Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Some Thoughts on Dipawali

The happiest memories of my life are connected with the festival of Dipawali even though I hate the deafening noise and air pollution that comes from Diwali crackers.

Ever since I came of age, Diwali was never an occasion for partying. It meant putting aside everything and everyone else to be with my parents for the evening puja and join my mother in singing the aarti. Even today, the sound of my mother's simple rendering of the aarti is for me the most melodious and divine sound in the entire world. After the puja when my mother would distribute gifts to all of us, in my eyes she looked like Lakshmi incarnate.

Ever since my mother left this world, Diwali is not a festival I can "celebrate" but I make sure to perform the evening puja as a ritual to keep alive and cherish her memory.

Right from my childhood whenever I sat down for Diwali puja, a question that invariably nagged me has come to bother me even more today: Why is it that Diwali puja involves worshiping Lakshmi only in her avatar as the goddess of wealth? How come she has become the most popular pan Indian goddess? As per tradition, even on Diwali, along with Vighnaharta (obstacle remover) Ganesh, Mahalakshmi is supposed to be worshiped in her three avatars-Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, Mahakali, the goddess of infinite energy representing the Primeval Force of the Universe as well as destroyer of evil and Mahasaraswati, the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, beauty, purity and arts. The puja is supposed to include worship of books as symbols of the goddess of wisdom and knowledge.

But at least in North India, most families confine their worship to propitiating the goddess of wealth alone. The place of knowledge-giving books has been monopolized by bahikhatas or account books. Those who have moved beyond the stage of old style manually bahikhatasplace cheque books and passbooks at the feet of the goddess in the hope of being blessed with fatter bank balances.

During Navaratras, the popularity of Durga Puja matches the fanfare of Lakshmi Puja. But the goddess of wisdom, purity, knowledge and arts has been so marginalized in popular consciousness that her worship has been confined to select few communities and is treated as a low key affair. In North India in particular, very few families even remember the special day dedicated to her worship. I don't ever remember TV channels devoting even 5 minutes to Saraswati Puja day even though Lakshmi and Durga Puja are given extensive coverage for days on end.

This change warns us of the deep cultural and civilizational crisis we are collectively responsible for. The tradition of worshiping Mahalakshmi, Maha Saraswati and Mahakali together reminds us that earning wealth and bringing material prosperity for one's family can be considered a sacred duty of every householder only as long as money is earned through honest and just means. Furthermore, that wealth must not be directed only towards self consumption but used for promoting knowledge, beauty, arts and the finest cultural values in society. The joint worship also reminds us that wealth earned through dishonest, corrupt means or through evil acts may bring material comforts but cannot bring happiness and peace.

Those who have severed their connection with Ma Saraswati will have no compunction in selling adulterated foods, spurious medicines and other harmful products or looting the public exchequer. Those who see earning wealth as an end in itself may think nothing of pouring poisonous effluents from their industries into our holy rivers. They may succeed in amassing huge wealth but they forget that if their children have internalized the sanskar that money is all that matters, no matter how foul the means through which it is acquired, they are likely to witness their children fight each other to doom and destruction over property. Such children will not even hesitate to cheat their parents of their wealth or turn their backs on their siblings or parents once they have lost money.

Those who earn money through foul means are far more likely to spend it in foul ways. Money earned through honest hard work is not likely to be blown up in drugs, decadent lifestyle or prostitution. A home where Ma Saraswati reigns supreme is unlikely to produce daughters who get seduced by luxurious lifestyles into becoming call girls nor are sons of such families likely to turn rapists or wife beaters.

Those who earn money through honest hard work are not likely to celebrate Diwali by getting so drunk that they become a nuisance for their family or blow up thousands of rupees in firecrackers that produce deafening sound and fill the air with poisonous fumes. People who have lost connection with Ma Saraswati are the only ones who are unmindful of the fact that the Goddess, no matter what her avatar, does not like ugly noises and uncouth behavior.

Many people find it odd that on the auspicious day of Diwali after Lakshmi puja, it is customary for people to play cards -flush and rummy in particular--and gamble money. The tradition of gambling on Diwali has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. I like it that our gods and goddesses are not goody goody and enjoy naughty things like gambling, smoking ganja and playing pranks.

In my view, the tradition of gambling on Diwali night is a necessary counterbalance to the excessive worship of the goddess of wealth on that day. This ritual may well be meant as a reminder that Lakshmi is intrinsically "chanchal". She does not like to stay in one place or remain locked up. Those who get unduly attached to her can never find peace. She comes and goes at her will. Therefore, it is best to treat her casually and avoid grieving when she departs.

Most important of all, life itself is a Big Gamble. In this gamble, who wins and who loses is of far less consequence than the ability to play the game with all one's heart and conviction. The wealthy often labour under the illusion that their material success is a product of their greater intelligence. No one knows it better than a gambler that the coming and going of money is mostly a matter of luck.

I am by no means recommending that we all become gamblers. I have never gambled for money in my life, nor do I know to play big time card games. But I have certainly practiced the art of treating each day of my life as a gamble; take big and small risks as a routine matter without a thought. As far as money is concerned, my mother would often tell me, "Even if you don't worship Lakshmi, you should at least not be disrespectful towards her." As a child if I dropped money on the street, I would not bend to pick it up with the naive thought that somebody needier will find it. I would lose a good part of my pocket money because I would carelessly slip the notes in this or that copybook, never to find them again.

Even after I grew up, I never keep count of how much money I am carrying in my wallet so that when I lose it I will not know what to grieve for simply because I don't have a count of how much I lost. Even at home, I have no count of things I possess so that if certain things disappear I am not likely to notice unless they are items of daily use. There was a time when one of my office peons with whom I kept my cheque book and passbook kept withdrawing a good part of my modest lecturer's salary from my bank account by forging my signatures without my realizing that money was missing--all because I never look at my passbook. This 9th class fail boy had learnt to forge my signatures so well that even I would have cleared cheques signed by him. He was caught not by me but by a vigilant bank clerk because one day he played over smart and tried to withdraw my entire salary using not a "self" cheque but using the name of one of my female colleagues on a bearer cheque.

My mother used to laugh at my habit of losing things by saying: "You are lucky your hands, arms, nose, ears etc. are firmly stuck to your body. Otherwise, one day you would come back without an ear, another day without an arm and so on." I wonder why she never scolded me even when I lost her expensive shawls or gold jewelry.

Goddess Lakshmi has been kinder to me than I deserve and over the years I have learnt not to disrespect money. But Ma Saraswati has blessed me by keeping my attachment to material goods very low. She taught me to live by a simple motto: what is destined to be mine will not be stolen or taken away from me. What is not destined to stay with me is bound to go no matter how careful I am in protecting it. This is as true for my attachment to people as to things.

