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

An important part of Indian culture is an expectation of “display of respect” from those who are younger or are considered socially inferior (as in, ladki wale, including the female spouse; employees; some castes, subordinates; anybody who might appear less powerful, etc.)

We express this respect in a huge variety of subtle and obvious ways.

Obedience and subservience are  seen as displaying respect.

Another obvious way of displaying respect is the custom of covering the head or in some cases, the entire face by women, or not making eye contact.

Other ways are adding jee, ma’am, sir; being formal, not being too familiar, not calling the person by their name (even if married to the person). This makes  communication difficult in some situations and relationships.

The one who is being displayed respect can be familiar in some ways like they can ask personal questions and take personal decisions for the one displaying respect.

Disagreeing is seen as disrespectful, having an opinion or humming, whistling, singing, relaxing very obviously (e.g. leaning, sitting with ones feet up, dressing comfortably  etc), or generally being at ease are also seen as disrespectful and inappropriate.

(Just a thought: Maybe – since all women are lower in hierarchy, they may not whistle, or look relaxed in presence of men, or in  public spaces. And if they do they face harassment or being put in their rightful place)

Letting the other person control our lives and choices is seen as displaying respect for them. 

Some of these customs can make day to day life difficult for both, the one who is being displayed respect, and the one who is displaying respect. If one of them finds the need for this display inconvenient, they risk losing respect or being seen as undignified, or they risk being considered rebellious and inconsiderate

The older or the “respectable” person is expected to behave in certain ways. Not being openly communicative, giving instructions (even if ignorant or disinclined), keeping an eye on the respectfulness of those lower in hierarchy and maintaining their own state of superiority often puts them under pressure.

Many Indian in-laws and frequently, traditional husbands too, are not able to have relationships where respect is mutual, because they  must fit into these rules of hierarchy.

This concept of display of respect isolates the one being displayed respect, it also builds a distance between the display-er and the  respected. This also makes the one being displayed respect rather insecure – because they are told ‘follow the rules or be treated disrespectfully’ and strangely we also claim, apni izzat apne haath mein hoti hai.

This also puts the displayer of respect at risk of abuse by the one being  shown respect. (as seen in cases of child sex abuse by teachers, older relatives etc and bullying of ladki-wale.)

Also it seems we believe those who do not behave in certain fixed ways don’t deserve to be treated with respect, because we have no concept of mutual respect and personal space and justice for all and individual rights or freedom and happiness etc for all.


84 thoughts on “Display of respect to those in power, in Indian culture.

  1. because we have no concept of mutual respect and personal space and justice for all and individual rights or freedom and happiness etc for all.

    those words say exactly what is true of our society !


      • I like Hitchy’s short and precise comment ” power corrupts whether elders or husbands”.
        Something interesting in our highly covert verbally abusive relationship ” I address him more with respect words like Sir, ‘sunoji’, ‘ji’, etc as our marriage has become older to make sure that the conversation I am about to have goes smoothly and I do not face abrupt anger which come from nowhere because I am untitled to basically open my mouth to express myself or do not have such rights to speak or it not my place to speak or I am crossing a boundary line….go figure!!
        So, my point of saying is that from the point of view of ‘our marriages’ the middle aged couples engage in this kind of ‘respect’ more to highlight which Hitchy has commented regarding husbands….
        Just a thought….


  2. Yes, one must respect an elder…. that goes without saying. But all this jazz about ladki-wale / female spouse having to defer and be subservient to the husband and his family just doesn’t sit well with me…. no, respect – just like trust – must be *earned* through consistent positive action in the right direction, and it must be mutual for any relationship to be healthy.

    On an slightly related note, do read my post …. http://e-pinion.blogspot.in/2012/06/in-law-dilemma.html …. i would love to have your opinion!


    • I don’t think it does, actually. For the statement “respect an elder” to have any meaning, it must mean “respect them *more* than you would an otherwise similar person who is younger”. I do not see any fundamental reason why respect should automatically come with age. Nor do I see any reason for young people being treated with less respect only because they are young.

      Everyone should be treated with politeness, as long as they themselves haven’t done anything to lose that priviledge. (I think it’s perfectly okay to be impolite to people who behave inacceptably)

      I have a basic level of trust for everyone, which I then adjust based on their actions. Some people may get a bonus to trust if several of my friends trust them, because I generally trust the judgement of my friends, but you don’t get any bonus to that just from being older, or just from being male, or just from being a professor.


