English | Dutch
Culture Shock
Bhuj (India), November 23rd 2007

“Men pushes pregnant wife out of vehicle”, “Woman burns herself after in-law taunts” and “Gurwaras to adopt unwanted girls”. These are three headlines from the last two days’ newspaper the “Times of India”. We already knew that travelling through India can be very confronting when you observe the immense difference between extreme poverty and exuberant riches, but when you read this kind of stories in the newspapers, your heart really breaks.

In India it is very common that marriages are arranged. This means that the parents go in search of the best suitable partner for their son or daughter. Love does not play a role in this search. Matters like sign of Zodiac, name, caste, money and status so much more. The idea behind the arranged marriages is that the parents do know better what kind of partner matches best with their son or daughter. After all, the parents have much more experience of life. That the parents pay much more attention to money, status and family honour while making their choice is not mentioned for convenience’s sake. If the partners make a perfect match and have a good chance on a happy life together, does not seem to be of any importance. It is not a coincidence that there are so many articles in the newspapers about marriage tragedies. The victims of the marriage tragedies are by the way without any exception the females. Indian women go towards a heavy life after they marry; at least that is our opinion. In the first place she is going to move to the house of her family-in-law as a practically stranger. Generally speaking, she has only met her husband and family-in-law a few times before and did not have the chance to get to know them very well. Also her husband is an almost stranger to her. Her position within the ‘new’ family is difficult. The mother-in-law is still in charge in the house, and the related woman must obey her in any way. The fact that the marriage is not based on love between the man and the woman makes her position oven more precarious. The relation with his own family is more important to the man, than the relation with his newly married wife.

But this is not all. In India it is also very common that the parents of the woman pay a dowry to the parents of the man. The dowry can be anything as long as it is materialistic and valuable. Possible dowries are among other things land, household appliances, cattle, but of course also money. The fact that the value of the dowry is often much more than the amount that can be afforded by the parents of the woman, makes the tradition much more incomprehensible. It leads often to debts that are difficult to bear and that have a huge financial effect on the future life of the parents. If the situation may occur that they can not pay the dowry, the situation of the woman becomes often much worse. That is also what happened with the pregnant woman that was thrown out of the moving car. Her parents could not meet the increased dowry (the dowry was after the marriage increased from € 1.800/$ 2.500 to € 9.000/$ 12.500), which resulted in a period in which the woman was abused by her family-in-law. At the end they threw her out of the speeding car, while she was pregnant.

Sign at hospital that foetus researches are not done here

If you think that these kinds of things only happen in the poor communities, or in the rural areas, than you are wrong. The incident of the pregnant woman for example, happened in the United States of America. The man is a highly educated software engineer who works for a leading Indian IT firm. A couple of weeks before the incident, he was sent by his employer to the US for a project. He decided to take his whole family with him. The culture/tradition of the dowry is a huge problem in India. Of course, only for the families with one or more daughters. If you get a daughter in India, you know that you will have to pay a dowry somewhere in the future. This can have a significant financial impact on your life. For this reason, many pregnant women go to a clinic for an illegal research in where they determine the sex of the foetus. If the research shows that the child will be a girl, they often decide to remove the foetus. Of course, this is illegal in India but it happens often. These practices have led to a problematic unbalanced sex ratio. In the state of Punjab for example, the sex ratio is dipped to a shocking 793 females to 1000 males. In some places the figures are even worse. The poor families than can not afford a determination of sex research, have to wait till the birth of the child to see if they are blessed with a boy. If they are ‘punished’ with a girl, some parents see no other option than to get rid of the baby girl. Often the babies are killed, and sometimes they are left at a railway station or in one of the few garbage cans on the street. For this reason, temples in the state of Punjab decided to put cradles at the entrances of the temples and exhort unhappy parents obsessed with boys to leave those innocent baby girls at God’s door. The temples will adopt the abandoned baby girls.

India is a country with many faces. On the one side it is the country of Information Technology and huge economic growth, and on the other side it is the country of extreme poverty, the caste system and the traditions of dowry and the position of women. Let’s hope that the country that sees itself as the economic super power in the year 2040 will also make the necessary progress on social/cultural issues.

Go back to home pageGo to Articles sectionGo to Columns sectionGo to Photos sectionGo to countries sectionGo to weblog sectionGo to about us