Finding My Voice

Every year, on the 31st of December, I feel like it’s important to just take a few moments to reflect back on the year and take note of some of the few notable lessons we have all learned. So, this is my attempt to do just that and I have tried my hardest to narrow it down to five.

  • January to December, I transitioned from my second year at university to my final year and one thing any maturing adult will tell you is that your opinions and thoughts will constantly evolve and I can vouch for this- my stances on certain topics and my passions have expanded more than I can describe and the way I think now is completely different and this will undoubtedly continue to adapt as I grow. It’s altogether a confusing and sometimes scary but wonderful experience so enjoy the process.
  • Friends are one of the few treasures that have constantly come into my life and every year I make new ones who bring me something that I never knew was absent from my life. This year was no different and I am always grateful for those friendships that are soul-fulfilling and spiritually nurturing. I have met people who are probably capable of losing more compassion that many of us can ever hope to obtain in our lifetime and I hope everyone can experience a friendship that is so rewarding.
  • Not knowing what the future holds is okay. My faith and trust in Allah has strengthened and I am starting to not only believe but also understand that what is meant for me will always be. Be kind to yourself.
  • Books will always be my retreat- having struggled to keep up with regular reading (at least, with literature that wasn’t on a module reading list) I’m glad my summer consisted of catching up on this neglected hobby. My book-buying habit, on the other hand, maybe that’s something I’ll consider sorting out for next year.
  • I am also starting to find my voice and not only can I hear it, but I can also confidently stand up and defend it- a skill, albeit not 100% mastered yet and one that has taken years to materialise, I’m glad is beginning to find its feet.

2018 Reflections – growth is not linear.

By Kolchuma Begum

What did I learn from 2018? I learnt that …

Growth is not linear.

What I mean by this is that we tend to measure our growth on a timeline, when we aren’t making the progress we want, we tend to think of ourselves as failures because the time of growth is no longer as fast as it was previously. Personal growth can happen at a monumental size at some points, yet in other times, it can feel quite slow. Thus, it is unhealthy for us to frequently compare or measure our growth with that of others or from another phase in our lives.

Reading novels for fun.

I forgot how enjoyable it is to pick up a book and become immersed in its pages. For those of us who are doing humanities at university tend to have a large amount of readings to do every week and hence it is so important to not lose the hobby of reading in the midst of all those assignments. Instead of scrolling through social media, try picking up a book instead and you will see how much more rewarding and fruitful it is for your soul and mind.

Education is not solely confined to institutions of higher education.

Life is more interesting and enjoyable if we learn something new each day. This world is full of wonder and it would be a shame if we do not take it upon ourselves to learn more about it.

Self-help is not only to solely focus on ideas such as bubble baths tend to be thrown around when it comes to the discussion of self-help.

Instead, helping others is a form of self-help. There is a specific type of gratification that arises from knowing that you were able to help someone else and that gratification cannot be found elsewhere other than being at service to others.

Feeling like a fraud – what is the imposter syndrome all about?

By Kolchuma Begum

This week I attended the event on the mental health of BAME people hosted by the KCL Bangladesh society. This event was so valuable and impressive that I had to share what I personally found most interesting and that is learning about the imposter syndrome. I did not hear of this syndrome before but as I sat there learning about what it was, I felt a sense of relief in that it was not something that I alone felt.

So, what is the imposter syndrome? The imposter syndrome could be defined as ‘a psychological phenomenon that causes sufferers to attribute their successes and accomplishments to external factors such as luck, timing (.. .) rather than to personal merit, hard work or ability’[1].I feel like this syndrome is prevalent amongst young people, especially students in higher education who may feel the pressure to exceed and meet certain expectations when preparing to enter the world of work. Whilst students can exceed and meet the expectations, they still may feel that they are not good enough or that the position they have, should have been given to someone else. This then can lead to growing fears and a constant paranoia that someone will find out that your credentials are not worthy enough or that you as a person are not worthy enough for the job.

The growing pressures on students to exceed and thrive to meet certain expectations can lead some to experience this imposter syndromeand hence why I am sharing this information with you all. Whenever you are feeling like somewhat of a fraud even though rationally all your achievements were through your own work – ask yourself, you worked hard for your achievements so why should you feel like you are not worthy of an achievement or a position in acompany of your dreams?

We need to allow ourselves room to develop yet not be so harsh on ourselves. Whenever you have that thought of paranoia creeping into your mind, remind yourself that where you are is because of your hard work and not because of sheer luck. To finish this off, I would like you to share knowledge of this imposter syndrome with your friends and classmates because you may be surprised to find out how many people experience and struggle with this at one point or more in their lives.


