Visitors: 0

Stress Fractures in Social Edifice – An Emerging Crisis in KP Society

Stress Fractures in Social Edifice – An Emerging Crisis in KP Society

Recently, Sh. SK Bhan, the well-known Kashmiri poet cum satirist shared with me his poem titled ‘Masum Bacha Sinz Dastan’ - the lament of a child who is the victim of a broken home; his parents appear to be fighting for divorce and the child is forced to live in a hostel. The poem underscores the frustration and helplessness of an innocent child as an unwitting victim of circumstances, not of his own making. Parents appear to have been advised by the legal authorities to stay together ‘for sake of the child’, creating misery for the parents as well as the child! The child blames the ego and temperament clashes between his parents for its broken home.

The poem and its subject set me thinking about several episodes of broken homes and breakdown in marriages that I have seen in last five years within my own small social circle. I was able to list up as many as 12 cases where marriages had broken down within five years of solemnization; in most cases the separation was acrimonious, including filing of cross- FIRs and multiple cases by both parties involved. One particular relative, a retired army officer, had to seek ‘anticipatory bail’ to avoid getting arrested, even though the couple was living in a different city, away from both sets of parents! Separation stories, in cases involving kids, were messier; battle for custody of kids can be a long drawn and heart wrenching process.

So, what is happening on the marriage front in our society? We have growing instances of youngsters not being too keen on marriage or, marrying quite late in life. Career growth has become the pivotal parameter, both for men and women! Is the institution of marriage itself under threat of becoming redundant? As a society, in our scriptures and folklore, we were told that ‘marriages are a forever commitment’ and the bonding is for ‘7 janam’! So why are things coming unstuck so quickly? What has changed in our social set up in the last 25-35 years that we are seeing a higher frequency of marriage failures and broken homes. To get a broader view, I spoke to half a dozen female relatives who lead active social lives in Jammu, Bangalore and Delhi NCR, well established KP strongholds, and they too confirmed the unfortunate trend. There are three major victims of this unfortunate trend:

  • The two primary antagonists (husband and wife)
  • The innocent child who has to fight with his/ her ghosts, lifelong.
  • Family as a social unit

The subject is well beyond the scope of a limited 4-5 page write up. I have attempted to express my understanding of only the Point No 1. Much more needs to be written and theorized about all the three points, each one of which is worthy of filling up the pages of a thesis or a book.

Traditional Concept of Division of Labor -Provider-Protector vs Homemaker:
Traditionally, across civilizations, we find an almost a similar concept of the male partner, as protector, looking after physical security of the family besides being the provider of food (soldier, farmer, trader, artisan, traveller etc). Women, on the other hand, were more homebound, they cooked, looked after the home, hearth and progeny (including domestic animals). Women, of course were always contributing to farm income by performing several direct/ indirect chores. This model of division of labor continued for centuries. The challenge came when women started moving out of homes as part of industrial workforce or businesses. Today, with women constituting a healthy proportion of workforce in the organized as well as unorganized sector of economy, a new paradigm has set in. A woman has to go thru the same rigmarole as a man at workplace. She too comes home tired but is expected to get up to prepare food or to attend to various household chores while the husband can take things easy. This imbalance between roles and responsibilities gives rise to tectonic fault lines of frustration which may impact mental health, result in unhappy, unfulfilled marriage. Unresolved, these tensions can even lead to a breakdown of marriage and ultimately, divorce.

