BLACK WEDNESDAY

Mumbai July 2011 BombingMumbai -Tune into any news channel today, and all you’ll hear are reports about yesterday’s bombings. The three serial blasts that shook Mumbai on the 13th of July have given the media a new term to play around with – BLACK WEDNESDAY (Like ‘Black Friday’ wasn’t enough to deal with!).
When I first heard of the news, my mind raced back to the Naseerudin Shah starrer ‘Wednesday’. His dialogue echoed in my ears. Although I might not remember it word to word; that one dialogue has him stating how most terror attacks attacked and tore Mumbai apart on Fridays. He was just replying on a Wednesday.
There you go; the one day that we thought would be commemorated (thanks to the movie) as a day where we fought back has now become a reminder of this gruesome picture. On a WEDNESDAY; the voices of hundred helpless resident of this beautiful city echoed as they screamed for help. People sat glued to their television sets; while constantly calling/texting their loved ones who were traveling home.
Panic isn’t something Mumbaiikars are prone to any longer. De-sensitivity and apathy has set in at various levels; and why should we blame anyone? It isn’t the first time that the average Mumbai (wo)man has had to bear the brunt of an aimlessly set bomb!
While this post of mine may not have any preference towards my women folk; it was a topic that had me boiling in anger. This is a feeling that prompted me to sit down and type this post out – from start to end, in one go.
I am not even going to edit this post; for it has been written with certain intent in mind, and editing it might take away from the raw fury I feel while I type this out.
So what has changed after the 13th July Bombings in Mumbai? Perhaps, the birthday boy Qasab might get better security, for now the cops have to focus on his well-being (or whatever it is that they have been protecting until now). God forbid, if they catch the bombers responsible for last night’s fiasco, they might even give them protection until our Judiciary and government sort out whatever issues they need to before they give a verdict. In the meanwhile, these men will be treated with utmost care and concern, lest the Human Rights guys get involved.
Sometimes it makes me wonder whether any of those ‘bad ass’ cops that you see in Bollywood movies exist in real life? If there are any, I’d love to see Qasab get flogged (preferably in public).
If only we lived in the Pirates of the Caribbean set! We’d have seen him being executed.

Rohingya Women – The Grim Picture

Have you ever heard of the Rohingya race? If you haven’t then you’re not alone. A lot of people out there (a couple of anthropologists and sociologists included) will confess to the fact that their knowledge about this race is limited or negligible.

The Rohingya race is best described in AFK Jilani’s book ‘A Cultural History of Rohingya’.  Jilani begins his book with an eloquent preface. This is how he describes this otherwise indescribable term – CULTURE.

“Culture is an inexplicably meaningful word almost defying any definition. It is the visible manifestation of the entire gamut of human endeavors… Art, literature, music, rituals, festivals, folk belief, taboos and countless other forms of versatile human feeling are expression of culture.” (Excerpts from AFK Jilani’s ‘A Cultural History of Rohingya’)

Jilani correctly points out that the name ‘Rohingya’ is far from being a new adoption or invention. It is a name that has been around for centuries and is completely based on historical backgrounds of the race. In most cases, Rohingya gets associated with negative feelings and connotations, since a majority of the people in post-independent Burma brand it as having been created by anti-state elements. This is the grim picture that is being painted of the Rohingya race.

When members of the Rohingya race fled from Myanmar and crossed over into Bangladeshi frontiers, they weren’t as welcome at first, but were eventually given a means of living and were provided with aid that came to them from various sources. This was how the creation of the Kutupalong refugee camp came about.

The current situation of the Rohingya race and its members, however, is looming in uncertainty. With time, the number of people crossing over to Bangladesh has increased in magnitude. The Kutupalong camp houses registered Rohingya refugees. The unregistered refugees (i.e. the members whose numbers haven’t been accounted for as yet) have created a Kutupalong makeshift camp in Ukhia. The population of the number of people in the makeshift camps has grown to a whopping 30,000. These Rohingyas are all without access to a livelihood or aid for food.

