|HER WORLD||Sunday, January 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
FROM THE GRASSROOTS
at their own cost
With the divorce rate reaching a scary 30 per cent in metro India, a survey conducted among women of ages between 21 and 55 reveals the major causes why marriages hit the rocks in modern India. Vimla Patil analyses the various reasons that are responsible for failure of marriages.
Touch any woman’s heart these days, and it starts bleeding. Among urban women, who often work at home, raise children and also work outside as employees, entrepreneurs or professionals to build their careers or to augment their family incomes, there is a gathering pool of unhappiness and frustration. Start a conversation, and their anxiety pours out spontaneously. There is no doubt that women, as a rule, are more communicative than men and willing to share their innermost feelings. A recent survey conducted in the early months of this year, among a large group of women, reveals how they talk about marriage and its effect on their lives when left to exchange experiences in a closed environment.
1. The number one reason in making modern marriages unhappy is a clash of egos, according to the women participating in the survey. "The emancipation of women, caused by the spread of education in urban upper and middle class families and the governmental and social initiatives, have made urban and even small town women aware of their individuality," say the women, "Women can no longer accept the role of meek followers who toe the line and accept the dictates of the men in the family. They have their own opinions on political, social, economic and personal subjects and this is not always welcomed by Indian families or society. We women therefore, are in a totally confused state. We are brought up to respect education and knowledge. Our parents, teachers, leaders and friends encourage us to set clear goals and achieve them with a focused attitude and hard work. Achievement of goals gives us confidence and the yearning to reach farther in life.
But the same parents and teachers change their tune where marriage is concerned. They say that once a woman is married, she should change her personality to merge with the matrimonial opinions and controls are often forced upon a married woman against her beliefs.
2. The result of this situation, according to women, is too much control by the in-laws or the husband on the life of a woman. Where she goes, how she maintains her relationships with her maternal family or her friends before marriage, whether she works or not, how she handles the money earned by her, how many children she has and so many other subjects are determined without any concern for her personal opinions. If she asserts and makes her side of the questions heard, she is branded as a feminist or a rebel and the same parents who encouraged her to think for herself, advise her to be a silent observer of life.
3. All this leads to too much compromise in life. In every tough situation, a woman has to give up her dreams. Even today her main concern is the family and children first. Even though she happily gives up her own pursuits to nurture these, her financial future is not secure. She may have to depend on the generosity of her husband when it comes to security— emotional or financial.
4. Add to this the extreme stresses and tensions of modern life, and you have women who carry any number of hurts within their confused hearts. Should they remain nurturers and the chief promoters of family life and the upbringing of little ones? Should they listen to the clarion-call of all the national forces, which call upon them to dream their own dreams and pursue their own goals? In this scary duality of life, women are caught in a whirlpool of stress and tension, which take a major toll of their lives at all stages.
5. Being taken for granted is a cause many women cite for their traumas. "Once a woman marries, she has to stand up and hold the sky up each time it threatens to fall down," say the majority, :If a child is sick, the men of the house are free to go away because their work and the money they earn is important. Women, in addition to working and earning, have to manage doctors, medicines, nursing and caring for the sick till they are healthy again. Few men, even in this age of hi-tech life and fast-track careers, take major responsibilities in the home. Getting school admissions, managing the studies of children, developing healthy food habits in them, managing their extra-curricular activities, bonding with extended families, often managing finances and budgets— all these are the duties of the women in addition to running the home efficiently and offering hospitality to all guests and visitors. Moreover, women have to attend to all those jobs inside the house and outside for which men have no time or inclination. Women become just pieces of conveniences and often, no acknowledgement or credit is given to them for being the "ten-armed beings" or "Ms. Somebodies", who perform several tasks at the same time without grumbling or seeking reward. If men had to perform as many kinds of work simultaneously and efficiently as women do, they would scream with impatience and stress. Women in our society are forced to live by impossible standards and expectations."
6. Financial dependence is another irritating reason for the break up of marriages. "Having to ask for money all the time kills one’s self-respect," say women, "In many cases, in the middle class, though women earn from their jobs, they have to hand over their earnings to the husband or the matrimonial family. They cannot spend any major amount without the permission of the husband or the in-laws. They are given a ration or pittance for their fares, their workaday food and for their personal needs. They have no savings, no control over the money they earn and no credit for contribution to the family kitty. They can never openly claim that they have paid for the upgrading of the family’s lifestyle; nor can they claim ownership to the objects bought width their money. In their old age, they are often abused despite their financial contribution to the upbringing of the children, their education and their careers.
