The practice of Sati (live burning or burying of the widow along with her dead husband’s pyre during the funeral) until the 1800s used to be a normal tradition in some Hindu castes. The Sati Prevention Act 1987/88 finally proclaimed it illegal and brought it to an end.
Female genital mutilation (FGM – total or partial cutting of the clitoris of seven-year-old girls) in some Muslim communities used to be common practice even until 2017 and whether the existence of FGM has completely been uprooted today is still a question mark.
Infanticide (deliberately causing the death of a newborn girl/boy or below one year of age) used to be under wide practice until a few years ago and despite the Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870 it is still a hidden practice in many rural areas.
Child marriage (marrying children at a young age and subjecting girls of 14 or 15 years of age to a sexual relationship – in most cases, being raped on the first night – multiple pregnancies, and child-bearing) was another common practice of the olden days. Though The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2005 came into existence, illegal practice of it is still prevalent.
Prohibition of widow remarriage (disallowing widows, even if it was a young child who was subjected to child marriage and never entered matrimony, to protect family honor and property) was a social custom among Hindus even a few years ago. Though the law – Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act 1856 – allows widows to remarry, many women especially those who have children, even today do not feel morally right to remarry because society would shun her for having had a relationship with more than one male partner in her life.
How did it feel to read the descriptions written within the parentheses? Insane, isn’t it? I believe that none of us reading this post would want any of these five practices to come back alive. But for the society where these practices existed/are existing, they were their pride and honor. Can you imagine how far our Indian society has evolved to what it is today?
In our generation, how many of us had to fight to make our parents’ generation accept love marriages, which was taboo in the 80s and 90s? Would our mothers and grandmothers have imagined that women of our generation will be calling their husbands by names? Wasn’t it a taboo then but a sign of cultural progressivism today?
The reason I want all of us to reflect on this is that there are other kinds of taboos and social practices most of us are supporting today, believing that they are our pride and honor. I am sure in another few decades, our grandchildren or great-grandchildren will call the society we are living in insane.
Let’s foresee ourselves as those progressive set of people who drove the change, who our grandchildren will look up to!
T – Time to turn down the Taboos
Post #20 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children
Divorce & Single Parenting
Last month, one of my close friends announced that they are going to divorce after 11 years of marriage. The news left me disturbed and I deeply wished their decision can be undone. I shared this with my mom and her first response was, “Don’t worry about her. She’ll be happy. I am only worried about all other women who are struggling to take this decision.”
How true! The events, the frustration, the confusion, the anger, the fear, and finally resurrecting oneself from what had just happened in life – either party goes through enough. And finally, when they come out successful from physical abuse, sexual violence, dowry harassment, emotional neglect, or tolerating the husband’s/wife’s extramarital affair, society is waiting to tag them as a ‘failure’.
How do we stop this perception from being passed to our children?
- First of all, when there comes a discussion with children on divorce or separation of someone in your circle, don’t make it seem like a bad thing to happen in life. Tell them that like how road accidents happen, some life events cannot be predicted.
- We can never be in their shoes, which should make us realize that we are no one to judge their character, what they did, or the rightness or wrongness of their decisions. Don’t make judgmental remarks about people who are going through or went through a divorce in front of your children.
- If they used to be your good friend and you have no problem with them as an individual, their issue should not interfere with your relationship with them. Take your children to their house, invite them home, meet outside – show your children that they will continue to be a part of your circle.
- If possible, talk to your children about the need to empathize with their life situation and how you can offer them support like financial assistance if needed, calling them regularly to have a casual conversation, providing them safety help if they are in an insecure situation, or offering to look after their children on some occasion if they are a single parent.
- Be cautious in not making assumptions like their child should be missing their father/mother, that they’ll have difficulty growing up happy, or that they’ll end up growing like this and that. These are some of our false assumptions that will give our children a false opinion that their children are living in a disrupted family. The reality is that a family can still be disrupted when the father and mother are constantly arguing, while a duo of a mom-daughter, mom-son, dad-daughter, or dad-son living alone without the other parent can make a harmonious family of their own.
“We have come a long way in how women were treated during menstruation” was what I used to think some years ago. But now I realize that women who treat themselves to be ostracized during their period are the ones who are feeding this taboo and not those grandmothers we always accused of.
Lack of sanitary pads meant personal hygiene issues then. Unfortunately, it has been linked to religion and ostracization which have no contextual meaning today. I don’t know precisely when, where, or how I transformed out of these confined beliefs of my upbringing.
Perhaps my education as a biologist helped me see the biological side of menstruation – as a matter of fact, that’s the only side of it! And this is what I think is necessary to educate our children about.
- When your girl nears the menarche (puberty/first period) age, Google the menstrual cycle and read the images of the female reproductive system. Make them understand their anatomy, what happens in the ovaries during the first period and eventually every month after that. Explain the path taken by the ovum (egg) along the ovaries to the fallopian tube to the uterus and finally how it leads to the period. As they grow, continue educating about their body, the hormonal changes, the patterns of white discharge, and the possible, but not mandatory mood swings. I will write an exclusive post about educating girl children on menstruation. Here’s one of my articles that was published on Women’s Web about knowing our female anatomy.
- Whether you want to pass on the ‘sit separately’, ‘don’t enter the kitchen’, etc. to your daughter or not will largely depend on your personal views, I understand. But if there’s one thing you can refrain from doing is not associate menstruation with ‘being unclean’, ‘impure’, or ‘shameful’. Educate them that the menstrual blood that comes out is the pure arterial blood, that is, the fresh blood filled with oxygen pumped straight from the heart – in fact, the purest blood that carries the possibility to nourish a fetus. If a woman were pregnant, this blood would have instead fed the growing baby – that sacred, yeah! This would increase her self-worth during a period and make her feel proud of the motherly system that she is carrying within.