The reasons for this misfortune is that since they’re not registered; they’re deemed unwelcome in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government recently began a crackdown on the makeshift camp, which has led to further displacement and eventual downfall of the displaced members of the tribe. These uprooted families were already driven out of the only place they’d ever called home; and they found themselves in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the way of things. Hardly were they getting settled in here, when the government here has also begun opposing their presence.

Rohingyas from the makeshift camp are not allowed a means of livelihood; because as soon as they step out of the camp, they fear being arrested. As for food, there is no international aid available to them, since the aid coming to the registered Kutupalong camp also isn’t adequate to make ends meet.

With the picture looking grim for the overall race, the condition seems even worse in the case of the Rohingya women. It’s almost as if the women staying in this camp experience day-in-and-day-out the actual meaning of being ‘meaningless’ and ‘undocumented’. It’s almost as if they’ve been wiped off the memories of the rest of the world. These ethnic Burmese women, along with their children, are suffering from starvation, hunger and acute malnutrition. They have NO access to healthcare, whatsoever.

The condition seems to be worsening with each day. The Burmese refugee mothers seem to facing one wall after the other when it comes to their state of being; and they currently stand on the brink of extinction. This is the doing of the negligible amounts of medical programs that are currently available to them.

Most of the women live alone with their children at the camps. This is due to the fact that their men leave the camp in search of work. Some of them may never return if they get arrested by the Bangladeshi government and get forced back into Burma. Even if they do come back, they’re away for periods longer than weeks or months at a stretch. In such conditions, the women are at a risk of violence in a number of forms, including sexual violence. Cases of rape are being heard of increasingly in the Ukhia region.

With their husbands away from home, the women are forced to leave the house in search of ration for their family or potable water to drink and cook with. With them leaving the house unguarded and walking hours to gather these necessities; they face a serious safety dilemma.

The present state of being that the Rohingya and their women live in could be best described as being ‘uncertain’. Their future, as well, doesn’t look too bright. The only hope comes in form of the various social activist groups that are trying their best to coax the Bangladeshi government into allowing more aid to flow into the country so that these refugee camps can be restored to levels worthy of living.

Coming Of Age – Anywhere in the World


“How could that have happened?” screamed the bewildered mother. “They said… They said… I can’t even say it out loud”, she shouted, as she hung her head in shame.

“But what did they say?” the flustered father asked.

“They said she wasn’t as ‘pure’ as we’d promised she’d be”, said the mother, as she shot her own flesh-and-blood a look that translated to ‘I wish you were dead’. ‘

Scenes like these may have sounded usual (if not acceptable) up till the 20th century in India. For any and every woman who grew up in some part of the 21st century and came from a pseudo-urban or urban background, the whole concept of ‘coming of age’ was different.

There are a number of lines that have been drawn around a woman, and these lines are known to change with time and age. While certain norms and mores will apply to a teenager; they are automatically modified when she turns into a young adult.

While growing up in a city like Bombay (now Mumbai), there was always the need (and the peer pressure) to conform to a variety of norms. There were norms set by society at large, religious communities, regional-cultural groups, the residential group that one belongs to, the immediate and extended family, etc. Most of them would expect the same thing from a girl who was fast approaching the coveted ‘18’ mark. They’d want her to keep off the booze, the smokes and the tattoos. She’d be expected to mingle with the young women her age; while meticulously under-socializing with men her age or older. She’d be the epitome of beauty and grace while she accepts social invitations but attends only the ones her parents approve of.

On the other hand, her friends/peers would have other expectations set for her. She’d be expected to smoke that first cigarette, or down that mug of beer or even lose her virginity. Blatantly put, the expectations of her peer group always seem to be the polar opposite of what her moralistically inclined social groups seemed to expect of her.

Embroiled in between these conflicting mounds of expectation, the young woman is left alone to make her decisions. Believe it or not; most of these decisions are eventually made based on what ‘she’ wants, more than what anyone else ‘expects’ of her. Eventually, however, she may or may not choose to blame the decisions on whichever group is conveniently blame-able. (I never set out to say that all women are right!)

