Monday, 13 June 2011

A Cultural Cruelty?

To be cruel, by one definition, implies a willingness to cause pain and an indifference to suffering. Going by this definition then, if an act is cruel then it might be assumed that a person is aware of the cruelty of his or her actions and yet, still carries on with it. This is simply about one person though. However, what happens if a cruel action and its consequences are shouldered by a culture or a country?

Abortion is highly controversial in today’s society even without adding the gender-based discrimination in the issue. Unfortunately, this is precisely what is plaguing India at present. Sex discrimination and foeticide go a long way back in India’s past though. But where killing girl babies happened at birth before, now sex-select abortions are being practiced. Recent census of 2011 showed that for every 1000 male babies born, 914 female babies are born. Ultrasound clinics can be found all over the sub-continent and many clinics are still unregistered. The Indian government is trying to come up with girl-friendly schemes but as the results have shown, they are not working to the advantage of girl babies. In addition, sex-select abortions are more common among the affluent, not the poor. The wealthier families are aware of ultrasound and hence, are able to have abortions if the woman is pregnant with a girl.

The prevalent question is if the problem lies behind the practice or the mentality. Even though having abortions after finding out the gender of the baby is a huge problem, the bigger problem is the reason behind doing such a thing. To put it simply, having a boy in a family is considered to be a boon and having a girl is seen as a curse. There is more than one reason behind this mind-set. Girls are seen as a burden because of the dowry requirements. Many people in India are poor and when they try to get their daughters married, the worry about meeting the dowry requirements haunts their minds. Another worry associated with this is that parents are concerned about whether or not their daughters will be well treated by the in-laws. The stories of bride burnings and domestic abuse run rampant all over the country. As is commonly practiced by many cultures, when girls in India get married they also take on the surname of their husbands’. Therefore, parents want boys to keep the lineage going and having girls is seen as a hindrance to that dream. The worst thing is that these actions that are a by-product of the culture are not seen as cruel and wrong. The few who speak up against these atrocities faced by girls are silenced by the centuries-old traditions and customs. As they say old is gold, right?

It is distressing that the mainstream, patriarchal culture forces women to pay the unfortunate price of suffering. From the moment of conception, women’s fate is sealed and more often than not, it is a downward spiral. Those who are fortunate enough to survive birth are still likely to face death due to neglect, abuse, or malnutrition. It is, in many ways, a man’s world. Women are so brainwashed that many believe they are not equal to men and they have a subservient position to men in society. From an early age, this view is imbedded in their minds and many spend their whole lives believing it to be the truth. They would not dream of raising an objection to the practiced cultural norms for fear of facing backlash. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the situation of women can’t improve. Laws that support women’s status in society need to be upheld. The integral step is to appeal to the psyche of each person. Until people’s mentality is challenged and the awareness of the injustice faced by women is publicized more, laws and economic sanctions can only do so much. Education has not served as a complete answer to the question of gender discrimination. People’s belief that women are inferior to men can be eradicated through enlightenment about equality between both sexes. People throughout India, in villages, towns, cities, all need to be targeted. Perhaps then, respect for women will arise in society and baby girls will be gifted the opportunity to have a future.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

On the Origins of Sikhism

During a discussion with my mom about religions and Sikhism in particular, I asked her what the foundations of Sikhism were. She could not really come up with an answer. So I casually started telling her about what I had gleaned from my readings. It is not often that a child gets to enlighten the parent about religion. Guru Nanak Dev was born to a Hindu family in 1469 and from an early age, it was obvious that he was an exceptionally gifted child. He was more interested in discovering the meaning of life. As he grew older, he became extremely disappointed with the clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India and he famously remarked that there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim. He created the religion of Sikhism in the hope that it would get rid of the differences between Hindus and Muslims. When Guru Nanak would travel, he would dress in a combination of styles worn by both Hindu and Muslim holy men. Upon his death, Hindus and Muslims fought over whether he should be cremated or buried. He believed truth to be the ultimate goal for each person and if that could not be achieved, then everyone should at least aim to lead a truthful life.

