I have been thinking on the subject of routine violence of women’s lives and how they condone, accept or even justify it. A few days ago, Haseena, the young woman, mother of three, who works as my home assistant (I prefer this term, instead of ‘domestic help’, because I feel she assists me in my home in diverse ways, and is a part of my home, just like a member of the household) came with face that was not exactly chirpy and bright the way she does every morning. I asked her if everything was fine. She responded that her husband had hit her, because she had screamed at him, due to his parents’ calls to him, which she objected to. His father is disabled and possibly bedridden. Naturally his parents require money, even though the mother herself earns from domestic work in the homes of others.
However, when the son could not send money immediately, as his wife (Haseena) was out of work for several months before starting work with me, they grew frantic. On the other hand Haseena was also upset that they could not hold on patiently, because though she had started in her new employment she could only get money at the end of the month- not in the middle of it. So she ‘screamed’ at them! She needn’t have- but this is the circle of poverty and this is the circle of dependence, which makes and keeps people insecure.
So I asked her again, what was the response of her two young girls to the fact that her husband had hit her. She said that the children were very troubled and became anxious, fearless and tearful. What can one expect?
Yesterday those two children came to me, for I invited them to come meet me. I wanted to see her children and in general I am always concerned about children who are first generation learners, for I wish to be in their little journeys and assist them, if I can, in understanding life in different ways. I know, coming as I did from a family of college teachers, how differently we grew up- these children would never know a house full of books and parents studying. For them their father works in a scrapyard and mother works in someone home.
When I saw them and interacted with them, I saw they were no different from any children. The two girls were actually quite beautiful- and the older one expressed her desire to write stories and the younger one said she wants to be a doctor, though she is also fond of drawing. I thought it would be good if they met me with some regularity and tell me about their lives and I tell them about other things. I invited them to bring their friends as well, so that the group can have a maximum of ten children- girls and boys or only girls. And they can always bring one adult with them, since they have to walk a long way to reach my home. So i hope to add some little things in the lives of these little children in my vicinity, which opens up alternative ideas in their minds and not just the violent realities of their lives, homes and discrimination of daily living, being Muslims. It remains to be seen whether they would take up the option or how seriously.
Perhaps for Haseena, her husband slapping her in the presence of her children was not a big act, for she condoned it saying, “It is okay if he hits me, because he has a right to, but I do not think he can see how wrong his parents have been to him always.” To her mind a man hitting his wife is a right that he has earned by virtue of being husband, to my mind it is a violence perpetrated not only on her, but on the three children, who were unconsciously taught the rules of patriarchy- a man can hit a woman- both the girls saw it, the boy saw it too…and this way the circles will continue. Unless we bring these little children into new worlds of ideas where hitting anyone is not the done thing, no body in a position of power will exercise their powers in ways that can demean another human being. But we have to begin early.
So you would say, why in the world am I telling you this? Just imagine how far you are from these people in every possible way, living a world apart in the heart of developed Europe, whether women have fought and earned their rights in significant ways and routine violence is just not acceptable any longer, it is NOT the done thing, just because you are a man or anyone in a position of power. What about the fact that your university education and the fact that you hail from South Asia- how far you are from this world, where hitting a woman, because she loves you, is the done thing among men.
So what happens when a man who is a part of your life, by your choice, chooses to behave with you, the manner Haseena’s husband did? In what way is your response different from Haseena’s condoning of her husband? She has accepted the fact that being a woman she is liable to get hit- are you also? And why is that? Just because you loved someone? So what is the purpose of so much education, if it could not instill a sense of self worth? What is the value of your independent spirit, if you could choose to live alone, in a house of your own, yet be exposed to routine verbal or physical violence and take it with an attitude of submission?
The reality of education is that no matter what women are studying in universities about gender, violence, equality or any ideas- the homes that they go back to, beat them back into submission, clip their wings, abort their dreams and bring them back into the same cycle of daily abuse, which has been heaped upon women from times immemorial, because women who challenge patriarchy are best outside of their own homes. Parents and in-laws only want submissive, silent women, who will take anything because they have to carry the responsibility of their family pride, honor and social respect.
