|HER WORLD||Sunday, February 23, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
I feel strongly
Any woman who knows her mind but does not know her place is automatically suspect as far as her eligibility as a good wife is concerned, says Anu Celly.
"HI there! Yes, you are the one I am looking for. You are the emancipated Indian woman. You have a zest for life, a drop-dead figure and a complexion which is milky white. You are at ease with the pace of progress, yet your morality is rooted in tradition. The man of your dreams has come. Yours truly is quite a hunk, a prosperous and successful management executive, in late twenties, athletic, intelligent and pragmatic in one go. I do not believe in caste and dowry, am free of 'encumbrances' and possess considerable property. I look forward to a blend of beauty and loyalty, sincerity and homely virtues and virginity as an added asset. Respond with latest close-up and full-length photos (a must) on email: email@example.com!
Thus reads the improvised version of a matrimonial advertisement for the standardised patent of a wife inserted by a typical breed of the Indian and 'NRI' male in today's world. Amidst the convoluted commercialisation of the 'marriage market', where the quintessential marriage broker has been replaced with internet sites, what has changed is that the language has become crude in the garb of an up-beat modernity, what remains unchanged is the fossilisation of attitudes and expectations regarding 'a suitable Indian bride'.
The Indian woman, as of now, finds herself in a state of transition from constriction to expansion, from special privileges to independent choices, from marginality to meaning-giving fulfillment, from disinheritance to creativity and from domesticity to entrepreneurship. Yet, more often than not, the Indian man still remains ensconced within the duplicitous demands of convention and convenience, when it comes to hunting for the picture-perfect raw material of the housewife. Even the most egalitarian (read educated and enlightened) bachelors or 'innocent' divorcees, in our society have not been able to unshackle themselves from the fetters of a mindset which conceptualises the role of a wife strictly within the parameters of a normative regimentation, wherewith responsibility is assumed to be an 'encumbrance' for the man, while it functions as the sanctimonious 'given' to a woman's conduct. Such a mindset places at a premium, 'virtues' of stoicism, docility, acquiescence and purity, while it abhors the traits of self-assertion, spiritedness and self-empowerment as being aberrations in the God-given essence of femininity.
There was a time when the prospective in-laws would visit the house of the prospective bride to gauge if she could manage to serve a cup of tea with restrained dignity and to make sure if the table cloth has been embroidered with her own hands. The desirable qualities to be discovered in women candidates vying for happy matrimony ranged from the ability to cook, stitch, scrub and to wash well. The ultimate litmus test to come their way would be, of course, the capacity to reproduce the male child. Now the prospective bride and the groom may chat up over the dinner table in a posh restaurant, but the expectations and parameters of suitability remain as delimited as the appropriate professional stature of the girl's father or the exemplary public manners of the girl in question. What remains constant is the response that envisages the worth of womanhood more in terms of misplaced idealism and less in terms of the real-life concerns challenges which make a marriage work.
In a state-of-the-art marriage today, a woman is still to be valued for her readiness to be an efficient housekeeper, an embellished wall-flower, a ministering angel, a seductive sex object and a presentable hostess. Any woman who knows her mind but does not know her place is automatically suspect as far as her eligibility as a good wife is concerned. Moreover, professional competence, material prosperity, social eminence and worldly success are considered by and large, as the prerogatives of the male, are considered as anomalous to the raw material of a good housewife. Besides, a premium is placed on a woman's physical appearance, rather than qualities of head and heart which may really turn out to be the founding features of a sound and healthy marriage. (On the other hand, if a woman looks out for a 'handsome' groom, her quest is dismissed as irrational and uncalled-for, since masculinity is rarely defined in terms of the pre-requisite of beauty, which is such an irrevocable criteria for measuring the 'appeal' of womanhood.
Besides the artifice of beauty, it's the willingness to inculcate obeisance and dependence that is considered worthy of applause in the conduct of a prospective bride, as she is expected to be willing to relegate herself to inconsequential concerns, even though she may believe herself to be capable of making a meaningful contribution to the betterment of the society and the nation at large.) It's time that we perceive the image of a housewife beyond the packaging of a made-to-order requirement. We should view her as an animated woman with the potential to channel the quotient of all her faculties, including personal strength, professional enterprise along with domestic proficiency as the resources for a meaningful and progressive life for the family and community.
