Are Trump and Farage our alter ego, or our reflection?

I had only just got over Britain’s vote to leave the European Union when the shock of a divisive reality TV star winning the most important position in the world stunned me.

Maybe this was predicted. The only constant in elections is that polls cannot be trusted so maybe we should’ve expected Donald Trump to be elected President and we should’ve expected Nigel Farage to ‘win’ with Brexit. Even at the 2010 general election polls predicted Nick Clegg was serious competition for Labour and the Conservatives – quite extraordinary for a – then – new MP so early in his career. Instead the Lib Dems didn’t quite stir the ballot box as much as they thought their poster boy could influence, but he made it as Deputy PM – suppose we can give him that!

But on to the present, it seems politicians who the media find divisive and regressive for modern, literate democracies are in fact swaying voters. Be it the largest democracy in the world; India, where Narendra Modi made it to PM. At the time the Western world saw his win as a step back for India because of his controversial history but the majority of the country (of over one billion people) backed him.

Likewise with Brexit – the media was convinced leaving the EU would be a catastrophe nobody in their right mind would vote in favour of. Even David Cameron was so convinced he had the public’s backing that he called for a referendum to shut-up the likes of UKIP supporters. And how sorry he looked on the morning of the Brexit result when he resigned, which to me proved he no longer understood the electorate or the demands of the – albeit small – majority. The result was so very close to 50:50.

And more recently, there is the race for the American presidential candidate. When Barack Obama won eight years ago, the world rejoiced. The first Black man in the world’s top job; now that’s what was seen as modernity, development, prosperity. Hopes were high for the first female president to break the record this year if Hilary Clinton were to win. Instead, a man who has no history in politics, is a TV reality star and managed to lose billions with his ‘business mind’ won the hearts of Americans by a significant majority. 

This is the man who wanted to ban Muslims in America. This is the man who wants to build a wall between neighbouring Mexico. This is the man who was recorded making sexist comments. Yet he appealed to the Latino, Muslim and female voters. Why?

In my broadcast career I have worked for stations that appeal to various demographics – young, old, various races and ethnicities, various social groups. And the one common factor in all of these audiences is prejudice. More often than not, I have come across listeners and viewers – and maybe the loudest don’t speak for the majority – who are, quite frankly, racist. It could be a White person, Asian or Black – there has always been a sense of “them and us”, dislike for other communities with a tinge of threat felt by diversity.

And it doesn’t just stop at racism – sexism, casteism, homophobia, faith prejudice; I have come across it all no matter which broadcast outlet I have worked at. And even in my social circles – be it family, friends, colleagues – some people are overtly prejudice and some have an undertone of dislike for people who are different to them.

This leads me to question are we all racist? Do we dislike people who are different to us? Is there a fear of the other?

Quite often us journalists get wrapped up in our own liberal worlds where we decide right and wrong and judge others if they fall out of our parameters of right-mindedness. But maybe there is an innate insecurity in everyone of different communities, maybe they’re seen as a threat to personal development or their differences are ridiculed as being degenerate. This could explain why so many residential areas across the country are segregated; people tend to stick to their own, or why there has been an increase in reported hate crime.

It may seem like sweeping generalisations, and maybe I’m high on coffee on a 5.30am train to London but just think about it. How many of your relatives and friends have expressed distaste or looked down on people from other communities, the other gender, other ethnicities, sexual orientation, caste or class? 

It’s a sombre thought but maybe the rise in political correctness and diplomacy was just a smokescreen to make us feel we’re educated, moral and progressive people. Now that the mist is clearing, the real us is exposed; raw and indifferent to what others think because of disdain in the political system and all that it brings with it – rising cost of living, employment challenges, NHS waiting lists, spiralling cost of a decent education.

I’m not entirely sure how to end but to question how many Donald Trumps and Nigel Farage’s I know. We may be in the 21st Century, living in the developed Western world but our mindsets may never evolve from cave man days of fight what you fear, or run away from it.

Should Sikh gurdwaras be open to mixed marriages?

Should Sikhs be able to marry whoever they like? Course they can – like anybody of any other faith.

But can they marry anybody in a gurdwara (Sikh temple)..? That’s not a simple answer.

Most religions dictate that you should marry somebody of the same faith. Of course that isn’t always taken as gospel – no matter which religion you identify with. After all – love is blind. Your heart doesn’t look at race, colour or creed before it sets on somebody.

