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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Cartoons say it all!

My wife says, only half-jokingly, that except for her, most married girls in the neighbourhood where she grew up are either divorced or otherwise separated from their husbands, and have returned to the parental hearth to raise their children. A lot of them have also sent their husbands and in-laws to police custody, if not also jail, for all kinds of alleged abuse – the law having tilted very strongly in their favour in recent times.

Some time ago, I read a very senior (woman-) police officer publicly grumbling that a lot of women are in their turn taking advantage of the law to abuse husbands and in-laws, or at least to have the whip hand permanently over the latter. I daresay I know some such women myself. Hence I wrote this post three years ago titled ‘A future for marriage?’ Now this front-page news item says today that the National Commission for Women (NCW) has itself observed that “80% of complaints filed under the seven-year old domestic violence act have been declared too trivial to address.” The Commission has said that most such complaints can be resolved adequately by counselling alone. It has simultaneously expressed fears that numerous much graver atrocities are still going unreported.

Alas, I am only too keenly aware of how both aspects of the situation are poignantly true in India: it’s such a complex country!

It is most certainly true that women are humiliated, abused, subjugated and restricted lifelong from doing all sorts of things they both want to do and can ably do in millions of households still, and not merely in the villages and urban slums. Indeed, I personally know a lot of girls and women who live the lives of dumb beasts in all strata of contemporary society – only, if they are lucky enough to be born rich or married rich, they live lives of highly ornamental beasts, and enjoy the privilege of lording it over their less fortunate sisters, the type who work for them as ill-paid domestic help. Girls are still being married off at 14 all around me, or sold off into prostitution, wives are being regularly beaten as entertainment and supported only to bear children and work as unpaid drudges, and even ‘educated’ women in middle-class families have had their fathers pay dowry through their noses in order to get ‘suitable’ husbands, and now live lives filled with gossip and TV and shopping and dressing up for parties and clucking over children’s exam scores, because that is all they are ‘allowed’ to do (in the town I live in, it’s still unusual to see a woman shopping except at the malls, I have seen men buying even underwear for their wives and daughters, and I have been told by countless mothers they can come to see me about their kids’ progress only when their husbands can find time to drive them to my house). And they quietly swallow all this indignity believing that going to complain against husbands and in-laws is something that ‘good’ women never do. Also, I  know what callous, uncouth, selfish boors many men can be as husbands and fathers, how intolerable they can make life for their women unless some sort of social/legal restraint is put upon them. So I have no hesitation in saying that a lot more women should go to the courts to seek redressal when all possibility of peaceful and private accommodation has failed.

But there is also the other side of the coin, and I can now speak freely, because no less an institution than the NCW has made things easier for the likes of me. A lot of women are using the law to ‘settle scores’ and ‘take revenge’, and that too over very petty and selfish issues (it is not merely apocryphal that a woman sent her husband briefly to jail on the accusation of violence at home simply because he had not bought her an expensive enough saree for the pujas, just to teach him a lesson!). It is one thing to say that a woman deserves equal rights with men, and quite another to say that, in a reversal of ancient tyranny, the woman must be allowed the last word in everything, no matter how irrational, foolish, selfish or high-handed her demands might be. And there is reason to fear that that is exactly what a significant number of women are now doing, and these women, it seems, mostly come from educated and affluent backgrounds. It does not speak highly of either women’s innate nature or of the kind of education they have received, at home and outside.

The most rabid feminist will concede that throughout the ages there have always been viragos; likewise there have always been timid and peaceable souls among men who have quietly borne with all kinds of impositions from their womenfolk. But if this now becomes a major social phenomenon, there is a chance that there will be a backlash against women in the not too distant future. Already among my old boys I see a marked unwillingness to tie the knot: a lot of them have reached their mid-30s depending on one-night stands and casual or live-in girlfriends, even when they are not turning to same-sex relationships as a ‘better’ option. A time may come when millions of old parents will be desperately looking for grooms for their ageing daughters whom nobody wants to marry. It’s all very well for young girls, in the full flush of their folly, to say that they don’t care, they can do very well without getting married, thank you very much. Most of them will feel very differently once they are into middle age, with neither parents nor children to look after them, and men looking at them only to say ‘Yuck!’ and turn away hurriedly. I have an unmarried aunt in her late-sixties, living on a pension and all alone. The whole family feels only pity and fear for her – and that includes herself, mind you.


