A big thank you to Masq Magazine for featuring me on their page and creating these gorgeous illustrations for curry scented bitch, imperfect punjabi and cultural appropriation.
[Masq Magazine is a recently launched magazine based in Copenhagen. They aim to increase the representation of marginalised narratives and artists of colour, by focusing on art-related content around issues like identity, belonging, diaspora and migration. You can read a bit more about them at www.masqmag.com]
BEHIND THE NETRA BOOK REVIEW - I'd like to think my thoughtfulness and kindness is one of my best assets but Green definitely wouldn't think so! As my naivety has decreased over the last few years, I have become more switched on to the less wholesome aspects of some human behaviour and 48 Laws of Power has helped reiterate some of those behaviours. Understanding how to be the most powerful man (or woman!) in the room sometimes means you can't always play nice. Green's 48 Laws have been organised in an easy to read handbook, supported with historical evidence from some of the most tactical leaders in history. If you're up for a bit more fruitful Machiavelli advice then you'll definitely like this book. I can't say I agree with all 48 Laws, e.g ' Pose as a friend, work as a spy' (haha!) and much of it can be considered common sense but some of the following quotes have definitely been noted for myself; 1) Always say less than necessary. 2) Win through actions, not through arguments. 3) When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity, you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others. 4) Re-Create Yourself - Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.
BEHIND THE NETRA BOOK REVIEW - I met Laura Bates last year when we were both performing at the EMPOWER HOUSE show at the Theatre Royal. I already thought she was phenomenal after reading ‘Everyday Sexism’ and seeing her talk at the show. And now that I have finally had a chance to finish reading ‘Girl Up,’ I have nothing but more praise for this woman. I could only wish that I had a book like this as a teenager and I could give it to all my students. She has highlighted all the important life lessons that young people should be taught (and are so often not), about consent, self-pleasure, unrealistic beauty standards and the importance and empowerment behind feminism. The text was inclusive of nearly all on the gender and sexuality spectrums and she was refreshingly honest and witty in her approach. She has entertainingly weaved opinions, statistics and real life examples throughout the book. I would love to see more intersectionality within her writing but perhaps this wasn’t quite the audience for it. It is definitely aimed at more of a teenage audience but it is still a must read for anyone who is raising / teaching / being a girl or for anyone that needs to be better informed on gender issues here in the UK. If you haven’t read ‘Everyday Sexism’ – go read that first - then get on this one! It’s an unapologetic feminist voice that needs to be heard. Laura will be talking about ‘Girl Up’ as a part of the British Academy's season on Inequalities later this year. Check it out!
Behind the Netra Book Review - Firstly, Bell Hooks is one of my favourite black feminist writers so this review may be slightly bias. Hooks' writings on intersectionality of race, capitalism, gender, systems of oppression and class domination have inspired my own writing greatly. This particular text, Teaching to Transgress, is Hooks' exploration on how we can rethink teaching practices in the age of multiculturalism. She offers a theoretical framework and practical skills that she has successfully used to create an engaging, inclusive classroom. She discusses the prevalent issue of teachers who do not want to teach and students who do not want to learn. She also discusses how we can deal with racism and sexism in the classroom. Reading this book reminded me at a critical time that I am not the only one who believes education of marginalised people can - and should - be something more. I found that Hooks had articulated many things I felt and experienced but could not name, which proves her point about the power of theory. We as educators are compelled to confront the biases that have shaped teaching practices in our society and to create new ways of knowing and different strategies for sharing the knowledge. By doing so, Hooks hopes that education can therefore be the practice of freedom. As it stands, it feels everything but free. We fear to make mistakes, doing things wrongly and are constantly evaluating ourselves that we will never make the education system a culturally diverse place where scholars and the curriculum address every dimension of that difference. As budgets are cut, as jobs become more scarce and new policies are introduced many of the few progressive interventions that were made to change education, to create an open climate for cultural diversity, are in danger of being undermined or eliminated. I've tended to think about anti-oppression education in terms of the content that the teacher presents and that the class learns. Hooks also argues that *how* you teach and the dynamics of the educational space you help create are just as important as content in creating a classroom where education can be...well, freedom.
