Becoming a Baha’i was a life-changing event for me. The single most compelling principle was the equality of women and men. This Faith dared to imagine a world where men and women respected each other. To me, that sounded like paradise on earth.
Becoming a Baha’i was part of my journey to mentor other women. I come from a culture where women are disempowered and subjugated. The Faith freed me from my imprisonment of self and my culture. This personal journey led me to a career as an engineer. Working in a predominantly male-dominated profession helped me to foster a greater appreciation for both men and women and gave me a special platform to teach about the equality between genders.
Progress of our world contingent upon education
As a child, I wasn’t encouraged to complete my education. It was more important that I get married and have children, diminishing my desire for education. As I got older, I came to realize that the progress of our world is contingent upon everyone becoming educated. When I learned that so many young women were deprived of that right, I began to realize how important it was for me to get involved in mentoring young women to further their education and to dispel ignorance amongst men and women that holds women back. When one half of the population lives in a state of ignorance, it impedes the progress of civilization. This is one of the foundational teachings of the Baha’i Faith, stated categorically by the founder of the religion, Baha’u’llah, in the mid-19th century.
To the young women of this world, I want to say that education is important for them: as contributors to society, as the mothers you will become, as the teachers you’ll be when you raise children. A Chinese proverb aptly states that “Half the sky is held up by women.” The implications are so profound when people can read and write, and when they are independent and self-sufficient. Education removes fear, it removes dependency and it is self-sustaining.
When I became a Baha’i, and I learned about the principle of universal education and the equality between women and men, my fear about living with ignorance and my dependency on others were gone. My personal journey of freedom from self could finally begin.
I’m reading a book right now called the Kabul Beauty School and it was written by Deborah Rodriguez, (it is a lot like Three Cups of Tea). It resonated with me because she went to Afghanistan to serve, and I related to her desire to uplift an oppressed community. She wondered what, as a hair dresser, she could do in a country ravaged by war, where the Taliban had killed so many men and stripped away the rights of women. The people and women especially, still lived in a state of fear. She entered at a point when they were trying to rebuild and did the most remarkable thing. She decided to open up a beauty school to train young women to become beauticians and hairdressers so that they could earn a wage for their families. Apart from this, she was also teaching them to build businesses, to be managers and to be self-sustaining so that when she left they could carry on. This is the whole story behind education. When you train people with skills and teach them how to create a business and to impart that knowledge to someone else, the legacy carries on.
A Journey to Paradise
My journey has not been free of discrimination since leaving India and coming to the U.S. I was the only female student in my biomedical engineering graduate program and my professors would treat me differently than my male classmates. In the workplace, my junior male colleagues would be given promotions and more responsibilities ahead of me. As women, we have to work harder to prove ourselves and live by higher standards. Yet, we’re still subject to differential treatment.
I know that God has put me in my profession for a reason: to teach others – especially men – that women are just as capable.
This is my journey. From a small village in India, where women have diminished rights, to a metropolis in America, where women are still not treated with full equality, even after decades of legal and business protections of these rights.
But I don’t despair, because I ask myself, what if I had never discovered The Baha’i Faith? What would my life be like? I’d feel like I was trapped, and feel a sense of hopelessness. I would probably have relented and given in to the wishes of my parents to get married to a nice Hindu, Brahman boy who was probably a doctor or PhD. I would have lived up to the expectation that I worship the ground my husband walked on, that I bear his children and exalt his station for providing a life for us. It would mean taking all my dreams and desires and mental capacities and putting them aside, dedicating my life to keeping my husband happy and raising children to emulate the life that their forbearers lived.
Thank God I found the Baha’i Faith and that Baha’u’llah found me. It’s no mistake. There are no coincidences in this life. I know I was supposed to find the Faith because there was a great lesson, a great Teaching that I could convey to other women and girls.
More importantly, I’m a single mother of two boys. I believe I was given sons for a reason: so that I could teach them that these women are equally as capable as men and they would grow up to respect women in all ways. My sons are learning that there is a balance we are meant to achieve, like two wings of a bird. Men and women are meant to value each other’s capacities, not one be exalted over the other.
Watching my sons grow up with the understanding that women and men complement each other—that they fit like a jigsaw puzzle—I can already see glimpses of paradise on earth.