Shubhranka Mondal said...

Ignore the earlier comment.It had some typing errors.
I suppose this post is going to bring mixed reactions.Not because what you say is right or wrong. But simply because one is going to speak from the experience of knowing a small number of people one is mostly acquainted with. Being a recluse , I too will speak, taking sides of people I have known rather than following the generalized national statistics. And even if I abide by this , by the simple rule of statistical sampling, some of the instances narrated by me should also be true to weave the bigger picture. Both husbands and wife has been good and bad over the ages.And even I desist mall-maniac teeanagers. But closer home,I have also seen hard-working women. And as a matter of fact the women I am most close to earn equal and at times more than their husbands. What constitutes a feminist and what a virago I am not aware. I can only say that some of my fondest memories of college days is watching a retired professor who enamoured girls with her motherly love,taking us all by surprise when we once saw her driving a huge SUV and happily bidding us goodbye. She also adorned a small bindi instead of the huge red glaring bindi or the third-eye that the other women put on.Bindis do not have much importance for sure. But I somehow associated the bigger one with a more dominnering crookedness as a child. My idiosyncratic face- reading.That is that.Big cities are different I realized.A woman in churidar, sneakers and a sweet little red bindi driving SUV!. I was visibly charmed.
But at the same time,closer home, I have failed to understand what makes women earning on equal terms with their husbands being so submissive and accepting everything for the sake of their ‘children’.
Worse still are the innumerable households where the man and the woman does nearly similar jobs.(you might argue there is only a few).But in those cases too, very rarely does a husband share the household chores or other responsibilities .Once in home, everything from tea, water to dinner has to be served at the footstep. Situations are even more pathetic than this at times.Rather than going to further details, I only conclude that I always stood by these women and will always stand still at my position.Call me feminist or otherwise.
Men on the other hand, at times enjoy a bigger sense of freedom. At times they can give up everything and lead their own lives in a secluded apartment , far away from the daily bickering.And this is more common in the metropolis with high rises, where one can easily cocoon himself in a one room coterie and where neighbours hardly communicate.But most ironically in many cases, they return only after a few months of prolonged stay. Naturally the fling had then given away and after all some one has to take to take care of the laundry and cook a meal at night.
With kids to look after,work and the so called ‘society’ to bother , why don’t mothers experience such freedom?. Forget fiction , but in reality why are figures so disproportionate , Can some one kindly answer?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To start with, Shubhranka, thanks for commenting.

Next, do start a request with Please ('Ignore the earlier comment'). You ought to know how old-fashioned Sir is about things like courtesy, and soon you will be justly expecting people far younger than you to be equally courteous to you.

Third, a little more caution with grammar, please, if you don't mind: I wonder whether you can guess just how embarrassing I find it to see my own ex-students still making fundamental errors, such as with tenses and number and so forth. Bad advertisement for me!

Fourth, I wonder whether you read the fourth paragraph as closely as you obviously read the fifth! Doesn't my essay itself say how strongly I support the idea of women who are really, seriously abused at home coming forward to complain and seek redressal? All I then added was that I am scared of some women misusing the law: and as I have cited evidence, it is not my personal and isolated opinion! If there's cause for quarrel here, it should be with the National Commission for Women, not with me...

One more point: I entirely agree that most married men are still incapable of and unwilling to lend a hand with household chores; but who made them that way but their mothers, who drove the idea into their heads when they were young that this is 'girls' work'? There's a story in the current ICSE syllabus, written by a woman, which says precisely this: that mothers should bring up sons and daughters equally if they want men to treat women as equals some day.

And finally, I am a little confused about just what you have asked in the last paragraph.

Shubhranka Mondal said...

Sorry for beginning in such a rash manner.That does sound discourteous ,I just realized after reading my comment.And I will try and take care of my grammar.
I am not aware of the new ICSE syllabus.But I have just completed reading Leila Seth's autobiography called - 'On balance'.Though initially written to answer to her grand daughter's innumerable questions ;I believe, this book can positively contribute to the society if both men and women read it with equal enthusiasm.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Many thanks for the tip, Shubhranka: I'll try to pick up the book soon. Leila Seth should have interesting things to say, having been highly successful herself in a profession I deeply respect (Chief Justice of a High Court, no less) and having raised a truly brilliant son, the poet Vikram. I wish I knew some such women personally...