If you're passionate about education, teaching, transgression, coaching or anti-oppression then this one is definitely for you.
Behind the Netra Book Review - I finally got around to finishing Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina - A New Biography.' Firstly, don't let the title scare you into hiding. Wolf shares her personal journey in an attempt to analyse the intersectionality between sexuality and creativity. Much of her findings are backed with a range of interesting scientific evidence that suggests that the vagina is not merely flesh, but an intrinsic component of the female brain—and thus has a fundamental connection to female consciousness itself. As much as I loved Wolf's infamous 'Beauty Myth' back when I was a teenager, this text was sadly a bit of a let down. The book claims to be tackling a social taboo that is the Vagina but I feel that Eve Ensler dealt with it much better in the Vagina Monologues two decades ago. The book hardly liberates women, I feel it gives public intellectuals a legitimate reason to have a good laugh at female genitalia and makes a parody of mainstream feminist debate. I'd put it under the collection of celebrity faux-feminism that aims to titillate and make sales but does nothing for feminist debate. I'd still recommend to read it if you're up for some interesting analogies and wordplay but if you're really interested in important issues of sex, power and suffering then have a look at Butler, Banerji or Valenti.
Check out Behind the Netra's interview with The Twindividualdiaries. The interview shines light on Behind the Netra's inspirations, challenges and her journey so far.
Check out Behind the Netra's feature in the following Press Association article, providing her thoughts on cultural appropriation.
I recently reread one of my favourite texts, The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche, and came across one of my old essays. I have always been interested in where our sense of morality and corruption originates from. What makes us moral beings? What makes us evil? Here I have commented on Nietzsche’s very own unique and interesting approach to the history of morality.
Look forward to your thoughts.
How much do films reinforce gender norms of sexuality?
I think we have started to consider how movies and pop culture reinforce gender norms for women but how much do we talk about men’s sexuality? Last year I wrote an interesting piece on Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ and how the movie has used addiction as a form of reinforcement of gender norms. Have a read if you’re interested.
Look forward to your thoughts.
The role of religion in colonialism and the British Raj has always been an interest of mine. Within this article I have considered the role of religion in the Uprising of 1857. There occurred a rebellion of the native regiments against the East India Company which soon escalated into various other agitations across India. It has been argued that this event signified the beginning of the fall of the E.I.C, and the reversion of outright governorship to the British crown.
In this prose I have considered how much credit can be given to the role of religion as the root of the Uprising or whether the fall of the Raj can be traced to a series of on-going conflicts and tension.
You can read the article by clicking the above google drive link. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Within this particular essay I have briefly discussed the ongoing gendered debate within the history of nationalism. Women have, without a doubt, ‘sacrificed their desires for the sake of a male-led collective’; even when they have suffered abuse at the hands of racist colonists, they have often been treated more as symbols rather than as active participants by nationalist movements organised to end colonialism and racism. However, I have also discussed some particular examples where women have not passively sacrificed their desires, and have instead played a very active role not only for the nationalist movements, but also for their own gender rights.
This is a very interesting piece written by my brother, Randeep Sangha, on the flawed nature of our ‘western’ media. You can find more of his work at
Please read and share….
Like the majority of the world, I was shocked and devastated to see the news transpiring from Paris this last week. An innocent life lost at any point is a travesty, but in the name of religious extremism, it feels a little bit more damning.
Understandably, there is a sense of national unity, dare I say ‘International Unity’ – we all saw the pictures of thousands of people marching in the streets of Paris, and what a wonderful sight that was, to see so many people ‘protesting’ in unison. So much so, a number of international leaders had joined in – and good on them.
But the dust has almost settled, and France itself will no doubt become a lot more stringent on its defence policy, fighting terrorism etc. I’d be surprised if the UK’s terror threat alert levels aren’t set to be raised. However, interestingly, I’m just a tad more intrigued in the news coverage of this whole thing.
On the day prior to the 17 people being massacred in Paris, 3000 miles south, another act of ‘terrorism’ occurred. A girl, identified no older than 10, detonated an explosive in a busy market place in the Borno State of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
20 people died, dozens more critically injured. Media attention? Minimal. In fact, whilst the horror of the Paris killings still dominate BBC News headlines, the killings in Nigeria aren’t even covered on the BBC web page.
