Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aqsa Aqsa Aqsa

As the internet gets flooded with images of Aqsa, Its as if I am being haunted by her inside. I never knew the girl, I never even knew anyone who looked like her or had the same name. Yet, Aqsa haunts me in my sleep, and her story is gnawing at me inside.

I wanted to go to the vigil being held today at Applewood, but cant bring myself to. Im scared of what I will do.

How many more Aqsa's live in our society. How many women tortured by men in their households? Hhow many children get thrown over the edge by restrictions imposed upon them by their parents?

No matter how bad it got Aqsa was able to stand up to her parents and some or all of her siblings. Yet, no matter how torn she was inside, her friends claim they never knew it was this bad. They never thought the story would end with death.

I can understand how hard it is to run a rebellion on your own, against "tradition". Aqsa must have felt so alone. I wonder what she thought about when she was lying in bed at night.

The truth is Ill never know, noone will ever know.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Aqsa: The farthest light.

Aqsa, whoever named you probably did not mean for this to happen. Your name tragically has come true today. Today, you are far, far away from what you seem to have hated the most: the feeling of being trapped. My thoughts lie with you today, and I hope afterlife or whatever comes after life turns out to be better for you.

I was on the subway yesterday and in front of me sat a mother and 3 young girls. Almost certainly the three girls had not yet hit puberty. The youngest one was barely 4 years old. That really bothered me. All of them wore a hijab.

I am not Muslim, but I have read a little about the Islamic Religion. And as far as I know Muslim girls are supposed to decide on their own once they hit puberty whether or not they want to wear the head scarf. There are many websites online which discuss the pros and cons of wearing the hijab. The woman who have written on these posts all have a mind of their own and all speak for themselves. There are women who dont wear the scarf but are thinking about it. There are women who wear the scarf but regret making that decision years ago. There are mothers who have always worn the hijab, and dont want their daughters to.

Yeah, I can be naive and believe that all Muslim women have a choice. But I'd be wrong. In many cases there is the pressure of the norm. For example, if I was brought up in a conservative family wherein my mother, my aunts, my sisters all wore the hijab, I would definitely be under much more pressure to "decide" to wear the hijab when the time came.

I used to have a friend who wore the hijab, she had three younger sisters, none of whom who had decided to wear the hijab. By the time she finished University she had decided to also abandon the hijab. She was not a different person, she was the same funloving girl, except now we all got to see her hair.

I also know a girl who was one of the most timid girls I knew, she wore a hijab. Slowly as she went through University she went through an amazing change of personality. The last change was when she shed the hijab, and decided to cut her hair "short" to shoulder length.

I have a close friend, who is a mother of three children and wears the hijab. She has an amazing personality. She wrote two children's books, was a Part Time student Governor of the Governing Council of the University of Toronto and just recently was a candidate in the Ontario Provincial Election. She well-spoken, articulate, and speaks with fiery passion.

Many western feminists believe that the hijab is oppressive, that covering a woman's head inhibits their growth. Media portrayal also helps a little bit in this case. In reality though I doubt that is true in its entirety. Like so many arguments that deal with cultural tug-of-wars not everything in this argument is black and white. So, as I am not a muslim woman, I will refrain from commenting on what women in Islam should or should not do.

It is true crazy fanatics like Aqsa'a father, Parvez do exist. From the way that CBC online reads it seems to be evident that the fanaticism is being seamlessly passed down to his son, Waqas. But these fanatics do not just exist in the Islamic Religion. They exist amongst the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Christians, the Jews and every other religion on this planet. However, this is simply not just a question of religious fanaticism, it is also a situation of domestic violence against women and children perpetrated by men behind the closerd doors of a household. Violence is so rampant in our society. I wish I could ask what were Aqsa's mom and other siblings doing when she was being killed by her father?

Aqsa's story should not become a reason for so many to hate all Muslims as fanatics. I just hope that all the Aqsa's who feel trapped in a household of any religion, dont feel pressured to do what they are told to do. Being in Canada means, that women and children have the basic human right to their own opinions. Aqsa's death should remind parents of their basic duty to their children: to provide protection to their offspring.

Rest In Peace Aqsa. I hope you have found in death what you were searching for in Life.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

My Tug of War

Whats more important? My religion or What I want?

