The Impact of Sexism in Our lives is Way Beyond Recognition- Workshop at Welsh Women’s Summit 2015

Lad Culture aka Sexism is rampant in our society from the Parliament to our Universities.
After experiencing workplace sexual harassment ony 27% of women report it to a senior.
Of women seriously sexually assaulted during their life time at university, only 4% report it to their higher education institution and on only 10% to the police.
90% of victims of most serious sexual offences know their perpetrators.
1 in 8 women have left a job because of sexual harassment.
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Sexism and assault that is either invalidated just because thats the way how things have been…is the oldest excuse in the book and needs to change.
This talk was about discussing the impact of such sexism on the lives of women and how trivialization and normalization leads to silencing them.
It ended by discussing how can we change this. The talk was illustrated by fantastic and thought provoking art pieces by Bev Irving.
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Why Are Indians More Miserable than Pakistanis, Iraqis, Bangladeshis, Ukranians and Even Palestinians?

India ranks 117 out of 158 countries which were part of the Global Happiness Index. 

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India is not a war torn country or in the middle of a revolution. Why is it then that Indians are a lot more miserable than Pakistanis, Iraqis, Bangladeshis, Ukranians and even Palestinians?

Having spent the majority of my life around the Middle East and Europe while sharing close ties with India, I have a unique advantage. I have an outsiders perspective as well as I hold the insider information. Here is why I think Indians ranked 117th.

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The basic variables taken into account for the calculation are GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support and freedom to make life choices as indicators of happiness.

Allow me to explain each factor briefly:

GDP per capita or MONEY!

The world had 872.3 million people below the new poverty line, of which 179.6 million people lived in India. In other words, India with 17.5% of total world’s population, had 20.6% share of world’s poorest in 2011.

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Yes, POVERTY in India is rampant. So pretty obviously, Indians are supposed to be sad about it. But poverty is also prevalant in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Palestine. In fact, Palestinians have been seeing their homes blown away to dust right in front of their eyes…how much of a job security do they have when their life isn’t secure itself?

Truth is more complex. Its not the lack of money that makes Indians miserable. Its the desire to have more than the neighbour, the friend or the relative that makes Indians resentful. 

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Indian parents make their children choose careers according to what they feel will bring more money with no regard to the child’s aspirations or dreams. Corruption is rampant all across the nation. All that Bollywood talk about Indian morals and values end at the door step of an Indian Government office or at the wedding invitation card.

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You want to get a student loan? Pay black money to the lawyer to process the paperwork or he won’t pass your case forward. Don’t even ask about road contractors… You want to marry an educated guy/girl- depends on your bank account and her dowry potential.

Who suffers? The farmers…the house maids… the day labourers…They get poorer day after day.

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One might think that the ones who do make money whether through hard work or corruption must be having a hell of a time. But NO…they aren’t! They are dying in jealousy why is my neighbour’s shirt whiter than mine?

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No one cares if you are an excellent photographer or inventor or traveller with lots of stories or a defender of human rights… IF YOU DON’T BRING LOADS OF MONEY HOME, YOU ARE USELESS.

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The worth of Indian men is defined by the size of their bank accounts. No matter how humble and kind a school teacher or professor is, they will prefer an arrogant ruthless engineer to marry off their daughter because he is richer. Men take the hardest hit of the GDP miserability factor because Indian men are constantly judged by their families, wives, children and the entire community by their earning potential.

Those with dreams to be different are ridiculed. The boundaries of ‘how to be a man’ are cold, hard and strictly defined. Men are taught to be aggressive and violent and emotionless. (women are not having that great of a time either but that’s a whole different set of miserable stories).

It becomes a cycle. They are constantly judged and of course not allowed to show their frustration. Hence the gleaming number of men’s suicide cases in India.

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A recent discussion with a friend about money put it all into place. We were discussing goals and future plans. And I asked her what hers was. She simply responded “to be rich and successful”. I said “yes, that’s great but why?“. And her response was “because that makes me happy”.

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This generation more than ever feels that happiness comes from materials. I didn’t show her but I was apalled by observing her thinking  towards money.

Wanting money in itself is NOT a bad thing. Of course we all need to pay the bills and buy groceries. But from Tony Robbins to Bill Gates and from Brendon Burchard to Richard Branson, if I have learnt anything from these multi millionaires and billionaires is that:

Money is only a means to an end. Its not the end itself!