Today stands on the shoulders of Yesterday: Background
Analyzing situations is a human tendency, particularly when you have over a dozen human case studies before you! A broken home or concept of living separately from one’s spouse is as old as the Ramayana itself. In Kashmir, we used to have, in absence of a more appropriate word, women who can best be described as ‘deserted’ wives (the term used in Kashmiri was ‘traevmutch’). The ‘deserted’ ladies would spend their remaining lives with their parents/ brothers’ families. A relative of my wife was ‘deserted’ by her husband and left to fend off for herself (with her two kids) in early 1960s. Such cases were relatively few. At least two of my cousins had unhappy marriages and spent miserable years in an on-off relationship. Concept of a woman ‘deserting’ or leaving her husband was virtually unheard of. Society frowned at men who deserted their wives; ‘parental’ or societal displeasure used to be a big restrictive factor as it was thought to have a negative impact on wedding prospects of siblings. So, even while a husband and wife would fight like two game cocks, it used to happen within the four walls of home! Physical assault and manhandling were known to occur, though rarely. Women would face abuse and maltreatment from their ‘in-laws’; in Kashmir, we have the classic examples of Lal Dyed (14th century) and Mata Roop Bhawani (17th century CE) whose respective mothers-in-law made their lives miserable till they turned towards spirituality. ‘Child-marriages’ in KP society started mostly during Pathan rule (18th century) but by 1960s, mostly, girls would get married by 18-21 years of age – by that time they would have graduated from college. By 1970s, mostly, the marriage age level for girls rose to 22-26 yrs and by 1980s, the ‘acceptable’ norm became 26-28 as girls started going in for higher education or technical education. For boys too, as soon as a boy got a job, parents would be in a hurry to marry him off! Parents would still prefer that today, but now, they adhere to the boys’ wishes of late (28 to early thirties) marriages and, till the boy feels financially settled!

Kashmiri Pandits have traditionally been an educated but socially conservative society. The advent of Islamic rule in 14th century and the religious persecution suffered by our ancestors at the hands of zealot kings, particularly under the infamous Afghan rule (18th century) definitely scarred our psyche and impacted our social practices. The scars of the psyche stay on for generations! Even when Kashmiri Pandits migrated to the plains of Lahore, Delhi and beyond, in 17-18th century, they continued to retain a ‘close circuit’ Kashmiri connection amongst themselves for marriages. As Vinati Sukhdev, London based scion of an ‘old Kashmiri’ family wrote in the South Asia Monitor recently,” It was always ‘Kashmiri Pandit’ in my family and I am sure in others too. My parents' strictures were clear - contact with non-Kashmiris was on a need-to basis. They were friends, never relatives. We met them at work or in educational institutions. And we never (God forbid) married them. Right up to my generation, both my sister and I married Purana Kashmiris; people like us”.

I feel that 1970s marked a watershed change in Kashmiri society with women taking up employment outside homes becoming the norm. This naturally entailed several ‘adjustments’ within the families but MILs were happy to welcome ‘earning’ DILs, even if it meant extra burden for them. In fact, the marriage market got considerably ‘affected’ by the job related pecking order (of the ‘bride to be’ -Central Govt vs State Govt job vs Private job in that order). Financial prosperity also brought about ‘relocation’ to newly developing colonies from the old city and, to the ultimate nuclearization of families. Financial independence positively impacted the confidence level and assertiveness of women in our social decision making.

The current stress fractures that are visible on the marriage edifice of estranged couples can be the result of multiple factors, not all interdependent. Yet, the stability and sanctity of marriage is under stress!

Factors that can be responsible:

