Saturday, 8 January 2011

Gori Girls, and the long silence!

I must have been around 13 years old when I first heard the word ‘gori. Back then I nurtured dreams of becoming a Hindi playback singer, and as the moovey bazigar was in its prime, I too sang ‘ye gori gori gaal, in all innocence. I learnt that ‘Gori meant white, but I took it literally, as in the ‘colour white, or at worst: some sort of slang! I had no reason to think any thing different, it was always played down to me! Obviously, aware of my ethnicity, my language teachers always skirted around the reality that ‘gori was a derogatory word, used when referring to white women, so I figured it wasn’t that big a deal, after all, how many Scottish Neds talk about ‘pakis, and though its not right, no one with any sense takes notice of such things! It was in fact much later, when I became Muslim, when I spent time mixing with all kinds of Muslims, and Asian people from different backgrounds, that I came to comprehend the full implications of this word. As my Karachi colleagues used to say when talking of those from NWFP, “pathan to ek qom to nahin, ek kafiyat hi!”, (pathan is not a people, it is a state of being!), and so is ‘gori, or so it seems! The word, in general terms, holds 2 meanings! On one level, it means white, fair, the desired state for every young girl who is seeking marriage. The preferred colour choice for offspring, and the yearned-for affect when applying ‘fair and lovely! On the other hand, ‘Gori/Gora, or Goray are words used to describe white, indigenous people. At best it is slang, a word used without care or inflammatory intent, but at worst, ‘Gori carries all kinds of negative baggage and implications. If you trace its origins, you’ll find the word came in to being during the reign of the British Raj. The British were referred to as ‘goray, (Ghora meaning horse), and the inference being ‘the horseback riders, as they were seen by many. The word has stuck, and perhaps initially, its continued usage stemmed from the need to define British rule in Asia for precisely what it was, i.e., oppression/slavery! More recently though, the word is used to define modern-day interpretations of ‘the White people. Why am I writing about all this you may ask? Well, one of the most horrific modern-day sexual abuse cases brings this word and its ramifications firmly in to focus once again! A group of Asian men from the North of England were recently exposed for their roles within a highly sophisticated sex ring. The men abused several young white girls between the ages of 12 and 17, using alcohol and drugs in order to enforce rape and other sexual crimes. In other cases, the men were said to have lavished attention on some of their vulnerable victims, in particular those in care, or from single parent families. They would gift them jewellery, money, and provide emotional support, before either raping the girls, or demanding sexual favours in exchange for the debt owed as a result of ‘gifts given. On Friday, as 2 of the ring leaders were sentenced to indeterminate jail terms, the judge emphasised that he did not perceive a link between the men’s ethnic origins and this sort of abuse, however a row was sparked off in political circles after the Former UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said he believed there was an issue within certain Sections of the UK Pakistani community, resulting in young Asian males perceiving White girls as “Easy Meat.”
Naturally, social society activists and experts in criminology have spoken out against the dangers of stereotyping an entire community along racial lines when it comes to violent and abusive crime, and in particular, Muslim community leaders have highlighted the potential marginalisation for Muslim men, at a time when many in the community are already victims of media hype and Islamaphobia!
And my view? Well, …, somewhere between the lines, you’ll find the truth! You see, while Muslim leaders condemn Jack Straw’s comments (and that too, with a degree of reason), not one of them has spoken out to condemn the horrific abuse the young women endured. Not one Muslim leader has distanced the rest of us from this disgusting criminal act, nor have they encouraged the Muslim Community to take this opportunity to look within, in order to begin addressing this problem. Some may feel Jack Straw is not best placed to pass judgement on what they see as an internal Community issue, which would be fine, if Muslims were actually doing any thing about it. Any one who is involved in youth work, counselling, awareness raising etc, within the Muslim community, will tell you about the epidemic of abuse which is going on, completely undetected and unrecognised by families, leaders and faith institutions who choose to shut their eyes to it. Since I started this blog, and since I got involved in disability activism within a Muslim context, I have been continually shocked and horrified by the numbers of adults, who have approached me with an abusive story to tell. Unlike the scars incurred through physical violence, the emotional woonds of sexual abuse do not heel. They continually ooze heartbreak, and it is up to the survivors to find ways of living with the horror of what they have endured, which is not easy, when you are perceived as the problem. Many Asian victims of abuse are disowned, thrown out of their homes, or simply marginalized within the community, till they do leave, because there is no other option for them. Others tell of being given money, houses, cars, material goods to buy their silence, because ‘respect in the eyes of others is more valuable to them than telling the truth! And this is only the internal abuse! I’m sure by now you will see where I am going with this. The word ‘Gori on its own does not explain racially motivated sexual abuse, but it does however, illustrate how negative associations can result in the above. For many British Pakistanis, the first time they hear the word ‘Gori, is when they are taught that the ‘White People have a different value system (or lack of one). That they drink, smoke, sleep around, do not cover themselves, do not practise their religion, do not uphold the same moral code and so on. This indoctrination helps to nurture self respect, especially in areas like Derby, where the ring leaders came from, and where BNP and UDL rhetoric are common place. Because of the unspoken, yet accepted inequality, you’ll see many young British Pakistanis having white girl friends, ‘sowing their wild oats as it were, before marrying virgins from back in the Mother land. You’ll also see issues for the most Practising of Muslims, when they wish to marry a white Muslim convert female, yet know that they cannot take such a proposal to their families, who will not accept it along cultural grounds. Please do not misunderstand me, as a Muslim myself, I am not for a minute suggesting this discrimination stems from religion, but when culture is so strong for some communities, the lines between the 2 become blurred, especially among those groups were aspirations are low, and literacy levels are even lower. An outsider, reading these words may be horrified, they may wonder how such damaging beliefs persist! But lets not full ourselves, after all, it wasn’t long ago that slavery was common place, Apartheid was the norm in south Africa, and 6 million Jews and Disabled People were massacred in Germany. Each community has its own vices, but the point of this article is to pressure Pakistani Muslims to take ownership of the problem. To me, Jack Straw’s assumptions were honestly chillingly accurate. In a BBC Interview, he said: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically.
"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat."
While our leaders are roused up today, the tragedy is that they will have forgotten the issue by tomorrow and move on to another, more popular brand of chaos. The government will not speak out: the issue is a ‘Pakistani issue, and therefore, arguably, a Pakistani Community problem. But as Muslims continue to sit on the fence, I can only package this as an appeal to our so-called leaders, to take action in this regard. The abuse issue is not going to go away, and should we continue turning a blind eye, we will only belittle ourselves in the eyes of our own, and in the eyes of our creator. This case however is significant, because it magnifies the growing divide between Muslims, and indigenous communities in many areas of the UK Today. While there is no justification for utilising the media as a means to evoke community tensions and hatred, the strength of any group is that they look within, to see what they themselves have left undone. Outsiders can often inject a level of objectivity, and frankly, it is abhorrent that a non-Muslim MP has to inform Muslims that sexual abuse is a criminal offence, and absolutely wrong, regardless of time, space, circumstances and race!
Don’t forget, that if a female is not your sister in Islam, she is your sister in humanity! I wonder if our silent majority of Muslims would act rather differently if the shoe were on the other foot!