But there is one attachment I cannot get over or even bring down to manageable levels-that is my attachment to my mother. This is the 13th Diwali I have to bear without her. I wish on this day I could be so far away from India that there is no one to remind me of this festival. I light a lamp in her memory every single day. I miss her with every breath I take. But the pain of her loss on Diwali day is especially unbearable. Nothing in the world can fill the vacuum she left. No place can feel like home where she is not present. I may not have the heart to celebrate Diwali but I make it a point to do a quiet puja to honour her memory. How I wish I had tape recorded the aarti she sang in her uniquely peaceful divine voice.


An abridged version of this piece was originally published in Hindi in Dainik Bhaskar on October 26, 2011.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Tips on Stress Management

A Psychologist walked around a room while teaching Stress Management to an audience.
As she raised a glass of water everyone expected they'd be asked the "Half empty or Half full" question.
Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired:
"How heavy is this glass of water?"
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it.
If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem.
If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm.
If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.
In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change,
The longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.
She continued, "The Stresses and Worries in Life ,are like that Glass of Water...
Think about them for a while and nothing happens.
Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.
If you think about them all day long,
you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything."

So.. Remember to put the Glass Down

Friday, 17 October 2014

Love Jehad –Real Threat or Phobic Fantasy?

Who is Afraid of Hindu-Muslim Couples?

One of the most unfortunate tendencies in India’s political discourse is to reduce every issue into a “for” versus “against” proposition following the pattern of school-college debating society’s style of engagement with issues.  This propensity for polarizing all issues into two extreme positions an important reason why almost every issue leads to a permanent stalemate and we rarely move towards solutions..

“Love-Jehad” has come to be one of the latest additions to a meaninglessly polarized debate on a sensitive issue.  On the one hand Love-Jehad has been portrayed by Hindutva groups as a sinister and well planned conspiracy to seduce, abduct, blackmail or coerce young Hindu women to convert to Islam under the guise of love affairs with Muslim men.  On the other hand, the “secular” opponents of Hindutva are projecting it as a case of “freedom of choice” in marriage.  They castigate the campaign against “Love-Jehad” as a conspiracy of obscurantist Hindu groups to keep the sexuality of Hindu women under the control of Hindu patriarchs.

Let’s try and sift the chaff from the grain of both sides:
To begin with let us be clear, even the radical Hindutva groups do not object to genuine marriages between mutually caring individuals even if they be a case of Hindu-Muslim union.  A good example of this is the marriage of film script writer Salim Khan with a Maharashtrian Hindu woman.  Salim Khan neither eloped with nor abducted his wife.  He secured the family’s consent and did not insist on his wife abandoning her faith and family culture.  Both the husband and wife not only follow their respective faiths but also fully respect each other’s religious sensibilities and rituals.  In their bedroom the wife has her puja sthal replete with Hindu deities while Salim Khan has a dedicated space for his namaz.  The entire family celebrates both Hindu as well as Muslim festivals.  Their sons have also gone for inter-faith marriages and follow the same inclusive lifestyle.  Therefore, these marriages have neither evoked social disapproval nor invited any hostility among Hindus.  If anything Salim Khan’s family is often held up as an example of inter-faith harmony.  However, Muslim fundamentalists do look upon Salim Khan’s life style with hostility

Moral of the story: When the two families join together in celebrating a Hindu-Muslim union and when there is no coercive conversion, none in Hindu society have problems with it.  

However, the angst about “love jehad” is to do with surreptitious marriages, often under false pretext or with hidden agenda of forcing Hindu women into the Islamic fold as concubines or sex slaves. 

There is no denying that some families are hostile even when the love affair between a Hindu girl and Muslim man is genuine, especially if the couple elopes without even informing their parents thus causing great deal of social humiliation.  Marriage by elopement is uniformly looked down upon by all communities even when it is not inter-religious.  This is because in most close knit traditional societies (word “tradition” not to be mistaken for “backward” or “obscurantist – but simply meaning societies that values their social and cultural heritage) marriage is not treated as a union of two individuals but a coming together of two families.  This occasion is not only considered sacred almost all over the world but also considered incomplete without the blessings of the family elders and joint celebration by members of the two families.  The idea of inviting relatives and friends of witness the occasion is to drive home the message, that marriage is a social bond, it’s not just a license to establish sex relations between a couple. Hindu marriage vows in fact include taking responsibility for each other’s families.

My experience tells me that in most cases where the man genuinely cares for the woman, he would not like to break her bonds with her family.  The couple would do their best to win over the confidence of the woman’s parents and vice versa.  A marriage has a far better chance of surviving with dignity if the two families respect each other and act as glue between the couple.  Those who treat marriage as a liaison between just two individuals are living a Hollywood fantasy.

But “Love-jehad” has very little to do with “love”.  It is more a trap than a romantic liaison.  That is why it is causing upset not just among Hindus but also among Sikhs and Christians. It’s causing angst not just in various states of India but also in other countries.

 For instance, the Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance of the Kerala Catholics Bishops Conference also published a report highlighting the criminal conduct of love jehadists. It said, “There were 2868 female victims of “love jehad” in Kerala from 2006 to 2009.” The situation must have been grave enough if the then chief minister of Kerala, VS Achuthanandan, belonging to the Communist Party Marxist alleged conversion of non-Muslim girls to Islam under pretext of love marriage as part of an effort to make Kerala a Muslim majority state.  The Kerala state police inquiry into this phenomenon concluded that “there are reasons to suspect “concentrated attempts” to persuade girls to convert to Islam after they fall in love with Muslim boys. Since the demographic profile in certain districts of Kerala, Bengal etc has changed dramatically in recent decades, it lends credence to this charge.

The matter went right up to the Kerala High Court.  On December 10, 2009, Justice Sankaran ruled that there were indications of forceful conversion under the garb of love in the state with the blessings of certain political outfits.  He asked the government to consider enacting a law to prohibit such “deceptive” acts.  There are similar, reports coming from certain districts of Bengal, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is happening on mass scale in a much more sinister form in Bangladesh and Pakistan where young Hindu and Sikh women are brazenly abducted with full support of the state authorities.  These forced conversions are an important reason why the population of Hindus has sunk dramatically in both these countries.

The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, has taken a serious view of reports that Sikh girls in England and America are falling victim to 'love jihad' by Pakistani youth seducing non-Muslim girls for converting them to Islam and using them in jihadi activities. Some of these girls were later dumped by their husbands in Pakistan, where the in-laws have been using them as domestic slaves.

This phenomenon is not limited to Hindu and Sikh girls or Indian Christians. According to a report by June Thomas, culture critic of Slate and editor of Outward, between 1997 and 2013, a small the northern English town of Rotherham at least 1,400 girls, some not even teenagers, were groomed for sexual exploitation by Pakistani men. The findings of an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham declared that they were raped by multiple predators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of girls who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened that they would be next if they told anyone.  The scope of the abuse: 1,400 children represent 0.5 percent of Rotherham’s population.