      • My two cents here:
        I agree that respect should be action dependant and not age or gender dependant. But it is a very fine line, and sometimes confusing.

        I know a 6-year old girl who talks back very (and I do mean very) rudely to her grandparents. The grandparents are usually the ones forcing her to eat or making her do homework. Soft rules like “It is for your own good” doesn’t work really. The hard rules like, “Don’t talk back to your grandparents” and ” Respect them – they are 8 times your age!” kinda do.
        Respecting age, I believe is the first step to understanding what has to be respected – knowledge.Some children or teenagers outgrow their parents very soon and grow tangentially, which is when respecting age becomes null and void. That does not mean that we shouldn’t be respecting our professors or parents for what they know.
        I don’t say that respect should come automatically with age – definitely not. Especially when the one who has to give respect is an adult himself. But when the concept of respect itself is unknown to growing kids, age becomes the first criteria. If we didn’t have any criteria, and let growing children do or say what they wanted to (“Let them respect their friends and not their parents or professors or animals”), we run a risk or raising insenstive citizens.

        Again, the only flip side I see to this are
        – parents telling their 20-something year olds to do as they say and not talk back etc.
        – The acts of respect – not meeting the eyes, pallu on the head are detriments to a healthy relationship.
        – Not saying the name of the husband makes communication very difficult. (However, though I am ok with children calling their parents by names, I don’t think calling parents as “ma” or “pa” as any bad effects.)
        – Respecting age does not mean that younger ones should not be respected.


        • @Archana,

          If you have seen Aamir Khan’s show on CSA, one of the points addressed was the respecting of adults because of age. It is pointless. A child must be taught to respect EVERYONE until they are disrespected. There is no need to tell them “Respect your grandparents because they are old.”. You can always put it across differently. “Respect your grandparents because they take care of you, they are your guardians, they love you. Respect your teachers because they know more; they teach you basic life skills. Respect your friends because otherwise you won’t have any left.” If we apply the same rules to kids as to adults, we will be teaching them how life functions. We cannot expect to teach kids to always respect age, and then expect them to grow out of it when they grow up. It just doesn’t happen that way.


        • My take is that respect and courtesy are two different things. Everyone deserves to be treated with politeness, but respect needs to be earned.

          With the 6 year old, the kid needs to be told that they need not have to agree with their grandparents, but that does not mean that they express their disagreement in a rude way. And that there are certain rules they need to follow about eating, homework, etc that are non negotiable.

          A 6 year old just yelling at the grandparents is very different from a 6 year old who is asking that they not be served food because they are not hungry. And on our part, if we ensure that we actually listen to what the kid, ie, respect the kids opinion (does not mean agreeing to it), they will also have the incentive to be reasonable and explain their point of view.

          Just telling kids “you should respect grandparents” without actually telling them why or without respecting the kids back will only lead to fake “respect” that we all are very familiar with.


        • @Fem and Cluelesschick,
          I agree to the essence of what you say – Respect everyone and that there should be a better way of teaching a kid. The 6 year old example I gave – Do you think her mother started with “They are old! Respect them!”. Of course not. She tried the “They know what is right” route, “They love you” route and even the exasperated bribery “You won’t get any dessert if you keep this up” route. Finally, she created the hard rules – I will partly blame her for not being stricter in the beginning.

          As I said, I believe there is one thing worth respecting – knowledge and I think Elders have more of it (Except the pervert uncles/parents of course.).

          Finally, I agree with PT that respect need not be “earned” – if we go by that rule, we will be raising some very headstrong children who would, at the drop of a disagreement, say “You have to earn my respect”. It is better to have an inherent respect for everyone, young and old, rather than start with zero respect and “try” and build it up based on their actions.

          About treating younger ones with respect – nothing could be truer. I have seen aunties molly-cuddling and cooing toddlers, like they were babies. These kids are so bright and creative and so so thirsty for knowledge! Like one of the commenters said, they should be taken seriously and being talked to like adults.

          I may be wrong, but it has worked for me. 🙂 I don’t want my son growing up and talking back to his grandparents or playing while a class is in session (even if the teacher is bad) or banging the phone down on the call center guys or kicking a beggar.


  3. I go with the premise that everyone are mature enough to be polite, civil, mannered, courteous etc. With respect to respect, I usually go with a default setting “I with respect you until that point in time where I will have to choose between giving you respect or respecting myself.” I found it works for me. Yes, there will be fall outs at times, I take that as a small price to pay compared to having regrets and feeling pathetic later on.


