21 Married Women in Chennai Remove ‘Thali’ Despite Husbands Being Alive

I have not read of any recent protests against widows being forced (directly or indirectly) to take off symbols of matrimony (colours, jewellery, make up) – but this event was found objectionable by some.

The display of symbols of matrimony plays a part in the process that pressurises women to Get Married, or become a Suhagan, and then to Stay a Suhagan.  It’s not enough for women to get married, and stay married, they also must Stay Suhagan. While it is no longer legal to burn a widow alive, women in traditional communities, are still under pressure to make sure that their spouse outlives them.

What do you think of this news? I believe these small steps are great for starting a conversation, about what is, for a majority of Indians, a taboo topic – in fact it’s so taboo, it’s not even a topic.

The easier way to deal with all such symbols is I think for women to wear or reject/ignore them irrespective of their marital status. Married women not wearing these symbols or single women wearing them would render the symbol useless – because then they fail to serve the purpose they have been created for.

And the easiest, I think, is for married women to stop wearing them.

What do you think?

21 Married Women in Chennai Remove ‘Thali’ Despite Husbands Being Alivece

CHENNAI: Terming the “thali” or “mangalsutra”, traditionally worn around the neck by married Hindu women as long as their spouses are alive, a symbol of slavery or oppression, 21 married women discarded it at a function organised by Tamil outfit Dravidar Kazhagam here on Tuesday.
…  According to DK, the event got over even before a division bench of the Madras High Court issued a stay order on the function.

The DK announced the “thali” removal programme after protests by Hindu Munnani against television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai over its proposed programme on women wearing “thali”.

The Tamil TV channel later cancelled the programme but two tiffin box bombs of low intensity were thrown at the channel’s office.

Several Hindu organisations had opposed the DK’s “thali” removal programme.
Tying a “thali” or “mangalsutra” by the groom around the brides neck is a major custom in Hindu weddings. A woman removes the “thali” only on the death of her husband.

Related Posts:

When married Indian women strive to look unmarried.

Why Indian women wear toe rings (BICHHIYA)? there is a Science Behind this..

The girl whose mother was not allowed colours and celebrations.

“It was very cruel whatever they did with my didi. Even the ladies were abusing her.”

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

Display of respect to those in power, in Indian culture.

More related posts: 

First name, Unwanted. Second name, Dad’s or Husband’s name.

Ditched the dupatta, chucked the chunni – Starry eyed

Please watch Queen. Feels like our country is finally changing.

What makes someone find the concept of ghunghat appreciable?

‘When husbands are jealous, they look so cute, no!?’

For child’s passport, unwed mother needs to declare if she was raped: Centre to HC

‘I have grown up and gotten used to the fact that my parents are considered less fortunate since they did not have a son.’

An email: “You have almost saved my marriage, in a weird way.”

Sharing an email. 

EVERY PASSING DAY MAKES A LIFE. EVERYDAY ABUSE RUINS LIFE.

Hi, 

You have almost saved my marriage, in a weird way. I thought I was the only one fighting it off everyday but when I read these stories I feel at least consoled but sad too . Domestic Violence has too many traits, it always does not have to be physically abusive. It could be as bad without it .

The email continues: 

Dear IHM,

Marital issues are sometimes so tricky, there are times that we really can’t pinpoint whose mistake it is. I really don’t know if I say that to console myself or to console others. I have been married for 8 months and No it has not been a smooth ride to shift from a nuclear family in to a joint family. To shift from a family that is broad minded, to a family that thinks it is ‘broad minded’.

A very typical arranged marriage was fixed to a really nice guy, I said yes after meeting him and talking for a few minutes (mistake 1) , why I said Yes – other than him being a nice and a humble guy, what really stood out was that he gave his family a better life than they already had. He made a house with a little help from his father. The family had too many financial issues and he pulled them out of it at quite a young age. I was of the thought that if this man could do so much then may be we could be together and make a better life and a beautiful living for us (mistake 2).

In our community girls are not allowed to see the boy’s house till marriage, the parents check that out. I was told that it was not all that fancy but the family was really nice (mistake 3 ). We got engaged soon and 5 months after that we got married.

I knew that there was going to be a change but never knew that the change would be so drastic.

My husband was really sick and diagnosed with dengue a week before marriage, and a series of other major accidents and occasions (that could be avoidable with some common sense) happened. I was blamed for all this by my MIL, she would do all this only if I was alone.

Our first festival together, where traditionally the couple sits together, I was asked to sit separately in a different room with others and not with my husband. The first time I wanted to go home, I was told to get married to someone from my City if I had to go home. When my parents came home to pick me they were embarrassed in front of many people by my in laws. My FIL said that he never knew that I was going home and I had not asked him. My father was insulted in front of many people. I had, infact, spoken to everyone in the house that I was going for a few days, less than a week actually.

Anything that I prepared for my husband my MIL would say he will not like that, as its not according to his taste. My FIL is of the mentality that a woman once married is the property of the in laws family and they have more rights over her, her parents are not that important in her life anymore. All this even when his own daughter and son in law and grandson stay upstairs. I belong to a well off family compared to my in laws and I might have lived a slightly better lifestyle earlier, I was asked to forget that life and that living as I have to adjust here. This is going to be my life hereafter. A women is supposed to be like that. I was not allowed to meet my friends unless I get a permission from everyone. Infact I was asked to not make plans with my friends.

I am a spiritual person and not overly religious, I was asked to be more religious keep fasts for my husband, to keep going to temples as much as possible.

All this went on and the only reply I got from my husband was ‘IGNORE’. All this ignoring piled up when I once replied back to my FIL for yelling at me. He was screaming at me because I had not had lunch that day. He constanly calls my mother and complains to her and tells her not to inform me that. This time when he yelled at me my mountain of ignoring shook off and I replied back. It went on to a situation where I spoke to a man in a raised voice, women should not be talking like that.

I had severe panic attacks and felt suicidal after this, every time I saw my FIL I would have attacks, I am also working and while going back home I would have those attacks. Had to be taken to the psychiatrist after this. It somehow worked, he asked to speak out to my in laws and I would have to face my fear.

My husband supported me here (consoled me ), but could not let go off the fact that his parents were right and he could not let go of them. His father had shifted upstairs because I had panic attacks around him, he could not let go of that too. That was a big change my FIL did for me apparently.

My parents came down to meet me and tackle the situation.

I spoke out that day and my parents were also there. My parents clearly told them that they are very much a part of my life and not going to go away because I am married off. They don’t like my mom too because my mom spoke to my father in law in a certain ‘manner’ , even if she is a women.

The environment has changed but in a different way my MIL still finds ways to suppress me. A constant comparison is done between me and many (her amazing daughter). She has not stopped reminding me of the fact that she is the one that has to see all the pain in her son’s life. Her son’s life has become a mess and he has so much tension. The difference is that now she never directly talks to me about all this but a constant nagging.

