When millions of our billion-odd people speak at each other and have forgotten how to speak to each other, the result is what you see happening in our society today – cacophony and chaos.
Have we taken a pause to understand what is fundamentally going on around us? We have always been a lot of people, but how could we coexist within our families and localities better earlier? Why did relationships hold more meaning and depth earlier?
The most important reason is the motivation for interaction. Our society was motivated to interact with each other for building relationships, as that meant better well-being and it was regarded as a higher measure of success than money. Almost everyone who is reading this will have fond memories of time spent with ALL their cousins, religiously making summer trips to meet ALL their grandparents, and having unexpected (and expected) family guests from paternal & maternal side drop in home for Tea without any fuss, appointments or conditions. Unfortunately, the coming generations will not remember it this way.
Husbands and wives were viewed as custodians of the family; they would contribute their skills and efforts for the progress and benefit of the household and society. If the husband worked outside of home, the income was his look-out as a means to fulfill the family’s current & future needs for things money could buy (one measure of success). If the wife worked in the home, it was a means to fulfill the need of well-being of the family (another measure of success). Both are equally important, one isn’t less than the other. Today, if both want to work, the space for having a dialogue for balancing these measures of success and distributing them fairly, just doesn’t exist. Economic success is solely being given importance to. If women take care of their own home, the discussion in the “liberal” media is about how to compensate and remunerate women for the work they do at home. What next? Tomorrow, will we have to pay wives and husbands to get out of the bed for the sake of their homes? If yes, who is going to pay who and how much? Why is it, that if these are the true expectations, one doesn’t clarify them explicitly at the time of getting married? If money is the most important measure, why aren’t women and men talking more openly about it before getting married so that they can avoid complications later?
The challenge today is that people are getting married with a hangover and assumption of old-world principles, perhaps because they want to falsely convince themselves/others about their moral superiority, while wanting to live by an economics-driven model after marriage. Importantly, in earlier times, common sense prevailed around the means and limits within which to live a fulfilling life. Wealth, if at all, came into the picture when you had to put it to use for the well-being and happiness of the family, not as a symbol of empowerment. Where has all that gone? And why?
One major change is that economic success has far overtaken any other measure of success and unfortunately become the only valid yardstick. You can blame that on many things – consumerism, capitalism, “western” influences, lack of understanding of our own values, the weather, etc. – but bottom-line is, economics has become the overwhelmingly predominant basis of interaction between Indian people today – including husbands and wives. Economic progress, in itself, of course, isn’t bad when it is used for reasonable comforts & conveniences. It becomes dangerous when it blinds us to the more important measures of success for the individual, family and society. Measures like health, peace-of-mind, well-being, well brought up children, good relations between wives & husbands, well-being of parents & grandparents, civil & courteous interactions between extended families, supportive neighbours, and being involved citizens. Does that sound like a tall order? Not really, I mean, how else would we rather live? We must consider something else overwhelmingly more important to be putting all of this aside to pursue it, isn’t it?
A critical link in the society that is breaking, in this pursuit of economic success, is the Indian family unit. Even in a nuclear-family environment, the pursuit of economic gains and rights has shifted the focus away from other success parameters of a family. The often marketed image of a happy family living in an aspirational house, with amenities, and all the trappings of consumerism is a very thin screensaver over what is really happening in Indian families today.
The reality of the Indian family is that Indian men are still expected to bear the cross of financial burden for the family – usually all by themselves – with little or no support from the women. This despite the fact that Indian women today are educated, empowered and very often pursuing their own careers – they will seldom contribute to the household in proportion to their earnings, choosing to hold on to all or most of it. Of course, being working women, no-one can dare ask them to do more, the housework is outsourced to house-helps – whose expense the man usually bears. Increasingly, Indian women aren’t willing to take up responsibility for either – not for the financial support required for a household (even if they are capable of contributing) nor for the running of the house. Indian men, in the meantime, of course have very little choice. They have to continue to “man up” – it is a given they have to continue to bust their backside earning a living for the family (whether the women do it or not) and with an increasingly hands-off approach to running the house by the women, many of them have to also step into the homemaker’s shoes to manage and run a household well. It’s a pretty thankless situation. In all of this, the children normally get ignored – their upbringing, their habits, their hygiene, their food & diet, their education and over-exposure to harmful influences without supervision. Family relations start getting broken, the concept of hearing other voices-of-reason goes out the window and intolerance to others and alternate ideas reaches new levels.
The space to have a dialogue for division of responsibilities between men and women has shrunk. Even when men are more than willing to work out a balance in sharing responsibilities at work and at home – women usually back out of such dialogue because a rational conversation around it will either mean that they have to give up more of their financial income towards the house or they will have to take more/full responsibility for the housework if they aren’t working – and reality is, Indian women would rather not do either. It is, therefore, no surprise that divorces in India are higher than ever. As per one report in Times of India, divorce rates in the main cities of Delhi & Mumbai are reaching 40%.
