The Pink Ladoo Project – Interview with founder Raj Khaira

The Pink Ladoo Project is an inspiring campaign headed by London based lawyer and activist Raj Khaira. Having started in October 2015, its followers have grown on social media to a more than 30,000, and this can be attributed to the success of the overall message of the online campaign. In an interview with me for BHBN Radio, Raj discusses in some detail, her reasons for starting the Pink Ladoo Project.

Activist and founder of the Pink Ladoo Project Raj Khaira

Listen back to the full radio report:

The Pink Ladoo Project aims to inspire and encourage South Asian families to open the conversation on gender-equality. Its primary focus is to encourage South Asian parents and families to take a stand against sexism at ‘the earliest opportunity in their daughter’s lives’, starting with their birth. For generations families have celebrated the birth of a boy by a way of the distribution of ladoo – a round Indian sweet which is golden yellow in colour. This has often been used to connote happiness for the parents. In contrast, when a girl is born, the exchange of sweets and congratulator delight has not been comparable. This is where the Pink Ladoo Project comes in, making a statement through the act of giving and receiving sweets.

‘We set out to change the way people do things and it feels like it’s happening.’

In a conscious decision made at the branding stages of the campaign, activist Raj Khaira tells me how she opted for ‘pink ladoo’ for girls to deliberately oppose the traditional golden yellow ladoo for boys. The arrival of a box of pink ladoos makes a statement in a way that provokes conversations around gender equality in a way that a ‘normal’ box of ladoo does not. Modestly laid, a box of pink ladoo intentionally recognises the arrival of a female and motivates those receiving the sweets to join in on the celebration of that. By doing this, the message that goes out conveys to those receiving these sweets how important it is to actively teach boys and girls what equality looks and feels like.

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The Pink Ladoo Project at Birmingham Women’s Hospital

Women have long been systematically targeted by customs and traditions for generations in South Asia in differing ways: e.g. dowry, female foeticide, child marriage, father-to-son inheritance, the custom of men looking after parents in their old age, the privilege of performing the final rites of loved ones at their funerals being given to men only etc. Such customs and traditions that underpin patriarchy in South Asian communities culturally and methodically work against women. Not only does the Pink Ladoo Project urge the wider communities to recognise the female additions to their families in the same way that one would do so with males, they also share posts on social media from their supporters who recount experiences of women empowerment and those of families celebrating their daughter’s achievements.

With that being said, I will now take the opportunity to clarify, that not only women endorse feminism, and that some of the posts received by the campaign are from men, whom I have dubbed the ‘feminist dad’ or feminist father figures. When women unite to discuss matters of feminism as seen with the Pink Ladoo Project, it is sometimes misinterpreted as male bashing or as man hating. Feminism is far from that. Yes, feminism is unapologetic in its message, but it also promotes that men are, or at least should be, above patriarchy, and strive to be better than our misogynistic belief systems allow them to be. With support from these ‘feminist dads’ the importance for such a campaign further solidifies the campaigns message as important and relevant to their daughters.

The campaign places emphasis on the importance of believing in your daughters’ ability to achieve in all levels of life and society by starting at the very beginning, her birth, and by marking this event with applause and celebration. In doing so the future generations of South Asian men *and* women will captivate on the importance of defying societal norms and erroneous customs found in South Asian communities that may attempt to work against our daughters as they grow – an all-important message we should embrace and ingest then.

We thought about using normal ladoo. But it felt dishonest. Campaigning for “normal ladoo for all” would have glossed over the fact that it is women who have been systematically targeted and undermined through sexist customs.

For us, the Pink Ladoo is the symbol of a protest against sexist customs and norms.  Our aim is to open conversations about women’s rights in South Asian homes across the world; a normal ladoo doesn’t open the conversation as instantly and potently as a Pink Ladoo and wouldn’t have the same impact.

There has been some criticism around the campaign’s intentions and ideology. Some people have suggested in both their comments online and in direct conversations with the activist, the irrelevance of the Pink Ladoo campaign in a progressive 21st century Britain, America, India, Pakistan and so on. This statement opens the floor to the problematic debate of progressiveness and that which is deemed progressive in a western culture being incomparable to that of eastern culture. Furthermore, if we had replaced regressive ideologies with progressiveness in 21st century Britain, America, India, Pakistan etc. then we would be moving towards a utopian state of being – hmm, I beg to differ.