  4. “http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/20/living/give-grandma-hug-child/index.html” You might want to read this IHM, if you havent already that is 🙂

    I found the article so relevant to our culture and society where we insist our children to address every other person they meet as either uncle, aunty , bhaiiya or didi even before they have established a comfortable relationship with them 🙄 Not to mention the insistence on hugging them or kissing them goodbye without even realizing how comfortable our kids may(not) be with such public display of affection and respect.


    • Deeps,

      I read that too and completely agree with it. In fact that’s how we operate at my house. I had even started a post and then ditched it. My reasoning used to be to not make my child feel uncomfortable and safe from molestation and abuse. Also I could not comprehend why some people believe that the only way to show a child love is my touching or hugging or kissing them.

      When my son younger, I would always be proactive and warn anyone before hand by saying “he doesn’t like to be touched” or “Let him make the first move to hug or kiss you”. Now that he is six I tell him that being polite and courteous is a must but he doesn’t have to hug, kiss, touch or let anyone touch him if he does not feel comfortable doing it.

      As for respect, I think in India it means being subservient and submissive to anyone who is older, has more money, power or is in a position to demand respect. I hate the sense of entitlement that some of these folks have. Its almost like they were born to be respected.

      As for me, respect means being polite, courteous, appreciative of people’s time and energy and above all not taking them for granted.


      • I am sitting here in the morning, reading this good stuff about life..NO really! because us Indians need to somehow realize that this is the real good life stuff when we adopt good practices and kick out the old ones which do not serve the purpose or lack the meaning there of…
        So, in my family including my husband whenever he screws up with kids ..he straight goes to hug them or kiss them and THEY TOTALLY DISLIKE THAT..they just physically fight back.. and I know why human beings have to work hard on their manners to show their feelings in words because it takes the effort to understand both your mindset and understanding what would work with the other person…INSTEAD what would be easier would be to express love by touching, hugging or kissing…
        Unfortunately, these people fall right back into their pattern of being unpolite, hurtful in words, etc the very next chance they get if you allow this to happen with your kids…just a BIG word of caution…


  5. True, so true!! And if you say respect has to be earned, you are called arrogant! 😦 I wish I knew you people in real life. I am surrounded by people living in the 80’s or God knows when.

    I work in a Company in which the culture is (supposedly) to call people by first name. But, in reality everyone calls boss/superior Sir/Ma’am. I used to call them by name, but people started calling me arrogant, so I also started calling Sir/Ma’am.

    Life with my dad can also be tough – even if I offer an opinion which is different from his, I am being disrespectful. Once, I suggested an alternative to what he wanted to do and he asked me “What do you mean by saying that. You think I don’t know what to do? Do you think I am a fool?”.

    Things with my dad are usually like that – I have taken a decision. Period. No discussion, no suggestions will be accepted. Even making a suggestion can lead to an argument. In my dad’s eyes, just by making that suggestion I have been disrespectful to him.

    I was irritated because he refused to even listen to me and to even CONSIDER the alternative, forget actually act on it and in the heat of the moment, I said, “You ARE acting like a fool”. I regretted it instantly. But, the damage had been done. So, not only did we end up doing what my dad wanted to do, which turned out to be a HUGE mistake (just as I thought it would be), I ended up creating a rift with my dad, which took a while to heal.

    My Parent’s want to give something to my future sis-in-law (it’s called adabadchu lanchanalu – translated as sis-in-law dowry). I was telling my mother I don’t like it. Why are we giving dowry? We can just give her a Sari, isn’t that enough? She says it is not dowry – exactly. I say it IS dowry. (This lanchanalu means we have to give them cash of 1 lakh)

    My mom’s closing argument – “there are somethings which you don’t understand. Just keep your mouth shut.” This, to a 27 year old who is working in a software firm. So, I have the capability for taking decisions worth hundreds of thousands dollars for my firm, but I don’t have a say in my own marriage?

    Anyway, I finally told her if you give them anything more than a Sari, I will make a hue and cry right then and there in the marriage hall. You know me, I don’t care who is there and what they think. Rest is up to you.

    The day I was taught about the social evil of dowry in school – I was 10 or 11 – I came home and told my mom that I would never give dowry and get married. So, I think I have given her advance warning, what do you think?

    Sorry for taking up so much space – but this topic is close to my heart. This concept of being subservient to elders and doing what they tell you to no matter how nonsensical or stupid it is or even if it goes against your principles just gets my goat!


