and excitement for the gauntlet she was about to run.
After all, she survived to live this moment.
Not only did she survive her rape, as if that alone isn’t painful enough, she survived the rape aftermath. The war that is fought every single day in memories of the ordeal of waking up and surviving that first morning, the morning after she was raped.
She survived going to the hospital and having a rape kit done. She survived climbing that mountain of sterile anxiety up to the police precinct in New York City, alone, where a detective told her that if she could get her rapist to maybe send a message, or corroborate her story, they might investigate. They might investigate. If she couldn’t get her rapist to corroborate, then she could be arrested for harassment. Is that a gamble you want to take right after living through the unthinkable? Imagine…a man robs a store, but the thief doesn’t corroborate the story, so the owner is arrested. Sounds unthinkable, unless you have survived rape in the United States. Yet this is the upside-down world of so-called justice that women wake up to survive every day. And today, she was surviving knowing that for her there would never be justice.
Justice would have been not being raped, because it isn’t a store, it’s your physical being. It is the murder of autonomy and physical self-determination. It is the genocide of agency. You think invoking “genocide” might be going too far. You might reserve the word “genocide” by its legal and international normative standard. Yet, how many women’s agencies must be invaded en mass, self-determination murdered annually, to confront this reality and turn the world right-side up in the direction of women’s inherent dignity?
Yet she survives and so does her dignity, unscathed.
Unscathed despite seeing her rapist on the cover of New York Time Out. She survived and survives. She survived the seconds of panic attacks, anxiety attacks, crushing depression, and dissociative episodes where seconds are infinities. She walks that tightrope between falling off the edge of a world that offers no comfort and she remains. These battles aren’t a one-time war, they are daily fights. Losing one can mean anything from plummeting into spirals of depression, where tides yank the entire consciousness out into the middle of the ocean, to drowning where there is no more waking up, no more surviving.
This, these words, they are not one of those celebrity male feminist “hey guys we need to be actively involved in this battle” mantras that trend for a day, then disappear till the next one appears on social media after the next woman who the media chooses to care about has been raped. If this rally cry hasn’t been muddled and muted by industries constructed to make media, where fights to end a culture should exist in definitive actions, urgently needed, which they haven’t, we will loose the humanity of a generation.
Never before has rape culture been so conspicuously illuminated to a generation, nor has it ever been so damningly placated to by false demagogues of industries and institutions who perpetuate it. You have to love the comedian who speaks to women’s equality on the late-night talk show, but then refers to women as “bitches” in his set. You have to love the so-called industry recording artist who speaks at the political rally, but then refers to women as “hoes” in his recording. You have to love the activist who speaks in glaringly powerfully academic terms in Tweets but then laughs at the comedian and dances along to the recording artist because they just like the beat. You have to love the politician who acknowledges that rape is part of our culture – our national and global culture of inhumanity that targets more than half of the human population in terms of statistics of violence and mortality that make any plague, health crisis, and conflict seem like improvements in the human condition when measured against violence against women.
I wonder, if apartheid in South Africa — fought tooth and nail, life and death, sustained action and movement, rally after rally, boycott after boycott — were fought as passively as gender and sexual apartheid are being fought, how much worse the indigenous peoples and tribes of South Africa would be today?
Yet she survives gender apartheid and sexual terrorism. She survived this weekend in a hospital bed. Her unconscious body murmuring, “Don’t let my rapist get me…” as confused nurses looked on trying to offer comfort. She survived looking in the mirror and through the memory that incessantly haunts her reflection of looking in the mirror after that night. She survived the shower. She survived the shower again today. She survived, but the scratches were traced down the memories of her skin where she scrubbed so hard, too hard, as to wash away those memories.
Last week at work she received a phone call. A man who, in all his inadequacy, thought it fun to reply to her “can I help you” with “you can help me rub my d*ck.”
How triggering that must have been. In fact, I know how triggering it must have been because I got the message, “There’s been an emergency.” Unconscious in the hospital, but she’ll be okay. The x-rays show no organ damage. Her vitals are good. Though what is going on in the parts of her that the most sophisticated imaging machines can only show in waves of activity?
