Tag Archives: Desi

Desi Fathers: Super, Lesser and Some in Between

2 Oct

Yes, DG is still alive. Yes, it’s been a long time to be exact 3 months and 20 days since she last posted on GGTS. What did she do all these days? Not that busy readers are interested in her not so happening life. Her basement apartment flooded and she literally survived electrocution. One Saturday morning in early September while she was still drifting in and out of sleep she thought she was dreaming until her hand hit the floor in six inches of water. She jumped out of bed to find she was still alive because in her sleep she pulled the plug to heat pad and fan. She blessed her stars for she is not a parent. She salutes you all parents out there, kudos for how you do that. Now you have another one for your arsenal, “be happy DG is not your parent, or else you would have been… surviving on raw food, green smoothies, steamed veggies, sitting in 6 inches of water… (You can add whatever to the list). DG is definitely not parent material she is just as good as Gabbar Singh to scare kids in the neighborhood though she is a good auntie to spoil your kids and talk to them about everything under the sun. Her friends tell her she gives very good parenting advice that is possible only because she is not a parent. 😛

Her social life might be nil but her Karma life is pretty interesting… Now everything is almost under control, all suitcases are wet and have gone bad, mission impossible to find a new place is on… Hope readers had a good time while she was away. In continuation to the previous post, though it was DG’s assumption that it will be in two parts but it appears it will be in few more parts.

By definition the super father, did not have to struggle to establish his hegemony it just came by virtue of his birth order. There after he had to maintain it by asserting his might and right at all the important life events in the family such as, birth of children, birth rites, finding matches or spending on wedding and sickness in the family and so on. To have power and absolute power is no big deal the skill lies in maintaining that power over a life time for this a person has to learn to execute power in a balance so as to not alienate the menials or push them into rebellion. Constant stiff upper lip is one way to do this but it is pretty threatening and alienating thus a super father has to occasionally shower affection at distant quarters so as not to destroy his in-control image. For example, a father who is known as terror incarnate to his children is often viewed as kind person by his nieces, nephews and neighbors. He’ll be readily available to guide and support his siblings and their children at the cost of his own progeny; rather he is obsessed with them. According to him his children by default should excel in career and social life and take his baton further. His filial loyalty is secondary to his filial piety (sharing his parents’ duty of raising their progeny, his siblings). Though his children often grow with emotionally absent father and resentful of their aunts, uncles and cousins but he makes sure he gives tips on parenting to his siblings. Often these kids rebel and super father loses grip on them.

With such a super father in picture all other fathers in the family become lesser fathers and they have to establish their own pecking order. There is a natural unspoken competition between siblings for parental attention and approval; all their lives they do tango and once they have children this burden to provide them with identity falls on them. Thus children become poster child of “My dog is smarter than…” So each father not only minds his children to save face but also pokes nose in the upbringing of those of his siblings’ (if possible then neighbors too) to maintain pecking order. In this double and confused parenting their own children rebel and move away from them thus to feel in-control they take it up to themselves to discipline other people’s children. The only way to deflect attention from their errant (rather resentful and disrespectful) children they interfere in other people’s disciplining regimes; they find faults in other people’s children to an extent where not only the children but their parents too resent them. Although the generational reverence and gender hierarchy prevents any direct confrontation with such nosey pseudo fathers but after a point a mother will stand up for son(s). This double edged sword often falls on male children and thus their mother emerge as their saviors.

It is mommy’s job to protect her sons’ from daddy’s unreasonable wrath and that of other fathers in the family. Thus mother son dyad is further cemented as her emotionally absent husband further drifts away. Her rising to protect her son(s) immediately brands her as family breaker and an outside (her association to family is through marriage and she’ll remain outsider until her death, she’ll be inducted into the clan only after sharad, a death feast is organized in her name).

These are not set in cement rules of desi parenting they are just prototypes there are numerous variations and combinations depending upon where they stand in social pecking order. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child but it is also true that too many chefs will only spoil the broth…

PS: These fathers are not bad people they are good providers and law abiding citizens they are just confused and they do not know any other way to behave. It is time we created new parenting role models. The world of desi parenting is evolving and some young men are stepping up to be “Dads.”

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Desi Mothers-in-law

7 Dec

Desi Mothers-in-law

Most married desi women I know have expressed their discontent with the interference from their in-laws at some point of their life. Some feel this encroachment on regular basis as they live in joint families and those living in nuclear families in different cities still claim long distance remote control effect on their lives. There are numerous desi blogs and forums where women are discussing these issues and seeking support and solutions from one another. Some members suggest paying back in the same coin using tit for tat tactics because most spouses do not rise to the occasion and protect their wives. This makes me wonder if this passive aggressive behavior will remedy the situation or will just push a person into a spiral of emotional turmoil.