      • Thanks for the support! 🙂 It will take some effort though. My mom can be very sneaky. She can pretend she has not given anything or even outright lie to my face (and then say No! I never lie!).
        The worst part is both mom and dad say they will never get me married to someone who asks for dowry… and then go do this!


    • Right words..!! In your case, its father. In my case, I cannot suggest or tell my opinion to my husbdand..!! Mere obedience is expected.. 😦 Most of the times I do obey just because I don’t want to create a mess in the home. Once a while if I tell something I am asked to change ‘this character’ of mine rest is all fine with me..!!!


      • @ Ramya, I have been in this kind of ordeal for last 15 years and here is the deal dear! You and I are in a controlling realtionship, YES! I know you figured that by now :)…but he fails to see you as an individual and therefore whenever you express I really mean WHENEVER anything as an ‘individual’ he feels challenged and therefore he snaps at you, gets angry, blames you instead for creating a mess in the house! And here is the proof –that he does not like to see you as another individual rather just AN EXTENSION of HIMSELF- because he asks you- to change ‘this character’ of yours –which is new and different from his thinking and causes discomfort and change of what HE LIKES it to be (which you know how it is).
        So, what can you do foremost- confide into somebody that you can absolutely trust(this is utmost important) for the sake of your life.
        This sounds easier than done becasuse I did not find that anybody in my life including my own parents after 15 years of numerous incidents and brushes..
        So, I started to write secretly of my experiences online (try to find what you can do online for yourself and hide your identity to the best of your ability including having an email address which is not used for anything else but this purpose) This will serve multiple purposes..women/men in this kind of covert relationships firstly find it very difficult to convey the hurt they are feelig exactly in words– this will help to put to the picture out there in words and see how others understand and read YOU and what else you might need to provide or explain. Secondly, I have seen this as a process with myself so it takes away the cloud of confusion that he tries to create for you by hiding the reality of realtionship status from you on a daily basis. Writing down your experiences/incidents/happenings/feelings/past memories,etc will keep your mind grounded well and see the reality well and not get hurt as often(sorry, no hurt is not realistically possible)
        Thirdly, you may be able to study and understand his behavior patterns and most importantly WHAT you can do about it in the future.
        I know this sounds like a lot but you are in a bit of a mess and it is only going to end with your own efforts..I can suggest this..maybe there is another way…
        Lastly, be computer savvy enough to delete the history of the related websites you visit on a daily basis..
        That’s it dear 🙂 sorry if this is too long. Best wishes! Hang in there!


    • Right, we are old enough to get married, earn and manage our own money but when it comes to wedding expenses or dowry, we do not know anything. Haven’t I heard it before??


    • This is coming from a person who knows a bit about this 🙂 I think you are rightly saying that it is a topic close to your heart becasue it is a topic that is affecting your life in a very deep way…
      Sorry for being blunt here, but I am hoping you are getting this message at the right time of your life..you father is a Controlling individual!! You need to fight as hard you can with ‘COMMON SENSE” to maintain your own identity in the circumstance you are in (My father and mother had identical point of views and actions on dowry as your comment and in general AND let me tell you I have lost my own voice it seems in my sasural..including my career, job and respect from own kids becoz I try to practically discipline them and so I am bad(that is another topic))
      I would suggest that you try to open more lines of communication with your mother about this dowry to your SIs-in-law with the objective that you are trying to show her what is the point of your sasural -wala’s to bring forth a tradition like that and what it may lead to in the future for you in terms of your position in the sasural…how standing upto one thing gives you the confidence that you are doing the right thing and continue to do so in the future..it also will help set the tone of things for you in the sasural rather than being a pawn in the sasural -walas’ hands. Also, try a little bit of emotional stuff like- ‘She needs to do this for her daughter who is going away..who is more important YOU or the new incoming family member SIL who is expecting a gift?’ ‘Ask her directly- ‘what is this act doing for YOU? afterall this is for you, right?’
      This should raise a voice within your mother so she does not do it behind your back and that is what our purpose it..
      I am sure the word will travel to your Dad soon and things will take a messy turn BUT believe me that is when you wil have to find real power within yourself and stick to your QUESTIONS(patiently and politely) I just listed above and be polite and respectful to your parents but GIrl! dont budge…and that is the key ..
      If your Dad in anyway says that you’re being disrespectful or the Miss. Know-it-all…don’t talk back …this is just an indication that it is a process he is going with in himself and has to figure out how he can do this for his own daughter..
      I really hope things turn out the way you want and you are able to set the right tone of your sasural-wala’s …it is important..notice how your future husband is working on it with your family members 😉
      He is obidient and respectful when it works for him and does not budge from his basic position when the things are not in his favor…LEARN..


