Is terror skin deep?

Walking in to work I am prompted to show my ID. Even those who have worked here for decades and present local TV and radio programmes are instructed to prove their identity when entering the building. The fatal attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris has left news organisations around the world feeling vulnerable. Suddenly, acts of terror feel closer to home than they ever have before. But what impact does this have on the average British Muslim trying to go about their daily life?

One of my best friends is Muslim and she wears the headscarf, or hijab, as well as the shoulder to toe loose-fitted garment, called the jilbab. I have grown up with personal and family friends wearing such traditional attire, so it isn’t something that stands out to me. However, after 9/11 I felt a palpable difference in how I was acknowledged in public when I was with her, or any other Muslim friend wearing a hijab. A few years later these attitudes seemed to dwindle. But more recently the attitudes are re-emerging.

Commonly, these are demonstrated through fearful or angry stares, people keeping a distance and sales or services staff showing the cold shoulder or arrogance. And all this because one of us is wearing a hijab.

What hasn’t helped is the growing attention on young Muslim women becoming radicalised. Namely, the three east London girls Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum who flew out to Turkey allegedly to head on to Syria. This has left people like my friend feeling more vulnerable in public and feeling discriminated against.

And it’s not just Muslim women. Anybody who appears to be Muslim is often tarnished with the same brush. I have relatives and friends who wear a turban and they are compared to Bin Laden. Of course it’s down to ignorance of faiths or just lack of education, but it is worrying that such stereotypes exist in a ‘modern’ western world where religious education is compulsory in the national curriculum.

It may seem like a crude comparison but it frustrates me that so much media attention is given to anti-Semitic attacks yet there is little, if any, recognition of how Muslims, or Asians in general, are feeling the side-effect of terrorism: hate crime and discrimination.

I work in the media yet agree the media has a large role to play in stereotypes. But are we all that naïve and impressionable? Can we not judge characters in a rational, mature manner?

Ironically, it is these very prejudice attitudes that are aiding radicals to fuel their fire and infiltrate extreme views into those who have experienced discrimination. Hate is the biggest cause of terrorism. And singling people out based on their appearance is hate!

We aspire to live in diversity and multiculturalism, yet we view anyone ‘different’ with fear or anger.

Grow up Britain. Not every Muslim is a radical; likewise not every White person is fascist.

The enemy within

Today was a black day for France and journalism.

The cold-blooded, unexpected and unprovoked killing of cartoonists at the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and two police officers, has stunned the nation. Such a bold attack by men who spoke fluent French and are thought to be French natives has reiterated a fear in the West – how do you deal with the enemy within?

Admittedly, I appreciate the frustration satire can evoke. As a Sikh, if one of my Guru’s was mocked in satirical animation, I would be angry. But not to the extent that I would condone revenge attacks, let alone murder!

As a journalist, I am fully in support of freedom of speech. Journalism has no bounds in creativity and producing thought-provoking material. And even if you don’t agree with what is being published, nobody deserves to be killed for satire.

The motivation of the attack has been to intimidate the media and to shackle freedom of speech. Ironically, I believe it has only strengthened journalistic prowess and determination. The mass support for Charlie Hebdo the world over is testament to this.

Journalists have long been attacked, ridiculed and hated. As such, they’re probably seen in the same light as politicians. But one thing is for sure, if there were no journalists (and I’m not saying they’re all honourable but I believe the majority are) how would we hold people to account? How would we learn about news the world over? How would we gain different perspectives of an argument? How would we educate and be provoked to think?

One thing is for sure – fear of terrorism is at its peak. Acts of terror range from mass scale, such as 9/11, which shook the world and transformed travel protocol, to amateur attacks by individuals who go on an angry rampage, such as the recent case in Canada. In between, there are calculated, well-planned acts involving sophisticated weaponry, such as the attack today.

I doubt Paris will sleep tonight in fear of the attackers who are on the run. Crucially, will they attack again? Moreover, will there be reprisal attacks on French Muslims who have nothing to do with this but may be scapegoated in this so-called jihadi war.

Yet, when I went to Paris last year I admired the multicultural mix of the city. People of all faiths, practising and non-practising, were living in solidarity. I hate to think how fear and anger from today’s events will impact the otherwise peaceful people of Paris.

