|HER WORLD||Sunday, August 17, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Spirit of enterprise
blemishes, no wrinkles for the woman of today
for NRI brides
I feel strongly
Spirit of enterprise
"OUR village is very beautiful." This was the opening line of Kurukku, the childhood memoirs written in Tamil by Dalit writer Bama. Kurukku, (which in Tamil means the sharp-edged stem of the palmera tree) voiced the joys and sorrows of her people, oppressed by higher castes in India. "We were very poor. I was witness to many instances of violence against Dalits. I also saw the humiliation my grandmother and mother faced in the fields and homes of the landlords. Despite the misery, we had a carefree childhood."
In 2001, Lakshmi Holmstorm's English translation of Kurukku won the Crossword Award in India and established Bama as a distinct voice in Indian literature. (Dalits are members of India's most marginalised and oppressed castes.) Bama didn't really plan to be a writer. Born in 1958, as Faustina Mary Fatima Rani (her grandfather had converted to Christianity) in a village called Puthupatti in Tamil Nadu (southern India), her landless ancestors and parents worked as labourers for the landlords. She and her four siblings spent a lot of time playing in the fields. "Sometimes we were cops and robbers, sometimes husband and wife. But my favourite game was kabaddi (a team wrestling game played in many Indian villages). I liked the whole business of challenging, crossing over and vanquishing the opponent," says Bama, recently in New Delhi to attend a writer's meet.
Perhaps it was this game which trained Bama to face many challenges in life and come out victorious. Bama's father, who was in the Indian army, was very particular about the children's education. "If he had not joined the army, we would never have had the regular income for education. Education also gave us freedom to get away from the clutches of the landlords and lead our own lives," says Bama.
Her brother Raj Gautaman, also a writer, introduced her to the world of books. "I read Tamil writers like Jayakantan, Akhilan, Mani and Parthasarthy. In college I read my favourites - Khalil Gibran and Rabindranath Tagore. I didn't have many books to read so I read the same
ones again and again," she recalls. In college she also wrote poetry. But after college Bama became a schoolteacher and chose to educate very poor girls.
Her life took a big turn when at the age of 26 she took the vows to become a nun. This was an attempt to break away from caste bonds and further pursue her goals to help poor Dalit girls. "I felt that at the seminary I would be able to carry forward my work with the poor," she says. But seven years later, in 1992, Bama walked out of the seminary. Her family insisted she get married and settle down. "I had lost everything. I was a stranger to society. I kept lamenting about life and harked back to my happy childhood days in the village," narrates Bama.
Struggling to find herself again, Bama followed a friend's advice and started to write her childhood memoirs. She also created her pen name - Bama - a blend of different sounds from her Christian name. She completed the book in six months. This slim volume, a semi-fictional account of the growing awareness of a Dalit, created a stir in literary circles for its uninhibited language and bold vocabulary. "Some critics cried out that a woman should not have used such coarse words. But I wrote the way people speak. I didn't force a literary language on myself," says Bama.
Today, at 45, Bama teaches in a primary school in Uthiramerur, near Chennai. Her works, which include two collections of short stories, Kissubukkaran and Sangathi, have also been translated into French. Though Bama began by writing about the condition of Dalits in rural India, she now plans to focus on communal clashes. After school, Bama spends most of her time talking to young Dalit women about religion, oppression and social change. She shares her experiences as a student, nun and a writer to encourage them to build something anew.
Why did she choose to remain single?
"The existing family system would not give me the space I needed to
do my kind of work. So I chose to stay single," she explains.
"My ambition is to communicate the dreams and aspirations of my
people, who have remained on the fringes for centuries in Indian
No blemishes, no
wrinkles for the woman of today
WHILE grandma’s tips for skin care are long passe, the Indian woman has now moved beyond the ere ‘ facials’ offered by the neighbourhood beauty parlour and is willing to spend thousands on advanced skin treatments, making them a part of her beauty routine.
Skin treatments offered by the many beauty clinics that have sprung up in recent years are no longer being identified with merely removal of wrinkles. They are more about getting a flawless skin and delaying the appearance of wrinkles.
"Women who are in their 20s and 30s are now going in for skin treatment to improve their skin tone and delay ageing," says Deepa Marie Thomas, Communications Manager, Kaya Skin Clinic.
They are now moving from traditional kitchen-based packs to skincare products for exfoliation, moisturising and removal of wrinkles, says Varsha Dalal from House of Baccarose, Mumbai. "The major chunk of our clientele in the age group of 26-28, women who want to take care of their skin before the first wrinkle appears. Preventive skin treatment is what they want," says Thomas.