- If you believe in logic, talk to her about the origin of the menstrual taboo rooted in hygiene and hence the importance of personal hygiene during the period. If you are not aware, there are menstrual cups available these days, an eco-friendly alternative to sanitary pads.
- If you have a son, when he comes to a mature age for a discussion on menstruation, educate him about everything you would to your daughter.
When I joined the company that I work for (which I had mentioned to have banged the award for 50 best companies for diversity), it took a while for me to understand why the official documents and my managers always used them/they instead of he/she. According to the company policy, using he/she is not recommended because we would not know with what gender an individual identifies themselves as. A person with a male name can identify themselves as a woman and we would be hurting their identity if we called them he/him.
Can you understand how backwards we are?
- At a traffic signal, if your child asks who they are, pointing to a transgender, first of all, address them with the right, respectful word in your language. Stop using derogatory terms such as 9, etc.
- Try to understand their biology of their body and brain before you further explain children who they are. If you don’t know, let children know you are going to find out. For your information, someone doesn’t choose to become a transgender; it is a natural phenomena controlled by hormones and biology.
- Treat them with respect. If you don’t want to give them money at the signal, express it with respect toward them. Don’t use ‘it’ to address them. Your children will be watching you.
- Make children know that transgenders do not necessarily live on the streets or traffic signals. Many today complete higher education and take up an office job. Find information about such people and talk to children about them.
Homosexual, bisexual, & other gender identities
Today it might be seem uncommon, but it is going to get more and more common to have same-sex individuals to make families in the future and your children and grandchildren might have friends from same-sex parents. And they are going to ask you about it. To answer them, you will need to reflect on your own views on the subject.
Here’s a discussion post I had written in 2018 when section 377 was lifted. The post talks about how to deal with children in the matters of LGBTQ.
Again we need to be educated about the biology in it. For heterosexuals, their brain makes it feel natural for a man to be attracted by a woman. For homosexuals, their brain makes it feel natural for a man to be attracted by a man or a women by a woman. Both are right within the context of their brains.
On one side we have the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. On the other side dowry is the sign of the status and show-off of wealth; the more fat the wedding is, the more successful the families are. India is sometimes unthinkable and unquestionable!
One can sugar-coat dowry as gifts to the daughter and whatever. But in the majority of Indian households, it is the amount for the trade-off and not gifts. Because the wealthy can afford, the middle class and poor are subjected to humiliation from a practice that all of us are denying to let go. The price for commitment to marriage is shameless dependency on the bride’s wealth for conducting a wedding, for celebrating Diwali, for buying home appliances, for delivering babies, and even for shaving the baby’s hair. And think, if not for dowry, many husband-wife relationships could have sailed a lot smoother.
- If you want to stop passing down dowry practice, don’t introduce the idea of giving and receiving dowry to your children, in the first place.
- Instill the values of financial and moral self-sufficiency in them. That is, when they grow and have to set up a family of their own, raise children, build a house or buy a car, they should be able to earn it all by themselves and sustain a moral value to reject or at least not be dependent on the wife’s/husband’s family wealth.
- Don’t expect and ask dowry and don’t oblige and give dowry at the time of your children’s wedding. We have to start breaking the chain at one point. Let we be that generation.
Being single/a family without a child/adoption/surrogacy/IVF
The central dogma of life has been education – job – marriage – children – savings – retirement – most importantly, all at the right time. Even if one goes out of place or out of age, it would spell failure. There is a positive side to this dogma in that it leads humans into a prescribed path. Else, many could have gone astray without knowing which way to go or what to do and when to do. Say a person got a child first before getting a job, it may bring in economical crisis in the family. Or a child came before the legal marriage could happen, they might choose to abandon the baby at the gate of an orphanage out of fear of ostracization.
However, there is also a possibility that a person’s life does not follow the central dogma can come up with his own dogma of life. This is something that is increasingly happening to many today in terms of marital life, career, children, and retirement. And to be noted is that most of such people who can rewrite the dogma are able to contribute to a higher purpose beyond their family, their children, and their life.
Someone who doesn’t get married at all or do not beget a child can have a purpose that doesn’t fit into the common goals of companionship and commitment in love or raise a legacy. In fact, I have the ideology that when one is not contributing to the birth of another generation, it might mean that they are completing the karma of the ancestors in some aspect, revoking the necessity to continue the chain of that family’s karma.
And it is time that we begin to accept these parallel possibilities and value every life for the way it is designed.
- When you are talking about someone who does not have a child, for example, in front of your children, do not say, “So sad, they don’t have a child” even if you were only empathizing with their situation. Instead project that some life events are a natural part of a higher design and need not necessarily be a sad event.
- Never associate being single or not having a child, to ‘curse’ or ‘sin’. Instead, promote the ideology that every design of life is a blessing. Quote examples of lives like Dr. Abdul Kalam who remained a bachelor and did not have children but made immense contributions to science and society, like Sushmita Sen who did not marry but has raised two adopted daughters.
- The thought that telling the truth to children that one can remain without marrying, without having a child, having a child through adoption, surrogacy, or IVF will influence them into that path is wrong. In fact that will become the root cause of their non-acceptance of such lives when they grow up. When they are informed as a child the possibility of all kinds of families, they are going to grow with more acceptance and inclusivity.
All said, we have only two choices – evolve or repeat!