Monday, September 10, 2012

Double Jeopardy

"This isn't dowry, these are just customary gifts, a part of the wedding routine of our culture."

I hear of this denial in most of the affluent urban families, when I confront them on the gift giving/taking. Mind you, it isn't "exchange" of gifts, because that's a pleasantry. This is a one side transfer of goods and cash, which the sophisticated urban population prefers to call "custom" or "culture". I being a part of their culture, feel extremely disgusted and offended when this is shabby excuse is put forward. This is NOT my culture.

In my culture, the girl was not a burden, as what was given to HER during her wedding was her share of inheritance. It belonged to her, strictly her property to keep her financially secure and independent. We all know how it gave birth to gobbling of her share by her in-laws, and further, demanding of cash, goods and services from the bride's family-dowry. Then, if that wasn't enough, the bride's new clothes were eyes upon by the females of her new household, and the overpowered bride had little left to her. Hence, began the tradition of giving new clothes to the groom's family, so that at least the bride and her closet/suitcase is left to her.

I call dowry as any one sided transaction, especially demanded.

These days, it is considered very normal for the groom's family to demand x number of sarees/y number of suit-pieces, and the list goes on. It is also demanded that they be of a certain standard, extracting a certain expenditure. And all this is, obviously, one sided. Whoever disagrees that this is dowry is free to comment with reasons, but I call these not customs, but dowry. This is nothing but exploitation the bride's family by the groom's family and the society because the former gave birth to a daughter and the latter to a son a couple of decades back.

This prolonged dowry doesn't end with the wedding, as commonly perceived. It is 'customary' for the parent's of the daughter to keep loading the boy's side with gifts on every festival or irrelevant occasion, with the boy's side gladly accepting it with either "arey, iski kya zarurat this" (What was the need for all this") or "bas? yeh to theek hai, par humare standards...chalo koi nahi, hum bade dilwale hain, eh bhi rakh lenge" (That's it? alright, but we were accepting better stuff, though we'll keep this, since we are large hearted people").

Its funny in a twisted sort of a way how its "customary" for the bride's side to dress up not only their daughter, but the entire clan of the groom. And this is the very least. There is a lot more stuff demanded, which doesn't count in dowry. One wedding had the groom's father demand the bride's father to pay for the band-baaja of the groom's side. Meager 30k he said. By the way, all this is over and above what the bride's family pays for the groom's clan's stay and food and travel during the wedding days. Another wedding I know of had the groom's father demand from the bride's father money which the tailor will take when the  groom's clan will get their suits stitched, whenever that is. Everyone laughs at these eccentricities, calls them unnecessary stretching of the "custom". When will they have the courage to see that that very custom, including all the eccentricities are based on Dowry! Say that word! Let it hit your ears!
Its dowry, and it will continue till the bride's family will feel they are lesser in stature just because they have the girl. This only fuels the groom's side, making them prouder and prouder of having that Y chromosome decades back.

There was a time when the investment on the baby boy would be his education and on the baby girl would be her wedding. Since the latter was hardly an investment, as it gave no returns, girls were despised in our society. Now, with the emancipation and liberation movements, where in educated classes not investing in the daughters education would be looked down upon, parents of this girl child are stuck as there is still no "look down upon" in the investment it takes to get your girl married. Now, more than ever, these parents of this girl have to spend multiple times more on their child than the parents of a boy. This happens to be a subtle disincentive, if not blatant punishment for having a girl, and a reward for having a boy.

The  desired action needs to be a two way process- Both side HAVE to start calling this dowry. No cowardly escapism allowed. Then, BOTH sides need to actively and consciously stop the practice.
The bride's side needs to prouden-up for the girl they have brought up. That day, they will do her proud, do her justice.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lost by Love

You had a terrible breakup? Your partner snapped one fine day, and just refuses to come back?
How long should you brood? How long should you try? 
And most importantly, what does this break up say about YOU?

Amit (name changed) is having a terrible time. His fiance, (they'd got engaged after four and a half years of courtship) has just realized that she doesn't feel for him the way she used to.

