Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One Bad Aspect of Indian Culture

Nope, not all Indians are like this and I am thankful every day for the advancements females have made in Indian culture and society here in India. That's not to say that Indian women abroad don't suffer some of these same cultural  concepts but they have a much better fighting chance towards equality and fair treatment than I feel that women here in India do. Indian women abroad have been given the freedom to be open about being porn stars (Sunny Leone) to have relationships outside of marriage (Katrina Kaif) and much much more. Those such as SC Governor Nikki Haley have tread where no woman nor minority has been before and overtaken male dominated areas of the US. They are empowering Indian women worldwide and regardless of whether or not I like them or agree with their choices, I support them wholeheartedly in the fact they make their own choices and they do not let some archaic societal norms dictate who they are and what value they have in society.

And this blame cannot be placed entirely on men. In fact, my disgust right now is with the women past (and present) who allow this to go on, still enforce it and live by it as if women really are inferior to men. My disgust also lies with the mothers who teach their male children that this behavior is expected and should be enforced. I'm quite sure this will piss some of you off but I literally do not care. You won't change or sway my opinion by posting rude or disagreeable comments. The concept that men and women are not equal has permeated history but that does not make it right! You can't preach/live that God created us with specific roles (which would by default mean we are both equally valuable) and that there are important Goddesses and Saints and then turn around and act like an ordinary every day woman in the home is beneath you because you work outside of the home. That's called a double standard and it's absolute crap.

(And for you naysayers, I realize the above may sound a little aggressive. It is meant that way. Yes, I was raised in a culture that promotes female equality and as such it bothers me to see women here treated like substandard creatures. Thank God it doesn't happen all the time. I make no apologies for my hatred of the ill treatment of women now nor will I ever.)

Now on to my point. I believe my MIL's perception has also been somewhat skewed. I dearly love my MIL. She is an amazing and wonderful woman in almost every aspect. She's not perfect but I have such a soft spot in my heart for her and I truly believe I would seriously hurt someone if they tried to mess with her. We have a bond that I just cannot describe and I doubt the blogs I've written about her do any real justice to this bond. My heart just breaks for her some days when I see how she lives based on what she has learned and had to endure in her life.

I think that the reason she is so quick to take fresh vegetables as they enter the house and cook is because she too suffers from the artificial starvation syndrome, or at least parts of it. The more I think of my own struggles and the more I see the more disheartened I become by this. Food runs out in the house the same for her as it does for me. It would only be natural for her to want to take fresh food and cook something. She is after all cooking for her family. It's taken me a while to see this aspect, though I can promise you I never blamed her for the lack of food.

Another major realization on this food issue came this morning. (Well, the morning I'm writing this because I scheduled them so as no to overwhelm you all with so many long post in one day.) I had been fussing about there not being any eggs or tomatoes in the house which critically limited me to the point there really was nothing healthy, well-rounded or even good in taste that I could fix myself for breakfast. (I'm on a strict diet right now.) Hubby had gone to get me some eggs and  my MIL came up from her morning shower and entered the kitchen to get her breakfast as usual. This is a typical scene but what I noticed was the bowl she picked up.

I can't be certain but I'm pretty sure my husband had already had his spoon in that tiny bowl because it was jeera aloo, one of his favorites. My MIL was once again eating whatever was left behind from last nights dinner. When she picked up the bowl this morning it only had 2 bites, 3 at the most, in it. She also took what was left of the morning chai and went to sit on the bed and watch her morning drama while she ate. I seriously wanted to cry (then and now). It was at that moment it dawned on me just how rotten things are for her and how she's adapted to them the way she has.

I've mentioned in previous post that she waits until everyone else is done to eat. I understand the concept but now I realize that she is often left with very little food, not enough food for the normal human body to survive off of. She rarely cooks herself lunch and the only time I see her eat is when there are leftovers. Then I started to get upset because I've heard stories of how strict her MIL was and the things that both my MIL and Chachi have had to endure at her hands. Not all of it was unwarranted as I've also mentioned they married into this family during a time when Amritsar was a very violent place. They are the only two women who married into this family that stayed in this home, the others left. I still don't feel that is any excuse for the food issues.

