My voice is the sharpest tool I have in my shed, and perhaps my only tool. I don’t know how to let inner conflicts go without a dialogue or without an expression of my voice through the written word. And, as an INDIAN FEMALE, it’s also the most dangerous tool I have. I know that because I recognize the danger and fear associated with what I am about to share.
India’s daughter is a significant documentary because it is a clean reflection of dirty values. A female was raped, had her intestines pulled out, and her voice lives through this documentary. And India has banned it. And this is not a government or a structural phenomenon. It is a personal and a cultural phenomenon and the roots run really really deep. India is ashamed so the voices of truth must be silence. This isn’t new for India or for families of Indian roots. Or for my family.
I was watching the documentary and some old experiences were brought to the surface as the documentary also held a reflection up to me of my silenced voice. Many relatives in my family far and near believe that my marriage and child with a White man is the reason my parents don’t talk to me. That is not the truth. The truth is that I have never told the truth or shared any of my experiences as an Indian daughter. I didn’t want people to talk about the shame. My voice is connected to my parents’ shame. I’ve also reached a point in which I recognize that the truth is far less shameful than people’s assumptions of me as a “whore”. Trust me, I’ve had family say that to me. The truth is that I stopped going home a year before I even met my husband to be.
A lot of events led up to the breaking point in which I knew it wasn’t safe to go home anymore. It was really in high school that I started to plan my escape mentally because I knew that if I stayed, I would be suffocated by the traditional approach to my father’s way of being. My father is a hard working man who built an empire for his family with only $80 dollars that he brought to USA when him and my mother immigrated here. And as hard working as he is, he is a 1000 times more traditional.
I remember one New Year’s Eve in which I had spent the night with my cousin getting dressed up. I was to meet them at the Gurudwara (House of Worship) later around midnight to ring in the New Year. That is what we did as a family just like many other Sikh families across the world. Usually the attire is casual but for special occasions such as weddings or the New Year, people dress up and wear more fancy traditional clothing and jewelry and etc. I was wearing a purple Salwar kameez and had put on make-up and I was a typical 16 year old in my head. It hadn’t even been 2 minutes into the New Year and my father was yelling at me publicly about how dare I wear make up. He told me if I wanted to look like a prostitute, he can arrange a spot in a brothel in India for me.
We didn’t speak to each other for days following the incident. I finally apologized for wearing make-up. He never apologized that he talked about his daughter as a prostitute. When I apologized, I silently agreed to the assumption that my actions were fit for the life of a brothel. I was 16.
This is just one moment in which I started to feel more and more like a female who had very little choices. I wasn’t allowed to go to Barnes and Noble to study alone without my brother because “what would people say if they saw a girl sitting at a cafe alone?”. Or I also couldn’t go hang out in Princeton with my girlfriends because “decent girls don’t do that”, my parents would say. “What if someone we know sees you out?” I was totally confused because I had many friends who are Indian and their parents didn’t think like mine did. It was a different type of mentality I was unable to explain to my friends and slowly, I lost a lot of them. I was isolated and battled depression. I was really sad about being a female.
And you know, as I write this, I am thinking about all the people who will read it and feel sorry for parents because this blog brings them shame. After my daughter was born, my mother’s good friend called me and said that if I delete my blog, my father is willing to talk to me. I was still in the hospital, after a c-section, with my baby in the NICU, and my parents were more concerned about silencing me rather than the health of their granddaughter. I refused to delete this blog because I refuse to delete my voice or my experiences. If you are reading this and you are wondering about the shame this will cause my family, then I feel sorry for you. And it also makes me feel sorry for the future of India because your thoughts about shame are shared by the world’s largest democracy. If you are wondering, “well, why do you have to do all of this talking stuff. Let others do it”. This thought is why we have the present state of India. Waiting for others to do what is necessary.
I never fully hold my parents’ responsible for our present state of disconnect. My last words to my father were volatile and not appropriate. And if I was their son rather than their daughter, my words would show strength, power, and ownership. Because I am their daughter, there is no place for words like mine. It’s very easy to disown a daughter but it’s sacrifice to lose a son.
And all of this is actually shameful.
I started this blog talking about my voice. I share this story in fear that my brother will read it and again be upset with me. For I have caused enough trouble already. My willingness to share and talk and stand up for myself has landed me in much trouble. And I continue to speak and share because I have the privilege to do so. I know it’s the right thing to do and I know it is the only thing that can bring true change. When females from Indian families can truly challenge the silence our society asks of us, we can challenge the view of ourselves in Indian Society. When mothers, fathers, and brothers can let go of the idea of shame, we will see real unity in our culture. There is no honor in responding with SHAME. I refuse to live in shame and thus silence myself. Letting go of shame takes courage. And courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and still have the inspiration to take a stand. Writing this blog took courage. It’s time for Indian females and families to choose courage more often than shame.
I hope this message is shared, forwarded, so that the ban on India’s Daughter can be reversed.