The mother-in-law problem is not unique to India/South Asia even in west women report this problem. What make it different for South Asians/Indians are our family structure and social economy. The lack of alternative structures of social support and old age care makes it inevitable for conjugal families to check any development of strong affection between the newly married couple. The fear of loosing economic support from sons makes rest of his family act in funny ways to disturb his married life. Instead of acting from love and kindness towards the new bride they target all their energies in dislodging her even before she is settled. Desi women feel trapped in these murky waters because the premium placed on marriage and lack of other support structures prevents them from leaving.

The other reason of this family feud between female conjugal kin is related to the lack of opportunities to power. In desi communities men have more power outside the homes but senior women within the homes have control over the lives of children, younger men and incoming women. The women who have lived timid lives blossom into dominant figures once their sons attain adulthood. They not only emotionally manipulate their sons but also have the ability to instigate the sons against their fathers to avenge the injustices mounted on them during their youth (refer Dilip Kaur Tiwan’s Sahitya Academy award winner Eh Hamara Jiwana). Such behavior is not limited to house wives even professionally successful mothers-in-law resort to such tactics. One may wonder why professionally successful women need to act so mean towards their daughters-in-laws. The taste of absolute power over another person is exhilarating; also it speaks volumes about a person self doubts, low self esteem and mistrust for the sons they raised.

Emotionally abusive and manipulative MILs have low self esteen and are alway busy in keeping up with the Jones. They live their lives in bitterness. They are unhappy most of the times so all they exude is unhappiness.  They are drama junkies, they’ll create a scene about anything under the sun, even if something happens in Mrs. Sharma’s home it becomes about them.  Every thing is about them. If you said you gained weight they’ll tell you they gained more than you. If you said you were slim in your youth they’ll contend they were slim to the extent of emaciation. Their need for attention and assurance is never ending and exhusting for people around them. Their loved ones are trying to buy peace from them at all costs. They try to keep this species of MILs calm and contended. But it is never sufficient.  When a DIL comes this burden falls on her and other family members too feel now it should be DIL’s job to serve MIL and keep her happy.It becomes easy for them to exonarate themselves from this responsibility and pile blames on the DIL for MILs displeasure. It is not that the circumstances have made MIL critical and unhappy rather they chose to act so. They are pleasant and good when they want to be. Their most time is spent in drama so even when they are genuinely normal it is hard to believe and one may fear what may trigger another dramatic attack.

These MILs  claim to love their sons and want them to be happy. Th eir formula of happiness for their son does not include his wife. When ever the son is feeling normal in his married life they get a panic attack. Their dialogues are- “Something is happening to me. My heart is sinking, I am dying.” “I feel I’ll die alone you will not care for me in my old age.” Religion is another tool in their arsenal, they claim to fast or pray for the long life of their sons. My friend Anu’s MIL fasts every full moon day for the health and long life of her son. If there happens to be an invitation for a party on the fullmoon day she’ll prepone or postpone the fast. The food becomes more important than the health of her son. The sons of such mothers harbor secret hatered for womenkind especially their mothers but are unable to verbalize it as it will be considered sacreligious. So they turn this hatred to their spouses in the form of emotional, verbal or physical abuse. If they ever stand up for their spouses their mothers’ start with “I gave you birth…” These sons have not learned to cope with this regular drama so when they are confronted with some marital issue their response is usually fight or flight. When they fight they become their own mothers and when they resort flight they become arctic pole. The daughters of such mothers are true copies of their mothers, drama junkies and codependents. They create a lot of drama to get what they want. They also create hardships for their sisters-in-law. If they are married they’ll create hardships for their spouse just like their mothers. This is the reason you feel overwhelmed even if you are with just one family memeber. Also it is family pattern to act alike.

Not all women are powerless at all times and not all men are powerful at all times. The ideal of unquestioned generational reverence is one of the ways to maintain hierarchy within families and allocate power to women over other women and younger men. This helps in checking women’s revolt against male dominance in every day lives and in public sphere. This anticipated power at certain age acts like a carrot for women to strive for becoming a mother-in-law.

There is another rare species of mothers-in-law who are supportive of their daughters-in-law. They not only love them and help them in developing a bond with their husbands but also raise their children. Some of these rare specie MILs are committed to making it better for their DILs as opposed to their own MILs and others in this genre are relatively secure with who they are, they do not have to make another person feel bad in order to feel better about themselves. Such MILs are calm and contended with their lives. They live their lives peacefully and know their boundaries. Even when they disagree with some thing they have a functional way of addressing the issue than creating a drama. If you find such a MIL please respect her and appreciate her.She does not need anything from you other than respect affection and kindness. Tell others about her so that they are motivated to be like her.

 

How to deal with in-laws please see the page “Dealing with in-laws.”

