|HER WORLD||Sunday, October 20, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Carrying the baggage of retrogressive attitudes overseas
I feel strongly
SHANTANU and Divya could be considered an ideal couple, such that many individuals would aspire to emulate. Married for three years, still in love, both working in big firms in Boston, with a pretty little house tucked away in the suburbs.
About 10 months ago, this couple decided to visit their parents in India. Shantanu returned to the USA after 10 days while Divya decided to stay another fortnight. It was a fortnight that changed her life in many ways — for one she was shattered. "I had no idea that Shantanu was such a mama’s boy," Divya sobbed.
All Divya wanted — when she decided to stay back another fortnight in India — was to spend a few days with her parents whom she had met after three years. But her in-laws refused. And when Divya walked out of her in-laws’ home, to spend the last week with her own parents in the same city, Shantanu called and threatened her. "He told me to return immediately to his parents’ place and to apologise. Else, I should not come back to Boston. He left me with no choice. I wonder what has changed for women. We are still being treated as we were 100 years ago."
Divya is not the only Indian woman in the USA who is questioning gender roles. Women of all ages who have migrated from India seeking better opportunities or newer homes have often found themselves facing this question. And not everyone has found the same answer.
Take Professor Arpita Mukherjee, who teaches at a local college in Boston. "I was 19 when I landed here with my husband — straight out of college and as naive as could be. Considering it was the early 1980s, my husband was very liberal. He let me finish my Masters and my doctorate. Not only that, he also took equal responsibility for the children."
Professor Mukherjee thinks that the geographical distance from the native land did play a role in making her husband more moderate and willing to help her. And because there was no one else and they couldn’t afford a nanny, he had to help her. "But," she says, "if it was India, I am almost sure he wouldn’t have done it." For her, then, it was the isolation from the home country that compelled them to share roles.
Does that hold true for the present day as well? Professor Mukherjee thinks it does. Mother of a teenaged son and daughter, she feels that her children are more accommodating with the roles played at home. "My son loves to cook and has no qualms about cooking for his sister’s friends." And if they need some repairs done in the house, they look to their daughter; she is really good with machines. "Over the years, at least in the diaspora population, gender roles have changed if not become equal."
Arti, a student at the North Eastern University, expresses a similar view. "My fiance stays in Chicago. I have seen his ideas change in the past two years, ever since he came over here. Earlier in India, there were things he just would not do or agree to. "Now, he accepts the fact that Arti stays so far away from him, and that she drives his car on the highway. He also accepts premarital sex and that she goes out for an evening with her male classmates. "Had this been India, I think I would have been expected to play the submissive, docile bahu."
Many such Indian women living in the US agree on some common themes. The women get to run the house the way they want to, away from the prying eyes of their in-laws. They have their own social circle, and economic freedom. "I have seen my friends in India being asked by their relatives about how much money they spend. Here, I don’t have to suffer that," says Arti.
For Divya, the biggest change in her life was the freedom she got. "In India, I had to be home by eight every evening. But here, Shantanu understands when I come home late — it’s part of my job."
While some women immigrants have found this land to open up their relationships positively, the very same geographical distance has proved to be a bane for others. As it has for Zeenat, a 21-year-old born and brought up in United States. "My parents have tried to bring me up with values they came with 25 years ago. My brother was and is treated differently — he could bring home his friends. I could not stay at a friend’s place. The couple of times I’ve been to India, I see my cousins treated much better than I am." She thinks her parents don’t understand that things have changed.
Neelima’s husband doesn’t understand either. A software professional living in the US for the past five years, Anil was very clear what he expected from his wife. Neelima stays at home, looks after their two-year-old son, and is not ‘allowed’ to work outside the home despite her engineering degree. She ‘gets’ only $ 120 a month and doesn’t have a car to get around. "In the suburbs, it’s difficult to move around in public transport," complains Neelima.
Zeenat and Neelima represent those Indian women in the USA for whom everyday life is a struggle against their husband’s tunnel vision on gender roles. On the other hand, Arti and Divya, despite their apparently liberal partners, face situations in which they have had to make an effort to assert their rights.
Could we say, then, that things are looking up for women, at least for those who have moved to the USA with husbands or fiances?
Perhaps the world and
perceptions on gender are changing, but this is happening at a very slow
pace. Positive ideas are brewing, but ever so lightly. Like Professor
Mukherjee says, "What we need is a consistent effort from the women
reminding the men to keep pace with the changing world."