My Husband’s take on this is to look at the positive side and well he still does not think there is much of a problem and of course his parents are well wishers. There are a few moments that are really nice too  I cant say that it’s like this 24 hours. Me and my husband if left with each other are perfectly fine.

However on an everyday basis it pulls me down I feel claustrophobic in his house, It does not feel like home. What do I do?

Please help me out here, I would like to know about what are things I need to know to deal with this.

How do I Convince my husband he is married and we need our space without interference. He has told me to be patient, but it’s frustrating everyday.

Thank You

Women and Friendship – Building a Support System

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post brings home a striking point. Lack of a support system allows abuse to thrive. And even in non-abusive situations, lack of supports direly impacts women’s happiness quotient.

Recently I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned that Kalyani, her long time friend had visited after many years. I was excited and happy for my mother and asked her if they had a good time together. I was reminded of the times when my mother would visit her when we were very young.

When we were kids, a mother having a friend was a rarity. The fact that they were college buddies was even more amazing. Whenever my mother would visit her friend, we were so awed by this simple fact – that my mother is going out, and it is not to work and it is not to buy groceries, nor is it a visit to relatives’ houses for pujas and other obligations. She was going out to see her friend! How cool is that!

Even though she worked outside the home (which was rare for her generation), my mother’s role at home was pretty traditional. There were meals to be cooked, maids to be managed, unannounced guests, unreasonable in-laws and relatives to be attended to. There were many frustrating and stressful interactions with in-laws and the extended family. So, whom did she talk to, to find some relief? Who did she go to for support and answers?

Most of the time, support, once again, came in the form of relatives. HER side of the family – her sister, her cousins, her aunts provided some support. Because the visits to her only friend were a rare and special treat.

And when she did get together with her side of the family, I noticed a strange vibe. My grandmother, who had little patience for relatives, usually left the room. The women shared their problems and concerns. There were hugs and wiping of tears. But no solutions were ever offered. There was relief in knowing one was not alone. There was certainly a sense of belonging. But it came more from a sense of “we are all women, therefore we are meant to suffer”. My mother usually went home feeling as confused and hurt as she did before the visit.

Another thing I noticed is the one aunt who tended to be more assertive and less obedient was considered a “shrew” and “lucky to have a meek husband who would put up with her”. So much for support and inspiration. This is why relatives (in the Indian setting) cannot really be one’s support system. They are subject to the same conditioning that the rest of us are. They have nothing new to offer.

My grandmother, a free thinker, was the only one who gave my mother sensible advice, still, she was older, of another generation. My mother did not really have anyone her own age to see her point of view. An occasional visit to her only friend’s house doesn’t really count. In many ways, my mother was friendless.

This is probably the story of many women of that generation.

The Current Generation

So, what about us, those in our 30s, 40s, and 50s? I’ve noticed that in our generation, a lot of us tend to have had great friends and friendships in college. But once we got married or moved away, those friendships seldom lasted. Or even if they did, they did not offer daily and genuine support and involvement. To some extent, this is understandable. Many of us outgrow our college friends. We grow up, acquire different ideas, we change to some extent. We crave friends on the same intellectual level, rather than settling for people who happen to be in the same place at the same time.

But how many of us, after we got married, made a serious attempt to develop strong friendships? How many of us are truly committed to friendship – because friendship takes time and effort and interest. Here I’m not referring to “family friends”. Family friends are just that – they are usually friends because our kids are friends at school. Or because some of us work at the same company.   These are simply another version of our college friends – people in the same place at the same time. They are fine for sharing a meal or having tea together or discussing school/college options or the job/commute/elections situation.

But these are not the kind of friends I’m referring to, although they do have their place in our lives.

I’m talking about the kind of friends who share a passion with you. Who remind you of who you are as an individual. Who challenge you to explore your fears, open you to novel experiences, who help you grow. Friends who truly KNOW who you are. So they can remind you of what you are capable of, when you doubt yourself.

(I’m referring to married women here because that is the norm in India and they are the ones who tend to neglect their friendships. Single women are perhaps more likely to take their friendships seriously. They are better at building a support network of friends because the negative attitudes of their families and society have made such a system imperative, even urgent. Perhaps, they even feel frustrated with married women for not being committed to their friendship.)

Factors that Deter Support Systems for Women

So, why do several married Indian women go without real, strong, long lasting friendships? A few factors come to mind (there could be more) –

Parenting – in conservative cultures, friendships for young girls are limited in terms of where they go and how long they stay out and what activities they engage in. They may not be allowed to travel, hike, swim, partake in sports, go for a bike ride – simple things that friends do. These friendship-inducing activities are allowed for sons but not daughters. Early on, they are trained to put family first, and their own needs must be worked around the family’s rules, schedules, and convenience, if at all. Thus, daughters never learn the meaning of strong friendships. They never learn the methods. They haven’t experienced the highs of going camping with friends and gazing at the stars in the night sky. They haven’t experienced being lost in an unfamiliar town and helping each other navigate. They haven’t gone for a long drive with no destination in mind. They do not know what they’re missing, thus they do not seek it in later life either.

The unwritten rules of friendship after marriage – Friendships for married women are discouraged, seen as frivolous and selfish. Indian married men, on the other hand, continue to keep in touch with their buddies, even invite them over and have their wives cook for them. Many Indian women need permission to visit their friends, or need to ensure that they’ve cooked, cleaned, bathed their children, and anticipated every possible need in the next 48 hours before stepping out for an hour. Thus having a family strengthens men’s friendships while the very same weakens women’s friendships.

Complacence and the Illusion of Support – We are surrounded by family in India. We have our parents and extended family constantly in our faces. When we get married, we have even more relatives. Surrounded by all these people gives us the illusion that we are not alone. However, the truth is you can be lonely with a hundred people around you if none of them empathize with you, make you stronger, or help you find yourself.

Too late, we find out that when we really need help and support, we don’t have it. Women spend a good part of their lives helping strengthen their husband’s families. While their own supports are continually discouraged, ridiculed, and eroded.

Our Stories – Mythology, legends, and literature are replete with admirable friendships between men. While Lakshmana walked by Rama’s side until the very end, Sita stood alone. The Mahabharata brims with male bonding. There is the interesting friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Even the friendship between Lord Krishna and Arjuna the warrior is telling. God bestows his friendship on certain worthy men, but not women.

In English literature, we are all familiar with Horatio and Hamlet, Tom and Huck, Frodo and Samwise, Gandalph and Bilbo. While we admire the friendships between these beloved characters, they do make us wish the world instead revolved around female bonding. This is why books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are so precious.

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, says, “Princesses may confide in a sympathetic mouse or teacup, but they do not have girlfriends. God forbid Snow White should give Sleeping Beauty a little support. Princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of the rest of their lives.”