We need to overhaul the
determinism inherent to our attitude in the search for a 'suitable'
wife in an arranged match and to mend the one-dimensional parochialism
and replace it with a holistic approach. Such a quest will consider
women to be strong, peace-loving, nurturant and creative beings and
marriage to be a mutually complementary mating of minds and energies
which work together to evolve each other's character and personality,
to raise a family of sound and integrated citizens of tomorrow and to
build the bridges of a harmonious and progressive community life.
YOU are as young as your diet. A healthy and sensible diet is and should not only be merely to satisfy hunger but also for good looks, youth, vitality and for the joy of living. Delicious and nourishing food plays a very important role in preserving and nurturing the health and well-being of the family. Good cooking ensures a healthy atmosphere for all of us. It reduces boredom and it is said that better the food, better the mood. The most important way by which a woman shows her love for her family members is through her cooking for them.
When a child is distressed, a caring mother can definitely bring a smile on his/her face by cooking a favourite dish. And only a mother can serve her children with affection and care. Not only this, while cooking, a sensible housewife should see to it that food contains all the vital elements for nourishing both mind and body. The family of a woman who is a good cook is blessed indeed. Many of us do not give importance to the art of cooking. For most of our cooking either we depend on maids or eat out. This encourages youngsters to eat junk food most of the time. True, these days women work outside and their jobs are as time consuming as those of their husbands. It is the children who are deprived of the most nourishing food when they need it most. It is well said that what a child eats between the ages of 10 and 30 determines how he feels, looks and thinks at 20 and 60. Most doctors and sensible mothers agree that simple nutritious food hygienically prepared and eaten in moderation, in a calm atmosphere counters modern ailments.
Here are a few tips for the working woman that will help her to strike a balance. They should take help from maids for the chopping of vegetables and the grinding of masalas. The actual cooking they can do themselves and, even better, with the help of their husbands and children. Women should delegate duties to all family members. With modern kitchen gadgets, cooking is no longer as difficult a task as it used to be in the past. Mixers, grinders, choppers, ovens, microwaves, freezers etc. have made cooking much easier. To make cooking still easier, the housewife can stock her refrigerators with frozen vegetables and meats and pre-cooked gravies and pastes. She can make tomato puree in advance. Thus, with little effort and imagination and sensible planning, a homemaker can definitely discourage the children from eating the wrong kinds of foods.
Another aspect where the role of the housewife becomes important is to increase the nourishing value of the food and to make it more tasty and appetising. This would encourage them to love homemade food. For this the following points can help:
WHY do we need to read? The simple answer that comes to mind is "to grow". Growing does not simply mean enhancing knowledge but expanding emotionally as well. Reading takes one away from oneself.. which come to think is the purpose of all meditation, to forget the 'ego'. Reading takes away one's stresses. The world of books is different, the characters are real yet fictional, the situations are similar and yet dissimilar. The identification with the book is complete, there is peace and harmony. Recent research shows that whenever the brain is active in learning something new it remains agile, that is, it delays ageing. People who read are never lonely. When there is so much in favour of this ageless hobby, passion and name it what one will, would not to pass this habit on to children?
There is always this talk of generation gap and lack of communication. Well, nothing breaks the ice as the habit of reading. Discuss books, characters, situations and see how communication develops. The habit of reading amongst children develops in infancy itself. This role is exclusively of the parents. When the child is an infant surround him with books. Let them feel them, look at the pictures, turn the pages and yes, most important, read to them. The human brain is fully developed by the time the child is eight and three-fourth by the time she is five. So this is the ideal time to hook them on to the books.
Reading helps the child to inculcate values and triggers their imagination. It makes them more understanding. It also helps them to identify their frustrations and disappointments with those in the books and simultaneously imbibe hope as well as the desire to excel like their heroes. They learn to see the world through another person's eyes, realise that there are many pictures to the same story. These children do well at school as well because vocabulary, imagination develops immensely . They read well and so their confidence surges. The pre-schoolers prefer colourful books with lots of pictures, animals , babies. Rhyming short stories with scope for the child to copy the sounds attract these children. Alphabets, numbers are quickly absorbed by them as identification powers are superb at this time. The same story can be repeated any number of times as it is not monotonous for them. Fix a particular time, especially bedtime, when the day's excitement is over. That is when the child is tired and wants to relax with mom or dad. Even children who are feeling restless can be soothed by nice stories. However, the biggest advantage of these stories are childhood memories. Imagine your child snuggled with you in the quilt and listening to stories and falling off to sleep with a satisfied expression on his or her face. These memories remain not only with you but also with your child who will treasure it when he grows up and surely will pass it on to his children.
