She Must Be Black, No?

Posted: March 28, 2012

So many people who read my post ‘A Little Girl Who Grows Up To Be A Friend’ seem to think of me as part of a rare breed of fathers, simply because I always wanted daughters and did my best for them. I don’t think I am special. I am an ordinary father who at one time struggled against a lot of odds so that my daughters could have the best of what life has to offer.

Let me go back in time to that point when I had just gotten into the Civil Service. I was suddenly inundated with offers of marriage from people known and unknown. Dowries were offered, and they were refused- I was told by ‘well wishers’ that IAS officers command the fattest dowries, and all I had to do was just say yes to any of the offers that were being received day in and day out. I still refused.

At this point my maternal aunt took upon herself to make me see ‘reason’. She suggested I should at least see some of the girls and then decide. Girls are not commodities to be seen and rejected, I said. Relatives threw up their hands, but my parents for some reason remained silent through the unfolding drama. ‘Iss ka dimag kharab ho gaya hai’– his brain has stopped functioning- was the last comment I heard from my aunt.

Whatever was happening around me was so unreal and so demeaning, and one thought that came to my mind was what if I have a daughter, will I end up parading her before prospective grooms and in-laws? My heart said no. Will I go around offering dowries to ‘eligible’ grooms? My heart again said no. [Much later in life a lady friend of mine told me that when her prospective in-laws had come to see her, she was asked to lift her saree above her ankles so that they could actually confirm that her face was not artificially fair, and that the color of her ankles was as fair as her face!]

I ended up marrying for love – horror of horrors, I married a Malayalee – Madrasi to many of my relatives, and as I learnt, anything south of the Tropic of Cancer is Madras. When I announced my intention, my aunt-in-chief asked the scintillating question, ‘she must be black, no?’ My family are Arya Samajis- proud Aryans, and here I had turned Aryan history upside down by venturing into Dravidian territory. And no dowry in the bargain!

Now I am half Malayalee, except that I don’t follow the language. I don’t follow Punjabi either, even though it is my mother tongue. My daughters speak fluent Malayalam when they don’t want me to know what is going on. They are a mix of all that is best in the North and the South, or so I hope. They will not be paraded like cattle, nor will grooms be bought for them. They are proud human beings, and not just responsible, but responsive as well, as I expect them to respond strongly to all that is unjust and unfair.

To end, here is a matrimonial ad I found in a leading newspaper: “22, fair, homely, attractive Hindu virgin; 5’ 3”; convent educated; having traditional values with modern views; …… caste, belongs to a leading business family from UP, seeks well settled…groom from the same caste; sub-caste no bar. Boy should be between 25-30 years, teetotaler, vegetarian, well settled businessman, IAS, IPS, doctor, engineer. Girl’s uncle (chacha) is a senior government officer. Early, decent marriage; reply with horoscope and photo (returnable); contact box 1234

What parent parades a daughter’s virginity? And isn’t it an oxymoron “traditional with modern views’? My translation is that the poor girl has been given an education but has not been allowed to think for herself.

Do tell me what is meant by a ‘decent marriage’.

Pic credit: Shadow Doll (Used under a Creative Commons license)

I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management

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Comments

45 Comments


  1. Kudos.! whenever I read your article i am only more inspired by your views.! well so to say, even malayaless have this fair skin and slimness stigma attached to the girl.! even though not as rampant as in north.! fairness creams work wonders in that part of the country as in here.!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. You are actually an inspiration, more so because I have been reading your blog and find you and I share so many views literally word to word!

  2. Such matrimonial ads never fail to amuse me.

    //Whatever was happening around me was so unreal and so demeaning, and one thought that came to my mind was what if I have a daughter, will I end up parading her before prospective grooms and in-laws? My heart said no. Will I go around offering dowries to ‘eligible’ grooms? My heart again said no.//

    You say you are a ordinary father, but such things are not thought by many Indian fathers.( Sad, but true!) And such thoughts that you expressed in your post are what make you extra-ordinary.
    I am just saying. 🙂

  3. Even I used to say that I would like only daughters and if possible three of them. However we had only one son and that was it!
    I agree with your point that going to see a girl for marriage is demeaning for the person. However, for arranged marriages, what other system can be there? Or do we need to say that every one should have only love marriage?
    There is another aspect of it. Even so many guys are afraid that they will be rejected by good looking and good earning girls so it can also be demeaning for them. So again I go back to my question – do we need to say no more arranged marriages?