Removal of dead skin cells and improvement in the skin tone is what most of the women want, she elaborates. ‘Skin polishing and brightening’ is what it is termed at the clinic, which runs centres in Mumbai and has recently opened three centres in Delhi. Apart from exfoliation, reduction of fine lines and blemishes and acne removal is also very much in demand and with more and more becoming aware of the latest treatments, there has been a jump in clientele, says Seema Malik, a dermatologist at Eleganza beauty clinic in Delhi.
There are a variety of glycolic and chemical peels available to exfoliate the dead cells and bring fresher looking skin to the fore, says Dr R K Joshi, another dermatologist.
Botox treatment, which relaxes frown-line inducing muscles to give a smoother look to the skin, is also catching up, and at the moment is more popular in Mumbai than in Delhi, he says. "Most of the women who come to us are in their 30s and feel that because of stressful life, they need to take special care of themselves, which includes their skin."
"People are becoming more and more conscious of their looks. They all want to look good and that is the reason why they are now opting for beauty treatments. They are becoming aware of what treatments are available in the market and which is the latest brand on the stands," Vandana Luthra, Chairperson, VLCC.
VLCC, with 50 centres across 28 cities, is offering the latest international laser treatments for eliminating skin problems, says Luthra.
As for the money spent on these treatments, the cost ranges from around Rs 1000 for exfoliation to more than Rs 20,000 for advanced wrinkle-removing techniques. Botox is even more expensive, with one vial of the neurotoxin coming for Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000.
"There is also a vast market for international skincare brands in India which is yet to be tapped. There are 30 million people in the country who can afford premium products that come in the range of Rs 600-Rs 10,000," says Dalal.
"There is a concern for keeping skin healthy and youthful as hasn’t been seen before and people are willing to go to the next level to get good skin," says Thomas.
But the dermatologist has a word of caution here. While the skin treatments are largely safe, they have a limited effect and in case of deeper scars, as in the case of small pox marks, the result could be disappointing, says Joshi.
Moreover, he says, while the treatments are non-surgical and simple to perform, they need to be carried out by experienced hands as too much peeling can damage the skin and in case of botox, care has to be taken not to damage the adjoining nerves.
According to Joshi, the clients, too, need to take precautions after the treatment, about which they should be informed. For example, peeling makes the skin photosensitive, making it necessary to protect it from the sun for some time.
MOST guidebooks about Russia offer the same advice: "Don't try to understand Russia; you never will." Having travelled there recently, I can see why. It is an enigmatic and ever-emerging land of contrast and frequent contradictions. Those contradictions are represented by the Russian women I met.
Having lived with "equality" for more than 70 years under communism, many Russian women now say that the "natural order" of things is for men to be men, and women to be women. Which translates into massive regression from a western feminist's point of view, whereby biology rapidly disintegrates into destiny.
Despite a more than 50 per cent divorce rate in Russia, an alarming number of women of all ages seem to crave a fairytale relationship with men now that capitalism has introduced choice and eliminated state-sponsored equal opportunity. Women want to catch their Prince Charming by being very sexy, after which they can stay home, raising children, while the man of the house does the God-given thing: he earns a good living.
Never mind that men are coping badly with the changing economy and resultant unemployment, and that alcoholism and domestic violence are very big problems in Russia, or that it is absolutely taken for granted that he will have another woman or two on the side. A large number of women in Russia still think theirs will be the exceptional relationship.
I was astounded to hear a history professor with two PhDs and a thriving career argue this case, even though she is professionally successful, divorced, and a single mother raising two teenage daughters on her own. An attractive blonde who enjoys dressing up, she described the collective fantasy as "the natural order" of things, arguing that women are tired of being "working horses". They want, she says, "a chance to be human beings". When, after a spirited debate, I suggested that she would go crazy in two weeks without her career, she smiled enigmatically. I still can't figure out if "You're right!" or "Just try me!" was embedded in that smile.
There are, of course, young Russian women who aspire to independence and autonomy at the same time that they wish for a fulfilling and intimate relationship. But they are not optimistic. Irina, a well-educated, bilingual shopkeeper on one of the many river boats that ply the rivers and canals between Moscow and St. Petersburg, is typical. She says that women want an education and a good man, but the former is much easier to acquire than the latter. The men, Irina says, don't want to work, and most of the burdens of work and home fall to the woman.
