On the 25th of December, 2010 – More 4 aired the eye-opening documentary, ‘Pink Saris’. The documentary highlighted the social injustices against women in the Hindu culture. Though the main focus lied on the women residing in Northern India, what was revealed is most definitely applicable to women of the South Asian culture as a whole.
The title of the documentary was stemmed from the dress code of the women who are associated with this organisation. They were from the ‘untouchable’ caste, which was made up of people who were from the lowest social class and they were shunned by those from a higher social group. The founder of the Pink Saris is Sampat Pal, a woman also from the ‘untouchable’ caste, who strived and fought many cases of social injustice and domestic abuse against women, which were traditionally accepted in India. She calls herself the ‘messiah for the women’ and claims she is ‘stronger than the police’.
Sampat Pal is very well known in India. Her strong character has been identified by the police and the public. Her fame has been derived from her persistence in encouraging women to speak up, taking matters into her own hands and giving women who are amongst the ‘untouchable’ caste as much freedom and rights as any other woman in India. This is a rare ideology in South Asian communities, regardless of religion and/or caste. It is the norm to refrain from speaking out about ‘taboo’ subjects such as domestic violence, thus many people suffer in silence. The very essence of Nour’s existence is to identify this cultural sensitivity and helping victims by taking this issue into consideration, rather than walking around it.
Many women in Northern India come to see Sampat Pal for help. In one such case, a young woman named Renu, of an ‘untouchable’ caste, fell in love with a man of an upper class, Guddu. Though Guddu felt the same way, his brother refused his brother to marry an untouchable, as it will taint the family honour. They yet have a sister to marry off whom no one will want to marry, should he develop his relations with Renu. Renu was previously married, but divorced for Guddu, as she was forced into the marriage by her parents and her father-in-law forced himself upon her. Though Renu took this sacrifice for Guddu, he stated he was too weak to stay with Renu, and left with his brothers when they came to pick him up.
This depicts one of the very influential factors in South Asian cultures – and in many other cultures – the need of keeping the family honour. There are many factors which are thought to bring shame to the honour of a family – such entities include marrying one of a lower caste, divorce, pregnancy outside of marriage and much more. Domestic violence in many circumstances can sometimes be rooted deep within the honour of a family. When honour is feared to become stained, violence is resorted to, in an attempt to uphold the honour. However, this indeed is not the only reason for the occurrence of violence in a household. Domestic violence can never be pinpointed to one given motive. Many reasons have been identified as to why domestic violence occurs, namely for gaining control, insecurities, damaged childhood, psychological disorders and much more.
Family support is an essential factor in helping victims of domestic violence. In most cases, victims will hide signs from their friends and family, and unfortunately, in many cases, family members ‘resolve’ matters and send victims back to the violent home in the hope that family ties will remain.
Sampat’s niece, Niranjan, married into the same family as Sampat she ran away from her home due to the fact that her husband and his family abused her severely. Her baby daughter died attributable to an illness because the family refused the child medication. They were not happy that she delivered a baby girl, as they wanted a boy. Niranjan turned up with scars proving she was being mistreated.
Shockingly, Sampat Pal sent Niranjan back to her in-laws, to make peace with her own husband’s family. When asked, Niranjan stated that since she’s been back, the family have already beaten her, but she was too frightened to speak out.
This represents the cultural thoughts and actions people uphold, without thinking of consequences on another person’s life. Though Sampat was an activist and she strongly believed in the good treatment of women, her cultural side of keeping good relations with her in-laws overtook her emotions against domestic violence.
Culture can play a substantial role in the way a woman is treated and perceived in a given community. In the words of Sampat Pal, “A girl’s life is cruel, a woman’s life is very cruel … they want us to be their slaves”. Many cultures establish this feeling amongst females, when in actual fact, every human despite gender have equal rights to live their life.
Nour looks into these cultural sensitivities, identifies their existence and is defiant in giving in to backward, cultural ways of dealing with matters. Domestic violence should not be condoned in any circumstances, and Nour will be the strength and support victims require in order attaining solace.