Age of Kali – Pay No Attention to The Woman Behind The Curtain – A Story About Purdah and Invisibility

Trigger Warnings abound, the reader has asked to remain anonymous but wishes to tell us a story… I have edited it for spelling and helped by westernising the language since the reader’s first language isn’t English and when Indians write they often use colloquialisms but it’s a voice that I feel that we must all hear. (Thank you Anonymous Reader). Many people asked what does this have to do with Atheism, but this is a primarily Hindu method of keeping women “safe”.

For many young women the first sexual menace is not the stranger but a family member. Sometimes it’s your father, your uncle or your grandfather. I was lucky, none of these things happened to me. However as I grew up I learnt about it from them. My grandfather was a “traditional” Indian. We lived as a group in a joint family. And growing up I can remember the scoldings I got for my dress or my uppity and modern “talk”. That the only way to defend myself from the ever present danger of men was by conducting and dressing myself with modesty and by shutting up and being invisible. I was not equal to man and I couldn’t even pretend to be an equal. Even eye contact was “shameful”.

All the women in the house jumped at his authority, the fear he evoked in them was the best way of dealing with the situation in his mind. I suppose he saw this as a way to protect us and to demonstrate the reason to fear men…

If you are unaware of how the protocol in such a family works then don’t be. It’s a ridiculous dance of the purdah system. A ballet of unknown and pointless rules. For example, my aunt wasn’t allowed to stay in the same room as my grandfather. If my grandfather arrived she would be given a hissed warning and she would quickly cover her hair with her sari and run to another room as fast as she could. In order to talk to him, she would have to talk to one of her sons or her husband to deliver a message.

I know this must sound ridiculous to your readers and even yourself but you must have noticed it when you visit houses.

[important]Avi – I actually didn’t notice it. I thought the women had work to do[/important]

We do this because of a rigid tradition. There should be no relationship between father-in-law and daughter-in-law because there is a fear that such an interplay would cause sexual attraction and rapes. Our modest dress and invisibility is to create a Curtain to protect us because we are told that a woman exposed to men is in danger.

But that’s how women see it, the men see it as any visible woman is available. The reason that women fear the gaze of a man is because there is something to fear. The notion is that “good” women will hide from men, that any woman who isn’t is clearly a woman of poor virtue who wants to be touched. This is a view that’s death to modern women. We want to be as visible as men and the curtain has been pulled down. We go to school, college and to socialise with friends. We want to watch movies, we want to date men and choose our own husbands. We want to be free, but this puts us in the firing line of “tradition”. And tradition says that we are shameless. We are sluts and touching us is not rape or harassment but what we want and deserve. It’s why Indian men are fascinated with “westerners”, because they see all their women as sluts because they are more empowered than us. Many are puzzled when western women fight back after being touched or leered at, because an Indian woman won’t.

This mentality is pervasive throughout Indian society. Remarks made after the Delhi Rape made it abundantly clear that women aren’t going to be treated fairly.

[important]Avi – To point out how much of a rape culture exists, only 25% of rapists and sexual assailants arrested are ever charged. And I already pointed out how ridiculously low India’s report rate is for sex crimes. If the incidence of Rape in India is the same as the UK’s then we are looking at a million cases at the very least. It’s probably much much higher. Also? The word curtain used is a direct translation of the Indian notion of Purdah which is a kind of Burkha style ideology for Indians… Purdah means “Curtain” and was once a literal curtain that segregated women and men and made women “invisible” [/important]

We have marched on the streets because we are angry but it’s only the rich who are. We need a bigger response, it’s a step forward but we must keep walking forwards. We have torn aside the curtain to realise it was hypocrisy. Avicenna used the words “Victorian Morals” but this is far deeper than that. We need real laws and to stop blaming the victim for the sins of the accused.

I feel fear when I walk around India. I once had to travel in a train where there were only men in the compartment, I automatically was nervous and hunched down. I even felt the need to cover my head and face.

Don’t Look At Me. I am Invisible. I don’t want to be invisible or silent any more.