This is the brutality of rape not shown, not recorded, on popular blogs by male celebrity activists.
No words can measure the energy of courage against the weight of currents when she places her feet down on the floor to start her morning. Good morning, I survived.
She strides. She strides as a woman of color. She strides as a Muslim woman. She strides as a powerful advocate. She strides as a human being. I sit back and smile, not relaying all of this, just in love with her resilience, her determination, her intellectual and emotional intelligence, as she embodies in her unique and only life on this earth a lineage of historical memory of masses of women’s experiences.
I, as a man, cannot begin to comprehend this marrow that is the only real determining chromosomal difference between her humanity and man’s humanity, my humanity, or inhumanity.
This isn’t one of those “I woke up next to a rape survivor, pat me on the back, let’s confront the stigmas” rant. I am not sure if I correspond my position on that thesis that the editors will publish these words, but in the spirit of womankind, fuck that.
I am the lucky one. We are the lucky ones. Our “luck” though, while conflicted by “man-made” battles of mazes of historical oppression in privileges of economic status, tribal affiliation, caste, race, and birth-determined locations of our existences, can never comprehend the determination of the existence of woman within these intersections and outside these intersections.
Imagine opening your news feed once a week to millions of men having their sexual organs cut off, sewn shut, so they wouldn’t engage in sex outside of marital “bonds,” so that they will be pure for their wives, wives who will be chosen for them. That sounds outrageous to the point of not being publishable, but when it’s a girl or a woman, it’s to be expected.
Rape affects men is its own thesis, but I guarantee you, if it were a pandemic of mass proportion the way it targets women without distinction of “man-made” and socially designed borders, it would have promoted a type of unity in man unprecedented to human his-story. There would be a holy war the likes of which would end every single so-called sacrosanct tenet of man’s entitled history in social lingua. If words give birth to perceptions of dehumanization, and dehumanization ushers violence, and the linguistics of misogyny were conversely inverted to describe man—Sharmuuto, Gintu, Slet, Slut, Bitch, Hoe, Kutya, Zona, Prostitute—they would be devalued from the sociocultural and economic depositories of masculine capital.
It’s amazing how, in a unique and diverse world of so many identities and languages, man’s lexicon of violence against women is so diversely the same. Guarantee you though, as a man, if these words could in any way be associated with mass unprecedented violence against man, you wouldn’t find man “reappropriating,” nor finding these words as empowerment. You wouldn’t see them re-circulated into entertainment. We wouldn’t be searching for the lowest common denominator to the problem, we would be looking for the consummate solution. We would have found the consummate solution in the reflection staring back at us in the mirror of inhumanity that is our own reflection of cultural agents of misogyny.
We don’t though. We don’t because we don’t wake up as women. We don’t think—as we shout the lyrics, sing along, dance to, reenact the porn we consumed, embodying Bollywood and Hollywood film bravado, the street capital to the boardroom capital, the street harassment to the workplace harassment and every single space in between insulated with microaggression and all out violence.
In the years I have worked, from my place of privilege as a cisgender male in efforts to end violence against women, I have read and discoursed so many theories. I have organized on the streets and spoke in classrooms. I have worked in art spaces and collaborated with women from around the world. I honored the term survivor as a distinction of courage. I have empirically noticed and noted the more than a conspicuous reality that when mass injustice against a girl or woman happens locally, you never, NEVER, ever see man respond the way women respond when injustice targets man. Not in the his-story of movements have we, as a gender, ever responded to a single woman with the response that women have historically responded to the cause of man. It is this reality that the term survivor became a distinction of empowerment and courage. Yet it wasn’t until I woke up next to a survivor that I became aware of what it means to be a survivor. What I have learned is that I will never know.
Thank you for allowing me into your world. Never stop surviving.
Jason ‘Jayology’ Jeremias is the artistic director of the performing arts collective for women’s rights, Price of Silence. Price of Silence is a grassroots performing arts company bringing the global struggle forged by women for equality to life on stage and action to the streets.
