There is obvious discrimination between boys and girls in most Indian families. I am saying most but I believe that it exists in almost all families. In most it is open discrimination and in a small minority it is hidden discrimination. It is important to identify such instances, even in well-to-do families, before we address them and work towards women empowerment.
Anita is a teenager and her parents are already thinking about her marriage. Last evening, she overheard her parents talking. Her father said,’ What kind of boy should be look for Anita?’
‘But she is only seventeen. Don’t you think it’s too early to start looking for a match for her?,’ her mother countered.
‘She looks more like twenty-two to me. She has really grown tall in last few years. If we want a good match for her, we need to keep a few years’ time in hand. My colleague, Sharmaji, started looking for a match for his daughter after she turned twenty-two. She is twenty-seven now and still single.’
Her mother persisted,’ Still I think it is too early. Let her finish junior college and choose a course of her choice. She should get well-educated and be self-reliant before getting married.’
By now her father was getting irritated,’ Why don’t you understand? I am not against her studies. Let her do whichever course she wants but we can do the search alongside.’
Anita, who was standing just outside the door, lost her patience and burst into the room,’ So, I seem to be a burden on you guys. You just want to get rid of me soon. My brother is nineteen and he has been given a free hand to live his life. He plays, eats, studies and roams around and there is no talk of his marriage.’ She slammed the door shut and rushed to her room.
While sobbing on her favorite pink pillow, she was cursing her luck,’ Why did I get such a conservative father? As soon as my puberty commenced, he started commenting on my clothes. He asked mom to control what I wore, where I went and all other aspects of my life. I get their logic. In this country, dressing provocatively may be dangerous for my own safety. I always understood their point and respected that. But I never imagined that in a high middle class society also I will have to go through this shit.’
This is a classic case of mis-matched expectations. My book – Happiness is All We Want! talks about expectations management and provides practical tips to manage the same among many other things.
Most girls understand that the grand statements like,’ Girls and boys are equal nowadays’, ‘Girls are as much wanted as boys’, ‘Women empowerment’ and ‘Girls deserve to be independent’ are mere hogwash. Indian parents like all the ‘equality’ ads issued by various government and feel that discrimination is happening somewhere deep in the villages of Madhya Pradesh. However, when it comes to action, the high society, higher middle-class and middle-class are equally guilty of treating girls unfairly. They do not see the advantages of empowering women.
Financially well placed parents give their girls the best of education and upbringing but as soon as the girl starts approaching twenty, the traditional biases and instincts start surfacing rather strongly.
Sujata had finished her graduation and was preparing for her MBA entrance examinations. Her dad called into the living room. Her mother was sitting with a grim face as if there was a death in the family. She spoke,’ Look Sujata, we always treated you as equal to your brother. Both of you got the best upbringing possible within our income.’
She started wondering,’ What direction is this conversation taking?’
Her father picked up from where the mother left,’ I have tried my best to give you whatever you wanted. But you understand that we have to start making preparations for your marriage. In fact, I have been saving for long for this purpose. Now, I see that you have got this desire to do an MBA. I am afraid, we cannot support this dream of yours.’
“But what is the problem, dad?’
‘There are two problems. One, I don’t have money to spare for your MBA education. If I spend on your higher education, there will be no money left for your marriage. Even if the boy’s side doesn’t demand dowry, marriage is an expensive affair. They expect a certain standard, valuable gifts, gold jewelry and big feasts.’
He continued,’ Second, if you get an MBA degree, our problems will increase many-fold. We will have to look for an MBA or higher degree match for you. The boy will have to be well-settled, placed in a more senior position and earning more than what you will be earning. All these thoughts are enough to increase my blood pressure. I suggest you drop this idea. Get a job somewhere and decide on your MBA after marriage. That way you can consult your future husband and their family as well.’
‘Dad, if you guys, being my own family, are not allowing me to pursue my dream, how do you expect some other family to do the same. Why don’t you spend the money you have saved, on my MBA and let me worry about my marriage? Just think if I get an MBA, I have an asset for life. God forbid, if something happens to my husband or there is any other marital problem, at least I will be able to take care of myself. All the money that you will blow away in my marriage will be a sheer waste.’
