Forces of Evil

September 13, 2007 at 4:54 pm | Posted in casteism, culture, family, family prerogatives, forced marriage, honour killing, human rights, individual freedom, individual rights, marriage, SED, suicide | 4 Comments
The clash of cultures in India and other parts of the third world is something that I have always thought of as an intellectual exercise. Recently, though, the realities have struck a bit too close to home for comfort!

Our culture is one that is dominated by family. The family is now mostly the immediate family and the closest relations, something an order of magnitude greater than the nuclear family itself. Previously such was a much bigger group in India very often comprising one’s caste, (community or jaathi). Nowadays, for many of the city dwelling folks, the caste carries a little less weight, but the slightly extended family (SED), has taken over that role and dictates terms to the concerned individuals with an overpowering and imperative voice.

The Now Generation, the 6th – 7th generation of our youth (Millennium 1?) since this nation gained independence, is at a crossroads. They know, and their national constitution guarantees them, their rights, but the rights are on paper and cannot be exercised without causing much consternation in the SED. The SED decides on everything from dress codes, to schooling, to work, diet and even, yes, marriage partners. The confusion is compounded by the utter contrast between what these kids see on TV, on the internet, and what the SED is telling them.

Over the years, it has been our privilege to stand by those few brave souls who are willing to buck the system and insist that they do have the right as individuals to make their own choices. Not surprisingly, these individuals are those who have had perhaps more of an exposure to Western cultures, perhaps with parents who had themselves felt uneasy with the status quo but also quite often it is a matter of conflict from the word go.

Surprisingly, when in the midst of the heated, emotional and sometimes dangerous conversations that follow when a person moves against their SED, the question often boils down to economics: The SED has done a,b, & c for you at great cost to itself, therefore you cannot now go your own way. Obviously, the entire system, the economics of the SED way of life, is being called into question.

Reactions to challenges to the SED system of life are often even violent for so much is at stake. But the critical question is how this clash of cultures is going to work itself out? For one thing, those who want to accommodate the good in the older system (stable, long lasting marriages and families that are child oriented) find themselves in a bind for any change is not appreciated. Without the middle path it seems that only by open conflict will the system change!

Ground Zero is usually marriage. Arranged versus love marriage is the stark choice that faces our youth. The SED will not tolerate love marriages at all. Very often the few couples who proceed and succeed in getting married after falling in love, will face ostracism, often by parents and family on both sides. Some do survive the economic and societal pressures but often these couples are forced apart. The result is often disastrous with the couple deciding to commit suicide.

The only option within SED is to marry

whomever the SED picks out, and make the best of it.

It may have been a good system resulting in stable marriages and strong families at one time, but it only works when both husband and wife (and their kids!) are strictly role bound and do not ask any awkward questions. Given the ways in which the supporting culture is changing, it’s only a matter of time before the questions will out and marriages that looked solid find themselves on the rocks.

Our youth will have to find their way through this difficult maze, and to some extent, one can see them succeeding in forging a new path especially in the cities. The rural scene is still completely bound in tradition and forced marriages and even honour killings are still a ‘norm’ whenever the rural SEDs and the local caste system are challenged.

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