Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Burqa and mini skirt-Symbols of liberation or oppression?

Symbolism is of a great importance for any civilization, various symbols can convey messages about our culture, habits, traditions, and values. The clothes we wear are one such symbol, any society where people are free to wear whatever they want based on their own needs and taste can claim to be a free and tolerant place. Societies, where the dress code is strictly implemented against the wish of people, and they are forced to wear a certain type of clothing can not claim to be a free society. Our clothing is a type of self-expression, may of us try to express ourselves using the way we dress, actually, this is one of the reasons why we wear different dresses for different occasions. I am not a supporter of a dress code (school uniform is a different ball game, it has a special purpose). I like to wear clothes in which I feel comfortable. I hate the idea of being forced to wear a certain type of clothing against my own wish, wherever possible I have resisted these things. Social pressure or peer pressure can be considered as other two important factors which force people to follow certain clothing habits.

Many times Burqua (or a veil) is propagated as a sign of oppression of women. It is true that forcing women or for that matter anyone to wear a certain type of clothing against their wish is wrong, but what if they are doing it out of their own choice? Can then we call it as a freedom to choose or we need to look deeper? I think, it is not that straightforward, we need to ask, under what circumstances that choice is offered? Is there any indirect pressure to dress or appear in a certain way to satisfy social norms? Is there a peer pressure or serious social and professional repercussion if they don't dress in a certain way? These questions might help us to understand the situation in a better way, rather than concluding anything based on dress. I have seen women wearing dark burqas on extremely hot summer days and mini skirts and high heels on extremely cold days, their clothing totally defied the need for weather conditions around them. I always wondered which one of them can be considered that she was free to choose her dress? Maybe none of them. Just because someone is wearing a burqa doesn't mean that person is living in an oppressed culture and just because someone is wearing a mini skirt doesn't mean they are living in a free society. The real freedom means people make informed choices, they chose what they want based on their own needs and requirements, not based on what society expects from them. One lady mentioned to me that it is not easy to be a woman even in developed countries as there are very high expectations about the way they should look or dress. She told me that most people think that women should not have any body hair except on head, eyelids, and eyelashes, I was shocked to know about this expectation. It is very natural to have body hair, it is a natural part of being a living organism, but to force a someone to get rid of them just because of some ridiculous beauty standard, is ridiculous, but it seems there is such an unreasonable expectation and many women subscribe to this. The reason offered is also a very serious one, it seems that if they don't then the social and professional penalty is severe. 

Women need to fight this stereotype on their own, this is one way of subjugating them by putting the burden of unreasonable expectations about external appearance. Forcing a burqa is as bad as forcing a miniskirt, there is no difference. Wearing a bikini or jeans doesn't make you a forward or liberal, at the same time wearing a burqa doesn't make you a backward or oppressed. A person's character should not be decided by the type of clothes they wear. Our clothes should be one of the ways to express ourselves, they should reflect our choice and should be based on our own decisions and needs. Our dress is not the true reflection of our personality only when it is our honest choice, based on free will. Burqa or miniskirt, they both can be symbols of oppression or freedom depending on what circumstances people wear it.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Woman president-no thanks.

Like many, the result of the US presidential election was surprising for me. It was not shocking as the contest was very tight, but the result definitely surprised me. Politically, I consider myself an independent; I don't subscribe to any political ideology as I find some good, bad, and terrible points from both sides of the political spectrum. I support some of Mr. Trump's policies, that "locker room talk" was too much for me to take.  He literally sounded like a sexual predator in that video, it was horrifying to watch a presidential nominee talking like that not very long ago. Whether it was locker room talk or not, it displayed a demeaning attitude towards women for sure. Now, I know the difference between the dirty talk and sexual assault. The released conversation was not just a dirty talk; he can do as much dirty talk as he wants, but this sounded like a confession of a sexual assault, and there is a huge difference between these two things. 

The two choices presented by both parties were not perfect, Hillary's CV was much stronger for that job, but just having a strong CV doesn't guarantee you any job, the interview panel should like you and then only the job is guaranteed. Hillary failed to impress the interview panel. There can be several reasons for election defeat, but this election was special and the question is, how much her gender played a role in her defeat? According to some polls and opinions, Americans don't mind having a woman president, but so far this amazing country where women are so talented, qualified, and hard-working, couldn't find a single qualified woman fit for that job. The dearth of such talented women is so bad that this was for the first time some woman made through primaries to get a major political party's nomination. It took more than 200 years to find a black person to lead the country, and no one knows how many years it might take to find a qualified woman to lead this country. 