From her point of view, she did him, herself, and the relationship a great favour by being courageously honest about it after her introspection told her this wasn't what she wanted. She says, its better now, that when things get worse after marriage.

From his point of view, he is completely unable to comprehend as to HOW can anyone just realize one fine day that they aren't meant to be!

He wants answers, and she doesn't see the questions.
She isn't seeing anyone, so it wasn't the case of dumping one person for the other. I genuinely seemed to be true that she did not feel the "love" for him anymore!

While she may be a little sad, she is functioning perfectly, so she isn't so much of a concern for me.
The person concerned is the guy here. He believes that she will, one day, return. She strongly knows she won't.
What would you tell the guy?

Its a terrible time to have. Its like sudden death of a loved one, without any explanations or goodbyes.
After wishing it never happens to anyone, I proceed to give a few points around how one can cope in this situation:

1. You have to realize, FIRST of all, that it wasn't YOUR fault. You are NOT to be blamed.
YOU CANNOT control your partner's emotions or thinking.

2. I do not say it's easy to cheer up. It was a promise broken, a commitment dishonoured. However, refer to  the above point again and again. When someone hands you a cheque that bounces, THEY are held responsible, not you!

3. Do NOT stay alone.
   Now I realize this is going to be very difficult as this is what you would be comfortable doing- being along, dark, unhealthy eating/drinking habits, substance abuse etc.
But how can you let someone else control you so much? Esp someone who did not let you control her (at all!!!). That's like saying, "I will punish myself because I got punished without my fault". How does that make sense?
Keep yourself out of this downward spiral. Force yourself to keep your social life normal. The force WILL be needed for sometime. FORCE yourself to eat healthy during this time, and make sure you're drinking lots of water!

You were a great partner- loyal and loving.
You obviously deserve the same amount of loyalty back hence, I strongly believe, its a good thing if your non-committal friend let you be for someone better!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Other Side

Should historical deprivations become a ground for your present apologies?

Dear women, (and other sections of society who feel disadvantaged- use analogies, as I shall refrain from commenting)

I'll start to the point.

How do you feel when men brand you as a 'slut' for wearing revealing clothes or overdoing makeup, because you know, some of them actually have experienced shrewd, manipulative, and cunning women who would flirt and sleep with them for shopping and/or money? (Some have actually been extremely insensitive to their feelings, and no wonder they have such negative feelings towards the prototype.)

How do you feel? Insulted? Stereotyped? Victimized? Unfair?


I only ask, how do you think it is fair for you to judge the man sitting in the metro/bus while you stand? Unless you have a handicap, or are old, you have no right to even look at the man with those ridiculing eyes. He could be tired. Much more tired than you. He's a man, after all-not a God, you always assert- right?

I only ask, how do you think it is fair for you to judge the man who brushed against you in the same bus? I have traveled by bus a lot, and I know the harassment, the subtle touching, the in-your-face touching- I've been through all. But you know what? I have been through scared men covering themselves with their office bags, terrified to lose balance and even touch a female being by mistake.

The men today have been extremely marginalized and victimized and stereotyped, because we women have really stopped at nothing! This is not just in the public sphere, but the private sphere as well. Most of us have become pseudo-liberalized have gone on to become dictator-like citizens.

We've been taught to act out against any such misbehaviour, but aren't we not applying our minds and discretion at all, and because of which the men suffer?
They do not deserve to go through this! Its as inhuman as untouchability!

I, lastly, only ask, how do you think it is fair for you to expect the man to be chivalrous, when what you demand is equality?

Lets show the men that we can be responsible with the protective laws set out for us. Lets assure them the shall not be oppressed.
Because, all oppressed rise, and then it shall not be pleasant.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ladder of a Lady

Is the fact that a woman earns, enough to ensure that she is free, independent? Is the fact that she is "allowed" to go out and make a career enough to ensure that she is being treated as an equal, and not being discriminated against by her own family, her society?

