India’s Identities: Thanksgiving Break Edition

Current News from India by Kristin Kimberlain

Greetings from Maryville College! We are all so excited about studying in India and have been eagerly preparing for departure. In addition to the class discussions we’ve had with Amy, Brian, and the Elon students, many of us are currently enrolled in a 3 credit hour World Cultures course on the Indian subcontinent. In this class, we have been studying religion, gender, class, caste, history, and politics in order to understand the ways in which people make sense of life and the universe in South Asia. In addition to reading and lecture, each student is required to make a short presentation on an article from a South Asian news source, and I’ve decided to share what I found with everyone here.

The article I chose to present is a short piece from The Hindu called “Single Women Not Welcome”. This article highlights the experiences of unmarried, middle-class working women living in Chennai. Chennai is reportedly one of the safest cities for women in India, but many women report problems with finding housing in the city. Single women interviewed in the article said that they were often presented with non-negotiable, undesirable ultimatums when inquiring about renting.  A landlord that was interviewed admitted to preferring renting to families over renting to single women; single women, however, are preferred to single men.

Age-based discrimination also exists against unmarried female renters in Chennai. Younger women are much preferred as tenants to older women. The older a woman is, the more questions there are raised about why she is not married, whether she plans to be married, or whether she is divorced. Even when a single working woman is able to find a home, she often continues to receive prying questions not only from landlords, but from nosy neighbors.

This article speaks to the ways in which gender is part of identity and socialization; gendered experiences and stances on what it means to be male or female shape everyday life. It also speaks to the ways in which diversity exists in experiences of gender. Stereotypically, Indian women are expected to experience an almost linear progression over the course of their lives; they are expected to be daughters in their birth homes, then wives and daughters-in-law in the homes of their husbands and extended families, then mothers and older women. As exemplified in this piece, however, not all Indian women choose to marry, or may choose to marry at a time later in their lives than is traditionally accepted. In India, marriage is not only about the relationship between two individuals, but is about the relationship between families, where women typically perform certain duties and are viewed as assets to the family whole. Loyalty to the family and seeking to get married is often seen as being more important than the pursuit of individual aims like professional careers. Many women, however, especially in urban areas like Chennai, balance their professional and married lives. Ideas and traditions about what it means to be a woman in India change as women’s experiences and vocalizations about what it means to be a woman  change. Unmarried, working urban women face discrimination in a patriarchal society, but also manage to find and create their own identities. Where and how, if at all, are these women’s identities reflected? Can they see themselves mirrored in popular culture? In each other? In the words of Nitya Menon, the journalist who wrote this article, Chennai still has “a long way to go” in terms of accepting women’s choices and who they are.167    2013-01-23 09.07.44


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