Desi Son: Obligated to Take Care of Mother

23 Feb

Desi Son: Obligated to Take Care of Mother

I have been away for quite sometime gathering experiences, resolving karma and counting my blessings; most of the time without access to internet and long distance calling. Now I am back and I am answering responses on GGTS one at time. Some of the responses will never make it to the front and readers will never know about their existence due to private and confidential nature. Other hateful responses have no place at GGTS as my aim is to promote understanding and create safe space not to become a venting platform for personal grievances against a person or community. At this time I am also looking at the terms people have used to find GGTS blog while I was gone. One commonly used phrase is the title of this posting “Desi son obligated to take care of mother.” The other term that frequently sprouted was “how to emotional blackmail ex spouse.” There were many other phrases but these two amused me the most.

 In desi families male preference is rooted in the patriarchal infrastructural set up of communities. In the absence of state provided elder care, immediate and extended families share the burden of not only elder care but also share other responsibilities like marrying daughters and sisters; taking care of the sick; building family house and paying off debts etc. To smoothly regulate this need functional interdependence between all actors is a requirement. If this interdependence is to be maintained there has to be an effective way to channel different personalities without turning them into rebels and bitter individuals. Family and community traditions, cultural and religious rituals serve this purpose; like tradition of male primogeniture curbs the possible conflict of interests in family leadership and like wise family tradition of old parents living with a particular son- first born or last born. Generational reverence helps maintain clash between generations at the same time gender based division of labor prevent women from challenging the roles and responsibilities of men they are related to.

 There is another dimension to this equation where do the incoming women fit in; women brought into the family through marriage. The question remains, how their varied personalities are tamed and kept obedient to preserve the interests of the family. One way could be to bind them in the traditions of their conjugal families that may be different or similar to those of their natal homes. Another way to keep these women in line is to keep them insecure in their primary relationship i.e. marriage itself. As most marriages across the desi communities are arranged the initial bonding between the spouses is dependent on the good will of the conjugal kin. For many conjugal kin the access to a son’s material wealth is a matter of survival and for some other access to his services (although the serving part falls of his wife) in the time of need and old age.

 Women in this patriarchal set up beget social status by their association with men through marriage (spouse) and family- natal (father and brothers) and procreation (sons). Thus men are not only important to women for social status but survival too; being married to an able bodied man and siring sons seems important under such circumstance. For aging mother and young sister(s) know they cannot count on support from their spouses and conjugal kin so they have to depend on the sons and brothers for support and care if needed. Thus it is in their interest to disrupt his marital harmony. On the other hand same women (mother and sisters) resent their own husbands supporting their natal families. Just disrupting the marriage is not a sufficient condition often a back up plan is administered in the form of guilt induction and constant reminders of gendered responsibilities of the sons. With the constant guilt ridden early socialization any individual will not only fear establishing independent relationships as adults but will distrust personal relationships. Lack of confidence to handle intimate relationships magnify the fear of mother’s premonitions “you will change and forsake me once you are married” coming true becomes the basis of dealing with partner. The seeds of distrust germinate very quickly in the fertile soil of constant reminders perceived behavior of the DIL thus some married women are never secure in their relationships.

 To raise the question if a desi son is obligated or should be to take care of mother in fast changing socio-economic demographies, is absurd. Not because women have started working outside homes in greater number or we are claiming to be in 21st century because it is a right thing to do for any child to take care of parents in the time of need. Why are some people still fixated on the idea- son as the savior? Why they have difficulty accepting help or even gifts from their daughters?

 If it were a woman who asked this question I would like to ask her if her parents needed care will she look towards her brother (what if she had none or her brother did not have the means) or would she like to seek permission from her spouse to do so. It is high time we start questioning our sensibilities about our responsibilities as children of aging parents and at the same time we have the right to challenge the forces that stand to prevent us from doing the right thing and disrupt our marital harmony. Yes, it is difficult to reason with people accustomed of centuries old customs but someone has to take the first step. Why not begin with offering to share caring for our parents along with our brothers and challenge our mothers and ourselves for ill treating or making disparaging remarks against wives of our brothers. Or are we just using these age old customs to perpetuate a dysfunctional system because we benefit from it in the form of power over other women. It is lot easier to have power over individuals subordinate in relation to us (women brought into the family) than challenge those superior in status (female conjugal kin by virtue of their relationship to the man in question) and the impersonal larger system in general.

Change begins with me.

 

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7 Responses to “Desi Son: Obligated to Take Care of Mother”

  1. Bad Indian Woman January 4, 2012 at p01 #

    Mr Baruah, since you have so confidently asserted that menstrual blood can be highly infectious, please take the trouble to cite some peer-reviewed medical studies which can back up your claims.

    I am menstruating right now. Rest assured, the trusting (male) souls sitting next to me are at no risk of infection.

    Pray, just how is menstrual blood “highly infectious”?

    Do you even know what a yeast infection (chlamydia)is?

    Do you know that a yeast infection is not contagious? In many cases, it is caused because the foreign object (read penis) entering the vagina is infected and unclean.

    How many men disinfect their penises before sticking it into their wives?

    If you’re so obessed with hygiene, perhaps you will condescend to disinfect your crown jewels before you shower your blessings onto some poor hapless woman.

    Sorry for the rant DG, but this man has some really screwed ideas about menstruation.

