Archive for the ‘Freedom of Choice’ Category

Why We Won’t Stop Buying Brides

The practice of bride buying is closely tied to many patriarchal conditions of sex selective abortions, dowry and gender discrimination. Are we ready to break all the moulds to really want to put an end to this?

A simple Google search on ‘bride buying India’ gives you a mix of results that indicate the human rights violating practice of bride buying in Northwestern states of India, matrimonial sites as well as links to designer bridal sarees and jewelry. This dichotomy itself explains a lot about how tradition and patriarchy are intertwined with the booming economy in our so-called modern Indian society.

The practice of bride buying is not very recluse from the society today. We know that it’s a vicious cycle and relationship between the gender bias within patriarchy and poverty in our country, although patriarchy does not have a stronger root or causality in poverty. Most of us know the stories and modus operandi to how it happens. The archaic system of patriarchy that propagate heavy dowries to be incurred for daughters’ marriages and desire for a long lineage, even to maintain the caste purity in the line, leads to a strong preference for the male child. Female babies are either killed in the foetus or killed or thrown in the garbage shortly after their birth. This issue was vehemently taken up and investigated from all angles in the launch episode of the social issues show, Satyameva Jayate, hosted by popular actor, Aamir Khan.

Decades of families and communities killing the girl child has resulted in an entire demographic of young girls and women missing in many villages in the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are some of the most key places. Hence, in sexual frustration and desperation and of course, the fear of their family being wiped out of the face of existence (which is what they attempted to save in the first place), they look for brides from poorer states on the Eastern parts of India. This time: caste, religion, ethnicity, color and even age, no bar.

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The India Lovers Party is promising affirmative action for couples disowned by their families, and hoping to sweep into the Tamil Nadu state government.

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Her dream was to go to school, to have the freedom to study and learn. But to alleviate her mother’s financial burden of care taking both her and her brother, nineteen year old Neetu agreed to get married instead.

It was her mother’s friend who made the introduction to the 20-year old suitor. They had only met for about 20 minutes, and because she was not happy about the arrangement, Neetu stood with her back to him as they spoke. She didn’t see him again until the day of the wedding. Admitting she liked the way he looked, she did not feel they were a suitable match. Being married to him, she said, was a compromise.

The daughter of a single mother, Neetu never met her father. After a drunken rage in which he tried to kill her and her brother, her mom left the marriage.

When I met Neetu, she had been married for seven months. Matrimonial bangles graced the arms she kept demurely wrapped around herself. During our conversation, her sister-in-law sat by her side, impeding Neetu’s ability to freely speak. It was only when she was asked to go to the kitchen and make tea that Neetu was able to reveal her concerns.

Though no dowry was given, gifts were presented to her husband’s family at the time of marriage. As is sometimes the case, after a few months, her new family started to indirectly speak of material goods they did not have, but wanted. Neetu felt is was only a matter of time before their demands started. Not wanting to worry her mom, she didn’t talk with her about it.

Her desire to continue her studies was out of the question with her new responsibility to take care of her husband’s family; an additional concern for her. There was a visible sadness and a longing in Neetu. She was stuck in her life circumstances.

Maybe that is why – from the bed she shared with her husband – she doused herself with kerosene and struck a match. The news of it came in an e-mail shortly after I had left India, several months after our meeting. Our mutual friend and interpreter wrote to tell me that Neetu was unhappy with her husband because he had a problem with alcohol. So she set herself on fire. In her critical condition and without the four lakh rupees needed for treatment, she and her five month old fetus died.

Because fire is a common form of assault against women in India, incidents that are deemed accidents or suicide are looked upon with suspicion. Women do sometimes take their own lives, however. Sometimes as a way to escape their fate, or to alleviate their families of the burden of a dowry demand. But other times the in-law family fabricates a story around their crime, calling it a kitchen accident, or self-immolation.

With the concerns that Neetu wanted to speak with me about, I also had my suspicions. Her death leaves a haunting hollowness in me.

My intention of collecting stories from women who have endured the systemic degradation, oppression and violence for being born female, is to celebrate those who have made a triumphant exodus from their circumstances. To highlight their liberation as a testament for other women, to show them that it is possible. Neetu’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes women only find liberation in death.

I am humbly grateful to Neetu, and all the daughters of India who have graciously welcomed me into their lives with the courage to share their stories with the world. Through the telling and retelling of their stories, and the demand for the safety, freedom, and equality for women everywhere, one day soon we will be free, to be female.

barbara raisbeck

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Caste of Shadows: Love, Sacrifice and Hinduism
David Pambianchi

Moral Code defines the core of most religion, its cement and social bonding power. To love, avoid aggression, seek truth, be just, believe and act what the heart and conscience tells us is right, such thoughts can lift the spirit, and for most religions serve as a guide to help mold a believer’s spirituality and sustain a stable and productive lifestyle. Yet too often through perverse or selective interpretation, followers take actions contrary to their religion’s fundamental doctrines. To discriminate, be hurtful, harm, murder and even use religion as a way to justify barbarous behaviors becomes acceptable.