Could journalism come to the rescue to prevent further social upheaval? After all, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Will women ever receive equal footing to men?

A certain video has gone viral in the last week and been the talk of South Asians across the world. The video in question features a particular ‘Deepeh’ and his friend who have received heroic status on social media. The woman in the video, on the other hand, has been branded a slut. All three participated in the same act so why the stark contrast in how they are being judged by society?

It absolutely sickens me that the guy who filmed the intimate liaison in a hotel room decided to share it online. Allegedly the girl had no idea he was going to do this. Personally, I believe it was naïve and downright stupid of her to allow any kind of filming to go on. Let’s face it, when it comes to sexual photos or videos it’s not long before they’re leaked, be it deliberately or not.

But this chap shared the video online himself. He was gloating with pride at his actions – a shame he doesn’t realise he is possibly the scariest thing I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing!

I’m no one to judge what people get up to behind closed doors. In fact you’d be surprised at what the most innocent looking on the streets could get up to in the privacy of the bedroom. But keep it private. Why share it? And that too in the age of the internet where videos can go viral worldwide in minutes?

Apart from the stupidity of the three involved in the making of the video, the biggest shock has been the reaction of people online. Overnight, Deepeh and his mate have become idols and gained kudos. However, the woman has been identified, her identity shared and she has been slaughtered with taunts that would scar her and her family forever.

in the 21st Century, where equality is seen as a basic human right and most people in the developed Western world are literate (or at least received some sort of schooling) I am stunned at the sexist, patriarchal and chauvinist views that are rife in men AND women. And these are no different to views shared by social media users in the East.

So it seems no matter whether you’re from the developing or developed world, views and opinions on the equality of women have failed to evolve.

Will women ever be considered equal to men? Will they always be accused of dishonour and shame when there is always a man involved as well but he will escape being a social scapegoat?

I recently wrote about whether women are to blame for sexual attacks, which is commonly thought in South Asia. But this week’s viral video proves the opinion is widespread the world over, regardless of socio-economic status, education or exposure to the modern world.

For a guy to share such a video and gloat – what does that say about his upbringing? His lack of respect for women must’ve been nurtured and not nature because not all men are like that. I wonder how he would feel if his sister was exposed in such a way.

It amazes me that people will take drastic actions like sharing intimate videos online, without considering the consequences. It’s not just the three involved that have been affected. Imagine what the families of each of them must be going through.

Thankfully, a recent legislation has made it illegal for revenge porn to be shared. Hopefully, this will be a deterrent for bitter or jealous ex-lovers to expose their past partners when they were intimate.

Unless you’re a Kim Kardashian who has no route to fame other than a sex video, I’m sure no woman would want her private life branded as entertainment and to be judged by a prejudiced society.

New Year, new start…or is it?

Over the festive period there is a build-up of excitement – Christmas, holidays and the New Year. We talk of new resolutions and fresh starts, but do we actually turn a new leaf or drag the past with us?

I’m a firm believer in positivity – negative attitudes are such a turn-off. But even I find it difficult to let go of some past experiences that have hurt or angered me. I try to see the positive in every situation. I seek to find what I have gained or learnt from an experience that would otherwise be seen as upsetting or sad. But is it human nature to cling on to some aspects of the past even when you know it’s best not to?

I’m short tempered – which a lot of you reading this may have experienced the wrath of (!) but a lot of the time I lose it when I am passionate about something. Granted, that’s not the best excuse to justify my anger but I’d rather be passionate than indifferent or unenthusiastic.

This outburst often occurs when I haven’t let go of a situation that has evoked negative emotion. I think many girls are guilty of this (and many guys but they have a different way of expressing it). Us ladies fall foul of not raising concerns at the time and let them simmer at the back of our minds. Over time, these thoughts are exacerbated by other situations, which may or may not be relevant but by that point we have reached an irrational state of mind because of the overflow of simmering thoughts.

It sounds ridiculous and easily avoidable. All you have to do is speak your mind, communicate and explain your feelings rather than boiling up internally. But so many of us do it I can’t help but wonder whether its human nature.

