A Letter To My Sister

A Letter To My Sister

Just in case you needed to know how awesome you are.
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Dear Sydney,

When I was growing up, you were always the one that my parents wanted me to be like. I know that each person is their own individual self, but it was awesome to know that I had someone in my family that I could emulate.

Ever since I was a kid, you have been there for me when I was facing some pretty tough choices, and you took time out of your day to talk to me when I really needed it. While you lived 442.9 miles away from me, you still cared about me, and it meant and still means the world. No amount of distance could ever alleviate the extent of your impact on my life.

I don't like to have favorites, but let's just say that I tend to put an emphasis on THAT side of the family. I do not particularly enjoy talking to my mom's side of the family all that much. I love them in the sense that they are family, but our bonds don't really go beyond the surface. With you, though, it is a deeper, more comedically inappropro bond.

As I write this, it's actually kind of hard, as it is hard to put into words on how you have impacted me. While we may not share the same parents, we share the same DNA somewhere. (I think? I mean, we were both granddaughters of a doctor, so we should know this, right?)

I am grateful that you are the other blue dot in a red state. You get it. You were there for me the day after the election when I was crying, and you did not just listen, you actually understood it. Why? Because you were feeling it too. It has been comforting to have someone who is related to me that gets what being a Democrat is. It is the so called "little things" that make your impact on me that much stronger.

Just as you have changed throughout the years that we have known each other, I have, too! I mean, we both made the transition out of the awkward years, but one of the few things that has remained constant is your presence.Oh, and can't forget the I was grateful for it then, but I am even more grateful for it now as I tackle adulthood. You were the one who inspired me to get into photography, and supported my books. It means so much that you have seen me change into the strong woman I am today.

We both have a lot to be proud of, ya know that? I mean, you are kicking some serious buttocks at the school of law, and I am going to kick some buttocks in undergrad. I mean, you got to meet Nancy freakin' Pelosi, and only buttocks kickers get to do that. You have encouraged, not discouraged me to follow my personal goals both in and out of the college classroom. While my other side of the family looks at me with sarcastic "ohhhs," you and that side in general has told me to go for it. Or if we are in Louisiana, to geaux for it.

I think that the way you turned out is not only a testament to you, but to Uncle Jim and Aunt Tammy, too. I mean, I tend to think that they are pretty cool, and while I know you don't see eye to eye sometimes, they are pretty awesome. I am also heavily biased as Uncle Jim is my godfather, and getting to compare him to Marlon Brando is SO COOL.

While you may not be my biological sister, you are the closest thing that I will ever get. I am so glad that you get to fill that role. You really are the "cool older sister." I cannot wait to see you again! I miss you so much, but I just thought that I would tell you how cool you are. I would say that you are the Barack to my Joe, but you are more like the Tina Fey to my Amy Poehler. After all these years, you have still managed to be someone I can go to, but at the same time, can make inappropriate jokes with. I promise, though, that in my Inaugural Address, I will make sure to mention how you Barack my world.

I love you!

Emily

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Why Are The Rohingya Refugees In New Delhi Considered 'Entitled'?

The role of the Indian Government, UNHCR and local initiatives at the New Delhi Rohingya refugee camp.
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This past December, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Rohingya settlement in New Delhi. As much as the daily news coverage regarding Rohingyas makes our hearts bleed for the countless who lose their lives, the experience of working in close proximity with Rohingya refugees was an astonishingly different experience. Sharam Vihar is a suburban locality in the periphery of New Delhi. The enclave (more of a shanty), houses 94 Rohingya families and approximately 500 IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples) from within India. These IDPs come from different states from India and are mostly devout Muslims. Thus, one could label Shram Vihar as a Muslim shantytown, in an otherwise exceedingly Hindu dominated country.

Each of the Rohingya families has been conferred a refugee status by the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency). The refugee card helps them access major dispensaries and the multi-specialty Safdarjung hospital, in case of any medical emergency. All of them remain grateful to the Indian government for sheltering them, yet they have desires to go back to their “Watan” (a Hindi/Urdu word meaning ‘Country’).

Most philanthropists make donations or bring in aid in the name of the Rohingya community. As a result, there has been a relatively suppressed personal scuffle between the IDPs and Rohingyas. It is recognized that, after the mass exodus on August 25 and the Supreme Court’s decision to deport Rohingyas, a sizable number of Rohingya daily wage workers face trouble finding work. However, the reality rests in the fact that most Rohingya refugees do not need to scrounge for work at all. Most Rohingya houses have a surplus of rations and other essentials such as sanitary pads, toiletries etc. Rohingya families usually go out to the market and sell the excess resources in the market. This stokes the brawl between Rohingyas and the rest of the slum dwellers as Rohingyas are increasingly being viewed as the entitled sect in the shanty.

