Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Single Female in India

This whole thought process happened when I was coming back from Har Ki Pauri on 5th June.  I was sitting in front with the driver of the Vikram, and he could not help but ask, “Are you alone?” and I said, “No. My family is at Shantikunj.”  He proceeded to ask, “Do you have any kids?” What is his problem?? I said, “No.” And then he proceeded to advise me, “One should have kids in life, they are your life support when you grow old.  I have four boys and you should also have kids.”  So….just because “he” thinks his sons will support him in future, which I seriously doubt, he thinks I should have kids – without knowing anything about me!!

All of this conversation started churning my brain cells and I had to write my thoughts down.  And since that incident I was a little more observant of how people act around me.  For most part it was okay, but there were some that were not so okay. 

Why do Indians have a hard time with single Indian female? Why does everyone ask – “Who is with you? Where is your husband? Where is your family?” Why is it compulsory for an Indian woman to have a husband and kids?  I am person on my own, or am I not?  Do they ask the same question from a single man?  I am quite sure that even widows have a hard time living in India, but at least at one point they had a husband…but these caretakers of the society will still shake their heads if she does not have any children.  (These same people will not help a woman who is being abused by her husband or if her husband has left her for another woman).

But a single, never married (or divorced) woman, is not acceptable in the Indian society.  We can accept single devis: Saraswati, Gayatri etc but not a single female.  Why? Why is it so critical for a woman to be with someone? I understand that it is good to be married and have a family, but just because one does live with family does not make them a sociopath. 

So here are my two cents of what I think about a woman being married for old age and having kids. (And just because I am not married does not mean I am against marriage or kids.  I believe everything happens on its own time….)

I have seen many women who have been widowed in their 50s or 60s – not really an old age these days.  Men usually have a shorter life span than women, so women are generally left alone by the time they are getting old.  And it is not acceptable in our culture for a woman to marry a younger man so in general, women will more likely be widowed.  Most people say, oh you don’t feel the loneliness now, but you will feel it when you are older.  Well okay, but the husband has died by then.  So no matter whether you are married or not, most women are still left alone when they really need someone’s assistance.  Men don’t stick around to give company to their wives in old age. 

And it is not acceptable in our culture for widows of any age to get married again, forget about going out with other men or women for company sake.  The only acceptable social outing for a widow is temple or satsang!

Now for the children:  I have yet to see parents living harmoniously with their children.  Everyone is independent and wants their freedom – so even though couples have well earning children, they would rather live alone.  In fact these days there may be more American parents living with their children than Indian parents.  And if the Indian parents are living with children they are miserable.

So why push so hard for marriage and kids?  Why not promote self sufficiency in a person?

People living alone learn to manage things by themselves.  They become better in dealing with various kinds of people, taking care of their own finances, their career, homes and day to day chores.  How many wives can do all these things? Do they even have the freedom to take care of all these things? Granted they may not need to all those things as they have a husband who may do some of the work, but it is a good idea to be self reliant (remember, guys die sooner than the gals). 

And what about the widowed mother living with her children? Does she, after living a long life of only giving, have the luxury of doing what she wants to do in her old age? Can she spend some money on whatever she wants to?  Does someone take care of her like she took care of her family? I am afraid that the answer may be no to these questions.  So what was the point of her life then – just to give birth and live the cycle of life?

I noticed young women and girls these days are smart and talented, yet they are still expected to stay submissive and accept the decisions made by their fathers and husbands.  It is very contradictory.  On one hand you are giving them education to stand on their own feet yet on the other hand you are telling them they are not capable of making their own decisions.  Girls should be allowed to participate in family decisions with freedom and confidence, just like boys do. That is how they will learn to make good decisions in future.

In many cases I don’t see even women supporting each other in life.  They are trying to pull each other down – mother to daughter in law, daughter in law to sister in law – all these complex relations in our society!  Sometimes even total strangers will say for a woman who is going through trouble – oh she must have brought it upon herself, rather than helping out.

All of this is quite frustrating to watch. And the worst part is that there has not been much progress for women in India.  Granted we have women in some leadership roles, but how many are really good role models?

My vision for girls  is that of self reliance, whether they are single, married, divorced, widowed - whatever.  I think with a little effort from both men and women it is possible to have IT all (whatever that “IT” is for anyone). 

I would love it if girls were empowered in any and all of the below.
  • Be educated, so in time of need they can become financially independent.
  • Take their own decisions for something as simple as what they want to eat.
  • Give all relationships their due respect.
  • Live a balanced family life.  This can happen only when they are taught how to do everything and also to multi-task.
  • Be healthy and keep their families healthy.
  • Be financially capable.
  • Believe in "self" and stand up for themselves.
  • Stand up against injustice and old fashioned traditions.
  • Support other women and speak up for women who cannot speak for themselves.
Just because someone takes their own decision does not make them disrespectful or aggressive. Neither a man nor woman is above the law of humanity.  Taking away the freedom of another human being is not humanity.

Men should not fear an independent woman but welcome her, she can take so much burden off from him and then they both can have a successful partnership in life.  But I think it is all about control and power struggle for everyone!  The ego comes in the way – for both men and women.

Strange thing is that I encountered these same questions (about me having a family) from everyone throughout my two month stay in India. Most married women were very happy to know I was single and well….I don’t know what the men thought J …or maybe I do but just don’t want to write too much about it.


ritu gupta said...

It is thought provoking. You have some valid points.
Each situation has its pros and cons. Whether a person is single or married, each comes with its set of challenges.
There is no adversity or blessing , what is more important is how a situation is handled.
You are lucky in the sense that you are living here and still be physicaly safe even when you are alone.
For the common man in India, first there is a need for survival and security and those are best achieved in a family setting. So in that sense there is still a lot of focus on that.

Also as you mentioned, self reliance and discipline are internal traits which equip a person to handle any situation and the social norms and customs are external settings which might force people to be more disciplined and create more order in society. So both have their place and value.

Also each person has his nature and learning style which might make them better suited for a certain life situation. You could thrive being alone, another could go crazy being by themselves.
Keep writing.

Sapna said...

Thank you Bhabhi...I think any human being should be able to feel physically safe wherever they live. It is sad that women are not safe anywhere...even here sometimes.

Utopia is not achievalble - I will settle for "live and let live" :-).

umesh rashmi said...

we agree with you and it should be individual decision than society and because society never support. once you have taught the children how to take decision it should be their life not any more of parents or society. every body has a color glass and wish to see the world through these.

Hari said...

Nice thoughts Sapna. Indians typically ask because it is unusual for them to see a single female and they are curious to know. Good spouse should share and care for the other. Children and grand children bring joy although it is difficult to raise now a days without some grief but in the end it is fulfilling specially in the old age. Sharing experiences, raising family, loving and supporting each other creates bonding, joy, and fulfillment. There is a saying that "blood is thicker than water".