About Me

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ugly Indian

If you ever go to India, one of the first things you will notice as you step out of the airport is the dirt and trash everywhere (along with the sea of people). I love India and love traveling and living there, however one aspect that irks me the most about the cities and even the countryside is the abundance of trash and the lack of care about it from the people. Piles of trash are ubiquitous, plastic bags piled up in corners, clogging up drains, and littering the parks. Sometimes these piles of garbage are burned, releasing black toxic fumes that are not pleasant at all. India did not always used to be dirty; if you look at old pictures the streets are so clean! My parents tell me how clean their neighborhoods used to be when they were growing up, before the infiltration of plastic bags and wrappers. I'm also amazed at the way people litter even when there are trashcans nearby. I was at a new park in Lucknow with my host family and their teenage kids when we decided to get some ice cream. This family was middle class, educated and well to do. Despite these qualities, the typical Indian lack of care for the environment was on full display as the ice cream wrappers fell to the ground without a thought or care. I took mine off and looked around for a trashcan and sure enough there was one ten feet away. It was in the shape of a cartoon bunny with a hole and the words 'use me' stenciled on it. These clever and amusing trash cans can be found all over India, put there by the municipalities to encourage people to throw trash in them. I threw my wrapper away and turned around to see that the others had just flung their wrappers to the ground and were busy talking and gobbling their already melting popsicles. I became upset and kind of yelled at the kids, "why don't you all just throw your wrappers in the trashcan it's right over here." Their response was, "This is India and someone will clean it up." It is this mentality that I encountered over and over again with Indians, like my cousins tossing my banana peel out of a fast moving car and telling me to stop acting so American as I clung onto every piece of trash waiting for a trashcan or proper place to dispose of it. To me it always appears that Indians don’t care about their surroundings and that their cities look like trash dumps. But mind you that Indians are generally not dirty people. Go to their homes and you will find them to be immaculate. However this cleanliness only extends to their persons and the boundaries of their homes, outside and everything else can well go to the dumps!

My question is why do Indians have this mentality and can it be changed? It is this question that a group of Indians are asking of themselves and their fellow neighbors in order to change themselves and their neighborhoods, and eventually their country. The Ugly Indian is an initiative that aims to change the lack of civic duty and mentality of no care of the average Indian. According to their website, Indians are good at blaming others for their problems, the reason the streets are dirty, the road full of potholes, and the sidewalks unwalkable always comes down to some else's fault. It is either the government, the poor people, corruption, etc that creates these problems. There is never an attempt to take ownership of the problem. The Ugly Indian wants to show that things can be changed, streets can be clean, sidewalks walkable, and the neighborhoods orderly. Their website is full of examples of how they tackled specific problems that are often taken for being irreparable, such as men using the wall and the sidewalk as their personal urinal. Since people used the sidewalk and the wall along it as a public urinal, it also became a place to throw trash. Due to this condition pedestrians stopped using it and used the dangerous and already congested streets. There had been attempts to clean it but it always reverted to its disgusting filthy state. The people of The Ugly Indian came up with a strategy; they cleaned it up and painted it white so that it looks even more clean which means that people will be less inclined to urinate there. They painted cute footprints and put potted plants and convinced the cabdrivers who park there to not let anyone use it as their private toilet. According to the website so far it's been kept clean and people are beginning to use the side walk again. In all of their other cases, they were able to involve businesses to care about the spaces right outside their property. Because a few of them actually stepped forward and took initiative there was improvement. If everyone complains and does nothing then obviously nothing will ever be done about it! The strategy adopted by this group of conscientious Indians is a right step towards a better India. There is an Indian campaign that aims to bring this type of change, Tum Chalo to Hindustan Chale which basically means that India can't work without each of us doing our part. India is great and can only become better if everyone decides to take initiative and begins to change their habits and mentality. As a famous Indian once said "be the change............"

Leave a Message

I'm not sure who is reading this blog, I know it's fairly new. But if you are reading it or just stopping by, please leave a comment and let me know. I've been under the weather for the past few days. I have things I want to say so watch out for some new posts. The weather is gorgeous now but I have yet to go out and actually enjoy it. Maybe this weekend I'll finally feel better. I've been itching to go back to taking pictures again, I've neglected that for weeks, my cute point-and-shoot is collecting dust, calling out my name every time I pass my desk. I'm going to take it out this weekend and take pictures. When I go out somewhere I compose shots in my head and wish I could capture it, but I never have the camera with me. That's always my problem with everything these days, I have a wandering mind and when I come upon something whether a nice composition that I could have taken a picture of, or an idea for a painting, or something to write, I think about it for a moment and then poof! I forget it. I'm going to try really hard to focus and actually go through with my ideas. I'l leave with this picture I took some time back. I would love to sit on those steps and just day dream....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Teaching women how to dress in Baghdad