Let’s not be that lonely princess. We can make each other strong. Let’s not give up on each other.

Finding Real Friendship

Friendship and bonding among women offers so many positives that no woman should have to go without it. A good friend –

  • respects you for your strengths and talents
  • supports you during challenges
  • doesn’t ennoble silent suffering and sacrifice
  • inspires you to be strong, to grow, to become who you want to be
  • listens to you when she can’t do anything other than offer her heart
  • gives you a hug
  • loves you for who you are
  • is happy to see you engage in other positive relationships
  • wants you to succeed
  • is proud of your accomplishments
  • reminds you of who you are, when you are in doubt
  • opens you up to new ideas and different perspectives
  • doesn’t judge you for your career and relationship choices
  • is overall happy for you because she is happy with who she is
  • is committed to you, spends time with you, and is there for you
  • doesn’t take your friendship for granted, understands that friendship is a like a plant, it needs watering, otherwise it can’t sustain itself
  • communicates through differences with honesty
  • recognizes her own need for friends and friendship time
  • keeps her interests and passions alive and doesn’t lose her identity after marriage
  • makes it clear to her family that she will need and engage in her friendships
  • can be a lifeline in cases of emotional or physical abuse

I did not realize this until a few years ago, when I hit my late 30s. My kids’ friends’ mothers were my friends. My husband’s co-workers’ families were my friends. I realized something was missing in these friendships. I forgot who I was. Conversations with our friends were always about our families, about our children’s or husbands’ needs, interests, and phases. And what did I do when I did meet interesting, intelligent, warm, humorous,  and independent women now and then? I did not treasure them.

I realized I had missed some valuable opportunities.  And if I wanted something, I needed to work toward it. I began to look for and find women who shared my passions – walking/hiking/running/nature, reading/writing. Women who took their hobbies seriously, who believed in preserving their identities and not be defined by their relationships alone. Although these common interests acted as a catalyst to start and sustain the friendship, we did not limit our friendships to these interests. One of my friends crafts jewelry and it’s fascinating to watch her work. Another friend, an engineer by training, loves to bake. After years of debating, she finally turned her passion into her living. I like spending time in her kitchen while she makes breads, pastries, and pies. I realized I needed to laugh like a girl, get silly, do different things, surprise myself.

I realized I needed friendship time without my husband and kids. I learnt to ask for it, advocate for it, and maintain it as an essential part of my life. I gave it a name – ‘health goals’ (as in emotional health) to make it tangible. I put my friend time on the calendar and committed to it rigorously. My family slowly, reluctantly, began to accept and work around it. If my older son needed help with a project or my younger one wanted to go to the park, it would need to be scheduled AFTER my Sunday morning walk with my friends. Same thing with my husband. In the past, I had worked around everyone’s schedules. Now, my activities were up there on the family calendar, for everyone to see, and my needs were prioritized, like everyone else’s.

I hope every one of us has or works on finding strong friendships and can make the effort to be a rock solid friend to other women. It is not as difficult as we think. It doesn’t require some esoteric skills. It is simply about knowing what real friendship looks like. It’s knowing what to look for. And understanding that friendship is a basic human need, necessary for us to thrive. This blog is a small example of the power of women supporting one another. Imagine what is possible with people we can meet and talk to and confide in and bond with in our daily lives.

And friendship with other women and having a good support system is the best defense against patriarchy. For feminism to thrive, friendships between women must thrive.

Please do share some of your great friendships. Or please share your challenges in finding and sustaining meaningful friendships.

An email: “He told my MIL that he doesn’t like me. I knew he was depressed so I tried to console him.”

Please note the difference between the support/response that a married Indian son and a married Indian daughter get from their families.

One set of parents wants their child to Stay Married no matter what (they expect nothing more), while the other expects to control their child’s life, and marriage (and possibly finances).

Traditional patriarchal norms justify, romanticise and facilitate abuse,  and make it difficult for abuse victims to notice that they are being abused. 

Not surprisingly, Indian women seem to believe they need to Stay Married much more than Indian men do. And more men seem to feel they need to control their wives, no matter how unhappy it makes them, and their relationship as a couple.

Sharing an email. 

Dear IHM,

I’m desperately in need of guidance with the issues I have in my marriage and this is my story:

I got married almost a year ago and my husband works in USA. So after my marriage I spent only a week with my MIL but a week was more than enough for her to create problems. There were issues with dowry, my attitude, customs which my parents didn’t follow, etc etc. Me and my husband didn’t even go on our honeymoon because my MIL wanted us to spend time with her. There were too many issues already and not wanting to create new problems I asked my husband to cancel our honeymoon plan. In that one week, she called my parents daily complaining that I didn’t explain to her about the weight of each piece of jewellery which my parents gave me. Also, she expected me to leave my jewellery in their house [From an Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter.] and tried to communicate it to me in a political way (which I didn’t understand as politics is never my area of expertise ).

She instructed my parents that whenever we leave to USA/come back to India we have to go/come from their house (Airport is a 30 minute drive from my parents’ house and my In Laws’ place is a three hour drive) and I can be at my parents’ house only for a few days.  A lot more added up and there was too much tension when we finally left for USA. My MIL lies a lot and it’s so frequent that 1 out of 10 of her statements would be a lie. Anyone can easily find out that she is lying but my husband justified that that’s how his mother is and she won’t change. He helped a lot by supporting me emotionally so I was happy that he atleast understood the problem.

After we came to USA, we started our own life and things were good at the beginning. We had our arguments and fights but we worked on it and were happy. We talk to our MIL in Skype once a week. Initially my husband was a little angry with her saying that she created so many problems for unnecessary reasons. She tackled him by saying that she is facing medical issues and that she has gone through so much trouble to raise him. Eventually my husband started talking to her. She used to find fault with whatever I do, the food I prepared, the dress I wore, the way I spoke. Nothing was good enough for her son. After three months into my marriage, my husband went through a minor surgery in his leg. On the first day after his surgery, we skyped to my MIL and the first statement which she said looking at me was that I should comb my hair, dress well, wash my face and be fresh all the time. For God’s sake, it was11 pm and I had admitted my husband in the hospital that morning and there was so much work that had to be done before I brought him home. Also, this is not a TV serial to wear all jewels and make up even when I sleep. My husband’s immediate response was to tell me that his mom is right. My MIL wouldn’t have known how much work I did from the morning but I expected my husband to know better. I took care of him very well but the following days became a nightmare.