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One common criticism the campaign has received is the use of the colour pink for the ladoos. Some people online have suggested that the use of pink ladoo singles women out entirely by over-focusing on their gender, instead of equating it to men. There is an interesting response to this. Firstly, what the colour pink can symbolise varies throughout world cultures. In certain parts of the world, especially where members of the South Asian diaspora reside for example, pink and red hues or shades are deemed representative of prosperity and often observed in religious ceremonies. Brides and grooms at weddings in South Asian cultures often adorn the colour pink as it is considered to be a colour of celebration and festivity.

In 2008 the breast cancer awareness campaign used pink as their main colour in their global activism and fight against breast cancer, acting as a symbol of strength for women. The use of the colour pink in women’s awareness campaigns around the world is a common trait as it plays on the submissive connotations associated with pink (a cultural trend in the west that began in the 1940s) where a re-focusing of the colour adjusts the mind in recognising pink as strong in the face of struggle. Therefore, one colour carries multiple meanings in 1) accordance to the culture it is being representative of and 2) in the way in which it is being suggested to the audience. The colour pink can often be considered as being meek, or displaying passive traits which society can appear to accept as being feminine, or rather what feminine can be constructed as in patriarchal ideas and the related expectations that can be placed on women. Is it not wonderful then to see women all over the world taking the colour pink and reclaiming it in a way that empowers them? Precisely that! This is exactly what the Pink Ladoo Project has done. The issue surrounding the use of the colour pink is one to do with associating the colour pink with the fragile subtexts assigned to women in the first instance. If it were not the colour pink that was associated with the female gender then it would be some other colour being written about here. The real issue is not the use of the colour pink, it is the way the colour is represented in society, and this can only change with the re-assignment of it in a more striking and potent way. Hear hear pink ladoos, hear hear! Where were you when I was born?!

The Pink Ladoo Project is successful and notable in many parts of the world. It sets out to change the way traditions have been carried out for generations and the campaign succeeds by spreading its message day by day. Having learnt much about the Pink Ladoo Project as I pulled this radio report together, I felt immense pride in what Raj and her campaigners had achieved and truly commend them for all the hours of work dedicated to the cause.

Some Indian sweet shops have seen an increase in the sale of pink ladoo or pink mitai since the launch of the campaign. The London Sweet Centre in Birmingham on Soho Road as featured in the radio report, is one such store. The business commends the campaign for its efforts having since promoted the message of the Pink Ladoo Project on their social media sites welcoming orders for pink ladoo from customers. Manager of the family run business Raman Sandhu, echoes the importance of the campaigns initiative in the hope that it will create a community free of sexist traditions.

‘Two days ago, a customer rang; they’ve had twins, and they’re both girls, and they’ve especially requested pink ladoo. We do have customers who sometimes do order mita and want it in pink’

Manager Raman Sandhu at the London Sweet Centre in Birmingham – freshly made pink ladoos are made to order. 

Because of the campaigns growing awareness, I heard South Asian men talk openly about their passion for the campaign’s message as featured in the report. Women – young, mature and old – tell me how inspiring and honest they find its overall message. Granted that some pressures and traditions around gender have fallen to the side over time, this does not mean however that equality has been achieved for all as stated above. As a supporter of the campaign, I hope that this radio report brings home to you the rewards of such an initiative through the voices of the interviewees and guest speakers.

I look forward to watching the campaign expand and to one day reach the villages of less economically developed countries giving women the courage to fight the misogyny that is embedded deep in their communities. I hope to see the campaign win awards for the work that it does. Most of all, I look forward to seeing the girls who are celebrated at their birth on the campaign’s social media pages, to form a generation of women who no longer need to make the pink ladoo statement of gender-equality. I hope in their time, gender inequality will no longer exist – that would be something to celebrate in the years to come.

Sometimes its the princess who kills the dragon and saves the prince – Samuel Lowe

To Raj and her campaigners, I say this: continue on in your pursuit for equality with the same avid passion that you carried with you when starting this campaign. We, your growing followers and supporters are behind you, and we are in the many. To those who refuse to fathom the great possibilities of the Pink Ladoo Project and who have their mouths open in disdain, ready to air their lack of approval – stick a pink ladoo in it!

‘It would be great if it just detached from itself, and became a thing that becomes something that’s so normal and standardly done…that’s the dream really.’

 

 

The Pink Ladoo Project: www.pinkladoo.org

London Sweet Centre: https://londonsweetcentre.com

Some photographs used are courtesy of Goggle Images

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