"THIS is the happiest day of my life," Anita’s six-year-old son says as he unwraps the new video game she gave him. He’s at least as happy as last week when he said the same thing for another reason.
She tried to keep it in perspective. In the last 48 hours, Anita’s son has also been miserable because she refused to let him snack before dinner, made him sleep in his own bed and insisted that he clean his room before playing outside.
Happiness is both a state of mind and a ‘trait’. The state of happiness is a mood that comes and goes. Meera induces it in her two-year-old daughter simply by making a silly face. The trait of happiness is more stable as it is described as a ‘predisposition’ to feelings of well being. Meera sees it in her daughter when she gets out of bed with a smile, eager to face the day. Even when life isn’t so pleasant, she can sustain her optimism and hopefulness.
This skill can be learnt by coping with small difficulties in childhood. "You can have a very happy childhood and be an unhappy adult", says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a serious problem. As he says, "In fact, a childhood without any pain or frustration is almost a recipe for an unhappy adulthood." A recipe for a happy disposition through life is harder to come by, but researchers have identified key ingredients. By focusing on these, parents are more likely to raise children with the trait of happiness built into their character.
In interviews with lottery winners, researchers found that they weren’t any happier than people who hadn’t won. Most of them felt that, "The lottery is an external event and so winning it does not involve control or mastery." Happiness, then can be linked to a sense of directing and controlling one’s life. This conclusion weakens the myth that childhood is or should be one of life’s happiest times. Children are excluded from decisions about everything from the dinner menu to whether there will be other kids in the household. The resulting sense of powerlessness may make childhood much less happy than adults think.
Obviously, parents can’t abdicate their role as decision-makers, but they can watch for ways in which their children can participate. That can mean letting a two-year-old eat cucumbers instead of carrot-sticks at dinner. Or allowing a six-year-old to decide which of the several approved television shows he’ll watch. Even at this level, children learn to make choices that affect their happiness, it is more important for parents to realise that offering choices is no guarantee of happiness. A child will sometimes, in fact, choose to be unhappy. This is obvious to anyone who has had a kid sulk his way through a day at the beach or zoo because some small detail wasn’t right. Ultimately, writes Dennis Prager, "Happiness is an act of will. Everybody has reasons to be unhappy, but we also can shape our reaction to those reasons." Happiness is therefore, to some extent, the child’s responsibility.
Rewarding relationships are crucial to happiness. Although parents can’t run a child’s social life, they can nurture it by making their own relationship with each child warm and satisfying. Parents can also make sure their children get together regularly with other kids, perhaps by joining a playground or taking their child to the playground when others of that age are likely to be there. It further helps to make the home a place where friends feel welcome. Parents can also help their children develop empathy for other people. They can talk about what other people might be experiencing in the family, the stories they read, the TV shows they watch.
Common sense suggests and research confirms that people with adequate incomes are happier than those without. The key word is ‘adequate’. Giving children too much creates the illusion that acquisition is a source of happiness. Many psychologists in developed countries discovered that their own children became much more resourceful, and happy, when they drastically reduced the number of their toys.
Some psychologists also subscribe to the view that the kids who are not materialistic are capable of being quite content with less because they are more creative about playing the cards that have been dealt to them. Not that children should never be indulged, but they simply should never feel that happiness depends upon a barrage of material things.
According to the Michael Fordyce author of Psychology of happiness, "Happy individuals live a balanced life, so they have many sources of happiness. When happiness depends on one thing, you ‘re on shaky ground." A child can have his whole evening ruined because his favourite television show was pre-empted. Another child might enjoy reading a book or playing a game. Parents can’t know what will win a child’s attention but they can offer a variety of activities. This may mean limiting the time allowed to watch television and play video games, which can choke other interests.
Cultivating diverse interests is especially important for children who are unusually good at one thing. They get so much attention for their talent that they pursue it to the exclusion of other things. One little boy, for example, started reading much earlier than his peers. His parents made such a fuss over it that the boy’s self image began to hinge on being the ‘best’ reader. A school counseller pointed out that he would be happier if his parents helped him discover sports and other activities.
Michael Fordyce writes, "Happy people have their downs like everyone else but they rebound very quickly". Parents can help children learn this all-important skill by pointing out the silver lining in most clouds. When things in life can’t be fixed with a change in attitude, parents should help children discover sources of comfort. Everyone has ways to cope with bad days. Some ways of coping are harmful—eating a bag of cookies or picking a fight with someone you love. They fail because they subvert self-esteem. Instead, a child should be taught to find solace in things that will restore his sense of well-being: listening to music, reading a book, riding a bicycle.