For western feminists, who have been fighting for decades to achieve equality in academia and the workplace, it is difficult to understand Russian women's retreat to what we see as traditional values. But as one woman put it, "the church has replaced communism as the belief system". And the church is strongly advocating chastity, pro-natalism, hearth and home. Beyond that, Russian women have viewed their much-touted-in-the-West equality as a trap: a grey zone in which they move mechanically from one obligation to another.
Escaping this grey zone in mini-skirts, tight shirts, overly-hennaed hair and excessive make-up feels like liberation to many young women. One atypical young tour guide said that she was treated like an aberration because she wore close-cropped hair, overalls and no make-up. She wasn't the least bit bothered by this; she finds her independence delicious and has no aspirations to marry.
On a deeper level, the position and the aspirations of women in Russia are complex and go far beyond the romantic. Even those who reject the feminist label—and there are many activists who do—have profound worries about what their future holds. A March 2003 article in The New York Times by Sabrina Tavernise pointed out that there are now fewer women in top government posts than there were under communism, day-care centres are closing, fewer women may be attending university, and privatisation is overwhelmingly benefiting men.
Natalia Khodyreva, Director of the St Petersburg Crisis Centre for Women, worries about the increase in trafficking of women (in addition to domestic violence and sexual abuse) and the fact that the government's commitment to women is essentially rhetorical. Still, women who toiled for years in factories and fields seem all too happy to abandon that kind of work for another— homemaking and childcare—even though such work is clearly devalued.
To an outsider who has never experienced life under communism, the strongly stereotypical reaction to the word "feminism", and frequently blatant anti-activist posturing, is puzzling at first, especially as things seem to be downsliding for Russian women.
But the stereotyping of feminists is reminiscent of the nascent women's movement in America during the 1950s and '60s, when women's advocates were positioned as ugly, lesbian, crazy, or all three. One wonders if the movement in Russia will become mainstream faster than ours did, but not whether or not it will take hold.
"In Russia, everything changed after communism," says Galina, a former teacher and now tour guide. "Everyone is now fighting for a place." Whether at work or at home, the places that women inhabit are clearly continuing to evolve as Russia emerges from "Soviet time", and younger women with little memory of those days become leaders across various sectors.
Given that reality, there
is an interesting paradox inherent in this evolution. "As children,
we Russians were always taught to use a small 'i' but a capital
'We'," the professor told me. Yet, when it comes to Russia's women
in this time of transition, that We—the collective concern for women's
well-being—seems far less developed than women's individual
aspiration. Perhaps that's because in the absence of decree, the
struggle for solidarity has just begun.
A must for NRI brides
THERE are many people who feel deserted when their daughter is betrayed by the NRI grooms and he leaves her In India. However, I think they are luckier as compared to the girls who are taken along by the boys because at least they are safe with their own parents.
The hardest reality of these NRI Grooms is that they are born in these foreign countries and think of themselves as White people, forgetting their own roots. They live life lavishly with the hard-earned money of their parents who came long ago to these countries, spent their entire life collecting money and building empires for their children.
No foreign country is without Asians thus there is no country where Indian girls are not being subjected to torture.
Thanks to the efforts of the Governments of these countries who have made rules which apply equally to all, without caring for the status of the person.
The foreign Governments are acting wisely but now the responsibility to alleviate the misery in the lives of the girls who have become soft targets for greedy grooms in foreign lands rests first and foremost on the media. The media should make the people aware of the rules and laws of the foreign countries. Secondly, the parents should verify all about the boys coming from foreign countries in whose hands they are giving the life of their loving daughter. Thirdly, the girls themselves can live their life happily if they are courageous enough to understand their rights.
In UK before June 16, 1999, the girls were given the probationary period of one year when they entered the country. They had to bear the torture of the in-laws for at least one year and after that it was the wish of the in-laws whether they wanted to allow her to stay with them or not. The girls had to live either like slaves if they wanted to live or get deported to India. However, the government changed the immigration rules and gave concessions to prevent domestic violence and misery of our daughters. The domestic violence concession was introduced on June 16,1999 in an effort to help foreign spouses or unmarried partners who wish to leave their partner because of domestic violence before completion of the probationary period.
The spouse/unmarried partner may still be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, provided that he or she can produce evidence demonstrating that they have been the victims of domestic violence during the probationary period, while the marriage/relationship was still subsisting.