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One must have a deeper reason for wanting money. A higher purpose in life. A reason to live… .Be it to make a difference to the society, to change a norm, to raise a human being or simply to pursue a passion or dream such as surfing, wandering mountains, music, art, travel, food, you name it…. If you have no purpose in life other than filling your bank account, and buying some branded materials for yourself… you are heading towards mediocrity.

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I suggested my friend what I came across during my research. Charlie Hoehn’s strategy! Charlie suggests showing up at your dream company and proposing to work for a week for free to show them your skills and work behaviour is key. If they like you, they can hire you after a week and if not, they can either give you a letter of experience or recommendation. He calls it the opposite of MEDIOCRITY. People who build a SHOWCASE, not just a resume. This is how he got head hunted by the legendary Tim Ferris. Watch Charlie’s TED talk here.

Her reaction: NEGATIVE!

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As you might guess, I didn’t discuss further as we did not share a common view about purposefulness  in life and hence she would never value the advice. I decided not to waste it.

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True happiness doesn’t come from the money itself but by doing things that bring happiness and its a bonus if it brings money too! In fact, money ALWAYS follows if you follow your passion, sooner or later.

But Indian parenting and education system closes the minds of young Indians from an early age where they do not even develop a passion. There is never a chance to follow or dream or contemplate because they are so busy doing the 9 to 5 and earning to fill the bank accounts so mummy would find a suitable beautiful Indian girl who might bring a fat dowry and the latest car!

Another friend of mine works in the Silicon Valley. An engineer by profession but an excellent nature photographer by heart. As he shares how he cannot wait for the office weekdays to get over, I wonder how much he may have contributed to National Geographic or done some unimaginable wonders for humanity, had he been given a chance to practice photography as a career.

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There certainly is no shortage of money but dearth of happiness. The zest and zeal where one cannot wait to jump out of the bed in cold mornings and begin doing what they love to do…

Hence, Indians don’t rank well on the GDP side of Happiness because they constantly judge others according to their clothing and house/cars while constantly judging and resenting themselves (and their parents) for not being able to earn more and compete in the community.

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Others are trapped in unhappy careers because their famiies chose them for them. Flipping the coin, unhappy marriages based on material exchange.

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The rest live below poverty line and may be the happy Indians pictured in Marci Schimoff’s film- HAPPINESS.

Life Expectancy

Our food is highly adulterated, our soda drinks are filled with dead lizards or rats. Most of our elderly are patients of diabetes, hypertension and cardio vascular diseases.

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Foeticide is very much a practice and girls are not even allowed a chance to be born. Men are unable to handle pressures of constant judgment and finances hence they suicide. Women are trapped with no financial independence with men who abuse them and spend their lives raising children who reapeat the same cycle of abuse and resentment. What’s left?

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Social Support

Now this is an interesting one because I bet on this India must have scored a BIG FAT ZERO. I can bet most people do not even know what that means. English educated ones can translate the words for you but barely an Indian would know what is a working, talking , walking social support and benefit system.

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Unlike UK or USA, there is NO jobless person’s allowance. There is NO social service available for disabled people/elderly people, NO shelter homes for victims of domestic violence and rape, NO Housing association or city council advisory where any average person can walk in. The NHS in the UK provides free pubic health care to the entire nation. In countries like Germany and Denmark, all education is tuition free.

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In Denmark, there are housing compounds where homeless families can live and make a decent life. In India, there are NGO’s that work for different aspects of these social problems but NGO’S are not the answer. They are NON government organizations….no matter what they do, the efforts of the GOVERNMENT are crucial and mandatory to provide a reliable social support system for its citizens.

Freedom to make life choices

The last one is the most straight forward. The population of Indian males is 51.5% and the population of Indian females is 48.5%.

Therefore, one can conclude that 48.5% of Indians DO NOT have the freedom to make life choices.

Of course there is a handful of men in there too by taking out a handful of women (like me) who do not belong to that 48.5% but I can positively say the actual Indians who make their life choices are much less.

Usually, life choices are driven by-

IZZAT———————————————–

Mom Dad decided so I gotto go with the flow.

MONEY

Log kya kahengey

IZZAT————————————————-

Resentment

MONEY

Hollywood- Bollywood

Rules in the ‘name of religion’ (for eg, a red wedding dress is NOT an Islamic tradition)

Husband’s permission, his family’s permission

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There may be many things fascinating about India that foreign people love but Indians do not value those things…Im not saying that other people from other nationalitis are perfect and have no issues at all. But my analysis of the Indians is based on very close pure observation and experience and many might relate to it.