It is noteworthy that most of the victims were white and most of the predators were from what is known in Britain as “the Pakistani-heritage community.” British Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament that “institutionalized political correctness” contributed to authorities turning a blind eye.

The Indian government is similarly turning a blind eye to this menace out of fear of being dubbed anti-Muslim.  However, in order to get this issue due attention, it needs to be freed from the clutches of rabble rousers claiming to speak on behalf of Hindutva. The fact that hysteria mongers like Yogi Adityanath and rabble rousing outfits like Bajrang Dal are leading this campaign robs it of serious credibility.  Secularists dismiss the issue alleging that this is the outcome of phobic fantasies by Hindu groups who exaggerate stray cases of Hindu-Muslim marriages to project them as a tsunami of conversions. 

This arrogant dismissal only adds fuel to fire.  Let us not forget that the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots in UP were triggered by a Jat Hindu girl being sexually harassed and pestered over time by some Muslim young men. In this case, she was resisting being trapped. But there are many who do fall for seduction. Had the Muzaffarnagar harassment case been a solitary one, Jats would not have reacted with such fury. 

Even if the total number of trapped girls run into a few thousand, we need to view the figures in the perspective of other atrocities against women.  For instance, a few hundred cases of bride burning every year in certain parts of India led to such widespread outrage all over the country that a spate of extremely stringent laws had to be enacted to put them down.  Similarly, a few well publicized brutal rapes were enough to get people so agitated that a draconian new law was passed with lightening speed to assure people that the government was serious about protecting women from predators.  Therefore, even if “love-jehad” has resulted in a few thousand Hindu, Sikh or Christian women being trapped into conversion to Islam through foul means, especially if they have ended up as sex slaves – the phenomenon deserves serious attention.

Unfortunately, in India issues relating to women get to be taken seriously only if left oriented feminist NGO’s backed by powerful foreign funding agencies choose to project them.  These NGOs have come to dominate social and political discourse in media to such an extent that unless they endorse an issue, it is considered illegitimate.  Thanks to the persistent demonization of BJP and allied outfits, any issue that is taken up by Hindutva groups, is automatically dismissed with disdain by these powerful NGOs as well as the Congress party and its leftist allies.

This is exactly where the role of non-partisan social scientists and media professionals becomes crucial. We need to rise above left-right divide to investigate this menace with thorough precision.

Only then we will know the real extent of the threat—whether it is real or phobic.  An essential prerequisite for coming to a resolution of contentious issues is the ability to sift grain from chaff, the ability to distinguish between the legitimate grievances of any group or individual and their illegitimate fears.  Its only when you are able to redress the legitimate complaints that you acquire the moral right to put your foot down against illegitimate assertions and phobic fantasies. 

A shorter version of this article was published in The Indian Express on 17th October, 2014  http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-real-threat-a-phobic-fantasy/

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A Typical Case of “Love Jehad”

Here is a typical case of “Love Jehad” whereby a minor school going girl was enticed under false pretense, repeatedly raped, fleeced, blackmailed and pressured to convert. There are countless such hapless victims. The unusual thing about this case is that this girl finally gathered the courage to confess to her mother (her father is dead) and lodge an FIR. The case is currently being tried in court but the family is living under mortal terror because of continuing threats from the criminal minded young man and his accomplices who trapped the girl in the first place.

An important reason why this minor girl drew courage to lodge a case could well be that her elder sister was likewise seduced by another Muslim guy who even blackmailed her to convert and marry. However, for the last many years there is no trace of that elder sister.
I reproduce her FIR translated from Hindi to English.
SHO, Police Station,
South Delhi


I am Neelam Pande (name changed), D/O XYZ, Resident of ABC (in South Delhi). I am a student of Class 12. My date of birth is XX/XX/1996. This year in April, I was introduced to a boy by my friend Kalpana (name changed). He used to come to meet her near the school. He said that his name was Sameer. We began to chat on the phone and became friends. One day he asked me to come to meet him in the evening. I told my mother that I was going to the market and went to meet him. He took me to a park. He started molesting me and even while I kept objecting, he raped me then despite my resistance. He pressed my mouth with his hands to stop me from screaming. When I began crying he threatened to kill me. 

I was unable to tell anyone about this incident because I had lied to my mother when I went out to meet him. After this I stopped talking to him on phone even though he kept calling me. He kept coming to my school to meet me and kept asking to be forgiven. He also threatened to commit suicide if I did not forgive him. Then I again started talking to him. 

Then one day he met me in front of my school and took me out on the pretext that it was his birthday. He took me to a South Delhi guest house. There too he raped me against my will. I screamed but nobody was there to hear my screams. Probably the whole floor was unoccupied. He also told me that his name was Salim (name changed) and that he was a Muslim and he lived near Nizamuddin. He threatened to slit my throat with a knife and took many nude pictures of mine with his mobile phone. I was very scared because of his threats and I could not tell anyone because I had bunked school to go with him. After that he started threatening me and exploiting me. 

He had given me a mobile phone that I kept hidden and he used it to threaten me and to keep in touch. He also changed the handset and SIM cards that he gave me many times. He took me to that guest house and raped me on numerous occasions under threat of black mail. He never used to make any entry in the registers of that guest house because the man at that guest house was his friend and he used to phone that boy Karan before he took me there to let him know that he was coming. Salim also threatened me many time to force me to give him money which I stole from my mother’s purse and 2-3 times by using my mother’s ATM card. 

Salim asked me to convert to Islam and when I refused, he threatened to throw acid on my face and post my nude pictures on the internet. I became very frustrated with my life and finally one day I confessed everything to my mother. 

Salim mostly used the following numbers to contact me – [Neelam mentions exact numbers] and out of the phones that he had given me I remember the following two numbers:  [here again she provides numbers of those phones]

Neelam ends her FIR saying, " Salim Khan.... threatened me and raped me many times against my will. He also took my nude pictures and blackmailed me. I request that the above mentioned Salim be awarded rigorous punishment so that I get justice"

It is noteworthy that these two phones given to Neelam were actually stolen from some businessman. Salim had been caught by the police using those phones not only to trap Neelam but had earlier used them for-sexually-harassing and trapping other schoolgirls who this rogue used to ferry from home to school while he worked as a van driver. Cases against him had already been booked against him on that account.

Friday, 10 October 2014

On The Slaves of "Fashion"

No word irritates me more than the word ‘fashion’. This disease like the aids virus destroys the capacity of individuals to think for themselves, it destroys their immunity to absurd behaviour patterns and has the capacity to turn perfectly normal human beings into jokers and brainless copycats.

The craze to be bracketed as “fashionable” influences innumerable small and big decisions of our life – from choosing the furniture of our house to selecting our marriage partner or even the books we read or the tones and accent we use to talk to others.

