Can Indian culture exist without Patriarchy?

I was at a party today where I met a woman of Indian origin, AB, born and raised in the city in the US I currently live in. She spoke like an American but could get very well along with all the Indians. I asked her how it was to be raised here and told her that her answers could help me raise my soon-to-be-5 year old daughter, who was starting Kindergarten. She said it was hard at school that had only 4 Indian kids altogether in the entire school. So, her parents made sure she had a good cultural base by taking her to the Indian temple every Sunday, (where she played with other Indian kids) and by helping her get certified in Indian dance and music. She told me how surprised her desi husband (who was born and raised in India) was at her Indianness, when they first met.I asked her whether she fit in better with the Indians than Americans, she said yes. I thought that was atypical of American Born Indians.

Then I realised she was wearing a mangalsutra. I asked her whether she wears it everyday. She replied even though her husband would prefer it that way, she doesn’t because it doesn’t go well with the everyday (non-Indian) outfits. (I told her that I don’t wear it everyday because I feel I am much more than my marital status. But I wear it on my short trip to India in front relatives of my in-laws because I don’t want them to taunt my in-laws, who have no problem about how I dress).

She told us that she is trying to learn her husband’s language so that she will be able to teach their kids both languages and converse better with her in-laws and extended family. Another Indian friend pointed out that his Dad wants his fiancee to learn their mother-tongue to which I asked, “Is that a fair expectation?” To this, the American-born’s desi husband replied, “It’s easier for us at this age to learn languages than it is for parents. It might not be fair, but that’s how it is”, which AB summarized as “Life is not fair. We just go along with the flow”. I felt a certain defiance in his tone about what I was implying but AB seemed cool about the whole thing. He added that his parents might know English but his extended family is not so good at it, so his wife needs to learn his language in order to communicate. I just commented that the effort to communicate should come from both sides, to which AB strongly nodded and her husband didn’t really seem to object.

I am pretty sure the husband is gonna tell AB how ‘aaj-jkal ki ladkiyaan’ of India (that is me) are versus how good she is in spite of being raised in the US. I am just concerned that injustice will be done to her under the disguise of Indian values and she might accept it because she wants to belong somewhere (somewhere being the Indian community).

Now, here are my questions to my readers:
1. Is it possible to imbibe Indian culture in kids living outside India without supporting patriarchy?
2. Do kids get confused more when the Indian parents outside India tell them they can not do certain things (eat beef, date) because they are Indians?
3. Do Indian kids still feel they are different (based on how they look or their parents Indian accent) from the others even if their parents never say that to them or raise them any differently?
3. How do you raise a confident child with a sense of identity and belonging?

As a non-religious-but-spiritual, patriarchy-hating feminist , I often wonder about these questions. Can you raise your child to be proud of the Indian culture but despise patriarchy?  Any inputs?

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6 Responses to Can Indian culture exist without Patriarchy?

  1. Hi, your post raises so many questions, and so relevant, especially to me. I am an Indian girl, born and brought up in Delhi, married to a Polish man. I also often have the very same doubts, will my children speak Hindi or Polish, well except English. Though I have already agreed to them being raised as Catholics, nothing would make me happier if they turned out like my husband. I feel that instead of imposing identities, we must let children decide it on their own. And remove televisions from houses as those make the biggest impact on a growing, impressionable minds. Letting them discover books, games, music and tutoring the themselves will take effort and sacrifice; but they will evolve as unique individuals with minds of their own.

    • Thanks for visiting my blog, TIG. Yeah, I agree that we should not impose identities. In fact, I have not even introduced my daughter to Indian music or dance. She eats all kinds of meat. I don’t celebrate any Indian festival. The only thing I tried to do was teach her Marathi, but she didn’t learn it. She can understand it, but can not speak it. I used to pretend earlier that I didn’t know English, but it didn’t work. (Especially with Indians, when we ourselves do not realize when we switch between languages, it’s hard to teach them a language other than english.) When I realized that my communication with my daughter suffered because of this pretense, I gave up. I don’t let her feel that she is different from her friends. She doesn’t have a single desi friend in her day-care. But my question is, will she need an Indian identity when she grows up? Will she need a feeling of belonging?

      I asked these questions to my American coworker whose parents are Indian. (He hardly looks Indian; his parents are from Kashmir.) His parents did not take any efforts to forge an Indian identity in him (and were pretty successful at that) and the only time he felt he missed out on something was when he started working in IT and met Indian coworkers. That’s when he felt he could have had a better understanding of the culture and language and could have connected better with the Indians.

  2. EM says:

    These are very interesting questions. And I guess all becomes more difficult if on the one hand, the sense of Indian identity is important to you, on the other hand you hate patriarchy, which is a core element of Indian culture.

    The sad truth is, wherever we live, the kids who grow up within the cultural norms of the majority fit in and feel best. We can delude ourselves that we have multiculturalism here and there, but the truth is, all over the world people have problems with taking difference for what it is, without prejudice or stereotyping. At least, this is my opinion.

    If you want to make your daughter aware of her Indian origins, but at the same time strong enough to go through life independently, you will need to be prepared for a hard route. I’m sure she will be able to find her identity on her own, but it might turn out to be the identity which neither Indian community accepts, nor Westerners completely understand.

    Whatever this identity turns out to be, the best thing to do is to give the child a sense of what is best in both cultures, not what is bad. Cultural awareness should be about personal development not creating a rope that ties a child to a place where he/she doesn’t want to be.

    • EM, thanks for visiting my blog!! I am not working towards my daughter having an Indian identity. I want her to blend with the crowd and enjoy her life. That’s why I question whether she will lose out on anything. Is an Indian identity something she will feel the need of? Is that feeling of belonging necessary in one’s life? Am I depriving her of anything?

  3. Would love to follow this thread and see what else everyone else says. Its something that I’ve been wondering about a lot too – how important is a sense of identity? I do identify myself as an Indian, but I’m wondering how important it is…

  4. In India, there are hindu fundamentalists. Of course, they are patriarchy-loving. In northern India, many daughters have been killed ( and are still killed) by their own family because they had a flirt with a boy, because they did not follow the tradition, because they did not respect the family and caste values. Hindu nationalists movements and parties are funded, among others, by NRIs. While nationalists living in India are willing to make some compromise, NRIs are more extreme. Indians living abroad imagine India as it was when they left their country but India has changed : that’s why they are so conservative, so traditionally minded despite of their look.

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