Not all Indians are alike and not all fit into these reasons but most do. So here are 5 simple rules for happiness I suggest to my friends while I make an effort to practice myself.

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And as Will Smith rightly says,

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What if it Was Aishwarya’s Child in the Background of This Advert Holding the Large Umbrella?

Aishwarya’s Pathetic Excuse is Less Than Helpful in Defending the Racist Gesture

I was fuming from my ears when I saw this-

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The visual, which reflects 17th century European paintings of noblewomen with their child servants is the new advertisement by Kalyan Jewellers. Aishwarya is the brand ambassador of Kalyan Jewellers.

I was jumping up and down of joy when I saw the Open Letter written by some logical and thoughtful Indians to bring India’s attention to the romanticisation of child slavery and racism proudly and shamelessly portrayed in this advert.

Then came an apology from Kalyan Jewellers:

“The creative was intended to present the royalty, timeless beauty and elegance. However, if we have inadvertently hurt the sentiments of any individual or organisation, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign”

Are you kidding me? The idea of a child slave in the background is royal, elegant and beautiful for these people is SHOCKING!

How would we be reacting if a British company made an advert like this with a poor Indian from the pre Independence era? Then we would all be ranting against the Western  society this and that blame game… but when an Indian does it against another Indian…somehow it is OK…negligible and acceptable???

The part about hurting the sentiments of “individual or organization” is HILARIOUS! Yea…individuals like 2 billion Indians who reproduce human beings like that little boy, most of whom end up on the streets or barely make a living relying on a hard call centre job or laboring all day in scorching heat? Those individuals? Yea, no, no big deal…its alright… those Indians cannot afford your expensive jewellery so why bother about what they feel, right? You just need to worry about your :  TARGET CUSTOMER

The elite class Indians who can buy your gold and silver while employing child servants at home and denying them their education, finances and a chance to even have a childhood while your children enjoy holidays in EUROPE and play the latest PS4 every night. Those expensive ad campaigns pay off after all, don’t they?

The good news is that the ad is now being withdrawn. And then came Aishwarya’s publicists’ statement:

“The final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand. However, shall forward your article as a viewpoint that can be taken into consideration by the creative team of professionals working on the brand visual communication. Thank you once again.”

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The Problem with the statement:

As an author, when someone approaches me for an interview or endorsement, my first step is to evaluate the product and then decide if it is something I am interested in and if it doesnt violate my basic values as a human being.

Being an actress of such high stature, and also being an educated woman, when this advert campaign was presented to her, didn’t she have the choice to NOT do it? No matter how much money was being paid, it isnt worth being associated to glamorouzing child slavery. But she didnt oppose it. SHE DID THE PHOTO SHOOT.

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After the photo shoot, are you telling me that the final product was not shown to her for approval?

Because if it wasn’t, then that raises a whole new set of ethical and moral issues that Kalyan Jewellers must face because using a woman’s body with her no say in the matter is not how responsible media works.

Lets say, somehow she approved it because by ‘accident’ she missed the poor black child standing in the back…

Now that the advert is published and people react to it bringing Aishwarya’s attention towards the awfulness of this image, her statement is simply lame and pathetic.

 

The visual is supposed to sort of copy-paste the idea of the European paintaings in the 17th century. Now, any logical person would know that child slavery was very much a NORM in the 17th century, hence the offensive paintaings from that bygone era.

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If the idea was just to capture the ‘look’ of that era, the jewelled up woman was doing that job perfectly. Showing a child labor is a message that either the society hasn’t changed since then and nullifies all the worldwide efforts agaisnt child slavery and racism. Or it means that Aiswarya, Klayan Jewellers and their creative team are still in that century while the rest of the world has progrssed.

And if showing child slavery is such a noble idea, why dont we start making adverts showing women being burnt to death (SATI SYSTEM) in men’s DEODARANT advertisements!?!

There is NO REMORSE whatsoever that knowingly or unknowingly she participated in such a blatant and ugly charade. It seems like Aishwarya is denying her mental faculties. Like she never went to a History class in school or never watch the news. It seems like she has never even been to a street in India other than the plaza’s and sky scrapers and villas of her family and friends.

The racism in her advert is DOUBLE.

It has the black vs white issue and it has the rich vs poor issue.

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The truth is, for these rich elite class Indians, this sort of capitalistic racism is soooooooooo NORMAL that they trivialize it! Thats exactly what her statement has done; trivialized the matter without any responsibility for apology.

I am a feminist and a friend of mine pointed out that my view of this advert isn’t in line with feminism because I am supposed to stand up for women and against men.

