The Indian Woman

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Godhuli, Oil on Canvas, 1998, Shuchi Krishan

Friday at my home is ‘family day’. Everyone has a huge breakfast/brunch or lunch together, it’s the usual running around to get this or that because we’re not impeccably organized and often forget the this or that on the kitchen counter. Table chatter often leaves one of us in tears or we get wounded for life, just like every other normal family.

One of our Friday traditions is having homemade Biryani (the most perfect rice and meat combination dish EVER – and It’s Indian, enough said), but today my Dad got Rus Bukhari for lunch. I’m pretty sure Rus Bukhari is a blessing from Allah SWT.

At lunch the general blabber ensued, we talked about home, work, and personal things. What really stuck out was the story of an old Indian woman, here in Jeddah, who used to work as a masseuse for Mom because her old age no longer allowed her to be a housemaid. She was married once and had a daughter, but a few years after her husband passed away and her daughter settled, she came here to this hot, hot land.

Interestingly that old woman belonged to an extremely rich family in India, and had huge amounts of money and land tucked away in her name for inheritance must her father pass away. So why was she working as a maid, and then as a masseuse, for a really low income in Jeddah of all places? Why not spend her days and nights in leisure that she was so clearly entitled to? Why not rest in the backyard or garden of her Villa (next to the beach perhaps) and play with her grandchildren and great grandchildren? I mean…if you are someone who comes from money, you’re not going to go around begging on doors for a job in a country thousands of miles away from your hometown, and in a city that has one of the most uncomfortable climate conditions ever. (Admit it. Jeddah is not a garden. We live in a heated, barren desert where it rains with years of gap in between.)

Here is what happens in India – if a girl has a lot of money/land to her name, she is emotionally “blackmailed” by her mother and elders into signing off her inheritance to her brothers who will obviously spend it better than she ever could. Now, I’m not saying that this happens everywhere in India, but probably in 80% of the villages and 40% of the cities as per my own personal biased statistics. A fact that should not be overlooked in that it is common practice and has happened for centuries. It happens even today.

One of the best things that the KSA government has done is making sure that women get their entitled inheritance, causing Saudi Arabia to be one of the countries with most number of financially strong women. India is the kind of country where a girl is often considered a “burden” by her parents (one of the parents is a woman herself?!), and getting her married off is something that they start preparing for since her birth. In most villages, when a girl is married to someone, her consent does not come into question. In Indian weddings, the groom’s family is somehow more superior to the bride’s family. What does the groom do anyway? One day decide that he wants to get married, and he probably “rejects” girls left right and center because they are not pretty enough, or tall enough, or don’t come from a rich family. And he finally settles for the girl who pleases him the most. And what about the girl? She leaves the only home she has ever known and joins someone’s else’ family. Why does she get married? Because if she doesn’t marry before a certain age, no one will marry her or the society will look at her like there’s something wrong with her, or that she has “bad luck”. I’m not trying to make the Indian society look bad, I’m just stating what the culture makes people believe and think.

If someone comes to your home to live with you, eat with you, and spend all their time with you, how are you the one who is superior? In fact, why is there even a question of superiority?

I was not upset when I heard that woman’s story. I was mad. I am not proud to be Indian and I don’t feel compelled to be a “proud” member of any country whatsoever. India hasn’t done anything particularly exciting for me except label me as “Indian”. You can say that I am selfish. I love the culture and the language but I don’t believe in the politics or the people. I don’t believe in nationalistic ideas and neither do I carry an interest in them. I am, however, partly a feminist and if the women’s suffrage movement was going on I would be carrying slogans and spitting intelligent and fiery words at everything around me like a wildfire.

What bothers me the most is how easily societies have controlled women, and how it happens even within homes, and how even a mother feels it okay to force her daughter to give away her inheritance. You would think that a mother would be more supportive of her daughter (*cough* female solidarity *cough*) but apparently culture teaches women in India that men are much superior and that her sons will be kings in their homes, and her daughters will be “serving” the family of whoever she marries as a “good” and “obedient” daughter-in-law. Well done, Indian people, you are officially weird in my opinion.

I don’t believe in superiority between man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman, except in terms of good character and level of Iman(faith), and the latter is something that no one can ever measure in other people, so let’s just consider good character to be what makes one person better than the other.

I believe that every woman is entitled to getting educated and pursuing a career if she desires. I believe what a woman does with her time is her decision and her right. The same goes for men. If a man is earning money for the family, he is in no way superior to a woman who takes care of his house and children and prepares the meals and turns that home into a comfortable place to live in. Neither is the woman superior to the man for carrying out those chores and duties. They are equals. If a man stays at home and does the chores and takes care of the children and prepares the meals – he is in no way inferior to the woman who is going out to earn the money in that home. Men and Women were both created with the ability to do either kinds of work. If God has created man with the ability to cook, how does cooking making him inferior? If God has created woman with the ability to count numbers and teach or any other profession – why should it be a problem for her to pursue that career?

I must also mention that, if a woman wants to pursue a career she should as long as she is looking after her children as well. I do believe that no one can raise children the way their mother can. The same goes for men – their work is important but so are the children. Children are raised best if they have both their parents looking after them. It’s not just a mother’s job, the same way it’s not just a man’s job to get groceries.

But the truth still stands – women are often denied their rights and it happens everyday. It’s 2014, we have so much going on, so much progress in every field, why is it that a human being has to fight for his/her rights even today?

Because we are conditioned to think a certain way by our societies, traditions and cultures and by the time we realize whats going on it’s too late to change what we have caused.

What do I do to fight this problem? I’m educating myself and I’m not afraid to admit that there is a problem. I know that in the future I may have to pass on ideas and values to a child who will do the same in his/her future. And when that time comes, I will do the right thing.

I can’t thank my parents enough for making my education a priority. The only way such problems can be faced is if we educate ourselves and read and question the society instead of accepting everything as it is.

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