|HER WORLD||Sunday, March 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Most Punjabis would do anything to marry off their daughters abroad. Canada and the USA remain a land of plenty for aspiring immigrants, despite the hidden costs involved and the mental and emotional trauma of the girls who face multiple problems there. Neelu Kang describes the ordeal of yet another girl who faces life bravely in an alien land and wonders why such girls do not want to come back to India.
LOOK what happened to Geetu. Born and bred in a business class family in Punjab, after doing her M.Com she wanted to do C.A. Being the oldest in the family with two younger brothers studying in a college, she was persuaded to go abroad. The underlying desire of her parents was to settle their two sons in Canada. Her marriage was hurriedly solemnised in 1996 to an NRI whom she saw only once. After five months, Geetu was in Canada.
Nothing much was asked about the boy before marriage and it was mentioned that he had his own business. It was only after reaching Canada that Geetu found that the boy had little education, was jobless and survived on unemployment insurance. He was not only illegally producing and selling marijuana but also consuming it.
On the one hand, Geetu was considered backward and old fashioned, i.e., if she did not know how to operate a dish-washer, on the other hand being educated, she was expected to do a good job and earn well. "For a good job I needed to upgrade my skills which I was not allowed to. I have no choice but to work in an Indian company, where I don't get even minimum wages. Moreover, I have to withstand harassment by my Indian boss. I sent my resume to several companies owned by white people but I never got any reply. Whites do not like to employ Indians," states Geetu while narrating her story.
Despite the fact that her income was not very high, Geetu paid all bills of mortgage, insurance and credit cards etc. Her husband would stay home all-day; go out with friends in the evenings; come late or won't come at all. Her arguments turned into battles. She was beaten and threatened to be deported to India. She had no one to turn to for support. She talked to her husband's cousin but keeping loyalty to her own family, as the Indian family tradition demands, she herself was blamed. She gathered courage and resources to leave her abusive husband.
"When I finally decided to leave, I was blamed for not asking before marriage the details of his education and job and getting married to him only to pave way for my family to move to Canada. I blame my parents for my situation and for giving me the responsibility of sponsoring them, which I will do sooner or later," says Geetu.
Talking about the reaction of the Indian community, Geetu says, "Their attitude is negative. They think differently about me because I don't look depressed. Since I try to remain happy and stable, they feel that there is something wrong with me. They will be happy if I am depressed, sitting at home and crying all the time. Then they will pity me and show sympathy. I don't talk to them because they spread dirty gossip around and pass their own judgements. I do not talk to male colleagues as they think that I am looking for a male company and try to exploit the situation."
Ending a relationship is stressful for immigrant women because divorce is not an acceptable option for the Indian community. Thus for most of the women, the choice is either an abusive relationship or no relationship at all. Another reason to stay in an abusive relationship is that divorce might jeopardise the marital eligibility and status of her siblings, daughters and nieces in Canada or India.
Emotional dependency, lack of family support, lack of social security, sense of shame, fear of unfamiliar environment, dearth of survival skills like inability to conduct financial transactions and other public jobs are a few more reasons that bind women and keep them in a relationship that takes toll of her mental and physical health.
Nevertheless, despite encountering multiple problems overseas, these women don't want to come back to India. "Canada has number of facilities and opportunities. I can work and make my life. How will I survive in India? Who will give me a job? How will society look at me? How will I justify my divorce? My parents will feel ashamed. In Canada I can live on my own. I can go shopping, watch a movie. Being single is not something good but in India it is worse", asserts Geetu. Other victims of abuse echoed their sentiments in a similar way. Harassment of women particularly in context of NRI marriages is a continuing social evil that the state seems reluctant to address.
The state government
should, in collaboration with immigration agencies, take concrete
steps in this direction. Human rights organisations and women groups
should address this issue. For example, the Punjab Istri Sabha, with
its branches all over Punjab, in collaboration with women
organisations in Punjabi-dominated localities abroad, can intervene to
check this menace.
‘YOU whose heart bleeds for the Gujarati Muslims, have you ever stood up for the Kashmiri Pandits?’ The question has been thrown at people like me not only by hardliners but many others who have so far looked at the world with tolerance if not empathy. These are the people that I, as a Muslim, do not want to lose as friends. So I decided that I must find the answer for myself. The search for answers has taken me again and again to the Valley. In December, 2002, it took me to Jammu. I was part of a group of 32 women who had gathered for a "Dialogue of Understanding: Issues in Peace-Making". Kashmiri Pandit women from Jammu and Muslim women from the Valley sat for three days to talk about past hurts, present conditions and future dreams. The meeting was organised by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, an organisation which believes that the only way out of the present crisis is to talk with honest intention in order to understand and ultimately reconcile.