‘I am sorry. Organizing a grand marriage for you is our duty. We have a reputation in society. How can we even expect to marry you in a reputable family if we don’t promise a grand marriage? Even the most open-minded boys and their families will not agree for a court-marriage. What will our relatives say?’, her mother was getting animated.
This kind of differential behavior is happening in Malabar Hill in Mumbai, Greater Kailash in Delhi, Indira Nagar in Bangalore and the like.
Aliya was on cloud nine as she was on the verge of finishing her medical degree or MBBS. She was headed home before the last semester. The last six months were supposed to be spent at a large hospital as trainee resident doctor. As soon as she reached home, her mother was extra- happy to see her and hugged her tightly,’ Welcome home. We are so happy to see you. You are all grown up and completing your medical degree.’
‘I am also happy to be back, mamma.’
Her mother told her,’ Take some rest and get ready properly before 5 PM. Wear that sari that we bought last Diwali.’
She was a bit alarmed,’ Oh mamma, I have come back after a long journey. Today, there’s no festival. Why do you want me to get all decked-up?’
‘Oh my doll, today your dad’s childhood friend, Mohan ji is coming to meet us. His wife and their son, Madan, are also expected. Now you know why I want you to look your best?’, her mother gave a naughty smile.
Aliya was not amused. She called her father to the living room and threw a fit,’ You didn’t even ask me before arranging this meeting. It doesn’t seem to be a normal get-together. I am not comfortable meeting Madan with this angle.’
‘You cannot deny that you are of marriageable age. Madan is also a medical doctor and well-settled in England. If you get engaged to him before he goes back, we can get you married immediately after you complete your MBBS,’ her dad revealed their grand planning.
‘So, it’s all well set-up. Why don’t you just marry me directly? Why have this charade of meeting and agreeing? If I go to England, what do I do with my MBBS degree? I cannot practice medicine in England with this degree. I will have to start studying all over again,’ she was shouting loudly.
‘This is what happens when you educate girls. Instead of being thankful that we allowed you to study this far according to your choice, you are willing to revolt,’ her dad was angry now.
But Aliya was clearly not in a mood to dump her medical degree for this foreign settled dude. She knew the importance of having a good married life but didn’t want to compromise on professional front. In fact, today she wanted to talk to her parents about applying for specialization in Gynecology. But the parents clearly thought that their responsibility was over and they needed to hand her over to someone else before it was too late. If a ready-made match was available easily, who had time and patience to search for an ideal match afresh.
The rest of family, specially the male siblings, the brothers enjoy their privileges while the girl’s life gets more and more stifled. Given the security and law & order situation is often not conducive to girls moving freely late night or wearing what they want, some level of protectionism is understandable. But often it is taken to extreme levels.
The parental attitudes rub of on the boys in the family as well. They end up treating their sisters like a temporary member of the family. In many cases the family expects girls to do the household work while the boys are too tired after coming back from college. Both boys and girls need to be trained to do household work but it seldom happens. Boys grow up believing that good girls stay at home well covered from head to toe. If any girl is roaming the streets in short dresses or late at night, she is ‘available.’ These are same boys who impose discriminatory behavior on their wives and later on their daughters.
Parents need to rethink these traditional biases and believe that a win-win solution is possible. It is better to marry a couple of years later rather than marry the wrong guy or marry in the wrong family.
As more and more parents provide better education to girls and girls achieve more in all professions, the society as a whole, needs to rethink its attitude towards this new and more confident generation of ladies. Women are equally competent. Nowadays, women are even ahead of men in many socioeconomic activities. Women Empowerment leads to more economic benefits not to the individuals but to the society as well. Entire nations, businesses, communities and groups can benefit from the implementation of programs and policies that adopt the notion of women empowerment. How can we have any hope of women empowerment if such an attitude continues in our society?
Also see next blog on related topic Should Newly Married Women Face Discrimination?
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A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.