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[Beware! This is a long post, but I ask especially all women who pass by to read it!! And please tell me of any of your experiences, here or at lemonsunflower [at] gmail [dot] com]

Pop Quiz! The above sign would be best suited:

a. In front of a men’s restroom/sauna/locker room

b. As a barrier to allow men to move ahead in the temple for darshan (obeiyance)

c. Everywhere! Gender segregation is the key to world peace!

d. None of the above! Segregation is the obstacle to world peace!

{I hope no one actually took c and d seriously}

So I do consider myself a feminist, but I’m not the one who jumps up and picks up a bat at every sexist comment, because I understand that in reality, life is never fair and was never meant to be. And I’m equally likely to make a comment to the opposite gender, so why make a fuss about the petty things? I’m a feminist because I am aware, fully support and recognize the important needs of women, as well as the instances of clear social injustice where you do need to yell and scream and make a point in a patriarchal society. I’m a feminist because the welfare of women is important to me, because I am one, and because I will not accept any obvious, vicious discrimination of any sort.

As a child, I always enjoyed going to temples. I enjoy Hindu festivities, traditions, the various little rites and customs. We’d take off our slippers on the chaukhat (doorway) and walk in on cool ground, and it would be completely quiet within. You’d walk up to the beautiful murtis (idols) and bow, dip your finger in the tika or chandan and carefully anoint the center of your forehead. Then, if you were tall enough, you’d reach up and clang the bell, or your dad would pick you up. The sound would resonate in the silence, a beautiful sound, and you’d feel at peace. Then the best part: you’d walk out and stand in line for prasad (offering), sweet halwa or a laddoo, a piece of fruit…it always tasted best in the temple. During aarti, you’d sing together with people from all walks of life, clap your hands, and marvel at the beautiful clothes and jewellery the Gods and Goddesses were dressed up in. The festival months were even more wonderful, and exciting, and life filled the temples: everyone came, with goodwill, with happiness, with varying levels of devotion. There were lights, and bhajans (devotional songs), and a mass of colors and voices. My family weren’t ardent temple-goers. We’d go to mark birthdays, special events, report cards, a promotion or a success in the family, to pay our due devotion and show our gratitude. God was everywhere, but in the temple the presence was greater, the experience more satisfying. I always looked forward to these visits (and I’ll admit it was often for the prasad), times when my family was together, unified and happy to visit the Lord.

But the point of this post is this: I don’t recall as a child having to stand behind the boys and the men during aartis, or waiting in line behind the men to see the idols or get the prasad. I recall standing with my brother, not waiting behind him. There was never any segregation in the temples I visited, though there were always rituals or customs that discriminated against women. At that point, I never understood them, or I never noticed. When you grow up with it, its a way of life, nothing extraordinary to ponder about. But there was surely nothing that ever left a mark on me, or disturbed me enough to stay with me all these years or blemish my temple visits. I’m grateful for that.

And yet, a visit to a temple here ignited a rush of questions and emotions (mainly anger, and frustration), last weekend. I’ve been there before, and been through the process before, but accepted it every other time as a cultural custom. India is a mixture of cultures, and one cannot presume to understand the traditions of some from the west or the south if I’m from the north or the east. Often, you have to go by the when in Rome saying, and so I did every time. As fas as I was concerned, I was there to bow my head in front of God (and God alone), experience the peace and beauty of the temple and leave.

But this weekend my conscience flared up, and refused to stay down. We sat behind the men during the aarti, a large group of women who had to strain our necks to glimpse the idols. And then when it came time to “circle” and walk up the other murtis, this sign blocked our passage. Finally, they removed the sign. We walked past. I looked straight ahead and reached the end of the passage.

“You will have to stop. First let the swamiji and his disciples go by.”

He would have pushed me back, but he wasn’t allowed to touch any women in/around the temple. From the corner of my eye I saw he was merely a teenager. Dressed in a white kurta-pajama, and he had the big responsibility of holding back the crowd of women who threatened to just flood in and pollute the prayers of the “swamiji and his disciples.” My heart started thumping and immediately, my anger threatened to burst out. My eyes didn’t look in his direction at all, there was no way I was dignifying his rubbish by acknowledging it and looking in his direction. I looked straight ahead at the idol in front of me. He repeated his sentence. I didn’t budge, didn’t move back (but didn’t move forward either). I simply stared ahead. He shut up, finally, and simply stood there on guard. I considered my options.

