Fear of the Singles 2

I was relooking at all factors with regard to the single women’s help group I wanted to start to support single women in India live a decent life – to empower and scaffold them socially, when they want to pursue their dreams. When I suddenly realized it is not just women, society seems to feel threatened by Singledom itself, as a rule. Even men are not exactly that comfortable, although,  compared to women they get along better.

But when it comes to adoption rights, finding a good place to live in, especially in India, it nearly is the same for both men and women: society is suspicious of single people.

Why do they stay single?

Snippets from ten people I interviewed here in India and abroad.

W1 (Gujarat India): I was the only child. My parents were only children too, so there never was an extended family I could look to. So, when my parents died, and I still hadn’t found a suitable match for me, I  ended up being alone.

W2 (Kolkata, India): Well, I do not consider me ‘alone’ although yes, I am single. I loved someone, we had a relationship too, only when he went away abroad, it came apart. I could not leave my career behind. I find it difficult to accept anyone else in his place… so…

W3 (USA): I became single and alone when my husband died of a car crash a few years ago. I have a small son to take care of. I will marry if the right one comes along.

W4 (India) : I do not know why am single. (Pause) Maybe because I am dark and fat they never could find a match for me? No, that is a joke. I did not like the men they chose for me. So, I decided to stay single. I know what I want, I love my job, my friends like me, I am happy to be travelling and living on my own terms. I feel powerful (smiles).

W5(Mumbai , India): O I love what I do. I have men friends. I do not feel the need to marry but yes, it would be such a help if someone took care of some things in my life (laughs) – but unless they get something out of it – why will they?

W6 (Pune, India): I didn’t marry so I could take care of my parents. Yes, I do feel lonely,but I do not mind being single. I enjoy my nephews nad nieces and do not miss not having children of my own. As you cna see our business is thriving and am happily single (smiles).

W7 (Gujarat, India): O I had been in an arrnged marriage, he was in a relationship that his family did not approve of so when he confessed we agreed to a mutual divorce nd parted amicbaly. I have been single since then, I am happy the way I am, I do not complain except the singleness does bring in bouts of loneliness, especially when people around you are planning holidays during festive season. If I do find someone that understands me, can be a friend – would marry but otherwise I would rather not. yes, social support would be welcome.

W8 (India): yes, fear of the singles is real. Everytime in a praty I ms smiling or enjoying a hearty conversation with a man friend, I cna sense his wife tensing up. Yes, they even go to the extent of trying to malign you behind your bcak nad spread ugly tales. These are unhappy insecure women. But I have also met wonderful grcaious ldies that have welcomed me into their family circles. I enjoy being the way I am. I do not wish to have children.

W9 (India): I cannot conceive, so I decided not to marry. I like being single. It gives me a chance to do more with my life than if I had to schedule it according to the routine of another few lives (husband, children, in-laws etc). But yes, I have faced problems because of being single, and yes, a support group that helps me with buying selling of property, does not try to take advantage because I am a woman, would be good.

W10 (UK): O I like being single. I am not averse to marriage. But it didn’t happen. I go about life living it till it happens (laughs). In the UK, it isn’t really the system that hurts, no one minds singles – unless you happen to be close to the husband of a married woman that is not too sure of herself. I love my job as corporate trainer, and I travel all the time, so I hardly miss not having a mate as such. Yes, people do make a pass ta you if they know you are single. But it isn’t like it is in India. There is a certain system in place that is designed toprotect the interest of a single woman.

What is significant here is, none of these women are complaining – they definitely are not unhappy. They are perfectly fine being who they are.

Is Single a problem in your culture or country? Gender is a problem, right? Sex of a human too I guess?  Why –  in what sort of spaces in your country?  In what ways do being single, one’s sex, one’s gender become a problem?

Obviously biodesign of humans suggests we were meant to exist in a set of double. But isn’t there some kind ofexistential intelligence that says that humans are allowed to CHOOSE.

Why does society feel threatened by its singles?

Tell me how single people are thought of and treated in your culture. Tell me how single people live in your culture. What are the myths associated with singledom?

Are they looked upon with pity? O, poor thing, not taken! Something must be seriously wrong?

I would like to read literature from around the world about the lives of single people – men or women, especially of course, women.

Yet, the most important question that bothers me is why the fear of the singles?