So, why is it that we, as a society, don’t care about this problem? We don’t care because it is easy to do an ostrich and bury our heads in the sand and pretend that there is nothing wrong happening around us. It is the more convenient option. When we call out these gaps, misuses and misconducts in our society, especially when we call out the hypocrisy of our women-centric approach, law, policies and dialogues, we just don’t have the willingness or the patience to listen to the reality. Another reason is that we are all conditioned, we are unable to reconcile and react to this duplicity exhibited by Indian women today because we still have a hangover about the image of the “bhartiya nari” in the mold of our self-sacrificing mothers, not realizing that Indian women today are nothing like that – they are happily feeding off the old image of womanhood, while driving an aggressive economic & dominance agenda. Best of both worlds, really – old-world sheen coupled with new-age razor sharp claws.
Even the definition of women empowerment today is an overwhelmingly lopsided one focusing largely on economic empowerment – that too for cushy jobs not the ones that involve hard-work. Sample the contrast between this report on reservation of seats for women in the elite Indian engineering colleges IITs and their unwillingness to work hard in jobs provided to them in Indian Railways, shared in this report.
Why is the empowerment dialogue not more about empowering the family or the society? If only women are empowered at the cost of men and the family – how can we ever say we are progressing as a society? Many laws, organizations and government support structures have been created in India in the name of women empowerment to give them relief at the drop-of-a-hat. Are they helping women or are they destroying the society? If it is the latter, why aren’t we taking a pause to rework and reconsider our approach? Why has it become this ego battle and battle of the genders?
The battle has degenerated to ridiculous levels. It’s so bad that the Supreme Court of India had to finally start calling out the abuse of Indian marriage laws by Indian women against Indian men. The misuse by women of Indian Penal Code Section 498A created originally to support women undergoing dowry harassment is such that the Supreme Court of India termed it as “legal terrorism” (report). Indian women are using this law to “get even” and unleash a personal vendetta on men & their families when they get disgruntled – easy to do, because there are no repercussions for Indian women misusing marriage laws.
The levels of misandry in the Indian society are such that we have a dedicated Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) but no such agency for men who are at the receiving end of domestic violence and cruelty caused by women. How can one create a balanced society when structurally and legally you are putting all the power in the hands of women? What is the incentive for men to support women, when they know they can be framed by them at smallest whim and fancy of a woman? Such is the level of “ostriching” that the Minister for WCD, Maneka Gandhi, refused to acknowledge that men in India commit suicide due to the woes they are facing, she says in this report that she has never heard or read of any man committing suicide in India! Whereas the same news report goes on to say that as per 2015 report of Indian NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau), 91,528 men committed suicide in India (more than double the number of women). Shockingly, of the 86,808 married persons who committed suicide 64,534 (74%) were men. So, India has 3 times the number of men committing suicide than women, yet women’s welfare deserves an entire Ministry, but no such avenue for men – Indian men have been left out there to die or fend for themselves.
The irony doesn’t end there, the ‘C’ in ‘WCD’ stands for Child. Last we checked, that should include both boys and girls – but no surprises for guessing which gender get conveniently ignored from the charter of Ministry for WCD – of course, it’s the boys. Starting with the mega ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ scheme that spends billions of tax payer rupees (again, taxes paid mostly by men) on singularly promoting the girl child, with utter disregard for the boy child. The level of fraud that has happened with this scheme has been widely documented in various news reports. Not only that, laws related to abuse of children focus on girls and the same provisions do not apply to the abuse of a boy child, despite time and again data showing that boys are as vulnerable, if not more, than girls. The Indian media actually withdrew a news report related to relief for male sexual abuse victims. Again gross “ostriching” happens when trying to recognize which population is more vulnerable. As per International Labour Organization (ILO) 2015 report on India, 4 times the number of Indian boys (38.7 million) than Indian girls (8.8 million) are forced into doing hazardous work, yet India doesn’t even have gender equal laws for boys. No one is suggesting that we do not create laws for females, by all means let’s do it – but why are they exclusively for females? Why can’t they be framed equally for both from the beginning, by design? Are men not human? Does the constitution of India not guarantee them equality? Why is the male the forgotten gender? Is it a crime to be born male in India? Why cannot our laws be gender neutral? Why can they not be human?
As long as the dialogue in the Indian society is about women vs. men, and the moment we try and do things for one gender or the other, we will break our society into millions of pieces. What we need is a Ministry for both genders or a replacement of Ministry of WCD with a Ministry for Family Welfare to look at the challenges and dynamics of our society holistically. And very simply we need to do a “find – replace” of all gender specific terms in our laws with gender neutral terms. Replace wife/husband with ‘spouse’. Replace man/woman with ‘person’. Just this simple step will reduce the burden on our judiciary by more than half. With that, we finally may be able to take our heads out of the sand.
Article bu : @EqualLawsNow