Dear “What Will People Say?” or “Manushe Kita Khoyba?” or “Log Kya Kahenge?”,

First of all, nobody likes you.

Secondly, I have become accustomed to hearing you since I was little–you haunt me every hour of every day of my life, making me, for just a moment, pause and think about what people will say. Every action I take, just for a moment, makes me think about the impact it will have on the Asian community’s perspective of me, the whispers, the sidelong glances, the cupped palms over mouths as aunties and uncles exchange hurried rumours and theories about me as a person, based on one thing someone might have heard or seen. These rumours pass quickly, much like the Chinese Whispers game we all played when we were little, the truth getting distorted and changed as it goes from one person to another, until it reaches more and more people, travelling across seas and lands to my ancestors’ home.

I have been raised to keep you at the forefront of my mind, putting you at the centre of my very existence because it is you, “What Will People Say?”, that should stop me from going against tradition, from challenging the age-old cultural beliefs where elders know best, and to defy their commands is to become an outcast, to become a cautionary tale in the face of the community and my family. You were created decades, maybe centuries, ago to stop people, mainly women, from challenging social norms within our culture, opposing the ideologies of traditions and values that stop them, us, me, from living and becoming the best versions of us, rather than complying to the misogynistic, backward mindset brought to life by men and upheld by other women. They carry on your legacy, passing it down from generation to generation, as if it were some glorious heirloom, droplets of rubies glossing their tongues as they speak the words shrouded in gold and suffocation: “Manushe Kita Khoyba? Log Kya Kahenge? What Will People Say?

What will people say?

Tell me, what will people say when they know that it is you forcing women into unwanted marriages, into bearing the burden of honour, shame and izzat? What will people say when they hear it is you that rips apart loving and healthy and wanted relationships because families don’t approve, merely because that person doesn’t fit into their criteria of the right caste, race, religion, wealth, sex, family name, reputation? What will people say when they realise it is you subjugating women, tying a noose of fire riddled with the words sharam, haya, izzat, pratishtha, just because they dare to challenge you and everything you enforce?

You were the reason, for a few days, I erased my name from this blog, from my writing, trying to conceal my identity because my family were so concerned with what people will say, making me feel like I had to shy away from the spotlight. What will people say? I was asked, because I write about loving and losing, and loving and finding, and sex and religion and periods and bodies and trauma and everything I’m meant to keep quiet because of the social stigma attached to it all, the taboo covering them in darkness, stopping anyone from speaking up, speaking out, having a conversation. But fuck you and fuck everything you stand for.

Honestly, you’ve taken so much from me–my innocence, my chance at justice–and from countless other women, keeping us trapped under the guise of care, when really, you kill and take and shred and destroy; you suffocate us under the pretense of a nurturing embrace. You’ve taken enough and you will not take anymore, anything, ever again. Your impact, you, die with me because I will not raise my children by whispering your honey-coated venom into their ears.

May you die a slow and pitiful death with my generation.

Hatefully yours,

Sumaiya

Posted by:Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Poised.

4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the phrase “What Will People Say?”

  1. Coming from a conservative society myself, I understand how you feel. Somewhere parents have to find a way to keep the opinions of their relatives to themselves. Understand we don’t care about “log kya kahengai” as much as they do.

    Liked by 1 person

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