If I am to live through an afterlife it should be as a churel demon, so I can seek vengeance on behalf of mistreated women across the globe.By Sarah Khan Like all other cultures, South Asia has its own selection of other-worldly monsters to scare children (and even some adults). None of them really ever frightened me because they all seemed to have a reason for being the way they are. The one that intrigues me the most of them all is the churel. While in Pakistan, churel is also the word for a living witch, I’m going to talk about the ghostly demon in this piece because this female demon is the man-hating, anti-patriarchy, badass ghost that I kinda hope to become when I pass away.
Who Is the Churel?The legend of the churel reportedly started in Persia, but is currently most prominent in South Asia, specifically India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. She is said to be the ghost of a wronged woman, usually one who dies during or just after childbirth. A woman can also come back as a churel if she was mistreated by relatives during her lifetime or if she was sexually dissatisfied. Because of this fear, families were encouraged to take extra good care of women relatives, such as daughters-in-law, especially pregnant ones.
Why Is She So Scary?The churel is an ugly, horrific-looking creature who can take any shape she pleases. In Pakistan, it’s legend adds on that she cannot change her feet, which are pointed backwards. For this reason, she’s also known as pichal peri, which literally means “back footed.” Generally, the churel will take the form of a traditionally beautiful woman in order to lure men into secluded forested areas. Some say that she’s not malicious while most folklore about her say that she’s vengeful and returns to kill the men in her family, starting with those who wronged her when she was alive.
How Does a Woman Become a Churel?The most common reasons women come back as churels is if they die during childbirth (sometimes also if they die during pregnancy) or in the 12 days after childbirth, when she is considered “impure”, according to Indian superstition. Other reasons a churel is created is if the woman is unfairly treated by her relatives and even if she is not sexually satisfied. For this reason, when a woman is pregnant, she is taken extra-good care of in order to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth. It’s also the reason why families are likely to actively be humane to the women in their families.
Why Is the Churel My Feminist Heroine?The fact that people need to be scared by an urban legend into being decent to the women in a family is appalling in itself, but I like to think that the legend of the churel was created by women in order to scare men into treating them like human beings. Women have long been considered second-class citizens and little less than incubators for babies, so I don’t blame women for potentially creating a terrifying demon to scare people into treating them with basic humanity. The idea that a witchy demon who can shape-shift and lures men to their demise exists in a culture that is so blatantly misogynistic is refreshing. While there are those who are deeply engrossed in the misogynistic cultures of South Asia, and even women who have ingrained misogyny they’ve not unlearned (or are simply unaware that it’s there to begin with), will still fear the churel and think of her as something evil and unsavory, I myself find her a breath of fresh air.
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Hasan Minhaj's eloquence and ability to reflect on micro and macro levels is so inspiring. I feel transformed for the better after spending an hour and change with him and his epic storytelling abilities.If you had told me even 10 years ago that there would be so much amazing Desi representation in visual media in the year 2017 I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, in an alternate universe.” But here we are, with Mindy Kaling trailblazing for South Asian American women and headlining her own show after a hugely successful writing and comedy career; Aziz Ansari starring as the romantic lead in his own show after fantastic supporting roles on shows like Parks and Recreation; Hannah Simone repping for all us biracial South Asians on The New Girl and Priyanka Chopra kicking so much butt leading Quantico. And adding to this glorious Desi-American masala we have Hasan Minhaj who is a Daily Show correspondent and also featuring in his new Netflix comedy show Homecoming King. Minhaj’s Homecoming King is a bittersweet love letter to his experience growing up Indian and American in Southern California. Equal parts hilarious, vulnerable, and real, Minhaj details his childhood as the only brown kid in a mostly-white Davis, as well as his journey to become the Daily Show funnyman we know and love so much. Using his charismatic stage presence and electric writing, the first thing he tackles is his heritage. His parents had an arranged marriage, and their first big experiences as a couple were moving to America and having Hasan; but Hasan’s mom had to finish her medical degree in India, so she didn’t live with Hasan and his dad for the first eight years of their life in California. With buckets of empathy, Minhaj details life with his Indian dad as they navigated America together as well as their many cultural clashes. Hasan, after all, is American in a way his dad will never be and their relationship was encapsulated by that push-pull dynamic of many immigrant families. Some of Minhaj’s most raw moments in Homecoming King are when he talks about his complicated relationship with his dad and reflects on the difficult experiences that become so meaningful in retrospect. And never is the generation gap of first gen immigrants and their parents ever so clear as in how Hasan and his dad responded to the racist attacks on their family in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Minhaj put his head down and took the abuse — Hasan interpreting this as a kind of immigrant tax the older generations feel they have to pay for living in this country and being non-white. On the other hand, Hasan was filled with a new rage that he and his American family would and could be scapegoated in this violent way with impunity. Minhaj’s comments about the “audacity of equality,” that he as an American-born citizen would not stand for this abuse when the older generation see it almost as a rite of passage, are incredible and illuminating. We can sum up the Trump regime’s entire ethos in response to the “audacity of equality” that today women, black and brown Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, disabled, and other minorities have the nerve to believe that they are equal and deserve equal human rights. Minhaj is a phenomenal wordsmith indeed. What’s so remarkable about Minhaj’s show is that in spite of an overwhelming theme of racism and the Indian American and Muslim immigrant experience, Minhaj somehow manages to find the points of comedy in each of the situations he and his family survived. I found myself belly laughing through tears at so much beautiful resonance in his experience and my own, even though our backgrounds are nothing at all alike. And Minhaj’s marvelous ability to shift from physical comedy to tearful emotional vulnerability smashes so many stereotypes not just about South Asian men and Muslims, but about masculinity in general. These are unicorn qualities, for real. One of the most important and my favorite aspect of Homecoming King — like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None — is that Minhaj’s writing does not rely on cheap comedic tricks that tear other people down in order to elicit a laugh or two at the expense of another marginalized group. I mean, there isn’t even one joke about him going out, getting wasted, and pulling jackass stunts for quick laughs either. The show is just so real, and so human. There is nothing so refreshing in this era of orange-tinged horror to be able to laugh with someone on a pure level that taps into our shared humanity, compassion, and empathy. This is dignified comedy, and I hope it prompts a whole new generation of comedians to follow in its footsteps. And while he does poke fun at family quirks in the most good-natured of ways, and details the foibles of being a Third Culture Desi Kid in America, the overwhelming theme of his show surprisingly ended up being one of forgiveness. For so many of us Others in America, our experience begins to be defined by the shitty things that (often white) people say or do to us that remind us just how much we don’t belong here.
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"At Luminoustudios, we’re very passionate about shattering the glass ceiling and giving more opportunity to women in the film industry." Meet Reema Dutt, one-half of the powerhouse Desi duo behind all-woman-helmed independent production company Luminousstudios. She drinks her coffee black like