Western societies take enormous pride in the fact that they place the highest importance on individualism. As per this ideology every person has the freedom to make free choices in every domain of their lives. This emphasis on “freedom of choice” is assumed to make them a superior species – a more highly evolved specimen of the human race on earth. The westernized elite even in India have mesmerized themselves into believing that once they imbibe “individualism” in a large enough dose, they too become part of this superior species.

But very few people recognize that the fashion industry which has made inroads into every domain of life is systematically cutting at the roots of “freedom of choice”, “freedom of thought”, “freedom of self expression”.

Take the example of clothes: Despite the façade of free choice, in most western and now even westernized sections of Asian and African countries, what people wear is not anymore a matter of personal choice. It is largely pre-decided by the fashion industry.

 It is a master stroke of the fashion industry that women and men, old and young, as well as little children, whether from rich or poor families – all sport denim with a sense of pride as if it is a statement of having ‘arrived’ in life. At one time, it was the uniform of the poor dock workers in America. But the fashion industry has made it a style statement of the elite. Its absurdity can be gauged by the fact that torn, frayed and patched jeans are more expensive than a new outfit! To my unfashionable eyes, there can be no worse garment than a pair of jeans. They are not easy to wash or dry if you don't have a washer/dryer set  and people wear the same pair of  dirty, sweaty and smelly garment with impunity for days on end.

If it were destitute who were wearing a jeans top that looks like a wretched rag or worn out banyan along with torn jeans, one could overlook it as a circumstantial compulsion. But when the sons and daughters of wealthy parents or filthy rich film stars go to designer stores and buy the kind of raggedy outfits that one would feel ashamed of giving even to a beggar on the street, one can only call it the perverse magic of the fashion industry.

Even though it is fashion moguls sitting in London, Paris and New York decide what is to be labeled the “in thing” that particular season, people gleefully imagine they are making “free choices” when buying clothes. In fact fashions change faster and more erratically than Mother Nature’s largely predictable seasons. If they declare purple to be the fashionable colour for that season, then one will find virtually every single store displaying purple dresses that season. The appeal of  fashionable purple doesn’t last beyond a few months. It is a sure thing that in the coming season, another colour as arbitrarily picked as the first one is declared the happening colour. And yet all those women who wore purple outfits influenced by the status attached to it in shop display windows would like to imagine that they went for that particular dress out of free choice.

Likewise, very few women are left with gumption to decide on the basis of personal preference or convenience about how tight or how loose her garment will be. This is decided by a set of fashion designers whose faces she has never seen and whose name she may not have heard. It is only a rare woman who will use her own mind to decide for herself how long or short her skirt or kurta will be, whether she will wear a maxi or a mini. These decisions have been appropriated by the doyens of fashion. Similarly, for ages, it was considered an embarrassment if a woman’s undergarment peeped through her clothes or if her brassiere strap peeked through her blouse. But today, it is considered trendy to show off your bra even more aggressively as the outer garment.

On the one hand, mavens of fashion based in distant London and New York decide how much flesh a woman should expose, how much of her  she is going to reveal, whether she wears halter neck or full sleeves; on the other hand even ordinary tailors are no less quick in persuading their clients to copy the fashion trends from Bollywood movies and TV shows  to adjust the length of kurtas and cuts of blouses. But those who hypnotically copy the sharara of Aishwarya Rai or a mini skirt worn by Kareena Kapoor don’t think there is any need to look at their shape or the form of their own bodies in the mirror to judge honestly whether what looks good on Aishwarya or Kareena will also look good on them. It is only when a person assesses his or her own physique and picks out her clothes accordingly, gives primacy to comfort and body fit, that the person can be said to have made an individual choice. But fashion enslaved people lose such judiciousness.

If it was just a matter of wearing inappropriate clothes, one could ignore it as foolish behaviour. But when women wear six inch long pencil heels which are proven to be harmful and can cause permanent damage to one’s feet, then you know that the disease called fashion has the ability to impair rational thinking.

The matter is not limited to external trappings. Today, men and women are spending   lakhs of rupees to change the colour of their hair, reshape and inflate their breasts to firm up their bottoms or reduce their waistlines. In the process, they inflict untold misery on their bodies- sometimes causing permanent damage. Ever since fashion monarchs declared size zero as the desirable form for the female body, millions of women have gone on crash diets at the cost of ruining their health and undergoing self harming operations like liposuctions to refashion their bodies into unrealistic forms and shapes.

But even more  harmful are those who dare not step out of their laxman rekha of intellectual fashions. On every social issue they not only have pre set answers based on what is considered politically fashionable at that time but also appropriate physical gestures to go with each response. Because these intellectual fashions are manufactured in the universities of North America and Europe and backed by the financial clout of western donor agencies, therefore, even in India these fashions are remote controlled from the West. All these NGOs and academics that strut around mouthing fashionable jargon consider it a great intellectual achievement to shape their views and research findings according to the political requirement of their donors.

This is an important reason why most of our NGOs indulge in export quality activism based on imported ideas. Similarly most of the elite academics produce only export worthy treatises which have very little worth at home. For instance, most of our “eminent” social scientists don’t care to write books which can be read and used by students in Meerut or Bhagalpur universities. They feel they have arrived only when Harvard and Oxford recognize their books – never mind if few in India can make sense of them.

Likewise our internationally networked social activists don’t care one bit if their own neighbours or relatives heed  their prescriptions. They are happy if they get applauded in conferences organized in Los Angeles, Berlin or Melbourne. The day the elite sections of our society stop chasing fashions unleashed in the West and instead learn to take decisions on the basis of the ground reality in this country and the aspirations of the people of India, we will acquire the capability of solving many of our big and small problems. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

How is this for Astute Finance Management ?

1 bhikari ko Rs.100 mile
Vo 5 star hotel me gyaa or 
Pet bharke khana khaya 
Phir Rs.3000 ka bill aaya 
Usne manager se bola, 
Paise nahi hai.
Manager ne usko police keh havale kr diya...
Bhikhari ne police ko Rs.100 diye or 
Chut gyaa.. isko bolte hai 
Financial Management without MBA..... in India.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Of Love and Marriage

Feminists, socialists and other radicals often project the system of arranged marriages as one of the key factors leading to women’s oppression in India. This view derives from the West, which recognizes two supposedly polar opposite forms of marriage— “love marriage” versus arranged marriage. “Love marriages” are assumed to be superior because they are supposedly based on romance, understanding, and mutual love - they are said to facilitate compatibility. In “love marriages” the persons concerned are supposed to have married out of idealistic considerations while arranged marriages are assumed to be based on materialistic considerations, where parents and family dominate and deny individual choice to the young people. Consequently, family arranged marriages are believed to be lacklustre and loveless. It is assumed that in arranged marriages compatibility rarely exists because the couple is denied the opportunity to discover areas of common interests and base their life together on mutual understanding. Moving away from family arranged marriages towards love marriages is seen as an essential step towards building a better life for women. To it the social reformers add another favourite mantra—dowryless marriages as proof that money and status considerations play no role in determining the choice of one’s life partner. The two together—that is, a dowryless love marriage—is projected as the route to a happy married life.*

Does experience bear this out? From what I have seen of them, “love marriages” compel me to conclude that most of them are not based on love and often end up being as big a bore or fiasco as many arranged marriages. Among the numerous cases I know I have found that often there is nothing more than a fleeting sexual attraction which does not last beyond the honeymoon period. And then the marriage is as loveless or even worse than a bad arranged marriage. Nor have I found any evidence that material considerations do not play as important a role in people’s choice when they decide to “fall in love” with someone with a view to matrimony.

