Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No More Kanya ‘Daan’

I was in a wedding, the kiddos in tow. My kids love the extravagant Delhi weddings. Of course, the fact that they get to guzzle all the soft drinks they want, and binge on the array of desserts does have something to do with it, but I suspect it has to do with the music and the dancing too.

Weddings are also a place where relatives by the dozen, meet, exclaim on how much the kids have grown, and give them a tight hug, or a pull of the baby cheeks. This is also a time when my ‘ideal bahu’ (daughter-in-law) avatar makes a guest appearance, as I touch their feet in respect.

As the kids grew up, they picked up the habit from us, the parents. It began with the grandparents, and then to all and sundry who seemed to be people we did the exercise (pun intended!) with. While the grandparents are a very enlightened lot, there are relatives who are yet to accept concepts like gender equality.

Thus, in this particular wedding, I greeted an elderly aunt with much respect. My son, being the energetic five-year old that he is, immediately took on the game of ‘feet-touching’ too. Needless to say, the elderly aunt was ecstatic to receive this token of respect from him. Not to be left behind, my daughter, all of nine, decided to garner some brownie points too.

But the moment she bent down to touch her feet, the aunt gasped and said, “Oh, but girls in our family don’t touch feet.” A perplexed nine-year old was not able to understand why she was not given the same blessings.

A little later, a conversation between the still-confused none year old and the relative in question (yes, I have a persistent daughter :) ):

Little G : Badi Dadi (Elder Grandmother) why didn’t you let me touch your feet?

Elderly Aunt : Because I love you very very much.

Little G : But you let my brother do it....dosn’t you love my brother ?

EA : Oh, but in our homes, daughters are like Devi (Goddesses)…. So you are like a ‘Devi’ for me.

Little G (still thinking hard): So that means no girls should touch feet right? What about Mamma? She is also a girl. Why can she touch your feet?

EA : Well, you will not touch our feet – not your parents or us. Your brother can, but you can't. You see beta, you will touch the feet of elders in your home. (Noticing the perplexed expression on her face, Dadi clarifies)…. When you get married.

This is where I had to interfere and take her aside to prevent any further conversation on the same topic. But some damage had already been done – I discovered that Little G was not very happy with the way things were. She looked at me through spoonfuls of the ice cream, and said, “But this is my home!”

I assured her this most certainly was her home, and she could do all the stuff her brother would – including touching feet if she so felt like it! She hugged me and rushed off to play, the worry out of her mind, the ambiguity no longer visible to her.

While I discussed this with my Mother in Law, she was sympathetic with my concerns, but she said that ‘this is how the world is’. When I question further, on why the world is such, she patiently explained to me that every societal norm that was ever made, revolved around the fact that girls would be married off one day, and would cease to be part of their birth family.

Hmmmmm………. So, they were pampered to bits in their families, only to be treated like second grade citizens in their ‘married to’ family! Wow – that certainly made sense!

But this set me thinking – why do we have rules that create differences in two children?

- Dowry for one, property for the other

- Family name for one, soft corner for another

- Education for one, ‘Training’ for another

- “Budhape ka sahara” for one, “Paraya Dhan” for another

So, are we saying that we have differential rules to facilitate the roles of our sons and our future daughters in law - so that they are 'conditioned' to be care-takers as son and daughter-in-law?

Who gave us the right to decide our childrens' role in our lives? We stay with our sons and pine for our daughters, while cursing our daughters in law. We stay with our in-laws, while wishing for the company of our parents and envying our brothers.

At the end of this angry rant, an ancillary to all these ‘rules’ – do we have kids so that our ‘Budhapa’ is taken care of? Well, I know that for many of us, it’s a vehement ‘NO’. So then, why can’t we do away with differentiating ‘rules’ for the little ones?

I leave you with a beautiful piece from the Lebanese poet Gibran

“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams”

Thoughts Please .......

This was originally posted in "Parentous"


  1. As usual a grave issue dealt with in your impeccable style with just the right pinch of humor !well written !! lots of food for thought !

  2. When I was young my dad's aunt visited us. After the dinner my mom asked me to clear the plates and dishes. And the granny was shocked to hear that, to say the least. She asked my mom, "How can you ask him to do that. He is a heir to this family." My mom just replied, "Ya may be, but he is my child. And he is helping me with my work". Although she didn't argue further, she was clearly unhappy.

    My mom taught me how to cook. She says, "If you get married someday, you too have to cook sometimes. If she also works, if she is away, if she is sick. So learn." As I learnt from my mother, there are no boy's work/responsibility or girl's work/responsibility, its just plain simple work.

    "do we have kids so that our ‘Budhapa’ is taken care of?" Well this may not be the condition in the present generation(at-least for most people), with all the retirement plans and other plans. Our parents and their parents put all their income and savings in their children's welfare. It could be because they thought their children would take care of them or they weren't able to choose their 'safe old-age' over their children's future. Any which way the onus of looking after the parents falls on their children, irrespective of gender.

    1. Kudos to your Mom Kanthu!! Its women like these that give us some hope for the future! As far as the 'Budhape ka sahara', sadly, the large majority of Indian households still rely on their 'sons' to see them through their old age - as is evident from the huge number of people left penniless in their old age by their sons (or daughters)!! Retirement plans are the luxury of a small minority :-(

  3. My husband says that he started to dislike girls when they were treated like 'devis' on ashtami. He hates feminist ideologies and believes in equality now. Which is good. But he has that resentment in him ...and I really cant blame him. We really need to let-go of certain backward traditions that we proudly call culture. Only then our society will change for the better.

  4. The whole concept of budhape ka sahara is slowly getting off for good. Now the parents know that like in the poem,, the your children are not your children...they are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself.

    Loved reading this!

    1. Sorry to point out, Red, but as I've written to a previous comment, the truth in India's villages and small towns is entirely different from the urban middle class households. We still live in the era of 'heirs' in most households.

  5. We have to let go of a lot many ideologies to be a better person. Sometimes, our culture stinks and I am glad that there are a lot of us who have realized that.

    1. But Amit, realizing it is not enough, is it? We still toe the line of 'culture' - whether it is 'kanya daan' or 'karva chauth' or 'soubhagyavati bhava'...... we still follow it, don't we?

  6. I can't agree more on this...I have always questioned the societal norms... Beti and Bahu.. why this difference? The society decides most of the things but I feel the people in the society are way too biased and have come to accept the way things have been going for long.

    1. Absolutely, Manjulika! Thanks for coming by.


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