Yes, one may realize, that just because one works, does not mean he's free- he could be  slave to a lord- man or woman! Yes, one may realize, that just because a woman is making a career does not mean she is not being discriminated against- but glass ceiling is now an overused concept- so what now.

As I will proceed, the difference will be clear- I talk not of freedom and justice in the professional sphere, but in the personal, societal and cultural sphere-with respect to a woman's profession.

My casual observations boil down a working woman's concept as various levels at which society determines a woman's professional role:

1. Where she works cz she is forced to, to do things she would rather not. Includes de-humanizing activities

Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence.

2. When she works to support her family, where the husband refuses to get off his ass spend lesser on alcohol and drugs. Her work here usually consists of manual labour, including coming back to take care of hme and kids, and very possibly, his parents.

3. When she is not allowed to work as her sole role is boiled down to that of a child-bearer

Of all the paths lead to a woman's love
Pity's the straightest.
JOHN FLETCHER, The Knight of Malta

4. Where she is given the "freedom" to work or not work. Usually upper class. Girls usually are pampered, and work because its in fashion, and will probably not carry on working in  few years, when socializing and parlours and kids take up time (more on that, here). At the same level we can find those women who have a career, but will be seen by the family as "its her 'problem' if she is choosing to work outside of home, she has to just give up on her leisure time now to take care of her house, husband and kids- because only men deserve leisure time if they work.
Here comes the concept of the society glorifying the  "supermom"- the woman who has all the possible responsibilities on her head! This is where our society is hanging, and the women who are essentially very normal human beings and no super moms, will face injustice after injustice in a country where you apparently have "freedom to choose your occupation". You cannot restrict social role of a person because of the caste, you now have to learn to have the same fair attitude towards gender!

A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.
MELINDA GATES, Woman's Day Magazine, Oct. 2, 2007

5. Where she is actually brought up with the freedom to have ambition, with the encouragement to succeed. these girls are the ones who you will usually find doing stuff they are enjoying and stuff which is making them happy, not just brining their families money. These girls will usually go far in their chosen line of career, as it will be as much a priority for her as any man in her society.

Where do you as a woman stand? Where do you, as a mother of a daughter stand? 
Most importantly, where do you, as a father, brother, husband, boyfriend stand? Do you have the confidence on your manhood to make an effort to set her free from the regressive society?

Monday, March 12, 2012

When Mars mars the Man

"Mangal Dosha is an astrological combination that occurs if Mars is in the 1st,2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th, or 12th house of the Vedic astrology Ascendant chart. A person born in the presence of this condition is termed a manglik.
This condition is astrologically believed to be devastating for marriages, causing discomfort and tension in relationship, leading to severe disharmony among the spouses and eventually to other bigger problems."

I used to find some aspects of astrology very amusing, but lately being of age that I am, I do not find some concepts so funny anymore, both as a psychologist and as a human being.

It is a fact that when there is ambiguity, rumours will come up, and people will keep cooking stories to get a sense of satisfaction of knowing what is out there. Just before examination results, students will try to find out the result by asking that crystal ball reader online or perform a lot of rituals, as if the marks are miraculously going to change. 
All these are nothing but tactics we employ when we are anxious to calm our nerves with this perceived sense of control we get.
In the society of arranged marriages, where the bride and the groom are are strangers to each other, both sides of the family are digging for some amount of certainty, some assurance that all will be well. For this reason, very prevalent is the practice of matching horoscopes. The boy and the girl will both have their janampatris or horoscopes, based on the exact time and the location of birth. This will detail their personalities, problems, etc. based on the positions of the planets at the time of birth. 

"Mangal dosha" is the most common problem in horoscope matching. Mangliks are said to have a disastrous relationship with  non-manglik, to the extent that the presence of the former can lead to accidents, ill health, and even death of the latter. Hence, Mangliks can only marry Mangliks to "cancel out" the ill effects. 

How would you feel, if you woke up one day to realize you are a bad luck? And why, because your deeds are bad? No, because you were born at the certain time at a certain place. 

I always was of the opinion, that even if I do not believe in these superstitions, it is alright to respect others' sentiments and sit quiet, as there is no harm. 