Then I swiftly turned around and walked out.

Yup, I didn’t do anything. The righteous anger, the will to stand up, the frustration and I didn’t even squeak. I took the cowardly way out with just the one rebellious act of ignoring him a bit, which he probably didn’t even notice. I didn’t say a word out loud to express my indignation.

I wanted to say “Why? Why? Didn’t a woman give birth to your swamiji? To God himself? Doesn’t Sita stand with Rama in the idols? Radha with Krishna? Who gave you right to make us feel like second-class devotees, when the Hindu pray to both Goddesses and Gods? Why must I wait to pray? Why must I stand behind the men?” I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to question and express outloud the terrible injustice that was being done.

I walked out and all I could think of was: even a rapist, a murderer, the most dirtiest and corrupt man in the world, has the right to pray to God before I do! What justice! What a world! What customs, what traditions! This hadn’t been what I grew up, the temples we visited, had it? I had never had to feel this way as a child, among my family, and my parents tried my best to shield me on the outside. But I know this for sure: during Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, I saw all men and women stand together and pray in front God! [Note: this temple is run by Hindus from a different part of India than from where I am from. Customs change widely by area]

I don’t mention religion here. I will not say Hinduism has not discriminated against women. Hinduism and Hindus as a population have committed grave sins against all women, like EVERY other religion does. And yet, in all the years that I have lived, if there is one thing I understand and am completely sure of, is that God does not make religion. Human does. The idea of God is meant to give hope, it is an idea to have faith in when everything seems bleak. Yet the Human adds his own words and language and ideas and beliefs to the simple idea of God, until what the Human has said and done and thinks becomes indistinguishable from “God.” Humans corrupts “God.” And so, I cannot blame the faith. I can only blame those who preach their version of it and claim its truth and goodness and purity…when in reality, their version is no different from our world: corrupt, unfair, cruel, biased and dirty.

I discussed the incident with someone. Ofcourse, it was wrong, the guy’s behavior was wrong, I was told. And yet, I must understand why they do it. The reason men and women are segregated is because the mind of Man is weak, it is easily swayed, essentially filthy. And so, Woman must be away from Man during prayer to avoid temptation. And so, I said indignantly, why don’t women sit in front then, stand in front of men. Its still segregated, right?

Why not?? Because if women stands in front, the men sitting behind will stare at the women rather than pay attention to God, since men are so weak.

Does it outrage you? Regardless of your gender, do you sense the unfairness, the injustice? Even if I accept the argument based on the scientific evidence of pheromones, it is still ridiculous! Why must women suffer, if men are weak? Who decided that? Its the same argument that foolish people throw out justifying rape. “Its how she was acting/what she was wearing.” And hear, the woman’s crime is simply: being a woman.

How ludicrous. Immediately, I was reminded of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir written by the English professor who taught secret classes for her women students (highly recommended). Ms. Nafisi recalls how after Iran became a republic, all her female students had to wear burkhas. Not a bit of skin should be visible: only the palms if necessary, not even a bit of wrist or the nape of the neck. The women were fined or verbally/physically punished if the law was violated. And the justification provided to Ms Nafisi, can you guess? The sight of the woman’s white skin was a temptation to the men, seducing and distracting them from maintaining their pure lives.

Again, I do not believe this is Islam. I believe this is Islam from the corrupt eyes of those who changed it to meet their needs/forgive their crimes/grant them freedom and loopholes. Just like what happened to me at the temple is not Hinduism. It is Hinduism that has been conveniently manipulated and modulated and reworked to suit the needs of Men.