[1] Rouse,Margaret, ‘Imposter Syndrome’, 2017 <https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/impostor-syndrome&gt; [accessed 13th December 2018]

Racism in Britain? That’s not breaking news

By Rahma Hussein

A week ago, an article published by the Guardian showcased a new study into the widespread extent of racism in Britain today. The findings of the study are hardly surprising, and certainly does not reveal anything that we did not know already. People of colour have always been raising issues about racism and its huge prevalence, but what is the most common response that we receive? “Racism doesn’t exist anymore!”, “You can’t always speak about race”, “I love all kinds of people, both black and white”, “I am colour-blind, I don’t see colour!”

These responses are incredibly problematic to say the least – mostly for the reason that it completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism. Racism is now apparently a thing of ‘the past’, and there is no way that people are discriminated against due to the colour of their skin in the twenty-first century. Lived experiences of non-white people are completely erased to make perpetrators feel comfortable and to  avoid responsibility to a problem they are the prime contributors of.

According to the report,

43% of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18%) who reported the same experience.

You can read the article here.

38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected.

Publishing statistics on a well known problem does not in any way make this an “exclusive” discovery. We all know that racism exists in British society in all corners of life – from work, education, communities and even within families. This has always existed. Much more perplexing is the level of intellectual dishonesty surrounding discourses regarding racism – attempts at erasing British colonial histories, immigration policies and attitudes which are undoubtedly racist. Measures such as “stop and search” taken by those in significant positions of authority, such as the Metropolitan Police, which disproportionately targets Black men more than any other demographic, do so under the guise of ensuring “safer streets”. We all know this is racist. Another example of racism practiced under the guise of “safety” and “counter-extremist” within both society and academic spaces is the government sanctioned PREVENT strategy – disproportionately targeting Muslim students who deemed too opinionated or outspoken, therefore dangerous and threatening, even possibly hinting at possibilities of becoming ‘influenced’ by extremist tendencies. But hey – it’s totally ok to invite fascists onto campus because free speech and we should encourage healthy debate at whatever costs, even if it compromises the safety and wellbeing of minority and marginalised students (KCL, I’m looking at you here).   

I. am. so. done. with this ridiculous double-standard. Next time we speak about racism, don’t dismiss us. Don’t tell us that we are sensitive, and shouldn’t ‘see’ things in the context of race. Don’t tell us to stop playing the ‘race card’. Racism is alive and kicking – and it is about time that your pride (yes, you non-poc folks) is placed aside and create meaningful solutions to problems which has characterised British society throughout its history.


Cover photo credits: Washington Post photo illustrations/ UPI photo

BrAsians: Looking Beyond Culture Clash

By Aisha Mazhar.

The history of South Asian migration to Britain begins during the colonial period when India was a British colony; a trickle of South Asian students, sailors, governesses and housemaids settled in Britain. The most significant waves of South Asian migration were following the Second World War when Britain was faced with labour shortages; the partition of India and the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda. Today the South Asian diaspora inBritain represents over 3.9% of the population, amounting to just over 2.3million people according to the 2001 census.[1] Despite the historical lineage of the South Asian presence in Britain, the South Asian experience has often largely been overlooked or confined to the periphery of Britain’s national narrative. If the South Asian diaspora has been the subject of interest, it has been analysed through tropes such as ‘culture clash’ informed by categories of analysis which overwhelmingly focus on religion, culture and tradition. Diasporic identities according to cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, ‘are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference’. Despite the hybridity and adaptability of South Asian diasporic identities, they have been portrayed as static, steeped in values seen as distinctly ‘other’ in contrast to western,‘British values’. Through a variety of different cultural mediums, South Asians have rearticulated what it means to be British by accommodating, re-interpreting and fusing strands of various cultures, experience and identity. The director Pratibha Parmar, aptly stated in regard to the South Asian diaspora, ‘we have been changing the very heart of what constitutes Englishness by recoding it with our diasporic sensibilities’. [2]

Image credits: National Army Museum 

BrAsian; The term in some ways, captures the essence of Parmar’s articulation that the South Asian diaspora has ‘recoded’ Englishness in certain ways. BrAsian dispenses with categories which stress the nation or ethnic minority framings of identity. Both ‘British’ and ‘Asian’ are accommodated in the term but not left unaltered; they are fused to create something new altogether. The term ‘BrAsian’ was introduced in A Postcolonial People; an anthology which explores the multi-faceted experience of British South Asians.[3] The term also stresses the need to re-narrate the South Asian experience, not on the basis of national identity but with an understanding of the exchanges and nuanced experience that ‘BrAsian’ implies. Above all else, ‘BrAsian’ is a means of illustrating that identities can seldom be decomposed into neat categories; It demands looking beyond the notion of ‘culture clash’, which fails to account for the richness and multiplicity of British South Asian identities.

