‘This ‘I, Me, Myself’ culture that most of you on this forum are propagating itself is hypocrisy.’

Sharing a comment from: When married Indian women strive to look unmarried.

This comments gives an idea of what family elders and neighbours [etc] say to women who do not want to wear symbols of suhaag.  My response in block-quotes.

So am an Indian male, venturing into a women’s forum – Let me ask you a counter question – why have any customs at all. Why have marriage, or namakaranam or gruhapravesham or anything at all. Why celebrate birthdays?

IHM: Whether the reason is superstition or celebration, or ‘respect for family elders’ – one should be able to do what one truly believes in and say no to what doesn’t make sense to them – without it being seen as ‘disrespect’ towards those who wish to see it done (maybe as a sign of obedience to their wishes)

And, it’s good to know what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Why cant two people just walk in and live together when they want and walk out when they want. Why even name it marriage and divorce ? Its just about the two people right ?

IHM: A lot of people today feel safe enough to live together (or walk out) with or without getting married, because now we have become civilised enough to have made it illegal for people to be raped or murdered if they are not doing what we would like to see them do.

Why have a birth and death ceremony. Why not just dump the dead body somewhere convinient and forget about it ? This I me myself culture that most of you on the forum are propagating itself is hypocrisy. On one hand you want to live in a pleasant and vibrant society and on the other hand you don’t want to give back to it.

IHM: The ‘I, me, myself culture’ does not justify asking other people to give up their aspirations and happiness to earn our ‘respect’.  It sees the happiness and rights of every individual as equally important.

It acknowledges that we have to take responsibility for our own actions, inaction, happiness and crimes etc. It also understands that it’s unrealistic to expect the world to change to make us happy.

I think it is an honest culture  – an improvement upon the culture where those in power brainwashed or forced the weakest to sacrifice (to save the culture that thrives on their sacrifice).

Marriage is itself NOT just about two people. It is about their parents, about their future children, about their community.

IHM: Those who claim that marriage is not about just the man and the woman are not really there to solve any real problems, but patriarchal wisdom (an oxymoron?) gives them the authority to remind an abuse victim that ‘a bride goes to her husband’s home in doli must come out on an arthi’.

Link 1. An email from a daughter whose mother endured everything because she did not want to ruin her daughters’ lives. 

Link 2. An email from a Divorcee’s Daughter.

Just like as citizens are expected to uphold certain norms and work for the betterment of the wider society, a marriage is an arrangement wherein you say that you will uphold certain order and tradition for the general wellbeing of society.

IHM:Who is included in the ‘wider societies’? Widows who are considered inauspicious, and are not allowed to remarry or wear coloured clothes? Girl children? Women who are kept in dependence so that they can’t refuse, and then married off to serve the parents of their providers and protectors? Parents of Indian daughters in law?

The traditional symbols of marriage are part of that. Obviously it will not protect you against rape. But traditionally flirting / courtship (within limits) are both a fun and healthy way to get to know people and get married. Having those symbols means sending a clear signal you are not available. It is a sign of commitment and it deserves every bit of respect.

If signalling unavailability is the reason then,

1. Why don’t men display these symbols?

2. Why are widows made to give up these symbols? (even if they are not interested in remarrying or flirting)

I think it is dishonest to justify something that is not just.

There has always been an element of exaggeration and fear put in the rituals and traditions of Hindu/Indian culture. They helped in sustaining the culture. But now that you want to question everything (except the things you do), yes, it may not guarantee long life for the husband, but it will give him some peace of mind which might extend his life 🙂

IHM: Only lack of logical, honest reasoning would fear questioning. Silencing of voices and using fear to ‘sustain the culture’ are  convenient alternatives for those who benefit from the said ‘culture’.

Nobody should be asked to sustain a culture by giving up their happiness, freedom and choices.

Also, what about the men’s partners’ peace of mind and long lives?

Where does this lead too, its a gradual but sure decline of the moral fabric of society.

IHM: Moral fabric is not declining. We are finally understanding that a moral code that does not respect basic human rights is called ‘moral policing’. In the past a ‘morally upright’ person could guiltlessly burn a widow or kill a girl child. Today we are able to see that there is nothing ‘moral’ about lack of respect for human lives and happiness. So women refusing to declare their  matrimonial status by displaying a red dot on their foreheads is an indication that they feel safe in refusing to do something that makes no sense to them. That’s the beginning of a culture that does not think using force to enforce tradition is ‘moral’.

The lesser such bindings, the lower the threshold to opt out, the more misadjusted the children … its just a question of time … less community life, more I me myself, more psychological problems … more violence … it goes on ….