7. The guilt which society gives women as their lifelong burden is the final cause for the break up of marriages. When the burden of guilt weighs heavily on the soul of a woman, and she cannot find approval despite her sacrifice and compromise, she rebels and is termed an iconoclast and a breaker of family unity. Many women see life as a no-win situation where their status is concerned.
Despite the progress made by women in the beginning of the new century, despite the last year being termed the Women’s Empowerment Year by the Government of India, despite the government efforts to give political and social power to them through reservation of political positions and compulsory education, the albatross of double standards seems to make women sink in the mire of frustrations. Outside their homes, they have recognition, encouragement, challenges and fulfillment in career, education, opportunities and rewards. But inside the home, the strong patriarchal power structure of our family life and the pressure on women to fall into its pattern—without even a whimper of protest—creates a trauma which is often insurmountable!
The common phrase Jaan Hai To Jahan Hai refers to the physical wellbeing of mankind. This statement/phrase is somewhat problematic. Firstly, it often refers to men. Inclusion of women in the term by default is doubtful. That is how feminists look at it, as woman’s health is consciously unconsciously neglected not only by the male-dominated society but also by a woman herself.
Secondly, because Jaan (health) is confined to physical fitness only. The feminist understanding of woman’s health is not in the clinical framework alone but in social-economic and political framework that tells upon her health negatively. Thus health signifies the complete physical, mental and social well-being of a woman rather than the sheer absence of disease.
With this holistic approach, women action groups organise health workshops and camps in villages, slums and resettlement colonies. These workshops/camps educate masses about the issue of health by getting them together where they talk to each other, develop personal insights, understand each other and their bodies, debate issues of vital concern, work together in their struggle for sexism and oppression and search for alternatives.
Chilkana Camp, a 40-minute film, made for the Centre for Rural Research and Industrial Development, produced and directed by G.S.Channi and Harleen Kohli and written by Munna Dhiman, is about a health education workshop/camp, which reflects dynamics of woman’s health and related issues.
The villagers are skeptical, even suspicious as the camp is nothing like the ones those have been held in the past. The camp organiser, affectionately called ‘Madam’, is a person with different perspective. Considering the impact of the social-economic milieu on the entire lives of women significant, madam organises the camp in a different way. The aim of the camp is not to provide women with facilities and medicines but to impart them health education and to make them health conscious. The thrust of the camp is on preventive measures than treatment. Village women are mobilised to join the camp. Many refuse to attend the camp due to the housework load and restrictions on their movement. Those few who join the camp are those whom other female members of the household like the mother-in-law or grandmother support but that too by assuring the family that house will not be neglected and all will be fed well in time. The husband’s comfort is not to be sacrificed at any cost.
The men of the village are deadly against their women joining the camp. They are against the camp and its activities. They feel that the organisers of the camp know nothing about rural life and blame them for trying to spoil simple women of the village. They see it as a threat to their control on women and incite others against the camp (this expression is also manifested in wife-beating) so much so that the head of the village says that freedom at the camp would result in fleeing away of young boys and girls of the village.
is not disturbed by male behaviour and considers it normal. She
mobilises both men and women to join the camp, participate, discuss
and find solutions about their health problems. On the other hand,
Javed, the co-ordinator between government and the organisers, looks
at the whole problem from a male perspective and the bureaucratic
angle. He does not approve of madam’s modus operandi which
does not correspond to the objectives of the camp. He merely wants to complete
the formality by giving information to the people about pregnancy,
family planning and vaccination etc. He fails to understand madam’s
The discussion in the camp brings about many interesting facts, which many had not realised before. Women realise that besides poverty, illiteracy, unhygienic food, early marriage, repeated pregnancy etc. there are other things that affect their health like their thoughts, worries, responsibilities, desires, aspirations, burden of household chores, their immediate environment, domestic problems (like alcoholism, dowry, wife-beating etc).
