"Fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do." The lyrics go through my mind every day here in India. This morning (another 3 a.m. fight with sleep) I had an enlightening discussion with my own daughter. She wanted to know "some real life India stories." "Why are you not writing about the other experiences that happen before and after all the fun events and parties you go to?" she asked. Hmmmm good question. Victoria challenged me to reveal the "real me" that she knew I had not been sharing with my readers on my blog. She knew there was more to me than my party stories and as little as we get to communicate on a daily basis she was beginning to feel like she didn't know me at all. My beautiful daughter asked me to please be "me" again and write about things that matter too. Ouch.
She's right. I've been trying to protect my readers by mainly writing about the "fun things" the "crazy things", that we do here. Even when I do attempt to write about the more serious things, I play them down a lot. A whole lot. I worry that friends and family will be scared and worried for us. I worry that they won't understand why we stay. I worry too much of what other people think about my delving into "real life" i.e. the trip to Bangkok and all we saw there (yes I downplayed that post too). My daughter reminded me that even though the stories I share might be hard to read, she would appreciate knowing all the truths. The good, the bad and the ugly. She reminded me that she is strong and capable and that though some of my stories might be sad and make her cry, angry and/or fearful, she would survive them and be more informed and understanding of our time here. I made the mistake at Christmas time of not giving her enough credit to be able to handle the realities about India and instead just told her about the fun parties, the traveling, my new fondness for designer sunglasses, etc. She was starting to wonder "who is this woman and what have you done with my mother?" She truly thought I was changing and NOT for the better.
So I dropped my guard and shared real life "stories" with her that involve my own staff. After I was finished she said
"I felt that India was negatively impacting you and I see now that you are positively impacting India."
Wow. I pray I live up to her thoughts of me.
Anyway, I'm going to let down my guard for you too and tell you about how hard it can be for women and their daughters and share a couple of true stories this week. Today's true story is about Gayathri.
I have a wonderful cook named Gayathri. She is between 26 and 28 years old. She's not sure. Gayathri is sweet tempered and calm in manner. After John, she is my rock in my home. Her calm, confident manner grounds me and keeps me sane on days when I find India taxing. Always. But still waters run deep. About a month ago as Gayathri and I were going over the day's agenda, she seemed quieter than usual. The laughter in her smile was gone and her smiles seemed force. She seemed on the verge of breaking into tears. I asked her if everything was okay and she answered "yes madam, everything is okay". I didn't believe her, so I took her hand and guided her to the couch, sat her down and asked her point blank, "what is wrong and how can I help?" This question released the flood gates and with a big sigh and lots of tears Gayathri admitted to me that over the weekend she had finally snapped and tried to commit suicide by dousing herself in oil/gas and tried to light herself on fire. Her husband stopped her thank God. But she was still very upset, depressed, and horrified about what she had attempted to do. What had caused her to snap? What was so horrible that she attempted to kill herself in the most torturous way and leave behind a young daughter? What in the world could be so bad?
The abuse and neglect of her own daughter at the hands of her in-laws and being powerless to stop it. Watching her daughter being abused and the impotence that she felt on a daily basis over not being able to change things for the better for her own daughter had driven her over the edge. To understand any of this you must first understand how things are here in India in regards to having a boy child vs a girl child in the poorer "classes" and regions. It's so sad. The boy child is prayed for while a girl child is not. The minute a girl child is born to poor families the size of debt and dowry that will have to paid to another family to whom she will be married becomes a huge weight and worry. When a girl child is born, the mother is usually seen as a failure and the quest for a boy child continues. In rural villages a girl child can be taken from the mother and the mother in law will sometimes dispose of the girl by drowning, smothering etc and burying her. There are thousands of abortions every year if the ultrasound finds it is a girl child although ultrasounds are illegal for pregnant women in India. This is not an exaggeration. In very poor families if there is little to eat, the food goes to the boy child while the girl child is left to starve. For poor families the thought of a dowry and debt for a lavish wedding that MUST be thrown by the girl's parents can be overwhelming thus girls are not celebrated when they're born. After wedding negotiations a girl's family may be unable to pay the full "dowry" to the grooms family and after the couple is married the bride may be brutally murdered due to the lack of payment of the agreed upon dowry. These are called "dowry deaths". The list goes on and on of the atrocities and injustices inflicted on girls/women here.
Within my own staff now there are no little boys in the families. My new driver has three little girls. His own mother was abusive to his daughters and his wife after no BOY child was produced so they moved out into their own home (this is not the norm here as boys are raised to marry, bring their bride home, where the new bride takes care of her new family and especially her mother in law). Everyday we praise him for putting his wife and daughters first and providing them with good educations. We tell him stories of our daughter and how successful she is and though the opportunities are greater and easier in the US a good education and not being forced into a marriage can make a huge difference in the future of his daughter's lives as well as his own. We help with the schooling, and encourage and show concern over how they are doing. As John says, we are just trying to show them a better way. Arrogant and presumptuous you say? I say come over here and see life for girls (not all, just the majority of the poor caste) here. You don't have to look far or look too hard to see how difficult it is. It's disheartening to know that no matter how much you want to make a difference, you're lucky if you can affect even one person, one family here. They are so culturally ingrained in how they treat others and themselves. Especially girls.
As for Gayathri's situation we assured her that we are here for her and will help her in any way we can. That suicide is not the answer and that together we will come up with a plan to get her and her daughter out of that home when she is ready to do so, with or without her husband (whom she dearly loves and is a good man but torn between his responsibilities to his parents and his wife and child...traditions go deep here). She asked why we would be willing to help her ….ah Gayathri….we are not blood related, but we care for you greatly. After our discussion she assured me that she really was okay, that she regretted a million times over what she had done and that she would never go that route again. She was embarrassed and felt selfish and low. I again reassured her that we understood how tough life is here for her and that we respect her immensely for the love she has for her child and for the wonderful person we know she is, we know that she is stronger than that one moment of weakness. We are here for her and though I have always told her that, I think now, with a plan in place, whether she decides to go forward with it or not, she truly believes that she has a way out. Her husband does love her, and has promised that this month of April, they will be looking for a different place to live. Fingers crossed he comes through with his promise, but if he doesn't we will.
"Girls become lovers who turn into mothers…so mothers be good to your daughters too."