One of the best ways to help a child find enduring happiness is for the parents to look for it in their own lives. Michael Fordyce explains, "The finest thing you can do for your children is to become happy, fulfilled person. A person from a happy home has a greater chance of being a happy adult."
happiness also comes from the environment created by happy parents.
Emotional training or learning takes place during the first years.
Before a child knows language, he draws conclusions from the emotional
atmosphere; is the world an anxious, angry place, or a secure, happy
place? Parents should indeed practice in their lives the values that
produce happiness. Moreover, they should be sure to tell their
children why they’re happy because it’s important to talk about
the good days and make it clear that happiness is a goal you pursue.
I feel strongly about...
IT is quite common among Indian families, who went abroad from rural Punjab in 70s and 80s, to come back home in search of a husband for their daughters. It is often believed that a son-in-law from the home country will be more suitable than a man who has grown up abroad.
After few years of settling down abroad, parents come to India with the hope of finding a sincere and committed husband for their daughters. What these daughters endure after their husbands reach abroad, however, is a different story.
The husband's first aim, after arrival to the foreign land, is to sponsor his family. This process normally takes about two to three years. As soon as his parents and other family members reach overseas, the husband starts making grounds to leave his wife and starts finding faults in her. The wife is abused in collaboration with the husband's extended family. With the passage of time, abuse increases and he ultimately leaves his wife in despair. It happens more in Canada than in any other country for Canadian immigration laws facilitate sponsorship of blood relatives.
During my recent visit to Canada, I came across numerous instances of abuse that revolved around the immigration issue and where marriage was used as a vehicle to reach Canada. All the men used their wives' and in-laws' resources to settle down and kicked their wives thereafter. For them emigration was the main motive behind marriage. Here I would describe two such instances.
Sukhi migrated to Canada with her family in 1992 to join her father. After three years, Sukhi came to India for marriage. She sponsored her husband and later his family to Canada. He worked as kitchen cabinet maker and earned good money. So long as his family had not migrated to Canada, he was nice to Sukhi. He became abusive after his family reached there. "He would shut children in a store and beat me. His brothers also hit me many a times. Once his younger brother hit my child and me when no one was at home. My child started bleeding and I got bruises. A family living next door informed the police. My husband was mad at the police and so were his parents as my brother-in-law was new to Canada and could have been deported. After this incident, he went to India; got married without my knowledge; started living with his parents separately after coming back to Canada and applied for divorce. I was deserted," laments Sukhi. When Sukhi asked for maintenance for her children, one of who is paralysed, he started hiding his income and worked on cash.
Similarly, Rubi who went to Canada based on family migration in 1990, worked hard to sponsor her husband (whom she married at Jalandhar in 1992) followed by his parents and siblings. She worked as a dishwasher, whereas her husband did not work for the first two years, as he was not mentally prepared to do any low-paid job.
The couple lived with Rubi's parents until her in-laws went to Canada. Rubi's husband suggested that they go in for a fake divorce so that he could marry his cousin to help her migrate to Canada. After her refusal to do so, Rubi was abused in different ways. She let out "My in-laws blamed me for being illiterate, short and dark. He took all my earnings away. I was given a limited amount of $15 per week. He was holding me accountable for every penny I spent. I bought him a car, a mobile phone while I myself travelled by public transport. Earlier, we had a joint account but now everything belonged to him. Once he tried to burn me. My son got scared and ran to the neighbour's house who informed the police. He was jailed for one night and given restraining orders where by he was not allowed to contact me till he apologized officially. After few days he flew to India with his parents and got married. After returning to Canada, he applied for divorce"
These women are deserted, ignored and helpless. At present, Rubi is under depression and is on disability benefit whereas Sukhi is on social welfare, gets legal aid from government for her case, and attends a government-sponsored course in the evening school. Their situation is worse as both of them are economically confined because they are not qualified for a job that can provide them financial security. They are socially isolated and culturally sterile due to their little education, language barrier, conventional style and prejudices against Whites.
It is relevant to mention here that about two years ago, immigration legislation was silent on the previous relationship of the person who sponsors someone. Therefore, many Indian men had abandoned their wives and children to shoulder the financial responsibility and they were getting married to someone in India to start a fresh life and, were trying, in turn to sponsor their new brides. However, the recent legislation called "Immigration and Refugee Act" denies sponsorship privileges to those convicted of spousal abuse or defaulters of spousal or child maintenance and those on social welfare, as they cannot officially afford to sponsor any body.