Maybe we do it so not to hurt another person’s feelings (which is ironic because ultimately an outburst will hurt the other person anyway). Maybe we do it because we’re too lazy or afraid to have the conversation or consider the consequences. Or maybe we just ignore it thinking time will heal.

The fact is things can only change for the better if we take action. We can only turn over a new leaf if we make the effort. There can only be a new start if we communicate our feelings.

I’m hoping 2015 will be the year where I put these words into action and either let go of my thoughts with conversation, or let go of them altogether.

Who would’ve thought Disney could pen lyrics that could affect all ages!

Let it go, let it go…

Happy New Year!

Are women to blame for sexual abuse?

Abuse on women in India has been hitting the headlines for the past few years, especially after the horrific Delhi gang rape in 2012. Since then many people have come forward and blamed women for wearing provocative clothing or being out ‘too late’, thus attracting such behaviour. On Sunday, actress Gauhar Khan was slapped by an audience member, thus refuelling this argument.

She was hosting a TV programme when a young man, 24-years-old, accused Gauhar of dressing inappropriately as a Muslim woman and then slapped her.

This is a notion echoed by many who accused the Delhi gang rape victim of being out too late thus putting herself at risk of sexual abuse. Likewise, another Indian girl who was filmed being inappropriately touched by a group of men as she left a club was blamed for this treatment.

I have one question to people who blame the victims: rape takes place all over the world, even in the most conservative and remote communities where women will cover head to toe – are they provoking sexual abuse?

Rape is the worst crime against a woman. Her honour, self-respect, confidence are all violated and scathed forever. Rape leaves mental and spiritual scars that last forever. In a country like India, there is a domino-effect of being shunned by society so your personal, family, social and career prospects are ruined forever.

And now another question for those who believe women provoke sexual abuse: imagine if it was your mother, sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend – how would you feel?

India is a democracy. Or at least that’s what its constitution dictates. How a woman dresses, acts, talks, where she goes and at what time is personal choice. Equality and human rights are legislations that reinforce this.

So why are women expected to cover in sacks, be hardly seen and never heard, remain in the background and not dare dream of a bright future?

Why is their morality questioned if they choose to wear a skirt yet a man who will perversely look or attempt to touch a passing woman is commended by his friends?

When will we grow out of a patriarchal, chauvinist world where a woman is blamed for whatever ill treatment she received whereas a man goes scot-free?

Grow up narrow minded, ignorant people – you have mothers, sisters and daughters. Deal with the filthy animals who can’t keep their flies zipped before you question a woman’s liberties.

Is romance dead?

I have come across some interesting encounters with men who have evolved – or regressed (depending on your point of view) – with how they approach women. Its led me to a sombre thought – is romance dead?

Of course – it all depends on what romance means to you. My family is Hindi cinema crazy so I’ve been exposed to Bollywood films from when I was conceived! And there’s no doubt Hindi films are the most romantic. The focus is on surrealism – to escape reality and instil hope. So as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a hopeless romantic deep down (shhh don’t tell anyone!)

As I’m constantly reminded by friends and family, I am at an age when I need to ‘settle down’ – in fact many believe I’m past the sell-by date (!) so the ‘proposals’ are flying in. It seems age, height and education are the most important factors to try to set someone up for marriage – I won’t digress on how I feel about that. The point is people who appear to have the best intentions (friends and relatives) have introduced me to men or I have been approached with marriage proposals.

If you’re not Asian this may sound pretty full on. How could you think about marriage as soon as you meet someone? Asians think (at least the elders anyway) – why bother getting to know someone if there isn’t a potential for marriage?

Now this is what changed everything.

You would think that being approached by someone on a night out would lead to just one thing. They would have short-term intentions for a physical relationship. Whereas if you have been approached with a marriage proposal or recommended through family, the intentions would be honourable because you would respect the middle person or the fact that marriage is a potential…right?

Wrong.

I have found that some, not all, but a significant number of men (or boys) feel it’s acceptable to proclaim their sexual desires or intention to ‘have fun’ as soon as they get to know you. Initially I was very angry at the audacity of such a bold proclamation but now I feel quite bewildered at the modern approach to romance. Inhibitions have been lowered. People are more confident to say exactly what they feel.

