As a young girl from the Indian diaspora, growing up in Canada and the UK, Rajvinder Khaira would have never thought it would be the ubiquitous ladoo that play such an important part in her life. She did not become a sweetmaker, no. But what she did was tremendously important for women in the diaspora, who have been from the time they are born, relegated to the second-grade mithai upon birth. Ladoos for the boys, ordinary mithai for the girls. The founder of the Pink Ladoo Project, Khaira did something completely unexpected and subversive with ladoos. She got them made in pink, the traditional colour for girls, and encouraged families to distribute pink ladoos when a girl child was born. As a lawyer and the Global Director (Founder) of the Pink Ladoo Campaign which runs across Australia, the UK and Canada, Khaira is now seeing the efforts of her campaign paying off with the pink ladoo becoming one of the most popular sweetmeats in some of the sweet stores associated with the campaign. The campaign really took off in 2015, and today has become synonymous with celebrating the birth of a girl child in Indian diaspora.

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SheThePeople.TV spoke with Raj about how she conceptualised the campaign, the hurdles she faced and why she believes that conversations are the best way to fight cultural prejudices.

"But isn't it sexist to use Pink for girls? It should be yellow ladoo for all." Firstly, yes, it should be, but unfortunately as a community we have a lot of work to do and we need to open some serious discussions in our homes about gender biased customs. The Pink Ladoo is the symbol of a protest against sexist traditions. If it was yellow it wouldn't open a conversation as instantly and as potently as it does by being pink. Secondly, different colours have different meanings in different cultures. Just because the West associates pink with being weak, mild, and submissive, doesn't mean that's the only interpretation available. For thousands of years Pink and Red have been associated with prosperity, wealth, success and good fortune in South Asian cultures and are also unisex colours with both men and women opting to wear them during celebrations. The Western narrative is not the only narrative. #pinkladoo #pinkdoesntstink #asianbride #southasianwomen #babygirl #ladoo #heforshe #intersectionality

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You were raised between Canada and the UK in a Punjabi household. Tell us something about your childhood, your family and the anecdotes that have left a major impression in shaping and moulding your mindset as an adult.

The thing that impacted me most growing up was the extended family’s reaction to my sister’s birth. The crying, the hysteria, the condolences – it was insane. I was ten when that happened and I know that has been one of the defining experiences of my life so far.

Rajvinder Khaira
Rajvinder Khaira

Growing up as part of the Indian diaspora in the UK, what were the conflicts that you faced at home and out in the academic/professional space? What were the lessons of being a woman that you had to abandon or renegotiate in the professional space?

I’m lucky that I didn’t face the “Bend it Like Beckham” style pressures to stay at home/get married/not pursue sports or further education. My parents were great in that they truly supported everything I wanted to do, even when I said I wanted to be an actress.

I think what I noticed when I started working and something I’ve only started to realize about myself now is that as South Asian women our community teaches us to feel guilt and shame before pretty much any other emotion; we are taught to neglect our own needs in favor of being polite (don’t ask them for anything to drink, it looks bad!), and taught to diminish ourselves in order to fit in with some outdated notion of what a woman is and should be. We are also a community that can be quite catastrophic in our view of things, and it is often impressed on children, especially girls, from a young age that once certain events happen, there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way of fixing it or correcting it or distancing yourself from that event.

As South Asian women our community teaches us to feel guilt and shame before pretty much any other emotion; we are taught to neglect our own needs in favor of being polite.

That doomsday mentality created an atmosphere within me where I felt like every mistake was the end of the world on top of feeling guilty and ashamed of and about everything I was doing.

What were the factors that motivated you to take up law?

I wanted to “help people”. But it has evolved into much more than that. I guess children see the world in quite a binary way. The beauty of my law degree is it taught me to think critically and pick everything apart. This has allowed me to fulfil my goal of “helping people” albeit not in a legal capacity.

How did the Pink Ladoo campaign come about? Was there a specific instance that triggered the initiation of this campaign? How has it been received within the community?

The idea came to me when I was 12 and packing boxes of ladoo to hand out to celebrate my brother’s birth. I didn’t think of the Pink Ladoo then, but spoke to my mom about starting a trend to celebrate the birth of girls. It’s been received very well in the community. Sweetshops across UK, Canada and Australia have now started offering Pink Ladoo due to the demand generated by the campaign.

How does the campaign work? Which are the countries it covers right now and where do you hope to expand to?

The campaign is quite simple. We want people to give out Pink Ladoo (or any other sweet) to celebrate their girls’ births. The reason why Pink Ladoo is special to us is because they send a powerful message, one that doesn’t need much explanation Ladoo – because it’s the sweet most closely tied with celebration, and Pink because it’s a girl. There’s no denying its symbolism and in that lies its power. We aren’t involved in the creation or anything of these pink ladoo nor do we take any money from the sales. We hope that giving out (or receiving) pink ladoo will force people to think twice about other sexist customs too. After all, we keep telling girls to “go to school!” “fight dowry!” “lean in!”, how can we realistically expect them to have the confidence or self-belief to do any of that if we tell them from birth they aren’t as worthy as men?

The reason why Pink Ladoo is special to us is because they send a powerful message, one that doesn’t need much explanation Ladoo – because it’s the sweet most closely tied with celebration, and Pink because it’s a girl.

The subversiveness of using pink for the ladoos, did it see any criticism or resistance, specific to the use of the colour pink, underlining as it does, a gender binary?

We get the odd criticism here and there. I understand the problem with branding girls pink, but equally, the western narrative for pink isn’t the only one. Pink has a very specific meaning in south Asian culture, it is strong and auspicious. Also, I mean, we could have campaigned for “yellow ladoo for all!” but it really doesn’t have the same impact, nor does it open a conversation about gender inequality the way a pink ladoo does.

Rajvinder Khaira
Rajvinder Khaira Pinkladoo/Facebook.com

What are the battles that girls born in the Indian diaspora have yet to fight? Where are the areas which still face resistance from within the community?

There are so many, and the older I get the more I’m learning about the social conditioning I’ve undergone by growing up in the south Asian community and how it’s impacted my thoughts and behaviour. I think the guilt and shame piece is huge and it impacts both men and women. Equally, these notions of family loyalty and honor are like straitjackets for young girls.

And finally, what drives you, what are your motivators, your inspirations? Who are the women you look up to? And how important do you think it is for women from the Indian diaspora to have role models they can look up to in their battle against inherent and entrenched cultural patriarchy?

Ah, this is always a tough question to answer, mainly because I could probably write 200 pages on it. But I’ll keep it brief. I’m motivated by my community’s ability to evolve. When things get tough I think about how far we’ve come since we started in 2015 and how so much has changed in such a short time. I’m inspired by the amazing women in my life, my friends, my mother, my sister, my late-grandmothers. I have from a young age, and still do, look up to my cousin Harbir. She’s five years older than me and was a real trailblazer. She really pushed the boat out and stood up for herself at a time where she had a lot to lose by doing so, she forged a successful career and is one of the smartest people I know. Our relationship is different now that we are both much older but she still remains a constant source of inspiration and hope for me. She inspired me to pursue my dreams, has always encouraged me and made me believe I could do anything so long as I put my mind to it. It meant a lot to hear that from someone who was doing all the things I wanted to do.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV

Picture Credit: Pinkladoo/Facebook.com

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