[important]When FTB took me in, I felt that I had finally had a voice that people were listening to. So I feel that Anonymous here deserves to tell her story. A story which can damn her existence. Indian women may have started fighting but there is a long way to go. Any other readers who want to tell their story anonymously can send it in and let me know if they want to edit it or print as is. The email link is on the left side of the page. Just look for the little icon. A voice is important and I know many blogs and the like go unheard but FTB despite what people say about us is pretty good as a soap box. I guarantee anonymity and a voice. Because if Anonymous here didn’t tell me why women behaved the way they do then I wouldn’t have learnt one of the saddest things about my own culture. Your stories are important. I will try and post. A special thank you to this reader who took the time to write out what she felt. If you wish others to read it, pass it on. This is an education. There are a lot of invisible women thanks to hinduism.[/important]

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Here’s a serious practical question: what can I, as an individual who lives over here in the US, do to help? Because I’d like to. Right now I am sitting here pointlessly waving my fist at the screen.

  2. Thorne says

    An education indeed! Growing up in the US, seeing how far women here have come, and how far they yet have to go, it becomes easy to assume that things aren’t so different around the world. The wrong assumption to make, though.

  3. ewilde1968 says

    Thanks for sharing this, both of you.

    I frequently visit India (I’m in Noida for this and next week, actually) and have often heard female coworkers describe having to wear the purdah at home. Usually they describe it to me in slightly hushed tones. Now I understand better why.

    Also, thanks for the blog in general. I’ve been lurking since you started here on FTB and appreciate the view of someone reasonable from the New Dehli area. I spend about 2 months per year in Noida and Bangalore. I’ve grown close to it over the years. Your posts often reflect my own appraisal of events in the area, though with a deeper understanding of the culture since I’m a caucasian born and raised in the US.

  4. didgen says

    I too long to help anyone that must live a life so bounded by fear. It is difficult to imagine a life such as that, mostly for the women but I cannot imagine allowing my grandsons to grow up thinking so little of themselves as to be unable to to see a woman as an equal.

    Everyone suffers from that mindset. It’s easy to sit here in the USA and think this is something that doesn’t affect me, but it has, we have to start seeing everyone as our family, our neighbors , our friends. We all deserve to live with respect from our fellow humans, and without fear of assault for lack of modesty.

  5. Crunchy Renee says

    I wondered why the mere sight of women was such an issue, know I know. I knew what Purdah was (its also used in Islam), but didnt get how that translated to harassment of women on the streets. How scary it must be to live like this, and how very unnecessary. We can all live together without these divisions.

    The more women are invisible, the worse it will be for them. The only way to stop it is for women to fight back, and for laws to be made to hold men accountable for their actions. I hope it comes soon, as the situation is deplorable as it is.

    Whenever I see this stuff, I wonder how it ever got started. Why did one gender become invisible? Then I look at religion, the poison of minds worldwide, and see an answer.

  6. Sercee says

    Thank you.
    I want to cry. I know that religion is awful, I’ve fought against my own (indescribably tamer) upbringing for years. But that doesn’t rectify for me how it’s possible that anyone, regardless of power play and sense of entitlement, could treat their own family this way as an entire way of life. Or how anyone can so willfully cause, or allow to be caused, such suffering and torment. Or how anyone could invite it upon their own. “Honor” is so often pointed to as an excuse (like Avi has written about before) but how could it be so twisted? Their eyes are not just closed, they’re melted shut with flaming hot pokers.

  7. Praga says

    The more i read about people have to say about India, the more i have started to believe in the existence of parallel India(s).

    From authoring Kamasutra, building temples to promote sensual pleasures (Konark and khajuraho) to 1000 years of Islamic tyranny, followed by about 300 years of cruel apathetic anglo colonists, the country and its indigenous culture has been raped for centuries now and what we see today is probably manifestation of the confusion and angst passed over generations.

  8. Praga says

    The more i read about what people have to say about India, the more i have started to believe in the existence of parallel India(s).

    From authoring Kamasutra, building temples to promote sensual pleasures (Konark and khajuraho) to 1000 years of Islamic tyranny, followed by about 300 years of cruel apathetic anglo colonists, the country and its indigenous culture has been raped for centuries now and what we see today is probably manifestation of the confusion and angst passed over generations.

  9. says

    Thank you for writing this.

    It’s why Indian men are fascinated with “westerners”, because they see all their women as sluts because they are more empowered than us. Many are puzzled when western women fight back after being touched or leered at, because an Indian woman won’t.

    I noticed this on international meetings and congresses. Those guys (from different backgrounds in Asia and Africa) basically thought that our visibility, clothes, the fact that we talked to them like, you know, people talk, meant we were free to have.
    They were really upset when they were told to stop. But if we didn’t want to have their hands on our asses and tits, why did we show them and how come we thought we still had authority over what happened to us.

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