Honorable mention — Persons of color essay contest: Pari Parajuli
The women we grow to be
By Pari Parajuli
When I was 9 years old, I had my first period. Starting then, for a week each month, I was not allowed to touch my dad. I was not allowed in the kitchen. I was not allowed to touch any plants in our garden. I was not allowed in the same room as any Hindu shrine. I was not allowed to take part in any pujas, Hindu ceremonies of prayer.
That year, I attended my first Bratabandha, a ceremony celebrating a boy’s transition into manhood. Over 100 people came dressed in fancy suits and colorful saris.
Delicious food lined multiple tables and dancing ran into the late hours of the evening.
At that point, I considered myself a devout Hindu. My parents were religious, every smart person I knew was religious and, therefore, it was smart and grown up to be religious. I never had a reason to question it.
Until I was no longer just a kid.
The older I got, the more exposed I was to the sexism and domestication of women within my community. The contrast between my period and my cousin’s Bratabandha was the first of many hints showcasing how my gender is treated. This was not in some remote Nepali village, this was in an American apartment building in Blacksburg, Va. My mom would always tell us we had it easy. Girls have died performing more extreme coming-of-age rituals in Nepali villages.
To those who would argue that what I was experiencing was not based in religion but in culture, I point out that religion, of any kind, is a guidance of principles and morals. If religion could not condemn the sexism that was ever-present in our society, it would only be used reinforce the message of those who benefited from it. Unfortunately, it’s not only sexism that a majority of religions allow and encourage. Xenophobia, homophobia and aversion to change in general seem to be common side effects of most religions, for better or for worse.
Looking back, I was privileged to be exposed to communities outside a religious one, especially those that held different beliefs about the role of girls. For many in my community, the religion they put their faith in to make their lives better is the same one that is railing against them in the first place. For all the good religion does for my mother, it’s easy for her to turn a blind eye to the harm it has caused. I respect the ability to put faith in a higher being and let yourself be free of the worry of many existential crises. There seems to be no apparent harm and in fact for many, it is a sense of peace and stability.
For me, asking for belief makes me fall complacent. Could I question the logical fallacies about the treatment of women in contradiction with modern agreement that sexism is inherently wrong?
Could I question God about his scriptures turning out wrong and outdated if God was eternal and all-knowing? Could I be complicit in the culture Hinduism had created in my community? The discrepancy between the patriarchal structure of my religion and my own firm beliefs an equal society regardless of sex or gender. I couldn’t believe in both; I would be undermining both points of view.
Being free of religion has pushed me to constantly question the world around me. Its moral standards, its ethical dilemmas, its social structures. It compels me to form my own moral standards and reassess them as I learn more about who I want to become. It makes me advocate for change in my own world and for others. I can’t change all minds but, in our house, our little community, my little sister and I work to never be inhibited by women we will grow to be.
Pari, 18, is from Chantilly, Va., and attends the University of California-Berkeley, where she is studying computer science. She was president of the South Asian club Namaste and competed in Model United Nations. Pari enjoys dancing, painting, singing and debating.