But major world faiths take the view that marriage with somebody of the same belief is more practical and effective. And to some extent I agree that it’s easier to be with somebody who has the same/similar principles as you. It would be easier to raise a family if you have a joint understanding of faith too.

But it’s not impossible to have a successful marriage and family if you both follow different religious paths.

In a progressive society we come across people from all backgrounds. It’s only a fact of probability that people of different views will be attracted to each other. Enter – mixed marriages.

In recent years there have been public protests over mixed marriages in gurdwaras. The Akal Takht (the Sikh governing body) passed guidance that a Sikh should only marry a Sikh.

But who do you class as Sikh? This is a much more complicated question than it looks at face value. Being born into a Sikh family surely doesn’t define you as a Sikh, does it?

Taking different perspectives and religious doctrine in to consideration, last year Sikh Council UK made an agreement with all UK gurdwaras that a Sikh can have an Anand Karaj (Sikh marriage) with anybody who believes in, or adopts, Sikh values.

There are many Sikh principles and to avoid a religious studies lecture; some of the basics are – believe in one God, make an honest living, believe in and exercise equality and take God’s name (pray).

These principles mean different things to different people. Hence, every religion has sub-sects of groups who practice in different ways.

For a Sikh to marry somebody not born/baptised a Sikh; the partner has to agree they believe in Sikh principles and prove this by adopting Singh (male) or Kaur (female) in their name.

I spoke to Gurmail Singh from Sikh Council UK who gave several examples of this marriage policy working. He pointed out that Sikhism believes in equality – it doesn’t discriminate against race, ethnicity, caste or any other social standing (at least you’re not meant to). But to honour the Anand Karaj – where you’re taking vows based on Sikhism – you have to demonstrate you respect/believe in that very faith.

Otherwise – why would you be so precious to have an Anand Karaj?

However, not all gurdwaras have been practicing this policy.

And some Sikhs who don’t agree with this policy, have protested at a Sikh marrying a non-Sikh in a gurdwara. Incidents have occurred where the couple’s big day has been disrupted and they may not even be aware of the marriage policy passed by Sikh Council UK.

There was controversy at the recent protests by Sikh Youth UK at Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington Spa, where 55 people were arrested, many of whom were in possession of a ceremonial dagger (kirpan).

Although they claim this was a peaceful protest – I can only go by what I have seen of mobile footage circulated online – there is no doubt if it was your wedding, you would feel intimidated by dozens of men wanting to put a stop to your celebration.

No doubt I am going to offend many Sikhs who do not agree with me – and everybody is entitled to an opinion – but surely what should be taken from this is that young Sikhs want to have an Anand Karaj.

If their faith meant nothing to them they could just have a registry marriage and disregard their religion altogether. In order for a faith to survive, it needs to embrace modernity and adapt to changing times.

This is a challenge faced by all religions and the answers are not always clear because faith and practice are so unique to individuals.

Having said that, I respect tradition and customs. But not all religious customs are set in stone. The Sikh Gurus promoted equality.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji said we are human before Hindu or Muslim – so if a human wants to take the Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s blessings for marriage, the living Guru, who are we mere mortals to be an obstacle in a person’s dreams?

I’m anticipating a backlash to these words. Even people in my own friends and family circle will not like what they’re reading. But I’m saying this with pride and confidence as a Sikh who is part of a progressive faith that sees every person as equal.

If there was more love in the world, there would not be so many boundaries.

Does preaching make you humble?

How many of you know somebody who constantly quotes religious scriptures or will be seen active in public service at the local temple, yet their morality is questionable?

This popped in conversation at work and it turns out everyone – and we’re all from different ethnic backgrounds and faith identities – but all of us could think of at least one example.

As a child, my parents encouraged me to go to the gurdwara (Sikh temple) every Sunday. This was partly because I attended Punjabi classes there but also because they wanted to instil faith in me from a young age.

By the time I got to college, I started to notice many of the people whose parents would boast about their “good” children who practised their faith, were another picture the night before on Birmingham’s clubbing scene.

Now you might say it takes one to know one – of course I was on a night out to notice these people enjoying themselves, and most of them were just having fun, as we all do. But it’s those few who feign this mask of humility and judge others for their care-free lifestyle, yet act in the most disrespectful way when their guard is down, which truly irritates me.