Credit: Peter Nicholls, Reuters 

One way of engaging with a more nuanced understanding of British South Asian identity, is to provide platforms for people to tell their own stories and experiences. Cultural mediums, such as art can be useful and effective modes of expression, which can capture the multifaceted nature of identity. A number of British South Asian artists have done just that. TheSingh Twin’s, are a British artist duo comprised of sisters, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, their work explores themes of identity and cultural prejudices amongst others.  Upon first glance, the Indian influences in the Singh Twin’s painting EnTWINed are most apparent; It is painted in the style of a traditional Mughal miniature and features important Indian historical figures such as Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Sophia Duleep Singh. Yet upon further inspection, there are very clear British influences evident throughout the piece in the form of landmarks and cultural references. In fact, the painting itself is a reinterpretation of the Victorian painter, Nelson O’Neil’s paintingsEastward Ho (1857) and Home Again (1858). Eastward Ho depicts British soldiers boarding a ship bound forIndia to quell the ‘Indian mutiny’; Whilst, HomeAgain portrays the return of the soldiers having quelled the ‘mutiny’.  EnTWINED subverts O’Neil’s narrative of courageous British soldiers’ participating in supressing the rebellion of 1857; This time, the heroes are those who fought for Indian independence. The painting further features references to both historical and contemporary figures and motifs; the twins themselves are illustrated, wearing the Scottish tartan alongside shalwar kameez. Entwined is the artistic manifestation of BrAsian; synthesising both British and South Asian history and culture, to produce a nuanced piece which unsettles traditional narratives and celebrates the influence that SouthAsians have had on Britain.  The twins have asserted their ‘right to define our own culture and artistic individuality in a way that is meaningful and true to whom we are as British Asians’.[4] When British Asians are given the platform to tell their own stories, perhaps we will eschew reductive narratives which seek to posit a narrow and selective definition of what ‘integration’ and ‘British’ looks like. 


[1] http://www.movingpeoplechangingplaces.org/migration-histories/south-asians-making-britain.html

[2] E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze (Routledge, 1997), 20

[3] N. Ali, V.S. Kalra, S. Sayyid eds., A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain, 2005

[4]  http://www.singhtwins.co.uk/INSPIRATION.html

The STORM-BLAST came, and he Was tyrannous and strong*

By Aqsa Ahmed.

There is an albatross

hovering,

About my person.

Sometimes he flies south,

But returns erelong.

I am afraid he never leaves.

I did shoot at him once,

Regained my hold of the helm

And sailed out.

But guilt crept back and hung around my neck until he healed strong.        

I kneel in the dawn,

Just as sunlight begins to trail on my floor and    

beseech freedom.

“Release me from this trammel,

let me swim away merciful albatross.”

                                                                                But he hovers about my person.

“Oh, strange soul”, says he

“My wandering marinere.

I am tyrannous and strong,

You are haggard

 

and thin.”

                                                                        “And I am sorry my little one –

                                                                 But you do not yet know how to swim.”

*Please note: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner L.41-42 (all lines it italics hereafter reference this text)

You can read more of Aqsa’s poems published on I RISE here.

Featured image credits: “storm waves by Kristian Leov.

Why Decolonise? Are white, male thinkers no longer important?

By Thahmina Begum.

What a bore, right? Just another self-righteous, brown student demanding special treatment and is on a mission to eradicate whiteness and though she complains about the corrupt, greedy West, she still chooses to live here. This is obviously (partly) incorrect. Those who interpret ‘decolonise’ as synonymous with erasing white people or, in the context of academia, removing the work produced by upper-class, white men, are clearly part of the bigger problem. This issue of ‘decolonising’ syllabuses has gained more prominence and backlash in recent years but one of my first interactions with it was this particular article. Gopal, so eloquently, put my thoughts into words when she speaks out about not only the lack of diversity in the types of thinkers that university curriculums consist of but also this assumption that Western-born knowledge is universal and the centre of all valuable wisdom.

“Decolonising the curriculum is, first of all, the acceptance that education, literary or otherwise, needs to enable self-understanding. This is particularly important to people not used to seeing themselves reflected in the mirror of conventional learning – whether women, gay people, disabled people, the working classes or ethnic minorities.

Gopal goes on to say:

“Knowledge and culture is collectively produced and these groups, which intersect in different ways, have as much right as elite white men to understand what their own role has been in forging artistic and intellectual achievements.” 

Now, some claim that incorporating more thinkers of colour, to ‘diversify’ the syllabus, will decolonise university modules. But I don’t think this is enough to develop a broader and in-depth analysis of the complex structures and intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and ability in literature and political thought. An educational experience goes beyond just the module outline and encompasses the values and knowledge learned and deconstructed and play a crucial role in validating social and political institutions. Therefore, this is about more than just adding one or two writers of colour into a lecture; more importantly, this is about moving beyond the Western canon, particularly in political thought.

In other words, if you teach a curriculum and it consists of only the work of white males, this would undoubtedly perpetuate the incorrect idea that knowledge is inherently Western. This further exacerbates the false claim that Western values and its philosophies are applicable worldwide and gives the impression that there is a general identity or history that we all share. This neglects and undervalues strands of literacy that are produced in other parts of the world and, as a result, post-colonial thinkers are overlooked or seen more as a counter-argument to mainstream literary work, rather than part of the main argument itself. This division in whose contribution is valued is unsurprising since throughout intellectual work, historians in the global South have continuously needed to refer to events and publications on European history for validation whereas European historians produce their work in obliviousness of non-Western history without having the quality of their work questioned.

