The Stereotypes I Live With As An Indian Christian Woman

Posted by Deborah Grey in Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Staff Picks
December 12, 2016

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Christmas is upon us and I’m in the middle of my annual bake-athon. As batch after batch of coffee and vanilla cakes emerge from my oven, I can’t help going back to memories of Christmas back when I was a child. My father, though an atheist, would throw the most happening party in town! Every year, we’d have a special theme. One year, daddy and I were Batman and Robin. The next year we were Calvin and Hobbes. Daddy was very generous with his bar and all our guests stumbled out pretty darn drunk every year. In fact, I had my first sip of whisky from daddy’s glass. We later swore to each other that my mom would never find out. Mom was anyway always a little too busy baking and frying and then baking some more. No, she wasn’t a kitchen slave. She was just addicted to cooking. Over the years she built quite a reputation for herself and her cakes and muffins were the talk of the town (oh well, our neighbourhood).

But there’s more to being Christian than Christmas and cakes. And it is a little difficult to explain that to people here in India. To begin with, their first response is, “Oh, so you are Catholic!” I have the hardest time explaining that I’m an Anglican – that’s Christian too. The story of Ann Boleyn and King Henry VIII follows, but nobody seems interested. Sigh! Personally, I have nothing against Catholics. I think the current Pope is cool. He recognises climate change as a real threat to the world, has apologised to survivors of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and had even made an attempt to support the LGBTQ community before being overpowered by his peers to stop being so blatant about it. Guess he has to take baby steps. But I digress.

Being Christian in India is actually a lot of fun. First, people presume that English is the only language I understand. So everyone from the building security staff to the domestic worker to my grocer, use English whenever they want to communicate with me. Sometimes, I feel like a queen because I’m the only one who gets a ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ from the watchmen in my building every day, while others are lucky to even get a “Salaam sahib.” It is also delightful to hear my cook say, “Thank you for boiling potatoes,” whenever I try to make her job easier. I have been teaching her basic English for the last four years and now she understands simple directions like, “Please wash the dishes before you clean the house. I need at least a cup, a spoon and a plate for breakfast.” The grocer goes all posh when he says, “Madam, I have fresh cottage cheese and large-sized chickpeas for you. Also good quality lima beans!” making everyone else in the store wonder what came over him. He has also been getting salad dressing, flax and quinoa seeds for me.

But it is the aunties who make life miserable. Try renting a house and they respond with a volley of questions based on strange stereotypes, “Oh. So you are Christian. That means you are allowed everything. Like boyfriends and short skirts?” Now while I do have a boyfriend and wear short skirts, I wonder how that is an exclusive Christian privilege? Potential landlords would often gather these neighbourhood aunties for my ‘trial’ before deciding to rent their homes to me. They have asked me the strangest questions. “Why do your parents allow you to date? This is against Indian culture! How can they be so careless with you?” When I tell them that my parents have nothing to do with my personal life and actually think that dating is a great way to find a potential life partner, their parenting skills are judged.

Also, I find the presumption that just because I’m Christian, I must be a drunkard, rather idiotic! I mean it’s high time we moved away from the whole “Michael daaru pi ke danga karta hai” (Michael gets drunk and creates a scene) stereotype! I have taken great pains to explain the Holy Communion and the importance of wine in our culture to my non-Christian friends, neighbours and potential landlords. But after a few years, I’d just tell the property broker to inform potential landlords that I was a single Christian woman, that I was a journalist and kept late hours and that I would be living with anywhere between two to six cats. My vegetarianism and almost Satvik lifestyle has baffled and yet endeared me to many of my previous Hindu landlords. But aunties play spoilsport again and often suggest I should convert given how I was ‘more Indian than Christian’. They fail to understand that Christians are Indian too. That used to drive me crazy once upon a time. Now I just show them my Aadhaar Card as proof of being Indian.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. Christians didn’t fall from outer space. We have been in India for hundreds of years. Some Indians are Christians because their European Christian ancestors came and settled here in India. Some people converted (some by choice and some by force and that was terrible) and some were born into Christian families. It doesn’t matter how you ‘became’ Christian. What matters is that you are a good, kind and generous person. What matters is that you always pay your debts on time and never steal anything. What matters is that you look after the homeless (human and animals). What matters is that you support your friends in need and that you are willing to fight for somebody else’s rights even if the outcome of that fight doesn’t directly affect you.

The length of my skirt is not important. What’s important is that I mind my own business and don’t poke my nose in anyone else’s life. Isn’t ‘live and let live’ a very Indian philosophy? Yes, I enjoy the odd glass of wine and you are welcome to join me. If wine is not your thing, I make awesome coffee. We can have some with the muffins I just baked. All I ask is that you always remember that things like gender, genetics, geography, religion and diet don’t define you. Your ideas, actions and choices do. Also, please remember that I’m as Indian as you. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!