Wrote a little something late last night.
“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.” (via Why Will And Jada Pinkett Smith Let Daughter Willow Cut Her Hair - The Frisky)
by Nandita Das
From the time I came into the public domain and have been written about, 9 out of 10 articles start by describing me as being dusky or earthy. A reference to the colour of my skin doesn’t escape the best of journalists.
The prerequisite for being an actress is to be fair. So I guess it is essential to qualify anything that is an aberration. Or, is it simply a manifestation of an inescapable conditioning? I can say from my own experiences that the colour of my skin definitely featured in most introductions and comments about me, right from my childhood. From people saying, “poor thing she is so dark” to “you have nice features despite being dark”. Had it not been for my parents, for whom this was not a topic of conversation, I would have grown up believing I was just not good enough. Thanks to them, I defined myself through nurturing many different interests. How I looked was unimportant. It was only in later years I realised how fortunate I was.
I have often wondered why are we supposed to feel proud or ashamed of attributes that we are born into. I have done nothing to be born as a woman, a Hindu, an Indian or dark. But then there are choices I have made through the years that have been mine and if I must be judged, let those be the ones. But this is easier said than done. I am shocked to see the rise in the number of fairness creams, dark actresses looking paler and paler with every film and magazines, hoardings, films and advertisements showing only fair women. You could ask what is there to be shocked, as all this has always existed. But with more women in the work force, voicing their desires and concerns, more debate about gender equality and sensitivity, one would imagine that racism of this sort would be on the decline.
Of course, now the insecurities of men are also surfacing with equal number of fairness products for them. Such pressures and so little public debate around it! Am I over-reacting here? Whenever I interact with college students, especially young girls, I invariably get a question to the effect, “How come you are so confident despite being dark?” It took me some time to understand its ramifications in its entirety, but when I went deeper I realised how inadequate so many young girls felt purely because they couldn’t live up to the societal standards of beauty. Every film and women’s magazine told them how ugly they were. It made their personalities shy, hesitant, insecure, not good enough. I grappled with how to make them understand the worthlessness of this pursuit as I took my confidence for granted.
Gradually I found myself championing the cause of colour! When a sales-girl tries to sell me a fairness cream or a salon woman insists on bleaching my skin, I find myself giving them a lecture against it. Perhaps, some of it is unwarranted as they, too, are victims of that same system. Strangely, how educated or affluent you are has no bearing on this prejudice.
Desire for a fair child makes some parents believe that drinking milk first thing in the morning will ensure a fair child. A friend of mine suffered his entire childhood as his brother was fair and he was asked how come he turned out to be so dark. There is no dearth of such stories that we all would have heard, experienced or perpetuated in some way or the other. What with fairytales like sleeping beauty talking about “who is the fairest of them all” and Snow White and Barbie dolls becoming role models for little girls. Right from our childhood the message is clear, and in later years it is only reinforced in many ways. Film songs call a girl gori (fair) or “pardon the dark because it has a good heart” in a song like kale hain to kya hua dilwale hain. Look anywhere and everywhere, there are blatant and subtle reinforcements that only fair is lovely.
Nandita Das is an award-winning Indian film actress and director. She is well-known for starring in the 1996 film “Fire.” Submitted by Minal Hajratwala (http://www.minalhajratwala.com) Click on Nandita’s picture to go to the original article. The second photo was submitted by Ami.
A few things to know about me before reading the post
Now for the actual post….
I’m currently reading Fred Pearce’s The land Grabbers. It’s a book about land grabbing by millionaires and billionaires in some of the world’s poorest and most desperate regions. As I read it, I realized how much leadership and forward thinking Indian governments have been over the past 60 years. Like some of the African nations today, until the 1990s, India was poor, desperate and until the 70s, unable to feed its own ever-growing population. However, the Indian government did not resort to the desperate tactic of leasing its land to cash-rich foreign conglomerates or resort to industrial farming. By empowering the country’s own farmers, we have achieved only not only self sufficiency but also avoided some of the terrible consequences facing many of the African nations today. By keeping foreign investment completely out of certain areas in agriculture, we may have missed out on a few dollars but we have definitely managed to keep our granaries and warehouses full, maybe even a little too full. We have also avoided some complex political and social problem along the way.