I had questioned whether I was letting off some kind of vibe that triggered such treatment. But I didn’t have to look far to realise this isn’t an alien feeling. My friends – many my age, some younger and others older, have and still are experiencing the exact same thing. It doesn’t appear to be an age thing. It doesn’t appear to be a race/ethnicity thing. It doesn’t appear to be a cultural thing.

It’s across the board.

Maybe men are dictated by their sexual desires and the gentleman persona is just a front to woo a woman. Maybe the intention has always been the same but their method of achieving it has changed. Or maybe life is just so fast-paced now that people are living in the moment without a care for the future.

Either way, suffice to say, such men will not reach their goal – unless they are lucky enough to come across a woman with similar intentions or is feeling vulnerable so needs that feeling of being wanted. Each to their own I guess.

But I will maintain the hope that Hindi cinema has brainwashed me with and hold out for that whirlwind romance that will literally sweep me off my feet. You can only but hope!

After all – ‘someone, somewhere, is made for you…’ (Dil To Pagal Hai, 1997)

Is dowry a dwindling tradition?

In the news I heard yet another tragic story relating to dowry – a woman had been abused by her in-laws because she hadn’t brought ‘adequate’ dowry when she married into their home. This case was in India, where such cases are rife. But are they as commonplace here in the UK?

For those of you who are wondering what on earth I’m on about – in Indian culture; when a daughter is married off, her in-laws are given countless gifts which can vary from money, clothes and gold jewellery to furniture, cars and even properties! This is known as dowry.

Some refer to it as ‘selling your daughter’.

Other cultures across the world have different forms of dowry too and it seems the obvious reasoning behind it is to appease the new family (your child’s in-laws) in the hope that they will treat your child well. It’s an ancient tradition that has been practised across Asia and North Africa. But is there a place for it in the modern world?

I must admit it’s a custom that makes me feel very uncomfortable. It’s led to lifetimes of domestic abuse for women at the hands of their in-laws who feel their son has more value than what his wife has brought with her. I know of a case close to home where the bride was sent home soon after the marriage because the dowry was considered insufficient. Eventually she was accepted back but even after she married her own children her husband continues to be disappointed with the dowry she brought decades ago.

In extreme cases women have been physically and mentally abused, murdered or outcast by the in-laws.

That sickens me.

Such families demonstrate arrogance and ignorance beyond belief. And the irony is a lot of the time the boy is damn lucky to end up with the wife that he has. But oh no, he’s a boy so he’s born with the right to be showered with luxury at his wedding that he hasn’t earned or worked for. And that’s another thing – the bride’s family pay for the wedding and have a double whammy with the dowry…who the hell sets these customs? It’s no wonder girls are unwanted children in India.

Surely you should be looking at the values instilled in the girl who will then be the mother of your children or grandchildren. Her qualities are invaluable and will base the future of your family. Tangible things will come and go but can you put a price on respect, love and etiquette?

Love marriages are becoming the norm in the British Indian community so there isn’t the added pressure of whether or not a family will accept a girl based on the dowry because the couple are in love so the families have to succumb to their wish. However, there is still a culture of appeasing the boy’s family for the girl to be treated well by her in-laws in future.

Although second, third and even fourth generation British Indians here are educated, accustomed to the British way of life and thousands of miles away from India where dowry is commonplace (although its illegal!); the practice remains.

My aunt was married here and my family gave so much in the dowry that her in-laws literally couldn’t fit it in their home. I can’t help but wonder if that was to appease the family so that my aunt would be treated well or if it was a sign of arrogance on my family’s part…

Suffice to say, I won’t be continuing any such nonsense if and when I get married. If a man and his family refuse a girl based on dowry, it’s God’s blatant sign for you to get out while you can! Save yourself a lifetime of misery with a backward, arrogant and ignorant family!

If a man really loves you, he’ll marry you regardless of how lavish or simple your wedding day, and even if you enter a married life with literally just the clothes on your back.

I hope the next generation of British Indians will put an end to the vile custom of dowry and prevent the headache, heart ache and debt of so many families!