Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Gender Inequality and Sexual Violence In South Asian Communities

A harrowing documentary shown on BBC4 caused a lot of controversy about a week ago. This documentary was India’s Daughter.

Image courtesy of Ramesh Lalwani {{CC BY-SA 2.0}}
I was already familiar with the story of a 23-year old student Jyoti Singh, who was gang-raped, assaulted and left for dead in such a gruesome manner (she later succumbed to her massive internal injuries), since it sent shockwaves around the world at the time it happened. It also solidified Delhi’s reputation as the "rape capital of India".

I’ll be honest with you, I avoided watching India’s Daughter because I knew I was going to find it distressing. Plus, if you’re already in a depressed and disillusioned state, stuff like this doesn’t help.

Besides, the utter lack of remorse by the men who committed the act, as well as the obvious negative cultural attitude towards women and the gender violence perpetrated against them, all highlighted in the documentary, I knew would just anger me.

When shocking events like this are reported in developing parts of the world, there’s a certain comfort in it happening in a place so far away, and in a seemingly less "civilised" place than a developing country like the UK, which has a much more forward way of thinking.

Of-course, no place is immune to crime. But there are certain parts of the world that are generally considered more unsafe than others.

But then I went for a walk around my local area. I noticed parts of it were cordoned off. Crime is quite common in this area and there’s a lot of anti-social behaviour, so I wasn’t too shocked.

Until I found out that the crime committed was the rape of an 18-year-old Asian girl. Dragged into a nearby garden whilst waiting for a bus, her attacker took advantage of the large, overgrown hedges that obscured the attack. He then hit her over the head repeatedly until she was unconscious and raped her. The girl is still recovering in hospital.

A few days later, West Yorkshire police released CCTV footage of the attack, as well as an e-fit of the attacker, possibly of "Middle-Eastern or Pakistani origin", who may have recently entered the country.

I hate to sound like a BNP supporter (who predictably, jumped on the incident to try and promote their anti-immigration policy), but seeing such a savage attack, BY an ethnic minority (male) ON an ethnic minority (female), seems to further illustrate the chauvinistic, backwards mentality of SOME South Asian men, which isn't restricted to places like Delhi.

Note I say "South Asian" and not "Muslim", as I feel it’s a problem that is cultural not religious, especially when members of different religions are exhibiting the same kind of behaviour.

And I bet in both cases, the mentality of the attackers looked a little something like this:

- If a girl wears "tight" clothes (basically, any Western clothing, even if it’s not overly revealing), she’s inviting attention from the opposite sex.
- Any decent girl from a South Asian background won’t be out and about in the evening.
- A proper girl also won’t keep the company of a male unless it’s a member of her family.

Any Asian woman who does any of these things is a slut who deserves to be put in her place, as she is challenging/misrepresenting the culture. Who does she think she is? How dare she be so brazen? She’s no longer a human being with rights, she’s worthless and deserves to be savagely beaten up, raped and killed.

Both females in these two cases committed the heinous crime of...using public transport in the evening. They acted as young, independent women. And paid the price.

The fact that a similar crime, in similar circumstances, occurred shows this is a real problem that's threatening the safety of women. And not just in countries where this culture is the mainstream, but also in countries where sub-communities have formed which have the same cultural mind-set.

This uneducated, irrational way of thinking is unbelievably infuriating, especially when you’ve personally frequently encountered men who have this same derogatory attitude towards women, especially towards women like me who have a modernised way of living.

I experienced the same type of judgemental behaviour when I visited (predominantly Muslim) Turkey. Holidaying in a place that was popular with tourists, the environment was a little more relaxed. However, my friend and I frequently got looked up and down, not just by the Turkish men but also by the judgemental Turkish women too. We also both got felt up on a number of occasions, and frequently asked by the hotel/club owners (who had taken a liking to us), why two girls like us were on holiday unchaperoned.

When I reflect on the guys too that I’ve been involved with romantically, I've had the worst experiences with Muslim guys. Ironically enough their nasty side, as well as their disapproval of the way I live my life, emerged AFTER their attempts to get into my pants failed. It’s like they’re attracted to you, but dismissive of you and don't respect you at the same time. If you give in when they pursue you, they eventually write you off as a slut. But if you reject them (as is usually the case with me) you're a slut then as well LOL. There’s no winning.