It was bitterly cold at the newly constructed Hotel Savoy, situated at a short distance from the Raghunath Temple, so recently the site of senseless violence.
Women had come from Jammu, Doda and Rajouri; Muslim as well as Hindus. Refugees from the Valley, the women were all Muslim. (A few Hindu and Sikh women of the Valley who had been invited could not make it.) A few of us—outsiders—were there to begin the process by introducing not ourselves but the woman sitting next to us. I turned to the Pandit woman sitting by my side. I had never seen her before. "Tell me about yourself," I said.
Once she began, it was like a dam had burst. Driven out of the Valley in 1989, she has lived with her family in Jammu for 13 years. Her husband, a government official, had received the dreaded threat: ‘Leave, otherwise the consequences will be bad’. They left reluctantly, casting wistful glances at their home, land and belongings - carrying only what their suitcases could hold. Her mother-in-law refused to leave, so she stayed back with the other son.
In 1990, she said, 2 to 2.5 million Muslims stomped the streets. The air was ringing with sounds of Nara-e-Takbir-Allah o Akbar. That was the time when 700,000 Pandits came out of the Valley at the point of the gun. "No we don’t like it here at all. We feel suffocated. If only I was given security I would happily go back. My children know nothing about Kashmir."
Her story was everyone’s story. At the Nagrota migrant camp, different versions of the story came through. Those used to open skies and the fragrance of almond blossoms were living in miserably cramped quarters. Unused to the different weather conditions, they had to contend with a water crisis, the lack of privacy, no sanitation and the menace of snakes and scorpions.
The camps had been set up in the wilderness, infested with poisonous reptiles, and the children were frequent victims of these. Three generations lived in one cramped quarter: married couples, the in-laws and the children. Men became impotent and young women were affected by menopause; fewer children were born to the young couples; and people suffered from hypertension and diabetes.
The Pandit women welcomed us; they offered us their kangris to warm up but as they spoke, the bitterness poured out. They said in Kashmiri, ‘Curse the Muslims’. They did not ask if we were Muslims or Hindus. In one breath they cursed, and in the other they said, "If our neighbours guarantee our safety we will go back today". They said ‘neighbours’ not ‘government’.
Having seen the camp conditions for ourselves, we walked back with heavy hearts to begin the dialogue - what has occurred and what needs to be done now was the biggest question. Every one has suffered — not just the Pandits. In our midst was a Muslim girl from the Valley; she recounted an incident when she faced the militants. They wanted a lift in her vehicle; there was no choice but to take them in. She broke down as she spoke. "I was sure they would rape me. I came so close... so close." And then she left Srinagar. She could not bear to return, not for a long time. Pandit women sat listening to her in stunned silence. Violence spares no one; it does not discriminate between Muslims and Hindus.
Pandit women spoke of the self-respect and dignity of their community, "We Pandits are a proud people," said a woman from Jammu. If there was nothing to eat in the house, she said, Pandits would boil stones so that smoke rose from their chimneys and people did not know that they had nothing to cook. "My husband came here at the age of 32; since then he has been without a job - at the prime of his youth. I have seen him diminishing before my own eyes."
Women from Doda and Rajouri spoke about their areas. The neglect of Doda, the rampant militancy and the growing communalism in her area was a festering sore for the young Muslim woman - a college lecturer - who spoke. "What do you care? All you worry about is the Valley and occasionally Jammu. We suffer from gross neglect. We are targeted by the militants everyday. What hope do our children have? For us, every regime is the same; they play with our lives."
The Jammu women spoke of "these Kashmiris", referring to the Pandits and the Muslims in one breath. "They come here, they draw pension, they take our jobs. Is this fair? Kashmiris are Kashmiris no matter whether they are Hindus or Muslims." Something amazing was happening. It was a bonding of non-Kashmiri Muslims and non-Kashmiri Hindus, and the consequential bonding of Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims.
When the Pandit women narrated the decay in their society — especially the increase in social violence as a consequence of their exile — the Muslim women said that this was happening to them as well but for other reasons. Together they tried to look for solutions. One Pandit woman said, "What has happened has happened; let us move ahead and concentrate on arresting the decline of our youth."
The days melted away. We played identity games, read stories of the 1947 holocaust, and in the process grew close to one another. On the last day, a woman arrived from Srinagar. She is a distinguished educator and the principal of a women’s college. "Ham dekhte hi rah gaye aur aap yahan aa gaye (We just watched helplessly as you moved here)," she told the Pandit women.
