Bindi: The Multifaceted Lives of Indo-Caribbean Women by Rosanne Kanhai

By Rosanne Kanhai

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17 The Southall Black Sisters were seen as the “only inside group that could mount a critique of sexist attitudes within their community to improve it, rather than attack it from the outside to disparage South Asian culture”. Thus their 1979 Ramleela production sought to satirically question patriarchal attitudes and racism in the community, but in a spirit of affection and celebration. In this production women played all the parts – male and female – and their casting choices reflected a thwarting of traditional expectations.

Nevertheless, the 1990s witnessed the first formal Ramayana yagnas conducted by a woman. The major argument against female involvement in certain rituals and formal textual interpretation was the “impurity” assigned to menstruation. One wonders, given the sometimes erratic nature of the cycle, how feasible it indeed was to schedule discourses around this period of unsuitability. One can surmise that the earlier pundit Deokie Devi, given the fastidious adherence to the taboo at that time, would have had to resort to having another pundit perform her religious duties or have them rescheduled.

Yet the female characters in Persaud’s novel, drawing on their respective experiences and changing social contexts, vehemently question the treatment of Sita in the Ramayana, especially her having to undergo a fire test to prove her chastity. 37 Women have been the main propagators of various types of Indian folksongs in Trinidad. Such songs as biraha, jhoomar, chowtaal and bhajans comprised a salient aspect of the musical dimension of the local Ramayana tradition. While most carried religious connotations, those that were not restricted to solely religious settings but formed a vital part of wedding celebrations and other more secular forums sometimes de-emphasized the religious to highlight the more contextually suitable aspects.

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