Puppets have been used effectively in the film to sensitise masses. The puppet Ramdulari, who sells milk to the dairy farm, saving some for her husband/children but not for herself, represents the Indian woman for whom her family is her first priority. She does not take her own health to be as important as that of her husband/children. Giving importance to her own self is a deviance for her as she has been conditioned to think like that and negate herself. Ramdulari’s attitude and behaviour provokes a lot of discussion among women in the camp as to why she does that. Most of the participants, including women, feel that Ramdulari is an ideal woman with good samskaras (values) like service and sacrifice etc. But how this affects her health is a big question. What does she gain by dedicating her life to the rest of the world?
invokes different arguments. Some women feel that a woman herself is
to be blamed for her condition while others believe that this is
Another woman acts out the role of a drunkard husband who threatens to kill the wife if she goes out. A meaningful discussion, followed by these small acts reveals the very essence of being a woman.
In one of the improvisations, the viewers get moved when a woman breaks down while commenting on her husband.
She questions as to
why her husband is totally insensitive to her feelings. She asks: Why
has he never tried to understand her problems, pains and desires? Why
is she not allowed to do/feel her way? Why is she ill-treated, blamed,
abused, beaten? Why is she confined to the four walls built by him who
acts as a watchdog? Why does she eat, wear, sleep and reproduce as per
his demands? Why is she solely responsible for looking after the
kids/home? Why is it only her duty to earn him respect and success?
She wonders why she has never thought of her own identity, her mind,
and her body. Her thought-provoking questioning makes everyone
The film successfully draws public attention to the domestic plight of a woman, because that is what directly affects her physical and mental health.
It develops a strong consciousness
about the patriarchal society and patriarchal ideology that controls a
woman’s life. This female-oriented film does not promise to bring
about change but provides food for thought and advocates an
attitudinal change. The film, shot in Sultanpur Chilkana village of
Sahranpur district in U.P., is not an ordinary one. The superb acting
of the characters makes it unique. It has participant actors who are
dealing with their real life situations. Concerned with the issue at
heart, they have themselves written the dialogues and experienced the
process. The film has a natural flow and intensity of emotions. It is
unadulterated and somewhat unpolished. There are no cuts and
Unhealthy at their own cost
If only women spent half as much time thinking about their health as they did about becoming beautiful, they would avoid numerous health problems that crop up only because they did not visit the gynaecologist on time. As a gynaecologist once said: "I tell my clients that they should keep a date with the doctor in the same manner as they do so with their beautician to avoid all nagging health problems." Perhaps it is the casual attitude towards their own health or the fact that life, for most women, is a clockwork, routinised existence in which they themselves are at the bottom of their priority list. Tending to the husband, children, parents, in-laws etc. often takes precedence over their own health. So used to are women to a higher threshold-level of bearing discomfort and pain , that they postpone a visit to the doctor endlessly. Often only an emergency or forced bed-rest that prevents them from performing all their chores is what shocks them into an awareness about the need to wake up and give priority to themselves.
Ask a cross-section of women if they monitor their haemoglobin level or take a baseline mammography or a pap smear test as advised by the gynaecologist, and only a small number will say ‘yes’. If only we could be as diligent about health as we are about performing all our multiple roles to perfection and doing the tightrope walk as a daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother.
However, if the way in which women pamper their bodies outwardly is an indicator, then the argument that they rarely have time for themselves sounds fallacious. As an amused beautician puts it :If half the things women so gladly put on their faces and slather on their bodies, they were to consume internally, they would glow much more. Ask a woman to use an almond cream, she will agree readily but ask her to eat almonds daily, probably she won’t. She would rather give them to her children or family rather than eat them herself.
It is not only rural women who shun or avoid taking a regular check-up. If the women in rural areas are guilty of neglecting basic healthcare, the same is also true of numerous urban, middle class and even affluent women. Many of them do not think twice before splurging on clothes or cosmetics. Preventive as well as curative healthcare is extremely important and very often a visit to the doctor in time can give you a lease of life and nip a disease in the bud.
Don’t the women focus on themselves as do others on them when they are pregnant and fulfilling their role as procreators? Why should they not become health-conscious for their own sake?
