The rich culture and heritage unique to the South Asian community is often celebrated. With deep values imbibed in our ancient learnings, the culture continues to grow and dominate not one but many spheres of our daily lives. In regions where women are celebrated as being pious, I am left shaken when stories about them being subjected to constant familial violence make the news. Belonging to an Indian descent, I would like to discuss how the Indian culture perpetuates violence and also dissect its cultural norms that seem counter-intuitive to me.
All families: traditional, modern, nuclear, and joint grow up admiring our religious texts such as the “Ramayana”. The female protagonist of the story, “Sita,” is portrayed as having an existence and an identity merely because of her husband, “Ram.” This is where the real problem arises. Why does Sita not have her own identity and why is what is depicted of her intertwined with the being of her husband? Some argue that this text aims to hand over strong cultural values to upcoming generations by exhibiting how obedient, selfless, and sacrificial women are. However, in my view, this sends out a completely incorrect message. While women may be accommodating, giving, and selfless, this undermines their sense of freedom, identity, and individuality. I have often heard families say to a woman or a girl, “Don’t disobey your husband, he will find someone else,” or “Don’t try to compete with the boys, you will never be at par with them.” It leaves me angrier each time I hear it.
In an age and time where women are “supposedly” attributed a status similar to that of men, it is pitiable to note the magnitude of violence that these successful women face in their homes. Young girls are trained right from their childhood to become good mothers and wives. It is a never-ending preparation to become a suitable wife. Even if a woman has somehow managed to make time and a career or a name for herself, it is bound to get lost or compromised once she is married. She is expected to transform herself into a completely new being, with a new lifestyle, and mold herself into a new family once she is married. Speaking against the in-laws or the husband will not just put her in a deplorable condition, but will ultimately outcast her from the community. In several traditional Indian households, parents of the married woman, continue to pressure her to stay with the family she married into despite the atrocities that she may face. “Divorce” is a taboo word and a woman is not allowed to utter it. A divorce if happens leaves the woman feeling isolated, lonely, and victimized. Young educated girls are forced to give up their careers and lives on the pretext of upsetting their husbands and in-laws. This practice has been going on for a while and continues to dominate most women’s lives.
This practice of inequality is not just responsible for perpetuating violence on women but also widening the gap between men and women. No matter how hard a woman tries, she cannot compete with the hypocritical culture. Despite India having cultural values rooted in respecting women, their deteriorating state should be sending out alarming chills all through the community. Instead, this practice of demeaning women is becoming the new order. The truth indeed is that Victimizing women in the name of culture is the new norm.