  6. This is a very relevant post. Respect is based on extremely superficial factors such as position, age, caste, seniority, etc., which is fine up to a certain level. What is not right is that this automatically has led to the presumption that those in lower positions, younger, juniors, etc. are not to be respected. Everyone is worthy of respect, and I can respect someone for their achievements and position, but that does not mean I should kick about someone who hasn’t achieved that much in life. Basically, everyone has a right to receive basic human respect and not be trod upon indiscriminately.

    This gives rise to the idea that elders must not be opposed, things must not be discussed with bosses, students should not correct their teachers, and so on which in the end, is beneficial to nobody. I have often heard that elders must be respected and youngsters must be loved. Why can’t we love elders and respect the youth? Makes no sense!


  7. Everyone deserves basic respect irrespective of who one is. But the display of respect and subservience that is expected from the weaker, younger and those belonging to the so-called lower strata is a totally demeaning concept. This behavior should not be encouraged


  8. Customs in regard to respecting people who are assigned by the Society to be of higher position must have begun early in Human civilisation. Even during Hunter Gatherer period it was prevalent. Initially it was only towards elders, later to men in general and then to Tribal chiefs. Such customs are designed to reinforce the hierrachial nature of the society.
    As society becomes more egalitarian as in our present Capitalist Democracy these customs will slowly become irrelevant.


  9. Perfect timing of this post – I was just reading Sania’s open letter, and feel very sorry for the way she has been treated. Paes and his father need some lessons in respecting others, especially when they are asking for a favr!


  10. Completely agree IHM…In our country power lies with male gender and all respect is concentrated over there. A few decades ago, it was the natural way of life- for men to command respect and for women to give it freely and without question. Now as the times are changing, with women becoming more and more independent and questioning every aspect of their life rather than following meekly, this argument is gaining momentum.
    For men, it is very difficult to understand this need of women to feel respected and fight for their self respect as they are accustomed to getting it for free themselves. Unless you have to fight for something in your life, you don’t see its importance. That is why, it is so difficult for men to understand why women fight over these issues. Having brought up in a typical man-dominated family, where my father’s word was the end of any discussion, I guess the injustice of this all was felt by me for a long time. That is why, after marrying a guy whom I thought had more liberal views, I find it difficult to take everything at face value. When that same person expects me to do many things “to show that I respect my inlaws” even if I dnt feel it is right, for eg asking their permission to go to my parents place, I feel so damn frustrated. What should your ans be when a person asks you ” When you did not get respect and individuality in your parents home, why do you expect it in your inlaws home”… Is it a girls destiny to feel injustice all her life..first at her parents home and then at her in laws home. Even young kids in a a family are not respected and their feelings not thought to be important as it is thought that they are young and their respect/ feelings is not that important and they will forget easily, but I feel young kids feel more when they are disrespected and such feelings are sown in their minds permanently.

    I am yet to meet a guy in real life who really understands this injustice and has the same views. It is going to take a long long time for change to take place.


    • Remembering something Aamir Khan said in SJ 2nd episode…We all are taught from start respect your elders.Do not disrespect them…Even if the same elders are abusing you?? Respect comes from heart, when we idealize someone, we respect that person irrespective if he or she is young or old.. Why dont we teach our children to respect everyone young old, man women, children..or animals.


    • What should your ans be when a person asks you ” When you did not get respect and individuality in your parents home, why do you expect it in your inlaws home”

      The answer could be: “Being born into a misogynistic family wasn’t my decision, so you cannot hold me accountable for that. But marrying you WAS a conscious decision I made and so you should do justice to THAT by not forcing me to conform to your narrow ideals!” .


  11. We solely expect respect based on age, gender and position. ‘Respect’ in our case is not in the true sense of the word. It is more of displaying certaining behaviour when you are around such ‘people who have to be respected’. You have listed out all those behavioural traits – from dressing in a certain way, speaking in a certain way to sitting in a certain way.

    I have long forfeited ‘gaining’ respect. No, I don’t wear my contrarian views on my sleeve. I don’t argue with ‘elders’ if they have moronic views on just about anything, I don’t dress like Kim Kardashian. Yet, right from the time I could think, I observed that I am one of the chosen few who will not get respect the way some others were automatically accorded the same. Perhaps ‘respect for a younger person’ is a wrong phrase again; let us put it as acknowledgement. I wondered why my presence creased brows so quickly. The answer hit me – the superficiality of it all saddened me. I was not ‘aesthetically pleasing’ to the eye – reed thin and dusky coupled with short hair, I listened to the ‘wrong’ kind of music, did not wear jewellery and did not wear bindis. On top of that my parents were not rich.