Shilpi said...

Suvro da,

I've been thinking over this post of yours, and there's something odd about your post itself. Maybe it's the cartoon at top which makes one laugh and the liners here and there within the midst of a serious and solemn piece which make one laugh. I don't know whether the piece is supposed to make your reader/s laugh but it makes me laugh and also frown. It doesn't feel like your other posts where there is an immediate hidden meaning, which maybe hits the reader two years or more down the line but there is something here, which makes me wonder what else is coming. And I noticed yesterday that you've tagged this under 'humour' as well...

I'm not really sure why the women, and those who are seemingly, formally at least, educated want to lodge pointless and harmful complaints and lies with the NCW and under domestic abuse/violence. In some bizarre (or grotesque) way it reminds me of those mums and dads who probably tell their children that unless the kids do what-they-are-told, "police eshe niye jaabe..." Course this whole bit reminds me of the sexual harassment at the workplace and such laws, and the ugliness involved and one that goes both ways - in terms of being violated but even more so in terms of its abuse (and this because of personal experiences).

And I'm yet to understand why grown-up women who once they have their children return to their parents' to raise their children... and why allege abuse if they simply want to leave their husbands?... I'm suddenly reminded of the terribly sad and long-drawn out part/s in Debjaan, especially the first bit when I'd started wondering whether I was reading the right book that you'd written about and that Pupu and you had been discussing.

I personally think sane marriages are possible only when people are at the very least honest about their intentions. But I don't know what men or women or boys or girls or what average couples really look for when they go out to get married....or do they get married because that is what is expected of them and do they have children too for the same reasons? At 16, I was definitely one of the last girls in my cohort standing and saying that I wouldn't ever get married, and I was a little later telling my parents that I would live-in too even if I didn't get married (never quite realizing that it was a most improper admission to make), and received a earful to which I'd returned with a conversation-stopper.

...'Course at 16, it's not very easy to envision life at 60 ('youth seems to be stuff that will endure', and if not one is utterly convinced that one will go down in 'a blaze of glory', infinitely wise and while in one's very early 30s, at the latest). With a score of years added on, and being very much married and in a real sense, imagining 60 is now somewhat creepy actually. Maybe some people do not mind old age, that's all I can say about that. I personally can't see how old age and worrying over who exactly is going to die first, or fall ill, or go senile first is anything that soothes, although maybe older folks who have grandchildren to look forward to might indeed feel more joyous...

I'm back to letting this post of yours whir away at the back of my head with the cartoon. Read with that old post of yours on marriage and some others that stay in the head, this one still requires some subconscious night-time digging...

Thank you very much for keeping my mental works whirring, and sometimes on overtime too.


Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

Please excuse me if this comment is irrelevant to the current post. I have a cousin sister studying in class 9 and a cousin brother in class 6. They are siblings,yet brought up in entirely different ways. My aunt, who herself is educated academically, is grossly over-concerned about my brother's studies but doesn't care much about my sister's failure in numerous subjects. She objects if her son wants to play but doesn't bat an eyelid if her daughter is busy in shopping and gossip and grooming herself (my sister has five different hair-styles for different moods in a day) most of the time. On the other hand, she forces her daughter to do many household chores while my brother has to do nothing but study. Now, it can be easily predicted what sort of person they are going to be when they grow up.

With regards,

Sreejith Nair said...