He became very demanding asking me to follow whatever he commands and I felt like I was walking on egg shells. I thought that going through the surgery was stressful for him and I did whatever he asked me to do. My MIL was talking to my husband daily since he was at home. On the first day when he spoke to my MIL he told her that she had found him a really good wife but just two days later he told my MIL that he doesn’t like me. I knew he was depressed so I tried to console him but my MIL used this as an opportunity and started slandering me. I was sitting next to my husband in front our laptop and she started shouting at me saying that I didn’t know how great she was and used this time to tell me how my parents didn’t give dowry as her son so much worthy, how I didn’t give my jewels to her and told my husband that she will make sure I behave appropriately. My husband demanded me to apologize to her and I did that too but I’m not sure why I apologized. My MIL used to give ideas to my husband about what food to eat and I had to follow the schedule.Once I didn’t have enough ingredients to cook a particular food which my MIL suggested and so I was asked by my husband to walk to the store in October’s cold night. That was the final straw and I couldn’t take more than that. I called my parents and cried explaining the situation. They couldn’t help me much other than consoling me. All these drama continued for few weeks.

My husband resumed his work and situation became little better. My MIL gave lots of ideas to my husband saying that she wakes up early in the morning and does so much work at home. This led to my husband insisting I do the same. Every evening my husband comes from office and starts questioning me on what I did the whole day and even if he finds a small mistake he would start scolding me saying I’m idle at home. He expects me to be a perfectionist so I cook perfect meals, clean and wash but he never stops complaining. My MIL insists on coming to USA saying that she wants to stay with us for awhile and would teach me how to take care of the family. So whenever my husband finds a fault with me, he would say that if MIL is with us she would teach me everything. I feel alone and depressed. I keep myself busy by involving in painting and volunteering in a few organisations but my husband always commented that there is no point in all that because I failed to impress my MIL and him.

Now I’m facing new problems. Even if we have a little argument my husband goes on without talking for weeks. Whenever I tried to convince him he asked me to promise that I would be 100% obedient to him. It felt weird when he asked me of such a thing. My mom is also a working woman so she had a totally different attitude towards life. She insisted I be independent and had always told me that I should think and decide on my own. My husband’s concept of 100% obedience makes me feel oppressed. To solve the immediate crisis, I said yes to him but not even in my dreams I expected him to implement it. He gives me orders for even washing clothes, cleaning the house etc etc . He told me straightaway that he doesn’t want me to give any suggestions for him and wants whatever he expects to be done. He finds fault even in the smallest of chores I do and I’m not supposed to voice my opinion about anything. I tried my best to do whatever he says and I clean everything I could get my hands on. But he never stopped complaining and says that I’m not an ideal wife. He often says that he doesn’t like me anymore. He eats the food I prepare, uses the dresses I wash but he doesn’t talk to me. I find this is a recurring pattern nowadays. He doesn’t talk for weeks together and not talking to one another is very common in their family. My MIL doesn’t talk to any of her sisters, brothers and she doesn’t talk to her IL’s family also. Also, she dominates my FIL totally and he is treated like trash.She gives ideas to my SIL also and their family is facing similar issues. I tried talking to my husband saying that we can solve our differences only by communicating it to each other but he says that there is nothing to talk about and his expectation is for me to do whatever he commands.

I don’t know how to handle all the lies my MIL says and my husband’s reaction to it. Please share your views and suggest how do I handle this situation.

Related Post:

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

The Men in Our Lives

The interference of parents in the married life of their daughters…

Please watch Queen. Feels like our country is finally changing.

From an Anonymous DIL, Wife and Daughter.

To an Anonymous DIL

An email: My principal fear is my wife is not going to be able to love my parents as much as I do.

“I thought the situation will improve but now my husband started behaving like a remote-controlled device of his mother.”

Is it possible to make a man see his wife as a partner, if he has been socially conditioned to see her as someone who is supposed to obey and serve him?

An email from a Newly Wed Wife. “Now they don’t like me.”

An email: “just for a few days of fights and torture in a month, how can I leave this life?”

“A Hindu woman derives immense pleasure in sacrifice for her husband. The white man will never ever understand this.”

Please watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha – where a man is asked to Please adjust and save his marriage.

Simple methods, recommended to anybody else, coping with any other kind of abuse, are forbidden to Indian daughters in law. Forbidden by whom?

“I am trying to make a list of soooooooo many advantages a girl can have if she is born in a Western family as compared to being born in india.”

‘Daughters growing older, their egos becoming bigger, their attitudes and behavior becoming more boorish..’

“I am glad that my parents never thought of raising us as ‘future daughters-in-law’.”

Are Happily Married Daughters a status symbol in India?

“He has decided that we will stop trying to have a child now as he wants things to improve between his mother and I.”

I could not sing after my marriage and I am really sad about it, but women have to ‘adjust’ to see their family happy…

An email: “But my parents, fearing the society and their reputation begged him to take me back.”

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post and some recent emails brought up the subject of abuse within families.  I’m glad that the email writer moved out.  She is able to analyze her situation quite rationally, which indicates that she got out in time.  Although the majority of these emails tend to come from women, men can also be victims of abuse.  One recent email from an American woman detailed how her Indian boyfriend was being emotionally blackmailed by his parents.  Many commenters advised her to stop dating him because he needed to gain control of his own life before entering into a relationship.  In my own extended family, my cousin, who I grew up with chose to not get married.  After delaying his parents’ attempts to get him married for a few years, he finally came out in the open and declared he doesn’t ever want to get married.  He is an only child and  has been subjected to emotional blackmail (such as daily threats of illness and suicide, hysteria, self-starvation) from his parents.  Five years since he announced his decision, they are still around, but I do see that he is worn down, tired, and stressed most of the time.  He was a happy, fun loving child, always following me around (I’m eight years older to him) asking me to play hide and seek with him.  It bothers me when I see him become a hollow version of himself.

Emotional abuse is a potent method of damaging someone’s psyche, especially a person’s sense of self worth and dignity.  It is potent because it often goes unrecognized.  Its incognito status allows people to inflict substantial damage on victims – as much as that through visible forms of abuse such as aggression and violence.

Socially sanctioned forms of abuse are the hardest to recognize.  In many cultures, parents have unlimited authority over their children.  Any situation where authority goes unchecked is a fertile environment for abuse.  Another culturally sanctioned form of abuse occurs with other authority figures such as teachers, boarding school staff, clerics and law enforcement officers.  This is not to say that all parents, teachers, clerics and police are abusive; but if their authority is not subject to checks and balances, there is potential for abuse, and support when it does occur.

It is important to note that in the case of parents, spouses, and intimate partners, they may not always be aware that they are turning abusive.  Although it is difficult to empathize with the abuser, he/she could also be caught up in a destructive cycle that cannot be voluntarily broken, without professional help, and distancing from the victim.

In the Indian context, parental abuse often goes unrecognized because there is an entire network of constructs, rules and operations that have been built around it.  Recognizing parental abuse threatens so many existing power structures that cultural walls have been built around it to safeguard the unquestioned authority of parents.  Accusing one’s parents of the smallest wrongs is tantamount to treason.  There is so much fear and guilt surrounding this discussion that many sons and daughters don’t dare to broach their parent’s fallibility.  Any attempt at doing so is often accompanied with tremendous guilt and self-reproach on the victim’s part.