    Today as I hang on to my thirties, you’d think my ‘age’ should gain me some acknowledgement. Nope. The ‘respect’ factor is dialled down a couple of notches because now I don’t fulfill other parameters. Kids or a hotshot career. It is all so subtle the way women like me are ‘sidelined’ in conversations. ‘Oh she is at home, what will she know about the eurozone crisis?’

    The respect I gained at work, or the respect I get for my writing is the kind of true respect I cherish, and hold it close to my heart. It is based only on my hardwork, my intellect and my feeble talent. The other societal ‘respect’- is so blatantly superficial, is so insultingly materialistic – that I’m glad I’ve never been at the receiving end of such ‘acknowledgement’.

    Yes, in India – ‘respect’ is dispensed based on your appearance (fair, dusky, downright dark), clothes you wear, the extent to which you wear your religion on your sleeve and display ‘devotion’, the size and location of your house, number of cars and so on and so forth. When you don’t want to look inside a person, and learn to value his/her qualities – how can you expect any larger changes in the collective society?

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  12. Love this post so very much. Respect, regardless of age, gender, ‘position in society’ (whatever that is), is earned. This may sound irreverent to many people but I do not feel somebody automatically ‘deserves’ or merits respect simply because of their age. ‘Respect your elders’ has been done to death – it does not matter if a person is 7 years old or 70 – if they behave and treat others in a manner that deserves respect they will get it. If not, they won’t.

    Half of these ‘dutiful bahus’ they show on tv, too talk to their husbands in a most ‘respectful’ manner – jee, aap and whatnot.
    The marriage becomes less of a relationship between two equals and more of a relationship between a deity and a devotee (and that is somehow seen as an ideal, which is really pathetic).


    • yes! and similarly respect should be given regardless of age, gender and relationship. My friend’s 8 year old girl is a book worm, has a wonderful talent when it comes to playing the piano and impeccable manners. When I speak to her, I don’t see an 8-year old – its like two buddies discussing books or music. But put her in front of a ‘regular’ elder, she’ll probably be bullied around or spoken to like some imbecile.


  13. You’re so correct about ‘respecting’ people in power. There is no concept of healthy debate. Its even blatantly visible in our corporate culture. You cannot disagree with your seniors because its disrespectful to their experience. Older, more senior male bosses are not open to any debate about the ‘way things should be done’. If I had a penny for every time i was told ‘ what do you know, you’re so young.’ I’ve been denied job offers because I look too young to deal with senior people as ‘how will they respect you as a consultant if you look so young’. I’ve got a friend who checks her clients approximate age before a meeting and wears a sari accordingly so her views can at least get a fair hearing as coming from ‘someone respected’. i mean, I may not have your experience but i’ve still got a thinking brain in my head – shouldn’t I get respect for that?


    • Oh, I know what you mean. “Old” and “male” — that’s a dangerous combination in corporate India. Female professionals have to walk a tightrope constantly. We have to be confident yet appropriately respectful and feminine.

      I have a friend who treats superiors with courtesy but doesn’t bow and scrape — she can never understand why some male bosses seem determined to put her in her place.

      We women spend a major portion of our lives massaging the mighty male egos and tiptoeing around it.


  14. I am always taken as a rebel; when i am accused of something which i hadn’t done & express my points in regard, i am a rebel. I a not supposed to put my opinion about something which elders are supposed to deal or say they don’t want any dissent at their opinion 😉 If i am protecting myself against others wishes, i am a rebel; i am cursed to get future in-laws who may teach me a lesson for being so straight forward.
    As an adage, ” straight trees are meant to cut first”. 😦


  15. Perfect IHM!! Indian culture is all about displaying respect and not about being respectful to others. Even in our national pledge, we say, ‘I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.’ So, respect is only to be given to certain folks. Expecting subservience from someone is actually the exact opposite of treating someone with respect. As Gloroia Steinem had said, ‘we need to break the hierarchy and form a circle’.

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  16. In india , respect is related to power , money and then age. we are trained and brainwashed fro young. unfortunately it takes a lot to break that training.

