To play the role of mother to a girl child in an Indian society has always posed unique problems. Today, under the impact of global culture, these problems have metamorphosed into new complexities. An average middle-class Indian mother has to strike a precarious balance between the new trends of liberal ideas that her daughter has imbibed; and the constant effort to mould this young lady of the 21st century into an ideal pattern of traditional woman. Life to her is a continuous battle between her inner world that longs for her girl’s happiness, and the outer world around that creates aggressive pressure on her to curb that free spirit & happiness. In general, the fathers in Indian homes pamper their girls with gifts and outings as long as they do not stray out of their domestic boundary.
The onus is generally on the mother to take care of her daughter’s education as well as domestication. Indeed, it is the latter quality that matters more, and proves to be challenging! This includes her learning house-hold chores; being soft-spoken and genteel; less voluble about her wishes and dreams if any; never taking any decision or indulging in arguments with her superiors in age. Her failure to conform to any of those supposedly feminine virtues under the microscopic scanner of the elders is generally considered as the incompetence of her mother. Real education for a girl child, on average, is not the school premise but her mother’s kitchen. Yet she must be educated to be a graduate at the very least! Academic success has nominal value as it is a pass-port to the marriage market! This has been the usual story of generations of Indian girls.
Yet the story, in recent times, has taken a quirky turn. It is true that even today education, in general, for a girl child (even those who are admitted to eminent Public Schools) is ritualistic mainly for brighter matrimonial prospect. However, the impact of the different electronic media that she gets exposed to stands in the way of her domestication. She admires the modern, vibrant, independent-minded and smart girls who can take care of their needs on the TV screen or internet, thereby stoking up her aspirations for more freedom. The modern educated mother today, who is more self-aware due to media exposure, and has always longed for a free space for herself, find it hard to rein in the dreams and wishes of her daughter. Ironically, the situation gets complicated when the former’s deeply imbibed ethical codes and norms from early childhood days create the squirming scorpions of self-doubt in her mind!
The partially evolved Indian mother nowadays, finds herself in deep dilemma. On the one hand, she can empathize with the independent aspirations of her teen-aged girl, on the other hand, she fears her severely judgmental in-laws; the domineering voice of her husband and strangely, that of her own teen-aged son! The social stigmas are oddly stacked against the mother if her girl wears a short skirt or grows close friendship with any boy outside her community! So she secretly allows her daughter to enjoy a friend’s birthday party in the pretext of going for private tuition yet appeals to her to return home before papa does! She stifles the latter’s voice, often harshly, if the young lady candidly expresses her opinion about some issue in the presence of the family members, yet comforts her sob in the dark silence of her bedroom. It is a world of strange dichotomy with the tablets and smart phones flooding the Indian market, infusing the adolescent minds of the girls with new ideas and in formations which are diametrically opposed to the tradition -bound concepts they have learnt from their patriarchal home atmosphere.
There is a flip side to the sudden drastic changes that these confused young girls experience in the world outside their supposed domain. Often due to their desperate craving to get away from the claustrophobic home atmosphere, these hapless young girls bunk schools to indulge in free flowing fun and frolic in the underground hookah bars; take to drugs and indiscriminate sex life. By the time the truth about the daughter comes to the knowledge of the mother either through school or friends, the latter finds herself in the soup. If the girl is ruthlessly handled by her family members and is kept under house arrest, the mother too is subjected to psychological trauma as she is openly branded as a “failure”. Often this sense of shame and humiliation leads her to unreasonable cruelty towards her errant youngster. Later, when humanity prevails, she pleads with the family to forgive the girl and let her continue with her education. In such cases, she has to undergo untold persecution in the hands of her in-laws. Even appeals from the school for counseling sessions so that the strayed adolescent is restored to normal life draws a blank. If the mother succeeds to win over the sympathy of her husband, normalcy is restored. If not, her daughter stands no second chance for educating herself. She is married off to the groom chosen by her father’s family. The bejeweled mother of the bride watches in silent pain the sealed fate of her girl…
However, situation turns weirder if the young lady happens to be career- oriented in a so- called traditional family. The positive impact of the accessibility of the electronic media cannot be overlooked. There are plethora of choices for career options and unlimited in formations she can look up on the internet. Naturally, when she raises her demand to pursue an MBA, Medical, Engineering, IT or fashion designing, the cloud of civil war in the family looms large! It is generally believed that her brother deserves the priority in chasing his dream career. To them, marriage is the ultimate settlement for his sister and a huge amount of money is saved up for her dowry which cannot be squandered away in her absurd pursuit! Quite often, it is also the mother who thinks that a prosperous son- in-law is a better proposition than letting the girl pursue her career and leave home to take up a job in a city far away. It is now the girl’s turn to counsel her mother about her wish to be self-dependent and self-sufficient. She promises that the freedom given to her will not be abused and seeks the latter’s help. So, once again, we witness the lone struggle of the mother to win over the family on behalf of her daughter. Strangely, there are a few unrecorded recent instances of the desperate Indian mothers (I am acquainted with as a teacher) selling off all their jewelries, their sole personal asset from wedding, to buy freedom for the daughters.
Nonetheless, the Indian women from both upper middle and lower middle class sections are reckoned to be more powerful now days. Their academic as well as social struggle to create their own identity for themselves, and lend strong voice to the nation’s emerging youth movements that address serious issues on governance and rampant abuse of democracy, cannot be overlooked. More and more women are writing their real stories of success in different professional fields, including politics. Many Indian families, today, are opening up to the idea of liberalization at home though there are miles to travel before women, cutting across all sections, can dream freely. Meanwhile the unrecorded battles of the Indian mothers would continue for generations until the “Empowerment of the Indian Woman” becomes a reality at home and in the Indian Parliament!