Guru Nanak also championed against all kinds of discrimination, whether they be caste-based or monetary-based. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God because we are all His creation. Who are we to judge and condemn others? When we go to a Gurudwara (Sikhs’ place of worship), we all sit on the ground and eat together. The reason behind this is to teach us that in the house of God, no one is poor or rich, and no one is a Brahmin (upper caste) or a Shudra (lower caste). The nine Gurus, after Guru Nanak, built on these teachings. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, founded the Khalsa brotherhood, which inducted men and women. To all Khalsa members, the rites of Sati performed by Indian widows and the killing of daughters were prohibited. He also said that women were equal to men and they did not require the wearing of a veil. In his address to the Khalsa audience he said, “And, between the Hindus and Muslims, you will act as a bridge, and serve the poor without distinction of caste, color, country, or creed.”

When Guru Gobind led an army against the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, he was not fighting a religion or an ideology. He was fighting to put a stop to the tyrannical control of Aurangzeb as the emperor was forcing Hindus and Sikhs either to convert to Islam or face the penalty of death. He was fighting for the independence and freedom of the people to be able to make their own choices.

Somewhere along the road, we have lost that. There is caste distinction within the Sikh community. The wealthy are given preference and having money is considered to be the “in” thing. This does not just apply to Sikhs, but to other Indians and to people in other countries worldwide. Being rich is equated to success and happiness. In the words of Frank McKinney Hubbard, “It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness. Poverty and wealth have both failed.” I would like to add to this statement by saying that a person is truly successful when he or she is happy. Now, if that happiness comes from being rich, then so be it. On the other hand, if happiness comes from going home to your family and sharing a meal, then that’s also success. The important thing to remember is that we should not judge anyone. We can’t get inside their head and experience whatever emotion they are feeling or whatever has happened in their life. Also, we need to stop measuring wealth as a way of judging a person’s worth. A person’s worth lies in their actions, not in how much money is in their bank account. There is more to a person than how rich or poor he is.

Another point that should be mentioned is that in general, we fear anyone that is different from what we are used to seeing. This might mean someone who dresses differently from the norm, who has different customs, or who is from a different country. I have lived in four different countries so far (India, England, Spain, and the USA) and I have interacted with people from various countries and different cultures. I have come to the realization that differences can be embraced and enjoyed. There is so much to learn from others’ experiences and traditions. Also, it is a great thing to be able to share things from your life with others. You find out that despite all those seemingly big differences, we all share the mutual desire to love and to be loved, to be respected, to be admired, and to be accepted. So then perhaps, we are not as different from others as it might seem. And whatever differences there are, they should be celebrated and not fought.

Guru Nanak Dev was a revolutionary for he spoke against the accepted and established religious tenets in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. So were the other Gurus. They led many Indians on this path of liberation from closed-minded conformity. It can be argued that just because something has been happening for centuries and is culturally accepted, it is not enough to make it right. Sometimes, you have to go against the mainstream culture in order to fight for justice. It is difficult for people to accept change and so, they will fight against it. In addition, it is difficult to adopt a new lifestyle or change an aspect of culture, because that is treading in an unknown zone and it can be daunting. However, when that change means that you are fighting discrimination based on caste, color, religion, or nationality, then it is an appropriate thing to do. As the Gurus have tried to teach us, we are all equal in the eyes of God. Therefore, we have to make a conscious effort to fight discrimination at every level, no matter how small, and realize that we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated kindly, lovingly and respectfully.


Gopal Singh, “A History Of the Sikh People, 1469-1978” (Delhi: World Sikh University Press, 1988) , 289-290.

Frank McKinney Hubbard, “Quotations About Happiness.” Welcome To the Quote Garden, 1998-2011 (Accessed May 14, 2011).


Hubbard, Frank McKinney. “Quotations About Happiness.” Welcome To the Quote Garden, 1998-2011 (Accessed may 14, 2011).