    As an e.g when i got married and went to my husband’s home, he has a cook / house care taker who called him thambi ( younger brother) he called her as indira akka ( elder sister) however as soon as she met me she called me ‘ chinna amma’ – younger mom??? i was quite horrified and told her that won’t do since i’m younger to her in age 🙂 so she called me ‘thangachi’ – younger sister to which my husband mercilessly teased her as to how he could be her younger brother and i coul dbe her younger sister 🙂 poor thing she refused to say my name and to this day calls me ‘younger sis’ i of course call her akka like my husband does and we’ve settled into happy harmony , so when my kids came agong the dilema started for her, she called them various names and titles and then slowly settled to calling them by their names especially whenthey started adressing her as ‘mami’ – aunt . it took a long time for me to break the ‘ i’m a cook so you are better’ idea in her head.. she was infact more experienced in child care and cooking and housekeeping . but it was conditioned in her …
    now we have a great time, she still calls me ‘little sis’ and i call her akka but she feels free to call my kids ‘devils’ and incessently lecture them .

    It takes a while but social conditioning can be broken and we can learn to treat people fairly and give respect where it is due. technically i’m disrespectful since i didn’t listen to my parents in regards to my wedding. even though they could not have found me a better mate, yet .. i have to listen to them, how can just being older give them the right to choose my mate or even give them the right to veto my choice? I’m the one who is getting married shouldn’t only my opinion matter ? why is it considered disrespect if you choose someone your parents don’t approve for whatever silly reason? now if he were a murderer or theif and i didn’t know and my parents bought it to light i can accept that argument but just because he was no ttheir choice?? does that behavior elicit respect ? i don’t know answers to these questions, i can only change what is in my control the rest i give up and say they are old , they will pass on soon and their outdated ideas will hopefully go with them.


  17. Guess I’m a bit late here, but my 2c:

    I’m not very comfortable with the idea that people have to earn my respect. I’m sure there are arguments for that, but I personally just try to respect everyone unless they give me a good reason not to. Obviously, I’m human, so it doesn’t always work that way, but it is something I strive towards. Pretty much everyone deserves basic respect, IMO, and if they do something that makes me respect them even more as professionals or friends or whatever, so much the better.

    India doesn’t have a food deficit anymore – at least on paper. What India does have is a HUGE respect deficit. That’s right, a respect deficit. People are literally starved of basic respect and dignity in this country their entire lives, even as others are smothered with ridiculous amounts of fake, self-serving ‘respect’ for being rich or powerful or whatever. I try to do my part to correct that, and I have to say that it’s paid me dividends in a lot of ways. I’m a happier person for it.


  18. I am 32 and I was the first one in my family and my husband’s family to call one’s husband by the name. We were friends for more than half a decade and we were on “oy” “Abbe” “ Kya re” or “va da” “poda” terms and things could not be changed overnight and nobody objected either except two people who were from extreme ends of the spectrum. My naani told me “all this looks good on TV and movies. You can’t call him by name” and she was shocked and is still shocked when I call him “Da” which according to her is one step below calling by name.
    The other comment came from my husband’s friend from college who is a very good friend of mine too. He calls me a day before marriage and gave me two pearls of advice “you should stop calling him by his name now that you are getting married and don’t do too much of “uchal-kood” at the wedding and don’t wave at me from the mandap etc. We are friends – but on the marriage day you need to be behave like a bahu :)” he already knew me well. Needless to say I followed neither advice !!!

    Another thing that irks me is in Kerala somewhere around the 1970’s a trend of calling husband by “chetta” or “etta” which means “Bhaiyya” or “brother” started and still continues… so you can’t call your husband by name but you can call him brother which is very weird when you think about the dynamics of both the relationships !!!

    I have to add, now my younger cousin who got married couple of years back calls her husband by his name and when someone tells her not to do that – she says “didi does that.. so will I” 🙂 needless to say many feel I haven’t set a right example ..and this is just one of the many instances where I am not being a good role model.

    It is funny coz – I am the eldest on my mom’s side of family; I was good in studies and sports plus had a mind of my own – like didn’t do anything just because I was a girl. My whole summer vacation my uncles and aunts and naani used to say – what will she do in sasuraal…her husband will leave her in one month etc etc” and I was used as a role model by everyone to my younger cousins in matters of getting good grades. And if for anything else they said like “ didi doesn’t sweep or didi doesn’t help in kitchen and you want me to become like didi”… Aunts used to say “Learn only the getting good grades from Didi” 🙂 selective ideals !!!