However, problems, especially when they are deep-rooted, cannot be pretended away.  It is important for us to recognize abuse.  People are often shocked at the word ‘abuse’ when it is used in the context of their loved ones.  Ironically, it is loved ones who are the most likely to inflict abuse – their increased proximity to the victim and their sense of entitlement, and in some cases, co-dependence make intimate relationships more prone to abuse than relationships that are one step removed.

Who can inflict emotional abuse?

– Spouses/partners

– Parents on their minor children

– Parents on their adult children

– Adult children on their aging parents

– Relatives on children in the family

– Siblings

– Bullies at schools, colleges, and in cyber space

– Police on people in their custody

– Teachers and school authorities on children

– Managers on their reports

What forms does emotional abuse take?

– humiliating, excessive judging/criticizing, shaming, slandering, ridiculing, being dismissive, labeling, condescending

– controlling, taking away choices (requiring permission for going out, controlling spending, controlling routine choices like dressing, showering, eating), infantalization

– accusing (being overly suspicious, reading into every move), blaming (holding victim responsible for abuser’s problems and happiness)

– unreasonable or impossible demands

– emotional distancing, silent treatment, alienating, emotional abandonment or neglect (withholding affection, love, support, withholding communication and expecting mind reading)

– excessive codependence (treating the other person as an extension of themselves, not respecting boundaries, knowing what is best for you, being constantly needy)

– threats and intimidation (loud voice and aggressive body language meant to induce fear, direct or indirect threats to the other person, her reputation, her children, her parents, her safety)

– emotional blackmail (threats of suicide, ill-health or becoming an alcoholic), hysteria (disproportionately intense reaction to mistakes), and self-injurious behavior or threats on self-harm (cutting oneself, burning oneself)

– baiting (deliberately provoking anger through false accusations, preying upon weaknesses)

– creating no-win scenarios (asking someone to choose between two bad options – “you either starve or you apologize for something you didn’t do”, “you either cut off with your brother or cut off with me”)

Some less common forms of expression

– Symbolic suffering (setting fire to a toy or favorite object) – inflicting suffering on an inanimate object or a small animal meant as a threat or intimidation

– Engulfment – showering excessive and suffocating amounts of attention, constantly checking whereabouts, inducing guilt (when victim enjoys something) and fear, exhibiting pathological jealousy

– Stalking – either physical or via phone/email

– Gas lighting/brainwashing – omitting or twisting information to favor the abuser and make the victim doubt their own memory or understanding of events

– Recruiting – making the other person an accomplice in questionable activities

What It Feels Like

The victim often feels confused, hurt, and frightened.  (I will begin to use the female pronoun but this applies to both men and women.)  She loses confidence and begins to doubt herself.  She may doubt her own opinions and beliefs.  She may even begin to doubt facts and her own memories.  There is a sense of one’s reality slipping away.  This makes the victim feel powerless.  Most of the victim’s energy is focused on “being careful” around the abuser’s moods, trying to “read” his signals, and working hard to earn his approval.  The victim is filled with a feeling of dread; there is always the feeling that something may explode (even when things are going well).  The victim begins to blame herself when things get ugly (“if only I had been more careful, if only I got home earlier, if only I cooked his favorite meal”).  The abuser and victim go through cycles of “good” and bad phases.  During the “good” phase, the abuser regrets his actions, tries to flatter or please the victim, and makes peace.  The peace is invariably temporary and is shattered for the smallest and most unpredictable “reasons”.   Initially, the “good” phases serve the purpose of locking the victim in the destructive relationship; however in later stages, the victim begins to understand the hollowness in the kind gestures, begins to recognize the pattern to the point of being able to predict what is coming next, but is unable to break out of it.

How To Cope

There is only one way to cope with abuse.  And that is by putting physical distance between oneself (victim) and the abuser.  At first, this might mean leaving the room and refusing to engage in abusive interactions.  Eventually, moving out of the abuser’s life is necessary for survival.  Leaving requires 2 things – planning and support.  A practical plan is necessary – where will I live temporarily, how will I earn my living, etc.  The victim also needs the support of another human being – a close friend or relative who will help the victim not give in to her fears and go back to the abuser.

Even after getting away from the abuser, many victims continue to suffer the effects of abuse – they will continue to suffer from a lack of self worth, make harmful or self-destructive choices, become close to people who are another version of their previous abuser, and continue to be unhappy.  Victims need to work with a counselor and take the support of strong, reliable friends/family and work on the process of self-healing.

The abuser can recover only through psychological counseling and doing the hard work of recognizing, understanding, and modifying his own destructive behavior patterns.

Victims of abuse cannot be told or expected to “snap out of it”.  Recognizing and dealing with abuse, and supporting the victim practically and emotionally are the only ways to authentic healing.

“When my first pay check came, my MIL made a huge drama about how I am not informing them about my finances…”

One reason why education for girl children became acceptable in traditional Indian families is that having an income improved a paraya dhan’s marriage prospects – because like Prem’s family in Dum laga ke haisha, many Indian families started believing that dulhan ji dahej hai (The bride is the dowry).

If a daughter’s self reliance was the goal then Indian women would not be prevented from choosing careers that might make it difficult for them to serve the in laws and spouse, and they would not be pressurised to stop working if the in laws wanted that. And they would be encouraged to save and invest. And they would not be forced to go back and adjust when they are unhappy.

But the idea that the in laws own whatever the daughter in law earns is only an indication of the general sense of entitlement that the ladke wale have. She is expected to have been raised to accept complete control, sometimes including her relationship with her husband, and generally what she eats, drinks, when she sleeps or wakes up, what she wears, and even whether or not she needs to see a doctor.

Sharing an email.  

Hi!

Let me start with my story… I want a guidance and direction.

