“I can’t have my son marry a Pakistani or a Memon. I don’t want him ruining his life. My eldest married a Surti- look at him.”
Her cheeks burned with more shame than anger. As the only Surti in the room, She watched her mother in-law, words spilling out of her mouth with no concern for the audience present.
The chatting and laughter permeated the room like thick smoke, toxic words slowly dancing around like a silver fog. She breathed in the heavy air that choked her and burned holes in her lungs. Her resentment grew as the inappropriate comments carried on.
She felt insignificant. Like the last half-thought on the end of a very long list. A stranger with no identity, walking through herds of people staring and judging. She felt uncomfortable and irritated. A lonely, voiceless ornament trapped in a glass box in an empty museum. With people queuing up to stare, point and jeer at her.
She leaned against a nearby stool and slowly stood up, the claustrophobic room closing in on her made her want to hurl. The women took no notice as their conversation drifted off into an inaudible murmur. She left the tiny crowded room.
In the safe confounds of the cool bathroom, she took a deep breath. Her eyes stung. Cursing herself for feeling so hurt, she splashed cold water on her face.
Was she overreacting? She had never once questioned the colour of her skin, her heritage or her upbringing. She had always been happy, confident and never troubled with exclusion. But here she was, staring at her brown face in the mirror, wondering what was happening to her self esteem. She was slowly beginning to despise the image staring back at her.
She looked down at her growing belly and made silent promises for the unborn future.
Her thoughts broke as she heard a knock at the door. It was her sister in-law.
“Are you ok?”
“Yes…” She answered with apprehension.
“Look, you’re just gonna have to get used to her. That’s how she’s always been and she won’t ever change for anyone. You need to stop being so sensitive, and soon it won’t even matter.”
She nodded, swallowing another half of an apology whilst convincing herself that they were just words.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
Every person of culture carries with them a vestige of some form of the ‘caste’ system. Although more prevalent in the Hindu culture, Muslims have adopted this idea of superiority and prejudice and have hauled it into every migrated corner of the western world.
In particular, the differences highlighted here are a difference in dialect. ‘Surti’ and ‘Bharuchi’ are dialects from the Gujarat sect. It is the difference between a northerner and a southerner. Same language, but only spoken differently.
The general consensus in the Muslim community is that these ideas do not exist or are not properly addressed. Judging a marriage potential, for example, by their heritage or skin colour is so engrained into society that many are not even aware, or may choose to ignore that it exists. It is almost a robotic like function to look at a person’s colour rather than their character.
Islamically, the criteria for a good marriage partner is solely based on their faith and character. These are the fundamental elements (but not limited to) for a good Muslim marriage. Sadly, this is not even considered in most match making situations.
There is an unwritten rule within most cultural Muslim families that ‘pretty’ for a girl is fair skinned, slim and submissive. A category that many girls today do not fall into. And rightly so.
This marginalised group of girls already have a built in idea of not being good enough for someone or their family. Too brown, too heavy, too opinionated, too ‘modern’. Entering a marriage with these preconceived ideas is a set up for future failure. She will continuously, throughout her existence, try to compensate for physical attributes that she has no control over. Women who have been raised or are married into families with deep cultural backward minded roots are compelled by societal norms to lighten their skin, go on crazy diets or are even forced to dress traditionally. Simply because they look different, or are from a different sect to the family they have married into.
This begs the question of continuity. For how long will these immoral attitudes be passed onto future generations? Poisoning young minds into thinking that dark skin is unattractive or being plus size is disgusting. How many women are living with guilt, inferiority and shame over the way they look, made to feel worthless for putting on weight after childbirth, or are facing comments about their appearance by, let’s be honest, questionably unappealing people.
I was subject to racial comments by in-laws about the colour of my skin and degrading comments about my weight and the way I dressed. I never once questioned my appearance whilst growing up as I was raised to accept myself and others for who they are, not how they appeared. I stayed quiet for years and accepted this kind of treatment for fear of being ostracised. Not knowing that my silence was the very consequence of this idea.
I now vehemently refuse to stay silent about these abhorrent ideals that are manifest in many homes. I refuse to allow women to spiral into depression, trying to change the way they look or behave for the pleasure of these repulsive bullies. The question is, are you?
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Drop me a comment/ email below..