"I know how hard it is to not just voice it but to be told no."
After her bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, many young Desi women are finding that they too identify themselves with Meghan Markle.
Watching and listening to how she struggled after her marriage to Prince Harry in a racist, toxic and judgmental environment strikes a colourful chord when it comes to British South Asian households as well.
As Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex sat down on the wicker bench, she glowed as the soft Californian breeze gracefully grazed her cheek.
Megan looked content, happy and at peace. She had regained her voice.
Speaking with the host, the notorious Oprah, Megan opened up to share her truth and her experiences of being the new addition to the Royal Family after dating and marrying Harry.
Expressing her life journey and who she has always been, she said:
“I have been a waitress, an actress, a princess, a duchess, and I’ve always just been Meghan.”
With millions of fans, critics and potentially her famous in-laws eagerly tuned in, what countless Desi women did not expect was to see the similarities in their lives reflected on screen.
The parallels went beyond society but also family life. Meghan Markle has experienced the same pain many Desi Women have.
Meghan revealed that she and Harry actually got married three days prior to the televised wedding. Meghan and Harry exchanged their vows in front of the Archbishop. Just the three of them.
She recalled this as her ‘real’ wedding, compared to what everyone witnessed later.
This wedding was not for the couple but a grand spectacle which was a show for the world.
When describing her wedding day, she said it was like an “outer-body experience”.
Many Desi women have experienced this, especially in arranged marriages.
She felt numb, as this was not a happy occasion. It was her duty. Much like some young Desi women on their wedding day, numb, following their families wishes, wishing for it to be over.
The pressure on a bride is always greater than on the groom. People are always eager to see what she wears on her special day and comment on how she looks.
A strong similarity experienced by Desi brides with lots of pressure on how they look on their wedding day.
The pressures felt by Meghan marrying into royalty will of course not be the same for a Desi bride (unless she is marrying royalty too).
But the anguish and nerves are never any different because she has to put a show on.
For a young Desi woman marrying someone she fell in love with, the pressure on her is even greater.
It draws parallels from Meghan’s experience with Harry because she is different – an American, a divorcee and mixed race.
As everyone saw in the interview, the backlash from the press and public did impact the couple in many ways. Even before and on the wedding day.
The British tabloids and their opinionated views contributed to highlighting the differences in Meghan not ‘suited’ to be a royal. Not being ‘British enough’.
Possibly mirroring the judgemental attitudes of Desi aunties and guests on a Desi bride’s wedding day. For a Desi bride, perhaps not being ‘Desi enough’ or from the same background.
The In-Laws & Family Conflict
Meghan did not just marry Harry, but also his entire family. The Royal Family.
The same goes for a young Desi woman who gets married. Seldom, are the couple completely left alone unless they live in a different country.
Therefore, the in-laws and family of the man play a significant role in the life of the newly married couple.
When she got married, Meghan did not really know much about Harry’s family. Her upbringing as an American did not give her in-depth knowledge about the Royals.
She only knew what she did via Harry she said in the interview. She even “Googled the national anthem” and some hymns for the wedding day.
Similarly, in the case of arranged marriages especially, the young Desi woman is not going know hardly anything about the family she is marrying into.
And as for love marriages, to fit into his family, the challenge can even be harder for the Desi woman because she is ‘his choice’ and not theirs – leading to immediate judgements about her. Without getting to know her.
Meghan had her fair share of being treated differently in her marriage.
Although The Queen was someone she had huge admiration and respect for, it seems other people in the Royal Family and ‘The Firm’ (aides and workers) were not as welcoming as they looked on the outside.
Harry saw this himself and witnessed the impact on Megan.
Getting acquainted with the man’s family is never an easy one for Desi brides. Having to work our who is on your side or not can take time.
Although one can dream this process would be easy and fun, bonding with people in his family, family conflicts can arise.
The process can make Desi women feel confused, lost and worthless and as though they are not good enough for the family.
This Mean Girls mentality in families can lead to bullying, with certain family members embodying a ‘Desi’ Regina George, intimidating the new bride.
Meghan discussed her relationship with Kate Middleton, a future Queen, and the false tabloid story that Meghan made Kate cry before the royal wedding.
The truth is, Kate made her cry. Meghan said:
“The reverse happened. And I don’t say that to be disparaging to anyone, because it was a really hard week of the wedding, and she was upset about something.”
Unlike a Desi family, where some are too full of pride to apologise, Meghan said:
“She brought me flowers and a note apologising, and she did what I would do if I knew that I hurt someone.”
“The issue was correct about flower girl dresses, and it made me cry, and it really hurt my feelings.”
Moving away from your usual surroundings for love and marriage can take its toll.
Living in a new home with new people can be hugely challenging and taxing.
Meghan explained that she felt lonely, trapped and silent when living in London and being part of the Royal Family.
She was a married woman now, and she had her duties. She had to keep up appearances, and there was no room for error:
“I have always been outspoken – especially about women’s rights – that’s the sad irony of the past four years.
“I have advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silenced.”
Many Desi women have felt this pain after their wedding day. They are now in a new family, terrified of saying or doing anything wrong.
Desi women must be coy and respectable, especially to the in-laws and extended family. The ‘ultimate package’ for any mother-in -law.
The pressure on married Desi women to conform to expectations can lead to emotions and stress never experienced before.
These feelings and those of being trapped and isolated in a marital home can be damaging to mental health.
Meghan revealed how hugely this impacted her revealing that she was having suicidal thoughts and was thinking of harming herself.
“I’ve never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere.
“I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.”
“I went to one of the most senior people to get help.
“And I share this because there are so many people who are afraid to voice that they need help, and I know how hard it is to not just voice it but to be told no.”
