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Women might be ‘worshipped’ in Indian culture as goddesses, but one just needs to look around to see how ironic and misleading this pedestal is.
In India goddesses are not only part of mythology and religion but penetrate the social psyche so much that young girls here are often called on occasions like Navratris and worshiped as Devi or the goddess.
However the real plight of girls in this society is nothing to be celebrated about, and there are some visible differences in how societies in the first world treat their girls/women vis-à-vis how they are treated here.
The Western civilization does not consider girls as goddesses. Yet, in the West,
Women are not considered to be their wombs.
Neither are women pressurized to produce male heirs nor glorified if they do so.
In India being a childless woman even if that is a choice is considered as a curse and having only daughter(s) may be even worse. The only redemption for women here is producing sons as heirs to their respective marital families.
There is no difference in reaction at the birth of a boy or a girl.
Planning a baby, baby showers, and the care given to an expectant mother, irrespective of the gender of the future baby does not vary.
Doing an ultrasound is not dangerous to the life of the baby.
Ultrasound is performed only to ascertain the health of the baby and often the gender is also told beforehand, because there are no instances of sex based infanticide and sometimes families even select names for baby girls and buy things before the delivery too.
In India a PNDT law had to be made to ensure that doctors don’t reveal the gender of the future baby to the prospective parents to prevent large scale female foeticide that had become a norm a few years ago and still is done in the reproductive grey markets.
The number of male or female children in a family makes no difference to their upbringing.
However in Indian families having a son/brother is considered almost a must to avoid social stigma and ensure some kind of ritualistic safe passage into next birth.
Sisters are not told to serve brothers nor are brothers told to save/protect sisters.
Whereas in India we have full-fledged festivals perpetrating the belief that sisters must seek protection/raksha from brothers hence in principle perceiving them as weak and/or dependent.
Periods/menstruation is not considered dirty, taboo or impure
No democratic right can be denied to a woman citing menstruation as a reason. In India women had to go to the judicial system in several instances just to have access to public places of worship during menstruation and otherwise and also they are discriminated, segregated and shamed during periods in homes.
An adult woman can marry/love/be in a relationship with anyone she chooses
There is no concept of rampant honor killing based on religion, caste, community. There is sexist violence everywhere in the world, after all patriarchy reigns. But Indian fathers/brothers/uncles/cousins feel specially entitled to even kill a woman from the family if she loves or marries someone as per her wish and not theirs.
If a girl faces any sexual abuse she is not silenced citing honour, fear or shame.
Sexual violence is also a grim reality all over the world, but in India we shame the victim/ survivor for it, and we even do not recognize marital rape legally. Often families and friends discourage girls from even reporting such crimes and if they do there is ruthless victim blaming and shaming.
A girl’s virginity is not linked with family honour.
Virginity and chastity in India are often linked here to the entire family’s ‘honour’. So her defiance in anything at all, sometimes even something as insignificant as taking up a profession of her choice or loving a man of her choice is treated as dishonour to the entire clan and penalties are huge, sometimes life.
Household chores are everyone’s work.
Household basics are imperative for all genders and often men participate equally in household chores. In India men are mostly brought up to be served by mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and daughter-in-laws and so on.
There is no concept of dowry in modern marriage in the West.
The use of dowries more or less disappeared in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. In India dowry has now taken other covert forms like expensive functions and gifts, business transactions between families in lieu of marriage; and there are proper ‘customs’ for this to be facilitated!
A woman is not bound to live with or serve the man’s family after marriage.
However in India it is popularly believed marriage means marrying the entire family for the woman. Daughter-in-laws are by default considered to be caretakers and servers in the husband’s family.
Parenting is considered a shared responsibility in every case.
Even though there are larger number of single parent in the West, in India even while living together fathers are rarely expected to do ‘motherly tasks’ like cooking, feeding, changing diapers, baby sitting etc.
She can decide how many children to have, and when or not to have, though Abortion laws are being debated in many countries.
In India most women are not aware if their reproductive rights and often can’t even assert that the man uses a condom every time they get intimate, hence the added burden of unwanted pregnancies or risks of sexually transmitted infections/diseases also rests majorly only on women.
A woman needn’t ‘save a marriage’ that has gone bad.
If a woman is sad/oppressed in a marriage she is not forced to ‘save the marriage’ in the name of public infamy. Divorce is common in the West and not a taboo. In India however we are still raising girls to get married and then stay married no matter what else they achieve in life. Hence a divorced/abandoned or widowed woman faces additional taboo.
Women aren’t considered a disgrace or burden for their choices/ circumstances.
Breaking of a relationship/marriage, being a widow, being childless, remarrying, being homosexual is not enough reason for a family to abandon or consider a woman disgrace or burden. This is facilitated by an equally diverse society. Here families consider any kind of diversion from the ‘happily married mother’ as personal fear and shame.
A woman has complete right to her own earnings/ property.
Her husband has no right on her individual income and/or possessions/property. However in India often in addition to the dowry husbands and sometimes even their families feel entitled to whatever the wife earns or owns.
Women and men have equal rights regarding inheritance of ancestral property and last rites of parents.
In India despite the law in place for several decades women are often denied their share in inheritance from their birth families and sometimes when they do so they are threatened or coerced by brothers to give up their share or face boycott in social terms
What women wear, eat, whom they meet, what professions they choose is not decided by anyone else but them.
Sadly for an Indian woman no decisions are entirely her own, they are still largely “dictated” by families and most often give in for the fear of losing loved ones.
Voting rights and rights of elected women are safeguarded.
Women have a right to vote and contest elections in most democracies, but in India women are often coerced by their male counterparts into voting as per their political leanings, especially in the rural areas. Also male members act in place of, and use the power of posts reserved for elected women especially at the local level like panchayats and municipalities. Some may argue that even the United States hasn’t had a woman president whereas India has had both a woman Prime Minister and President, but that argument is meaningless as long as representation of women and their power still remains weak in politics, and often majorly dynastic.
A version of this was first published on the author’s Facebook page.
Image source: YouTube
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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