  4. don’t you know?

    ‘decent marriage’ is code for ‘she comes with a dowry’.

  5. Such matrimonial ads are disgusting to read.. How can people talk like this.. parading their daughter’s virginity..and sadly a lot of people will see nothing wrong with it..
    ‘Decent marriage’ can only mean a ‘healthy dowry’ 🙁

  6. Amazing! If only there were more men, fathers and future fathers who could think like you. Your post reminded me of a play we did back in college, a parody on the whole ritual of “seeing a girl”, only this time around it was the girl and her parents out to “see the guy”!
    This whole ritual is so insulting and it’s hard to understand why girls, who are otherwise totally capable of using their minds, still agree to undergo what can be termed nothing but torture.

  7. We need more men like you around! And more youngsters choosing their own partners.

  8. How does it matter -

    A few points –

    1. Decent marriage means the girl’s parents are happy to spend a certain amount to make the marriage ceremony of a particular stature. If you are indifferent about whether your daughters get married in a small pandal in an abandoned park or in a upscale hotel/farmhouse, then you are out of the ordinary.
    2. Traditional with modern values means she would be respectful of her in-laws but is modern enough to sport a bikini when she honeymoons with her husband at a popular beach destination. Its not as if she has been not allowed to think, its just that our society can’t let individuals be.
    3. Marriages have been typically arranged and love marriages are a recent phenomenon only about 200 years old in the west and about 70-80 years old in our country. Traditionally, arranged marriages have been the norm and have been seen as strategic business and social alliances rather than two people dating and tying the knot.
    4. Love marriages aside, if any parent had to “arrange” the marriage of their son/daughter – what would he go by? The obvious response would be to look for qualities which are generally considered virtuous by the society and particulary by that parent. Some virtues are gender specific while others are gender neutral.
    5. IAS etc. are flooded with marriage proposals because the bottomline is a secured, high paying job along with a good societal social status.
    6. Girls flaunt qualities considered virtuous for them – virginity, beauty and sociability. Boys qualifications/college they went to/salaries/height (something the poor guy doesn’t even have any control over and can only blame his genes and ultimately his own parents) are as often subject to a girl’s parents’ and relatives’ ratification.
    7. A girl being paraded for marriage comes more often to mind than a boy because that is the case. However, this is because most indian girls are not open to marrying a guy having lower qualifications/salary etc. Rarely, they marry a guy who is on equal footing. If a girl who earned more than a guy was to choose among a bunch of guys who were lower in job profile as well as societal status, the girl wouldn’t need to worry about her virginity or her skin tone.

  9. Dear Mr Sunilias,

    Im in awe with your article and I wish you and your family all the success in life !! I too work for the women”s cause and hope to make a difference in the society someday!!

    The society we live in today is full of hypocrisy and a artificial sense of well being that people describe as “marrying a wealthy spouse” !!

    I do not need to elaborate this expression as it already speaks volumes about the fake mentality Indians have been living with. Woman nothing but a social construct. And we need to break this construction by treating her like an individual and not an object to be exchanged with gold and silver or the so called “dowry” !!

    Anyways, I hope to read more from you and enlighten our “Indian public in Blindfolds” !!

    Cheers and All the Best!!

  10. Dear Mr Sunilias,

    I’m in awe with your article and I wish you and your family all the success in life !! I too work for the women”s cause and hope to make a difference in our society someday!!

    The society we live in today is full of hypocrisy and an artificial sense of well being that people describe as “marrying a wealthy spouse” !!

    I do not need to elaborate this expression as it already speaks volumes about the fake mentality Indians have been living with. A “Woman” is nothing but a social construct. And we need to break this construction by treating her like an individual and not an object to be exchanged with gold and silver or the so called “dowry” !!

