THE YEAR WAS 2004. I don’t quite remember what part of it, but since I don’t recall more than one layer of clothing on me, it must have been summer. India was on small-town America’s radar with Nisha Sharma appearing on Oprah, a heroine after sending her almost-husband to jail practically at the altar/mandap. And being the only Indian woman at my organization, the comparisons were spontaneous.
“Don’t go home,” my Supervisor advised, all compassion and sweetness after grinding my nose into the ground with 14-hour workdays. “They might set you on fire too.”
I did a lot of deep breathing that summer. And laughed a-plenty to keep my sanity intact. Before launching into a by-now-spielable-in-my-sleep version of How Not All Indian Women’s Circumstances Are Identical.
More power to the Sharmas of the world. I stand up and applaud her. Dowry is a war we’re fighting. Every day. Within our borders. And the enemy is at home. With 1200 reported deaths a year, you can use that noodle to guesstimate what the actual number must be.
But I am not her. If only because I haven’t had the need to be yet. I certainly hope I find reserves of energy, strength and fortitude if I find myself in a situation similar to hers, but in the meanwhile, I will not trudge through life being covered by the same attitudinal shroud that is accorded to her. It is not mine to wear. By no means am I distancing myself from her situation and labeling her “The Other”. My solidarity with her actions remains staunch even today. I am merely standing up for my right to be who I am, while morally supporting the cause of my gender.
I took a stand because I wasn’t up for living with stereotyping such as this: If I wasn’t the submissive, good, South Asian wife , then I must be the lucky, educated, will-get-married-to-doctor-and-live-a-green-card-life sort. And that type is “okay” (with a relieved nod of the head), because their education and social class protect them from the uncivilized brutalities of the other brown folks.
By the end of the season, I had determinedly managed to drill some relevant bits of information into my Sup’s red-necked skull:
- Not all Indian women are tortured.
- Not all Indian marriages are arranged.
- I actually felt safer in my home country than I did in my present one.
When word got around to the other therapists about what had been said to me, they were aghast and ashamed at her ignorance. I was at the receiving end of apologies that they didn’t need to make. Because just as I am not all Indian women, they don’t represent everything and everybody American.
Yes, I am a woman.
And my color is brown.
I am one among half a billion, but at the end of the day, I am only one.
I walk with my sisters, but at the end of the day, my footsteps are mine alone.
And you may confuse them with the millions of others that tread paths all around me, but I can see mine clearly, as I plant each foot firmly ahead of the other, walking, striding, marching to be fully Me.