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Jul 01 2014

Repost – Pay No Attention to the Woman Behind the Curtain

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

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”

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.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    jenBPhillips

    Thank you for speaking out, anonymous–this post was extremely enlightening for me. Avi, thank you for using your blog to promote greater awareness of these issues.

  2. 2
    mildlymagnificent

    Thank you anonymous. I had sort of thought this was the meaning behind some of the attitudes that I have heard being expressed and that there was more to the “speaking from behind a curtain shielding another room from view” than “modesty”. But it’s good to have someone who knows it from the inside saying it explicitly.

    And thanks to Avi for making your words available and visible to the rest of us.

  3. 3
    left0ver1under

    Part of her story about the family reminds me of a few women I went to college with. Most were Canadian citizens, their parents naturalized citizens. Socially and in classes, the women were friendly, fun to talk to, and great to work with in study groups. Everyone liked them. But the first time I saw one outside of college, the reality hit home.

    I was at a shopping mall and saw one of my friends with her family and waved “Hi.” Immediately, her eyes went wide and she shook her head “No,” pretending not to know me. I didn’t press the issue there, and at college I only asked about it once, never asking again when she wouldn’t talk about it. I talked to other white Canadians and many experienced the same thing with their friends, and it wasn’t just men. Women students reported the same, their friends afraid of talking to white and First Nations women away from the college. It was clear that college was one of the few places these women could feel free, so those of us who recognized this didn’t try to ruin it for them. One woman left mid-semester, and we never heard why, never heard from her again. If anyone knew, nobody said a thing.

    The only woman of Indian descent not afraid to socialize outside of college was a woman already married in an arranged marriage. She and her husband were immigrants both born in England, and no other family members were in Canada, never mind the same city.

  4. 4
    blotonthelandscape

    I haven’t finished reading this, but I got to the point of you describing how men view women who dress in a particular way as “available”, and my first thought was “Mozambique.” This is exactly the culture there; whenever friends were planning missionary trips there our advice was always “make sure you wear a Sari, and definitely don’t wear Jeans. If you wear jeans, the men will think you are a prostitute and treat you as such.” The men were also viewed as predatory towards western (ie white) women in particular. My wife tells a story of coming across a white woman who had been seduced into marriage by a Mozambiquan man, and taken out into the middle of nowhere and essentially kept as a slave; her older sister almost had a similar fate.

    Anyway, back to reading the article; interesting how such different cultures can be so similar in this way…

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