    Infact they rarely even look beyond the concept of marriage. There are many other debates waiting to be talked about !!

    Anyways, I hope to read more from you and enlighten our “Indian public in Blindfolds” !!

    Cheers and All the Best!! =)

    • Yes, there are many more debates waiting to be talked about, and I’m sure people like you and me can carry them forward. Thanks so much.

  11. Mr. Author, good for you! What a heartwarming article!

  12. Hats Off to you Sir..

    We need more Men like you, who can happily accept Women as “Human Beings with EQUAL rights”..

  13. It didn’t occur to me, but my writer friend sent me to this page because my book, Tell A Thousand Lies, deals exactly with these issues.

    And ‘fairness creams’. I came up with a tongue-in-cheek tagline for my novel:

    Fairness Cream: Finding Solutions to Life’s Vexing Problems, One Application at a Time

    This is because Indian television is overrun with commercials from the manufacturers of skin lightening creams, called fairness creams in India, that promise everything from good grades to nirvana, if only you use their particular brand of product.

  14. a very good article from a father who respects his daughters as human beings. the best line i liked is ‘they have the best of North and South in them”, you can’t appreciate your wife better than this. Kudos to u, for dealing with gender issues as, that is ‘disaster management’ in itself. looking forward to more and more articles from u.

  15. Very true no girl is ever a commodity. We too are the equal half of society. The day Indian Men, why Indian men infact even women need to realize this very fact that we are no less, India would be a better place. Women too need to stand for what is right. They cant be scape goats. We too have feelings, we too deserve the feelings emotions & sentiments met. Realize the true worth and then you would be valued..in between yes that realization would give the strength to meet the destination. In the run there are few people like my dad, who has always wanted strong girls and supported all their endeavours, who has all the love for my mother and a very protective dad for his daughters. My maternal grand dad who supported my Mom in achieving what she desired be it her 6 yr old relation with my dad-turning it into marriage or her Ms. Karnataka status. and also few father’s and husband’s like sir who truly value the female existence and know the importance of a female in their lives..well written Sir,

  16. I was full of admiration for the views you held and the courage you have shown to impliment them, kudos; I would have been more than satisfied if parents (particularly fathers) and families accepted girl child without any reservations and at least give proper education and support until they grow up in to adults instead of #$^ like what happened to poor 3 month baby recently. Hope society, education systems and media would devote sometime for this to occur.

  17. As long as fathers like you exist, daughters will always have reasons to say “MY DAD IS MY HERO”
    Kuddos!! 🙂

  18. Wonderful thought! I agree with u 100%. I too have heard from many of my North-Indian friends about such ‘preferences’! btw, I’m a Malayalee. My parents had never let any of us (4 daughters) feel that we were inferior to anyone.
    In my opinion, it is every parent’s responsibility to induce the respect for girls in their sons’ mind. It is each person’s upbringing that moulds his personality. In a family, if the father doesnot respect mother, naturally, the son also will treat his wife in the same way! So, it is each father and mother’s responsibility to add such moral values in the personality buildup of their children rather than all the IIT coaching that starts when the child is in the primary school! In the new generation I can see so many kids who r just pure ‘materialistic’ bcoz noone tells him/her whatz correct or wrong. children normally believe what his/her parents do are the right things to do! Better we educate our new parents about how to bringup children with moral values!

  19. Great Thoughts and great article. I am yet to come across anyone who thinks like you in my life and you give me hope! You have actually justified your education by actually practicing what others only preach. Great Sir! I salute people like you! You are definitely your daughters’s hero!

  20. Thanks so much!

  21. Wonderfully written. You are a hero for your daughters and daughterlikes that includes me…

    I scan the matrimonial columns for fun and to know the human preferences … Now a days I see a lot of no dowry demands. Let me search if any one mentions that he would treat his wife as an equal partner…

    We all are not equally fortunate to end up in a love marriage or i do not beleive that arranged marriages are going to vanish very soooon.