The thing that hurts me the most is that this happens in the place of God. Where individuals come to find solace, peace, love, warmth, understanding, gain some kind of acceptance. Women have always met with discrimination, in all walks of life, from the beginning of time. But being stopped in the house of God where I come simply as every man does, for the same reasons and in the same way, with the same devotion and the same dedication and love, is just so very degrading and painful. Its painful deep down somewhere, in my heart, in my soul, its frustrating, it causes my blood to boil and my head to spin with anger. If I had been a child, ignorant of the ways of the world, I know how I would feel: shocked, hurt, and at fault, like there was something wrong with me, something that makes me not as worthy as my brother to face God, makes me deficient in some quality in front of God. I know because even though I understand the narrow-mindedness and cruelty and corruption of the world, I still feel a little bit of that, and that makes me grateful to my parents for shielding me as a child, and scares me at the thought of raising a daughter in this world. And that makes me lash again…how dare anyone, ANYONE, make me feel this way?

And all I did was walk away. I let down all my sisters that day at the temple, by not saying a word. I stayed mute, and walked out, and I have no excuse. I apologize. It was too difficult, it was too burdensome and I knew that that day, at that temple, it would make no difference to that boy or any other man.

May God give me strength the next time I see this sign in a temple. Strength to push it over and out of my way, strength to kick any man who dares to stop me in the balls, and strength to march forward to claim my birthright.

John Mayer: Belief

Various Artists: Ishwar Allah

[This song isn’t working right…it sounds like chipmunks on this player. But you should be able to download it by rightclicking on the link and that should work fine]
{from the movie 1947 Earth by Deepa Mehta}

Ishwar Allah tere jaahaan mein nafrat kyun hain, jang hai kyun

(God, why is there hatred in your world, why is there war?)

Tera dil to itna bada hain, insaan ka dil tang hai kyon?

(Your heart is so large, why is the heart of man so narrow?)

Full lyrics and translation at: http://www.bollywhat.com/lyrics/1947_lyr.html

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http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/16/vtech.shooting/index.html

How terrible and very sad! My condolences go to the students, faculty, family and community members affected by this horrible violence.

I hope they learn about the gunman soon before rumors start perpetrating. I cannot imagine who would be behind this completely random, senseless, and brutal act. A crazed student? An individual from outside the school with some mental illness? It doesn’t make sense that this would be the act of a sane individual. The college Columbine, newspapers are calling it, the deadliest school shooting since 1966 (in Austin).

Whats strange is that though this is painful, frightening and incites anger and frustration, its not shocking to me. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Slowly, have we all started to get used to such acts? We take a look at the papers and say, “so what calamity took place today? how many dead in wars? which terrorist did what? who was abused?” It seems to me that day by day we’ve slowly become used to expecting our news splashed with blood, violence, crime, war. No matter where we’ve from, what part of the earth we inhabit, what our social status or education is….it seems we’re all just accepting and habituating to a degrading world. Just shrugging our shoulders, maybe crying a tear or two, shaking our head in sorrow (but not in disbelief) and then moving on.

Is that right? It is human nature to adapt, to habituate, the administration of a constant stimuli will eventually recieve no response by the mind or body. We get more worried at missing our morning cup or coffee, or missing the bus/train to work, more shocked if our papers are in disarray or if our flight gets delayed, than we do at the murder of children in Palestine or violence in schools and universities across the US. Our survival skill has become to simply accept, or even avoid.

 Where will this take us? Is this the right way to live through our world? Will anything change if we decide this is not normal? If we become aware of our own growing apathy and decide to put a stop to it? Or is the best and safest way to just let it progress, until our lack of surprise transforms into a lack of feeling at the denigration of our own world, and it actually becomes a survival tactic?

I pray for those affected at Virginia Tech. I hope they will eventually find the strength to put this terrible incident behind them and find solace. I’m sure their world will forever be changed after today. I hope those injured physically recover soon, and those injured emotionally recieve the support and care they need. May those whose lives were so cruelly snatched away rest in peace.

Let us just hope, against hope, that this will be the last we see of such a terrible incident, atleast in our time. It seems like wishful thinking in 2007 to hope like this, but I will wish and I will try my best to do everything I can to make my wish come true.

Call it naivety, call it ignorance. I’d rather act, perhaps in vain, than just stand and watch.

Waiting on the World to Change, by John Mayer. From the album Continuum.