IHM: Children raised by adults who take charge of their own lives and happiness are less likely to see violence and hopelessness as a normal part of life

In general I found that children who grow up with their grandparents are better adjusted in life than children who grew up with parents to children who grew up with single parents.

IHM: Happy and well adjusted adults raise happy and well adjusted children.  Single mothers, maternal grandparents or two male parents – all can and do raise happy, well adjusted kids.

Everything comes at a cost, unfortunately

IHM: And the cost is paid by those who can be bullied into paying it – the lowest in the patriarchal social hierarchy?

Link: An email: “The relatives seemed to be offering ‘condolences’ for me to my mother, having the misfortune of having an ‘unmarried’ daughter…”

What about men you say ? The traditional Hindu woman has been the backbone of India. Take time to look at her … she puts up with a lot of trouble, but she is pleasant, smiling and cheerful. 

IHM: A backbone that is such a burden that a majority fasts, prays, aborts, curses, kills, visits pilgrimages for male children?

And a backbone who is kept in dependence so that freedom does not go to her head? And so she does not start seeing herself as a real person, and is grateful to be be a rib or a backbone in a system that doesn’t want her to have any rights lest she refuses to support it?

Thats because she follows a lot of the customs and rituals. Take that away and we will be heading either towards a middle-east kind of society (women don’t have this choice) or a breakdown like the west (without the supporting systems in place, it will be a total mess). The customs and rituals are not without value ..

IHM: Following patriarchal customs is empowering for women?

Without customs and rituals we would be ‘a Middle east kind of society’? Meaning our customs encourage women to travel and drive independently, and discourage forced, underage marriages?

Breakdown like the west? So what is not ‘break down’? Being forced to Get married and Stay married and bear male children? Being constantly stared at, judged, sexually harassed and then blamed for ‘provoking’ the helpless Indian ‘eve teaser’? Or being killed for saying No [link] and also for saying Yes?

Link: Teenage pregnancy: If she was born somewhere else.

Agree that the Indian male has been excessively pampered and somewhere that has got into his head. But the solution to that is not to make the Indian woman like him, but rather him more like her.

IHM: Symbols of suhaag for men? Men relocating to wife’s parents’ home and being asked to eat after everybody else has eaten? Men giving up their personal beliefs, inheritance, earnings, ancestral names, home towns, education, friends, food choices and happiness? Men being forced to wear silk dhoti and shawls while cooking to prove they are being respectful to their spouse’s extended family and culture?

But, how does anybody, men or women, being made to give up their happiness, freedom, rights and identity  make anybody happy?  Who are these people who are made happy by controlling other people’s lives? Can happiness be found and lost through controlling personal choices of other people? What kind of happiness is that?

They need to start getting into more responsible to family and society, uphold traditional customs and rituals wherever appropriate, provide the neccessary binding force for the family and yes, listen and understand his wife and balance conflicting demands.

IHM: Being responsible means upholding patriarchal customs?

And what if their culture is ‘Live and Let Live’ or human rights, freedom and opportunities to find happiness for all?

All this is symbolism, you say. All of life is symbolism, take that away (why have flag hoisting, for eg:) and what is left of life ?

IHM: Flag hoisting does not make nations – paying taxes, saving water, following traffic rules, not taking our freedom for granted (etc) does.

Also, the symbols we choose to respect matter. Symbols that deny colours to widows can’t claim to respect women.

When you are purely symbolic, but dont follow it in spirit, you are a hypocrite but the symbolism is a constant reminder and put in the colour to life to make it more meaningful.

IHM: Some symbols wipe out colours from people’s lives.

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

Take away the symbolism and it gets even worse. Yes, not having a sindoor and mangalsutra is a personal choice and one needs to respect that, but one needs to respect a women wearing it a lot more (at least I do)

IHM: Why do you think those who wear a mangalsutra deserve more respect? Does that mean no respect for widows or single women?

And what if they had no choice in wearing the mangalsutra, do they still get ‘a lot more’ respect?

But more importantly – How do they benefit from this respect? What if they would rather have their rights and then other people’s ‘respect’?

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Oprah, Indian Family Values and Widows of Vrindavan.