Gurpreet Bawa, who worked in Dubai Scholars school as a kindergarten teacher explains how her son Mehtab was introduced to reading by listening to countless stories she recited to her at all times. "My husband had long working hours and I had very little access to the outside world in Dubai as in the beginning I was not working. My total focus was on Mehtab. The time just flew. He was soon reading to me, listening and of course correcting and now he is eight and reading on his own. He has just finished the four volumes of Ramayana which have come out recently. However, it does not mean that he is reading only but is actively into sports and other extra-curricular activities as well."
When the child enters into school, that is, when she is around five or six years old she develops a sense of individuality. Princes, castles, witches, talking animals even folk tales interest them. Chapter books in simple language or even episode books whet their appetite for more books. However, now the stories should be discussed. Morals should be driven home. Even movies of these stories should be shown so that knowing about the story gives them a greater sense of confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Puzzle books for the sharpening of the wits should be made frequent. Reading to the child is not the prerogative of a parent who has ample time but even a busy parent can by devoting just fifteen minutes can fulfil this need of the child. Nothing is more rewarding than the satisfied grin of elation of a puzzle well solved or a story discussed, for at this stage one is passing a part of yourself to them. Ms Ravinder Singh who runs a school n Mohali (kindergarten) explains, " When one is reading to one's child or listening to him identify the characters in the story with the people she knows, like the grandmother in Red Riding Hood with her grandmother and so on. Books should be gifted on birthdays and on other occasions. Encourage the reading habit by taking her to the bookshop and let her choose her kind of book. The child is able to express more if only he reads more and as they say becomes more emotionally intelligent."
The seven to eight-year-old has a heightened sense of morality with a fine line demarcating the good from the evil and of a clear sense of justice, that is, as you sow so shall you reap. They comprehend more than even what they can read. Humour, mythology, riddles, sports and fairy tales interest them and so do real-life stories. Although it is best if one starts early but as they say it is never too late. The parent has to know the interest of the child, hunt around in the book shop and gift it to the child.
By the time the child is nine to ten years old he has moved on to series, informational books. Mystery books, books based on strange but true facts, biographies, adventure books with real heroes, sports, the Guinness Book of World Records all attract this age group. By this time, the child should be familiar with the library, and taken there. Children after ten will read only if they have been introduced to it earlier. They are heavily into different kinds of sports at this stage. However, magazines can be subscribed for them in whichever field they are interested. Science fictions, adventures, books based on the life story of their hero or books that have been made into movies or even an introduction to series books can be done at this stage. It is not desired by any parent that the child should become a bookworm, but a healthy reading habit definitely develops the personality of the child apart from opening new doors and windows. As said before, it is a legacy that should be passed on.
Some tips to be remembered:
For most Punjabis, Canada and the USA remain a land of plenty and they would do anything to be able to settle there. There is, however, a downside to the apparent glitter. Neelu Kang talks to some women in Canada and describes the trials and tribulations they had to face in order to enable their parents or in-laws to seek better pastures abroad.
PUNJABIS choose to marry their daughters to NRIs through whom the whole family can move overseas. To have such a marriage organised, parents are ready to spend an unlimited amount of money even if they, in the process, incur debt. Such parents do not even bother to verify the boy's educational background, his work status and income for which they would have left no stone unturned, had the boy been in India.
A friend described a long queue of parents at Indira Gandhi International airport just before her son's arrival, after she had given a matrimonial advertisement in the newspaper.
Migration to any western country is seen not only as a last resort to escape extreme conditions of poverty or unemployment in future but also as a privilege as it increases the socio-economic status of the family in the community. Therefore, the Green Card in (US) or landed immigrant status (in Canada) becomes the only criteria for mate selection. However, the bride and her family's illusion of a good house, nice family, wonderful job and excellent income are shattered soon.
Apart from culture shock, language barrier and the stresses of integration into an alien country, the woman becomes a victim of various kinds of abuse. Though such an abuse is no less in India or elsewhere but it becomes worse in a foreign land where she is helpless in the absence of a family structure to hold her abuser accountable for the violent acts being perpetrated on her.
The extended family also silently or actively becomes involved in perpetration of the abuse. The husband who sponsors his wife becomes her controller. He threatens her that he would cancel his sponsorship of her and deport her in case she does not abide by the rules that he lays down. She has limited social contacts, as every body who is known to her is a part of the husband's extended family network who supports the husband and his family. Besides social isolation, employment in a hotel, garment industry or as farm labourer with minimum wages (and unhygienic working conditions) makes her economically confined.