Why can’t these people just be who they are, all the time? Why must they lie and act God-fearing, yet in privacy be deceitful and malicious? Why must you be judged on how often you go to the gurdwara instead of your good deeds in everyday life?

And the bigger question – why do some ‘religious types’ think its okay to quote religious scriptures to the world yet treat the opposite sex in the most perverse manner?! 

I suppose the same could be said for the gossips at places of worship. I’ve always found it laughable that people – and it’s not just women who are guilty of this – will come to the House of God and rather than focus their attention on worship, they’ll be exchanging sneers and comments on others, or juicy snippets of gossip!

Moreover, the management of places of worship – again this is across all faiths – seems to be power battles of the older generation – who clearly have little other focus in their lives – play the political charade that is ‘management committees’. The corruption in some places of worship is shocking and makes you question whether people really are fearful of the God they claim to believe in.

Of course these are generalisations. Not all worshippers are immoral or corrupt. I’m referring to the few religious types who act one way to maintain a public image, yet go against the basic principles of their faith by being deceitful, disrespectful and lying. Do they have a conscience?

At the end of it all, there is only one judge and jury who the truth can never be hidden from. And He should be feared.

Where is the honour in honour crime?

“Honour crime” is a term I find so frustrating for two reasons – quite often Western media coin this term for any form of domestic abuse involving South Asians, and secondly I fail to understand how hurting, or worse, killing your own flesh and blood could be honourable in any way.

The term first hit home personally when five years ago my home was broken into, which left my father shot in the chest and brother stabbed in the abdomen. By the grace of God, the injuries were not life-threatening. However, the police inquired whether it was an honour crime…can you believe it?!

Apparently a witness had seen an argument between me and one of the attackers – who was White – and from this the detective investigating the case questioned if that was my boyfriend who apparently came to attack my father because he allegedly was against the relationship. The detective clearly asked: “is this an honour related incident?”

I’ll never forget those words because it was such an absurd conspiracy he had concocted from virtually no evidence and based it on my ethnicity. Ridiculous!

Ironically, if this story had circulated as a rumour at the time then it would be considered dishonourable by my family and community – an Indian girl with a White man.

In the past week, something much more sinister happened in the name of so-called family honour.

A brother killed his sister because he believed she was bringing shame onto her family.

This sister happened to be a Pakistani social media star, Qandeel Baloch, who exercised her freedom to speak her mind, act as she wished and wear what she desired. But such basic human rights many of us women exercise were unbearable for her brother.

If any consolation can be found in the 26-year-old’s tragic story, then it’s her elderly father who described her as his son and “best friend”. I find it amazing that somebody from the older generation had no qualms with her lifestyle, yet her brother, who was a year younger than her (25), was proud of murdering her. Shocking!

Violence, mental abuse and murder in the name of honour are nothing new in South Asian cultures. It’s often directed at women but men can also be subjected to it if they’re considered to be bringing shame to the family.

It’s not just archaic traditions that impose certain expectations on people to live a certain way, marry people from a certain community, dress a certain way, and so on; but the overriding misogynist view of supressing women.

Female empowerment is intolerable by people who exercise such warped views. And this fear is usually rooted by insecurity.

If a woman shows she is intelligent and talented enough to have a career, bold enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with men, hardworking enough to hold a family simultaneously and courageous enough to speak her mind; she is showing she doesn’t need a man – be he in the form of a protective father, brother or husband. This must freak insecure men out.

A few years ago my cousin said something that we found funny at the time but it clearly defines patriarchy that exists in British Asians too.

She wasn’t allowed to cut her hair short because it “doesn’t look very respectable”. She would say “the whole family’s izzat [honour] lies in my hair”. Yet her brother could cut his hair however he liked.

As I said, it may sound comical but this was a simple act of freedom she was not allowed to exercise, despite being born and raised in Britain.

Another frustrating thing about patriarchal thinking is the blame on women. Victims of rape are often blamed because they were at the wrong place or dressed inappropriately or somehow luring a man to a state that he can’t control where he forces his genitalia.

One of the most read newspapers in Britain, The Sun, ran a headline this week that did just that: elude to a rape victim’s responsibility over what she endured.

