Social Change

As far back as I can remember, nostalgia has been with us. Indian culture is changing. We can see that. This makes people edgy. What are we getting into? Why can’t we go back to the way things were? As an adolescent I was quite entranced with some of these golden visions. As an adult I think a lot of it is negative baggage has to be jettisoned if we are ever going to get anywhere.

Terrible things happened in the past. Nobody talked about them. This silence is the bedrock on which castles of fantasy have been built. A spokesman for a far right religo-political movement went on camera saying that rape and molestation were an urban phenomenon almost unknown in the rural heartland of the country. Dear God! The ignorance and conceit of the remark. It is so naïve that it is impossible even to be angry at it.

A friend once told me the tale of one of her uncles in a village that has haunted me ever since. The whole village believes he killed his first wife to marry another girl (although no proof was ever found). When his daughter from the first wife became a widow he refused to take her in leaving her destitute. He then cheated on his second wife with the maid. When his son from his second wife got married, he charged a hefty dowry from the girl. He forbade his daughter (from the second wife) from marrying according to her choice and locked her in the house. The girl escaped and eloped. To save his own pride he boasted to everyone how he had made money on his son and managed to get rid of his daughter without spending a rupee.

I once attended a weekend workshop along with over a hundred other people where the organiser went through a lot of effort to create a space where people could open up about their problems. What followed was a shock. The number of infidelities, abuses and shattered hopes that had been swept under the cover of darkness and surfaced was horrifying.

What we had was not a system that checked the worst impulses in man, but a system that stigmatized their reporting. An image of a traditional happy family where everyone was content and industrious within their own roles exists. No such family ever walked the Earth, yet for some reason people felt they were expected to live up to this fantasy. Shame and inhibitions grew in this darkness.

Any rules and expectations if not tempered by love and care end up being oppressive.


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