“Waiting on the World to Change”

Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could

Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance

So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want

That’s why we’re waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

It’s not that we don’t care,
We just know that the fight ain’t fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
And we’re still waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change
One day our generation
Is gonna rule the population
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

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So today started off as a good day on all accounts. I was okay, positive, albeit sleepy. But i managed to stay awake through 8am, 9am, be loud and cheery at 10am and after that it went downhill. Based on that analysis it must be the lab. I’m angry that I made the stupid mistake, which isn’t entirely my fault bc the protocol was not very well written, and more imp i should have checked it thoroughly with partners. I don’t really care abt the results but it was just such a stupid mistake. And it was so tiring. My feet really hurt today, maybe thats why too. Not sure why bc these boots are usually so comfy. Maybe im just in a whiney mood. What else is new? 😉

Yesterday ** said “i liked it….but their voices were so sweet that…that…well..it made me want to throw up.” hahahhaha that girl….cracks me up so much! ive pretty much been feeling out of sorts since the new girl came to look at the place and she’s going to be moving in. It just seems so….final. Not to be living with **and ** anymore. How strange! Not just for the summer, but like EVER. How depressing! I mean they’ve basically been my family, they’ve seen me only as my family as. Early in the morning, late at night, bad hair in the morning, bad breath at night…well basically the usual things that roomies know abt each other. Roomies like us, who are so close and who REALLY get along. I’m so going to miss our talks, our discussions on all kinds of strange subjects that only we can talk abt, our teasing and laughing. It was just amazing living with these two girls. They’ve given me support, encouraged me, remonstrated me when i needed a sharp word, been there for hugs or to bitch to and whine to. And 24-7, whenver they’ve been around. Wow. How can i not be living with them anymore? It just feels so sad that there’s barely any time left, and all that time will be stressful. I hate change. I really do. I know there’s no other way, its inevitable, but I still hate it. I’m going to miss their wonderful sense of humor, their warmth and friendliness, their love and care, their wittiness and kindness. There’s so much i could write about them, it would take days.

Oh and *** and i have been like *this* (picture two fingers crossed together) since Day One, since we entered this whole college thing 2.5 years ago. Living without her is unimaginable, except for the summers. I mean even now i see her every weekend, otherwise i feel something’s missing. We were joined at the hip A term freshman year, and then we grew out of that but never out of being in sync. She’s such an integral part of everything. Everything, basically every single thing i’ve done in college is related to her in one way or another. Not seeing her till Oct and then not living with her….wow….seems almost unfair! (yes, even though its my decision). I’ll miss everyone so much, and just the fact that i won’t be living with ** and ** really brought it ALL home. I bet thats the cause of all this sudden distraction and listlessness today.

So last night I did another mental pros and cons weighing like i have so many times before. I didn’t come up with a different answer but I’ll just place wht my thoughts were, if anyone wants to give me their opinion i would accept it readily.

Reasons I’m graduating Early:

1. I have no more courses left of any interest, essentially, atleast not on campus.

2. Its a LOT LOT LOT of money that i’m sure i could find use for.

3. I’m planning to travel…somewhere OTHER than these places, go home to India after 8 years, see my niece for the first time, and other exciting times.

4. Important point: Will I miss everyone? TO DEATH!! But last term i had the unsavorable experience of simply standing around and watching while everyone was busy looking/applying for jobs or in other coursework. If i’m not taking any heavy courses and everybody is involved in their MQP, job search, etc (2nd semester, so prob will be), i’ll go through that again. Not to mention i’ll be in a seperate hell waiting to hear from schools.

5. Another important pt: I miss home, and I’ve recently re-realized the importance of time. There’s just not enough of it. Each time I go home something else has changed. I was 16 when i left home and in the last 2.5 years i’ve changed SO much (hopefully for the better). I want to spend some more of this time before I embark on yet another journey being a daughter. Sharing every day with my parents. It might not always be a ride and comes with its own burdens, but its my experience that I want to have enough time for.

So am I right? Or is this one of those confounded things that only time can tell?

What I’m listening to: “Stop this Train” John Mayer. Perfectly appropriate for this kind of thinking, I guess. I think i’ve been suffering from music-withdrawal, haven’t been plugged in all day.


Stop This Train, John Mayer

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