My MIL has been taught to survive on whatever tiny amount of food is left behind. It's often not enough to sustain a healthy life. The men in the house (she's the only woman in this family and Chachi was the only other female in the house) all seem to think it's so wonderful that she lets them consume all they want first. I'm quite sure they feel and have been taught that this is right and selfless. In ways they are right. However, they haven't thought about what they are missing. They are missing the company of a wonderful woman who could talk to them while they eat. They are missing the point that they routinely overeat because the food is good and don't even seem to think about how if it's that good they should want to share it with the woman they say is so valuable to their survival.

I don't blame my husband or FIL. Both are wonderful men in so many ways. They are simply repeating behavior that they have been taught. I am slowly teaching my husband that it's wrong to take advantage of his mother and I am teaching him why. He values his mother, but I feel like in some ways he was taught that because he's a male she should suffer for him because it's her duty. I don't let him get away with such childish behavior. Don't get me wrong, he still has the same Hindu view as most others about mothers being second only to God. He takes care of his mom in many of the same ways other Indian sons would. But I don't for one minute let him raise his voice to her, throw his clothes on the floor leaving them for her to pick up or leave her to carry all the heavy dishes up the steps after washing, etc. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes it doesn't. What surprises me is she scolded him once for not letting her carry a 20lb/10kg bag of wheat flour (atta) up the steps...I had told him not to let her lol.

I don't feel as if it's my place to address FIL. This behavior has been going on for more than 30 years and, at the hands of his mother, was greatly enforced. You can't go back a generation and try to make repairs but you can work towards making sure future generations do not adhere to the same bad principles. And from this point forward I'm no longer going to allow hubby to selfishly eat all of her breakfast just because she lets him do it. Change starts with this generation and will get better with the next.

I never came into this family with the idea that they needed to be changed. I've done a lot of sitting back and watching this past year. I've worked to adapt myself as much as I could to this lifestyle which is vastly different than anything I've ever known. But, I can't sit idly by and watch while MIL is treated in ways that indicate she is beneath anyone without saying something. It's sickening to me to see this kind of thing go on and looking back I know for sure MIL is not the only one here that is living like this. I've touched on some of those things before and quite a few of the women I have seen do these things are much younger than me. So it does still go on and it is still being taught. It all seems to culminate to some Indian males having this view of the "Indian wife." They think a good Indian wife is made by all the suffering she will endure for her husband. Going without food, violating her own religious beliefs, etc.

Yep, I hear about this mythical woman. She only exists because of the archaic belief that a woman is somehow an extension of a man or because someone out there thinks that a woman must go hungry so her husband can overeat or that she should dedicate every waking moment to the family happiness and give up everything about herself. It's just sick. That kind of view demeans Indian women and women everywhere. God never told you to treat anyone like this and he never meant for a woman to suffer for you just so she could be treated as substandard while being praised as being so great. Pick one. Either she is beneath you because you have a job outside of the home or she is the amazing woman you married because she takes care of you but don't force her to hurt herself, her health or suffer just to prove she's good enough for you. She should have been good enough before you married her or you shouldn't have taken vows with her.

For those of you out there who do appreciate your wives or who are married to men who treat you as equal I applaud you. You are the future face of India You are the standard by which the next generation will become even better. For those of you who think that the world view (because it's not just in India) that women are inferior is sick, I applaud you as well. Your voice against this view, even if you only talk to a few trusted friends around you, is making a difference in this world.

33 comments:

  1. I have a comment which partly addresses this post; not all.

    You said that your MIL scolded her son when he tried to help her. As far as I know, this is common in most of the indian households. That individuals insistence to "duty" is actually psychological in nature. A lot of indian women do it and there's a reason for it.

    The behaviour comes from the concept of "reciprocation". It establishes an "obligation" on the individual receiving it to reciprocate the favour. Consider a not so close friend who out of the blue sends you a christmas greeting card. The subtle obligation here is that you will reciprocate in a similar way because you don't want to get a negative label like a moocher or an
    ingrate.

    The unconditional favours from family are nothing but web of
    indebtedness that you have to reciprocate someday. Retailers use a similar strategy to indebt its customers by offering coupons and selling it at a price below the cost. It is likely that the customers will return back because the feeling of indebtness causes mental disturbance.

    Much of this "indebtedness" is forced(common eg: indian mother to her son). Aid from one country to a disaster struck country. Religious organisations giving education and medical care free of charge. The person receiving these favours has no idea what he or she is in for. There are people in this world who have a theoretical and non-theoretical knowledge of these concepts and they use it without anyone realizing it.

