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Pagli - A Memoir

An Indo-Caribbean Muslim girl's coming-of-age journey through abuse, trauma, racism and finding one's voice


Excerpt from Pagli - The first time I heard a girl's sex abuse story, I cringed, held back tears, and was angry. I was about nine. By the tenth time, I had become jaded. The stories were repetitive. A male family member attacked a girl. The girl was too afraid to say anything to her family. Then, another girl would be hurt by the same perpetrator. I also began to expect the sex abuse story. When someone confided in me, I knew they saw me as a REAL friend. Girls shared their molestation stories with male family members like it was a rite of passage of girlhood. The perpetrators were typically uncles, cousins, and sometimes grandfathers who lived nearby or in the same house. Often, the pre-teen girls questioned if they were still virgins. Sex talks didn't exist. "Respect yourself" was uttered without explanation. Sex abuse was rampant and taboo. Victims often went to great lengths to hide their abuse for fear of blame and shame. "Thas wha she get fo being so and so!"

Pagli tells the story of a young Indo-Caribbean, American, and Muslim girl growing up in Queens and Long Island, New York. Shabana ping-pongs between two different homes and communities in the 1990s. A tumultuous divorce, abuse, trauma, and racism encapsulate her childhood as Shabana searches for love, home, and belonging. She visits her mother twice a month because her father is her primary caregiver. Her father remarries, and Shabana is forced to address her stepmother as “mom” and mother by her name. Shortly after the marriage, Shabana’s stepmother begins to beat her as her father brainwashes and lies to his daughter. He convinces Shabana her mother had left her to die as a baby. 

Facing harsh racism in Long Island, Shabana finds beauty in her Islamic and Indo-Caribbean identity on weekends in Queens at the madrasah (Islamic studies). After years of hatred, abuse, and neglect, Shabana develops survival and adaptability skills and learns how to use her most powerful tool, her voice.



identity, racism, xenophobia, colorism, genderism, physical abuse, social/ emotional abuse, and neglect

About the title

Pagli (crazy female) is a Bhojpuri/ Hindi word. In most North Indian languages, words ending in (i) are feminine like larki (girl) and beti (daughter), and words ending in (a) are masculine, like larka (boy) and beta (son). The male equivalent of pagli is pagal, which is absent in Guyanese households, unlike pagli.

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