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, being the only brown face in a room has never fazed me. I was always the little brown girl in the corner with waist-length hair and a name that made every teacher pause, but the feeling of “otherness” captured in this line was something I knew all too well.
This feeling isn’t unique. It’s the same experience of many immigrants and first-generation South Asian Americans, and that of the main character of “The East Indian”as well.
While a work of fiction set in the 1630s, the novel paints a very real picture of immigration and race in the United States today and the human need to belong.
It is the story of Tony East Indian, inspired by a real person documented in the country’s archives as the first known East Indian in the American colonies, but who is otherwise a work of the author’s imagination and research.
The son of a courtesan from the Coromandel coast of India, Tony unwittingly finds himself as an indentured servant in the plantations of Jamestown, Virginia at just 11 years old.
He accepts “Tony” as his first name — though he doesn’t care for it — because a fellow Tamil once suggested others in the world would find his real name “too hard to utter.” Then he adopts the surname “East Indian” simply because it is thrust upon him when he arrived in Jamestown. The protagonist can no longer even recall his birth name, but soon, he accepts it as a thing of his past.
Over the course of the novel, Tony lands at the center of scandal as he works to establish a new identity as a physician. All the while, he also struggles with isolation, prejudice and the challenges of trying to maintain pieces of the culture he carried with him from abroad.
He is confused as to why Native Americans are also called “Indians” and many colonists simply label him a “moor,” a term used for North Africans or anyone with darker skin, with no context for India or its people in this new world.
He, feeling disloyal to his “many Gods,” converts from Hinduism to Christianity, believing it will give him more credibility and a sense of connection to his peers. He begins to eat meat and spend time at taverns, all in hopes of belonging, and assimilating with colonist ways.
As he comes of age and furthers his physician’s apprenticeship, Tony also begins to ponder questions of race and social class to no avail. He reflects:
“I would talk to Doctor Herman and try to understand the reason behind white skin and black and brown and, more important, what greater distinctions of wit, sensibility, and soul the differences in hue signified. I read and was taught by my master the new ideas put forth by men of learning in England and Europe on the workings of the bowels, the brain, the blood; the causes of migraines, melancholy, and madness, but I never got closer to understanding the real meaning behind what they called different races of men, and if such difference exists in any profound sense that really matters.”
Overall, in “The East Indian,” Tony becomes a man. He learns of the world’s cruelty and its kindness. He learns to work, play, love, hate, scheme, grieve and care for himself and others. But, like most immigrants, he still longs for home.
“For home is singular and unique. Everywhere else is but a stopping place, a bed in a stranger’s house, eating off plates not one’s own, an unfamiliar view from a casement,” Tony said.
When attempts to head West and find an ocean back to India fail, Tony accepts that returning to his motherland is unlikely and resolves that he must learn to adapt.
He worries his love interest, born in the colonies, will not relate to him, for “her heart did not ache for another place beyond the sea” and also wonders what the future of his children will be. Nevertheless, he is never defeated.
“I would thrive wherever the wind laid me,” says Tony. “[I] will be my own shelter, my landing place. Like a snail, I will carry home on my back, find it where I happen to be, make it from what I bear inside me.”
Leaving or even kidnapped from their homes with little to no hope of return, thousands of Indians faced journeys fraught with violence, condemnation and injustice trying to create new lives and identities away from their homeland in places like Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica. However, like Tony, they also found the strength and courage to survive and establish their own cultures and communities.
While no details are known about the real Tony East Indian, Charry weaves a compelling coming-of-age tale that takes him as well as readers across three continents.
The novel, like life itself, has fast and slow moments, but it is filled with vivid, historically accurate depictions of the colonial world and moving moments that keep you rooting for the main character’s triumph.
It is this authenticity and compassion that makes “The East Indian” an invaluable modern work. There are no known first-hand accounts of the indentured or South Asian colonists in America. The only proof of the mere existence of many are the generations that have come after them.
With several years of research put into it, Charry’s “The East Indian” serves as a rare realistic portrayal of what life may have been for these individuals; the hardships they endured, and the strength they embodied. South Asian or not, it is a rich history not only worth reading but sharing and celebrating.