First things first: Fine, Yes, I was born into a Hindu family. Was I given a choice? Most probably not. Was I brought up by incredibly strict parents who taught us not to eat beef, to pray to all our Gods and Goddesses on a regular basis? Almost definitely not. Was I brought up by my parents to hate all non-hindus, and to only lead life the "Hindu Way"? Most Certainly Not.

Actually in reality this is how I was brought up: I was brought up knowing that I was free to make choices which I thought were right, as long as they didnt hurt anybody. I was told that as long as I was a good human being eating beef or not praying to God really didnt matter. And my mother fought against all forces of nature and family to put me in a school where I was taught the lesson of spirituality and humanity: in essence being a good human being, following your heart and soul, and doing good onto others is really all that mattered.

So then why at the age of 27, am I being told otherwise? Why am I being forced to choose between the person that I am, and the person that I learnt I shouldnt be? Why is it that now, all of a sudden Im being told to be someone completely different than who I am? The answer is very simple: Because now the person that I am has become an inconvenience to many.
Actually its not even my personality, its one aspect of my so-called society imposed identity. A part of my identity that I dont identify with: simply because my parents were born into "Hinduism". Even though ours was not a religious family, we were never impeded by religious boundaries, and there were no religious expectations from us: at the end of the day it really doesnt matter. Because the beauty of Hinduism is convenience, and convenience dictates how much of one's Hindu nature one must follow. It simply was not convenient for my "Canada returned" parents to turn into over-zealous followers of the religion, Bengalis generally are not. However now its utterly convenient for my mother to take on the persona of a racist islamophobe. Simply because now she's surrounded by so many others who are the same.
Technically its not just her fault, or her friends. Its whats going on in the world. Islamophobic Media portrayal has reached a new high, painting Islam as a religion which advocates terrorism, religious clensing and violent measures to promote their own agenda. Except what is always left out is that the above definition only portrays a few followers, not the religion in its entirety.

Am I the first person who wants to be with someone I love and transcenc religious barriers? No. But surprisingly theres not that many. Even amongst second generation Canadians, discriminations are seamlessly passed on from the generation above. The residents of the countries that our parents came from, for example those back home in India have moved on. They are accepting couples living together before marriage, inter religious coupling and dating on a more common basis. Whereas, the generation before us who left their homes mostly in the 1970s or early 80s seem to be stuck in the darkness of their closed minds.

There is also another phenomenon: Its the "as long as it happens to someone else, Im okay" phenomenon. I remember listening to my mom counsel a friend of hers a few years ago about her mid thirties' son's new Muslim Girl friend. She thought about everything from the "spend whatever time you have happily" argument to the "he's a grown man, he can make his own choices" argument. Now those same arguments are falling on deaf ears.

I like to think Im right. Actually I KNOW Im right. As long its not creating a rift between the two of us, there are no reasons for us to break up because of religion. We are both Bengali, and never have I felt that we aren't compatible because of religion. Im not expected to convert.

So, I told my mom as long as he doesnt bring home a 4th wife, Im preganant with my 11th child, and he's kicked me out, shes not allowed to talk to me about my choices.

I laugh when I regurgitate the story of our confrontation, but really am I laughing inside? I wish I could. I just hate to think my mom is one of "them". I wanted to know that maybe she was different than the rest. Except she isnt. And the fact that she isnt is disappointing. Its like youve believed something about someone for most of your life, and then was told that it wasnt true. Thats disappointing right?

My dad is another disappointment. I figured my dad is a singer, he sings songs of Hindu Muslim unity. He talks about Tagore and Nazrul all the time. Except it doesnt work in reality. I know he doesnt dislike Shawjeeb. How could he? Hes reacting the way he is because he is expected to. Hes expected to not be okay with his daughter's muslim fiance, so he isnt. Would he get along famously with Shawjeeb if we werent engaged...most definitely yes!

All in all, my life has turned into the worst cliche of all: love is blind. Maybe everyone else is right. Maybe Im wrong. Even if sticking to my guns turns me into the rudest, mouthiest, angriest person in my family so be it. Im tired of fighting for what I believe in and what I want.

Im tired but Im the happiest Ive ever been.