Desi in-Laws Waging a Psychological Warfare Against Bahus

28 Nov

Desi in-Laws Waging a Psychological Warfare Against Bahus

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Last week I was talking to an old friend she sounded quite depressed and negative. I probed her and asked her what was making her so unhappy. She ceded it was the same old in-laws problems, manipulations, making snide remarks about her family, her upbringing, incessant complaining about how she lives her life, constant bickering and all the regular stuff. Her spouse dwindles from indifference to blaming her for all that was ailing his side of the family. He insists he isn’t expecting too much all he asks of her is to keep peace in the family. Call his parents once a week, not to talk back to them when they visit them or when she visits them. Was it really too much to ask? In ideal conditions may be not but here was an ongoing psychological warfare.

 Snide Remarks as Psychological Warfare

 

A psychological warfare is a war of the mind to defeat the enemy’s will to fight. It is a planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behavior, to create in target groups behavior, emotions, and attitudes that support the attainment of dominant group’s objectives. Early in the marriage the berating comments regarding the quality of the wedding feast and the quantity of gifts given to a woman by her natal family at various occasions began. The gifts given to her by her natal family are thoroughly screened and denigrated in a way that makes her feel inadequate and ashamed. These comments were intended to humiliate her and put her on the defensive over every conceivable matter. The whole process of constant humiliation is aimed to demoralize a woman.  As in the psychological warfare a dominant group uses subtle persuasion than direct physical force by relying on logic, fear, desire or mental factors to promote specific emotions and behaviors. The aggressors employ similar tactics. As the breakdown of a woman’s marriage is the worst disaster imaginable, and that her life has no value of meaning outside marriage. Her feeling of vulnerability makes her desperately desire to somehow to carve a place for herself in her in-laws house, how ever, dreading the terms she must accept.  The never ending snide remarks, make her feel perpetually insecure, as she never knows which occasion may be used to demean and threaten her further. 

The premium placed on the preservation of marriage forces women to become a hostage in their marriage. Her parents would rather see her dead than return to them after a marital discord so she is expected to listen to this trash talk and not protest; remain silent. Her silence further irks the perpetrators of berating remarks, often mother-in-law and sisters-in-law play more mind games. Like instigating her husband how she has talked back or has been disrespectful. Their aim is to rupture her only intimate ally in the family. She is doomed either way if she remains silence she is taunted for being a snob and if she protests she is further tortured and her natal family is blamed for her faulty upbringing. The ideal of generational reverence is thrown on her face “ma-baap ne kya yahi sikhaya hai (Is this what your parents taught you),” “badon ki izaat karma nahin aata (She has no respect for elders),””Gamandi hai, apane aap ko kya samajhati hai (She is proudy and thinks of herself highly)” etc. Every thing ultimately turns to disrespect and insult her side of the family. If she tries to seek help from outside she is chided in the name of “ghar ki izzat” (family honor), “ghar ki baat” (private family matter), it is exactly how psychological operations are employed to generate pride and unity for desired incumbents.

 

This psychological warfare is part of a strategy to make women except a subordinate position within the family and feel grateful for being allowed to survive at all in the marital home. The retaining of the daughter-in-law into total subordination is an essential part of her transition from the natal to the marital home. But practically she remains a baharwali (outsider) until her death. She attains a permanent membership after a ‘shradh’ (offerings to the dead) is performed in her name.

 

The man’s family feels they are entitled to a compensation for their investment in his education and upbringing. They fear his wife may prevent him from doing so where as the reality is if he has a family he’ll have his own expenses. This insecurity of parents in many families takes the form of extracting dowry. But families where financial dependence on the sons is not a question still employ these tactics to subordinate the new bride. Why? The answer would be there is a peculiar taste of having power over another person. Sahota (2004) in her research found even when there were no mentionable assets to transfer women desired to be mothers of sons because they wanted to have the pleasure of becoming a ‘saas’ (mother-in-law). One woman conceded “Daughter-in-law will come and I’ll rule. When MIL’s have a daughter-in-law, she enjoys. This goes on like this (284).” The primary purpose of this violence is to degrade and victimize a woman so that she retains a desperate fear of disobeying the powerful.

 The economic dependence and social stigma are a major cause for most maltreated wives being unable to live on their own and being compelled to return to their husbands. What about those who are highly educated professionals? If they question these oppressive behaviors their education and ability to earn is blamed. They are told they are the “bad” women who are not only disrespectful of elders but also have no family values; they are selfish, they want is their freedom and most of all want their husbands to denounce their families. These are hurtful untrue allegations. These allegations attain extremely painful dimensions when our spouses join the band wagon and start blaming and accusing us. All we want is an end to this psychological torture. 

How does one address the issue of constant emotional abuse at the hands of ones in-laws? The notions of respect and keeping peace at all costs do not go along with personal integrity and respect for self.