As Indians, we have a lot to be ashamed of, a lot to change and a lot to think about but we can be proud of some decisions made by our politicians and government over the years.
Up reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel… Seems rather simplistic when she is talking about her politics and her views on society. Her personal story, on the other hand is complex, brave, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching. I still haven’t made up my mind about the book and I’m done reading half of it
We going to go on Good Magazine’s 30 days of Good starting July 7th.
These are the things we plan to do for the first seven days of the challenge
Pictures and updates to follow….
Meet Aparna Bhola, India’s teen sex educator
“There’s nothing to giggle or be shy about; there’s no shame in it. It’s important for us to learn about these things. Be totally bindaas (carefree) and ask me questions,” says Aparna Bhola, with a wide smile.
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon, but the stifling Mumbai summer air does nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the girls surrounding her. Aparna, a spunky 16-year-old, is in the midst of giving a group of her peers a candid sex-education class, and today’s topic is pregnancy. She leads the class confidently, dispelling superstitions with funny stories and apologizing disarmingly for her chalk drawing skills.
Aparna is member of a nongovernmental organization called Kranti, meaning “revolution,” which strives to give young women rescued from prostitution access to education and new opportunities. She was teaching the class as part of a partnership with an organization called Project Crayons, which runs a shelter for girls in Mumbai’s Malad neighborhood.
The daughter of a sex worker, Aparna grew up in Kolkata. Her mother, Malti, was married when she was 9 and was beaten by her husband. When she ran away and returned to her hometown in the Sundarbans, her aunt took her to Kolkata under the pretense of sending her to school. There, Malti was sold into sex work for 10,000 rupees ($180 at current exchange rates) when she was 12 years old. When she initially refused to be a prostitute, the brothel owner stuffed chili powder in her genitals to force her into submission, says Aparna.
Growing up in red-light districts, Aparna says she was distressed by the way doctors routinely mistreated sex workers because of the stigma against their profession. Her mother, diagnosed with uterine cysts, was unable to get treatment for them because of the bias against sex workers. Aparna remembers a niece being refused treatment by a doctor who said he didn’t want to bother with such poor people.
When sex workers like Aparna’s mother would become pregnant, the “doctors would treat them so badly,” Aparna recalls. “They would yell at them, and even slap them sometimes. They would say things like ‘You go and pick up anyone’s child and come to me with your stomach swollen. When you were doing it, you enjoyed yourself and now what happened?’ ”
These encounters made Aparna want to become a gynecologist. Even when she was younger, she would share with her friends and peers whatever sexual health-related information she could find.
“I want to work with gynecology to cater to sex workers because I know the issues they faced,” says Aparna, her face set in a determined expression. “If I became a doctor, I could give whatever information the mothers need when they are pregnant. There would be someone to talk to them nicely when they are in pain.”
In the time that she has spent at Kranti, Aparna has stopped drinking, improved her English, gained confidence and branched out into a number of extracurricular activities. She just completed grade 11, and is working toward her dream of becoming a gynecologist. This year she will enter the 12th grade and is planning to take the entrance examinations for medical school.
She also represented Maharashtra state in the Youth Parliament, an advisory group to the state government, where participants recently discussed whether sex education should be introduced in Indian schools.
“I used to think that my whole world is within the four walls of my room, of the house,” says Aparna. “Now I see that there is a big, big world beyond that where many things are possible for me.”
“What I really want is that girls become powerful and aren’t scared of anyone,” says Aparna. “They should think in their minds that ‘I will go ahead and progress and no one can hold me back.”