To learn more about Brinda Charry and her professional work visit her website. The East Indian is now available in print and audiobooks from all major book retailers.
Featured Image: Author Brinda Charry was born and raised in India before moving to the United States for graduate school two decades ago. She considers herself “a novelist-turned-academic-returned-novelist | Photo Credit: Lisa Arnold Photography
Just a hop away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple is the headquarters of a groundbreaking biotech company, started by a South Asian trailblazer named Nina Tandon. Tandon has been running her startup Epibone, for over a decade, with the mission to grow bone and cartilage for skeletal reconstruction — an endeavor that presents commercialization opportunities in the medical field. Prior to that, she was a PhD and MBA graduate from MIT and Columbia University, respectively. I met Nina Tandon at our alma mater, The Cooper Union, where she was a speaker at a TEDx event we hosted. She stayed in my mind for years after graduating; I was in awe of the grit paragon before me and all that she had achieved by deciding to pursue multiple technical degrees, and then channeling her enterprising spirit to start her own company. I finally sent an email asking her if we can chat about her journey and what eventually led her to start a biotechnology firm in New York City; an industry that has recently seen traction in areas such as Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park.
Nina Tandon grew up in a nuclear family with two sisters and one brother. Hailing from a family of engineers, almost all of the Tandon children went to the same unassuming college in the heart of the East Village — The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
“I guess I was from a little bit of a geeky family of four kids. All four of us eventually became engineers,” Tandon said, reflecting on her background. “I wasn’t that into sports as a kid. I was kind of told I was a little klutzy. I don’t know if I really was! I was interested in community theater. It was called the Main Street Theater, and I really enjoyed doing all these musicals and stuff. I think that was probably my most favorite hobby. I also liked sewing clothes for myself and my stuffed animals.”
The best part about Tandon’s response was the way her genuine passion for these creative subjects shone through. Her interests were like any other child’s. So how did she choose her major? What were the little decisions that led her to pursue the path that she is on today?
Both of Tandon’s grandfathers were engineers working on either canals or railroads. This played a key role in her parents decision to emphasize STEM education early on; Tandon even took college-level classes in high school. She was raised with parents who believed that sitting at the table was an earned opportunity, so they naturally coaxed their children onto the known and sturdy path of science and math.
As South Asian women, we talk a lot about generational trauma and not enough about how generational career paths steer us towards certain specialties. Tandon pointed out that one parent being an engineer is a big factor in determining if you’ll be an engineer.
“I felt like that [engineering] was a preordained destiny for me, and that I had to kind of fight for [keeping] humanities in my life. So I kept doing high school drama. I studied languages like Italian, Latin and French. I really wanted to have a broader education.”
Upon graduating from Cooper with a degree in electrical engineering, Tandon found herself at the nexus of both a historical and personal moment. The Human Genome Project, an international research project led by a team of scientists to define and sequence the base pairs of human DNA, had just wrapped up, establishing the significance of genes and how they can be modified to cure diseases. At the same time, Tandon’s brother was diagnosed with a genetic retinal disease which motivated her to join a retinal implant project at MIT.
“I felt it [his condition] could better be cured by genetic cures than by engineering approaches to neural prosthetics; it was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. I discovered the beauty and pervasiveness of electrical currents in the body. I was an electrical engineer, so I was really drawn to cardiac development, wound-healing, and how you can use traditional engineering techniques to modify, say, technical signals to quote cells into becoming new tissues. I was drawn to that for my PhD. I was growing electrically-active tissues like skin and cardiac, and I was really drawn to the wider world of healthcare as I moved into consulting after my PhD.”
Tandon pivoted back to academia because that’s where some of the most interesting companies were coming from. There were some companies developing skin in the early 2000s. And on the other side of the spectrum, there were those working on cardiac tissue that have multiple cell types, and electromechanical coupling which would not deliver results in the near term. But in the middle there was cartilage and it’s a tissue that affects millions every year.
“As a society, we’re replacing millions of joints per year, just because of a couple of millimeters of damaged cartilage. And growing cartilage and growing bone isn’t as hard as growing cardiac tissue. So I thought to myself, in the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to make an impact.”