In comparison, the Indian guys I have dated have been decent and respectful, and I trusted them implicitly.

I'm aware this contradicts my earlier statement that the treating-females-like-a-piece-of-meat attitude is prevalent amongst South Asian males, not just Muslim men. That's because I think there is a difference between men who originally originate from India, and British Asian men of Indian origin.

I do think in the UK, Muslim men (Pakistani, Bengali, Middle Eastern) struggle with the culture clash a lot more than British-born Indian men. This is why their views are not unlike the views of the chauvinistic men from back home (which includes Indian nationals).

For example, drinking alcohol is more readily accepted in Indian cultures, whereas in Muslim cultures it is obviously prohibited. This alienates Muslim people in terms of the social scene, where drinking plays a major part.

In Islam too, pre-marital sex is also forbidden. But generally, what happens when something is prohibited? It becomes more alluring. And there’s no denying that the mainstream media in Western societies is becoming increasingly sexualised.

When you have this culture with all its rules and restrictions reinforced by traditional parents, you are inevitably going to end up with a seriously confused kid; they’re brought up in a culture that’s modernising and moving with the times, but then simultaneously, they have religious or cultural restrictions placed on them. Then, these kids end up interacting and socialising with kids who are just as confused as them, as they’re left to make sense of two opposing cultures, as well as deal with the additional hurdles of adolescence such as peer-pressure and fitting-in etc.

In particular, sex and related issues aren’t openly discussed and are, in fact, taboo. Turning something natural and a normal facet of human behaviour into something sordid and wrong, you can perhaps see where this disturbing behaviour stems from.

When these same cultures belittle a woman’s place in society, or label her a slut if she behaves in a way that goes against the status quo, you can then also perhaps see how women then become the unfortunate victims when these frustrations manifest themselves.

However, something else about this recent rape attack in my local area also stood out, which relates to confused cultural mindsets.

Take a look at this picture, taken after the attack when police cordoned off the area to collect evidence:

The scene by the bus stop where the woman was raped

That’s the junction on Beeston Hill, Leeds UK. Opposite that eatery "Flava" there used to be a popular fish and chip joint. I remember a greasy-haired man with a sizeable schnozz who worked there. Being a teenager at the time who was big into Harry Potter, I remember automatically thinking of Snape every time I saw him, as he chatted away to my brother, the way all the lads do in this community do as they all know each other.

This dude hit the headlines in 2005, as one of four home grown terrorists who detonated bombs on the London public transport system. Three out of the four bombers were of Pakistani descent and lived (or had once lived) in the Beeston/Holbeck area.

Now, in this community Bengali people and Pakistani people generally get along, mingle and are friends, even. But cross-cultural romantic relationships between Pakistani and Bengali people are extremely frowned upon, and it’s not just because of the history of conflict between the two countries.

My brothers (who are Bengali) have plenty of Pakistani friends, and have always warned me off Pakistani men in particular. Given my own experience with Muslim men, I’m pretty sure I’d steer clear anyway.

Now, I’m not saying ALL Pakistani men are extremist religious perverts, but the Pakistani men of Beeston do have a reputation…and not a flattering one. The fact that the rapist in this particular case is thought to be of "Pakistani or Middle Eastern origin"… well I already guessed that before it was confirmed in the report.

Bringing up the July 7th bombings seems relevant, not just because both these crimes (the rape and the terrorist attack) came from individuals from the same community, but also because it seems relevant to current issues where you have British Asian kids running away to Syria to join the so-called Islamic state ISIS.

This area in particular is an example of a part of the UK with a high ethnic concentration, and you can’t ignore these extreme incidents occurring, which I feel are the repercussions when individuals become confused straddling two cultures.

And on a final note, I’ll include this Wikipedia entry about Leeds suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer's secret girlfriend... which says it all really:

"Tanweer's religious credentials as a serious Islamic extremist were cast in a questionable light when, in 2011, evidence emerged that he had a 'secret girlfriend' with whom he had been intimately involved until the very end, for a period of three years beginning in 2002. This evidence seems to cast Tanweer in a somewhat contradictory light, as sex outside of marriage is deeply frowned upon in even the most liberal Islamic circles, being assigned the label of a major sin in traditional Islamic Jurisprudence." - Wikipedia [retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shehzad_Tanweer]

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