Furthermore, only a week ago, Boko Haram pretty much desolated Baga, a city in the same aforementioned Borno State. 2000 people are reported to be dead, with an approximation of 30,000 now homeless. It got to the point such that people actually swam into nearby rivers and lakes, some drowning along the way, just to escape their homes.
On Sunday, a front page spread of an unnamed national broadsheet covered the events in Paris in detail, but allocated the terrors in Nigeria to an A6 spread – on page 7.
Just imagine the outrage, if thousands of Parisians – men, women and children, were fleeing into the River Seine. Imagine the newspapers the next day. But at the time of writing this, I’m struggling to find one major news organisation to have any events in Nigeria spread through any of their respective leading stories.
Work that one out.
In no way am I stating that one particular act of inexcusable terrorism should take more precedence than another, but I wholly agree that no life is more important than another.
I also want to know why it is deemed a hell of a lot more newsworthy that what happened in Paris should overshadow completely what happened in Nigeria. Or why anything that happens in ‘the West’ should in any way overbear what happens in the ‘3rd world’. In my opinion, the BBC should have ran with ‘Paris Killings: You could have been on holiday there…”.
We, unfortunately, live in a generation of ‘hash-tags’ and ‘likes’. Depressingly, it doesn’t take a genius to work out which countries’ devastation would garner more shares and likes on social media.
I’m not even going to go into what is happening in Syria, or in Israel/Palestine. Or why no-one talks about the kids that died in the school in Pakistan anymore. Or even if anyone even remembers the girls that were abducted by the Boko Haram a few months ago. The list is pretty much endless.
I’ve read a lot of articles stating that it the fault of the Nigerian authorities, as to the reason why there isn’t much reporting. I’ve also read, cynically, that the victims were ‘black’ and not ‘white’, or that Africa is thousands of miles away whereas France is a stones-throw away.
The media, or the ‘free-press’ not only have a duty to report, but also to inform the masses. Something, in my opinion, they’re not doing.
Imagine if you’re home was incinerated, your loved ones burnt in front of you.
Imagine if the world turned a blind eye and didn’t want to care.
Sorry Nigeria, but no one is marching for you.
India is home to an estimated 40 million widows—approximately 10 per cent of the country’s women. Many of them fall victim to abuse. Others are simply abandoned to a life of social isolation because of their lowly status within society. Yet their plight is often invisible, with many people unaware of the injustices taking place. Due to the practically non-existent social welfare system in India, many of these widows live lives of poverty. All widows over the age of 60 are eligible for a small government pension worth less than $5 (£3.21) a month. But most of these women are illiterate and do not have bank accounts to access even that. There are indeed some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and charities, such as Maitri, trying to help these women with their finances. There are also documentaries about widows, such as The Widow Colony – India’s Unsettled Settlement directed by Harpreet Kaur. This documentary takes an in-depth look into the lives of the widows of the Sikh men who were killed in the anti-Sikh massacre of November 1984 and highlights the trauma and suffering faced by the survivors of the carnage of ’84. Yet, despite the work that has been done, widows continue to be shunned and remain invisible in Indian society.
Before I continue, please forgive me if this piece does not include all the themes and issues surrounding widowhood in India. I have tried my best to include as many narratives as I can, but this article is written mainly to share the story of my incredible maternal grandmother, Surjit Kaur, and to highlight some of the discrimination faced by widows in the Sikh and South Asian communities.
Surjit Kaur was born around 1936. Due to the lack of official records and documentation in Panjab during this time, we are not entirely sure of her official birth date. She was lovingly known as Beeji, both within our family and the local community, because she was a mother to us all. Everyone that met her was astounded by her intelligence, her strength, her humility and her pure heart. Not once would you ever hear her utter hateful words to anyone; she could only utter words of kindness. But unfortunately, fate did not treat her with the same consideration…
She was one of five siblings. After years of trying, her parents eventually had a son, who was significantly younger than Beeji. Beeji’s mother died when she was young, so it was Beeji and her sisters’ duty to look after their younger brother, raise him and eventually secure a place for him in a Christian school in Panjab. When she was of age, her marriage was arranged with my Nanaji(grandfather), Kundan Singh. They were blessed with two children: my amazing mother and my uncle. However, when my mother was only two and a half, her father died. Without any modern ventilations or fans, it was common to sleep on the chata (roof) during warm nights. But on one warm summer night, my Nanaji slipped and fell off the chata, breaking his spine. A frantic Beeji took him to the hospital, but he did not survive. My Beeji lost her husband, and my mother and uncle lost their father far too soon. He was a well-educated man who adored his wife and children and worked hard in his profession in the railways as well as when labouring on the land.