I have been married for more than a year and it was an arranged marriage. I was staying with my husband FIL, MIL and younger SIL. After two days of the wedding my MIL told me that they were facing a lot of financial problems.
Before marriage I was told that my FIL lost his job and then my MIL had taken care of the family by picking a job. Slowly I learned that the job she was referring to was that of a Maid. (I do not have any problems with any kind of jobs but it was shocking to me as a completely different picture had been portrayed to me ).
I also came to know about the Loan which was taken up by my husband and family, they have a habit of taking loans very often. The property they showed as theirs was in the name of my FIL’s sister (FIL and his sister do not get along).
I was very naïve and accepted it as my fortune and offered all the support to the family. I joined back to work immediately. My husband was giving all his salary to his mom who runs the house. She made it very clear that the family has no savings and the salary earned by my husband is spent completely. I decided that I will put my salary in savings for our future which was also agreed by my husband. When my first pay check (after marriage) came, my MIL made a huge drama about how I am not informing them about my finances and only speaking to my husband!! She also cried and banged her head saying she is so helpless because her husband never earned and her DIL is not giving her a respect.
I am earning about 20K and she straightaway asked me to give about 10K to her for every month. My husband also told me to do so and I agreed.
One day she asked me how much I was saving because she wanted some more money for a festival and when I told her that it was in a fixed policy she made an even bigger drama. [Reminded me of – An email from a Mother in law.]
My SIL is suffering form seizures and she is a college drop out. My MIL  has never allowed my Husband or his Sister to take any decisions on their own. My FIL lives in a shell (He is treated worst than a dog by SIL and MIL). Both MIL and SIL have anger issues and they get into a fit of rage whenever something does not go as per their wishes. MIL is also very manipulative and is full of cheap talks. My husband is typical momma’s boy, who has never seen the outside world. He has no guts and he has always been reminded of how his mom has raised him with so many difficulties.
I have always been a positive girl who truly believes that happiness and peace are the most important things in the life and I could not find both in their house.
My MIL did not allow me to cook or do any work on my own, I can do something only when she orders. E.g. If I start washing dishes in the morning then she will tell me to stop that as she has some other work scheduled in the kitchen at that time. But on other days, she will shout at me and will ask me to wash vessels at the same time every morning.
She has always accused me of various things: That I have separated her son from her; that I complain about them to my husband and demand for a separate house; that I lie to her; that I don’t share anything with her about my family; whenever I used to be late from office she questions me about my whereabouts; and I had seen my FIL following me in the morning time as well as hiding behind a bus-stop, to follow me coming back home in the evening time.
I was really tired of all the accusations, lies and me living like a paying guest in their house. All my stuff was always checked in my absence, I was not allowed to keep my cell phone with me once I was home and it was checked daily by my MIL.
I did not talk much to my husband as well, because whenever I have told him something innocently he has told it to his mom and she has twisted it and used it against me. She believes that the whole world is against her and it revolves around herself and her daughter. Even if someone laughs within a half kilometre radius of her, she is sure that they are laughing at her or her daughter or her son.
Finally I decided I have had enough and left the house. I came back to my parents’ place. My father spoke to her… she said sorry… my father said that he will send me back. I pleaded but he did not listen. I left the next day for office and searched for a new accommodation, my father called me back saying he won’t send me back. Now it has been two months since I am at my parents’ place. My uncles and father are now forcing me to go back. They are using every manipulation and emotional blackmailing. They are saying that if I don’t go back then I will be blamed and it will bring shame to the their family.
I am really scared to go back and I can not live in their house. My father is only worried about his social status. I would rather live alone than live in that hell.
Thanks & regards.
Related Posts:
When a newly married Indian woman gives up her career, what else does she give up?Should couples’ assets be treated as joint property?Unmana – On women and financial freedom.Richa – Lady let the man handle your finances.Were Indian Women Better Off As Homemakers?Never! I don’t want his money! – Preethi  (Women’s Web)

Cabinet clears bill: Equal rights in Marital property, Easier divorce.

“My wife often rakes up property issues, or rues the expenses on my father’s ill-health.”

“I had written an email about being a DIL in the joint family, I am happy to share my current state …”

Daughter-in-law should not be treated as domestic help, says Supreme Court

An email: “indian daughter in-law is servant?”

“I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

Dulhan hi dahej hai

The video is speaking against the acceptance of rape, acid attacks, honor killings, forced marriages etc that are viewed as normal ‘Consequences’ for women.

The ‘My Choice’ video, below has angered many.

I read comments fearing it might influence gullible Indian women into having sex outside or before their marriages, without understanding the ‘consequences’ of such irresponsible behaviour’.

Here are some of the offensive lines. The more offensive ones in bold.

My choice to have sex before marriage, to have sex outside of marriage, to not have sex.

IHMAll the video is saying is, it’s women’s bodies, women’s choices, and of course women’s consequences. Rape, acid attacks and murder are not included in legal or acceptable consequences; Divorce, Heartbreak, Lessons learnt, Experience gained,  Break ups and Moving on are.

The video is speaking against the acceptance of rape, acid attacks, honor killings, forced marriages, violence etc that are viewed as normal Consequences for women who are not able to follow the impossible to follow How-to-avoid-getting-Raped Rules. And often also for those women who do everything as they are told.

But for many, it seems, it’s annoying enough to imagine Indian women hearing about having a Choice in anything, but to tell them that they own their own bodies and sexuality is clearly going too far. This video could give some women the idea that having sex before marriage does not mean they have to marry the person, or be killed by their fathers and brothers (etc), or be ready to be raped by anybody because now they are no longer marriageable.

Or women might imagine or claim that having sex outside marriage is almost a legal right. What kind of videos give women ideas that they can think of sex as something they have a choice in? Do they think they are men? Men are different, and anyway we don’t make videos telling men they can have sex outside marriages, we just have an entire system in place that ensures that men have access to sex outside marriage and ofcourse we don’t approve!  We do roll our eyes at ‘these men!”. Women are different, they are our mothers and wives and honours.  And women have the responsibility to make sure nothing changes in this system that keeps them dependent and controlled.

Also, who should be held responsible for women (misguided by this video) and acid attacked or honor killed for sex before or outside marriage?

Or for thinking they can refuse to have sex with the man they have been ‘married off’ to.

Videos like this can break up the Social System that’s working so well and keeping women Safe and Empowered.

 My Choice to love temporarily or to lust forever. My Choice to love a man or a woman or both.

IHM: Obviously lust is a vice (specially for women) and Indian women only think of sex as a duty they must provide to the pati parmeshwar, who has been chosen for them by their family elders.

To love temporarily is unthinkable for Indian women – once married-off they belong to the pati parmeshwar. Even if they are widowed.

The idea of temporary love is so abhorrent to us that rape victims are offered the option of marrying those who  have sexually assaulted them. It’s all about sexual inexperience and ‘permanence’ in women’s relationships it seems.

Also note how love, marriage, purity, character and sex are connected.

My Choice to come home when I want. Don’t be upset when I come home at 4 am. Don’t be fooled if I come home at 6 pm.

IHM – This is a response to the general idea that good  women reach home before dark, and women who stay out till after dark (or after 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, depending on the the preferences of the person passing the judgment) ask to be sexually assaulted.

And here’s a response from Shail Mohan. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Dear people making fun of the *choice* video (you all know which one),
We all have the choice (yes, to have sex outside marriage too), and suffer whatever consequences it may lead to (it could be the divorce court). Choice also means the choice to make mistakes. The point is outsiders (the moral policing goons or any other outsiders) have no say in all this. Besides no one is asking YOU to have sex outside marriage. Are they? So why all the drama?
Yours
Someone who cannot understand the whole lot of noise being made.

This second video is a response to the My Choice video. This video gives an idea of just how much some of us are worried about women being given choices.