Singh, Gopal. A History Of the Sikh People, 1469-1978. Delhi: World Sikh University Press, 1988.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

My indirect encounter with the ash cloud

After living in the US for nine months straight, I was looking forward to going home to London. I always have fun in college with my friends, but this was the longest I had stayed away from home at a stretch. I was going to fly with US Airways from Kansas City to London Heathrow with the connection at Philadelphia. My sister was flying back on the same day but her connection was at Chicago and she was flying with American Airlines. Everything was fine when we were in Kansas City. My sister and I both couldn’t wait to be on our connecting flights to London. Oh, the irony of it! Little did I know that it will be two whole days of waiting and then I will be able to board the flight to London.
When my plane landed in Philadelphia, I looked for the screen that would tell me the gate I’m supposed to go to. I saw that my flight had been cancelled, and my stomach just dropped. I felt hot and cold at the same time and I rushed towards the gate to find out what was going on, hoping all the time that there was some mistake. I reached the long line at Customer Service and the passengers in front of me were visibly upset. It looked like it would be a couple of hours before I found out what was wrong. Meanwhile, a new worry was eating me up. I could not stop thinking about my sister and I realized I didn’t have any means of contacting her. She could call me on my phone from a booth but how would I let her know about my flight cancellation? I felt like crying, but I had to be strong. I was trying to stay hopeful that I would find another flight. A few minutes later, a US Airways official came to all of us standing in the line to inform us that we need to get our baggage and to call a number to rebook our flights. She told us about the problem of the ash cloud in London and that there won’t be any flights going to Europe. I was even more horrified when she said that there might not be any flights going to Europe for a few days. Furthermore, they would pay half the price for us staying in a hotel as the ash cloud was not the airline’s doing. True enough, but neither was it the passengers’ fault. Her statement made me mad, especially when I saw that a British Airways flight headed to London was not cancelled. But, I couldn’t dwell on that for long; my luggage was waiting for me.
Upon reaching the Baggage Claim, there was another queue; however, it was mercifully short. Another passenger was standing with me and I was extremely grateful for the company. Talking to him stopped me from getting overwhelmed and the last thing I needed was a full-scale panic attack. Flying has never been something I have enjoyed particularly and I felt like I was having a nightmare. I had to wait for my luggage for about an hour and my mind was plagued with thought after thought. How would I let my parents know about my flight? Should I wake them up at this hour and ruin their sleep by adding this worry to their minds? Should I wait till it is morning and then tell them? Should I go to a hotel or just camp at the airport? What if I can’t find a flight for many days? Should I go back and stay with my host family? The questions were endless and I had to reassure myself constantly. I let my best friend, who was staying with my host family in Arrow Rock, Missouri, know what was going on. My host mother called me and she enquired as to what happened. I gave her the number to rebook my flight and she managed to get me a flight in two days. I was a little calm after that but I didn’t know how serious the ash cloud situation was and how long it will take for the skies to clear up in London. I was praying that somehow my sister could reach home and if not, then she would go stay in a hotel and have access to the internet.
After a while, I managed to get only one of my two bags. I went to the Baggage Claim desk to ask for my other bag and they advised me to come back in a day or two to look for my bag. I didn’t know what else to do. Now that I knew that it would be two days before I got on a plane, I decided that it would be better for me to stay in a hotel and get some sleep. I called a number, provided by the airport staff, and I managed to reserve a room in one hotel. They had free shuttle service to and from the airport and they picked me up in the next twenty minutes. By this time, it was almost midnight and the night’s events were starting to catch up with me. After I got to my room, I switched open my laptop and I sent an email to my dad letting him know what happened and that I had no idea what was going on with my sister. I also sent her an email asking her to let our dad know where she was. I fell asleep quickly after that.
I woke up to face a whole day of doing nothing along with the worries firmly implanted in my head. Fortunately, one of my worries was gotten rid of as soon as I checked my email. My sister had arrived in London on time and she was safe at home now. I felt unbelievably relieved. It is really difficult to be in a situation where you are worried about another person knowing that there isn’t anything you can do to help them out. I can’t deal with feeling helpless. I passed most of my day chatting to my mom and my sister in London and to my aunts and my grandparents in India. While I chatted with them, I felt less sad and everyone was doing their best to cheer me up. My mom kindly offered to talk to me until I fell asleep. But, she had been upset enough already and hadn’t slept properly for two nights. I didn’t want her to stay awake just because there wasn’t much for me to do in the hotel room. I couldn’t go out because it was raining the whole day and there wasn’t much to see regardless. The hotel was in a more remote area and I didn’t think it wise to be wandering off in a place that was new to me. I killed some time by watching TV and when it was late enough for it to be acceptable to sleep, I went to bed.
I woke the next morning happier because I would be at the airport and I felt that finally, I would be at the place where I should be at. It was the first time that I was looking forward to going to an airport. Once I got there, I found out that my bag was probably already in London. I still had nine hours of waiting left. I read a book, ate Chinese, wandered around in the airport and spoke to another passenger who had faced a similar situation to mine. Her plane left a few hours before mine did and that made me feel a little less anxious and more hopeful about my flight taking off too. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until my plane took off that I relaxed completely.
During my stay at the hotel, I realized that my sister’s plane had landed without any difficulty and if I had left Philadelphia when I was supposed to, my plane would not have encountered any problems either. Most other airlines had not cancelled their flights to Europe; yet, US Airways had done exactly that. This made me feel quite enraged. I would always want the airlines to take measures that would ensure the passengers’ safety. On the other hand, I don’t know if the US Airways needed to take as much precaution when the other airlines were still running their flights. It seemed as though they had gone a little overboard in their attempt to be cautious. The ash cloud warning was between the hours of 1am and 7am. My flight was supposed to reach London around 10am approximately. US Airways would have had a couple, if any, flights that would have reached Europe during that time frame on that day. Hence, it seems unreasonable that the airline would have reacted so strongly to the situation, especially as they were the only ones to do so in Philadelphia. One would expect that they would have done more to find out about what was going on. The airline officials did not know what was happening and their lack of knowledge and hospitality made the passengers feel hopeless and stranded.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Problems of Racism