The absence of thinkers of colour is too often considered a norm and left unchallenged and by continuing to teach academic literature in this way, we are maintaining this Eurocentric framework which is not only limiting but is also an inaccurate way to learn history. This Western canon, for instance, teaches political theory in a way that ignores the importance of race in determining your socio-economic position and therefore such theories exclude the experiences of BME people. In his book Racial Contract (1997), Charles Mills criticises the ‘social contract’ that is created in European societies, arguing that it is intrinsically racist since it validates and encourages white dominance over so-called subordinate populations. He insists:

[The social contract] “is always differential privileging of the whites as a group with respect to the non-whites, the exploitation of their bodies, land, and resources and the denial of equal socio-economic opportunities for them” and “all whites are beneficiaries of the Contract, not a contract in which non-whites can be a consenting party.”

Such raceless notions that are ruling political theory and works of literature will first need to be acknowledged and critiqued to expose the real character of our world and the corresponding historical deficiencies of its normative theories and practices. For instance, one example of this Eurocentric, raceless model of political thought is evident in the work of Edmund Burke. Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) puts forward his stance against the abstract liberal ideas of human rights and natural equality that the French Revolution was established upon. He believed any attempt to build a new society based on such non-concrete concepts is harmful since society itself was a complex structure that had been sewed together by ancestral traditions. This belief in preserving traditions to support the fragile nature of society and his view of politics as an empirical science, based on past wisdom and experiences, meant that Burke was critical of revolution and believed it must always be the last resource of thinking. My intention behind mentioning his view on revolution is to portray how Burke’s position is one of privilege as a beneficiary in the status quo and therefore he can afford to sustain the very traditions and structures of society that placed him at an advantageous position. Truthfully, while Burke may have supported the rights of a ‘legitimate’ rebellion, he upheld the authority of Empire and cherished the rights of British imperial sovereignty.

I compare Burke’s conservatism with Frantz Fanon’s argument for revolution and the need of violence to overthrow the exploitative nature and psychological inferiority of the colonies, to exemplify how traditional disciplines within political thought and philosophies of European Enlightenment were inherently ignorant towards understanding the societies of the colonised nations. It was common for European colonisers to sermonise this enlightenment humanism to the colonised, while simultaneously denying this in practice. For thinkers like Fanon, complacency in existing conditions was not an option. His book The Wretched of the Earth (1961) is a summation of his experiences of colonialism and provides a synopsis as to how race is a primary axis of oppression and inequality and is linked to other intersections such as class. Fanon even critiqued Marx and Engels’s trajectories of capitalism and revolution as focusing largely on class and as inconsiderate of race:

“Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies, the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”

To redefine the scope of political theory yonder the occidental, many comparative political theorists argue, and I agree, that this necessitates a reflection upon the status and meaning of political life as not restrained to a geographical setting but in a global arena.

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 15.13.32
Image credits

Though academic curriculums traditionally consist of white male scholars, when feminist theory is discussed, it is common to explore the work of liberal, white feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, particularly A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Wollstonecraft, despite her thought-provoking and important ideas on the civil rights of women, like many Western thinkers that overshadow political theory and literature, she does not consider the importance of race, or even class, in her philosophy. Wollstonecraft simply believed that women should not be excluded from political or civic employments as this undermines morality and natural rights. However, her stance was confined to middle-class women, since she regarded them as in the “most natural” state (that is the least corrupted by either wealth or poverty). But this class of women tended to be predominantly white. Therefore, by pioneering Wollstonecraft’s work as the main text within feminist political thought, the conversation disregards the experiences of non-white and poorer women.

Black feminist, bell hooks criticises this very framework of understanding and teaching feminist theory; she disapproves of Friedan’s Feminist Mystique being heralded as having paved the way for contemporary feminism.

“Like many white women who dominate feminist discourse [and] articulate feminist theory, Friedan has little or no understanding of white supremacy as a racial politic, of the psychological impact of class, of their political status within a racist, sexist, capitalist state.”

hooks claims that Friedan’s exclusionary feminism saw victims of sexism as college-educated, white women, “who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home” and these “specific problems and dilemmas of leisure-class white housewives were real” but were not “political concerns of masses of women [who were] concerned about economic survival, ethnic and racial discrimination.”