I recently came across an article in the NY Times, "Mannequins Wear a Message for Iraq's Women" about a display put in a shopping area in Baghdad that was meant to teach women how to dress themselves.
On a raised stage between two shops, four mannequins in Western dress, their blond hair peeking out under colored scarves, stood amid crepe-paper flames. To one side was a banner featuring lust-crazed male ghouls; behind the mannequins, images of eternal suffering.
And at the foot of the stage was a scripture from the mosque.
“Whoever fills his eyes with the forbidden, on judgment day God will fill them with fire.”
The display is meant to show women how to properly dress themselves. Those that do not dress to a certain standard i.e. the abaya, a black cloak that covers the body, which the clerics there believe is what is Islamically sanctioned, then they are committing a sin. It is also meant to frighten women into dressing in a specific manner, to protect herself from men's lustful looks and to protect her from hellfire, the punishment for showing her body. What's interesting about the display is that all the mannequins are dressed in a very conservative manner, long dress, arms covered as well as hair but it is not the abaya. In other Muslim countries this form of dress would be considered acceptable by religious leaders. However in this Shi'a area of Baghdad, the abaya is the proper Islamic dress. The approach of teaching women how to dress as well as the comments made by men and women in the interviews presents an all too common sentiment about women's dress in the Muslim world. Women are taught repeatedly that they must dress a certain way, cover your head, cover your face, cover your body. The reasons given for it are two: one, it is mandated by the religion; and two it is a protection against men looking at them lustful, men can't help themselves if women dress in a way that reveals her body. What is scary is how myopic Muslims are when reading their own texts and religious mandates. What is often not discussed is that the Qur'an mandates that believing men and women dress modestly, guard their privates, and lower their gazes. It is compulsory for women and men, not just women. However the emphasis on the men to lower their gaze and to not harass women is never made or even taught in society. Why is there no display that shows how men will be punished in the hellfire for looking at women and committing other sins? This partial and near sighted view of modesty in the religion is sad and causes more problems. This emphasis on women to cover up even more by wearing the abaya so that men will not lust after them or harass them only gives men the right to do that to women who are not dressed in this manner, even if she is dressed modestly. This harassment is then forgiven because the woman was asking for it, she should know better and cover up more. No wonder, non Muslims see Muslim men as controlling and misogynistic. The equity and fairness that is prescribed for both gender is never carried out, it's always the woman's fault.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: Mother of the Believers

One of the most controversial topic in regards to the Prophet Muhammad's life is his relationship with Aisha, specifically the age difference between them. Over the years those opposed to Islam have maligned the Prophet's character by bringing out this point, that he married a young girl of 9 when he was a much older man. Many Muslim have tried to reinterpret the historical data and justify this marriage and clear the Prophet's name. However within this controversy what is lost is the actual relationship of Aisha and Prophet Muhammad and impact Aisha had on the early formation of Islam and Muslim women. Aisha has always been an intriguing woman, widowed at an early age and considered a scholar who transmitted many hadith, providing examples for Muslims in coming generations on how to live their lives in the footsteps of the Prophet. It is her life that comes out in the a book by Kamran Pasha called Mother of the Believers. This book is a new approach in reading about her life, it is a novel format, a historical fiction that weaves a great story about a remarkable woman and the early formation of Islam. The story is told in her voice, she recounts her life and the history of the beginning of Islam to her nephew at the end of her life. Through her voice and eyes we obtain a perspective of the religion and early community of Muslims through the perspective of a woman. I would have to admit that I was a bit hesitant in reading this book, thinking that it will distort many things to add drama to the book, but I was proved wrong. The 527 page book is a riveting read, sticking true to the actual events in history and the stories of Aisha and the Prophet that are well known in the hadiths. What is added in here are details that string the many stories together into a novel. The book really brings a fresh feminine perspective to a history that is often seen as male dominated. While the author of the book is a male there is never any feeling that a man is writing in that he brings out a sensitivity that allows for the complexity of a woman's thoughts and emotions to come out. Kamran Pasha treats all the characters with respect and reverence without erasing any of the complexity. He shows the good and the bad to show that not everything was happy go lucky. His story gives a humanness to all of the companions of the Prophet and his wives, with emotions and thoughts that we can relate to. We can understand the jealousy that Aisha felt when the Prophet married other women, and the conflicts between Ali and Aisha or any of the other companions. These details that are added allow for the reader to feel the ups and downs of the religion and to connect to them. As I read the book I felt the jealousy, sadness and happiness of Aisha, I cried when she describes the death of the Prophet. I enjoyed reading every page of this lengthy novel. It is a well written sensitive and insightful novel that is a first in bringing out the story of a controversial yet powerful woman in the history of Islam.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sharia gone wild