  19. Awesome post, IHM. I haven’t been around lately to read the posts and comment but I am glad I read this one!!
    The very teaching given to children at young age “respect your elders” is wrong! It should instead be “respect everyone and everything by default unless they treat you with disrespect”. That way we will be teaching kids to respect all humans, animals and their material things as well. Also, emphasis should be more on ‘actual respecting’ and not just ‘showing respect’. If one respects another person, it will be visible in numerous ways (like helping that person in time of need, being there for that person, supporting that person and not judging that person). We talk of respect as a very superficial thing when we say we need to show respect towards elders by doing certain things. Something like If and only if you do certain things it will prove that you respect that person!! Which is illogical and anti-definition-of-respect.


  20. IHM – I was enraged when I read this news – http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/article3577663.ece?homepage=true

    A student who was talking in class was made to stand outside the classroom, with a cellophane tape sealed across her mouth to ‘teach her a lesson’. She was made to stand for hours, without a chance to consume food or water. Elsewhere, this would have straight away constituted for child abuse and cruelty. I dont think even hardened criminals are treated this way in many countries lest the human rights people catch the authorities by the throat. But apparently many in India believe ‘this is nothing’ (check out the comments) – and yes, as usual, the lordly nostalgia ‘oh in our time it was tougher’; and the reference to ‘indian values’ of considering teachers as ‘second parents’. Children in India are still not considered as individuals; and the fact that children too have self esteem and feel humiliation acutely never gets into people’s heads. I am glad this girl’s parents lodged an FIR against the school – but I feel so sorry for the child. I don’t think she can continue in that school – she’ll probably have to move to a different school, and will be ‘marked’.

    here is one of the outrageous comments – #When I was in school, nearly 15 years or so back, my teachers used to chide, pinch and sometimes cane. I dont think that is any bit a wrong. We as a society fail to acknowledge that teachers are like second parents and a student spends larger part of life in school and they need to learn discipline from there. Many households have both parents working these days, they seldom have time to discipline their wards. Personally if not for my teachers I would have failed in my Xth Grade and not grown up so much to obtain PhD from US University.

    So please let teachers teach subjects, discipline, morality – if they fail to do that then make that an issue. Here the student should not have talked in the class. Period.#

    There you go – has a PhD – but is still uneducated in the real sense.


  21. Your posts are very thought provoking, I must say! Forced respect isn’t respect at all. Come to think of it, calling someone “ji” or sir or madam, or touching feet, or keeping your head covered are all artificial indicators of so-called respect. These don’t mean that you actually DO respect the person in question.

    What matters is how you feel within… respect comes from within, and can only be EARNED when the person asking for it behaves in a consistently respect-worthy manner…. regardless of age or gender or status.

    So next time someone tells you that you should “learn” respect, tell them that they should first “earn” it! 🙂


  22. Nice post!!

    I think most of us are confused what respect means. Look up the meaning of respect(n) –
    A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

    If we understand what it really means, then we will know that respect based on age, status, position in society is out of question. If we understand its meaning, then we will know that we cannot force someone to respect someone else. Respect cannot be taught. We can teach our children to be polite but not force them to respect anyone. I think most people are confused about what respect really means.

    We see obedience as a sign of respect. I do not obey my parents by that I mean I do not do everything that they ask me to do. I take my own decisions and take the responsibility that comes with that. And frankly, my parents do not take my so called “disobedience” as a sign of disrespect. But my husband has been raised to believe that obedience is “respect”. He finds it so hard to understand how I do not “respect” my parents.

    We see subservience as a sign of respect. I have been in situations where I have been labelled disrespectful of elders because of my strong opinions. My in-laws think I don’t have “respect” for elders because I express my opinions (which are contrary to theirs) freely.

    We see politeness as a sign of respect. As a kid, I was taught that we should not use “tu/tum” for elders, it is a sign of “disrespect”. I know better now. Though I speak to all of them politely, I know I do not respect them all.

    Respect is a very profound word and giving respect a very personal action. Until our society gets that, respect will continue to remain a very superficial word and we will continue to search for respect in politeness, subservience, obedience, etc.


    • I agree with this completely Respect is very different than Politeness or civility. What we display is merely Etiquette/Protocol, a following Social Mores, Not Respect.


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  35. everything you said is so true, my so called close friendship ended because she had no respect for my choice of divorcing my ex, she kept going on about respect elders, according to her she deserves respect because she is two years older than me, load of nonsense. As an Arab I do believe in respect but I don’t believe that just because someone is older they should dictate your life choices.Its plain suffocating this ideology and it can send someone to a mental breakdown.


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