    @Bad Indian Woman,
    Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.
    All he needs is a period or two and he’ll know what women go through. These custodians of great desi culture are people of their own kind…
    Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

    Like

    • Mandooka January 6, 2012 at p01 #

      For all his drivel about being a rebel and all that blah, he comes with up with such priceless gems! Wonder what this custodian of Great Indian Culture will say after reading the article in the link below, considering he does not want to challenge ANY illogical thing unless and until it is backed by scientific evidence:

      http://www.celle.com/scd_2009_0340_lowlink_pdf_v03.pdf

      Like

  2. ES October 20, 2011 at p10 #

    I think its the duty of both a boy and girl to take care of their parents. The patriarchal system worked when people had a lot of kids and had a mix of girls and boys. So, even if the girls are married, boys remain to take care of parents.

    But in this age, where people have few kids (sometimes girls only), this system doesn’t really have any merit. Its our duty to fight this system and ensure that girls parents are not left alone/ unattended to at old age.

    I think an important first step in such a fight is to have financial independence. Or at least, women should be employable (if required), if such a fight results in the worst case scenario. Otherwise, men and MIL’s/ FIL’s will have an upper hand.

    @ES,
    Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.
    You are right financial independence would be the stepping stone to improve women’s bargaining power within families but the truth is societies in transition are more violent to women stepping out of traditional roles. This won’t change until the dictat that “women be married and stay married” is done away with and that will be possible only if women could financially support themselves and live independently. It is dog catch the tail situation. Unless we amend the institution of marriage there is very little hope.

    Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

    You may also like:

    http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/desi-parenting-raising-confused-daughters/

    http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/401/

    Like

  3. Durlov Baruah June 8, 2010 at p06 #

    Very well written. Once again. Writer.

    Age old systems are not wholly dysfunctional, some parts of it become because of evolution of human livelihood. And beautifully the ageold systems also undergo changes.

    I find it difficult to read that the age old customs were cruel to womenkind. It was not all bad.

    But I sure feel that the brahminical system of societal governance had many flaws. I am writing something on it.. will publish sometime soon.

    Like

    • girlsguidetosurvival June 8, 2010 at p06 #

      Durlov,

      Welcome to GGTS a safe space.

      The customs and rituals are created to maintain certain order in any social system. To motivate people to adhere and not dare to break them, thus there ought to be some incentives for example you get to boss around when you attain seniority (read become mother of grown up sons or mother-in-law); one may beget certain previleges by virtue of being married- in not so distant past only married women got to wear adornments and make up etc.

      Customs and rituals are designed to selectively bestow previlege and disadvantage. In some communities a mensturating woman is forbidden from entring the kitchen thus she is discriminated but at the same time her labor is appropriated as she is asked to sit outside the kitchen an do the dishes with ash, clean lentils etc.

      Yet another is post partum taboos- in rural communities after parturition a woman is considered impure for 40 days. During this period she is refrained from sexual intercourse, her kin both natal if she has gone to her parents for the birth or her MIL will guard her against her husband’s intrision. It is a very functional as ritual 40 days is a reasonable time for a new mother to regain her stregnth, bond with the new baby and get her sleep in order. But in these changing senarios of urbanization people are living in nuclear households and men are not as restrained as there is none to reprimand their intrusions. We are observing rise in post partum depression in urban women. Post partum lack of libido resulting from hormonal changes and spousal intrusion are a contributing cause along with many other.

      It is important to remember the customs and rituals are in itself not bad but how they are employed to discriminate against women definetly is. Like I mentioned menstrual taboos- not bad if they can give rest to a woman in pain but surely bad if they are used to lable women impure and incapable of making decisions and providing leadership.

      I’ll respond to your other comment in a little while. Thanks again for visiting. Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.

      Peace,

      Desi Girl

      Like

      • Durlov Baruah June 9, 2010 at p06 #

        Sure. I am always hopeful and logical.

        Today I realise very clearly at 34 that order is required brought by customs/traditions or by an HR deptt in office.

        And the flip side of order is rebellion, as no order can satisfy all.

        Again you have written a beautiful response and thank you for an example that is followed in Assam…. ‘mensturating woman is forbidden from entering the kitchen..’ In fact, many even sleep in special beds and washes the bedsheets every morning.

        I dont see it as discrimination as I have not seen mass discomfort from this practice. In fact the women take pride of belonging to a clean, hygiene tradition.

        As I understand myself, I am a rebel and have done things differently always. But I need knowledge to back my rebellious attitude. If I dont have empirical evidence, I wont fight. In this context, belonging partly to a doctor family, I understand that medical science only knows less than 20% of the human body. In that 20%, we know that menstrual blood has a high probability of infection, yeast infection (white discharge) being common. And I dont know how much is not discovered about menstrual blood?

        So in such a condition, I will go by collective wisdom accumulated for thousand of years. I cannot in my lifetime understand some complexities.

        One of the critical benefit of order/tradition is the advantage of collective wisdom it passes on. So I hold this tradition in Assam in high regards and I bow my head to all those women who follow the tradition.

        So yes, you were right in saying that some order/customs have discriminatory tendencies. Now, we may feel discrimination because we dont the whole story or have the knowledge of the origin of a custom, or it is actually a discrimination purported by the stronger section of the society.

        We being the intelligent segment of the society have to get completely unbiased monks in analysing these discrimination and bring an evolution into the society.

        Okay let me ask you a question. Did you know that in a funeral pyre, the brahman actually chants a mantra proving the son to be the killer of his father and then he would need guru dakshina like a cow, goat, etc to absolve the son from his sins….

        Thats clearly discrimination to my mind. In one funeral, one of uncles had beaten up a brahman to stop these pathetic practices. In one week, the whole village became followers of Shri Shri Sankar Deva. That opened my eyes to continue cleansing to whatever abilities I have.

        Cheers! Great knowing you.

        Like

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    [...] one talks about the violence perpetrated against men by their mothers and sisters, discussions always comes and rests on wife to husband [...]

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