Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Security of Choice

“Well, in any case, I will get married off in an year or so, and from then on, I will see how I can adjust my career according to the family I’ll have.” This was the response of a fellow female Indian student I met on campus when I asked her about her immediate future plans after graduate school. It wasn’t in the least a surprising answer for me: this is perhaps the way a vast majority of Indian girls would answer if asked about their career plans after their undergraduate degree. This particular student was already pursuing a graduate degree in the US, and even with an educated family background, she could only view her future as hanging on such fine balance: hoping earnestly that her future husband through an arranged marriage would be supportive of her career.

When I heard that statement, the response to the same question by an American friend of mine inevitably came to my mind: she had graduated in family studies, and was hoping to work for children with Developmental delays. Before she told me about her major, I never even knew someone could get a degree in such a field. And here she was, explaining how she and her boyfriend were planning to shift to another state within the US, so she can take up a great job offer there, and he would try to acquire a job in the city she would be in.

This is not a generalized picture of both societies, of course, but it is definitely a reality. When I heard my Indian friend talk about her ambitions as if they were a function of her luck in finding a complacent groom, I thought on how secure she might be feeling about her education and life ahead. And given the complexities of caste, astrology and age restrictions in India, what are the chances that she would find such a groom within the age window that society has judged acceptable for its women to marry?

My friend had simply followed her older siblings into choosing engineering studies as a career since that was a ‘natural choice’ in India. And although to her credit she indeed did very well, all the efforts that she might put into her research, her relentless pursuit for a scholarship, could all be a story of legend she would perhaps tell her children at bed time, ten years from now.

Looking at the Indian society from afar and comparing it with the West gives me the opportunity to see pros and cons in both. But one painful reality back home shames me most: our judgements and stubbornness to tame and domesticate our women. How women are judged based on their marital status and ‘homeliness’ rather than their ambition and merit.

But if this was just another grim example of all that is wrong with the arranged marriage system in India, why was she here in the first place spending thousands of dollars into a degree that would tax most of her youthful years and her parents’ financial savings?

The answer is the ray of hope that gives me reason to argue our case to the world about Indian women and our current society: our constant willingness to adapt and grow. It makes me proud whenever I see my Indian friend at a research meeting or make a smart move in class. She may not know how her future husband would value her education and her ambitions, but she surely knows how to make the best of what comes her way!

- Abhijit Sunil

@abhijit_sunil on Twitter

The writer is currently a Research Assistant at the Computer Science and Engineering at the Southern Methodist University of Dallas, TX, USA.

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