 In all Indian communities the organized propaganda against modern, educated and employed women as lacking in traditional values and their desire for personal freedom works over time. Thanks to the Ekta Kapur, bollywood and its sister regional woods in propagating myths of selfish modern woman who wants the old parents-in-laws out on the street. Our personal realities do not match those projections we work triple shift- taking care of children, working on full time job and being our husband’s personal cheer leader.

Role of Sons/Husbands

The role of men in this form of familial abuse is questionable. Often they absolve themselves by saying “it is between women,” “I know what she is doing is wrong but you have to understand she is my mother, you should respect her.” Is it that simple? Even the aggrieved wives absolve them of any responsibility by saying “We do not have any personal issues it is just his mother and sister that bother me.” This is a tell tale sign of an abused where they try to protect the secondary abuser and minimize the abuse. Abused women forget that MIL and SIL are his relatives, he has a history with them he knows them inside out, and it is his duty to protect you from their attacks. Standing by his wife does not challenge his loyalties to them. Each one has a special and irreplaceable place in his life. If he has to take sides and prove his allegiance to his parents then there is definitely something wrong in his relationship with them. No matter how hard you try, you cannot fix it because it is their relationship. If you decided to remove your self from this situation the allegations made by your detractors come true so you lose and your spouse turns against you. If it were another setting professional, market place, acquaintances one would walk out and disassociate themselves from such toxic climate. But a married woman is a hostage and a captive so she cannot walkout of the situation on her own unless someone offers help.

 Seeking Help

Most of women do not want to bother their parents with their personal travesties because they are taught to believe marital home is a woman’s actual home; to preserve it’s honor is her duty. Such occurrences are so common that all women know someone who is undergoing similar torture thus they believe it is common and their situation is not extra ordinary. Also they are humiliated and ashamed to accept that they are being tortured. Those of who have had so called ‘Love Marriages’ are further at loss because they feel they made their bed and now they have to lie on it.

Only when it becomes unbearable or extreme physical violence from the spouse ensues a woman actively seeks help. Families use all possible forms of persuasion and intervention by relatives, community elders to reinstate the daughters in the marital home. But if she has no parental support, no house of her own, and is not turning an income substantial enough to support herself and her children with dignity, she cannot exercise this option after sometime her natal family too will start blaming her or accept it as her fate.

 

Returning to Parents:

Once a woman is married her parents want her to visit them as a guest and do not want to participate much in her life. If she is happily settled she is respected if her marriage is in crisis her status in natal family also dwindles. The stigma attached to a divorced or widowed woman fears the natal families more than their daughters’ endangered life. Even she fears that she will be a burden on her brothers and in whose homes she’ll be more humiliated and unwanted than in her husband’s. Often parents will try to reinstate her back in her husband’s home irrespective of her fears of violence. They often make an excuse that ‘society’ does not allow divorced women to exist in peace. In fact, the so-called society is usually no more than a woman’s own family.

 

Single Living:

Even if a woman can afford to pay a higher rent the hostility of landlords towards, single or divorced women is such that only an exceptionally lucky woman will find a place. There are hardly any support systems are available to her outside of her marriage and the family. The safe and cost effective childcare is one of them. If her parents will monitor her children they’ll expect to scrutinize her personal life as if she was once again a teenager.

 Friends:

Most women are not allowed to socialize independently and build solid friendships, either before or after marriage. It is usually fathers and brothers who prevent women to have friendships of their own in the name of family honor and status. Most married women are compelled to socialize in their husband’s circles. So when they decide to walkout they lose those friends. Female colleagues can usually provide only as much support as their families permit. Usually, a woman’s friendship with a divorcee is looked down upon and virtually discouraged. If she seeks support from her male colleagues it is minimal and will provoke censure and scandal. Women should build autonomous alliances, and adult social life of their own, from which to draw emotional sustenance and support rather than only be the shadows of their husbands. 

What do Women Want?

Women want this persistent psychological warfare against them to stop. They want time out, a right to remove themselves from toxic environments until permanent peace is restored. Women do not want to break families more so when they have children they prefer staying for their sake.

If all else fail they have to leave for their sanity and survival they still want to be in the company of their husbands. This also puts them in a morally ‘right’ position in the eyes of their families and the world. They are seen as dutiful rather than defiant wives. Their desire to return to their husband is heavily influenced by all these pressures they faces in their parental homes, and by a lifetime of conditioning to believe that they belongs in their husband’s home.

 The question we face is being “morally right” more important than being happy? Please leave comments; in the next post we’ll discuss claiming our happiness in the times of psychological warfare.

Read How to Deal With the In-Laws

 Reference:

Sahota, Simarjeet. “The Social Correlates of Induced Abortion in Jaipur, Rajasthan: Phenomenological Study Gender and Reproductive Rights.” Diss. U of Rajasthan, 2004.

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