As expected the Indian media is quoting Oprah (while being interviewed by Barkha Dutt in Jaipur Lit Fest)

“Another thing that struck her as wonderful was the Indian sense of family and tradition. ‘I remember asking Abhishek and Aishwarya [Bachchan] on my show, I asked them — How do you still live with your parents, what’s that all about? And Abhishek replied, ‘How do you not — what’s that all about?’ It’s a glorious thing that in this country, families take care of each other.’ [link]

It’s all too complex for a foreigner to ‘get it’. Oprah didn’t (seem to) understand that the wonderful Indian family and tradition allows and expects only Indian sons (and their spouse) to live with their parents; and as a result daughters either don’t live, or if they do, atleast not for long with their parents. Daughters remain unwanted by their parents because they are going to care for somebody’s parents and not their own. And despite all this, ‘100 per cent of the elderly surveyed stated that their daughters-in-law abused them the most’. [Link] It seems Indian daughters are made to give up their self reliance, freedom, aspirations, happiness, even lives for a system that does not even work.

Oprah also visited the widows of Vrindavan and was appalled that our wonderful Indian sense of family and tradition did not stop us from disrespecting family members if they became  dependent on us. (These were not her words, she was too polite to judge a culture she didn’t quite understand).

She noticed that we seemed to have ‘no respect for nursing homes’ and prefer to care for our elderly ourselves. I doubt if Oprah sensed that our family values didn’t include the common sense in ensuring that widows had empowerment through financial security.

She also seemed to think excluding widows from festivities could be compared to their being treated as being less-equal in the West. Educated, middle class widows staying voluntarily away from religious rituals and auspicious occasions because they don’t want to give someone a chance to humiliate them by asking them to stay away would be difficult to understand for someone who doesn’t really know that the biggest blessing an Indian woman can be given is that she dies before her husband – i.e. dies a sumanagali. No widow, no Widow-ashram. That’s how India solves problems.

Related posts:

100 per cent of the elderly surveyed stated that their daughters-in-law abused them the most.

Dheeyaan dee maa rani, bhudhaapey bharey paani (A mother of daughters lives like a queen while the girls are young, but has to fill water in her old age, when the daughters are married)

If I made Baghban.

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

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On the day of my dad’s funeral, somebody pointed out that it was cold and my mother should have a shawl. I got up to get one. A well meaning relative followed me. I picked a maroon shawl. The well meaning relative muttered, “Red won’t be appropriate, take the beige one.” I assured her maroon would be just fine, knowing I was older than her and my mom was in no state to object.

Later mum mentioned how another acquaintance had pointed out one Mrs S, who was so distraught after her husband died that even a year afterwards; she hardly ate unless someone persuaded her to eat. Perhaps she needed a maid for a while. Join Yoga classes. Get out and meet people, anything to lift her spirits, and help her get on with life. Instead she was used as a subtle example of good widowhood.

A friend who is originally from Nainital lost her dad. She was expected to request some male cousins to perform the funeral rites. She was also expected to watch her relatives take away coloured saris and shawls from her mother’s gorgeous collection. She did neither. Some jaws dropped. She performed all rites and her mother still wears sindoor, and is still complimented for her lovely taste in saris.

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When I visited my mum later, she explained, “If I don’t use lipstick, my lips feel dry…” All her life she drank tea or water before applying lipstick, because (unlike her daughters) she hates leaving lipstick marks on teacups. What made her think she needed to justify her use of lipstick now? I reminded her how as a 68 year old grandmother; she could be a role model for the younger women she interacted with. How proud I was when I told well-meaning relatives, “My 68 year old mother wears sleeveless/lipstick/pretty colours/diamonds… ” etc.  I didn’t even want to mention how dad never cared for such customs.

Old age can be empowering in our culture. Suddenly the same old opinions become respectable.

I love putting sindoor (vermilion) on the forehead and filling the hair parting with it. We even have jokes about how one can intentionally let some of this gorgeous red powder sprinkle on the nose because that indicates a loving husband. But all this is only for parties and occasions. In daily life I don’t even wear a bindi or a nose pin.  Most of my friends don’t either, though some wear mangalsutra inside their shirts. (Inside because they realise that generally these symbols don’t go well with western clothes)

Sometimes a rare well meaning acquaintance would point out ‘bare arms‘ (i.e. no bangles).

Another one once said one should either always wear sindoor or never.

Why?

Because it wasn’t a fashion or a style statement.

No? Then what was it?

Why do women wear sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, bichia, tali etc? To show they are married. Why do they need to ‘show’ or announce they are married?  (Please don’t bring love into it, because evn the most unhappily married women wear these). And then why are they expected to take these symbols off when their spouse dies? Do they stop being married?

Manusmriti has answers?  But of course! [will link or write another post later]

Bollywood has answers too!

Those who follow this traditionally should know what the symbols imply. For those who wear sindoor and mangalsutra like they wear lipstick and a pretty neckpiece these become what they should remain – just some pretty ethnic adornments.