For the past ten years, Sujit Dhakal (Sam) resides with his wife in Queens, New York, a U.S. resident raising two children. Once a privileged member of the Nepal “Bramhan” upper Caste, as a young journalist, Sam fell in love with a fellow writer and decided to Inter-Caste marry Ranu. But born into the Newar “Shrestha” Caste, Ranu sat two levels lower within the rigid system. The repercussions include death threats and expulsion from family and society.

For defying tradition, Sam’s father Kanhaiya Upadhyaay, president of a Hindu religious organization (Dhakal Kuldewata Sewa Samiti), in Janakpur Dham, Nepal, disowned his son, removing Sam and his daughter-in-law from the family lineage, “I’ll not see your face again until after I’m dead.”

After some years, the attitude remains unchanged. When Sam planned a trip to Nepal with his son, Samarpan, for Bratabandha, (a ritual after a child reaches age 7 and above that essentially carries the weight of a Catholic Confirmation or Jewish Bar Mitzvah), a meeting was held to revoke Samarpan’s Hindu rite of passage, and in the event of a confrontation, the grandfather and the organization threatened “unto death” to stop the ritual. Sam cancelled the trip. Full Story

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More on the Love Commandos – Bravo!

Love Commandos: Secret service helps Romeo & Juliets in India

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Love Commandos Helpline: 9313784375

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Love Commandos: Helpline for couples in love

In the battle against repeated honour killings, there is finally some ray of hope, not from the system, but from the people. Help is now at hand for couples who fear for their lives after marrying against the wishes of their family.

Sanjay Sachdeva and Harsh Malhotra call themselves the love commandos. They run a helpline for couples who fear their lives may be in danger because they fell in love with people their parents didn’t approve of.

The helpline Love Commandos is just one-week old with just one number, founded by Sanjay Sachdeva. But the phones have not stopped ringing. On some days as many as 300 people call, pleading for help and terrified that they may be killed.

Sunil Kumar and Chanchal have been in hiding ever since they ran away from their North Delhi homes. They secretly got married in a temple last month. Both feared Chanchal’s parents may kill them. It was then that they dialed the Love Commandos helpline. With their help, the couple approached the Delhi Commission for Women who, in turn, have now asked the local police to provide them security. Full Story

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In India, Castes, Honor and Killings Intertwine

When Nirupama Pathak left this remote mining region for graduate school in New Delhi, she seemed to be leaving the old India for the new. Her parents paid her tuition and did not resist when she wanted to choose her own career. But choosing a husband was another matter.

Her family was Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, and when Ms. Pathak, 22, announced she was secretly engaged to a young man from a caste lower than hers, her family began pressing her to change her mind. They warned of social ostracism and accused her of defiling their religion.

Days after Ms. Pathak returned home in late April, she was found dead in her bedroom. The police have arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak, on suspicion of murder, while the family contends that the death was a suicide.

The postmortem report revealed another unexpected element to the case: Ms. Pathak was pregnant.

“One thing is absolutely clear,” said Prashant Bhushan, a social activist and lawyer now advising Ms. Pathak’s fiancé. “Her family was trying their level best to prevent her from marrying that boy. The pressure was such that either she was driven to suicide or she was killed.”

In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.

This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.

In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.

The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village — considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.

Even as the court system has sought to curb these councils, politicians have hesitated, since the councils often control significant vote blocs in local elections.

New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week. Last month, the police arrested three men for the honor killings of a couple in New Delhi who had married outside their castes, as well as the murder of a woman who eloped with a man from another caste.

Two of the suspects are accused of murdering their sisters, and an uncle of the slain couple spoke of their murders as justifiable.

“What is wrong in it?” the uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, told the Indian news media. “Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done.”

Intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, yet social attitudes remain largely resistant. In a 2006 survey cited in a United Nations report, 76 percent of respondents deemed the practice unacceptable. An overwhelming majority of Hindu couples continue to marry within their castes, and newspapers are filled with marital advertisements in which parents, seeking to arrange a marriage for a son or daughter, specify caste among lists of desired attributes like profession and educational achievement.

“This is part and parcel of our culture, that you marry into your own caste,” said Dharmendra Pathak, the father of Ms. Pathak, during an interview in his home. “Every society has its own culture. Every society has its own traditions.”
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See: Two taken into custody for justifying honour killings

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