    I would love to mention the above stateent , if at all I have to run an ad for my son after beleiving that I have helped him to grow that way…

    Things will improve slowly for sure I am an optimist …

  22. Love this one. Thanks for putting it out there as a father – we need many more such voices.

  23. Dowry! One of the evil of our society and the mindsets!

    Shocked to read that the women was made to pull her saree to her ankles ! Does a ‘suitable’ boy have to go through all this?

    After reading this and many such articles and cases I feel lucky that I had a love marriage. But on second thoughts, in us Maharashtrians the dowry doesn’t come in the picture-not with noise nor silently but we have this girl-show [sorry for using such a term]..still we have come a little bit forward where in it not only a girl show but a mutual meeting where in a girl asks questions to the boy as well !

    I’m really glad that you had this thought way before anything that one day when you have daughters would you like them to go through this parade….you are very thoughtful!

  24. well to answer your question of a decent marriage-I’ve no clue as to what should it really mean! Why should it be not an excellent marriage or an okay-okay marriage?

    Let me give it a try: may be some arrangement where in the boy gets the suitable price for his education and job rank and the girl gets a fair deal in terms of decently rich family?

    hehe lame attempt,I know!

  25. It was nice reading your article….but the comments section made me wonder how backward a culture is this country’s that being a normal, respectful individual to women should be considered “heroic”. fighting against prevailing attitudes, like you did is tough but there is no other definition of decency. and like you said, parading a daughters virginity…….ack-thu to these educated illiterates!

    What a bunch of idiots are these daughter-killing creeps. Even the daughters who are born are bred to be wives, not individuals.eww, yuck. it sucks to belongs to this “culture” :((

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  27. I wish all Indian girls had fathers like you.Sadly most of the educated parents equate their daughter with wealth and consider her as a liability(they call it responsibility as a euphemism).When a girl is not respected in her family itself,how can we expect her to attain respect outside.

  28. They at least had no restriction on sub-castes, in that ad. Here in Kerala people still create a mayhem upon hearing the word “love”. And I for one am going through the phase of daring to love and trying to convince others to tie the knot with a man outside the religion itself. Wish me luck, sir..! 😀

  29. Loved it Sir….India needs more fathers like you.

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  31. Sunil Sir, your posts make me very nostalgic, because I too have a father like you! One who wanted a daughter (even when everyone else was convinced I would be a boy) and prayed at the time of my birth that I be a healthy, happy and intelligent little baby. He didn’t ask I get his skin colour (he’s fair, as is my mother and I’m dark), or my parents’ looks. He taught me self-reliance, independence, and to view life with humour and compassion.

    And while I’m happily married to a man of my choosing today, I did have episodes in life when well-meaning relatives would foist marriage proposals on us. A relative once helpfully pointed out his ‘well-written’ matrimonial ad (for his daughter!) that had turned up in the paper as a possible inspiration – he had listed out her virtues, her talents, her looks, he job and salary, he physical stats, and God know’s what else. Needless to say, both my Dad and I were very inspired by her impeccable credentials and told the preening relative as much.

    But then the relative inquired as to whether my father had given any thought on how he would word my matrimonial ad, since mine would require some effort due to me being short and dark. My father immediately quipped that had he been a girl of credentials such as I hold, he wouldn’t settle for some dumb groom turning up to stare at him like merchandise over a cup of tea; rather, he would go out, explore the world, do his own thing, and when the time felt right, he would bring home a man of his choosing. The relative responded by saying that my getting a man would then take a long time, and my Father airily answered that he too hoped so since men fit for his daughter weren’t easily available!

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  33. Sir, i am a 30 year old unmarried woman. My family opposed my marriage with a guy whom i loved. The reason was he was a north indian and non brahmin. When i opposed forced marriage, my father and elder brother went away to my employer and asked to terminate me. My dad later threatened that he will house arrest me and will ruin the boy who agreed to marry me. I only took the decision to marry a guy of my choice as i was “rejected” due to my skin color (dark of course) and am tall. Everyother guy rejected me. My brother was a racist and always called me names.. I hope i can find a father like u in my next life!

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