Do watch. What do you think?

The general outrage is not really surprising in a society where polygamy (by men) is tolerated, and where marital rape is still legal. Where married men (well known and respected married men) still have, not just sex but also marriages, children and relationships outside their marriages.

Deepika would have found more support had she  talked about,

A virtuous woman’s right to marry (against his wishes) a man she has had consensual sex with.

Or a woman’s right to save her marriage to an unwilling partner.

Violence, castration and humiliation for a man accused of having consensual sex with an unmarried adult woman from another caste/community. (Because this can’t be made right with marriage)

A woman’s right to marry her rapist.

A woman’s right to supplement her family’s income by working in night shifts.

Related Post:

Denying sex to spouse on first night ground for marriage annulment: Delhi high court

“why not marry them first and then have sex ? What prevents you from doing it ? Deep within YOU WANT JUST SEX and nothing more”

Question about Sexuality in Indian Arranged Marriages

Here’s why I think the society should not obsess over a woman’s virginity.

“Girls should be married at 16, so that they don’t need to go elsewhere for their sexual needs. This way rapes will not occur.” – Rape being viewed as Sex outside marriage.

7 things that can make ‘Rape sometimes right’.

Where Consensual Sex is Rape, and Forced Sex a legal right.

Making Marital Rape a legal offence is the fastest way to make it clear that Rape means forced sex, not lost Virginity or Honor.

Forced intercourse in marriage not rape: Delhi court

Forcible sex with wife doesn’t amount to marital rape: Court

Girls morally bound not to have sex before marriage, says fast track court judge

“Girls should be married at 16, so that they don’t need to go elsewhere for their sexual needs. This way rapes will not occur.”

Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

“There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist.”

Panchayat orders girl to marry her rapist because one way to make a Rape right is to make it Marital Rape.

Making Marital Rape a legal offence is the fastest way to make it clear that Rape means forced sex, not lost Virginity or Honor.

Please watch Queen.

“Instituting the idea of marital rape raises the specter of a man going for long periods without sex even though he’s married!”

Monica Lewinsky on Cyber Bullying

Quarkle shared this thought provoking video. 
I remember quite definitely blaming Hillary Clinton for not walking out of her marriage when it became clear that her husband did cheat on her. This was the most strong reaction. It seemed (at the time) that she was using his humiliation to prove how worthy a wife she was.
Many seemed to agree that Bill Clinton deserved to be divorced so that (somehow) that becomes a norm.
More vague was a little concern (pity?) and some bafflement – why did Monica Lewinsky do this? And then she was almost forgotten. What did she go through?
In this thought provoking TED talk, Monica Lewinsky talks about online slut shaming, harassment and cyberbullying, and how it affected her life after the scandal with Bill Clinton.
She was 22 at the time. Twenty two.
Do watch.

Please watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha – where a man is asked to Please adjust and save his marriage.

When a Dulhan hi dahej hai then men are asked to make their marriage work.

Please watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

The movie is a warm, gentle story about a traditional semi forced arranged marriage. A hard working but dependent, thoughtless and a little insecure Gappu (Ayushmann Khurrana), 25, is forced to marry an independent and confident 22 year old Sandhya Verma, who he does not want to marry.

I loved the shades of grey, or rather a drab but beautiful brown of simple practicality in all the characters. Nobody is really a bad guy, and the good guys are real people not superwomen.

And there is humour.

The movie raises, very subtly, some of the issues we discuss on this blog.

Like, the low divorce rate in India, specially when marriages have parental approval. The movie would have been impossible if there was no semi forced marriage and two sets of parents wanting it to work.

Like, how education self reliance confidence lets women choose to marry someone they like and to leave them if they so decide. [is that a spoiler? Find out for yourself!]

After watching countless movies about men falling in love with a woman’s eyes, cheeks and hair – it’s good to hear, in a casual remark – that varjish (exercise) to win love doesn’t make sense, because when we like someone then these things don’t matter.

It was also change to see a woman being assertive, and not being demonised for it, or for not bending backwards to ‘win the love’ of her pati parmeshwar.

It was not unexpected to see Sandhya’s mother warning her not to attempt ‘baraabari’ with her Pati parmeshwar. Baraabari translates to – daring to compare oneself with someone who is understood to be Superior – like a husband or family elders.

It was unexpected to see her ignore it – casually :)

Sandhya Verma does not change her name when she gets married to Gappu – Prem Prakash Tiwari. She is not superstitious, a sneeze indicates an allergy to her – not bad luck. Her first goal in life – also shown in the trailer, is not to Get Married and Stay Married. She expects her husband to treat her with respect.

And she makes it clear to her husband that she does not like being told what she can or can’t do. This alone makes me want to watch the movie again :)

Sandhya lives is in a society where domestic violence is viewed as normal – her mother and mother in law remember, and remind Sandhya of this. Obedience in children is expected and enforced with violence and insults.

What would have happened if Sandhya was not so confident? Where did her expectation of being treated with dignity come from? Can a woman marry and change an uninterested (in marrying her) man into a responsible, loving husband? [Read what could have happened]

In one scene, she has gone back to her parents’ home and finds her brother has shifted into what used to be her room. She throws out his stuff saying something like, “Four days I was gone, and you took over my room!” Nobody tells her the room (or the house or family, or parents…) ceased to be hers when she went to her ‘own’ home – her sasuraal.  Or that she is paraya dhan. Sandhya’s parents reminded me of Rani’s parents in Queen [Please watch Queen.] – her happiness was not of no consequence to them, no matter how limited their dreams for her happiness.

Dulahn hi dahej hai is a popular anti-dowry campaign slogan – displayed on public transport and scribbled on walls (mainly in UP I think) –  to create awareness. It translates to ‘Bride is Dowry’ – i.e. don’t ask for Dowry, be satisfied with the bride. But one could also view it as – Acquire a bride who can earn, she will then prove to be her own dowry – a life long supply of dowry.

Perhaps since the dulhan is dahej she is treated well by the family – more when they realise she was capable of walking out of the marriage. How does Prem feel about this?

The movie also looks (without any judgment?) at how Patriarchal societies treat men.

Prem Prakash Tiwari is humiliated for his lack of academic qualifications. One could compare the father-son relationship to the more discussed mother in law and daughter in law relationship.

Though there is typical advice for men (never for women) to not marry at all, men in the movie are seen talking about getting married. So, the movie is a change in a sexist society where men ‘joke’ about getting married by comparing it to being chained (etc), ‘shaadi ka laddu jo khaye wo pachtaye jo naa khaye wo bhi pachtaye’ (Translates to: Shaadi is such a laddu that men who eat it regret it and men who don’t eat it also regret it).

And in how many Indian movies have we seen men expressing any sensitive opinion about their relationships? We expect either indifference, or hatred, or a readiness to die for a beautiful woman.