Currently in my effort to understand the nature of bias and discrimination, I am reading a book called Equal Opportunities and Diversity written by Barbara Bagilhole.

Recommendations on not so pedantic, but thorough studies exploring ‘bias’ generally, and then with regard to the impossible Indian Gender Divide would be welcome 🙂

If there is none, I would be glad to have a collaborator to go on with this.

Before I end this, I would like to share an interesting observation I made while using my toaster this morning. Every single device that has been invented to make life easier in the home and the kitchen happened in the West. Whether it is the washer, grinder, the crusher, the sewing machine or the grill or even the hand held batter beater, it was all done by men in the West.

I guess this itself indicates some level of concern and affection for the woman in that region. There is not a single kitchen device except perhaps the roti maker that India invented. I do feel sad when I think of what this means really.

The West I think is still the best place where individual’s rights and welfare is concerned. We are still far behind. I am so sorry about that.

So I thought it makes better sense to have a SPEG* instead of a SWEG, (*Single Person’s Empowerment Group). That way men and women can together work towards bettering their lives, ensure respect for choices they make as individuals and dignity in their lives. They become stakeholders together in this thing if I look at SPEG as an idea. What is becoming a quest for me now is exploring this strange inexplicable fear of the singles in nearly every society, apparently every culture.

But then my contact with other cultures is through the written word. The internet, I realize can become this wonderful space to share views, exchange facts and information. Do share your view here, if you care🙂

* The links would open in a separate window, so you can continue to read the post plus peruse the articles linked here.

PN : “of the 57 million American women 45 and up, nearly half—25 million—are unmarried (outnumbering entire populations of countries such as North Korea, Taiwan, and Australia)

PN: “Although 92 percent have a network of friends and family that they can rely on, particularly in a time of crisis, many worry about what might happen to them as they age If they were alone”

PN: Published in India, written in the West,  “Latest news, breaking news – Single women prefer dogs to men.”

PN: “A growing number of single women are interested in having a baby through artificial insemination, but are still banned from doing so, according to Chinese”

PN:  “14 Jul 2009 We received reports from various states that single women were not recognized as an independent household. Women also suffer…”

PN:  “A global network of single women reveling in life’s magic and feeling truly fulfilled – She started this blog to combat the treatment of singles as second-class citizens. Single-headed homes now tip the scales at 50.3% of the population”

Good useful blog for Singles (American): http://singletude.blogspot.com/

Another one: http://specialktreatment.blogspot.com/

If you care deeply about discrimination based on gender and the marital status of people, if you wish to see the world become a little less acrimonious then do get in touch.

Help me find out more, by naming books, studies, journals that can be accessed online, if you know of organizations that are doing commendable work to reduce stress in single people’s lives, you might send me their link or help me connect to them perhaps? You could use this email: triisha6@gmail dot com

To Improve the life of Indian Women

It would help improve the quality of life of an educated, modern urban Indian woman if these things were in place:

  • Right to live alone, unchaperoned by a female relative or male presence in her life.
  • Right to not answer questions about whether  she is alone or single while she rents a place (her safety, security should be important from the very start.  What does it bloody matter as long as she pays rent and is from a decent family background: which should be evident with the way she carries herself, the way she dresses, uses words, her gesture, posture, demeanour. Most women colleague do not even get it that this is a trick question to gauge how much leverage the strangers would have on the woman’s life.   Women must understand that it is not necessary to determine rent or payment at all. You are renting the whole space paying for it, so what  does it matter to the landlord whether you are alone or single? If they are bad people though, this is exactly what they are looking for to arm twist for money or advantages.
  • Right not to give too much sensitive information like where she works, where her family is, how many members are there in her family, whether she is married or has a boy friend – especially this question bugsme like hell: how much she earns! She knows what she can afford, to guard against non payment of rent, she is paying a deposit that is advance rent, right?
  • Right to refuse her photograph / copy of appointment letter (the audacity of asking for something so personal as that! experience in Pune, Maharashtra) or give identity card / passport/ copies of PAN (permanent account number) / driving license to people that are practically strangers (the landlord/ broker)!
  • Right to have a receipt for money paid as rent/deposit for accommodation
  • Right to get a title / deed to property she rents/ buys, in a language she reads or speaks
  • Right to assistance by social self help groups if she loses important documents
  • Right to lodge an FIR in case of loss or theft of important documents like debit card or phone in the local outstation police station in the National language or in one she can speak/read.
  • Right to membership and stay in local YWCA even though she may be working and not a student or a Christian. And that withdue respect. She should not be treated like a scumbag that the YWCA is doing a favour to (Pune YWCA is horribly rude, refuses to allow electric points in rooms, and tries to rule ladies like ten year old kids: come back before 8 p.m., lights off after 9 p.m. , refusing address proof which is required to get a new telephone SIM in the new city as the other one would be on roaming charges now), asking for LOCAL references when they know you are from outside! New Delhi and Kolkata YWCA charges are exorbitantly high that only very high end corporate salaries can afford.
  • Better conditions and reasonable rates within means of non corporate women employees at private working women’s hostels
  • Better conditions (like electric points inside rooms so one can plug in a computer or light a mosquito repellent) at government ladies’ hostels.
  • Single room PG accommodation within reasonable rates : a working woman like a teacher would be carrying documents, work home – she would need privacy and safety of her stuff. In Ahmedabad and Pune they think you are a monster if you ask for single rooms and charge you INR 7000 (seven thousand). If you pay 4500 rupees you would get a reasonably decent house in a decent locality – only of course if you are married or have someone with you to share it. They do not give ‘nice’ houses on rent in ‘nice’ neighborhoods to single outstation ladies.
  • Women stop treating single women rudely, with mistrust, callously. “Why don’t you go back to your own city?” Halo! Why can’t she be where she chooses to be??? When you go to the US for your job, do they tell you to do that, “Hey why don’t you go back to India?” (makes me sick). Every city in my country is MY city. It is my birthright to be where I please, work where I please, choose to settle down where I like. I work hard. I pay my taxes.
  • Working women with PAN registration from one State should be able to file their Income tax returns from whichever city she might be in. I may not have address proof at the new city to be able to change my mailing address to get the address on PAN changed soon. Or I could be on a transferable job, travelling continuously, should be able to file the return from wherever I might be. I am trying to pay the government, TAKE the bloody money!
  • Address proof or employer’s certificate as soon as an employee steps into the company: from day 1 so she can get a house easily, get her new phone connection, gas, internet.
  • Right to the standard government tax rebate meant for women in India from employers. Some deduct 11% tax from salary that is way below the government taxable salary limits (I faced it in Ahmedabad itself, if you raise questions, they ask you to quit). Money can be very important when you have to pay rent and live on single income in an expensive city: please do not make it difficult by doing those other things that are not done anyway.
  • Right to appointment letters, salary certificates, Form 16*  from day1 of employment. (*necessary to file your IT returns – although I worked in some of the best schools here,  have not been able to file my return for the past three years I have been in this State). It is not feasible to go home and do it as we get holiday only during holidays when these offices also remain closed!
  • Employers with outstation women employees, maintain a database of (NOT reputable but) TRUSTWORHTY brokers, house lease information, tax return filing agents or simply a helpful and polite helpdesk that can help women with these small things that mean a lot of hassle when you are alone.
  • Right to adopt a child if she has a decent job even if she be single. Do not deny a child a healthy, capable mother she/he  might have or a safe home!
  • Right to have guests in the house: even though it be rented, it is still my home, I should be able to invite people home and I should be the one to judge who is safe for me and who is not.
  • Reservations in AC compartments when women are travelling overnight alone as it is unsafe for her in open-door-all-night sleeper coaches, especially going to the washroom at night alone, leaving her luggage.  Preference to a single woman over a single man in the Indian context especially would be in order (a large gang probably liquor movers that  boarded from Surat nearly threw me off the train during last Diwali because they claimed my seat, at midnight when I requested them to please vacate it).

If I had a support group for women, these are things I would be looking at to change. Sensitivity and good taste is all it takes and a sense of the realities of a single woman’s life.

15 August 2009

63 years of Independence: India celebrates its I-Day today, August 15

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance …. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.”

From the historic All India Radio broadcast Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had made….

We have come a long way since then. What remains of what India was and what I wish for in the days ahead, to retain as Indian, is what this post about.

What remains are some of the things I would work to cherish and ‘retain’.

The essence of Indianness: the willingness to accept, working from the abundance mentality, “jodi hao shujon, tentul pataey nau jon” (translated from Bangla, it means, ‘if you are good neighbours, if you are good people, nine of you can easily fit onto a single leaf from the tamarind tree’ 🙂 I love that. About my country.