My Beeji was now left in a difficult position. Fortunately, her father-in-law was a good man who helped look after her for a while. After a few years, however, he became very ill with cancer. No one except for my Beeji would stay with him in hospital because they were afraid of the stench, bad hygiene and contagious diseases there. Beeji stayed and looked after him till his dying day. On his deathbed, he told my Beeji to be strong, but gave her a frightening warning. He forewarned her that as a widow his other two sons might harass her and not look after her and said, “They are going to hurt you a lot. You will have to be a doormat all your life”. As much as she loved her father-in-law, she did not let those words unnerve her; she was determined to look after her children on her own. Sadly, his warning came true. After his death, his other sons started troubling Beeji. They enjoyed watching her suffer, abused her and deprived her of basic necessities. One of the sons made sure that no one in the pind (village) would let her use their water pump for her crops. Others in the village watched silently. These tensions continued for years. Such tensions between widows and their families are primarily economic, as a widow is an extra mouth to feed and could also try to stake a claim to the family property.
Much to the disbelief of those in the pind, Beeji continued to work hard on the family land, completing all the manual labour, building and ploughing by herself. Her cousin would sometimes help, but the majority of backbreaking chores she did on her own, to feed her two children. She wanted to make sure her children were educated and would not have to face the same hardships as she did. My mother tells me stories of how Beeji would wake her and my uncle up before sunrise with a lantern and make them read and write before they went to school every morning.
One of the things I admired most about my Beeji was that against the will of others in the family, she made sure my mother carried on with her schooling. Family members said that my mother should be kept within the home, undertaking activities more suited to her gender, such as sewing or cooking, but my Beeji held her ground and said, “If my daughter wants to study, then she will”. Thanks to my Beeji, my mother was one of the few women in the pind to go to college.
From the day that Beeji lost her husband, she no longer wore colourful clothes. Her beautiful kameezes (dresses) and dupattas (scarfs) were hidden away in old dusty cupboards. Her head remained covered with a white chunni (common scarf) till her dying day. From the outset there was a lack of sympathy and empathy from her family and the local community, to the extent that she was told by other women to stay away from their husbands. Yet, despite the hardship she endured for almost 50 years, she ultimately received the utmost respect from the members of her village. She was undoubtedly a woman made of steel, but had a heart as soft as feathers. People now speak of her with such respect and admiration, you would think she was something of a war veteran. And, in fact, the injustice that she had to endure and suffer through for years was as if she was at war. She was a survivor. She was a warrior. She is my warrior. And I know that her strength has passed on to my mother and hopefully on to me, for I come from a bloodline of heroines.
Let us not forget some of the warriors widows in our history such as Maharani Jind Kaur, our renowned ‘Rebel Queen’, a fearless Maharani who waged two wars against the British during their rule in India. ‘’She was famous for her beauty, energy and strength of purpose’’ and was popularly known as Rani Jindan, but her fame is derived chiefly from the fear she engendered in the British in India, who described her as “the Messalina of the Punjab”. In a time where widows were expected to commit sati (widow burning), she refused to jump into her late husband Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s funeral pyre along with his other wives. She rejected both sati and purdah (female seclusion), led the courts and had meetings with chief ministers and armies, all of which took her counsel. Christy Campbell—author of The Maharajah’s Box, a book about the Maharani’s son, Duleep—says Jindan was “one of the most remarkable characters of 19th-century history, let alone Indian or Sikh history”.
