By Priya Goswami
I was 11 years old when my mother said I was ‘impure’ now that I got my periods. The idea of ‘impurity’ in front of God enraged the eleven-year-old me. I wanted to know if my Muslim and Christian friends were also told not to ‘touch God’ or go near him in the temple, mosque, or church during their periods.
I got around asking that question through a street play, Chakravyu*, in my undergraduate college years. A play through which we spoke about the cultural subversion of women and how every religion has its way of propagating patriarchy via religion and culture.
When we performed the play out in public, often, we would meet the gaze of someone religious who thought our street play too slanderous to their religion. We would meet their gaze even more vociferously by mixing a Hindu chant with a Muslim Azaan.
I am sad to share this, but I know deep down in my bones that I can no longer mix a Hindu chant with a Muslim Azaan**. I know performing such a play in today’s India would get my collegiate pals and me arrested or lynched even.
That is the India my country has grown to become.
I will not deny that we are an intolerant nation where Muslim friends are offered separate utensils in bigoted homes. Hindus feel superior because of their choice of eating meat or being vegetarian. But, despite the bigotry, I could never imagine that my country would become so intolerant to the point that one’s choice of eating meat would get them openly lynched.
When I started to make ‘A Pinch of Skin’ in 2011, I was deterred by many senior voices asking me not to take up such a polarising subject, especially since I am a Hindu girl, with my religion written all over my last name.
I chose not to listen to them, and I am glad.
During the shooting of A Pinch of Skin, over six months of shooting, I was always met with open arms, warm smiles, and offers to take me out for lunch by the people I interviewed because the people I met saw me as a human being first. Sans my last name.
I cry, thinking about what my country has become today.
What would happen if I were to shoot my documentary or perform Chakravyu with my collegiate pals in today’s India?
My Voices to End FGM/C story, The Medium, reflects my decade-long experience working on female genital mutilation/cutting, as the crescendo on Islamophobia increases in India and around the world.
I want to proudly say that those who believe in the xenophobic narrative don’t know what they are missing out on.
My own experience informs me that religion has nothing to do with a social norm. In one way or another, all religions attempt to control the female sexual experience, the very essence of patriarchy. And that is why FGM/C continues and is a lot more complex than what meets the eye.
Let’s leave religion and reading into the last names of people to stereotype.
*Chakravya: The word Chakravya is a mythological reference to the unbreakable cycle in the Hindu holy book of Mahabharata.
**Azaan: Azaan is the Urdu/Farsi word of the religious call to prayer, recited by the priest at a designated time of the day, usually early morning and early evening.