An American friend tells me his married aunt who was seeking a rich suitable husband spent many months going through women’s obituaries to identify widowers as potential husbands. Her modus operandi was simple: she would go through the daily newspaper and note down the funeral details of married women, then go to the funeral and try to make contact with the widower. If she found him attractive and rich, she pretended she was a friend of his dead wife. This is how she targeted eligible men in the hope that one of her encounters would lead to marriage. The social and economic status of the man would be carefully surveyed before he was put on her hit list. This may well appear as a rather farfetched example but falling in love with someone is often based on considerations not very different from those that decide marriages arranged by families.

The romance industry (films, novels) in the West tries to convince us that love is something that happens involuntarily - hence you “fall in” and “out of love.” But even their own romance churners keep women’s emotional aspirations neatly pigeon­holed. The Mills and Boons Barbara Cartland heroines make sure the man they “fall in love” with is tall, dark, handsome, well educated and from a rich, if not aristocratic family.

My colleague Giri Deshingkar tells me an amusing story of the time he worked as a pool typist in England. Like most Indian men, he never wore a wedding ring. Mistaking him as an eligible bachelor, his female colleagues showered him with attention and competed with each other in wooing him. However, as soon as they got to know through a chance remark that he was already married, they dropped him like a hot brick. No more teas and coffees and other gestures of attention. Suddenly he became invisible for them. They would not hesitate to discuss their boyfriends and love affairs in his presence. He found them absolutely cynical in their calculation of who they were going to select as a target for loving attention. The experience cured him of all naive notions about love and romance.

This does not surprise me because I have seen these calculations at work at close quarters. For instance, during my university days, I found most of my fellow Mirandians from an English speaking elite background determined to “fall in love” with a Stephanian and would not “stoop” to have a relationship with a man from Khalsa or Rao Tula Ram College, because those were considered low status institutions, where people from ordinary middle class backgrounds went to study. The additional qualification they looked for was that the man’s family own a house in one of South Delhi’s posh colonies. Thus men from colonies such as Jor Bagh, Golf Links or Sundar Nagar were much sought after. Likewise, sons of senior bureaucrats, ambassadors, and top industrialists could have the choicest pick among the beauties and cuties of Miranda House. But a man whose father was a small shopkeeper in Kamla Nagar or a clerk in a government office stood no chance, no matter how bright or decent he might be. I witnessed several instances of my fellow students ditching a man they had been having an affair with for years as soon as someone from a wealthier background appeared on the scene. Often they would not even bother to hide the crassness of their calculations; a friend conveniently “fell out of love” with her boyfriend who owned a motorbike in favour of someone who had a car to take her out on dates.

While many of my friends would have scoffed at the idea of their parents “arranging” for them to meet a man with a view to matrimony, they were only too eager to go to parties arranged by Stephanians so that they could pick girl friends. In western campuses young people eagerly read notices of “Mixers” in order to find future mates:

Men do precisely what women do about “falling in love.” They take family status, who among her family are “green card” holders, and other such material considerations into account before they take the plunge.

While men and women may be somewhat more adventurous when choosing someone for a mere sexual affair, the same people tend to become far more “rational” in their calculations when “falling in love” is meant to be a prelude to marriage.

In the 1950s a study which is considered a classic on factors that determine love and marriage in America showed that it was easy to statistically predict the characteristics of the person a man or a woman is likely to fall in love with and marry. Three major factors that have a great influence on who a person falls in love with are: proximity, opportunity, and similarity. Thus it is no coincidence that most whites marry whites and that rich people marry among themselves even in a “free” society like America where marriages are self contracted. Why then are we surprised if most Brahmins marry within the Brahmin fold or Jats and Mahars do likewise in family contracted marriages?

Whatever the form of marriage, the motivations and calculations that go into it are fairly simple. Desire for regular sex, economic security, enhancement of one’s social status and the desire to have children all play a role in both kinds of marriages. Therefore, instead of describing them as “love” marriages, it is more appropriate to call them self arranged marriages. Love, in the sense of caring for another person, may even be altogether absent in these marriages. Therefore, I feel the term love marriage needs to be restricted to those marriages where people actually have a loving respect for each other and where there is continuing satisfaction in togetherness.

Self Arranged Marriages

Critics of the family arranged marriage system in India have rightly focused on how prospective brides are humiliated by being endlessly displayed for approval when marriages are being negotiated by families. The ritual of ladki dikhana, with the inevitable rejections women (now even men) often undergo before being selected, does indeed make the whole process extremely stressful.

However, women do not really escape the pressures of displaying and parading themselves in cultures where they are expected to have self arranged marriages. Witness the amount of effort a young woman in western societies has to put in to look attractive enough to hook eligible young men. One gets the feeling they are on constant self display as opposed to the periodic displays in family arranged marriages. Western women have to diet to stay trim since it is not fashionable nowadays to be fat, get artificial padding for their breasts (1.5 million American women are reported to have gone through silicon surgery to get their breasts reshaped or enlarged), try to get their complexion to glow, if not with real health, at least with a cosmetic blush. They must also learn how to be viewed as “attractive” and seductive to men, how to be a witty conversationalist as well as an ego booster — in short, to become the kind of appendage a man would feel proud to have around him. Needless to say, not all women manage to do all the above, though most drive themselves crazy trying. Western women have to compete hard with each other in order to hook a partner. And once having found him, they have to be alert to prevent other women from snatching him. So fierce is the pressure to keep off other grabbing females that in many cases if a woman is divorced or single she is unlikely to be invited over to a married friend’s house at a gathering of couples lest she try to grab someone else’s husband.

The humiliations western women have to go through, having first to grab a man, and then to devise strategies to keep other women off him, is in many ways much worse than what a woman in parent arranged marriages has to go through. She does not have to chase and hook men all by herself. Her father, her brother, her uncles and aunts and the entire kunba join together to hunt for a man. In that sense the woman concerned does not have to carry the burden of finding a husband all alone. And given the relative stability of marriage among communities where families take a lot of interest in keeping the marriage going, a woman is not so paranoid about her husband abandoning her in favour of a more attractive woman. Consequently, Indian women are not as desperate as their western counterparts to look for ever youthful, trim and sexually attractive marriage partners.