On my first visit to the camp, I was strolling around the camp, hankering after middle-aged Rohingya people to talk to. Surprisingly, the only people who spoke to me were all men. Even the younger lot just comprised of a crew of teenage boys who were donning skullcaps. While a ‘self-proclaimed’ local leader told me harrowing stories of migration from Myanmar to India, the kids told me about how they withdrew out of the local school and were attending classes at a Madrassa (Islamic School). Some of the young kids attend government schools, though the general Rohingya participation in schools remains abysmally low.

On one of my visits to the camp, I visited a makeshift school run solely by a magnanimous individual named Mr. Anas (The Guncha Foundation). His initial intentions were to rope in Rohingya kids and further their education. Ironically, Rohingyas refused to let their kids mingle with any other local communities. No other breed of Muslims, let alone any Hindu! In fact, on one visit, a Rohingya leader vocalized his ardent belief in confining his women within the house (upon reaching puberty). Thus, most Rohingya girls are out of school, palmed off as young and tender child brides. This deep-seated, conservative thought process, pervasive in the Rohingya brethren has caused persistent brawls in Shram Vihar.

While the world is condemning the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya community, what I learned from my time as a volunteer at the camps was that one must not buy what the media touts. Just because the Rohingyas are experiencing the gravest of human rights violations does not mean every section of them suffers equally. The diaspora in New Delhi has a decently dignified and a ‘not completely’ deprived lifestyle.

Obviously, it is undeniable that there is much more that the Indian government must do to uplift the social and economic status of Rohingyas. Permanent housing must be provided, the deportation order must stay, there MUST be concerted efforts to facilitate higher education among Rohingya kids who were uprooted from Myanmar while enrolled in colleges, etc.

Having said that, no matter how much the community collaborates to restore the status of the inhabitants of the slum, no amount of external effort or monetary support can fill in the voids of filial separation that Rohingyas go through. The emotional turmoil of being away from their motherland and a consistent fear of the safety of those left behind perpetually lurks over.

Cover Image Credit: Mrinali Dhembla

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The Hijab Is A Personal Choice, Not Your Political Symbol For Women's Oppression

It's time to debunk the myth that Muslim women need saving. It's time to respect personal choice.
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With much of the Islamophobia that takes place in the United States today, it is not surprising to find that the hijab, a traditional form of head covering worn by some Muslim women, is debated as a symbol of women's oppression.

As an article in the New York Times reads, “Today, well-intentioned women are wearing headscarves in interfaith “solidarity.” But, to us, they stand on the wrong side of a lethal war of ideas that sexually objectifies women as vessels for honor and temptation, absolving men of personal responsibility.”

As many already know, the tradition of women's head covering was a notion of respect and modesty. Today, many would argue that the hijab perpetuates oppression because of the history behind it. While this tradition was certainly not empowering, Muslim women today have different perspectives on the hijab in different areas of the world and from different backgrounds.

Many Muslim women, when asked why they wear the hijab, respond with attitudes of respect for their religion and culture. In an article in USA Today, Sameeha Ahmad, a student at the University of Maryland, was asked about her decision to wear the hijab: "The way you look at it from a religious perspective, it empowers you by strengthening your relationship with God. It’s a step you are taking to further yourself within your own religion.” For Sameeha, the choice to wear hijab is influenced by religion and the desire to represent it, a right that was not enforced upon her.

Many people believe that no woman should have to wear the hijab because it is demeaning and a form of objectification. This mindset is at the root of ethnocentrism: assuming that Western culture is the correct way of life. It also homogenizes all Muslim women into a single group without respect for personal choice and individualism. While it may seem like an attempt to help save Muslim women, it is entirely wrong and disrespectful. Who’s to say Muslim women need saving in the first place?

The decision whether or not to wear hijab is a personal decision; it is influenced by culture and religious identity. While this decision may be influenced by history and family values, it in no way perpetuates oppression. The hijab is not forced upon Muslim women, therefore it is not oppressive. It is choice.

In response to this cultural issue, I know my responsibilities as a non-Muslim, white American woman. I know that I am responsible for respecting a woman’s choice whether or not to wear hijab or head cover of any kind because it is not my place or right to critique someone else’s culture.

At the end of the day, it is unfair to reduce an entire population of women to a single item of clothing. While the hijab may have been originally enforced as a sexist notion of women's respectability, that is not how most Muslim women perceive it now when they make the conscious decision to wear it. The perspective that Muslim women need saving is very ethnocentric because of the way it assumes all Muslim women are oppressed by Muslim men; it is an attempt to Westernize all Muslim women under the assumption that the Western way is "best." Hijab is Muslim culture, their religion. It is important to remember that if we want to help and liberate women, we must respect the ways in which they want to be liberated, even if their goals are different from our own.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Vinicius Amano on Unsplash

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