The chaos involved in decisions like these are similar to the ones described in Margaret Mead’s book titled ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’. Her book focused mainly on the sexual mores of Samoan society and how they played a role in the decisions that young Samoan women made. She enumerates incidents where young Samoan women would indulge in casual sex for years before they would choose their partners and settle down; and they’d eventually lead extremely sorted lives with children and family. Her writings catapulted her to the list of ‘important anthropological writers’ and she stayed in the limelight for over 50 years to come.

There were, however, other writers and books who defied her findings among the Samoan community. One such forerunner was Derek Freeman, who wrote a book titled ‘Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth’. His findings showed that Mead’s conclusions were based on the wishful talking of a bunch of young Samoan women who had sold Mead exactly what she had wanted to buy. They’d lied to her about a number of rituals and experiences, just because they sounded so much more exotic and titillating. Mead on the other hand, claims Freeman, never bothered crosschecking facts; and that was what led to her blasphemous writings. According to him, even the Samoans placed utmost importance on the ‘virginity’ of the woman. Excerpts from his book show that the Samoan women had described a ritual in which the young bride’s hymen would be manually ruptured in public. This was done so as to prove to society at large that she was a worthy bride and had been imbibed with high values and regard for social norms.

While Mead’s book may have been the salvation for young women around the world to find a fighting chance against the atrocities of sexual mores as laid down by society, Freeman’s work posed a counter-argument which tried to showcase the fact that Mead’s book was baseless and that even the most unindustrialized communities were still pro-virgin brides.

So much for women liberation and second wave feminism!

Maya Angelou – The Original Phenomenal Woman

Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

–          Maya Angelou (Phenomenal Woman)

Poet, author, autobiographer, phenomenal woman – That’s Maya Angelou for you. Oft called ‘America’s most visible black female autobiographer’, Angelou is best known for her series of autobiographical volumes that give readers a sneak peek into the experiences of her early days.

When Angelou published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, people heralded her as being one of the first African-American women who was comfortable and confident about publicly discussing her personal life. While most of her books were centered on themes like family, identity and racism; which are topics deemed worthy of some serious contemplation, Angelou’s books were far from gloomy or dreary.

Her attitude towards her writing and her keep-my-chin-up-no-matter-what gait is what made her one of the most respectable spokespersons for Black women in particular and Black people in general.

Ever since I got my hands on a copy of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou, I knew there was something different about it. Her narrative made me cry and smile at the same time. Believe me when I say this, but very few books are capable of making you do that.

For all those who have never heard of her, or have never read a book/poem/essay/autobiography written by her; pick up one today!

If you thought you knew the definition of a ‘strong woman’, it’s time to shatter that thought; for you haven’t read about a ‘real’ woman until you’ve read the ‘Phenomenal Woman’ herself.

All A Woman Wants

Welcome to the La Mistica Feminina Blog. The title of the blog translates to ‘The Feminine Mystique’.

The Feminine Mystique was the title of one of the most controversial books of all times, which was written by Betty Friedan. Her book focused on the dilemmas faced by the women in the 1950s and 1960s, especially housewives who wanted to break free from the drudgery that their lives were turning into, despite the fact that they were happily married and having fine children.

This book is considered, by many, as having a huge role to play in the inception of  second-wave feminism, as we call it. The first-wave feminism was when women tried to overturn and change legal obstacles to run in their favor. Most agitations were focused on subjects like voting and adult franchise. The concept of ‘second-wave feminism’, at some level, is something that we’re living with even today. The second wave came into being somewhere in the 1960s, and stayed around till the 70s. The focus, this time around, was on a larger spectrum of issues. Women had begun questioning the norms surrounding marriage, sexuality and perhaps the most controversial of them all – reproductive rights.

Keeping this very second-wave feminism era in mind, and the questions that we still face – La Mistica Feminina will aim at answering a few questions or posing some of its own.

With articles that range from informative, to humorous to downright questioning; there is  lot to come!