    Indian mothers might not know the words(reciprocation, indebtness etc) but they have a non audible understanding of this psychology.

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  2. That makes so much sense! I hadn't thought of it this way at all. Very interesting. I know I do see a lot of "if you cook me jeera aloo, I'll massage your legs" (yes...that exact phrase lol) so I'm guessing your conclusion is exactly right in that situation. She must have been thinking he would ask for something in return. ....I'm also loving how you related this to shopping...you must read all my crazy shopping related posts lol. I've got sucked in by many such scams in the retail sector. I just can't help it - I need that 2000 INR free after purchasing 4000 INR. Lol. Shhh..no I don't but don't tell Rohit.

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  3. She must have been thinking he would ask for something in return

    Not him; HER!!

    Everyone in the house is bound by "duty" and they HAVE to fulfill their obligation. You said your MIL has two sons. One of these sons will have to take up the duty of taking care of the parents.

    Any indian family that ignores this organized set of structure becomes a dysfunctional family.

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  4. I'm thinking that BIL is planning on taking up the duty of caring for his parents. He intends to come back here someday. Rohit does a good part of caring for them now but in some aspects we are dysfunctional. MIL doesn't let me do a lot of my duties around the house and I think it causes some tension. Still, despite all that goes on here, I think this family works together quite well. At least they must...we are all still surviving and the house is still standing. Which I'm not so sure would happen in a US joint family lol. The one I grew up in didn't stick together as well as this.

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  5. It is all about the 'martyr syndrome' of the Indian female. From childhood, they are born to 'give up' and 'sacrifice'. Some how this seems to give them the false perception in the karma theory of birth and rebirth, that they will get to go to a higher plane! I disagree! 


    I am an Indian married to a Indian male, and we have two daughters. We moved back from the US. One of the major adjustment problems I had and still have, is that we need to 'serve' the males food first and THEN eat! Why? Why can't I (who has actually cooked the meal) ever get to eat first? 

    Indian mothers also have this notion that their sons should not work at home. I remember the first time, my MIL visited me in the US. We had to do the dishes after dinner, and my hubby got up to help out. She nearly pushed him away from the sink and was looking horrified that I could even just SIT there and watch! She told me - "poor guy, he is coming to wash the dishes. Don't let him. If needed, I will wash them!". I replied " if he can eat from those dishes, what is the shame in him washing them?"!! But that is the typical Indian mom. Feed the son, pamper the son, but expect nothing in return...just his shoulder to support you in old age. 

    For some reason, I feel more pity for such Indian moms, than anger. I hope the scenario changes, but I see no hope for that change at all. 

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  6. I think like Mahmansma said that it has to do with this whole "Martyr Syndrome" indian women have been spoon fed since birth. A good Indian girl don't go out talk to boys, a good indian girl knows how to take care of a house and family, a good indian wife puts the need of her family before her own...yada yada yada. Apparently has to do with the belief that to break the cycle of reincarnation one need to be in a male in their final life cycle, a woman is therfore tacitely declared of lower status and have much more to redeem, I think this is crazy but that explains the whole spirit of sacrifice thing, the change has to come from women themselves as they are the one perpetuating the concept indeed. My MIL's biggest concern was that as a western woman I was a lazy slob, value less, morale less, family hater lady, as she is like many of her generation under the impression only a homely good Indian girl will do for her son. She hasn't changed her view, she doesn't want to change it, and I'm done trying to get her to see things differently. A good thing we don't live with DH's parents

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  7. My MIL was horrified when she came to live with us for a month during the first year of marriage that DH was actually operating the washing machine and washing his shirt's collars. Apparently my cooking 3 hot fresh square meal a day, doing the dishes, working part time as a traslator from home, fixing snacks and chai, running errands wasn't enough. DH tried to defend himself tooth and nails about how he LOVES using the washing machine (he does, he truely does) my MIL would just throw me killer dark stares simply because she couldn't just go and tell me out loud in front of everyone "How dare you let me son do any housework" sigh!

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  8. Kristy.. while reading this, I cried. I am proud to know you.
    When we face culture shock, we become self-absorbed.. like little kids we want everything to 'go our way'... and when we start trying to understand why others do what they do (why do they behave that way?) we start to gain empathy and create deeper understanding and relationships.
    On your one year anniversary- your ups and downs of India the past one year, this is kind of a victory of sorts the way I see it... you are able to bring yourself into the view of what others in your environment see, feel and do. It does help ease culture shock and increase adaptation. As you continue doing this, you will find more comfort in India.