The paper’s tweet claiming “Woman ‘drank six Jagerbombs in ten minutes on the night she was raped and murdered’” received a huge backlash from men and women questioning why the woman’s alcohol consumption had anything to do with her rape and murder.

It’s this sort of character profiling and stereotyping of women being a certain way if they do certain things that feeds into misogyny and claims of dishonour. And this paper is far from South Asia where such attitudes are often reported about.

I too have faced hurdles of what my family does or doesn’t permit because as a girl there are things that don’t bode well in the community.

But can you ever please a community? People who have no lives of their own will snoop on others – usually through mediums like Facebook – and judge others because they simply have nothing better to do.

Qandeel Baloch was a celebrity and she faced the same backlash, but that didn’t hinder her spirit to live her life as she pleased.

Before people question their daughters, they need to question their sons who sexually abuse women verbally, physically and mentally.

If they don’t like their sister being looked at in a derogatory way, why do they feel its okay to look at another man’s sister in the same manner?

If you fear your sister being treated or perceived in a certain way, it’s most likely because you look at women in that same light. What does that make you?

Why must women be repressed or abused because of others’ insecurity?

Live, love, laugh…

I’ve spent a week with my nieces who are at an age where magic and fairytales are the first and last things they think about in a day. You’ve passed their tough approval test if they name you after a Disney princess – but Jasmine, Rapunzel and Aurora are off the cards because these titles are reserved for their mum and them. My title seems to vary from day to day…

Dressing in “pwetty” dresses, wearing princess jewellery complete with crowns (tiaras) and Princess Anna and Elsa hair (c’mon, you must know them from Frozen) you step into a land far, far away. A land of imagination, magical fairy dust, where everything is “bootiful” according to two-year-old Mahi.But there are some relapses when fantasy merges with reality. Age gets the better of them and they’re due a visit to the naughty step. When one gets told off, the other gets upset and tries to negotiate a way to their freedom. It’s almost like watching sisterly love in Frozen being played out in front of me!

And minutes later, after the crying and moaning they’re back in their princess world where everything is pink, “pwetty” and “bootiful”. It’s as simple as that.

Watching their childhood unfold before me, I can’t help but wonder how my childhood flew by so quickly. How did the blassé life of no worries, playing all day and being rewarded by questionable amounts of sweets by my gran – all fade away? When did life become so serious and challenging? Why can’t I let it go (promise no more Frozen references but I’ve seen the film so many times this week!) and move on as easily as I did when we bickered as kids? 

I’ve fallen into this rat race of do’s and dont’s, expectations, demands and living up to roles at home or at work. When do you get a break from these roles to immerse yourself into a magical world of endless possibility? To just break away from the monotony of reality and give the mind and soul a much-deserved vacation?

It’s taken me a week with my nieces to realise how beneficial a break from ‘normal’ is to remain sane. By thinking and playing like a little princess, my mind feels lighter and cleansed by everyday smog that mounts and weighs me down.

Unleashing the inner princess, even for a few moments, can make you realise a situation that may seem like the be-all-and-end-all; is simply a chapter of your adventurous fairytale that you’ll get through to reach your happy ever after.

Is scaremongering the best way to persuade?

Fear is a powerful emotion that everyone can relate to. It’s often used to sway opinion and evoke reaction. There is no better example than UKIP leader Nigel Farage this week encouraging people to “bully” others to vote out of the EU if “we want our country back”. It got me thinking – is scaremongering the best way to persuade?

It seems politicians often use fear and anxiety to predict a grim picture of the future, unless voters take their side.

During the British Raj in India, authorities adopted a divide and rule approach to justify how and when they left India. Dividing a once united nation for independence to believe a separate state for Muslims was crucial resulted in 200-years vented frustration over British occupancy being diverted to the potential of another alleged dictatorship by the Hindu majority.

Paradoxically, the majority of Muslims remained in India after the partition. And what ensued has marred families for decades. The partition of India in 1947 made friends enemies, and millions of lives were lost. Seventy years on, tension in the region is still rife. But the British authorities made an escape, avoiding bloody anarchy against them.

This political charade is no less today – we were made to fear weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify a war that claimed countless lives and probably gave birth to many more terrorists. But those weapons were nowhere to be found.

Since unrest in the Middle East, we have heard constant media reports on the “migrant crisis”, implying there is an “unprecedented” situation. Such terms do nothing but exacerbate an issue and convince people there is a problem they should be afraid of.