I wrote a paper about the problems of racism for one of my history classes. It was the only paper I wrote in which I did not do research because the topic itself gave me enough to consider. Racism is all around us; but, many times it is presented so discreetly that we don't even realize that it is staring at us, right in our faces. I am posting this short essay in the hope that it enlightens people about the hidden folds of racism.

When I go for a walk on the streets of America today, I see little children laughing and playing. Meanwhile, their mothers are busy talking to one another about how their children are growing up so fast. I am painting a picture of an America where the differences in race do not exist and segregation is all but gone. However, this is simply a mirage. We are living in an America that only appears to be rid of the problems associated with racism and discrimination. Even when we are faced with glimpses of racism, we turn blind to it because it seems to be too much of a hassle to deal with at times. We want to be done with these societal problems and so, it becomes relatively easy to put these issues in the back of our minds.

If only it was this easy to forget about the problems of racism that still plague our society. We cannot get rid of racism until we first identify what the problems are. While these problems remain entrenched in the society, we cannot be a peaceful and a prosperous country. One of the problems that relate to racism is white privileges. It is quite self-explanatory but just to clarify, the idea behind white privileges is that being white is awarded in many areas of the society, such as, politics, law, economy, police, education, and so on. This is the most direct way to be racist in our society. The only problem is that people do not always admit that being white gives them advantages. So, if a person is refusing to admit that white privileges exist, how can anyone even attempt to get rid of this problem? It is definitely food for thought.

There are many benefits that are attached to being white and they seem even more numerous in comparison to what black people have to face. Whites have the luxury of being the standard that other races have to conform to. A white person is never a representative of his race. In other words, one white person’s view or behavior does not mean that all white people think or behave alike. In addition, there is not the burden of negative stereotyping. In many incidents, whites have been the criminals and yet, when there is a gang of white teenagers standing together, people do not automatically think of them as hoodlums. Moreover, while driving through an all-white neighborhood a person would not think that there are too many of white people. Hence, it is quite plain that being white puts you in a favorable circumstance. Whites dominate in most of the major professions, and that is not just a harmless coincidence.

A problem that is linked to white privileges and that is also a major component of racism is money. It is often said that money is the root of all evil and at times, it is hard to disagree with this statement. In today’s society, no matter how vehemently people oppose this truth, being black still makes you an outsider. Black people are victimized as it is assumed that just because a person is black, then he is automatically poor. It is true that there are many black people who are poor; however, this can be said for people of other races too.