There are most likely so many stories that correlate with Megan’s state of mental health during this dark time among Desi women.
Wives, mothers and girlfriends who in some way have been impacted by suppression, honour, patriarchy rules, strict parenting, sense of duty, expectations and much much more.
Most suffer in silence and do not have the opportunity to speak up or speak against their individual situations.
This stigma surrounding mental health is also unfortunately present in the Desi community.
Young Desi women and men have been brought up in an environment that inherently believes they should avoid seeking support for struggling with mental health, with many living by this rule.
They must keep up with the façade of being strong 24/7, and they should not showcase their struggles, as that is the ultimate human weakness.
Despite evidence showing South Asians and BAME individuals being more at risk of developing mental illnesses.
Statistically, BAME groups are less likely to seek professional support due to barriers, such as fear, stigma and a lack of culturally sensitive treatment.
Mental health problems are not shameful and they must not be ignored.
There is no debate that Meghan Markle shocked the Royal Family. Meghan was different.
She was independent and vocal, and this terrified the Royals.
Meghan is a successful American actress and campaigner for women’s rights. But the tabloids only saw the colour of her skin.
That is what defined her.
Arguably interracial relationships are already difficult because of the judgemental opinions which surround them.
However, for Meghan’s case, this was intensified by social media and the systematic racism of the British tabloids.
She was called disgusting, derogatory terms out of spite and sheer ignorance.
Moreover, she also fell victim to racist microaggressive behaviours of her new family and their supporters. She was the outcast.
Being of a different shade of skin, not British and a divorcee made her an easy target for those opposing her union with Harry, even after marriage.
Many Desi women have shared this experience of being different due to the colour of their skin or who they want to marry.
If a Desi woman is marrying outside of her race. It can never be the easiest of rides.
From breaking the news to her own parents to getting acceptance from the wider family can be a major challenge. Especially, for women.
Stereotypical views of a Desi woman married to a white man means ‘she was too westernised for Asian men’ for example.
However, then after marriage, she has to work on getting accepted by the man’s family as well. Some are seen as ‘novelty’ or ‘exotic’ wives rather than a person.
Skin colour can often be the overriding factor compared to anything else, such as personality or even how much the woman loves her spouse.
Interracial relationships must be celebrated and encouraging.
But instead, these relationships awaken a dormant racist attitude within the older generation.
They say they have no problem with white, black, brown or gay people until their own child wants to marry one.
Racism & Colourism
Experience of racism and colourism was a strong undercurrent that surfaced in the interview.
The insightful interview revealed that not only was Meghan called out for the colour of her skin but so was her son.
Throughout the interview, Meghan sat with poise, patience and perfection. However, this topic brought a tear to her eye and left Oprah Winfrey in shock.
“In those months when I was pregnant… we have in tandem the conversation of, you won’t be given security, not going to be given a title and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
This statement shocked many people watching.
Sympathisers could hear the pain in her voice.
In response to the racism claims, Buckingham Palace released a statement saying:
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.
“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.
“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Many Desi women shared this pain with Meghan, and they could, unfortunately, relate to this issue.
From being gossiped about on the day of her wedding to visiting relatives. The skin colour of the Desi daughter-in-law can be a subject often discussed.
If she is fair and beautiful, she ticks all the boxes. But if she is dusky or dark, then there will be someone somewhere who will say something about it. If not directly, then indirectly.
For darker-skinned Desi women, this topic is sensitive, as anti-blackness and colourism run deep within the Desi community.
Even two Desi sisters can be compared on skin colour. If one is darker than the other, the view is that she will not be as ‘easy to marry’ as the fair one.
There is a fear for every pregnant dark-skinned Desi woman, her child might experience this abuse because the child might have dark skin.
When a child is born dark, hurtful comments from Desi aunties can leave emotional marks where they question who the child’s skin is based on.
Conversely, fair Desi girls notice the uncomfortableness they are made to feel for their skin colour too. How comments refer to them as an ‘ideal daughter-in-law’, or how ‘they light up a room’ with no reference to personality.
These kinds of judgements and unwanted comments by family, friends and the public can be toxic, leave emotional scars and impact self-esteem.
I’m Still Standing
These past years have been torture for Meghan. Yet she remained resilient, and strong with her husband by her side.
Harry, the son of the most beloved woman, and now the husband of the strongest.
Throughout this interview, he held her hand with warmth, love and admiration.
Meghan Markle is a brave woman, and the support from her husband further fuelled this.
“I have lost my father, I lost a baby, I nearly lost my name, there’s the loss of identity…but I’m still standing.”
This was more than an interview. It was a wake-up call. Highlighting the suffering many women endure for the sake of their immediate family.
To see a woman suffer silently then speak out, whilst married into a powerful family, has given a sense of hope to women who are also experiencing this pain.
Meghan added that she hopes the message people take from the interview is “know there’s another side, to know that life is worth living”.
For Desi women, the same can be said when it comes to deciding when ‘enough is enough’. Be it the constant flack and criticism from the in-laws and extended family to the lack of support from a husband who changed after marriage.
Albeit not an easy one, she either moves far away with her husband and children to salvage a life to live without the toxicity and negativity around her or opt for a divorce.
Desi women who believe in themselves realise that when things go hugely wrong and blame is a difficult thing for people to accept, it is best to take matters into your own hands.
As did Meghan together with the support of Harry to leave the Royal family and expectations of them in royal roles behind.
The fall out from the Meghan and Harry interview will most likely last for a very long time with fans and haters on both sides.
Meghan Markle might not be a princess anymore but for many Desi women, she represents a reflection they can clearly see to identify with, when it comes to their own lives.