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A Choice. The Indian Woman.

March 4, 2011

Today’s topic is a little controversial… and it is more of a ramble than making a particular point.

The topic came about during a couple of conversations with friends and a book I am reading. It is a book about Indian women and the changing face of the women today, given education and jobs and all that. It explores how the Indian woman has learnt to make choices (if she has) and juggle choices.

But halfway through the book, I realised I was not completely convinced with some of the things the book was saying. It started off well, the examples and the questions. But then the examples got a little… stereotypical. They were all women who had defied conventions and married someone they loved – which was not the case in majority of the families. True, education and jobs have given women more financial independence and thereby some relief from traditional shackles but a lot of the prisons exist in the mind. And there, the battle has barely begun.

For instance, there is still a strong stigma attached to a woman who is divorced or a woman who does not want a child. In certain circles, divorce is accepted. But when a normal, middle-class woman chooses to go for a divorce, more complaints are made about her character than the husband, no matter how he is.

As a child, I was witness to one such case. The woman was barely educated while the man was a lawyer or some such thing. They were fairly well off and even had a kid. But the woman, after nearly two decades of marriage, filed for divorce. She cited physical abuse. The truth was never really known, at least to me, but much of the rumors I heard said she filed for a divorce so she could live her life unencumbered by a stay-at-home, quiet husband. She liked traveling and parties. And that was her fault, apparently. Her own parents went against her in the court, calling her an unfit mother.

Perhaps she did want to lead an unencumbered life. She was married when she was barely 18 and not old enough to know better. She took care of her son and made her life. So the choice has to be her, eh?

In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I have known break ups, live in relationships, divorces and worse. I have also known love that lasts for a lifetime and marriages that last for a second. There are no sure factors in any of these. Yet, people blame call centres and such for the changes. Perhaps they were the vehicle of much-needed change. Like a man released from a coffin, people leaned to the other extreme of life – indulgence like nothing before. In India, we are taught that indulgence is bad. We are made to feel guilty for spending on ourselves, for taking time for ourselves. We are expected to be within the framework of a family.

But financial necessity sent people to these places and suddenly they found personal spaces, financial freedom and with that, an identity. Of course they went overboard. Indian movies had always portrayed the relationship between a man and a woman in only two ways – fraternal or otherwise. The people who were out now from traditional shackles did not know better. And till they learnt better, these things happen. And so we had the cultural guardians – the ones who blamed women for everything, threw acid at the ones who wore western clothes, jeered at the women who tried to make a decent living and smeared reputations of those who worked late.

There is something really rotten in the Indian mindset. It can’t be just the influence of movies. But people just assumed bad things happened at night at places where people worked. Things like …. you know that whispered word – s-e-x. Sex has always been taboo in India. Something to be hidden behind locked doors and under the cover of sheets, in the darkness. I guess we just associate it with darkness.

Experts say a lot of the stigma attached was simply because men couldn’t bear the thought of not having the women under their control. The woman had money, she could buy her own things… so she didn’t need the guy to buy her things. That meant the guy had to step up to the plate and actually be something.

Perhaps.

But why did the women think the same way?

Jealousy? Lack of information? A loss of identity for those who do not have this new one?

Women are the toughest critics of other women. So when a woman chooses to walk out of a marriage, of sleeping around or making a different choice, women are the ones to cast the first stone. I just do not get why (and I’m a woman!)

Someone I know said she did not want to have children. She was in a relationship, had been in that relationship for a while… and now the topic of marriage and children had come up and she had to finally face the fact that she did not want children. She loved them but she said she did not want them. No reasons. It did not bother me much… it is a personal choice.

“I don’t want to be caught in the biological race. If I really want to have kids, I will adopt at some later stage. What is it about the body?” were her words.

Those words cost her the relationship and a few friendships too. She grew more adamant in her view.  She does not really regret her choice, unlike the movies and books show.

A while ago, I could have said I know so many women who think this way. But that is not particularly true. We simply had not given it any thought. Now I see people getting married or considering it and they say “Well, I have to have kids and it has to be before 30 cuz it’ll be too late otherwise.”

Have to have’? Why? Why is it bred in us that we have to have children?

There have been so many changes in the mindset of Indian women. True. But most of those changes are only on the outside. Inside, in the mind where it really counts, we are as archaic as ever. True, there are women who are breaking out of these moulds… but these are media stories – that one golden exception rather than the rule. I seem to be the exception as well, and luckily have a wonderful group of friends who are the same as me. But every day I discover someone that I thought I knew and they give me an archaic view that I wonder if I knew them at all. Or maybe they just gave in to the pressure.

A choice is not a choice if it not made independently.

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