I believe this to be very similar to issues surrounding Wollstonecraft’s feminist discourse, since her insistence on allowing women to work neglected the experiences of non-white and poorer women who worked labour-intensive jobs and did not have the privilege in choosing to remain at home. Like most traditional literature which perpetuate a false universal identity that we all share, a central tenet of conventional feminist theory is the proclamation that ‘all women are oppressed’ which implies that there is a common experience. However, in reality, and throughout history, factors such as race, class, sexuality and religion have created an assortment of experiences which define the degree to which sexism oppresses individual women. Feminist theory and more female thinkers do indeed need to be incorporated into the discourse as a part of the decolonisation process. However, the aforementioned points must be taken into consideration, in order to successfully do this. Past feminist refusal, as seen in Wollstonecraft’s philosophy, to draw attention to, or even attack, racial hierarchies have not only repressed the relation between race and class but have reinforced white supremacy. Therefore, it is imperative that, when studying thinkers like Wollstonecraft, it should not be assumed that her feminism is applicable to all women, but rather an understanding that intersections, such as race and class, are prevalent through the study of non-white feminist theorists.

Evidently, this decolonising process in academia is beyond just incorporating a diverse range of thinkers. It is about disposing the notion that Western history is shared globally and accepting that there are significant intersections (race and gender particularly in this piece) that need to be included and taught in academia. This should not be interpreted as an attempt to eliminate the work of white, male thinkers but an acknowledgement that non-Western thinkers are not mere counter-arguments of the main conversation. Rather they should be perceived as part of, and integral to, the main discussion within academic studies.

 

Header image credits: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Ostracising Communities: An Ofsted-Approved Guide

Some weeks ago the head of Ofsted, the government-run department in charge of overseeing state schools, announced that inspectors would now begin to question young girls who wore hijabs to class.

The word ‘question’ in and of itself is an outright understatement. Perhaps ‘interrogate’ or ‘grill’ would be more accurate, since the intent behind this questioning is clear. Ofsted are looking for signs that the girl has been forced into wearing a hijab and that she has had no say in the matter. They are looking for indications that the child will become radicalised or, potentially, has become so already. Apparently it is not enough to scrutinize every adult Muslim you see walking down the street—now you must question the intentions of every six year old you stumble across as well.

These changes in Ofsted ruling play into the government’s recent policies regarding the Prevent agenda, a strand of their counter-terrorism strategy. In theory, Prevent was put in place to provide support for those who are at risk of being radicalised, but in reality it has resulted in Muslim students and young people feeling even more isolated from modern British society, thus having an entirely counterproductive effect. The more the government singles out and discriminates against young Muslims, the more ostracised they will feel and the more likely they are to resort to radical means.

In the same manner, the singling out of young Muslim girls, especially at such a young age, will result in them feeling the same way—that they are not like the other children, that they are different or somehow in the wrong, and it is likely that they will not even understand why. It is ironic that politicians and various right-wing parties make arguments about Muslims not integrating into British society, when the reason Muslims feel ostracised is largely due to the doing of the government itself.

Ofsted’s argument regarding their decision is that young girls wearing the hijab promotes their “sexualisation,” since the hijab is not usually worn until the onset of puberty, but this is not always the case. For myself, and many other young Muslim girls, the hijab is an article of clothing worn to convey their cultural identity or simply so they can look like the other women they know. In the same manner that young white girls put on oversized heels and messy lipstick to imitate their mothers, Muslim girls do the same by wearing hijabs, and they should not be singled out because of this choice. There is no malicious intent nor secret agenda behind it.

This is not to say that some Muslim girls are not forced to wear the hijab. In certain families, cultures or locations, this is the unfortunate truth, but very rarely is this the case for most young Muslims in the UK. The actions of the few should not become a standard upon which the government can judge the actions of the wider community, and this applies not only to the hijab but also the broader issues that affect the Muslim community. The more the government puts into discriminating against Muslims, the more stifled Muslims will feel. It’s as if they are Britain’s dirty little secret.

I find it difficult to imagine that a young Sikh boy who wore a turban to school or a young Jewish boy who wore a kippah (skullcap) would be asked the same questions or treated in the same way—or indeed that their clothing would be a point of conversation at all. This is where the problem lies. It is always, always Muslims, and the same issues are stressed and laboured upon over and over again for no good reason; it is merely scapegoating, the act of having someone to point a finger at when things go wrong.

You could argue that I’m overreacting, since I do have a personal stake in this. I was one of those girls, who wore a hijab to school, except back then it was only a piece of clothing and not a political statement. Unfortunately, now, we live in a climate where every step, every breath, every move a Muslim makes is questioned and questioned until they are either convicted—falsely or otherwise—or they are scared into giving up their identity, their spirit, and melding into the meaningless grey masses.

Bareerah Sayed is a third year English student at King’s College London, and the Political Affairs Editor for I RISE Magazine.

An Ode to Robina

 

Robina was a 70s dream,

Who lived for hot buttered toast and

Michael Jackson LPs.

Her first car was crashed by her dad when she was just eighteen

And she believed powerfully in her own daydreams.

 

Robina was a free-thinker, a dreamcatcher,

A go getter. She walked around her neighbourhood

With a bucket of toy soldiers in one hand and a pic ‘n’ mix in the other

And she adored her father and mother.

Whom she cared for like no other.