Nevertheless, these women keep suffering until they sponsor their families to reach either Canada/America because they have to show income of their partners to sponsor their own families, as theirs is not enough.
In some cases, abusive husbands try to assert power and control by jeopardising this activity, i.e., by abandoning their unstated promise and responsibility of sponsorship support to wives' family.
The case of Jassi represents many women who survived abuse by showing a lot of strength, despite all the odds. Jassi was the oldest among five children. Her father, a primary school teacher, was keen to send her abroad. She was married in a week's time to an Indo-Canadian and the family was thrilled about going abroad once Jassi was settled. In Canada, Jassi lived in a joint family where she was treated as a servant who cooked and cleaned for everyone. With her high school education, Jassi worked in a garment factory in the evenings. Her wages were taken away by her husband and she had no control over her earnings. Her husband, a roof maker, was involved with his bhabhi and Jassiís objection to the liaison resulted in her receiving a heavy thrashing at the hands of her husband.
Violence increased with the husband's brother hitting her as well, initially in his absence and later in his presence. All men in the family demonstrated their prowess by hitting her. Her husband kicked her in stomach when she was pregnant. She bled and had to abort. "He pulled my hair and pushed me out. I stood all day in the sun. In the evening, he apologised and took me inside. He again kicked me out in the ninth month of my second pregnancy because I was carrying a female foetus. He told the police that I had gone mental. After few days, I had a baby girl by major operation. No one came to see my child. I felt cheated and went into depression. I was sent to a mental hospital and my daughter was separated from me till I recovered from sickness".
After staying in a transition home for three months, Jassi started getting social welfare and lived on her own. She did a course of "Residential support worker" for a better job. In order to sponsor her parents and brother, she required enough money for which she needed to work more. "I sent my daughter to India for three years and worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week and 30 days a month". She sent enough money to her parents to look after her daughter. Converted currency appeared a large amount to her parents who assumed her to be very rich and expected more, without realising how Jassi was killing herself.
After three years of hard work, Jassi was in a position to sponsor her parents. In Canada, she made her father do a course of security guard and got her brother a license for taxi driving. However, both of them refused to work and wanted some dignified job. With more members in the family, her expenditure increased and she was finding it difficult to run the house. She requested them to work. Her brother changed many jobs in a short span of time. "While sitting idle at home, he demanded pocket money. He beat me up when I refused. One day he snatched my purse and pulled my hair," says Jassi.
Long phone calls to India asking about their buffaloes and fields irritated Jassi. Her parents did not like the unsupportive attitude of Jassi and were unhappy, as Jassi was unable to fulfill their dream of settling down their son by finding him a good job. They came back to India after three months. Jassi requested them not to leave Canada, as it would have made all her efforts go waste.
In the meanwhile, her husband divorced her and came to India to get married. Since he did not want to give maintenance to his daughter, he demanded her custody in court by condemning Jassi for reading and watching pornographic material. Unsuccessful in doing that, he worked on cash to hide his income so that he could not give maintenance to their daughter.
Jassi went to Canada to forge a new relationship in a new environment, leaving her loved ones behind with lot of trust and courage only to become victim of abuse by her in-laws as well as by her parental family. Jassi quite often goes under depression and is on medication. She has no interaction with the White community because of lack of communication skills. Blinded by patriarchal notions, the Indian society focuses blame on her for her husband and parentsí having left her. Her limited interaction with the Indian community has isolated her socially.
Social issues and problems related to emigration need to be confronted rather than concealed in the myth of the 'land of milk and honey'. The cases unmasked realities of emigration and showed its blemishes like poverty, mental illness, bigamy, racism and above all wife abuse with its multiple dynamics.
However, the response of immigrant women to violence varies depending on their education, rural/urban background, social and economic status in India and their degree of exposure to western culture.
Often NRI boys, no matter how little their education may be, want not only educated but professionally qualified brides from India. They misrepresent their fortunes by telling lies about themselves and get educated wives. These women have lot of educational component. On top of that, the work environment in Canada brings growth, economic independence, confidence and freedom to make choices. Employment puts demands on them to change and they become assertive and outspoken.
Though husbands want their wives to work, they do not realise that along with working a change in their lifestyle and attitude is inevitable. They think wives are becoming westernised and try to prevent it from happening whereas women resist control. This results in conflict and leads to violence. Being educated, extroverted and mobile, brides soon get to know of laws and available services and feels free to take charge of their life.