Taking advantage of this
legislation, organisations like Multicultural Support Services and
Immigrant Services Society are helping victimised women to get justice.
In the case of Rubi and Sukhi, the organisations have requested the
immigration authorities in India and Canada, not to give a Canadian visa
to illegal brides. These illegal brides’ husbands are already married
to girls in Canada and had neither divorced them nor taken
responsibility of giving maintenance to their deserted wives and
YEARS ago Harribella Fonte cried himself hoarse trying to tell the world: Man smart, but the woman is smarter. If only, more people had paid heed to the poor man singing himself hoarse! This is a fact of life refuted by men, accepted by women, and totally endorsed by the commercials on TV. The trend is tilting in favour of women, and they often show up the man as a shadowy figure in the background.
We are still not living in a pastoral idyll that is why the message has to be constantly hammered in. But it is still possible to believe, that there is a little hope on the horizon. The effects are subtler, but very much there. Start imbibing the subtler messages making their way over time and space, via the lowly commercial. Living today in a world where the idiot box is your guiding light for what you say, to how you say it, from what you wear to what you eat and what you use. In these hedonistic days, we'd better take it as the gospel truth. Women are depicted in roles that project them as having been liberated from the shackles of male serfdom. The ads, screened at ten-minute intervals on the idiot box are part of the direct telecast, a slice of life. The male as depicted in these ads is generally shown as this confused, clueless, malleable and adoring person.
Men are shown as really and truly tied to the apronstrings—starting with mom's, when she is omniscient, omnipotent and omni-everything. He still isn't far away from the idea of getting "I love mom" tattooed on his biceps. Her cooking, of course, is the ultimate as depicted in the Everest Masala commercial. Our pretty chocolate-faced lad, in the process of getting married, is sobbing and clinging to mom, while the exasperated bride, after a few hearty tugs, has to entice, him with her stock of Everest Masala, and hence visions of yum food on the horizon, before he agrees to move off with her. Mom's apronstrings are swapped for wife's— again endorsing the view, that the direct route to a man's heart is via his stomach.
No longer the caveman tactics, in his relationships either, no more club her, grab her by the hair, drag her into the cave, and she's yours. Gone are the days of keeping the woman barefoot and pregnant and chained to the stove. Today the cool guy is supposed to have total insight into the whimsicality of the female psyche. Forget her birthday or anniversary, and your ass could be grass. Archies Cards has ads showing just such a newly enlightened male of the species, now in disgrace, for having committed the ultimate sacrilege, wheedling his way back into her good books, with major help from Archies Cards and the soppy words, he couldn't have conjured up himself.
This imbalance in the gender equation is more than evident in the Pepsi ad, which has this young smart guy, demonstrate super quick reflexes, and extraordinary balancing skills, inedible rollercoaster ride. Appears on the horizon, a pretty young thing who bats her eyelashes and asks for the time. All cerebral activities instantly cease to function, as he upsets the entire drink, in his haste to peer at his watch.
Not too long ago, the Videocon washing machine ad, had this suddenly fancy-free husband partying with his buddies while wife is at her maike, what was that about- 'When the cat is away, the mice will play'. Result? Major gravy stains on her favourite tablecloth, which have to disappear before 'Hitler' comes back. To the aid of the petrified husband comes 'Videocon' washing machine. The stains are gone, the day is saved.
The slant is definitely
tilting in favour of women. In commercial after commercial, the woman
is the super-efficient, sensible and strong person. Her male
counterpart remains, a shadowy confused blur of insensitiveness, which
is soon rectified, via female smartness. In-charge, in-control, and
making all the right decisions is how, the gals appear in the ads.
Picture this smart ad, by a certain website on their faster access to
e-mail. The dope who's on a slower system is busy making an elaborate
salad, while waiting to get access to his e-mail. This young gal—the
epitome of an efficient and attractive young thing, breezes in, reads
her mail, and breezes out. The dear guy is still stacking up on his
intricate salad. "Nice lunch", is her mockingly delivered
parting shot. When the television spews forth such images, men
protest. Admit it, no self-respecting male worth his testosterone
likes to see his kind relegated to second place from his position of
strength and authority. The women, on the contrary, find it
rib-tickling and accept this spectacular cornucopia, which regales us
with happy images on the present position of Adam in the greater
scheme of life. Guess it doesn't hurt if the tables are turned once in
a while. Does it?