Yet another story I wish to share is one of an actual warrior, a formidable Akali or Nihang (Sikh soldiers traditionally known for their bravery and ruthlessness in the battlefield) who did not let her widowhood define her destiny. She decided instead to bear the arms of her dead husband and joined the Akali sect. The following quote was stated by the Foreign Missionary Council in 1843 and the illustration was completed by Emily Eden in 1838.
“We were visited this forenoon by a most singular character, an Akalin, or female faqir of a peculiar sect. Like the class of mendicants to whom she belongs, she was armed to the teeth. Over her shoulder was slung a sword, while her belt was graced with a large horse pistol, a dagger, and sundry other weapons of destruction. Another sword hung by her side. Her turban was ornamented with a panji and five or six chakkars. The panji is a horrid instrument made something in form of a tiger’s claws, with five curved blades exceedingly sharp. The chakkar is a steel discus, of six or eight inches diametre, very sharp also, and no doubt a destructive weapon when hurled with sufficient force. She was, certainly, the most dangerous looking lady I ever saw… It appeared by her own statement that she was a widow, and that her husband was an Akali; that after his death she had joined the sect and remained with them ever since. She had, she stated, been on a tour to the south of India, and had travelled a great deal since she had become a faqir.”
This particular widow refused to live by the stereotypes of her gender. She did not want to live as a vulnerable widow in need of help and protection and instead took arms and became a sight that struck fear in others.
Finally, we cannot forget the warrior widows of 1984. In the days immediately following Indira Gandhi’s death, there were mass reprisals against Sikhs. Tens of thousands of Sikh men were pulled out of buses and trains, slaughtered on the streets, in their homes and in their workplace—resulting in thousands upon thousands of deaths and displacements. There is no denying that in the 30 years since the massacre, we have spoken of the atrocities and conveyed a narrative of victimhood, but we have ignored these survivors and their current hardship. Nanki Kaur tells the story of how after Indira Gandhi’s death an angry mob came to where she lived. Her husband tried to escape by climbing up to the roof. Mrs. Kaur’s last memory of her husband is of him being dragged away by shouting people—many of whom she recognised as neighbours. They set him on fire and burnt him alive. Kaur recounts, “When I think about what has happened it still makes me cry. Both brothers from the same family were killed. It’s only me and my children and grandchildren now.”
The following story, shared in Jyoti Grewal’s work Betrayed by the State: The Anti-Sikh Pogrom of 1984,describes a common horror that widows have to face: the fear of rape and abuse now that their husbands are no longer able to protect them: “After they had burnt my husband, that same night they came back for me three times. I was very beautiful then, strikingly beautiful. Now I am nothing. They came back three times that night, three times, looking for me. My sons and I were hiding in our Hindu neighbour’s house. They came over there and asked them, ‘Where is the Sardar’s beauty? Where is that Sardar’s Mrs? My older son had a cough; I covered his mouth with my hand. I put the little one to my breast to suckle. We were hiding in the adjoining room and I could hear them talk. They were so persistent, kept asking for me… they had the nerve to say that they had killed the Sardar because they wanted to get their hands on me.”
These widows had been betrayed by their state and their own communities. But, let us not continue to see them merely as victims of an atrocious massacre; let us also acknowledge and respect them for their strength and their bravery to share the truth of what happened during those days.
Simply because of their gender, these phenomenal women that I have spoken of have been betrayed by their families, their communities and by the state. I feel we, as a community, need to continue to voice these narratives of women who have remained invisible—behind closed doors, dressed in black clothes and covered heads, afraid to speak. They should no longer be treated as ‘others’. They are ours. They are our family. They are our daughters, our mothers and our grandmothers.
Whether it is my Beeji or a Nihang travelling across India, to me these women are not vulnerable or weak; these women are all Warrior Widows.
Break down the Bossy-Intimidating-Tempered-Cunning-Hysterical.
Sometimes I think to myself, are we going backwards in time? In sixteenth-century England and seventeenth-century colonial America, there were a number of interesting reasons why a woman might have been accused of being a witch. The most popular characteristics included:
a. Being female
b. Being middle aged
c. Being married but with few or no children
d. Being a widow
e. Being contentious and stubborn with a turbulent reputation
f. If a woman led, and I quote, a ‘naughty’ kind of life…
g. If a woman spoke out of turn (outspoken)
Overall, if you were a woman that was considered ‘different’ or who deviated from the norm, it is likely you would be considered a witch.