However, I rethink the last part of the sentence. There is harm. Lot of it.

If we come to think of it, there maybe so many cases where lovers would have to part because of this superstition, and so many cases where they would have go through a completely unnecessary struggle!
And I will not even talk so much about lovers. I will here talk of the person who has been diagnosed with this "Mangal Dosh". How would it effect the individual's psyche, his self esteem, even if he/she is once told he/she is a threat to his/her loved ones? And in cases of arranged marriages, the word spreads among the community, who tut-tut the individual and pray they get someone...anyone with a similar dosh. 
I would not like to insult positive people, but its almost like you have a sexually transmittable disease, because your mother's labour ended at a certain time and hence can only marry a partner who too has that. 

I am in fact encouraged to study the self esteem levels of these people diagnosed with Mangal Dosh. No doubt it is affected, and more so of those who internalize this belief.
Self esteem, which plays such a major factor in one's emotions, cognition, and performance does not deserve to be marred by a superstition. It is criminal. In fact, I would strongly advocate legislation against this. We can match horoscopes for fun, even for 'compatibility' alright, but no one has any right to inflict such shocks on you, that you are unlucky or mystically life threatening! 

Legislation will not happen now. There is too much of a vote bank on stake. If Sati pratha and Hindu Succession Rights faced so much opposition, this is likely not to happen very soon. But us, the youth of marriageable age can stand up strongly against it. Look around, it could be your friend who would have liked to get married before she hit 30, but is forced to stay unmarried as she is not getting a "suitable partner" whose major qualification to be her life partner would be that he is manglik. It could be your girlfriend/your boyfriend, your potential spouse in an arranged marriage. It could be you.

These days, there are "cures" for being manglik. This has evolved only because the society is evolving and more and more people are choosing their partners themselves, popularly called love-marriage n India. They obviously do not match horoscopes before falling in love. So to adjust their dakshina with this crowd, the pandit community have come up "cures" and "solutions" to reduce the impact of mangal dosha. 

There are elaborate poojas and kumbh vivah. How demeaning can it be to go through such rituals to free yourselves from some superstition? I dont speak of the rites per se, but I do speak of the intentions and the concept behind the rights. Like I pointed out earlier, no human should be made to go through this...its inhuman.

I was born on the first day of the navratras (a good omen), just after a lunar eclipse (a bad omen) ended. I shudder to think what would I be going through had the foetal me decided to give my mother a little less of labour pain. 
But regardless of what I would have been made to go through, rest assured, I would have definitely not taken all this lying down. Neither I will let anyone around me get effected by it, however mildly, nor should you.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Language and Confidence

Sometime back I got a query. It was a young man, who wrote to me at length about his dream of clearing the SSB, and his lack of confidence which pulled him out of GDs and Interviews. From the language and the grammar of the mail, it was certain to me that the boy, though smart and articulate, was not comfortable with the English language. On probing, he shared that he was allowed to speak in Hindi (his mother tongue), but he tried to speak in English during the selection processes as he thought it will fetch him extra points. He wanted a solution for his "GD-phobia". I told him he cannot be diagnosed with any phobia via email, and he may visit a psychologist near him if he feels the need. Nevertheless, I shared with him some general points to help him out, which I will share here as it can be applicable to anyone...

Being skilled at multiple languages is always an asset. It is good to learn and practice as many languages as possible. Just like it is the best to read about stuff you do not know about. However, when it examination time, and you future depends on this examination, would you choose to answer a question you are sure about, or would you try answering a question you do not know about?

Similarly, when you know that during the selection process, they are testing your intelligence, your articulation and most importantly, your confidence you should not try to use a language you know you are not comfortable with. It is better to speak fluently and correctly in Hindi in your GDs and Interviews, than incorrectly in English, which will only highlight your weakness of not mastering a language. Other than that, you lose out at another front-confidence. When you know you are not good at something, this belief will always be stopping you from performing your best. You will appear nervous and unsure.

