How India’s rape culture came to Canada
NationalPost.com – FullComment
Jan 3, 2013. Afsun Qureshi, Special to National Post
Weeks before a young medical student endured a fatal Dec. 16 gang rape in Delhi, my eight-year-old daughter announced that she wanted to visit India. She’d become intrigued by her own Indian heritage, and by my frequent visits there.
To which I replied: “Sure, but only if you are handcuffed to me or your father.”
She laughed. But I was serious. Last July, during my most recent trip to India, I endured getting rubbed up against, pinched and groped, whilst the offending perverts took shelter in the formidable crowds to camouflage their crimes.
I am Canadian-born to Indian parents, and grew up in Toronto, the heartland of the Trudeau-era Indo-Pak influx. I know that the attitudes that spawned India’s recent gang-rape tragedy don’t just flourish in South Asia. Sadly enough, there are common threads of cultural-based misogyny wherever the Indo-Pak, and now Afghani, communities settle.
In their 50-odd years as Canadians, my parents rarely ventured out of that community. Growing up in their household, I came to know this world intimately. What I write isn’t conjecture: It is personal experience.
The first rule in this deeply flawed patriarchal society: men rule. Getting a first-born son is like striking gold. And in most cases, that child and any boys that follow are spoiled to an extreme degree. What “needs” they have are met — even if that means casting a blind eye to the law.
A few years back, one of the members of my community, a girl out of her teens, endured the ordeal of an arranged marriage to a stranger in India. Although Canadian-born, she was sent to live with her in-laws in a small Indian town. India being what it is, various members of the extended family, i.e., brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, etc., lived communally under one roof. Within weeks of her arriving, a brother-in-law attempted to rape her.
The attitude from the rest of the household? A shoulder shrug and a “Get over it. Boys will be boys.” Her persistent protests finally spelled divorce — ironically, instigated from the groom’s family, who never denied the brother-in-law’s crime, but felt dishonoured by the fact that this Canadian harlot had the cheek to protest it. (It was assumed that the attempted rape was all her fault. She must have batted her eyelids; she must have showed an ankle.)
Within my own extended family, there was a “funny uncle” who took turns on everyone, regardless of gender and age. Although he committed crimes in the nature of Jimmy Saville (no exaggeration), today he is a free man living with his family in a Toronto suburb. God help his children and the neighbourhood kids.
The community simply shut their eyes to his twisted crimes, and ignored his victims, many of whom later suffered PTSD as adults. Calling the police then was never an option. Why? Because whatever happens in the hermetically-sealed Indo-Pak community stays in the Indo-Pak community, where the “honour” code has a chokehold. Growing up, I always wondered (and still do) what would happen if the police or social workers ever knew what actually goes on behind our closed doors.
The patriarchal elements of such societies not only serve to protect criminals, but also isolate their female victims. Consider the young woman in India who committed suicide a few months back because the police refused to act on her allegations that she’d been raped during the Hindu festival of Diwali. They believed the story, oh yes, but they just didn’t care, and couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.
Look at Shafilea Ahmed, the British-Pakistani girl suffocated to death by her father in 2009 for being too “Westernized.” In Canada, there are the Shafia crimes, and of course the infamous case of Aqsa Parvez. I am deeply shamed to say that when reading Christie Blatchford’s reportage on the Shafias, so much of it made me feel “right at home” — despite the fact that I escaped that world decades ago (both by geography, and by marriage). It resonated to the point where my heart ached.
The protests witnessed in India in recent days show that the country is engaged in a rare moment of introspection. We need that introspection here in Canada as well. Many of the South Asian immigrants who’ve settled in Canada since the 1970s have been so afraid of losing their culture that they have ferociously clung to some of their worst customs. Each time I visit India, I notice that it progresses ever so slightly with each passing year. But when I visit Toronto, as I regularly do, I sometimes feel like I have walked through a time machine, sending me back to rural India, a village in Pakistan, or an Afghan mountain cave.
As I write this now, I fear recrimination from that community — and certain members of my own family. But I am also hoping to tap into a spirit of solidarity. Perhaps a new generation will help push for change.
Afsun Qureshi is a Canadian-born writer living in London, England.
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