So, why I think that Hillary's gender played a role in this election? Was she judged with stricter standards just because she was a woman? To understand this, I want readers to imagine a hypothetical scenario, just switch the background or gender of candidates: imagine Hillary as a successful business person with undisclosed tax returns and extremely lavish and flamboyant lifestyle. Imagine release of her "locker room talk" video, where she is bragging about her attempts to sexually harass some man and how she loves kissing young men, grabbing their crotch and she can do whatever she wants because she is rich, powerful, and famous. Do you think she would have had any chance to win an election or even get a nomination? If your answer is "no chance," then you know what I mean when I say that her gender played a major role in her defeat. Yes, emails mattered, FBI directors sudden statement mattered, her image mattered, Bill Clinton mattered, her time in government mattered, but her gender played a BIG role. This is what disappointed me, I was not sad that a Democrat lost or a Republican won, I hardly care about their party affiliation. I was not sad that Hillary lost, as I am not her fan, I was sad that ultimately once again gender bias won.

To explain why this loss was more bothersome, let me give an example of India's parliament election of 2014, there also Mr. Modi, with a questionable attitude towards his own wife won the election with an impressive majority, but his victory was not unexpected as his opponents were really weak. He at least looked like the most competent person among all who were competing for that job. His total disregard towards his wife was not even an issue, no one bothered to think that if a prime minister can treat his wife like this, then what about other citizens? He didn't even bother to give her divorce, just ignored her as if she didn't exist. It showed society's total disregard of women's rights, but I hardly expected that Indian voters will even think about this issue, and as expected they didn't. So, it was not an unexpected result, but I didn't expect something similar to happen here in the USA. I know that resentment against immigrants or minorities is a very strong feeling and I wrote a post regarding this issue just a few days before the election. In that post I mentioned that use of this emotion can result in huge political dividends, it happened in India so there was no reason why it couldn't happen here in the US. I would not have been surprised if Hillary would have lost the election to any other Republican candidate (even a celebrity candidate) on anti-immigration rhetoric, but Mr. Trump's victory even after the release of that video is surprising to me and it puts a question mark in my mind about society's attitude towards women, and I hope I am wrong about this.

Women played a significant role in Mr. Trump's victory. It seems the majority white women voted for him. Obviously, the race was not a factor as both candidates were from the same race. So, most probably, gender might have been the determining factor. The effect of patriarchy is so strong that even women think that men are most suitable for any leadership position. This thinking is inculcated since childhood and each tradition or custom is designed to validate this thinking. It becomes so embedded in our minds that we don't even realize that most of us become proponents of patriarchy. The glass ceiling about which many women leaders talk is not just created by men or patriarchy, but women are equal contributors to make sure that ceiling remains intact. Such incidents have happened many times before and may happen in future also. But that doesn't mean women should stop trying. It is true that it's not easy to break that glass ceiling, but definitely, efforts of all these years made it crack a little, and now it is up to others to break it. It is not going to be easy, but it is possible.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Resentment against immigrants. Why?

I have lived my life as a part of an immigrant family in India and I am an immigrant in the USA. I have experienced build up of resentment against immigrants, but I never suffered any harm because of it. This problem is very real and I want to share my perspective on it. My family migrated from one state of India to another in search of better opportunities (from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra). In India, each state is like a different country, with its own language and culture. It is not that easy to adjust, especially if the native language is totally alien to you. One can cook their own food or eat whatever is available, but it takes quite a bit of time and some efforts to learn a new language and get to know a new culture. My parents went through this struggle and I witnessed that. The good part of this struggle was, they never forced any of their kids to learn their own native language (Bhojpuri), I and my brothers learned to speak Marathi instead of Hindi or Bhojpuri. I give total credit of this to my parents, I don't know if they did it on purpose, but this is how it happened. We used to speak three languages simultaneously in our home, Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Marathi. Until recently my parents used to speak with us (their three kids) in Hindi or Bhojpuri and we used to answer in Marathi. It happens even now, but not that much, because now they are very comfortable with Marathi. This system worked very flawlessly, it was so smooth that we didn't even realize that we were using three languages simultaneously. The point here is, they didn't stop us from learning the local culture, language or customs. They allowed us to mingle with our surroundings, form friendships, get into trouble or do whatever other kids from the neighborhood were doing, as a kid, I never felt that I came to Maharashtra from some other state, Maharashtra is my home state and Marathi is my mother tongue. So we grew up and became a proud Maharashtrian in a family migrated from UP. This does not mean that we were totally disconnected with our native place, Uttar Pradesh. We can speak Bhojpuri quite well, love food and visit there whenever possible. I feel lucky that I belong to two states in India. Maharashtra now has a sizable population coming from northern states like UP and Bihar. And as normally happens, some resentment got built against these people among native Maharashtrians, some parties tried to encash these feelings. But, we never felt that this anger was directed towards us as we or at least I never had any doubt about me being a Marathi. But, I also got curious why there is such a strong resentment against immigrants? This feeling is so strong that some political parties and leaders owe their existence to it. Who support such political parties and why? Why this feeling of resentment, which almost like a hatred becomes such a powerful political weapon? It is so powerful weapon that even in a developed country like the USA, this issue is one of the major issues of presidential election and it is one of the major reasons for Mr. Trump's popularity.

