Rita Banerji’s Interview With MasalaMommas!
Many of the issues such as dowry, dowry violence, “honor” killings and female feticide that effect women in India, also effect women in expatriate Indian communities. MasalaMommas, a Canada based magazine for South Asian working mothers, recently interviewed The 50 Million Missing Campaign Founder, Rita Banerji. To read the full interview: Click Here. Below are some excerpts from the interview.
[On raising strong daughters]: We emphasize reaching for our dreams – which is important. But it is not always an easy path, and we rarely prepare our daughters to learn how to deal with rejection and to still persist… Teach your daughter that abuse in any form is not o.k. from anyone, ever – not even from family. Walk away. Confront if it violates you and you have the means and strength for it. Never let anything negate you..
[On marriage and divorce]: I think the South Asian communities have more than enough fortifications to ensure that divorces don’t happen!! There is tremendous pressure, particularly on women, from their families and community, even when they are subjected to abuse and even extreme and dangerous violence, to not get out! They are pressured to remain in the marriage even when it is a threat to their safety and life. This is the biggest difference in the issue of domestic violence in Asian and Western communities. In western communities families and friends urge the women to get out.
[On Domestic Violence in Asian Communities]: I think it is very, very important for South Asians to begin to make a distinction between adjustment and abuse – because of right now that distinction does not exist! When he likes curry and she likes pizza, that’s an adjustment issue. An adjustment is something that you can discuss and live with… However, when a woman is subjected to verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse by her husband or/and her in-laws, that is not adjustment. That is abuse! And depending on the degree of abuse – these can also be criminal violations. It is extremely important for women of the Asian communities to draw a clean and clear line between these two things in their marriages.
[On Sex and Sexuality in India]: At my book launch in India, a number of college students came up to me and expressed complete disbelief at some of the things I discussed. For example, the Shiv-Lingam and Yoni, the idol which almost all Hindu households worship, is a leitmotif in my book, and represents the union of the penis and vulva. I ask the question how and why the religion came to worship such a blatantly sexual symbol. So I asked the young people at my book launch what the Hindi words for penis and vulva are, and not one of them knew. See, they may know the smutty words, which they won’t dare say aloud. But they do not know that actual anatomical words! It is incredible – this social conspiracy that conceals the most fundamental words of our own bodies because they deal with sex!
[On India’s Female Genocide]: There is no human group in the history of the world that has been subjected to this kind of hatred and annihilated on such a massive scale. Think about it – India technically houses 1/5 of the world’s women. And in 20 years, 20% of women in India will have been systematically eliminated. If this was true of any other human group on the basis of race, or religion, or ethnicity – think of how outraged the world would be! For me the question is, why doesn’t the targeted elimination of a group based on gender evoke the same response? Is it because this group is women?
[On family, individuality and traditional conflicts]: I didn’t say, “I am going to challenge this culture that I have been raised in.” Rather, it is a series of choices I made, at each stage of my life… I think most Indians come up against this kind of a conflicted choice for the most important decisions of their lives – education, job, life-partners and marriage… And they generally give in to the pressure and go with what their family wants them to choose… They stopped breathing and living for themselves, and allowed their parents to live through them. It is not right. You end up with people who live robotic lives, with the remote control in the hands of the family and culture. It does not create a community of healthy individuals, or for that matter a healthy community. And it is also clear to me now, that India’s ongoing femicide is a result of such inherently destructive dynamics that come of tradition bound communities..