This refers to Shakuntala Narsimhan’s write-up "Beginning with a bang , ending with a whimper" (December 30). I am of the view that there can be no empowerment without power. Gender gaps in development, amply supported by statistics and empirical evidence, are largely due to the absence of women from decision-making bodies. Women remain outsiders in deciding the directions of development, resulting in unjustifiable disparities. What is difficult to understand is why do the one half (men) feel that they know the needs of the other half (women) better? What earthly justification is there for assuming that women cannot speak for themselves? Nor is there any divine injunction imparting exclusive abilities to men. It is precisely this hijacking that accounts for inadequacy, ineffectiveness and failure of many a national policy. Participatory policy-forming eight from planning to enactment in legislative bodies is the democratic answer. There is no way out but partnership and interdependence between men and women in the political structures and processes.
The focus in framing policies should be on how women are affected by all national problems and how they themselves can bring about solutions. This paradigm shift is possible only through women sitting at the tables of power with men. As it stands, no politician denies this framework nor its democratic logic. the problem is that what they accept in principle they violate in practice. Women have not by accident been kept as outsiders. The gate keepers of power have ensured this in balance.
Women’s participation in political leadership is man dated by the constitution. Rightly feeling that the dominating syndrome" may prevail if little men prevail, the constitution makers had wisely provided for Article 15 to achieve participation and parity in governance and make true the preamble: liberty, Equality and fraternity. With it a balanced representation was enshrined in the constitutional vision as a fundamental right. Those who appose 33 per cent reservation for women willfully negate the constitution.
The critics are snipping at the panchayati Raj and saying that the experiment has not worked but truth is that this is not happening everywhere. It depends on the socio-economic conditions of the state or the area. in Maharashtra, for instance, or Punjab you will not find the husband "calling the shots" as they choose to describe it. In Haryana or Bihar it may be so. But I feel that even it is there, it is being corrected notices are issued that the elected woman has to go to the meetings and once she gets a foothold, she will assert herself.
K.M. Vashisht, Mansa
The Women’s Reservation Bill was presented in the last session of Parliament in 1999, but till now it has not been passed. The Prime Minister wants a consensus of all the national parties but this has not been achieved so far. According to 33 per cent reservation, about 160 odd seats will be reserved for women. If the seven recognised national parties put up candidates, they would require over 1100 women belonging to different castes to fight elections and perform effectively in Parliament.
Santosh Sabharwal, Hoshiarpur
Trauma of losing a child
This refers to Radhika Nair’s article "Trauma of losing a child" (Dec. 16) which made a serious, solemn and realistic reading. The biggest blow to strike parents is the untimely or timely death of a child, particularly the irreparable loss of a son without whom life seems hollow and meaningless to them. Although a son and a daughter are often treated on an equal footing without any discrimination these days, yet parents prefer a son to a daughter for reasons best known to them only. Outwardly, all aver that this hardly matters whether they have a son or a daughter, however, inwardly all long to have a son whose loss can not be made good by any number of obedient, devoted, duty-conscious, talented and courageous daughters. If young parents lose a son they can hope to be blessed with another but what about those unfortunate ones who lose their only prop in the twilight of their life? Naturally, they have to spend the remaining days of their life grieving, unable to cope with the tragedy that befalls them and find it absolutely difficult to come out of the traumatic experience. No amount of consolation can give them solace. That death is inevitable and it is to come when it will, fails to cut ice with them.
Unable to undo what has been done, the aggrieved parents turn to fate. They assume that it was writ large in their fate to lose their child at a certain stage of life. It is said that not even a single leaf of a tree flutters without the order of god, who is omni present, omnipotent and omniscient, one has to abide by what he ordains. Because the birth and death are in the hands of god—though the birth and death of a child, particularly a female child, are in the hands of parents nowadays—one has to reconcile with the bitter truth and reality, that is death.
So the trauma of losing a child is very devastating and shattering for the parents so afflicted. That is why they turn to the occult and black magic in frustration to seek a treatment for their incurable wounds and putting their own lives at stake. Children, are the fruits that everyone wishes to have along with them in their life. But ultimately, people have to come to grips with reality- willingly or unwillingly.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala.
This refers to Rajshree Sarda’s "Lack of emotional intimacy..." One needs to realise that a lasting relationship is rooted in emotional intimacy and heart-felt love and respect. No amount of material gains can compensate for a lack of emotional warmth and rapport.