Monday, 16 May 2011
Indian women, divorce and the ring of the mobile phone in Punjab
The scale of patriarchal ideological domination never fails to astound me but this reached new heights when I read about a communique delivered by the Punjab State Commission for Women, India, advising newly married women on their code of conduct. Ms Gurdev Kaur Sangha, the Commissioner, said that new wives 'should focus on their domestic life instead of having long conversations on mobile phones'.
We now have discovered the Holy Grail of Marriage thanks to Ms Sangha, the answer that we have all been waiting for to the question of 'what makes for a happy marriage?'. Apparently the Commission discovered that 40% of women who sought divorce did so on the grounds that their husbands and in-laws did not like them spending time talking on the mobile phone. The husbands were suspicious of whom their wives were talking to and concluded that the listener on the other end was an ex-boyfriend. Ms Sangha has defended her advice on the grounds that it was designed to avoid suspicion arising between new couples as they adjusted to their new life together. Sangha said that a large number of complaints from wives who had suffered domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment were due to the large amounts of time they had spent on their mobile phones.
In fact, evidence had shown that most new brides were talking to their mothers and discussing the difficulties of married life (any wonder!). The Commissioner, not to be outdone, has told women to stop complaining and to stop talking to their respective mothers and concentrate more on the family they are in. The report further adds that newly wed brides ought to 'make small adjustments and quit long conversations for at least two years to win over the husband and the family'.
Indian women have long suffered from gender oppression which permeates all levels of the Indian social structure. The middle class are just as guilty of the working classes of demanding subordination from daughters and daughter-in-laws alike. What makes this communique shocking are the following two reasons:
1. An official body set up to look after the social interests of women has taken the side of the unjust and unreasonable patriarchal attitudes of the society it operates in rather than attempting to change attitudes; and
2. The Commission believes that domestic violence, sexual abuse and harrassment are actually the fault of the women concerned. There's no recognition of the severity of these offences nor that these are criminal offences. Instead, the Commission views these offences as moral acts and bestows the husbands with an implied authority to carry on doing these things whenever a wife is seen as behaving out of turn.
Amnesty International reports that more than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their in-laws and families. Rape is the fastest growing crime in India against women. Are mobile phones to blame for all this too?