Indian culture – our traditions in classical dances and music, our rich and varied folk traditions in art, music, drama and dance, our linguistic and literary traditions – our diverse cuisine and yoga have that have permeated every corner of the world. Perhaps no other country in India has a culture quite as unique, varied, ancient, and multifaceted as we have in India.
As a Sangeet Visharad myself and shishya of Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan of the Agra-Atrauli Gharana of Hindustani Classical Music I am fiercely proud of my culture – my Muslim Guruji taught me some of the most beautiful bhajans in praise of Hindu gods and goddesses I have ever heard. It is this culture of mutual tolerance and communal harmony that I am justly proud of.
When I watch/read the news however, there is much that I am ashamed of – take just two recent headlines: Woman killed for not bearing son and 70% of IVF clients want fair babies. These are just two of the faults of my countrymen that cause me distress and disenchantment – to the extent of making me wonder is this my culture? Is this the legacy that will pass to my children?
Why are Indians so preoccupied with the male child?
As a proud mother of two daughters I truly feel blessed and do sincerely wonder what it is that makes millions hanker for the male child, abort female foetuses and even commit female infanticide. When you hold the precious gift of a child in your hand – whole, healthy, perfect – the gender of that child becomes so unimportant as to become completely immaterial. All that is important at that time is that you love and cherish that child and bring up that soul to become a self sufficient, responsible, empathetic little person.
Why is dowry still a reality? Why are dowry deaths still a shameful fact? Why are we Indians still abysmal at making women feel like equal, contributing members of our society? The entrenched patriarchy of our society is a deep-rooted flaw; one that fractures and fragments our society. It’s no good saying that Indian society reveres women as goddesses – in a society from which news about gang-rapes; frequently of minor girls emanates regularly – this becomes so irrelevant as to be a travesty.
Unless parents view the sons and daughters from the same prism, love them alike and educate them alike this cannot change. Unless parents empower their daughters and educate their sons to respect and value women – not just women who may be sister, mother and daughter, but all women – this will not change. As of now, it is a sad and lamentable fact that Indian women are second class citizens in their own country, and every gender determination ultrasound test and every bowed parental head who meekly pays dowry to marry off a treasured daughter strengthens this shameful reality.
Why are we Indians so obsessed with fair skin?
That headline about couples opting for IVF demanding fair skinned children is a common one. The advertisement about a dark, unhappy and unsuccessful individual transforming into a fair, happy and successful one on the application of some ‘fairness cream’ are also common. You only have to look cursorily at any Indian matrimonial ad to see how prominently the word ‘fair skinned’ is featured. The pressure on women is of course doubly high. The poor Indian bride, rendered positively ghostly by makeup, in the misguided attempt to make her look ‘fair and lovely’ on her all-important day is also a routine reality. To be fair, there is now pressure on men to look fair too: John Abraham and Shah Rukh Khan are constantly telling men to use ‘men’s fairness’ creams for their ‘tough skin’!
The fact is that we Indians are racist – the fact that the IPL typically has Caucasian cheer leaders, our films routinely have item numbers featuring women Ukrainian, Russian and other Caucasian extraction testifies to this. The ‘goras’ may no longer rule us, but alas our gora obsession is still very much alive and kicking – this is both offensive and degrading. It fails to celebrate the India of all hues and colours. This is inexplicable in a country that celebrates the ‘Shyam rang’ as divine and beautiful.
Perhaps this is something else that parents need to inculcate in children – It is something that we need to firstly believe in ourselves and then teach our children: respect, regardless of gender, skin colour, social background and economic status – it is an onerous task to be sure; it is one that we need to start on ASAP.