Dear Sir,
Pardon me if my comment tends to complicate the discussion.
I feel that as a society, we tend to swing from one extremity to another.
Recent campaigns to ‘empower women’ and ‘strengthen backward castes’ are classic examples of our tendency to be non-rational and monkey-minded – swinging from one extreme to another.
Initially, women (and lower castes) were exploited and subject to social atrocities. Then, one fine day, we woke up, decided that enough was enough and took a U turn – introducing reservations, enforcing women-friendly laws etc. Now, things have turned a full circle. The previously oppressed class (women, minorities, lower castes) strengthened by laws are turning oppressors.
Already wealthy people who belong to the backward class are seeking to escape implementation of the creamy layer exception. Communities like the Gujjars are trying to muscle their way into the BC category. And prevalence of mechanisms like fake certificates is no more a secret. Similarly as you pointed out in this post, laws meant to safeguard women from beasts masquerading as husbands, are used to blackmail well meaning husbands and families…as you and the NCW have pointed out.
This is a vicious circle of legal oppression. And this is bound to happen with reactive laws being put in place. To tackle a demon, our legislators create a bigger demon…
I wonder how long we will continue to live in the shadow of our past. How long will appeasement be our cornerstone philosophy for governance? And how long will we, in order to answer questions about our past, turn a blind eye to our future?
While we have tightened our legal ropes, the real culprit – our cultural upbringing remains largely unchanged. As you pointed out, very few mothers introduce the boy-child to cleaning vessels or doing the laundry.
With more and more knee jerk laws being the rule of the day, the cycle has just started!
Love & Regards,

Sayan Datta said...

It is embarrassing really when one looks at all the domestic violence, women taking their husbands to courts over trivial issues just to teach them a lesson or two or to have the upper hand or to ‘settle scores’ ; all this brouhaha on the one hand and the grand affairs we make of marriages in our country on the other.
I think people in our country marry because that is what is expected of them after they reach a certain age just as teenaged boys are expected to become engineers and girls are expected to become doctors or fashion models or singers in reality TV contests (the newest fad). The hard to digest, albeit simple fact is that we live to show off and care little for things of real value. This parent wants to show off his/her child’s marks to his relatives and neighbours, that one wants to show off her singing/ dancing talents (am I missing something else?) to the rest of the country watching reality TV shows while the other desperately wants her daughter to please her in-laws to their maximum satisfaction.
Our screwed up societal structure and values (or the lack of them) is to be blamed for the mess, no doubt. However I think a lot also depends on the individuals who marry, what they expect out of marriage, how much thought has gone into their decision and how much of that is mature (for instance, to paint a rosy mental picture of ones future while believing all the way that one is perfect just the way one is, that one does not need to make a conscious effort to change for the better, that no work is needed to iron out all the faults and prejudices that have undoubtedly crept in over the years is very immature). Very few people tying the knot have thought processes and mental set ups compatible with marriage.

In my view no one should take the plunge unless he/she is absolutely sure. I am married myself (if that counts) and I have been witness to two broken marriages among my cousins, so I know what I am talking about. Also, unlike Shubhranka I have met few hard working women (even fewer in SUVs) and I am not even sure how many exist. To that extent I think those of your ex-students who are into their thirties and are still unwilling to tie the knot are doing the right thing.
Sayan Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I should have thought the answer to your question 'why complain of abuse?' is obvious: the law could be then used to wangle huge compensation from the 'guilty' in-laws! A lot of women do marry entirely for money, you know - another of those political incorrect facts of life. As for the rest of your observations, all I'll say for now is that precious few young people think about growing old at all...

Saikat, far from being irrelevant, your comment illustrates the exact process of how stereotypes are drilled into young minds, almost impossible to overcome in later life.

Sreejith, thanks for commenting again after ages! Yes, these days the law has been over-compensating for the sins of the fathers. The same kind of grumbling is now being heard about everything that Blacks do in the US these days: since their ancestors were abused, today's Whites must compensate by pretending that Blacks can do no wrong. Obama, no less, was recently lambasted publicly for 'daring' to comment that Black fathers ought to take more responsibility for their children!

and Sayan, you're right, the biggest tragedy about contemporary civilization (it's not just true in India) is that most of us are always being persuaded to follow one herd of mindless people or another, never either allowed or taught to be just ourselves. Long ago a boy asked in class, 'Sir, can a whole society be sick?' and I had no hesitation in replying 'Son, most societies are always sick; it is upto strongminded and clear-eyed individuals to try to point out the sickness and reform things for the better'. Twenty years later, I see no reason to change that opinion. If anything, in this age when consumerism is the only real religion, things have only gotten worse. Marriage is one of the institutions (like health care, and education) which are suffering the most. Far too many people are getting married with the wrong attitudes and expectations...