"Do you know what you have done to us? You have taken away the spring season from Kashmir. Our flowers and trees are desolate; our lakes have lost their lustre. We miss you everywhere. Our festivals are incomplete; our songs have lost their lilt. My Pandit teacher - who was closer to me than my own father - could I ever imagine a life without him? We are nothing without you - you complete our existence; and without us, your existence is incomplete."
There were not too many dry eyes in the room.
Today, as I write these lines, my eyes too are tear-soaked. My only claim to Kashmir is that I was born there. What I saw in Jammu last month was a self-healing process. I saw the birth of hope. These women — with or without us — may be able to build the bridges and regain their lost Kashmiriyat. Perhaps, once again, Kashmir will show the way to the rest of us who are floundering in this miasma — just as it showed the way to Mahatma Gandhi 55 years ago.
"I don’t know why Dan keeps buying me those roses. It seems such a boring way to get my attention. I don’t even like flowers too much." That’s Debashree Roy, or Debbie, as her friends know her. Cool, calm and catty. An executive in an ad agency, someone who earns a double-digit salary and someone who can buy her own flowers. And chocolates too. Wooing a woman with flowers or chocolates is passé.
Actually, writing a guide about how to woo a new age woman is tough as writing a guide on how to survive on the war zone. Both are a hazardous task, and you never know which of ideas could backfire. But here goes:
"Don’t be predictable. Candlelight dinner, chocolates these are all predictable things to do," says Rashmi Vaid, cinematographer and dancer. Rashmi would prefer someone who takes her dancing. "Any kind of dancing: fast, slow, waltz, anything. But I think dancing is so romantic." Most women love dancing. I enjoy myself the most when my guy takes me to a disc. Or when we just put on slow music at his house and dance the evening away," says model Fleur Xavier. "It is the best way to get close to your man, really close. It’s okay even if we don’t go out for dinner. Just the music and the wine and the dance, that’s something."
Like it or not, love is not the most important thing in a life of a woman. Other things come earlier: her work, her career, her mother, her father, her dog, her beautician, even maybe her tailor (oops designer is more politically correct). Now that this small fact is out of the way, wooing becomes easier, more direct. "Love is only marginally more important than buying a perfume or cologne. So what matters is image," claims Aarti Raheja, image consultant, Lintas Ad Agency. "The first criterion for wooing a new age woman is to look good. Maybe not like Hrithik Roshan or one of those cute boy bands kinds but at least look decent enough so that a woman is not ashamed to go with you. I mean, there are some men who look like a rip-off of Govinda, and that’s ugh. says that just because you are a new age man, a woman will like you in violet shirts or with your buttons open till your waist? Even if you happen to have a body like Salman Khan.
Write her a long mushy letter. "Believe me, all this Internet is fine to keep in touch. But if you really really want a woman to feel all mushy and gooey then write her a letter. A hand-written love letter is the most flattering form of attention," says Nita Somani, a designer with Shoppers Stop. "In every day conversation you rarely have the opportunity to choose just the right word, place it in the right context, mull over it and rephrase it. A letter is the perfect way of doing that."
Cook for her. "There is nothing mushier than have a man cook for you. I mean imagine how much he must care to take the time and trouble to buy the vegetable, clean them and then cook them," sighs Geeta Rao, writer and journalist. "There can’t be a better gift." If you can't cook, have a friend show you how to make at least one dish.
Don’t brag. She will think you are a stick-in-the-mud if you sit up all night, talking about your exploits. "Only Othello could win over Desdemona with tales of his exploits. Ask her about herself, her ambitions and her life. Be interested. In this day and age, she is likely to have some of her own," says Nita.
Buy her a book, maybe by one of her favourite authors. "I loved it when my fiancé presented me this book I was dying to buy but couldn’t afford," points out Rashmi. "He doesn’t read too much, so that gesture had me floored."
Or buy her music. If she is the outdoors kind, take her for a trek nearby, it won’t cost too much. As Rama Lains, a health instructor with Talwalkar’s says, "It was great when last Valentine we decided to get out, and trek in the Sahyadri ranges. Here we were, 8,000 sq feet above ground level, smelling of sweat, in our horribly loose clothes and enjoying ourselves completely. It was beautiful, seeing those mountain ranges, all that forest below us, and just the two of us in the middle of all that. And he spent some Rs. 1200 on that trip!"
So get out of your stuck-in-the-mud routine, work your grey cells and surprise your woman!