I know we might not be running around calling masses of women witches, but it now seems to be commonplace to refer to such women as bitches. Today, if a woman is stepping outside of the norm—her stereotypical role as a quiet, submissive female—then she is considered a bitch. If a woman in today’s society is freethinking and assertive, she is sometimes deemed a bitch. If she is ‘demanding’ or ‘bossy’ she’s considered a bitch. This might be in the workplace, in the home or in general social settings. We have transformed from The Witch to The Bitch.
It might be a bit much to ask sixteenth-century society to accept these women as independent and freethinking, but why today, in 2014, are we not considering these women as powerful or assertive? It could be suggested that this view of powerful women being ‘bossy’ starts at a young age. Many young girls are conditioned and socialised to believe that the way to get others to like you is to be ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’. One should avoid being confrontational. One should most certainly avoid hurting other people’s feelings. In addition to these traits, we’re taught that it would be wrong or even worrying for a young girl to express too much anger; this is in fear that the young girl might be deemed wild or, god forbid, even ‘crazy’. But what do we teach our sons? To stick up for themselves? To stand their ground? To stifle emotions and not to cry because these are things that girls do? Yes, this is what we teach them. These are damaging thoughts that are absorbed into the brains of our young. Of course, this is not representational of all contexts and cultures, but we can still see these traits seeping into the modern day.
Since I was young, I told myself I wanted to change the world. I wanted to change lives, be it through my teaching career, through my business ventures, or through my charity work. I knew that during these endeavours I would have to be authoritative and formidable. If I was not, I knew without a doubt that I could not succeed. But if I am considered a ‘bitch’ for upholding such characteristics solely because of my gender, then I wonder what on earth I am fighting for.
I was watching an episode of Scandal the other week, and Kerry Washington’s character, Olivia, hit the nail on the head. One of the male protagonists enters the room and exclaims “So, Abby’s kind of a bitch,” as soon as he walks into her apartment. “Don’t say that!” Olivia immediately hits back. “The words used to describe women! If she was a man you’d say she was ‘formidable’ or ‘bold’ or ‘right’.” Olivia’s reaction couldn’t have been more accurate. The continuing double standards that we allow to be upheld in society and in our language need to change. We need to change the way we speak about men and women. We need to stop such gendered language tropes that have been living with us for centuries.
I am definitely not a witch, and my valiance should not make me a ‘bitch’.
I sat and spoke to my Grandfather one evening about my MA research on Female Infanticide in Panjab. He seemed sincerely interested, but then went quiet. He then began to tell me stories of his elder relatives and village members that he knew.
He told the story of one of his elder relatives who had two daughters (aged five and seven). One day, he woke the two daughters and told them to get dressed in their best clothes and get ready to leave as he was going to take them on a trip to Goinwal Gurdwara (the one with the 84 Steps Of Baoli Sahib). The two girls got ready with excitement. They began their journey, which eventually lead them onto a long dirt road alongside a river. The girls happily skipped down the road. The father then pushed the two girls into the river, neither of them able to swim, and thus they both drowned to death. The father continued on the Gurdwara, sat there and relaxed as if nothing had happened. When he returned home he said, ‘the deed was done.’ My Grandfather then told me of another story he had heard which occurred in a near by village. A woman had been pregnant and the family waited anxiously for the birth. The child was born, and with the realization that it was a baby girl they strangled her to death, crushing her throat. They then dug a ditch at the back of their farm and stuffed in her body. Soon after, dogs had dug out the body and consumed it.
These stories struck me in the pit of my stomach and acted as a reminder of how important my research was and why I was doing it. Todays figures of a staggering 60 million women in India are missing or dead because of gender discrimination. Female infanticide/foeticide is still occurring. Dowry, caste hypergamy and son-preference are still occurring. Help change this paradigm. Help strive for gender equality.
I have created a link here if you would like to read my research. Please keep in mind that some areas could have been in much more detail but because of word limits I had to keep it concise. However, if you would like to discuss any of the issues I have raised in my research further, then please do get in touch.