 

Robina was an amorous Walter Mitty,

Who dreamt of Darcy and Gilbert Blythe,

And of her place in their classic lives,

Roaming moors and mansions alike

As queen of the castle and as wife.

 

Robina was a smart arse

Guaranteed top of the class

Polite in every conversation

Ready and willing for confrontation.

 

Robina was a killer queen,

Dynamite with a laser beam

But now she’s got five mouths to feed-

 

So she gave me all those books to read.

 

Aqsa Ahmed is the Creative Writing Editor for I RISE Magazine.

Featured image credits.

My Week as a Muslim: A futile attempt at addressing Islamophobia in Britain

The first time I tried to watch My Week as a Muslim, I cried during the opening scene and slammed my laptop shut within twenty minutes.

It would be easy to dismiss this Channel 4 documentary as a misguided, shambolic failure and sweep it under the rug with a roll of the eyes and frustrated exasperation as we wonder when mainstream media will represent the Muslim narrative accurately. But I hesitate to do so. My Week as a Muslim has served as a troubling platform for bigots to validate their pre-existing Islamophobia, whilst undeservedly being allowed a voyeuristic view into the lives of a loving British Muslim family.

My Week as a Muslim follows the journey (read: series of racist monologues) of Katie, A Normal White Woman™ from Cheshire. Katie is welcomed into the home of Saima Alvi who is a British hijabi living in Manchester with her four children. Their two worlds collide and a shocking revelation sparkles in Katie’s newly racist-free eyes: Muslims are people. Before Channel 4, I didn’t know that.

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It opens with Saima and her family, standing side-by-side in their living room as they prepare to pray with an uncomfortable Katie looking on in silence. Saima’s youngest child begins the prayer in Arabic, proclaiming ‘Allahu Akbar’, meaning ‘God is Great’. Katie’s face crumples into fear, her jaw hanging open in shock and disgust. The scene is heart-breaking and infuriating. Katie has the gall and entitlement – awarded to her by a lifetime of being white – to stand in the living room of her host and openly prickle with fear at the phrase, ‘Allahu Akbar’. It’s not news that this phrase has been tarnished by extremists – terrorists and The Sun alike – to harangue Muslims. But if the intention of this documentary was to dispel the misconceptions Islamophobes cling to, why re-enforce these misconceptions? Why construct a blatantly fake, gratuitous situation which only deepens the very wounds which it seeks to heal? Why remind British Muslims watching that our faith is inherently feared and shunned?

The programme continues to follow Katie as she attempts to assimilate into the Birmingham Muslim community with the guidance of Saima. But nothing stops her from spouting her vitriolic abuse at and about Muslims: ‘banning burqas, banning headdresses would make people feel a lot happier, a lot safer’ because, as she admits, ‘I wouldn’t want to sit next to them [visible Muslims] because I would automatically assume they’d blow something up’. It always shocks me that women who claim to be so liberated, so free, so equal to their male counterparts – let’s not even get into their fear of the word ‘feminism’ – are so quick to ban burqas and impose clothing rules on women. Isn’t that exactly what they are so proud to represent: freedom? So why aren’t Muslim women free to wear what makes them comfortable? We don’t all need to be wolf-whistled on the street to feel confident and comfortable in our bodies. But that’s Western Enlightenment for you.

But the most infuriating and politically-deaf moment of the programme – and that which has received the most attention – is the moment Katie was brownfaced. Brown foundation is sprayed onto her skin as yellow teeth and a large nose mould are fitted onto her face. It is a disrespect on so many levels. Not all Muslims are brown Pakistanis. As a Pakistani Muslim myself, I was enraged at the effortless conflation of Pakistani and Muslim, validating the assumption that brown = Muslim. Sometimes, yes. But the producers conveniently forgot about black Muslims, white-passing Muslims, and white Muslims, in order to fulfil their controversial-for-a-good-cause martyrdom. The producer Fozia Khan oversimplifies the issue in her Guardian article, writing that Katie only ‘puts on makeup and changes her clothes to pass as Muslim’. It is not simply makeup; it is a symbol of oppression, ridicule, and a dismissal of centuries of racism – all the more pertinent considering British colonialism. It is not simply clothes; it is a signifier of faith, of modesty, of commitment – all values which Katie only two weeks ago would have assumed was a cover up for an explosive device.

It completely erases the authentic Muslim experience and instead places an undeserving bigot in the centre of a pseudo-emotional journey of self-improvement. Instead of educating viewers and curing ignorance, it selects an overt racist who is all too quick to change her views and is therefore painfully inaccurate compared to its thousands of viewers who are most likely unconvinced. In doing so, My Week as a Muslim perpetuates a over-valuing of racists and a de-valuing of real Muslim stories: we are encouraged to not sympathise with the words of Muslim women, but with the words of a white woman whose mother cried in fear when she saw her wearing a hijab.

My Week as a Muslim is a disappointing and counterproductive representation of the Muslim experience. But, since it is so detached from the Muslim community, there is one thing I am looking forward to: the intelligent, thought-provoking responses of Muslim women across the country who are righting this wrong.

