There was an article today on the BBC website title “No country for single women“. In the article, the author reflects on conversations with four single women in India, who are successful but unmarried. So much of what these women said resonates with my experiences and the experiences of my “single” women friends in India. I’ve always felt that while women from middle-class families are encouraged to get educated and have a career, but that does not mean that the societal pressure to get married in your early 20’s goes away. It only means that now you have more things that you are expected to do, besides being someone’s wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. And if you choose to wait, or choose to not make getting married your goal in life, then of course there must be something wrong with you. Maybe you are not into men? or maybe you have a psychological disorder? or maybe you are hard to get along with? Because God forbid you not want to get married when its “time” to get married. How can any “normal” woman not want a husband and children? In the article, the author writes:
“There were cases where people told my parents that educating their daughter and letting her become an independent person had been a grave mistake. Now their daughter has high expectations and getting her married has become so difficult! I can’t thank my parents enough for shouldering that burden. They are a great support but I keep wondering what to do to make it easier for them. I am much less worried about myself. I know that being with the wrong man would be far worse than being by myself.”
Also, these are not conversations you have with just your parents. No! everyone and anyone will ask you why you are not married from the rickshawallas to the drivers to the aunty at the bus stop. This is one of the reasons why I moved to the US. Cities such as Bombay, might afford single women a certain independence and lifestyle that they couldn’t have before and can’t have in other cities, but there is no escaping the fact that you chose not to be “normal”. Because at the end of the day that’s what it is! By not getting married and making an informed choice not to be married, you have challenged the age-old understanding of Indian women as just daughters, mothers and sisters. While we as a society can feel great pride in the fact that Indian women are increasingly becoming part of the formal workforce, and that more women are going into higher education than ever before. That’s where it stops. But the thing is, I and my friends who are not married, didn’t choose not to get married at 26 or 27 or 28, not because we wanted to challenge social norms. We chose to not be married because we wanted more from our lives. This doesn’t mean that women who are married have lesser lives, their life paths are just different from ours. Does it mean we will never marry…..not really. We are not giving up the choice to marry, we are just choosing to define our own life paths.
The Hindu (read the original piece here) today published an op-ed about the development at Kathputli Colony. The author raises many important questions in this — development for whom? And by whom?– being a very pertinent one. The piece focusses on how what the people in Kathputli actually need is an upgradation of basic services and not a total change in the way they live their life. I cringe at this assumption that the author knows what they need, and it’s not apartments but upgradation of services. The piece also talks about an Artist’s Village being the ideal solution. In my work at Kathputli, I have heard mention this as well. And yes, it does seem like the ideal solution– not just because of the romantic notion of what the village might be like but also because in some ways the solution is coming from the artists themselves.
However, the piece and most of the things that I have read about Kathputli in the media and elsewhere paint a picture of the colony where there are no others. Official estimates show that 40% of residents actually belong to professions that are not considered artistic or they are not descendants of traditional gypsy clans. Both in the colony and in what is written about Kathputli, these people have very little presence. The present model of resettlement and rehabilitation paints all those living in slums, with the same brush. And essentially the struggle in Kathputli is about individuality of the artists, because their livelihoods and the spaces they inhabit are very tightly intertwined. By moving them to apartments that are generic and in no way respond to their ways of living, the DDA and the Delhi Govt. is essentially asking them to change how they live and what they do.
However, by presenting Kathputli as a colony where only artists live, the same brush is applied to the non-artists or rather their presence is completely negated. To me, Kathputli brings to the fore more than anything, the need to understand each of these slums and communities individually, to understand what keeps them together, where are they coming from, how do they live etc. For like Kathputli is not just another slum, it is also not just an Artists Colony. This requires a major shift in out understanding of who lives in these spaces– not just migrant workers, not just artists, not just criminals– but people. People and not just numbers, people who have families, who have their own ways of living, who like you and me, are trying to work towards a better tomorrow for themselves and their children.