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South Asian women in US not emancipated

By FnF correspondent | PUBLISHED: 23, Apr 2011, 19:13 pm IST | UPDATED: 23, Apr 2011, 19:30 pm IST

South Asian women in US not emancipated New Delhi: Many here may beg to differ, but young Pakistani American writer Sheba Karim, who has made the Indian capital her home for one-and-a-half years, says it is one of the most modern cities in the subcontinent for women.

"Delhi is one of the most modern cities in the subcontinent for women. You can come to Delhi any time, you can get into an auto-rickshaw and move. In Pakistan, you don't have the freedom of movement. I am not comfortable moving around in Pakistan alone. It is easy here," Karim enumerated.

She has been staying in Delhi to work on a "historical fiction on 13th century queen Razia Sultana".
"I am in the middle of the book," she said.

Her young adult novel, "Skunk Girl", was released in the capital Thursday. The book, a Penguin-Books India's new young adult fiction series, probes the pangs of Asian young adults growing up in the US.

It is a witty account of 16-year-old Nina, an Asian high school student who realises that as a girl from Asia, growing up is more difficult than her American peers, who have certain natural advantages, like hairless skin.

Nina becomes the "Skunk Girl" when she spies a column of hair growing down her spine. The excess body hair is a genetic disposition that adds to her adolescent nightmares, besides her girlie crush on a fellow Italian student.

Balancing between two cultures is never easy and Nina blunders her way through it with spunk and humour, Karim says.

One of the biggest problems that Asian girls face while growing up in the US is "the pubescent conflict about dating and mingling with boys", the writer said.

"Boys become appealing and you see your American friends dating. But your family says you can't date and cannot talk to boys. Having a different skin colour is another problem and small things like dealing with excess body hair...," Karim said.

The writer said "the condition of South Asian women was kind of sad in the US."

"When you speak of emancipation for South Asian women in the US, the situation is very different for Pakistani women. Pakistani families are very strict because they live in a certain kind of society. A woman has to fight her community and the family at a more micro-level if she chooses to lead her own life in the US. The family is more worried about what the community will say if they send a daughter away to college. But that girl does not have to fight the world. In Pakistan, a woman has to fight the world (the larger society)," Karim said.

Karim's parents cannot accept her as writer. "They want me to return to law, my profession," she said.

Karim, a graduate of the New York University School of Law, worked for a South Asian Battered Women's Project before earning a master of fine arts in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Karim, who grew up in Catskill in New York, said one of the reasons for writing the book was "there weren't very many books that addressed the problem of growing up in a small US town".

"I wrote about a similar town in a book and drew on my emotional experiences," said Karim, who was growing up in the US of the 1990s.

"However, since the decade of the 1990s, the number of books looking into the lives of South Asian young adults has grown - though compared to other genres not that many. Young adults as a segment of readers is very important," Karim said.

The writer has not been to Pakistan, the country of her descent, since 2006. "Most of family moved out of Pakistan. I have no close relatives in the country," she said.
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