SADLY, PEOPLE STILL DO NOT GET WHAT FEMINISM IS.

This advert is offensive in the sense of child exploitation and it still would be offensive if the boy was a grown man. Slavery and oppression of the poor based on color is very much recognized by feminism. In fact, if your feminism isn’t fat positive, anti racist, body positive, trans inclusive and pro choice… IT ISN’T FEMINISM AT ALL!

Im actually not surprised at this. My next door neighbours in India have 5 daughters and a son. The father is a government employee and they have a little girl called Reshma (a child servant) since last 13 years at their home. She was 7 when they moved in next to us. Apart from her name, I know nothing of her because the 5 crazy rich spoilt daughters are exactly like Cinderella’s step sisters who keep yelling at her and pile her up with chores.

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Child slavery is very much prevalent in educated people’s homes. 

At my home, we have a part time maid who is a grown woman and has two children. My mother pays this maid twice her salary on the condition that she will keep sending her kids to school since last 7 years. This of course is other than the help in kind.

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This advert shows the true sentiments of Aishwarya, Kalyan Jewellers and their creative team, for whom its a thing of pride to show off a poor child.

But rich or poor, black or white, a child is a child.

So here is my suggestion:

AISHWARYA MUST TAKE A PICTURE WITH HER OWN CHILD IN THE BACKGROUND,

IN THAT VERY SAME ATTIRE

IN THAT VERY SAME POSE HOLDING THE LARGE UMBRELLA,

AND CIRCULATE IT AROUND THE COUNTRY…

Its just a photo after all, right???????????????

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Why Priya Killed Herself and Why Many Others Will Too? LGBT Marraiges in India and the trauma of social pressure

The recent death of a Delhi doctor Priya Vedi has once again raised the issue of LGBT relationships in the Indian community which our religious and political leaders are dying to skip over.

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A similar story is what I witnessed but with a weirder ending.

When I was in High School, a young lady in my community (Muslim) got married. The marriage was not just two people tying the knot but more of a charade because she was the only daughter of a very high profile figure of the city. The groom and his family were richer and migrants of UAE.

bride-323316_640 There were talks of how many kilograms her wedding dress weighed, how many million dishes were prepared for the wedding buffet and that one of the dowry materials gifted to her was a 90,000 rupee bed! I never got why people told me all this but that’s what I heard.

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Two years later and the lady, who was also a dentist, returned home with a little baby. No one knew why. It seemed like a short visit home but rumors began when she joined her old job as a dental college professor. Few years passed by further and finally she revealed in confidence to her friend that her husband was GAY!

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He was a rich socialite and under pressure from his parents and society (Indian Muslim), he needed a wife to shut everyones mouth. After the wedding however, he never conusmmated the marriage and just as Priya reveals in her suicide note, this woman also discovered homosexual paraphernalia in the home.

They had several discussions and fights and someday somehow they did consummate the marriage so that a child could be born. This child was supposed to shut the constant questions of his parents and society about their family planning so it was not out of love or conjugal ceremony but simply out of convenience that she got pregnant. Things got worse after that and she finally could not put up with the guy.

Since she returned, neither the guy nor his family ever took interest in her or the kids life and 10 years later she was informed- HE KILLED HIMSELF IN A LONELY APARTMENT!

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In Priya’s case it was her and in this case, it was the husband.

If you ask whom to blame and punish, there is no easy answer. Superficially it might seem like the gay person is responsible but actually the truth is far more complex.

  • Does the Indian society give gay individuals a chance to survive like they do to non gays?
  • Do gays have access to health care, education, employment and social stability just as non gays?
  • If they reveal their identity, would the society even allow them to exist?

Around the world, activists are fighitng for the rights of LGBT community but in India, forget about the rights…we haven’t even recognized their existence!

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For Indian medical community, gays are mentally ill. They do not fall into the same human category as the others. We may fight for their rights when we see them as right worthy. As long as they are seen as the junk or burden of the society, this won’t stop. In fact may be in the Indian terms, the first step towards LGBT activism must be their recognition as human beings-not retards.

For those of you who are unaware- people are NOT gay by choice! Just as you are NOT straight by choice! Science has revealed many substantial evidences but I will simplify it for you once and for all so you NEVER FORGET it.

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For a gay person, their brain works that way which may or may not be in alignment with their biological genitalia. Or in other words, everyone who has a penis may not be a male in their minds. Or everyone who has a penis may not be attracted just towards females in their mind. It is 100% God given and NOT a conspiracy or rebellion.