Another case of Sharia gone wild. A case out of Bangladesh this week in which a 14 year old girl was raped by a relative and then sentenced to 100 lashes by the local clerics in her village. The girl died before her sentence was completed. Her relative that raped her fled before he could be punished. This form of punishment is illegal in Bangladesh, and now the high court and government are investigating this case and how such a punishment could be carried out. The thing is while Bangladesh has a secular government, the laws and customs at the local level especially in the villages often go unchecked as was in this case. The media of course has spun this into how sharia is a bad thing that inflicts harsh barbaric punishments often unfair to women. Sharia is one of those words that is often used but the least correctly defined or understood. This case of the young girl being punished is not a case of how bad sharia is and that it should be banned but rather a case of the ignorance of the Muslim world that does not understand its own laws. The principles of sharia does not dictate that people should be punished unjustly. The local clerics are a poorly educated bunch that don't understand their own religious law and were in no place to give a "fatwa". A case that does involve fornication must have four reliable witnesses that actually saw the act, without that there is no case and any accusation is thrown out and those that accuse are punished for spreading lies. This case of the 14 year girl is an example of the ignorance of local officials and their usage of their own backwards customs and not a case of implementation of sharia. Today many Muslims know just about the same about sharia as those that are non-Muslims and that is a scary thing. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hypocrisy in the Muslim world

I hate hypocrisy and I hate double standards, and most people are afraid to point these out when they see due to fear of retaliation, that is why I was glad that someone had the boldness to call it out. Veena Malik, a Pakistani star spoke out against the double standard against women that exists in Pakistan. A cleric on a talk show shamed her for appearing on the Indian show, Big Boss and wearing short dresses. For the cleric, Ms. Malik misrepresented Pakistan and Islam, and should be shamed for her actions. Ms. Malik on a talk show defended herself and lashed out against the comments made by the cleric, saying that she does not represent those things, and that the clerics are always ready to condemn the behavior of women and not the true injustices committed against them. While the cleric might have had a right to express his viewpoint about what he considers immoral, the need to highlight this issue when there are more pertinent issues in the country shows the double standard of the society. Men in the entertainment industry are never ridiculed or slut shamed, while women quickly become the targets. Ms. Malik points out that women are considered soft targets because they never speak back since they don't want to not bring more attention to themselves in this regard. Also in Muslim societies women become the carrier of honor, and their every action is scrutinized, a misstep is considered a point of dishonor. The good things that a woman dose is discounted and she is thrown under the bus for a misstep or for speaking her mind. The weapon of shame and discrediting woman are powerful tools used to silence dissent, a way to keep women subservient. Ms. Malik and others like her (e.g. Mukhtar Mai) who speak out instead of taking the abuse or retreating in the face of shame are needed to give women more courage to speak out and also to show the men that we are not to be taken lightly. Those that purport to speak out against immorality and injustice should do so against everyone who commits them, not just women. By targeting their women, the Pakistani men show their real cowardice. Why not go after those men that rape and throw acid on the faces of women, maybe they are afraid. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brrrrr, it's cold!

Ya'll it's really cold here! The temperatures have been in the low 30s and 20s, and there is a chance of ice and snow tonight and tomorrow, and I love it! I know I live in a warmer area of the country that rarely sees snow and ice, and there are people up north that are suffering but I love this rare treat. My reasons for loving really cold weather is silly, but I love using the opportunity to snuggle in bed with a book and sip hot tea. I know I'm a romantic. The thing is I love the changing season, and I'm always deprived of a formal winter season, I only get moving cold fronts and the temperatures mostly stay in the 60s and 70s, I know, I know people from New York would call me ungrateful, but I just want some cold weather y'all, I want to be able to have an opportunity to wear warm clothes and get to stay inside without feeling guilty. I want my snow day too! My work has been cancelled today and tomorrow and I'm taking the opportunity to enjoy it! Hot chicken soup, and a cooking up a nice stew tonight, and hot tea in between. I might try to venture out today, or I might just open the door a little and peek out, feel the cold wind in my face, see the iceless and snowless yard, and then jump back into bed, grateful that it's not worse than this.

Alam-e Masr

For a week now Egypt has been in the news, and I have been following all the latest developments, reading the news everyday and following up on updates. However as a non-Egyptian I cannot even begin to understand the feelings of the people there and what it means for them. I don't know too much about the politics of the region but I support the people to make the decision for their future by themselves and not be told by outsiders what is the best strategy. Over the week the American coverage and response to the protests and call for revolution in Egypt has been pathetic and very misinformed. For starters America was completely caught off guard by the intensity of the protests by the Egyptians and it was apparent that they are scared by it. They never imagined that Arabs can actually aspire to democratic ideals, for them Arabs are just angry mobs who are used to living in despotism. The immediate response by the American media was how will this affect America and American security. It is a legitimate question but shows how foreign policy has always been in the interest of the American power and never in their espousal of democratic ideals. America has backed Mubarak all these years despite what he has done to the people. Also the media here has tried to spin the call for revolution and protest as coming from Muslims and that it will eventually turn into a "Iran styled" revolution and will turn into a fundamentalist state instead of a democracy. People have been throwing the name of the Muslim Brotherhood around, using scare tactics to dissuade Americans from supporting or even understanding the situation. It is hard for them to believe that there are other factors than just religious that can move the Arab people. It is unimaginable that the people of Egypt have a voice, that they can speak for themselves, that they can move together in unison without regard to religion. The people of Egypt, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor are speaking out together and will decide the future of their country together, it will not be decided for them by outsiders.

I found this to be very telling about the media's coverage.