Embodying Ancestry: SINI

Themes: Indian woman, gold, jewelry, sari, accessories, short hair, beauty standards

“In the Western lens, its represented that India is all and everything Bollywood, which is not the case. South Indians, we are the originators of carnatic music. We are the originators of the Indian classical dance from bharatanatyam to kathakali to mohiniyattam. There are so many different art forms which we’ve created and we often don’t get recognized within the sphere of the Western lens. I want people to know that there are two main groups in India which we don’t really learn about. The two different civilizations are the Indus River civilization and the Dravidian civilization. What we know from history or from genetics is that we identify that as Ancestral North India (ANI) and Ancestral South India (ASI). And so I come from ASI in Kerala — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, these are the provinces or states that embody the Dravidian civilization. And I come from Kerala and our people are called Malayalees and our culture is different from North Indians. What’s popularized is North India because, I would say, over 75% of the Indus River Valley civilization the population is higher. So that is also the reason why Dravidian civilization isn’t highlighted. We have a lower population.” 

If you are telling a story about Kerala women, this is how Kerala women get ready. It’s really important. The way that we dress, the way that we put on our attire, the jewelry, the gold we put on. It’s not just a beautiful part of our culture, but it’s literally what makes our culture so regal and incredible!” 

“Another thing we do is organize our bangles. People rarely even notice it. When you see pictures of women wearing garb, people think we just put it all together. But it’s not like that. There is a science behind it. We usually organize them in a certain way so these, the simple ones are in the center and decorated ones are framing.”

“In Hindi you would call this the Bindi, but in Malayalam you would call it the pote. You put it right between the eyebrows. And this is a traditional Onam look. Before industrialization, kanmashi was used made from pure ghee and dye. Now we just put something called a pote.”

“Safety pins are critical for Indian women. When we drape all material, there is so much pleating with the sari, with the shawls that we have. So we need safety pins to hold those pleats down.”

“In 2013, I shaved off my hair. I actually had two feet of hair and I went bald. It was just a moment in life where I needed to reclaim who I was and it was actually very controversial in the Indian community that I’m from. I’m part of a particular ethnic group called Knanaya. In short, we say Kna. And I had not intended this, but this video I put on YouTube of cutting my hair off went viral. And people in the community were talking smack about me! People were harassing my parents saying that I was being a poor example, calling them. Actually my dad stopped going to Indian church for 3 months because he couldn’t face the backlash of the community. But it just goes to show that in Indian culture, Indian women are not encouraged to break boundaries. We are told to get on education, but to be silent. We are told to be the best you can be, but don’t disrupt the norm. And these are things that we’re taught. And also not just in Indian culture, but in Asian cultures, there is a culture of silence which I think is really destructive to the progression of who we can become as a people. But I also believe that imperialism and colonialism has a huge part to play in that. Before colonialism there was a social structure that allowed more freedom of movement in society that it didn’t allow later on post the British empire being in the Indian subcontinent because of the arrival of Christianity.” 

“Even when we don’t win, as women are always winning.”

More Participants

Lontia | Marylin | Amy | Jasmine | Christie | Geraldine | Patricia | Laura | Angela & Diana | Tsedaye | Eddie | Lola | Briana | Simone | SINI | Italy | Ekua | Anika | Reem | Bobo | Kei | Macy | Sarah | DaMonique | Nandi | Anise | Yadira

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