The dichotomy of the ‘liberal’ Indian parent
Just read this piece on parents of daughters and their attitude towards marriage by IHM. Triggered a lot of things I have concluded about Indian family system till now. Will be talking more from a girl’s perspective only because I am a girl, but I do know a fair number of guys also face similar attitudes with respect to their work or other life decisions.
A ‘liberal’ Indian family is mostly a dichotomy (exceptions might be there, but they are rare). Post feminism, educating one’s daughters has also become part of a status symbol. For many first generation feminist ideology inspired mothers, the drive to see the daughter as a very successful career woman is higher and while this is a good thing, the problem is the increased expectations from the child. The girl not just has to be a good girl (read sanskari, agyakari etc etc) but she has to excel in studies. To justify the fact that she is a worthy enough human being she has to try twice as hard as the boy next door or the mamaji’s son to be the absolute best student. The messages she receives right from childhood are that when it comes to career and education she is as good as any boy. The girl generally grows up in a bubble of equality.
But just after she becomes an adolescent the bubble suddenly starts going pop. Suddenly there are restrictions about what she should do. She could study yes, but not that particular course, its manly you know. When she questions the equality, she is told that well she was always brought up to be an equal, but there are some things that haven’t changed in the outside world and so this is for her safety.
Then she grows up, sometimes rebelling and going on to do the job or course that her parents thought would make it tough for her to get a husband later on, stuff that renders her less ‘homely’. Now she has more competition to handle, that from the ones who didn’t rebel and lived on to marry someone and have happy marriages. God forbid she is having problems at her work, she would be told you were the one who chose it (this I believe happens even to boys who choose a career that their parents didn’t like). What parents fail to understand is that the child made a mistake and is not asking you to clean up his/her act, all they are saying is to have the confidence that they have the unconditional love of their parents in whatever they do. Of course, conservative parents (read control freaks) would say that what the hell are you talking, we are parents, we don’t want the child suffering later and that is why we are asking him/her to stay put or do whatever we deem is right because of course, we know better. Lets get one thing clear the parents are not wondering if the child might not be able to handle it, they are more concerned that they might not be able to handle the so-called societal glare. It is about being called as ‘failed parents’ because the child is not a super star.
Also all ‘liberal’ thoughts vanish when it comes to marriage. If she has had a love marriage then she has to bear the consequences. If she married someone of their choice, then she has to ‘adjust’ and many times she is told how ‘education’ has turned her head or has made her expect too much. Even when it comes to the job, it is not easy if she says that she made a mistake and wants to quit and figure things out for a while. The whole discussion in both the cases is about how they have grinned and borne everything that life threw at them and so the daughter should also.
The biggest fear Indian parents seem to have about their children is about them ‘failing’ to live up to some social expectation. It doesn’t really matter if the child is happy there, but the ‘appearance’ of happiness or success is what is important. Log kya kahenge rules everyone’s lives. It is also the tragedy of the abused that they become as insensitive as they accuse the abusers to be, by asking others who are being abused to just grin and bear it. This is praised in our popular culture as resilience. We look for that one fairy tale where the ‘patient’ victim finally managed to change the abuser and we pay no heed to the actual reality of the abuse. We infact encourage the victim to live in denial because we ourselves want to live in denial, its the only thing that keeps the status quo intact and after all if the victim goes through the same shit and remains there, it will be easier for us to justify why we remained there. It will be easier to say the world is unfair and ‘accept’ it and live isn’t it?