5 comments:

  1. Interesting take on the word "gora." I know the word is loaded. Although in blogland I use the term along with other non-Asian women to mean pardesi women, especially "europi nizhaad" or "safaid faam" (white people!!!) who are married to desi guys. But I don't use the term much 'in real life' cuz it seems kind of pretentious or even offensive, although desis have used it around me before a lot.

    I am also a convert of a Jewish and Christian background. What religion is/was your family…you say you are a convert, too?

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  2. Salaam, thanks for dropping by sis: you are my favourite blogger, so it’s a real honour to have your comments here and your unique slant on life. I too have used the word ‘gora, both on this blog, and in real life: I know many women, married to desis who use it, and no negative intent is meant by it! in many ways, I think it is a sort-of ‘reclaim the name for many people! I’ve had allot of Emails from people angry by this post, but to me, it seemed an obvious link to explore! After all, it can’t be a co-incidence that the Pakistani community here have been singled out in this regard! And it can’t be a co-incidence that all of our community have chosen to keep quiet! There has been quite a debate on twitter about this, some people even going as far as quoting Hitler and his attitude to Jews, and I think that’s sad! While the majority of people are not perpetrating abuse, or any thing of that sort, its up to the silent majority to push for change, and see what we ourselves have left undone.
    I am a white Revert, from a Fundamentalist Christian family, who belonged to a little-known sect called ‘the Plymouth Brethren. I grew up discriminating: we had negative terms for every one, Muslims and Jews were just the tip of the iceberg: we hated Catholics, and any one really who looked at us the wrong way! as a Blind Person, allot of the visual based terminology went over my head, so I was quick to discard it and find another way of being! It wasn’t till my mother returned to Education as a mature student that I saw it lessening its grip on her: as a nurse, her language, and many of her attitudes have had to change, and for the better! What I wanted to explore here was how subconscious use of language, over a period of time, can affect a person’s view of others. You only have to look at the disability movement, to see how a more empowering lexicon has shaped and changed attitudes, thus creating real equality. Obviously, there are many other socio-economic attitudes contributing to the Asian Abuse gangs we are seeing here, but there is a big part of me that believes the answers, and solutions we seek to these problems are allot more subtle than most of us realise!

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  3. Wow, mashallah the Muslim community is so diverse, you do have an interesting background.

    I hadn't realized it was you but you posted some very useful links to Muslim based blogs and organizations for the visually impaired. I shared them with my former student and she really liked them, mashallah.

    Wow, I can't believe that you got angry emails over this post. I think the word 'gora' is to be used with care but has it's place. It is just a label like any other and has its connotations.

    I hope you don't mind if I link your blog on my links list.

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  4. Salaam again, yeah; the community is indeed diverse, but its also quite small in Blog Land, which I think is quite a comfort considering how scattered we all are! I’m glad your student found the links helpful, how is she managing? Have you heard any thing since you left UAE? Let me know if I can be of further help, Insha Allah. Re: the angry comments, thinking over it, I wonder if it might have something to do with the familiarity I seem to claim when I write about such things. The fact is, I’m not Pakistani, I’m not Asian, yet because of my affinity with the country, because I use Urdu with the ease I use English, because I have worked in the community etc, I sort-of claim the right to comment in a way. If I’m honest, I often get uncomfortable when less-than-qualified individuals (in my view), comment on disability issues in what I’d consider an offensive way, but ultimately: you can only articulate so far, every one is entitled to their view, I’d rather people spoke out than said nothing, whether they agree with me or not!
    Do feel free to link my blog: that would be an honour for me! Though this site needs allot of work and isn’t a patch on yours, Insha Allah it shall improve: I continue with it, because I do enjoy blogging, and because I think its always important to present an alternative view, or at least a view that most people will not have come across before.
    Take care sis and keep up the fantastic work!

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  5. can your write a post about how you managed to learn Urdu? Is your partner desi?

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