“Love” Marriage of Sunita

Let us take a few examples of “love marriage” without dowry and see if women fare much better in them.

When Sunita* was sixteen years old and still in school she fell in love with Vinay who was then more than twice her age. She belonged to a well-off business family but was not well educated herself. Vinay lived in her neighbourhood and had by then had a number of affairs. When her affair was discovered by Sunita’s family, they were upset and tried to dissuade her from marrying Vinay because he was not particularly respected in the neighbourhood on account of his somewhat loose life. However, Sunita felt his “love” for her would change things and determined to marry him against her family’s wishes. Vinay’s family was not too happy with the alliance because they saw Sunita as irresponsible and silly and too young to handle a marriage with someone like Vinay.

However, the two insisted and much against parental opposition eloped with a view to pressuring their parents into agreeing to the marriage. Both the families felt humiliated and blamed each other. Sunita’s parents gave no dowry because they did not feel responsible for this marriage, nor did Vinay’s family make an issue of it. But they felt very angry when the two of them came to live with them because Vinay could not afford to set up a separate establishment. Their marriage seemed okay for a while but swiftly began to deteriorate due to Vinay’s drinking and compulsive womanizing. In the meantime they had three children. As the children began to grow, Vinay became more and more irresponsible.

He would not even give her enough money for housekeeping, the children’s education and other needs. If she objected to his drinking and sexual escapades, he would beat her up. Soon thrashing her became a regular event. In the meantime, he got involved with a divorced woman and this affair began to take the form of regular cohabitation. The more Sunita objected, the more she got beaten. Since she had not been trained for a job nor was she well educated enough to pick up skills easily, she had to go back and seek financial help from her own father and brothers, in addition to the help she got from her mother-in-law, whose house provided Anita and her children a home.

Thus, the very people Sunita had defied in marrying Vinay ended up providing her the wherewithal for survival when her “love marriage” failed her. However, whatever little financial help came to Sunita from her natal family came more as a favour and as charity than as a right, even though she did not get her traditional due in the form of dowry. Her sisters, whose marriages were settled by their parents, all got handsome dowries and have fairly comfortable marriages, married as they are into wealthy families. Sunita’s husband was not as financially well off as her own father. Now she is the poorest of all her sisters and brothers and is virtually living on their charity as well as that of her-in-laws.

By forsaking her dowry she has not gained anything—certainly not the right to a share in her father’s property. For years, the hostility of her father and brother to her self-arranged marriage prevented her from approaching them for help when her marriage began to crack up, because they would retaliate with: “It is your own doing. Why come and cry on our shoulder now?” Her sisters would get expensive gifts on festivals and other occasions, but not Sunita. What hurts Sunita most is that her sisters’ wedding anniversaries are celebrated with much fanfare. But the day of her wedding feels like a day of mourning. Neither of the two families want to remember that day for it brings back painful memories of humiliation and let down.

Over the years, as her marriage deteriorated and she was on the verge of destitution, a small trickle of help began to flow towards her. Compare her situation with that of her two sisters. Had their husbands gone wrong, their parents along with other relatives could try and exercise a measure of influence on their husbands because of family bonds that come to be built in a family arranged marriage. Since Sunita’s father felt free to treat her self-chosen husband with contempt even when her marriage was fairly happy in the early years, the two families never built any bonds—nor can her parents claim any rights over him.

Falling Out of Love
Or take the case of Santavna. She was in her mid-twenties when she met Rajesh who was then a young university student struggling to make a living as an artist. Santavna was well placed in a private company. Though she came from a lower middle class family and was not highly educated, by her hard work she got a good job and began to rise rapidly in her profession. She was and continues to be a good looking woman. Rajesh initiated a love affair with her, though he knew she was eight years older than him. In those days he was poor and struggling and she provided him financial as well as emotional and physical sustenance. However, his fortunes changed swiftly as he entered the world of journalism and made a successful career. With such rapid upward mobility, his social world also changed dramatically. He then began a series of extramarital affairs. In the early years, he was defensive about them and would keep protesting that his love was reserved exclusively for his wife. I was shown a number of letters of this type he wrote to his wife during the early years of surreptitious and guilt ridden love affairs.

But as he became more and more successful, he had many more young and glamorous women available for affairs. Tension at home increased and led to crisis after crisis. Finally, he moved out of his house, abandoned his wife and two kids and began living separately, in all like hood with another woman. Moving out was no big sacrifice because the organisation he worked for provided him the house. Soon after, he changed to a still better paying job and asked his previous employers to use whatever means they though, necessary to get his wife to vacate the house. She does own a flat in her own name, so she won’t be homeless. But being abandoned by her husband has left her emotionally shattered. Recently, he filed a case for divorce. Today her salary is much less than his. It is certainly not enough to enable her and her two children to maintain their previous standard of living. Rajesh has made no arrangements for child support so far. It is unlikely that the wife can get anything more than a pittance as maintenance allowance for their children through the court.

The most distressing aspect of the breakdown of their “love” marriage is the vicious and nasty manner in which he goes around defaming his own wife. I heard both their versions. Both had a lot of charges against each other but comparing their accounts one got the distinct impression that his was exaggerated and in parts even untruthful. He knew he was behaving irresponsibly and had to justify it by painting her as a monster and a whore. Her being eight years older than him was repeatedly mentioned as though that fact alone justified his wanting to get rid of his wife. The same woman to whom he had written innumerable love letters, swearing lifelong loyalty and begging her to have patience with him, to never reject him even if he made lapses because he depended on her more than on anyone else, had now become so offensive that he refuses to even talk to her on the phone. His office staff have instructions that they are not to let her in if she ever comes to see him. Since this is a new job, he has been able to justify his weird behaviour by telling people in the office that she is a vicious monster who will beat him up if they let her in at all. Since this was a self arranged marriage, the two families have little or no contact. Thus, there are no family members who can temporarily act as communication channels between the husband and wife and help them sort out this crisis.

Fear of “Love” Marriages

The westernised modernists insist that marriage ought to be a matter between two individuals, that interference by families makes it difficult for the couple to build a close understanding. Hence, they romanticize marriages carried out in defiance of families. Parental opposition is invariably seen as proof of their authoritarian conservatism. This is frequently the case. However, more often, it turns out that young people are making choices that are impetuous and based on no more than a flush of sexual passion, which does not carry a marriage very far.

