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Arty moments, creative exploration and an insight into my world.

Stories for South Asian Super Girls!!!

 
Written by Raj Kaur Khaira, published by Kashi House.

Written by Raj Kaur Khaira, published by Kashi House.

The Stories for South Asian Super Girls is a beautiful piece of work, crafted by Raj Kaur Khaira, founder of the Pink Ladoo Project. The book brings together the biographies of 50 women of South Asian origin who have achieved recognition for their life and work. I had the honour of being one of the 10 contributing illustrators to the project.

At the time of writing this blog, the book has been out in the world for about 2 weeks. Since then, it has been phenomenal to see the messages of appreciation, love and excitement flooding in. Our communities have been hungry for something like this for a long time, and we didn’t even know it. The power of a book like this cannot be underestimated, and now we are starting to see the real value and impact it is bringing to the world.

My illustration of Mindy Kaling

My illustration of Mindy Kaling

The Pink Ladoo Project is a campaign that has been championing the cause for gender equality in the South Asian community, with a focus on the diaspora living in the UK, Canada and the USA. Khaira has been promoting the book across the UK, with interviews on the news and radio shows. Each time, she explains that the PL Project arose as a response to the tradition of celebrating the birth of a boy, with the gifting of ‘ladoos’ (Indian sweets) to friends and family. No such gift is traditionally offered at the birth of a girl. Something I have witnessed time and time again myself. I must admit, that as I saw Raj Khaira explain this to the world on national TV, I felt shame and embarrassment at this ugly side of our community being so openly exposed. It is uncomfortable to imagine the reactions of those people watching who are from outside our community. It must seem so ridiculous, so absurd and so backward, that in ‘this day and age’, such a campaign is even needed. But sadly it is, and it is hard to imagine how deeply entrenched these gender prejudices are, and how they perpetuated by the women of our community as much as the men.

Raj Kaur Khaira on the BBC Breakfast Show, speaking about the book.

Raj Kaur Khaira on the BBC Breakfast Show, speaking about the book.

I am one of 6 siblings. We are 5 girls and 1 boy, my brother being the youngest. I would joke that we were the living cliche, that my parents kept trying till he came along. But the joke isn’t really funny, and I was just laughing as a way of covering a truth that hurt deeply. 

I was the youngest of the girls. The truth is that I was not part of the ‘plan’. My birth was not a source of celebration and joy, it was a cause for sadness and tears. My sister recalled my birth. She was standing by my mothers hospital bed as she looked at me. When she looked up at my mother and saw her crying, she was confused. And then it dawned on her, at the tender age of 4, my sister knew my mother was crying tears of sadness and frustration that I wasn’t a boy. Her blessing of 5 healthy children was not felt as a blessing, but as a burden. I don’t feel any anger toward my mother for this, only compassion. She wasn’t even allowed to feel joy at her achievement, she was just made to feel inadequate by her community because she hadn’t delivered what was expected of her. How deeply unfair. The anger I feel now is not at her, but at my whole community for making her feel this way, for making her feel shame. Especially now, as a grown woman who has suffered the loss of a pregnancy myself, this makes me want to scream with anger - how dare anyone allow a child to come into the world with the energy of regret and sadness surrounding her? How bloody dare they. That is how I was welcomed into the world.

Me aged 6, angry about something.

Me aged 6, angry about something.

My parents have raised us with nothing but love and I had a wonderful childhood. But it was not without the pin sharp awareness of gender inequality all around me. I was raised with a deep knowledge of, and understanding of the fact that I was not as ‘valuable’ to the family as a boy. My worth is not equal to that of a boy. When my brother finally arrived, that was only reinforced, with comments like ‘you are special, you brought your brother, he came after you’, with my worth being measure relative to his. I was madly in love with my baby brother, he was a cute little monkey, but it was so confusing to grow up with these messages. Another classic thing elders would say is ‘One day you’ll go to your own houses, this is not your real home, we have to give you away’, meaning once we are married we are not part of the family anymore. I didn’t much like the idea of marriage from a young age, after having that drilled into me, but also felt like I was just being told over and over again that I didn’t really ‘belong’ there. It’s kind of crazy. Anyway, all this was pretty much commonplace across my community - even the most loving parents and supportive households held fast on to these deep seated prejudices, not even realising that they were prejudices, it was just so normalised in their own experience.

Can you imagine what it feels like knowing you are literally ‘worth less’ than your male counterparts? As a small child, that sinks in, it shapes you - and it can mess you up.

That’s why this book is such a phenomenally important piece of work. Things are changing, but sadly, judging by the work of the Pink Ladoo Project, things are not changing fast enough. Deep seated negative attitudes still prevail. Women are made to feel guilty for giving birth to girls, to this day. And those girls grow up feeling that they are ‘less’. 

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This book is doing so much. It is giving girls a sense of power, it is allowing us to claim our sense of self worth and right to shine. It is celebrating women who have fought, achieved, pushed past boundaries, been fearless and have ACHIEVED despite the patriarchal bollocks that we all have to navigate. Also, the book has also forced us to look at ourselves within our own communities. Those people who have perpetuated these attitudes are seeing themselves exposed, and have to really look at themselves. We are simply not accustomed to celebrating women enough, and it’s about time this changed. This book is a huge celebration, a source of pride for what these women have achieved, but also a huge cheer for the girls to come. A reminder to young girls that they are more than enough, that they are capable, valuable, powerful and equipped to go forth and live that fearless life. 

The book includes a page for each contributing artists. This is mine!

The book includes a page for each contributing artists. This is mine!

It has been my honour to be one of the 10 contributing artists to the book, and I thank Raj Kaur Khaira and Parmjit Singh from Kashi House Publishers for the opportunity to be part of the project.

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‘Stories of South Asian Supergirls’ is available in all major bookstores in the UK, Canada and the US, and available worldwide direct from the publisher @kashihousecic. 100% of author proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to three charities supporting women and children – The Flying Seagull Project, Child Poverty Action Group UK and The Canadian Women’s Foundation.

#kashihouse #southasiansupergirls #pinkladoo #raisingstrongwomen


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