(One example of this is Sabeena Akhtar’s collection of essays written by British hijabis, Cut from the Same Cloth. Fundraising page here: https://unbound.com/books/cut-from-the-same-cloth)  

 

Sara Malik is a BA English graduate from King’s College London, and is the Assistant Editor & Photographer of I RISE Magazine. 

Chuskipop – Celebrating Desi Feminism

Modern India has been ravaged by rampant misogyny – from the abominable rape culture to the hypersexualisation and objectification of women in the Indian Film industry. Every chauvinistic nook and cranny found in India stems from deep-rooted cultural issues, unfortunately imbibed in Indian society today.

Although there are a myriad of intersectional feminists who are fighting to dismantle the pillars of patriarchy, they seem to lack a certain brand of feminism that has been missing from India for so long – a brand of feminism that combines fighting against the oppression of women in India and simultaneously fighting for the sexual freedom, financial independence and greater recognition of the strength and power of your average Desi woman.

This void is steadily being filled by Chuskipop, an hour long, biweekly podcast by Sweety and Pappu, two proud Indian women who are unapologetically vocal about their body, sexuality, intellect and the power they yield as brown women.

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Chuskipop, “the Brainchild of Sweety”, as Pappu endearingly calls it, was created by Sweety as a “creative outlet to deal with the stress of moving” to Canada, far away from loved ones. Sweety, an artist based in Canada, decided to reach out to Pappu, a writer based in the Middle East and a childhood friend, to create something special, something that would help them connect with other Desi women all around the world. Pappu recalls being initially terrified and simultaneously flattered that Sweety chose to reach out to her. “I tend to be an introvert and I’m not the kind of person to openly voice my opinions a lot – but something stirred inside of me, which prompted me to say yes”.

We wanted to create something entertaining, raw and rebellious – something that celebrates Desi Female friendship”, quips Sweety. “We did this so we could create a safe space online, to voice our dissent through creativity”.

What’s interesting, puzzling and slightly melancholy is both women have decided to remain anonymous, adopting traditional Indian monikers Sweety and Pappu. “Well, both of us were born in the Middle East so we still have family there and Pappu still lives there – living in the Middle East, it’s kind of scary”, Sweety ponders, with slight discontent. The lack of freedom of speech and oppression against women in many parts of the region discouraged the Chuskipop duo to openly speak out. India’s conservative nature acted as an added deterrent – “a lot of our topics may not be taken the right way, especially in relation to relatives; we just didn’t want to run the risk of rubbing someone in the wrong way”.

Chuskipop’s popularity is evident from its steadily increasing social media following, which is no surprise at all. The hilarious, authentic podcasts range from topics about periods to the archaic concepts of marriage in the Indian community – topics that are incredibly relevant and relatable to the majority of Indian women, who want to speak up but may be scared of the repercussions it may bring. When talking about the possible expansion of the Chuskipop brand, Sweety mentions working towards making short films and animated shorts while Pappu talks about wanting to collaborate with specific charities who are involved in elevating the already powerful feminist movement in India.

The Chuskipop duo are also incredibly passionate about helping social causes, ranging from women’s empowerment to increasing the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in India. When asked about whether they had any interested in joining the Indian political scene, both of them fervently deny having any interest. “India has a very intense and frightening political landscape that neither Pappu nor I see ourselves being a part of. Although, we absolutely want to be part of the overarching social justice movement and fight alongside our peers, who need our support” muses Sweety.

In addition to the podcasts, Sweety also creates a very distinctive flavor of artwork that is inspired by 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Bollywood Heroines. The backdrop of the artwork consists of these golden divas, draped in heavy kajal and colourful prints, is fronted by powerful quotes such as ‘A woman does not have to be modest in order to be respected’ and ‘Behind every successful woman in a tribe of other successful women who have her back’. “We have been getting so many requests for prints, so we might work on that”, says Pappu.

 

The juxerposition of the quotes with the many actresses representing the stereotypical, submissive Indian woman is a direct hit to the Indian film industry and to the patriarchy that is, unfortunately, ruling India today.

Talking about 90’s Bollywood Heroines leads to Sweety reminiscing about her childhood and how almost every Bollywood movie was written through the ‘male gaze’ and male point of view – “it was honestly exhausting and boring. Growing up in the 90’s and being exposed to rape scene after rape scene was incredibly harmful for young girls – I grew up feeling very confused about sexuality and couldn’t process as to why men kept on physically abusing women in every single Bollywood movie I watched”.

“What frustrated me even more was every movie showing the Indian hero stalking his heroine until she succumbed to his advances and magically fell in love with him. The violent rape scenes, men slapping women to put them in their place or trying to steal their honor – it was horrifying. If this is all Indian men watched growing up, no wonder they feel like they are entitled to a woman’s time”.

