02 February 2011

Indian Women and Marriage

For my prep class today we were to find our own reading, specifically an article about marriage, gender, and or family.  My dear mother, who is sometimes more excited about this India trip than I am, has now purchased two different traveler's guides to India, one of which was published in 1996.  Though it isn't recent, much of the text is still relevant to modern India.  In the "people and society" section, the book begins by acknowledging the diversity of India--Tibetans and Kashmiris in the north, Bengalis in the east, dark-skinned Dravidians in the south, and so forth--and then continues by uniting all these people residing in India under the term "Indians," which I will continue for this post.

The text gives a brief history of gender relations, specifically marriage and divorce.  In the past, "an independent life for women had never been contemplated under Hindu law, and their economic dependence on men (including only limited right to property) was at all times heavily emphasized."  However, after the social revolution, the new constitution "broke down the joint family system with new inheritance laws, giving daughters equal rights to inherit with sons; it offered a unified marriage law all over India . . . allowing women the right of remarriage and divorce" (59).  I am, of course, limited to my own perspective and understanding of the world, but it seems as though this change was a moral requirement.  It is simply wrong for a husband to own his wife when the relationship should be an equal partnership.

Despite all the progress of the new Indian constitution, "the customs of thousands of  years that have proved for some reason beneficial to society are very difficult to break" (59).  If you believe a certain way then you will teach your children that way, and it is not until we change our beliefs and teach our children differently that society will be able to fully incorporate such changes into its structure.  Thus, arranged marriages set up by parents and relatives are still the general rule.  Further, "to fail in marriage is to fail in society, and the divorce rate is consequently low" (60).  This is a big difference between Indian and American culture--divorce in America is perfectly acceptable, even the norm.  Because an Indian divorce results in disownment, loss of caste and social identity, and even financial deprivation, there is very little reason to seek a way out of a marriage, even an abusive one.

The huge price of dowries, despite their illegality, "often puts the bride's family into debt for the rest of their lives."  The dowry system places an inordinately higher value on men than women, requiring the bride's father to "practically give the shirt off his back" in order to secure a husband for her, and because of that I disagree with the practice (60).  The most awful thing I read, which I don't want to discuss on my blog, is about bride burning.  I don't want to believe that really happens.

This information doesn't have direct relevance to digital literacy in the TCV, but it certainly helped me to better understand the culture I'll be living in for three months this summer.  Knowledge of this context will help me to shape my informal interview questions.  For example, if Norbu and I are having a little interview to get to know each other, I will avoid asking how he met his wife (as I might ask someone at BYU in an interview) because his culture does not have the same tradition of finding a spouse from among college friends and acquaintances. What I'm saying is that this reading has helped me become more culturally sensitive, though it has not directly influenced my research.


  1. Wow an interesting post Kristen. I had never heard of bride burning before. In my peoples of India class we talk a lot about arranged marriage and how the caste system plays an important role in that. In the prep class we used to read an article about the befits according to a girl who had her marriage arranged for her, which was an interesting side of the story.

    It will be interesting to see how this differs from the Tibetan context. TJ La talked to us a bit about arranged marriage, but I wonder if the roles of women are different. Julia made an interesting post on her blog if you get a chance to see it.

  2. So fascinating Kristen! I was really glad to have the experience with Norbu. He's a special person. I'll look forward to hearing about your encounter with him, and the pursuing conversations!

  3. Rachel, that sounds like a really interesting article! Could you post a link to it if it's online? Sean, I'm so glad we were in that group together! Thanks so much for sharing your expert interviewing skills--we got great responses from your follow up questions!

  4. The bride burning or Sati was a practice that had been prevailing in India in the early 1900's. But many Indian reformers and also the British put an end to this barbarism. So anyhow you would not find this practice anymore in our country.
    Yeah, India is a country where you would find huge cultural, religious, geographic and lots and lots of other diversities. Although one could not find this unless he peeps into the vast Indian history, it is quite a journey into the very core of the birth of one country.
    Hope your time in India will be fruitful by all the means. Best wishes!
    An admirer,
    Malavika from India.

  5. Malavika, I can't even tell you how glad I am that bride burning doesn't happen anymore! I have a question for you about the diversity of India though--do Tibetans consider themselves Indian? Do Indians consider Tibetans to be Indian? Does it depend on when the Tibetan came to India?

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. I really wonder how much the Tibetan family is affected by an Indian context ... do Hindu and Tibetan values in marriage and family really correspond all that well?

    I'm kind of smiling with how broadly your 1996 travel guide uses the word "Indian." In most cases, I wouldn't even consider it reasonable to make statements about all the people in India in terms of shared culture and values.

    How much do you think your project will be focused on Tibetans specifically? Or will you be trying to get a larger picture of digital literacy within the geographic town?

  7. Great points Jay! My source certainly wasn't the best, but it was all I could do with the limited time I had available.

    My project is about Tibetans, though. If there are students of other cultures within the TCV then they will likely be a part of my study, but I am fairly certain that my population will be primarily Tibetan. It would be too much to get about digital literacy in a town, but I think it's a good idea to focus specifically on the school (training for the real world, right?) and then generalize my findings to the community as a whole.

  8. Dear Kristen,
    Happy that you replied. I am no one to speak so deep on these matters, in fact I am just a 14 year old who admires your writings a lot.
    But what I know of, neither Indians nor Tibetans consider Tibet as a part of India. As for the Tibetans they are an independent country while China argues over the statement. But some aspects of Indian and Tibetan religious factors are identical. For example, Buddhism originated in India, but here, it is not widely followed, whereas majorities of Tibetans accepts and follows the religion.
    So in a way or the other, India and Tibet has some common threads to hang upon.
    With love,