Since ancient times, for years there has been a constant influx of people from different parts of the world, from different cultures – they came, brought their horses, clothes, food, religion, books, art, philosophy, technology, wisdom – blending into the melting pot called India.

Persians became Parsis, set up their fire temples, their businesses;  the wild war like pardesis from the middle east of Asia;  the Greeks came with Alexander and settled in Kashmir;  the Sindhis, the Afghans crossed the silk route across the Kyber pass in the northern frontier;  the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the French crossed the Indian ocean;  the Turks, the Armenians, the Chinese (you have Chinatown in Kolkata);  the displaced Tibetans, Nepalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis.

There has been only one kind of discrimination ever in this country : the Hindus vs Muslims.

It flamed into devastating riots breaking the country into three parts, (Bangladesh, Pakistan, India) only after the Brits lit the fire under the bomb before they left India. The LoC is one of their legacies too. The Koh-i-Noor sailed away to England as did numerous priceless paintings, documents,  with the last English ship leaving India at last to its own fate. They had left the famous muslin industry crushed, having cut off the thumbs of muslin weavers  to sustain the textile of Manchester. That I would never ever see a genuine piece of muslin silk  is thanks to the Brits.

And yet – irony is we learned our first lessons of Nationality from them!

And this is what is the typical Indianness I admire about my country, every single Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman,  Germans, every single philosopher, missionary, teacher, doctors, musician, nurse, soldier, benevolent tea planter, wives, husbands – were welcomed with open arms. Not one of them would have a single tale of woe to tell of discrimination on grounds of colour or creed to recount to grandchildren.

We let them be even as we studied them, learned from them, explained to them gently our ways (India never has been an aggressor), waited patiently till they learned to value what was our age old customs and traditions and we were rewarded at some point with their excited discovery and ‘show the world India’ enterprises.

We are proud of these Europeans that made our country their home. Mother Teresa (a Macedonian),  Sister Nivedita (an American) assisting Vivekananda at the RK Missions, the Mother (French) with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, numerous others working with Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan. William Hiki’s Gazette is still revered, remembered.

Back home in Kolkata, we still like to call New Market ‘Firpos’ because we feel sentimental about the foreigners that we loved and that loved us 🙂

I remember with respect today the numerous European, Scandinavian, Italian nuns and priests, Mother Provincials,  that taught us who we were, when we were young and in school.

We proudly named our roads after these foreigners ( ‘aliens’ as they are called in the US) awards, grants, schools, colleges too. Annie Beasant was the first to set up her Theosophical society where Bengalis from different communities and religious backgrounds got together to study ‘planchet’ and theories related to the spiritual legacy of the dead.

Bethune College is where  fellow OS er Traveler1 studied, one of the best girl’s collegiate schools in India,  not forgetting the Lady Brabourne College for Women in Kolkata or the St Xavier’s or the La Mratiniere or the Scottish Church College or the Loretos.

Then there is the German that  India loves, Karl Marx,  (Max Mueller Bhavan is looked upon as an important cultural hubs in cities like Kolkata and Pune) that in a way ‘presented’ India to the world as it were, for the first time, translating our ancient Sanskrit texts into modern world languages for us, proving how nearly 80% of world languages were born out of it, initiating India studies, causing the Asiatic Society to be formed.

Through him we learned that Sanskrit has the world’s first documented grammar! If it wasn’t for him, it would surely have taken another hundred years.

Religious bigotry is a pain in the ass, oppression of women is a headache, social development is dragging, economy is struggling to keep up with pressures from within and without – terrorism is ripping the tapestry of our psyche  – and yet, every time I attempt to – I can still find my self, untarnished, the spirit in pieces, chipped, but mended with the cellotape of the slightest support it managed to glean from all over the geographical space inside the earth.

We have been attacked, plundered, devastated by invasion – yes – but I would like to remember today, how without these ‘encounters’ as it were, we would not have been what we are today.

We have a history of living with Strangers that came and became one of us. We welcomed them in our space even when we didn’t have enough. And at the time when we were one of the richest worlds of the ancient times.

I am proud that we are culturally not scared of strangers. I do not feel threatened to expose myself to alien cultures. Or communities. That is being Indian for me.

On the occasion of our Independence Day, I salute the legacies that thousands of pardesis have left behind as their loving tribute to India.