By Hitesh Shetty
Edited by, Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Imagine two 17 year old boys, living in one of those innumerable apartment complexes, in any big city of our country. One boy, say X, has parents who believe that a love marriage is the worst shame that a family could face, and the thought of their son having a girlfriend is enough to give them nightmares. The other boy, Y, has parents who gently rib their son on his female company, and see nothing wrong in allowing anyone, leave alone their son, to choose their life partner. And these people are perfectly civil neighbors.
This fascinating chasm of attitudes is something that has been, and arguably will always be, a silent but big part of India’s middle class’ tryst with destiny, and with the rapidly changing world around. The recent communal issue, called ‘love-jihad’, which ran rampant during the election time in the Hindu hinterland, its flames fanned by glowering politicians and the Right, is nothing but the question: would you allow your daughter or your son to marry based on her/his choice alone? Agreed, religion did colour the whole issue, but basically, that’s the moot question. And though the electorate rejected the issue outright with the power of the ballot, it’s a different matter on how they will react when the question comes to their homes.
For all those who spout the ‘oh, we are modern’ refrain from urban India, the truth is far from that. For every one household which openly accepts and respects their children’s choice of spouse, there are five more which will openly reject and try to disturb the relationship altogether. Ironically, both the sides formulate their decisions as an answer to the same basic question: What will ultimately be best for their child? So then, why this difference in mind sets?
The most plausible reason can be traced back to that heady era of our country called ‘liberalization’, that era which was the crowning glory for our former prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. 13 years ago, a country which had remained out of bounds for foreign corporations, ideas and mainly ‘Western’ influences (for socialism was propagated as the byword for India’s growth), suddenly opened to all of them, and hastily re branded ‘capitalism’ as the byword for its growth. The effects of that era are now all around us, and that should give us food for thought. For all the people living then, it must have been a new, a novel and mainly a scary experience to see such a lot of change at such short notice. From just a handful of channels, car brands, general products (all of them under state control and supervision), there were now more, different and a variety of choices for each and every product in the market. Malls emerged in place of neighborhood shop. Foreign channels provided the general population with the first glimpse of the much more “modern” “liberal” world outside. Glossy magazines showed how the privileged of the world lived their lives, fueling aspirations among the youth. There were new brands, from clothes to face creams, which promised to make you more ‘attractive’ and make you ‘stand out’ from the crowd. Then came the internet. India bought into this. And it also didn’t.
Imagine if you were exposed to a lot of change almost overnight. What would be the first thing you would do? Of course, you would hold on to the things which haven’t changed, even if they are good or bad. For sometimes the best comfort is in familiarity. And this is what has happened in our country. While we have welcomed the change whole-heartedly, we have also held on to things AND beliefs of the past even more fiercely. They include our customs, our practices, and our attitudes. So while some decided that ‘Western’ influences actually made some sense, many didn’t, branding them as too ‘outlandish’ to be followed here. And while our parents’ generation still keeps belief in their ways, we, the newer generation who have seen glimpses of what the world is all about, want them to have a more liberal and practical attitude towards love, life and relationships. So when it comes down to choosing a life partner, both sides clash.
And of course, no side’s going down without a fight. So you will have the Vishva Hindu Parishad, backed by the success of its political wing, exhorting people to return to ‘traditional’ values. You will have hard-right outfits like the Sri Ram Sena, which tries to marry off couples dating on Valentine’s Day. You will have aunties, so shocked by our ‘modern and immodest’ ways, which get together and raid parks to hound out couples. And we haven’t even talked about the khap panchayats yet!
Which brings us back to the question we started off with. Till now, many a drawing room has seen this contest of wills, and many more across our country will witness the same. For the young dreamers, some fights will be won, some lost. And it’s hardly going to peter out, for rural India has not yet wholly joined this march towards change, and when it does, it will also fight the same battles, again. There will be roadblocks, khap panchayats and the likes. But the thing about the so-called ‘generation Y’, gearing up for an inevitable battle with age-old tradition, is that they just don’t give up! Here’s to hope!
Hitesh Shetty is in his second year, B.Tech in Biotech, JIIT, Noida. Apart from hoping to find something on a microscopic level which can make the world a better place, he has a keen interest in reading just about anything (apart from study related matter). Very into football, and can still outrun you if he wants. Writing for him, is more than just a pastime, sometimes the answer to a question, sometimes therapy itself. Believes that standing up for something you believe in is what makes you stand out from the crowd.