The possibility of meeting with Sunita’s or Santavna’s fate is what keeps a lot of young women from wanting to have self arranged marriages without the consent or participation of their parents. Almost all of my women students in the college I used to teach in told me that they would prefer family arranged marriages. They would say something like, “At our age, we can easily make a mistake of judgement. Men behave very differently when they are courting a woman and change in unexpected ways when they become husbands. In any case, we can get to know only the man by dating him. But when our parents arrange a marriage they look into the family background and culture as well. If they arrange the marriage they take some of the responsibility if things go wrong. But if we marry against their wishes, who will we turn to for support, in case the marriage does not work?”

For years I took such statements to be a sign of a woman’s low self confidence and proof of mental slavery. It is only when dealing with cases of women undergoing marital maltreatment that I began to see that many of those who went in for self arranged marriages did not necessarily fare better. Often they ended up worse off, especially those women who burnt all their bridges with their families during a love affair.

While the presence of a large number of family members rejoicing in the marriage can add to the couple’s joy and strengthen their bonds with each other, the lack of parental support and effective communication between the two families, leaving the couple to their own devices, can threaten the well-being of a marriage.

If a family arranged marriage threatens to fall apart, dozens of people will try to put in the effort to piece it together. However, in cultures where marriage is considered an individual affair its tensions and collapses are by and large left to the concerned couple to sort out all by themselves. That is perhaps an important reason why the rate of marriage breakdown is much higher in such cultures.
Most women in India feel far more vulnerable if they cannot count on their parents or brothers to come to their help at times of crisis. In almost all the cases of marital abuse that have come to Manushi in the last 15 years,   women have come to seek help along with their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or a range of other relatives. The parental house is almost always the only shelter they can count on if thrown out of their husband’s home.

Not that adequate amounts of family support come to all those women who go in for family arranged marriages. Few parents are willing to take their daughters back if they want to leave abusive marriages. But most families do intervene and offer emotional and psychological support, and even some financial support, if the daughter is in touble. This is an im­portant factor which makes most Indian women desire active parental partici­pation in their marriage.

While women are far more vulnerable if they lose the support of their parents, men too run considerable risks if their self contracted marriage estranges them from their own family. I give, as an example, one of the saddest cases I have witnessed closely. Ajay was a happily married, highly placed executive in a private firm and came from a very wealthy, propertied family. He started an affair with a woman colleague (let’s call her Kavita) who came from an ordinary lower middle class family. Kavita was already married to someone with whom she had first had a long affair. But since Ajay was “superior” in every material way, it did not take long for Kavita to fall out of love with her first husband.

When Ajay’s wife discovered the affair, she was so hurt that in a fit of anger she packed up her suitcases and left for her parental home with her daughter. Kavita immediately moved in with Ajay, thus foreclosing the possibility of a rapprochement between Ajay and his wife. Both of them filed for divorce from their respective spouses and had a week-long celebration projecting their union as a grand triumph of “liberated” love over traditional bonds.

Ajay’s parents were so angry at his irresponsible behaviour towards his first wife and child that they refused to make peace with his second wife who they saw as a scheming home wrecker who had married their son for his property rather than love. This sudden estrangement from all his family made him take to liquor. He became an addict. This affected his job and he began to slide downhill professionally. In the meantime, Kavita started her own garment export business with Ajay’s money and through his contacts it began to flourish in no time. Consequently, she had no time for Ajay or even their child. Along with her success came a string of extra­marital affairs.

As their career graphs moved in opposite directions, Ajay became more and more resentful of Kavita’s success and would often get violent when he found her with other men. The combination of too much drinking and constant fights at home made him emotionally unbalanced and he became mentally depressed. In revenge he started having affairs with other women but that only made him more unstable. For a while he found someone he grew very closely attached to but the woman left him saying she found it too painful to have an affair with a married man. Kavita refuses to divorce him till he transfers most of his property to her name. The two go around calling each other the filthiest of names, their marriage not only loveless but full of hatred for each other. Ajay now feels that his wife is only waiting for him to die so that she can take over his property. At this moment of grave crisis, he has neither the sympathy nor the support of his father (his mother is dead) or other family members because they never forgave him for his second marriage and think he deserves his fate. His isolation and failure in marriage have made him a total wreck.

Marital Compatibility

In the West, almost all marriages are self contracted. Yet, there is no dearth of marital violence and abuse in those marriages. In fact, many women in the West get beaten not just by husbands, but as often by their lovers or boyfriends. But the problem is not just due to a certain number of husbands turning abusive resulting in breakdown of marriages. Equally often, marriages break down because of mutual incompatibility even when neither of the two spouses is guilty of abuse. Compatibility is a sort of miracle; it rarely happens spontaneously. More often, people have to work hard and patiently to understand each other’s requirements and try to meet at least to some extent each other’s highest priority mutual expectations.

Compatibility comes more easily if people respect each other’s family and cultural backgrounds and are both willing to participate in them as part of mutual give and take. Not too long ago a young woman came to seek my help in deciding about her marriage. She was very maladjusted with her parents and wanted to escape living with them. During her college days she began an affair with someone from Orissa whereas her family came from U.P, She was confused about whether to marry him or not because while she thought she liked him, she did not like his family background. But she went ahead with the marriage anyway, thinking his family would be living in far away Orissa and would have no chance to encroach upon their married life. However, trouble started in the first month of their marriage. When his family came to Delhi to attend the wedding, they stayed with the couple for a few weeks. She could not tolerate the way they talked, the way they ate, nor anything else in the family culture. Soon she began to resent that her husband shared the culture of his family in many intimate things. She found his food habits offensive and his involvement with certain prayers and rituals unacceptable, among many other things. The more she tried to wean him away from them, the more his family traits began to assert themselves more vigorously. Within seven months, she was talking of divorce.

A woman runs the risk of marring merely her own life if she makes a wrong choice of a husband. But if a man brings in a wife who does not get along with her marital family, he risks destroying the peace and well being of his entire natal family. The entry of a new daughter-in-law is like blood transfusion. If the donor’s blood group does not match the recipient’s, the recipient could end up dead. The groom’s family often has to cope with enormous stress to make space for a new member whose loyalty cannot be counted upon and who could easily cause irreparable splits in her marital family.

Family Pressures

My impression is that it takes much more than two people to make a good marriage. Overbearing parents on either side can indeed make married life difficult for a young couple and often women have to put up with a great deal of maltreatment at the hands of their in-laws. But more solidly enduring and happy marriages are almost always those where the families on both sides genuinely join together to celebrate their coming together and invest a lot of effort and emotion in making the marriage work. Very few people have the emotional and other resources required to make a happy marriage all on their own. Two people locked up with each other in a nuclear family having to meet with varied expectations inevitably generate too much heat and soon tend to suffocate each other. The proximity of other family members takes a lot of the load off. They can act as a glue, especially during times of crisis. In cultures where marriage is considered an internal af­fair of the couple with no responsibility taken by families on either side for the continuation and well being of the marriage, breakdown in marriages is more frequent.