It is understandable that English now is a global language. You may practice the language while conversing with a well-versed friend, till it develops enough to be used at such critical junctures.
Having said that, it is important for every Indian citizen to know that our government jobs do not ask for mastery over English language. Its good enough to just understand it. The government has all your languages listed up- so any person, whatever State they reside in, can converse comfortably in his/her mother tongue when going for a government-job selection.

Certainly, for all India services like the army, a standard language is required and hence they give you the option of English or Hindi. But if you are like this gentleman who was comfortable with Hindi and not in English, please use Hindi. Your expression and confidence will cover up all doubts you have about losing points when you use Hindi.

Language is a beautiful gift to the human beings. Use it to your advantage, do not let it become your handicap!

Good Luck :)
Yours Personally

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Barricades in the Bourgeoisie

This article of mine was first published in Bell Bajao's '16 Days of Activism' blog. I re post it here.

A life in the educated, peaceful upper middle class family in the urban area, more so, in the country’s capital will seem to so not be the focus of any feminist study. After all, you see little girls being welcomed into the family with expensive pink cradles as there would have been blue ones for the boy. The baby girl is given as many dolls and tea sets, as the boys would be given a cricket set or a toy plane.
“We do not discriminate between our sons and daughters”, the great Indian middle class proudly announces. They assume it is a phenomenon among the uneducated. In fact, they claim to pamper their daughters more than their sons. If the girl wants to sleep a little more on a winter morning, or get dropped and picked up from a friend’s house, she is more likely to get her way than the son.
But how long does this pampering last? And more seriously, how healthy and well meaning is such attitude towards the daughters?
It is quite shocking as to how many girls ‘automatically’ learn cooking and cleaning, along with the burden of their tenth or twelfth board exams! They never think twice as to why their brothers get to sit with their fathers and uncles, discussing the world and their careers, while they have to giggle with their mothers and aunts about manicures and recipes and gossips.
Really, do they like doing it, or are they indoctrinated by our society to be like that?
At a recent dinner party, where senior bureaucrats and academicians were present, one of the guests asked the host to stop serving and join everyone for dinner, not because they volunteered to do it themselves, but the hosts had “two daughters…and what is their use if you have to still do all the work”. Point to be noted here was, there was a brother present too. At first shocked, since it came from a lady, I got thinking when prompted by a friend.
This lady was married to the concerned bureaucrat at seventeen. She has a doctor father and a housewife mother. She also has two younger brothers who were, in fact, married at twenty nine and thirty one, after properly establishing themselves at a doctor and a management executive respectively.
She enjoys her life and has never given a thought, rationally and retrospectively, to her life. Again, to make my point, she is socialized to accept her life as ‘couldn’t-be-better-than-a-senior-bureaucrat’s-wife’. Probably it is too late to offer her any intervention or the resulting instability. But her attitude may harm future generations with cascading effect, just as indirectly, as I feel it harmed her.
As a girl in this society enters her twenties, a unique, dichotomous attitude is seen of her parents towards her. Just as she is about to graduate, groom-hunting starts.
Sometimes, even before that. It was not uncommon to see newly married girls, all decked up, around my college.
Along with this, she is ‘not stopped’ from pursuing any higher studies or a vocation. After all, we are middle class people, and we do not discriminate. But how far is this from her brother who has received that extra input and that extra push, all his life? How far is this from her brother who not only not pressured towards marriage, but is also given full support and encouragement for his career?
An ambitious girl, who decided to work hard for a prestigious competitive examination, was ‘allowed’ to do so with a “no harm in letting her do it…it does not matter whether she gets through or not” attitude.
Another girl, really smart, felt the discouragement, when her ‘pampering’ parents told her that she had about two years (after she graduated) to do ‘whatever she wants to do, or relax and not do anything’, till she got married. There was no scope of flexibility. All this was while her brother, five years her senior, is abroad at a prestigious college still pursuing higher studies, after working for a year. And, for the record, he gets to decide when he wants to marry.
I am not blind to the fact the discrimination suffered by girls in other classes is by any means worse and more blatant, but the only reason my focus in this article was the educated, middle class in the country’s capital because it is assumed that there isn’t a problem here.
But for me, the girls face a dilemma because the discrimination is so subtle. What do the educated girls complain against? Their parents have never denied them anything, technically speaking. On the other hand educated about the worse condition about the lesser privileged girls or extreme situations like foeticide and infanticide, just serves to make them feel ‘lucky’ and not ask for more.
No other reason explains the widespread fear of success among the women. Another highly skilled friend is a testimony to this. She is married, but to a man who has just done BBA and joined the family business. She confesses, that as much as she longs to do MBA, she fears offending her husband and in-laws, in case she gets a good percentile in the CAT exam, and subsequently and an admission into a prestigious B-school, of which she understands her husband will never be capable.
The discrimination practiced by this class is probably not conscious and deep seated in their unconscious, about the role that a woman is expected to play.
Maybe if these parents stop stereotyping the girl’s cradle and pink and stop deciding that she will play with just dolls and tea sets, or learn just ballet and bharatnatyam, or maybe, if they try to let their children be… maybe just think back for a second, and see how they would have responded to their son in such a situation, and then respond to their daughters, it really, might reduce the unconscious discrimination their daughters silently face and pass on to their granddaughters; the discrimination, which significantly impacts their psyche, reducing to a great extent their self esteem and self efficacy, their need for achievement, and increasing their dependency motivation, which leads to later social problems like rationalizing domestic violence.
Tell your daughters that their strength comes NOT from tolerance, but from resisting discrimination and standing up for their rights. You will do a great favour to your great granddaughters.