Prem is advised by all – including his peers, to adjust, accept and to make this forced marriage work. And it’s not surprising – remember it’s a forced marriage arranged with parental approval.

Edited to add: Turns out I am not the only one who loved this movie :)

Related Posts:

Please watch Queen. Feels like our country is finally changing.

Question about Sexuality in Indian Arranged Marriages

What about girls who are not very academic? Must they be condemned to forced marriages?

Mardaani

When a daughter refuses to go back…

Can dowry ensure happiness and security for a girl?

Can dowry be compared to inheritance?

 

 

 

 

 

Is Goodness Perceived as Weakness?

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

Is goodness seen as weakness in our culture?

What are some ways in which ‘goodness’ is displayed in our culture?

A woman is ‘good’ when she

  • seldom disagrees
  • fits in with society’s norms
  • respects the wishes of those who feel they know better than her, what is good for her (parents, in-laws, husband)
  • keeps the peace, maintains the status quo rather than tell others they are wrong

In all of the above, ‘goodness’ is seen as meekness and compliance. There is nothing surprising about this interpretation of goodness in women, as our culture (like many other cultures around the world) tends to be sexist.

But, when we look at goodness in men (since they are more free of sexist expectations), it becomes more interesting.

How is goodness perceived in men? Who qualifies as a “good man” and is goodness a quality that is admired in men?

Indian men who are considered good tend to

  • be honest in their dealings, especially at work/business
  • not bribe people, lie or cheat
  • remain unassertive in their personal lives and cannot say ‘no’ to domineering parents
  • feel genuinely pained by their wives’ suffering in joint families but are helpless and cannot stand up for them
  • behave with kindness and understanding toward their children
  • in some cases, allow their grown children to take advantage of their meekness
  • be passed over for promotions, in favor of other ‘aggressive’ men who are willing to lie, cheat, or at least fudge the numbers
  • may passively watch wrong and unfair behavior among their families and in public spaces without objecting

In other words, our culture seems to define goodness as meekness, regardless of gender. There are very few examples of strong and good people that we see or hear about, be it politics, business, or popular media.

When I was 16 and about to take my driving test, my uncle suggested to my father that he could get me a driver’s license without going to the test. All my father had to do was pay a certain amount of money to someone my uncle knew.

My father got upset with him and said, “Aren’t you ashamed of flaunting your dishonesty in front of a child?”

To which, my uncle responded, “We can’t all be Gandhi – or we’ll starve like him.”

Lying, cheating, bribing, cutting in line, indiscriminate rule breaking, and cutting corners are seen as strengths and the qualities of the capable male. And the alternative is presented as meekness and the willingness to be a doormat.

Goodness, kindness, honesty, and compassion seem to be associated with unassertiveness, personal unhappiness, and professional failure.

Taking a step back, let’s look at the misconceptions embedded in my uncle’s Gandhi reference. We may not agree with everything Gandhi did. Some of his decisions can be called into question. He was not without flaws. But here was a man who was anything BUT meek.

Gandhi’s strength came from his conviction. He had an unwavering set of values that served as his internal compass. He stubbornly persisted with his goals. For a physically diminutive man, he demonstrated immense mental courage and grit in the face of the mighty British Empire. He presented supreme confidence in the face of their condescension. Here was a display of a strong kind of goodness.

People who’ve made me understand this

Some good and strong people I’ve known in my own life –

  • My father who fought against my entire extended family for my aunt’s right to wear all colors (after she lost her husband), to get back to school, get an education, a job, and the right to get remarried. Which pretty much brought an end to the tradition of “widows in white” who remained marginalized all their lives, within my extended family.
  • My son’s kindergarten teacher, a small, kind woman who fought with the school authorities to keep ADHD and ASD children in her classroom. She fought for their right to be educated in a regular classroom with supports and not be isolated and “written off” as failures.
  • My grandmother, married at 12, sent to her in-laws at 15, fought for her daughters’ right to be educated. In a generation when most daughters were barely allowed to graduate from high school, she fought with her entire joint family to make sure her daughters (my mother and aunt) graduated from college, went to work, and married the men of their choice.

Some public figures whom I admire for this combination of goodness and strength –

  • Aung San Suu Kyi who continues to fight for the slim chance of a democracy in Burma.
  • Carl Sagan who forewent a lot of research funding when he took a stand against Reagan’s Space Defense Initiative, and shoved the “climate issue” into policy makers’ faces.
  • Bill and Melissa Gates who could remain content leading a privileged life, but choose instead to be involved with solving global challenges that affect us all.

I especially admire privileged people who could easily spend all their lives unaffected by unfairness, poverty, and illness, but CHOOSE not to. They choose goodness. It is an active, conscious choice.

This is why I like re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird because Atticus Finch chose not to sit back and enjoy his white male privilege. This is why I keep going back to A Separate Peace. Because Finny gets it and Gene doesn’t, not until the very end. Not until it’s too late. Both Finch and Finny chose goodness and fairness. It takes discipline and strength to hold on to a value system that demands nothing less than generosity, compassion, and fairness.

The Connection

The connection between goodness and strength is really quite simple. Goodness requires you to abide by a value system. Adhering to a value system requires self-discipline and active vocalization of our beliefs. Self-discipline imbues us with quiet inner strength. Vocalization of our beliefs in the face of opposition, disapproval, and possibly even hate builds an extra layer of strength, a protective armor, if you will.

The other way to look at it – Strong people take control of their lives. Control over one’s own life gives one the luxury of being in a position to help others. Strong people are secure enough to acknowledge their own weaknesses. This allows them to be empathetic to other’s flaws. Strong people persist in overcoming their challenges. This gives them the know-how to mentor others. Thus strength also leads to goodness.

Strength and goodness can thus feed off of each other and become inseparable.

Misconceptions

Goodness is not meekness. Strength is not meanness. It is much harder to remain honest and true to oneself than it is to “go with the flow” and lose our identities. It is much harder to remain fair even to our enemies than it is to paint them in an unflattering light. It is much harder to fight for the underprivileged than to ignore or pretend away their plight with cynicism. It is much harder to forgive those who act in ignorance than to take revenge on them. It is much harder to give a voice to those who lack one than to remain silently sympathetic.

Sometimes, I feel meek people inflict a lot more damage than mean people – such as  people who stare at a woman on a bus and allow her to be harassed. People who passively stand in line and allow certain people to cut in. People who don’t take bribes but watch others do. We are inflicting harm when we do not take a stand, when we don’t use our privilege to help others, when we allow crimes to happen, when we don’t fight for anything worth fighting for. There is a terrible relationship between the mean and the meek. Meek people become the enablers of those who are mean.

Goodness, in the true sense of the word, is therefore a difficult, risky, conscious, active, courageous, and powerful choice on our part, and not a meek, passive reaction to the domineering forces in our lives.