    I am so happy to know you. Knowing you enriches my life!!

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  9. you have no idea how bad the situation really is .. i intend to write about it in detail in a few days

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  10. I'll read it in detail later on.....I am pressed for time, but I really appreciate where you are going. I am an Indian woman, married to an Indian Male living in the US. Mind if I share this blog on my forum? It is so well written, and frankly it needs to be told...

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  11. I agree with you that it's pity we feel for them. They didn't teach themselves this behavior and have no idea how many ways it negatively affects them. It makes me so sad. As for eating, I drag Rohit in the kitchen (and get away with it) and sometimes we eat while we cook lol. He can't keep himself from eating once he sees food so then I have an excuse to eat too. I don't think his parents know or we may get in trouble as well. Maybe you can sneak in a little food for yourself when no one is looking as well.

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  12. It's so sad. By teaching them that they are only driving some to commit the behavior once they get a chance. I see it among college kids here and I found that surprising having heard all the stories of how Indian women "don't do....." before coming here.

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  13. While I know your MIL wouldn't find it funny, I think its quite humorous. I can only imagine her stares. I don't get those from my MIL - she usually sides with me - but I can imagine my MIL is indeed rare. It's still funny how she wouldn't think his love for the machine would be a reason to let him do it (you know like letting the baby play with a cardboard box you were going to throw out because they like it so much).

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  14. Thank you! Such a wonderful comment!. While I can't say I don't still have some truly self-absorbed moments, I am thankful for every one of these type moments that I have. Compassion is important in life and we need that to survive difficult situations.

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  15. I am anxiously awaiting your reply then!

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  16. Thank you! You are more than welcome to share.

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  17. I think you are very much right in what you have said & this thinng's should stop but on one point I cannot agree that there should be freedom to have relationships outside marriages either man or woman this things endanger the stability & peace of couples as well as family.

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  18. I wasn't referring to sexual relationships. I mean friendships, having coworkers and colleagues. Those are all healthy relationships that people need. Some women are not allowed to have friendships after marriage here unless it is with other family members.

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  19. That's really sad. You're one of those women that can do something. Do not let your husband see you go hungry.

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  20. Thank you. I don't let him do this to me. I insist we eat together (unless we're sneaking food while we're cooking) and I usually take him in the kitchen with me. I'm showing him a different side to life. He actually likes cooking.

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  21. Then I think you are right.Every one needs some friends outside their relationships(marriage) to share their thpoghts.

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  22. Hi,
    I am Indian, and I found myself nodding at almost every sentence. Yes, we, the newer generation needs to be the change. We should not be propagating outdated ideas and behavior. We need to nudge the men in our lives - that we have influence over - in the right direction, whether it's the husband, son, male friend, brother, cousin, nephew or grandson. Until we start discussing these things with them and showing by example, they will never "get it" and will continue to propagate nonsense to the next generation and worse, to their own wives.

    Similarly, we have to also guide the women in our lives to show more empathy and sisterhood towards the other women in their lives. Far too many women are guilty of imposing outdated values on other women and pulling other women down. This is one of the most shameful things a woman could ever do.

    If women learn to stand up for themselves and not allow themselves to be treated as any lesser than men, they will be the change. We do not have to wait for others to make that change for us, least of all, men.

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  23. You're absolutely right on so many points. I am thankful every time I see an Indian woman trying to make even the smallest change in this type of behavior. Unfortunately I also see how hard that is for them in some environments. I really hope to see more women working towards the changes though. I know they have the strength in them because it's often easier to get the man to change than it is to hold inside all the hurt this behavior causes.

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  24. Your perspectives and your efforts to make a difference to the people in your life are really encouraging. We take a lot of this stuff for granted, since it is ingrained into our system, hoping that the present and future generations will not turn out that way or put up with this behavior. Yet, we allow it to happen to our moms, sisters and wives. Maybe in some cases, we dont even think of it or register it. Your post is very useful for people like me, who brush it away as "it is her choice!"

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  25. I wasn't aware of this mind set when I first visited. MIL and Aunty would ask me all the time if I was ready to eat and we were the only ones in the house. My husband had to spend two weeks away on a course leaving me alone in their care. I don't feel very hungry usually ever and most of the time found myself saying yes just so I could get them to eat because I knew they were hungry but I couldn't understand why they couldn't just eat without me. I'm with you on the not letting DH take advantage of MIL's willingness to put him first. I chided mine quite a few times for behaving like a child when he is a full grown man both capable and practiced at taking care of himself.

