Ever since I can remember, I’ve had to participate in Christian traditions. Since my family is Indian and strictly conservative, it obviously made my childhood extremely fun. But other than being forced to partake in a 45-minute prayer every night as well as attending church every Sunday, it additionally influenced me heavily throughout my life. In school, I was bullied for “defending my religion.”
My mother always made sure to remind me that I was “meant to be with an Indian man and fulfill the duty of a housewife.” She was so caught up in the stereotypical definition of women she was accustomed to that it made it difficult for me to be my own person. All my interests and friends were closely monitored. Hangouts could only happen if they were exclusively with girls. Going out later than eight at night was forbidden. Listening to music and watching films that contained explicit content was banned. My life was managed by my parents, while my younger brother was free to do whatever he pleased.
It came to the point where I was subconsciously trained to follow this pre-determined path of faith and morals, that an existential breakdown was inevitable.
I was 14 when I started questioning my faith. Nothing felt like it was authentic or “me” anymore. I felt trapped. Part of me believed that I was being robbed of experiences and knowledge. Never did my parents even think to educate me about sex, mental health or even self-expression. And while I don’t blame them entirely for following these toxic traditions, I do regret not doing more to change their ways. Slamming doors and being a general disappointment sadly wasn’t enough to sway them; it actually made the entire thing worse. All they talked about was “cleansing me” from my sins.
Was I not a good person if I wasn’t a “pure” Christian? Would I make my parents proud if I wasn’t “pale enough” and dressed “proper”? Is there even anything to me and my existence besides my faith and appearance? And that’s when I snapped. I started rebelling against every expectation. In every way I could, I avoided becoming what my parents destined me to be. This caused my adolescent angst, which couldn’t have been more embarrassing.
In the end, I did benefit from it. I discovered the internet and read up on everything my parents never taught me. Sex was a taboo topic in my household, so I did all the research I could. Only at the age of 16 did I stumble upon feminism. It was an epiphany that I will never forget. I learned what equality is and finally saw the flaws in the way I was brought up: the unbearably obvious gender norms I was exposed to, the blunt sexism I experienced on a day-to-day basis, what it meant to have limitations on what I could and couldn’t do finally started to click inside my head. It occurred to me that I was being reduced to just my skin color and my ability to perform well in the kitchen.
The way I grew up meant that I had no access to unbiased information about the world. It meant that I had to trust my parents’ opinion on everything. It meant that, for 15 years, I believed that abortion was wrong no matter what, that men deserved to be put on a pedestal at all times, that I was worth less than them. The shame I felt when I realized I was not going to marry and have children like they wanted me to was a burden. The realization that I had been convinced to believe so many false things was sickening. It made me give up my religion completely.
It is sad to think that, even though I grew up in Europe, the Indian culture still affected me negatively. It made me despise admitting my heritage, which is something that I still struggle with. No matter how hard I tried to see the positive, I stopped being proud of my culture. Although I am still extremely skeptical of religion to this day, a small part of me wishes that my parents had allowed me to explore the options myself. Who knows, maybe then I would have conformed to their idea of a perfect daughter.