  • Breeding a mismatch (Inability to accept a woman as an equal partner):
    Unfortunately, even while women are working in every conceivable walk of life, earning at par, or at times more than their male counterparts, the male ego either gets bruised or hurt, in accepting wife as an equal partner. This pro-male bias unfortunately is deeply ingrained in the psyche of both men and women (our mothers train us for that, right from childhood). It is this inability to accept a woman as an equal partner that leads to stress fractures – particularly, if a girl is confident about her role, her contribution to the marriage and is assertive about her rights. We are preparing our girls to conquer the world by educating them and empowering them but not teaching our sons to be equal partners and think beyond old and redundant gender roles. So, we are breeding a mismatch! A girl/ bahu should be a superwoman- Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Annapurna and Savitri all rolled in one but the son is not even expected to help in cleaning up post dinner! While girls want to and now are even expected to have a career, the idea of age-old gender roles and “raja beta” being rewarded for basic decency causes conflicts after marriage and puts not only physical but emotional pressure on women as well. Are we preparing our boys to be equal partners? This generation is at a crucial cusp. Research has established that worldwide women spend about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men. We are still burdening girls and women with our ideal image of a woman as a wonder woman. A father taking care of their child is an exceptional father/man and gets praised (and no harm in doing so) but for a woman that is an expectation she is supposed to meet every day along with other household tasks. Boys hesitate in helping out, particularly, in presence of parents.
  • Evolution of an ‘I-Me-My’ syndrome in today’s generation:
    Family nuclearization has led to mostly a ‘one child family’ and parents are focused on giving the child best of attention and facilities. Parents tend to be overprotective. Absence of siblings and cousins leads to the development of traits like selfishness and inability to share. In Kashmiri, we have a saying,” Kunye gabbye muthye lyej’ – loosely translated as single goat tends to monopolize the feed basket! In my childhood, I have seen 6-8 cousins sharing a room during summer holidays – something unthinkable in today’s environment. Growing up together, we learnt to adjust and accommodate. That training of accommodation is missing in today’s children, both boys and girl. Today’s kids need to learn that people can be different in approach, orientation, views, concepts and beliefs. Life demands adjustments since NOBODY is perfect. It is only in fantasy or in Indian movies that one is able to find the ‘perfect’ partner! Even Indian movies rarely show the aftermath of marriages, most movies end on an “…and they lived happily ever after’ note.
  • Life beyond study-room does not exist mindset: 
    In our community, for at least two, if not three generations now, parents have been obsessed with pushing their children to the brink of academic excellence. Schooling starts at 3 yrs of age and, for the next 15 years, parents push kids into a vicious cycle of school-tuition class-home study. I have seen kids engrossed with books for 16-18 hours a day with parents monitoring sleep time and ‘study schedules’ at home or in coaching classes! There is so much stress on theocratical education that personality and character development take a backseat. For the first 18 years of life, our kids are forced to participate in a rat race of each against all; parents want their 100% focus only on books, grades and, ultimately competition. Such lopsided focus also limits exposure to Home Environment. No other life lessons are allowed to interfere! After 18 years of age, mostly kids leave home for technical/ professional education. Their connect with parents starts diluting hereon! Once kids start on jobs, which are rarely in the same city/ town where parents live, they are on their own. My son left for his Engineering College at 18; his job pushed him to Hyderabad and he has been living there for last 13 years! The point I am trying to make is that kids often do not learn the lessons of ‘living with the immediate family’, leave aside a joint family. Lack of experience in handling relationships and stresses impact post marriage life as well. We expect our children to behave in a particular manner without preparing them for post-marriage expectations (from family and each other) in the first place. Parents rarely communicate their expectations directly to their grown-up children, mostly presuming that children ‘ought’ to know. Also, parents generally hype their expectations post wedding.
  • Trivializing women – a vicious, negative mindset:
    Our chatroom jokes or WA group jokes are full of memes trivializing women (wives in particular); concept of showing women as kill-joys or stupid can come only from a twisted mindset. This kind of trivialization comes from a mindset that may respect a mother or a sister but still considers a wife/ GF as mentally inferior; something like the sick Sardar Ji jokes we all have heard all these years! It is men with such mindsets who stalk women or harass them on our roads and markets, not to speak of the ultimate act of physical humiliation. As our PM Modi has said, as families, we need to monitor our sons rather than daughters, for deviant behavioural trends. We need to inculcate respect for women in our boys and train them to become better humans; less vicious than the crop of predators we are producing currently in our society.
  • Today’s kids are leading ‘pressure cooker’ lives with high work pressures and expectations!
    The kind of job uncertainties and insecurities our children are facing is only to be seen to be believed. Our generation, particularly those in Govt jobs, never faced the kind of work-life imbalance that today’s children have to face. I have seen a young girl with two kids juggling various hats of household management, attending to her ‘family expectations’ to her job responsibilities and, looking for some ‘me time’ as well! Covid and post Covid economic meltdown have led to massive job losses worldwide. In such a negatively charged environment, even a minor spark can lead to an explosion! Parental expectations and, at times, interference, only makes the matters worse. A Dubai based relative girl recently remarked,” If something good or correct happens, my husband gets the credit; if we slip somewhere, the blame comes to me,”! In such cases, the stresses accumulate and, if the two partners are not adequately trained, an explosion takes place!

What can be done to minimize these cracks?