There is also the negative side. In communities where families consider it their responsibility to prevent divorce as far as possible women do very often get to be victims of vicious pressures against breaking out of abusive marriages. Among several communities in India a divorced woman is viewed with contempt and parents often force their daughters to keep their marriages going no matter what the cost. Consequently, many end up committing sui­cide or getting murdered because they are unable to walk out of abusive marriages. Many more have to learn to live a life of humiliation and even suffer routine beatings and other forms of torture. However, in such cultures, divorced men get to be viewed with some suspicion and are somewhat stigmatised. (In the MARG-Eyewitness survey 88 per cent of the men and 86 per cent of the women said that they would stay together for the sake of children even if their marriage did not work).

In family arranged marriages, few parents are interested in marrying their young daughter to a divorced man, unless he is willing to marry a woman from a much poorer family (so that the family escapes having to pay dowry) or marry a divorced woman or widow. In India, relatively few men resort to divorce even when they are unhappy in marriage. The stigma attached to divorce for men, if not as great as for women, is at least substantial enough to get them to try somewhat to control themselves. They know that they cannot get away with having a series of divorces, as they do in the West, and yet find a young, beautiful bride 30 years their junior. But this is only true for marriage within tight knit communities where the two families have effective ways of checking on each other’s background. There is no dearth of instances nowadays in which parents fail to investigate the groom’s background and end up marrying their daughters to men who have beaten or even murdered the first wife. My impression is that this is happening more among groups who are marrying beyond their kinship groups through matrimonial advertisement or professional marriage brokers.

Inter Community Marriages

Hollywood, Hollywood propaganda tells us that passionate romance is the foundation of a real marriage; according to these myth makers marriage is and ought to be an affair between two individuals. Marriages between people who defy caste, class, community and other prevalent norms are seen as demonstrating thereby their true love for each other and are glorified. This is not only over simplistic but highly erroneous.

Our crusades against social in­equality and communal prejudices is one thing. The ingredients that make for a good marriage are quite another. A married couple is more likely to have a stable marriage if the spouses can take 90 per cent of things for granted and have to work at adjustment in no more than 10 percent of the areas of mutual living. The film Ek Duje ke Liye type of situation is very likely to spell disaster in real life. The hero and the heroine come from very different regional and linguistic groups. They don’t even understand each other’s languages and communicate mostly through sign or body language - yet are shown as willing to die for each other. In real life this may make for a brief sexual affair, but not a good marriage. The latter depends more on how well people understand and appreciate each other’s language, culture, food habits, personal nuances and quirks, and get along and win respect from each other’s family. If the income gap is too large and the standards of living of the two families are dramatically different, the couple is likely to find it much harder to adjust to each other.

The willing participation of the groom’s family is very often crucial to the well being of a marriage especially if the couple lives in a joint family with the groom’s parents. But even if the couple is to live in a nuclear family after marriage, the support of her in-laws will help a woman keep her husband disciplined and domesticated. Most of my friends who have happy and secure marriages get along with their in-laws so well that they are confident that if their husbands were to behave irresponsibly or start extra marital affairs, their in-laws would not only side with the daughter in-law but go as far as to ask the son to quit the house.

Safety Measures for Women

I am not against self arranged marriages but I feel they have a poor track despite pompous claims about their superiority. A self arranged marriage cannot arrogate to itself the nomenclature of a love marriage unless it endures with love. My own experience of the world tells me that marriages in which the two people concerned genuinely love and respect each other, marriages which slowly grow in the direction of mutual understanding, are very rare even among groups and cultures who believe in the superiority of self arranged marriages.
The outcome of marriage depends on how realistic the calculations have been. For instance, a family may arrange the marriage of their daughter with a man settled in the USA in the hope of providing better life opportunities to the daughter. But if they have not been responsible enough to inquire carefully into the family, personal and professional history of the man, they could end up seriously jeopardising their daughter’s well being. He may have boasted of being a computer scientist but could turn out to be a low paid cab driver or a guard in New York. He could well be living with or married to an American woman and take the Indian wife to be no more than a domestic servant or a camouflage to please his parents. He could in addition be a drunkard given to violent bouts of temper. His being so far away from India would isolate the young wife from all sources of support and thus make her far more vulnerable than if she were married in the same city as her parents.

Another case at the other end of the spectrum could end up just as disastrously if the woman concerned makes wrong calculations. Let’s say a young student in an American University decides to arrange her marriage with a fellow student setting out to be a doctor. Through the years that her husband is studying to become a doctor, she works hard at a low or moderately paying job to support the family. When he becomes a doctor she decides to leave her job and have a baby. In a few years he becomes successful whereas she has become economically dependent on him. At this point he finds a lot of young and attractive women willing to fall at his feet and he decides to “fall in love” with one of them, divorces his wife and remarries a much younger woman. The wife is left at a time when she needs a marriage partner most. All she can hope to do is to get some kind of a financial settlement after lengthy legal proceedings. But that is not a substitute for a secure family.

The factors that decide the fate of women in marriage are:
  • Whether the woman has independent means of survival. If she is absolutely dependent on her husband’s goodwill for survival, she is more likely to have to lead a submissive life than if she is economically self sufficient.
  • Whether or not her husband is willing and equipped to take on the responsibility that goes with having a family.
  • Whether or not a woman’s in-laws welcome her coming into the family and how eager they are to make it work.
  • How well the two families get along with and respect each other.
  • Whether or not there are social restraints through family and community control on men’s behaviour. In societies where men can get away with beating wives or abandoning them in favour of younger women, women tend to live in insecurity. However, in communities where a man who treats his wife badly is looked down upon and finds it harder to find another wife because of social stigma, men are more likely to behave with a measure of responsibility.
  • The ready availability of other women even after a man is known to have maltreated his wife tilts the balance against women. If men can easily find younger women as they grow older while women cannot as readily find marriage partners when they are older or divorced, the balance will inevitably tilt in favour of men irrespective of whether marriages in that culture are self arranged or parent arranged.
  • Whether or not her parents are willing to support her emotionally and financially if she is facing an abusive marriage. Most important of all is whether her parents are willing to give her the share due to her in their property and in the parental home. In communities where parents’ expectation concerning a daughter is that only her arthi (funeral pyre) should come out of her husband’s house, family pressure can prove really disastrous.

Undoubtedly, there are numerous situations whereby family elders do take an altogether unreasonable position; defiance of their tyranny then becomes inevitable, even desireable. Parents can often go wrong in their judgements. Parents must take into account their children’s best interests and preferences if they are to play a positive role.

We have to devise ways to tilt family support more in favour of women rather than seeking “freedom” by alienating oneself from this crucial source of support over romanticising self arranged marriages and insisting on individual choice in marriage as an end in itself rather than as one means to more stable, dignified and egalitarian marriages.

First published in Manushi Issue No. 80 (January - February 1994) 

Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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