Imagine spending your entire life being hated, discriminated, being banned from community, denied access to health care and education…

Do you think a person would choose that? Does it give them any incentive? Does it sound like fun to you?

Actually if being gay were a choice, seeing the amount of aggression and violence against gays, I doubt people would intentianally choose to be gay, ever.

Suicides in India, whether of gay individuals or those frustrated by them- is actually the outcome of our social structure. We have such a tight knit closed off society that after sending missiosn to Mars and attaining infinite wealth, we still are unable to accept such a simple fact-

GAYS ARE HUMANS;RESPECT THEM!

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India is a long way from LGBT community to claim the same rights as others but I can bet that until we recognize their rights; there will be far more deaths of both straight and gay people. Heck, in our community we barely accept men and women getting married out of their caste. Inter religious marriages or same sex marriages…which ones more heart attack causing to our ancient politicians…I don’t know.

“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.”
Simone de Beauvoir

What is the Similarity between India’s Daughter and The Stoning of Soraya M.?

If you don’t know already, The Stoning of Soraya M is a film based on a true story by Director Cyrus Nowrasteh.

You can watch it on YouTube if you haven’t seen it already. The stoning scene, I was guessing would be a blank light and then they might show a dead body. But unlike my imagination, the scene was pretty graphic with each stone filmed clearly. I cried, yes and after a little while I could not watch. The Dailymail informed that the film got banned in Iran. Why, you ask? The simple reason why India’s Daughter got banned in India! Cause the truth is sour!!!

Watching the movie I just wondered what was the last injustice I complained about. Oh yes, my GP is not giving me a letter to certify that I am unable to travel simply because they are lazy and everytime I complain, they come up with an excuse.

Speaking particularly of women’s rights, when I speak of it, I am frowned upon by many people I personally know. To be honest, they don’t want to know how violent and unfair the society is against women. If it is a film about a woman who is a great wife or a sex object, it’s all good. My family would watch it. But if it is a movie about an injustice against a woman or the struggles of a prostitue, the channel will be instantly changed. That’s how I was grown up and all my friends.

We are girls of a middle class family growing up in a country that is not in the middle of war so lets just forget or simply deny to admit that women are still oppressed. Our only ambotion in life is to learn how to cook and study just enough to get a rich guy interested to marry us. Thats it. Stories about violence and specially those like Soraya’s are mood killer for people and they must rather be left for Amnesty international to worry about.

Well, I choose to talk about it. As a Muslim woman, I hear similar things that were mentioned in the movie although India being a secular nation, stoning isn’t a common practice. However though, some remarkable things from the film:

If a man is committed adultery, the woman has to prove his guilt.

If a woman has committed adultery, she has to prove her innocence.

In either case, a woman is at a disadvantage and this doesn’t require a PhD in Law to be seen.

Please note that the two sons she gave birth to, after building their bones with her own bones, muscles and blood, the sons were equally excited to STONE her. I wonder if motherhood is only one way connection.

Her father was infact the first one to try stoning her. Is that the kind of parenting our religion teaches us?

Also, when in the end the truth comes out and people get to know that she was innocent- there is NO consequneces of lying for either her husband, the mullah or the accuser Hashem. As if a woman’s life is just like an oops, sorry.

When men scream Allah-u-Akbar loud, they forget that the same Allah and His Prophet talk about FORGIVENESS and humility as the CORE of religion.

Soraya was a young woman trying to feed her daughters that her abusive husband had abandoned. Her husband plotted all this against her just to save alimony.

She was denied an honorable funeral and the last of her body was humiliated in the worst possible way.

Watching the film, it is easy to jump to the conclusion against religion. But that isn’t what religion says is it? That’s what some misogynist scholar decided to propogate to ensure his supremacy over women and of course other men support him because it allows them to loiter freely while put a chain around women’s necks.

That is the similarity between India’s Daughter and Stoning of Soraya M. They both tell the story of extreme violence in the lives of women although there is a difference of 26 years in between the two stories.

For now, all I can do is 2 things:

1-hope and pray that other women on death row for such hideous accusations be saved

2- do whatever the hell I can to change circumstances around me

If you want to help, please visit their site here and do anything, whatever tiny bit you can, to make stoning history and save women from being killed.

Whether it is Soraya from 1986 or Jyoti from 2012, as long as women are targeted for being women, there is NO rest for me. So should be for you too.

May the souls of Soraya, Jyoti and all other women who I consider SHAHEED/ Martyers rest in peace… Ameen