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  26. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. You're right, these women choose to behave this way because of things they were taught and they think it shows their love for their sons/husbands. It does in some ways but that doesn't make it right for them to let her. Their love for her back should mean they make her eat a healthy meal so they can keep her around as long as possible.

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  27. Loved this post. Once we were at a roadside restaurant while traveling by road, with another family and everybody ordered different things, it just happened that my order came before my husbands' and I started eating. The friend who came with us told me she never could dream of eating before her husband and children had finished. I was not aware that this was actually followed (don't remember clearly) because it was never followed at our place and asked her why did she do that. There was no logical answer, she said she never even bought anything for herself, she only shopped for her husband and children! This thinking is very twisted, what she was trying to say was that doing all that made her a better wife and mother to her husband and sons - but better than who? And why did they allow her to never shop for herself and to stay hungry till they had eaten.

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  28. That is so sad. And you're right, you can't be sure if she meant it as an insult or if she's really just had it drilled so far into her mind that she has to live that way to keep his love. It's just sickening to see this kind of behavior. If only I had a time machine to go back and figure out who started this nasty habit and beat them senseless.

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  29. Its interesting that people constantly blame Indian men for everything, as if they have a huge amount of power in the world.

    Indian men are in nearly as bad a position as Indian women. Most of them don't get enough to eat on a daily basis and live in abject poverty. When they go to the west they are treated like slaves in IT or business companies and are completely made fun of in western media. 

    I see that you are eating quite well in India though! Good for you.

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  30. I'm not quite sure how you missed it but the beginning of paragraph two openly blames women for this issue as well. I placed the blame where the blame lay and while I can't answer for Indian men being blamed for everything, they do contribute to this one bad aspect.

    Most of this country lives in poverty, it's one of the issues the PM has been on the news about lately. The numbers are outrageously high, I also posted about the starvation in this country as part of this 4 part series of posts.

    I can only assume that your last paragraph was somehow meant in a condescending manner. Well, the pictures I've put up here are old pictures and no I don't eat well here. It's a constant struggle for me daily, as I often right about, to get access to food that isn't rotten, etc. I've lost 70lbs since coming here, most of that in the first 6 months when I had serious issues even finding food I could eat that didn't make me sick. So even the food that is available is substandard and most of it not fit for consumption, that's also been on the news here as well and in this 4 part series I posted links. You should check some of them out. Food is a daily struggle and I very rarely eat 2 full meals a day.

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  31. "I've mentioned in previous post that she waits until everyone else is done to eat. I understand the concept"

    What's the concept? 

    "Then I started to get upset because I've heard stories of how strict her MIL was and the things that both my MIL and Chachi have had to endure at her hands. Not all of it was unwarranted as I've also mentioned they married into this family during a time when Amritsar was a very violent place. They are the only two women who married into this family that stayed in this home, the others left.'

    Where did they go when they left?  Did they leave because of the abusive MIL?  What types of abuse did she ration out to them?

    You'd think women would support each other.  Are Indian women self haters?

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  32. The concept is how a lot of Indian women are either forced or choose to not eat until their husband has eaten all he wants. It's an old custom that some think is so great but is really just oppression of women.

    The other family members (sons and daughters) moved away for work or marriage. The tyrannical MIL disallowed them from leaving the house, controlled what they did, what they wore, etc. To my knowledge there was no physical abuse but she was extremely strict.

    I don't think Indian women are self haters at all. I see a lot of negative comments made toward others but rarely themselves. People here do not treat each other with the same common courtesy as people in the west. I assume some women are supportive of each other here but I haven't seen any in real life (I've seen it online). Mostly they just tell each other things like 'that's life,' 'get over it,' etc. That's not my idea of supportive but may be theirs.

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  33. Well to be able to lose 70lbs and still be ok means you surely were very overweight to start with so thats not such a bad thing. And seriously what kind of people do you live with? The rotten food and lack of hygeine you're always going on about? Sounds like a really low rough clan, and that house on youtube! You said once that your husband was a model previously, pray tell what for? because he has a face only a mother and an overweight mpaning wife could love. P.s pardesi doesnt mean someone who is married to a foreigner, it means a foreigner moti

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