Of Man, Woman, Ghetto and this Sad Earth

By Nandita Roy.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Multiculturalism is an oft used word in the cosmopolitan city today. It implies an intermingling of cultures and traditions which in turn is indicative of men and women from different backgrounds, different roots living together in a happy harmony involving a mutual give and take in patterns of life and thought. Diversity can be celebrated provided tolerance is unbreakable. But how far are we from this ideal concept today? In Mumbai, cultural and religious ghettos have become alarmingly common. When people want to buy or rent a place, they want to know the composition of the prospective neighborhood. As if religion, language, class and caste were not enough, a new politics has emerged --- food politics --- wherein vegetarianism becomes a means of excluding communities from an area. Legally, an Indian citizen cannot, on the basis of caste, creed or religion, be denied the right to buy or rent a place to live. But if the by-laws of the co-operative society so specify , it cannot be challenged. Property agents are told to steer away tenants and buyers of a particular community because the housing society does not want them. Multiculturalism spills over into the streets as well as the classroom where women in jeans jostle with women behind the veil. A little further inside, the ghoonghat also makes an appearance. A furious reaction (on part of a young Muslim) to Jack Straw’s comments should also be noted: “What are Straw’s views on teenage pregnancy, on young girls going out in next to nothing?” Beyond the obvious cultural clash, one wonders who the appropriate role model is today. In a developing nation, the glamorous and rich woman is a symbol of material achievement. But the recent Priyadarshini Mattoo, Jessica Lal and Nitish Katara cases indicate that these middle class Indian women (educated and well-off if not affluent) had made a choice to say yes or no that was considered improper by the men in their vicinity, who chose to punish them. Such cases reveal that modern Indian women’s empowerment is still skin-deep only. There has been as steady a decline in India’s overall sex ratio over the 20th century as the increase in violent crimes against women. The decline in the sex ratio has seen import of women for marriages. Extreme poverty among groups giving away daughters is another crucial factor for such marriages. In Haryana, where it is reported that girls are brought from as far away as Orissa and Bangladesh, such girls are apparently referred to as lesser wives. These lesser wives are sometimes married to more than one lesser husband, who due to poverty and lack of brides cannot obtain a bride of his caste. Thus new forms of sex slavery are emerging along with polyandry, with the sanction and blessings of society. With the implementation of Law on Domestic Violence, Women’s Rights has got a tremendous boost although there is still a vast territory still in shadows, for social pressures may still lead to under reporting and suppression of domestic violence cases. Another major negative is that such laws are grossly misused to settle scores for vengeance. Mixed marriages lead to mixed identities in a multicultural society. It has been reported that children of part-Indian parentage in the U.S. are among those grappling with identities at a fundamental level. These children of mixed marriages often develop a hyphenated-American identity by the time they are 24. It is generally accepted that children start with no concept of race or ethnicity. Then gradually multiethnic kids learn that they are different and are pressed by adults and peers to pick a single label. As they gain maturity, some may be able to select an identity based on their own preferences and experiences. The creation of a just, multiracial society is what we need to strive for. It is elementary to say that this endeavor should start in the primary classroom. Dr. Oliver Curry of the Darvin@LSE Research Centre at the London School of Economics has predicted that race will become a thing of the past and that “Humans are likely to move towards a uniform ‘coffee’ skin tone. But when he says that the successful will be tall and good looking while the short, fat and ugly will be the losers, is he not being racist all over again, never mind that he doesn’t mention ‘white’?

Keywords: Multiculturalism, Feminism, Diversity, Tolerance

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.53-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 547.270KB).

Dr Nandita Roy

Teacher, Department of English, University of Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


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