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I have a question regarding this post. Do you think, a feminist movement in India would be a oanacea for all this. Clearly our country needs is a big debate on what it means to be a woman. Most women I come across do not know that and are indoctrinated by their parents and many other male members into being legalized slaves of men, if not in the literal sense, intellectually for sure. It is quite clear in the north Indian parts of the country, where the experience of being a woman is so bad, that many mothers do not even flinch an eye when their unborn female child is killed.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I would urge you to look up the comments on the post 'Unwilling women', Navin. That would save me a lot of repetition.

The women's empowerment movement, which had risen almost like a tidal wave in the 1970s and 80s, is now virtually dead in India, as the journalist Swati Bhattacharya was lamenting a few weeks ago, I think in Anandabazar Patrika. Some of the reasons are:

1) far too few women participated,
2) the resistance from the male half of the population (not always only of the overt kind!) was too strong,
3) the goals of the movement were too narrow (less work/the right to choose husbands/more shopping money/more physical protection against abuse yes, greater freedom for aesthetic/intellectual pursuits, sexual liberation, participation in politics and other serious professions, no),
4) the beneficiaries, mostly middle- and upper class urban women, now that they themselves can enjoy a little more freedom and security and leisure, are no longer interested, because they never felt much solidarity with their poorer, uneducated sisters in the slums and villages: very few of them are keen on 'wasting' their lives working for the really needy in our society, and
5) personally, I think Indian women do not even want to emulate the lifestyles of their western sisters, because that degree of personal independence and responsibility and hard work frightens the living daylights out of them (living alone? doing all the household chores without maids? changing tyres and carrying luggage all by oneself? no "ladies'" seats on buses and trains?... not if we can help it!).

Think about it.

One more thing: I am now tired of indulging women who have nothing of substance to say, but write in merely to observe that they don't like my attitude. So no more such comments will be published. I am trying very hard to bring up my daughter as a tough human being, and we both hate whiners who would never do anything to take destiny in their own hands but endlessly enjoy putting the blame on males for everything. When she started taking the public bus to school in class 7, the mother of a girl in class 10 asked her to look after her 'child', who was apparently 'too young' to make it alone. Comments from adult equivalents of that 'child' make us want to throw up.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

... and I really mean what I said in the last line of the last comment. No more comments allowed from females who think they are doing me a favour by saying rude and irrelevant or cliched or trivial things. I have long done them the courtesy of trying to explain why their comments did not make the grade, and got only brickbats for my pains. No longer.

soumilee ghosh said...

I have been thinking on what you have written on this post but I do not agree at one point. My own grandmother, on my mother's side , had said to my mother that she should keep quite and listen to all the illogical and irrational things that my father said but her reason was no that it is something which good wives do but it was that if you protest then the matters might grow worse and since I have ICSE examinations in the very next year it would affect my studies so I think women sometimes not only keep quite because they think they are behaving like "good wives" but to protect their children's future until they grow to a reasonable age of supporting themselves and their mothers.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Soumilee, thank you for commenting.

That word will be 'quiet', not 'quite'. I hope you noticed afterwards. This is why it is important to revise!

Your grandma is right up to a point: we sometimes have to buy peace with silence and unwilling compliance. Unfortunately, that can become a bad habit, and make our lives unbearable, so it may be occasionally necessary to protest, even rebel. Think of the story called 'Girls' in your syllabus.

One thing I should like to point out, though, is that it is possible to grow up in very disturbed families and still do very well in examinations: I know, I have done it myself. On the other hand, as you see among your own friends, people can grow up in very congenial families and not study at all, simply because they don't want to!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I personally know of a few instances where the husband and his family have been wrongly blamed by headstrong girls who are actually spurred on by their own families! One of the very first things a girl is taught is to be naturally suspicious of her mother-in-law. And the mother in law would be suspicious herself because she would have been taught the same thing. You couldn't have been more right Sir, than in observing what a comes country this is. Laws will always have to be made for the greater good and there will always be scum who try to take advantage of it. But I will say this much about my generation, not withstanding rogues and scoundrels, it is the boys that I feel sorry for because I admit it, women and girls are just so mentally exhausting. Maybe the novelists and poets of long ago knew what they were talking about when they called women "irrational creatures"; they should have added vindictive to the list. And this view Sir, is from a twenty five year old who has seen enough cases of both men and women to judge for herself.