Why immigrants go through this phase in any society? Why doesn't it happen when they start immigrating, but only when they become a sizable minority group, and their presence can be seen and felt by the majority? I tried to get answers to these questions based on my own experience. Maharashtra or the USA are very cultured and civilized societies, these places are not alien to the presence of immigrants. Why a country like the US, which is known to be very freindly towatds immigrants is facing this problem?

There is no doubt that the cultural clash is one of the reasons for this problem. When immigrants become a sizable minority, they start registering their presence on various platforms and this disturbs some native people. At the same time, native people start feeling that their culture is under attack or threat, as immigrants start asserting their own culture and traditions. Native population starts feeling that one day their own traditions will disappear. Now, no one cares or bothers to think whether these concerns are real or not, they don't bother to check their validity, but these fears start creating some feeling of resentment in some part of the native population. This fear slowly builds up. Bad economy or poor employment rate fuels more insecurity among people and these feelings start showing their ugly effect by some stray incidents, where some immigrant gets attacked for no reason. Some political leader takes advantage of this fear and makes it a political issue. This is what happened in Maharashtra and this is what happening in the USA, and unfortunately I am a witness to both of these phenomena.

Who is right and who is wrong? Who should be blamed for this situation? Are immigrants responsible for not adapting to their new place and appreciating the new culture and values which has given them so much? Are native people responsible for not being flexible enough and accommodative to include new values and cultural norms in their existing culture? I think the problem is from the both sides, remember, it takes two to tango. If you wanted to create another UP in Maharashtra then why did you migrate from UP? If you wanted to create another India in the USA, why not to live in India itself, after all, the original is always better than the duplicate, right? What's the point in creating another Mexico in the USA? On the other hand, why not to welcome and adapt some great values from all these cultures into the US culture and make it more diverse? Why can't we respect each other without threatening the existence of each other?

All people who think that this resentment against immigrants is unreal or is totally misplaced feeling, are themselves living in a denial mode. A presidential candidate like Mr. Trump or leader like Mr. Thackerey doesn't get support for no reason. People may feel that these leaders are not qualified to hold any public office, but they should not make a mistake to ignore the issues which their supporters raise. They all are not deplorable people, labeling such a big part of population stupid doesn't help. If any mainstream politician doesn't address their concerns, they will choose someone who they think is best to handle their issues, and then we really can't complain, it will be too late. I don't think Mr. Trump is their solution for their problems, but he is their answer to political class for ignoring their concerns, for ridiculing their fear. Now they have someone who can speak for them, he is far from perfect, but at least he is recognizing their problems, and this is enough for most of them. The current political class is trapped in too much political correctness, they prefer ignoring difficult issues. They prefer to wait and watch rather than tackling the problems head-on. The point is, someone should listen to these concerns and try to find solutions, ignoring or ridiculing is not going to help.

I am not here to judge whether this feeling of resentment is justified or not, one can debate about it. Maybe they really feel threatened about their culture or jobs. Maybe they are really concerned they will become a minority and their kids will face problems. Maybe all this fear is totally misplaced, but someone needs to discuss these things, these people should feel that their concerns are also being considered as a mainstream problems. The country is not only facing problems related to guns, abortion, terrorism, and unemployment; but illegal immigration is a serious problem and should be discussed. If not, then someone will take advantage of this anger, today it's Mr. Trump, tomorrow it may be someone else, and please don't make a mistake of thinking that elections can't be won or lost on such issues. I have seen it happening in India and it can very much happen in the US. Discussing such sensitive issues openly is good for both sides, after all, I believe that everyone living here wants this country to be a great country. It is already a great country and let's make sure that it remains one.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]