Talking about whether the Indian film Industry has been sexually empowering towards woman, Pappu adds that the difference between objectifying women and sexually liberating them is “simple a matter of finding out who is writing/directing the specific movie and who its being written for. More often than not, Bollywood masala films with “Item songs” are written and directed by men, with men in mind as the audience”.

Although, Sweety does mention watching positive Bollywood sexual role models such as Helen, Rekha and Sridevi, woman who would “dance and strut around, blending naturally refined sexuality with power, humour and a whole load of sass”.

One of the aspects that are admiring and refreshing about Chuskipop is how sex positive if is – India, like most South Asian countries, is a very conservative country, where sex is a taboo subject in most households of almost every socio-economic level.

Sweety believes that India has a long way to go to become a sex positive nation for both men and women. “The nation harbors a very sexist and uninformed idea of women’s sexuality and it shocks me that we come from a culture that used to be very sex positive but is now so fearful of discussing a subject that is so natural and primal – sex plays such a big role in our daily lives”.  Although, she has hope that things will eventually change, Pappu adds that India needs a massive overhaul in social norms and the media’s portrayal of women. “The government can possible play a bigger role in education people about human sexuality, as long as they are well informed about it.”

But, for India to move towards becoming a more progressive, sex positive society, the horrifying and uncontrollable rape culture needs to end. “Sex being a taboo subject does play a small role in fueling rape culture, but it stems more from our patriarchal society and a strong desire for Indian men to be in constant control. The average Indian men is raised to believe that they are entitled to a woman’s body and her time whereas the average Indian woman is raised to be quiet and subservient”, says Sweety.

“Also, there is a strong tendency for victim blaming – the fact that the Indian legal system does not even recognize martial rape shows how broken our system is”, says Pappu. She adds, “When it comes to consent classes in India, our sex education does not impart clearly instructions on asking for consent and giving consent. We constantly mention on our podcast of how traumatic the extended rape scenes of 90’s Bollywood were – it was such a weird, hypocritical time where natural acts of showing affection were considered scandalous while no one batted an eye over rape scenes. Although, I can’t really say that the movies nowadays are any better”.

Marital rape not being considered illegal in India, when a spouse is over the age of fifteen, a fact which has sent shockwaves of disgust all over the feminist movement in India. It is also an issue that visibly angers the Chuskipop duo very much.

“Honestly, I’m used to conservative Desi women playing into the patriarchy”, sighs Sweety.

Maneka Gandhi, the Union Cabinet minister for women & children has justified this (might I add pathetically) by stating that the international definition of marital rape ‘can’t be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs etc.’. Sweety adds, “I’m not sure why illiteracy and poverty should be an issue, because martial rape can happen to anyone, regardless of their caste and creed. Obviously Maneka Gandhi has it very, very wrong, either she’s incredibly uninformed or playing a political game of chess. I know she used to be against marital rape, so I wonder if someone is pressuring her to say otherwise. There’s definitely no exceptions when it comes to marital rape – a man does not have any right over a woman’s body, no means NO. I’m not sure when it will be overturned, but from reading the news, there’s enough dissent around this issue so I’m hoping that things will change soon.

Pappu explains that “The most dangerous tide against the feminist movement in India is in the form of those who knowingly or unknowingly prescribe to an inherently patriarchal view of the world. Their inculcated social mores and codes are from a patriarchal standpoint. The fact that Maneka Gandhi, as the Minister for Women & Child Development, with her inherent patriarchy fails to recognize the basic human right for example the right to your own body, is shameful to say the least”.

Pappu and Sweety are also invested in changing the racist and ridiculous standards of beauty, embedded in Indian culture. Sweety described not even being shocked at VOGUE India’s decision to put Kendall Jenner as the cover model for their 10th anniversary.

“They’ve always been tone deaf when it comes to women of colour. VOGUE India is fixated on the same archaic concept of beauty – that light skin is more attractive and that brown, Desi women don’t have a place in this world. They are perpetuating the concept of India women, with their brown skin, curvy bodies and thick lips are just not good enough.”

Sweety also outlines the inherent misogyny in putting Sushant Singh Rajput, a Bollywood actor with Jenner. “Why did they replace Rajput with Channing Tatum – oh yeah, Desi men have to have a place in Indian society, why not cater to Indian male ego”.

I ask whether we’ll be able to know the identities of these two modern day Jhansi ranis.

Sweety answers, with a lot of conviction. “When we are ready to come out, we will”.

“I guess anonymity does have its inherent benefits – one of them is that the listener to place us to be anyone. We could be that girl riding next to you in the subway or that someone sitting across you at a café”, Pappu mentions.

Hopefully, one day, their candor will bring eventual change in India, enabling them to express their thoughts openly and freely.

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All Photos by Sweety and Pappu of Chuskipop

You can find Chuskipop on social media:

Website:  http://chuskipop.com/

Instagram: @chuskipop

Twitter: @chuskipop

 

Antara Dasgupta is a third year Chemistry student at King’s College London, and the Culture Editor for I RISE Magazine.