On the other hand when women who are educated, do not have the support, mentoring and guidance of other women who are independent, strong and clear thinking, they lose their ways in the labyrinth of emotional submission because they think that no matter what they study in their universities and classrooms, they cannot deal with the same ideas in their day-to-day lives. They have to accept day-to-day patriarchy, because otherwise they will be alone, single and unloved. The reality is that in seeking love from those men who have a power-oriented conception of relationships, women also enter into negotiating around power. That struggle enters into diverse domains- of money, sexuality, behaviours, interactions, social displays and so forth.
Relationships based on power
If you remember, Hobbes (the philosopher) had said that the essential nature of man is nasty and brutish. I do not remember what he said further, but one of the goals of education could easily be to overcome this nastiness as an endowment of birth, by appropriate socialization, in which people overcome their habitual bad manners, spiritual ugliness and shortcomings by comprehending the benefits of mutual respect, altruism and the benefits of collaboration, over dominance, submission, cruelty and misbehaviour. In any relationship which is based on power, there will be an interplay of power, at least in the mind of one partner, the other may be completely ignorant. The one who has money may think that they hold the key to the relationship. Usually this struggle is such that all resources are vested in the hands of men, more so in marriages.
However, in your case, this is not the situation. You are not dependent on any man to pay for your bills, your home is in your name, you live in Europe far removed from the values of what women in South Asia face on a daily basis. Then why cling on to ideas of this part of the world, my girl? Your parents had enough money to take you from here and offer you the scope for this life, where you could make choices of your own and be responsible for them. I do feel that a mentoring that was required could not be offered to you, but that does not mean that the very values they wanted to shield you from your life, should dominate your mind, no matter what milieu you live in, on the outside.
Diaspora is more entrenched in old values than people within their home countries
I felt this for a long time actually- that Indians who lived in the West were less liberal and more feudal, navel gazing and parochial than Indians living in India. Their only real connection with India is very watered down, and largely defined by ideas that they have imbibed from cinema, and the cultural icons exported out of here. They do not live the dynamic life that Indians live in India, a hotbed of ideas, struggles, debates and whatnot. Diaspora lives a cocoon – neither a part of the progressive ideas of the subcontinent nor progressive ideas of the West, as though all currents of progressiveness just pass them by!
They are quite consumeristic, fond of razzle-dazzle and empty in their minds. I am especially referring to those who are born in the West. The ones who have gone from here in search for higher education, especially in the social/human sciences are doing some very wonderful work and contributing to scholarship. The ones who have gone in search of jobs are seeking escapes out of the poverty and socio-economic backwardness of our society. Anyways, this is not meant to be a critique of them, (for they merit a longer post or article) but a reminder that when they left South Asia it was decades ago. Their ideas stopped growing organically, because they had no exposure to the ideas that were developing in this society. They were on a foreign soil and they had to protect their ideas, values, culture and tradition in a foreign land- often they took the most rigid, dead ideas of the past and continued them in the name of tradition; the sort of ideas we would never accept in our own lives here.
I see you there!
And this is the underlying reason for this post- to remind you to not cut yourself from the reality of your life, but embrace it more fully. Women’s liberation or feminism is not about antagonism towards men, only the militant versions may be. The truth about women’s liberation is that it has to be a liberation from the day-to-day oppression in the lives of women, and even men need to be liberated from that oppression, which they are also victims of. Women liberation is a struggle for dignity of every person on the planet and not just women- for women are the wiser of the species (a fact proven by the animal kingdom too), and they have no need to dominate, murder, kill and maim people- they just need to be more empowered to recognize their strength, their wisdom and their abilities.
Unless women do it themselves and stronger women, mentor weaker women, old women nurture younger women into more empowering roles and positions, women will continue to get tortured in every private space- in homes, offices, relationships and you name it. Women will continue believing that it is okay to be hit in their homes and it is okay to be violated in their jobs, because they are women and this is the price they have to pay for womanhood. They just need to be reminded that women need to connect with their masculine sides, their inner man, and not be with an outer man who needs to subdue her to prove his masculinity.
This is my hope too, in writing this note to you- that you do not need a man whose need it is to abuse you or any woman in any way. You do not need a man who clings on to you because he sees you as a symbol of power, yet wants to crumble your spirit by regularly violating it with words, abuse your family, doubt your character or your friends, demand money from you and wants to escape the drudgery of his wretched existence back home, by escaping to Europe, yet not learn the liberal values of the West, that you have grown up internalizing.
I may need to write another post on how sexuality needs to be seen by the modern woman, but I will reserve that for a later date.
Your’s in concern