One reason behind the poverty is that many black children drop out from high schools or colleges. These black children grow up in neighborhoods where they see their family members face racism in one form or another. All around them is an environment which gives them a hidden message that even with education, they cannot overcome the barriers of racism. The black men and women who do successfully graduate from colleges do not have the opportunity to perform as well as their white counterparts do. They do not earn as much as white men and women do. One can only imagine how terribly frustrating and de-motivating it must be to even want to try.

Once there is less poverty among black and white communities, there would be less insecurity and jealousy among them. It is not sufficient to just recognize the issue of poverty; it also has to be dealt with. But when the recipient of government help is a black person, society frowns on the government’s actions. This is partly because black people are blamed for the conditions they live in. If one were to stop and think about it, it would be logical that no person would consciously choose to live in poverty. But as blacks are thought to be lazy, their unfavorable circumstances fit in with the scenario.

Another important problem related to racism is willingness to understand other’s perspectives. Whites assign “The Race Problem” to blacks to solve it. They do not want to admit that they are being racist directly or indirectly. The first question we must ask of ourselves is that who would even want to admit that they are in the wrong? It might be harsh to say this, but it seems that they are just taking an easy way out of dealing with racism. Racism is an extremely sensitive issue in today’s society where everyone has to be politically correct. Nevertheless, if people would face these issues and take steps to address them, we would start eliminating racism from the society.

My relationship with Edward Cullen

Since the release of the movie Twilight in November 2008, the book and the movie has caught the imagination and unwavering loyalty of millions of girls worldwide. The book is a part of the Twilight saga, which has seen 4 books published so far, written by Stephenie Meyer. They are – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. Recently, Meyer has written a book ‘The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella’, which will be available in bookstores on 5th June this year. The complicated and seemingly impossible love story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen is the brainchild of Meyer. Many vampire books have been published; however, Meyer takes this particular love story to another level.

I didn’t even know of the books until the movie came out in 2008. I was sitting in the cafeteria with my friends at lunch when I saw the video of the song ‘Decode’ by Paramore. The song had glimpses from the movie Twilight and it caught my interest instantly. I went to see the movie the day it came out and I fell, like a million other girls, under the hypnotic spell of Edward Cullen. I found out that there are four books that make up the series, and I just had to read all the books. It was not just a choice anymore; it felt absolutely necessary to me to read all the books and know for a fact that Edward and Bella would stay together till the end. But to my dismay, reading the books did not have the effect on me that I had expected. I had hoped that I would get over Edward and realize that they are just books that are meant to entertain and to enable the reader to escape from the real world for a few hours once in a while. The books definitely did that for me; in fact, they had me completely enthralled. The problem was that I did not lose interest over Edward. I read the books over and over, and each time, they affected me as though I had never read the book before. My family and friends are flabbergasted over the lure that the books and Edward have over me. Unfortunately for them, even I cannot explain or comprehend the attraction. It is not as though I believe in the existence of vampires. But, the books offer something that isn’t just about the existence of mythical creatures. The love that Bella and Edward experience is so strong and moving that one cannot help but respond to it at some level.

It is this love that never fails to attract the interest of girls. Girls tend to be romantics at heart; I, too, am a hopeless romantic. What the character of Edward offers is the ideal image of what a guy should be. I am not referring to his extraordinary good looks or his gorgeous body or his strength; although, they are definitely a plus. Edward’s love for Bella is eternal; no matter what happens, he will always love her. Moreover, he does everything in his power to make her happy and Bella’s love for Edward is the same. This description is ridiculously attractive at an age where so many marriages end in divorce. So, what Edward and Bella offer to the world is hope, hope in the existence of such a love. It might be foolish to take this kind of love seriously; but, isn’t love supposed to render people foolish? It has made me hope that a love like that might be possible.

Edward is also my safe harbor. I had not realized this until someone else made this observation. If I am in love with a fictional character, there is no way that he can upset me by breaking my heart. Hence, I am able to love him and even though it is unrequited, it does not bother me because I love a person who does not exist! At times though, my love for him is requited because when I read the books, I am not just watching everything through Bella’s eyes; I am Bella. Her pain becomes my pain, her happiness becomes my happiness, and her love becomes my love. Perhaps, Edward is not every girl’s safe harbor. But, I can safely assume that every girl who reads the book experiences the complete joy of being in love with Edward and having it reciprocated.