Working at McKinsey after her PhD, Tandon got a 30,000 foot view of the healthcare industry and understood the nuances of healthcare policy on technologies.
“It’s about big companies buying little companies. That I don’t think is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to make a little company. I was thinking to myself; I’m growing all these things in the microscope, but they’re related to the politics and the economics of the world.”
Tandon followed her intrinsic passion and curiosity within the space, channeling her inner theater kid that brimmed with creativity and wonder. After identifying that building a company was what she wanted to do, Tandon thought the best way to really build it, while working on the idea, was to pursue an executive MBA at Columbia.There she was able to dive deep into the ethical issues that lay in the biomedical field, including understanding the repercussions of the Affordable Care Act, or the stem cell wars.
“If I want to transform technologies, and from benchtop to bedside, I’m going to probably need to transform myself from a PhD student and a scientist to an entrepreneur.”
And thus, Epibone was born.
Innovation in the biotechnology space can take years due to lengthy R&D times and process approvals. After years of hard work, Epibone received FDA approval for their osteochondral product (living cartilage affixed to a bone base) to go into clinical trials for indications in the knee.
“There was no singular ‘aha’ moment, but several. Biotechnology takes so long; it’s more gradual.”
An Alternate Career Path and Life Advice
If you ask almost any high-schooler, interested in the medical space, what they want to be, the answer is inevitably a healthcare worker (ie. doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, etc.) In general, South Asians tend to have a one-dimensional focus when on the medical school track, since that is what the applications require: incessant and obsessive dedication to a career path that is emotionally, physically, and financially grueling.
However, Tandon’s career path is an important one to consider as it provides an alternative yet impactful option for those who want to make a difference in public health. You can have an impact on public health — an area that the pandemic proved to be important to each every person on this planet — without going to medical school at all. Some examples include working in medical policy, pharmaceutical engineering, biomedical devices, and bioinformatics.
“There’s a million ways to contribute to society, even if you’re more interested in helping to foster human health than just being the person who can implement society’s current best practices for medical care. I would just urge everyone, parents included, to take that broader view that entrepreneurship might be a better way to help the world.”
Tandon’s journey from engineering to entrepreneurship is one that isn’t usually explored in the context of the South Asian diaspora. Often South Asian Americans, or immigrants, remain in the middle management sector, even after racking up multiple technical and business degrees at amazing schools. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to determine where their happiness can stem from. Some that have gone through the immigration journey may be at their mental limits to pursue additional risk. For some, the immigration journey may have the countering effect: the “make the most of what you can” effect, despite the adversities faced. The capacity to take a risk and believe in building something without expecting immediate returns creates the necessary vacuum for advanced innovation.
Tandon ultimately chased her curiosity for electromechanical system design, biomedical politics, and the human condition around aging. Being raised in a family of engineers, and with the freedom to explore her artistic self, Tandon was allowed to be a “klutz” and deeply learn from her interests and her failures. Tandon was also well aware that the destination she desired was all about a long journey. With Silicon Valley, tech tycoons, and unicorn startups abundant in the news, it is easy to forget that every industry requires patience and dedication before immediate results…or revenue.
With resounding clarity, Tandon passionately stated that entrepreneurship isn’t entirely based on innate, creative talent. Much like any artist, it is important to hone the skill through hours of work; in the case of biotech entrepreneurship, this can look like hours of case studies and fervent discussions with professors and students. Doing her MBA gave her the chance to treat her time at Columbia as an accelerator program, giving her access to world-class professors and research facilities.
Tandon’s inspirational story is a reminder that our careers develop as we do. So often young adults are plagued with fear of what the future can and should hold. However, if we approach our careers with a growth mindset, there are opportunities that spur from internal curiosity and external support.
To learn more about Epibone, visit thewebsite. To learn more about Nina Tandon, clickhere.
January 16, 2023January 16, 2023 6min readBy Sejal Sehmi
I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.”
Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind.
Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too.
Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,
I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.
During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance.
The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose!
Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type — the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way.
It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits,
Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you.
I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance.
But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,
The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour?
I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?
A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride!
I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.
“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.