It was introduced subject to review after a two-year period. Under the terms of the concession a person would be allowed to settle in the UK, provided they meet certain criteria, even though they are no longer living with their sponsor. The criteria require that the domestic violence must have occurred while the marriage or relationship was subsisting and the applicant should provide evidence of the violence in the form of:
As a result of our review and representations received, the Government has decided that the types of evidence acceptable to meet the terms of the concession should be widened.
If evidence either in the form of court order or police caution is not available, we will accept more than one form of evidence from the following list:
One can only teach one’s daughter to have courage, be in touch with the media, read newspapers and surf the Net to become fully equipped.
If you have courage to marry an NRI don't cry if you are not destined a heaven in these foreign lands.
I feel strongly about...
Whether she is in India or abroad, the roles and duties of an ideal Indian girl do not change. The world she inhabits might be postmodern or technologically savvy, but nothing prevents her parents, community and social group from extracting compliance and conformity from her, says Jasmine Sandhu.
MOST people aspire to find a mate who ranks high on desirability, personality, status, intelligence and character. There are the occasional sheep that wander away from the herd, or who manage to delay the inevitability of marriage, but those are few and far between. That doesn’t mean that stereotypes have ceased to exist. Western media has unfailingly bolstered countless South Asian cliches. Girls are often portrayed as ‘burdens’, ‘glamorous brides’ and ‘impoverished brides’ in the media. For many the role of women as property and the expectations from women have not changed nor have the parameters that constitute a good wife. Women are bred for companionship and reproduction; those that meet their Prince Charming begin planning their futures almost immediately. The promotion of Western-inspired idealism and liberalism is therefore at odds with supposed Eastern conservatism.
The role and duties of the intended bride are placed at a higher degree of scrutiny than the bridegroom. He can abandon the union should his conditions not be met. Certain protocols must be met in order to safely comprise a ‘legitimate union,’ since they are of apparent greater importance to them. Freedoms are limited, if not entirely restricted for women. That being said, sexual freedoms, deviancy and infidelity are assumed to be a lifestyle choice amongst the ‘lower castes’. Hindu rites dictate several marriage possibilities: Girl is ‘given,’ girl is ‘exchanged’ and girl is ‘bought’. If the girl’s chastity (read: character) is questioned, or serious illness occurs, the engagement may be broken.
Dark or fair people marry the like, as do the ‘crippled’. Failure to marry within the caste may lead to isolation, or at best, infamy.
Boys are given the right to run loose, inciting riots and ‘corrupting’ young, innocent girls. On the flip side, ‘good girls’ from ‘good families’ stay indoors under the watchful eyes of their parents/brothers/uncles and recite hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. When a suitable partner is found, the formal arrangements are made by both sets of parents before the community at large realises that the parties had engaged in a torrid love affair. South Asian men are portrayed as typically aggressive, commanding and unforgiving.
Women are taught to be pious, modest and obedient. Boys are taught to follow in their father’s footsteps, and girls in their mother’s. There is little compromise or questioning involved, with the strong possibility of a heavy had falling to the lady of the manor, should she not abide by the rules and regulations her husband has set out for her and his family.
‘Assisted marriages’ have long been established as an effective way to form alliances: they are quick, effective and limit the contact two people and their families share, therefore also limiting the personal injuries that are always a possibility with actual initial contact. The standard classified matrimonial appears to be fairly straightforward in its reasoning. After all, a reputable family seeks a desirable female for their obviously attractive and educated son. What is it really asking for? A supermodel with great cooking and cleaning skills, in short, a sexy maid.
Her sense of decency will compel her to stay within the confines of her home, away from prying eyes and possible temptations. It is ironic that an educated professional will ask for qualities and attributes that may be deemed superficial and vain, and not require a companion that may reflect his interests and hobbies, as he does not specify an education or profession.
Then again, it is arguably his family that is making the primary demands: a suitable daughter-in-law is one that fits the image of the family legacy that they wish to leave behind. Her genetic pool will mix with theirs, and as a result she will have to acquire or perfect all the qualities that they will need for future offspring and heirs: beauty, obedience, character and fair skin (her) and intelligence, height and charisma (him).
One thing is certain, only a marginal percentage of the population will fit this bill, and all undesirables will be filtered out. Thus the risk of possible contamination is averted, and the future lineage and name of the clan restored.
The ancient texts regulate
conduct by which any self-respecting girl or family should abide,
outside knowledge in the form of nosy neighbours and news reports only
cause added shame to the obvious crime of being an Indian woman in this