India's "joint families" and its population woes!

Before I even start this, I will take a few words to say to all those who live in joint families that I am aware of our "culture" of extended families staying together. I feel its a beautiful concept of togetherness that has many advantages...the commentary below is just that-a personal commentary based on my observations. 

What two concepts am I proposing to connect? Who one lives with does not at all effect one's choices regarding family planing. Or maybe, it does. And much more deeply than you think.

Sociologically, the Indian son never grows up. The daughter does-she attains puberty, and her roles change, she gets married, and she leaves her house and her parents, she gets new roles (and lots of "responsibilities"), she becomes a mother (and is told that it is only then that she is "complete"), etc. etc.
So yes, she evolves in our society, but the son will always remain the infantile son.

He stays with his parents throughout his life. His mother takes care of him till he gets a wife to do that. If he is earning an independent income, it is usually put into a family account and he has to ask his parents for a pocket money. If he is not earning an independent income, that is also just fine. And THIS is where I connect the joint family to our population woes.

The Indian sons and daughters are married off "at a certain age". This is usually irrespective of where they stand professionally, or even psychologically. Additionally, marrying sons off is seen as a way to get the sons "under control". Just like having babies is seen as a way to resolve marital conflicts.

If only the sons too were allowed to grow up. If they did not have their parents' household ready to move in a wife whenever the mother felt the need for a bahu, things would have been different.
The son would then grow up become to be a man. He would first take care of his work, his bank balance, a place to live, etc. before getting married. This would delay his marriage to when he is mature enough to understand the meaning of being in a wedlock, to when he understands his responsibilities towards his wife.

This would further delay childbirths as he would also now understand the having children has a purpose more than giving his parents entertainment and heir. He would have them when he feels he is ready to take good care of them, just like he got married when he felt he was ready for the role.

The men with such character with also tend to respect their wives and their decisions regarding family planning, and not blindly follow his oedipal instincts and follow the mother's instructions towards such private matters. This maturity and sense of responsibility in men shall have a cascading effect on our population statistics. Not only will the children be born late, they will also be fewer in number.

Joint families were meant for strong emotional support. However, bringing up your son to become so pathologically dependent on you that he has no productivity or a sense of purpose or responsibility is a crime many families are committing against their sons. And to clarify, this is prevalent across economic classes.

Seriously, just because your father's business is doing well does not mean you are ready to take on responsibilities of a married life. Let alone those of a father.

Get a job. Get a life. Control Population.