I am in no way condemning the number of migrants seeking refuge in Europe is not an issue. But the way in which it is reported and spoken about by politicians and the media is grossly exaggerated and makes me wonder what our attention is being diverted from…

Donald Trump has been swaying voters in America with his distrust and fear-spreading rhetoric about migrants, and Muslims in particular. Such preaching has a powerful impact on people who may not go out of their way to read up on the facts, to inform themselves of the truth. It’s a worrying thought that people who listen to the loudest, scariest voice will base all their political views on it.

Likewise with the recruitment of extremists: terrorist groups use fear and scaremongering to brainwash people that the world is against them, their faith and their beliefs to justify the slaughter of all those who are different to them.

And I’m not only referring to Islamic extremists – there are radicals from all faiths and cultures. The recruitment process works in the same way.

As I learn more about the world; working in news, speaking to more people with different perspectives and experiences – I’m growing more aware of the impact of scaremongering.

Ironically, I’m afraid of how the world is evolving and how this will impact my unborn children and generations to come.

Maybe it’s easier to believe charismatic and charming people than making the effort to educate and forming an opinion of your own. Maybe it’s easier to be herded like a sheep than having the courage and strength to stand your own ground. Maybe its human nature to be easily influenced and there are the few who are bold enough to carve their own way.

But it is these few that change history forever. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela’s legacies leave me with a glimmer of hope that positive persuasion can empower people.

Does empowerment for Indian women mean they need to bare all?

I came across an Indo-Canadian artist’s latest work on Buzzfeed India in which she portrays “Badass Indian Pinups” and I couldn’t help but feel both impressed and bewildered.

Nimisha Bhanot is a creative and talented artist – there is no doubt about that. But her recent series of paintings illustrating confidence and independence in Indian women got me wondering what empowerment is truly about.

Her paintings are seductive and colourful, which entices you as a viewer. There’s a cheeky play on stereotypes and all the women appear to be staring at you in defiance – mocking Indian tradition of the lowered gaze being a sign of a respectable woman. I especially like the painting called “Serving Looks, Not Nashtha” (breakfast).

But in all of the pictures, the women are baring their legs, and others go on to bare more flesh. Now those who know me will know I’m far from the timid, conservative type. In fact, I have challenged archaic traditions in my own household to wear whatever I like that elders once considered dishonourable – like sleeveless tops and make-up!

But these paintings implying Indian women can only be independent by baring their skin troubles me. By this logic, is a woman who dresses moderately trapped by restrictions?

Surely, independence and empowerment for anybody – man or woman of any race – is to be able to exercise freedom of speech, dress and (to some extent) action. I say the latter with caution because of course an act that harms others isn’t empowerment, its abuse.

I find it so frustrating when I hear people assuming women who wear headscarves (hijab) or face veils (niqab) are trapped in a patriarchal society. I suppose it can’t be denied that some of them may be forced to be wearing them but why can’t the world see that some women opt to cover themselves. The fact that they are choosing to dress as they wish is the very core of empowerment. It may insinuate otherwise to the rest of the world but just because somebody wants to interpret it as a negative doesn’t automatically deplete the positive.

I was once asked by a friend if I would ever wear a bikini in front of my brothers. I said “no” (not least because they would ridicule me as expected in sibling banter) but this wasn’t because I wasn’t permitted. It’s because I would feel embarrassed for them and for myself. And that’s the Indian cultural upbringing in me coming out. Does that imply I’m repressed?

What if we flip this to the opposite sex – are men who reveal their abs or bare their pins more empowered than those who don’t? Sounds ridiculous right?

I was discussing this with a friend who is originally from Poland and her understanding of Indian attire is that its very seductive – if you think about sarees in which the midriff is exposed – but they are still elegant. In my friend’s words: “You don’t have to bare skin to be sexy” – and I completely agree. I mean let’s face it, Catwoman is covered from neck to toe but she oozes sex appeal! Okay, so maybe I’m digressing. And sex appeal is different to female empowerment but these paintings are sexy.

If Nimisha Bhanot is reading this – its nothing personal. Your work is great. I just don’t think bare flesh is the key to emancipation. If anything, it further highlights narrow minded views of strong women having to use beauty to excel.