  • Proper training and sensitization of our children:
    As parents, we are failing our children by not preparing them adequately for the challenges of ‘family life’. Only in fiction and dewy-eyed romantic movies do the hero and his beloved ‘live happily ever after’! Real life situations can be prickly. Giving our children a strong cultural base is essential. Cultures are ever evolving as these are not set in stone, so holding definition of culture will be different for every generation, even individual. It is the cultural thinking, so to say, which holds women accountable for most tasks at times. So, one needs to be grounded in their value system but also acknowledge the reality and the current social construct. Recently, a relative complained that his DIL, working at a senior position in IT industry, has no time for the family (read, in-laws); I had to bluntly tell her that while ‘approving’ the match for their son, her salary figure had overshadowed their judgement. A woman with a 6-digit salary would certainly have to meet professional commitments; one can’t eat the cake and carry it home too! Expectations need to be realistic.
  • Counseling and giving time to young adults:
    Children do listen to parents. In fact, subconsciously, children emulate parents and tend to behave like them. Parental counseling can be helpful, both before and after marriage - as long as it is not judgemental or appears to be biased. While offering advice before marriage might help respective children be more realistic in their expectations, post wedding advice/ counseling needs to be offered only if required or asked for because the line between counseling, offering advice and interfering in personal relationships is very thin.
  • Parents, at times, need to withdraw: 
    To allow the youngsters some breathing or ‘me time’. In our community, mostly, parents do maintain a semblance of independent living – maintaining an independent house, for example. Staying independently for a while, visiting relatives can help cool down the situation.
  • Destigmatizing mental health and mental health support.
    With the pressures around, people and marriages crumble. In Indian societies we need to destigmatize seeking professional support for mental health, especially for the current generation. It is ok to be ‘not ok’ and seek help, you do not have fight like game cocks within the four walls of home! A generation or two ago, women chose to suffer in silence. Not anymore, though, because they too are educated, have adequate exposure to society, are financially independent. So, girls today are not willing to be the sacrificial lambs, bleating to please their Lord and Master.
  • Accepting Rejection: In today’s time and social circumstances, it is possible that two well meaning adults are not temperamentally suited to living together. So, if they choose to move on in life, it can mean two lives liberated from forceful living together in a relationship that has lost its meaning. Divorce needs to get better acceptance though it must be the last choice, particularly if children are involved. Recently, I met a US based doctor who has walked out of his marriage after 4 decades of ‘living in misery’. His mother had selected the girl in 1977 and he carried along, in an unhappy marriage, so as not to hurt his mother!

Unfortunately, our legal system only adds to the mess. Divorce process is inhumanly tedious, even if both partners are mutually reconciled. If either partner refuses to play ball, then, God bless! A young colleague got his divorce after 9 years of delay because his wife’s council used the infamous ’tareek-pe tareek’ gambit– wife would avoid coming to the court on designated dates, causing delays. In another case, a doctor refused to let go of her husband out of vengeance, having vowed to ‘spoil his life’ without realizing that she was making a mess of her own life too. Legal eagles are always ready to play along (for a fee, of course) in prolonging the misery by teaching their clients new tricks and cheating the spirit, if not the letter of law.

Having said that, each parent owes a debt towards society – of preparing and training the younger generation in our cultural values and, in becoming decent, responsible citizens. This training has to start right from childhood and needs to be for both boys and girls without distinction. If we fail our children now, it is futile to expect them to live up to our ‘socio-cultural’ norms, values, morals and behaviour tomorrow! Our children currently are finding partners all over the country – in a recent community event in Edmonton, Canada, I met young KP girls with grooms from Kerala, Bihar, Bengal and Karnataka and the like. My own DIL is of Oriya stock, born in AP, educated in Tamil Nadu and working in Telangana. So, the stress of mixed cultural existence puts additional burden on our children. Marriage, by and large, has retained its sanctity in our Sanatan Sanskriti. As parents and family members, we just might have to contribute a bit more to make marriage a joyous experience that it is!




Jammu & Kashmir - History, Culture & Traditions | J&K Current Trends | Social Network | Health | Lifestyle | Human Resources | Analytics | Cosmetics | Cosmetology | Forms | Jobs

Related blogs

Quote of the Day

"Time Flies Over, but Leaves its Shadows Behind"