The cohesion of this society rests on the Family System, on the priority given to family values; by extension on the genetic pooling of the caste system and the social coercion that binds responsibilities and obligations within kinship boundaries.
I believe that it was not long ago here when money was not the yardstick for value, and certainly even then on occasions breakdown would have occurred in the web of filial loyalty; however during the forty years of my good fortune to be here, Mammon has risen anonymously within the Hindu Pantheon, one very visible result of which is the not infrequent subjection to financial stress that rips the ancient loyalties asunder. And the most frequent scapegoats seem to be girls, and the most frequent issue that of the bondage to dowry.
Enabling us to peer a little inside this all too visible phenomenon, the misfortune of a family of girls has presented itself very recently; I wasn’t fully aware of the tragedy that their family unjustly imposes on them until this monsoon. This is due to a parallel tragedy which is that their house has become dangerous, leaking badly, precariously holding it’s roof together and inviting snakes and rats into their lives; although we can’t see the holes in their roof, look at the backside entrance for creepy-crawly vermin:
Their father simply hangs out in his ramshackle squat of a tea-shop; his excuse for inaction is corns on his feet. His pretty little second wife mans the tea-shop while his two elder daughters from his previous marriage and the daughter and son from his second marriage are at school. He doesn’t officially beg but he’s still a lazy beggar.
This monsoon he moved his family out of their falling-down home and into his ramshackle tea-shop squat where he and his second wife spend all their days; the elder two girls from his first wife are Cinderellas who return to the dangerous collapsing house to do the laundry for the whole family.
There are two narrow, rickety tables and two narrow rickety benches on which four of them must sleep. The other two sleep on a grass mat on the damp earth floor, which is about as accessible to snakes, scorpions and rats as their leaky home.
This is all tremendously inconvenient and uncomfortable but it is nothing compared with the total abandonment of their extended family and what this means particularly to the two elder daughters. The abandonment arose since the extended family do not like that the father re-married; this despite (or perhaps because of) the tight fit of inter-marriage here – in this case, the father is the uncle of the girl’s now deceased mother. He was expected to remain celebate, you see.
The elder daughter aspires to becoming a Chartered Accountant. The second daughter intends to become a doctor. In this culture it is unacceptable for either of them not to marry and marriage is a risky business even with family support. In their precarious perch in life the moral support of their near relatives would be invaluable but it is entirely withdrawn since their mother died some ten years back, their father soon remarried whereupon maternal grandparents, uncles, aunts – all withdrew their filial connection to their kin.
They do not want the traditional responsibility to help girls find a good husband, offer mentorship and generally behave with empathy towards those with whom they share genes. So like true barbarians, they cut these girls off completely.
These are uneducated people who have not the perception that it is within the interests of their own genes to provide well for their hosts, but then very few humans consciously consider such realities in this Iron Age of Ignorance and Dissolution.
This one example of a modern trend clearly enables us to see how far we have come from the ancient Vedic ideal that when we care more for our own progeny than for the progeny of others, we cease to be civilised.
Although these two young women are masters at suffering in silence, we live in a village here: everyone knows how they are persecuted on all sides of their family, not just grandparents, uncles and aunts – their father has been giving them hell since their mother died, disparaging them, treating them like slaves, beating them.
The two elder girls had a very sweet brother who died several years back from the bite of a Krate who slithered in to his bed at night; recently my family member downstairs invited this family to a small ceremony on the anniversary of the beloved boy’s death. But the father refused to come. He has another family now, he said, and doesn’t want to remember the previous one . . . . this despite the fact that the two sisters of the deceased are a living part of his present family.
I remember mistakenly remarking to the elder daughters how fortunate to have a lovely kind sweet stepmother and two new little siblings, and they agreed, they nodded and smiled; it’s excruciatingly difficult here to admit something’s wrong, only beggars do that. It wasn’t until later that I realised what was happening: SweetnessItself Stepmother gives them hell too, and her mother even more so. They’ve all ganged up against the girls, as if trying to herd them towards suicide. In such a context here everyone immediately thinks of suicide, hoping they either will or will not do it. The suicide of girls is this nation’s Shadow.
However just last week the elder of these girls came to consult the daughter of the family with whom I live about the correct date of their mother’s death, so she can get a Death Certificate required for her application for a Scholarship; this is a very good sign pointing to the unlikelihood she will try to commit suicide. The second daughter is very spunky – she won’t cave in either. So orient yourself with me please towards the healing of this dysfunctional family.
The only access to family counselling here is through psychiatric help and this seems the best avenue of approach since it is everyone in this picture who needs to cultivate different life strategies for their own sakes as well as the two elder girls. As it happens the only person capable of this family counselling is returning tonight; maybe she will be willing to offer her skills. It is definitely the positive qualities of the present Age of Iron that provides the balancing potential for these girls, manifesting initially in the form of the global aspiration towards awareness of what lies beyond consciousness, which results in ArunachalaLodestone attracting foreigners as never before, WhiteMen from Foreign and – importantly – highly skilled, well-educated persons from all over India who bring with them their expertise in arenas untouched by locals.
Also efficacious here is the recent global aspiration towards sustainable solutions to civic problems, including Human Rights, gender issues, injustice, Peace, inequality and universal education, resulting in the local NGO (initiated originally by WhiteMen but now under the excellent management of locals) that provides the beautiful rubbish bins and also sponsors students from poor families otherwise exempt from a good education. Since these young women are intelligent and articulate we can encourage them to have confidence their own destinies, remain open to opportunities, have courage and eventually choose their own husbands carefully. Despite being (as usual) faced with the great unknown, we still can be tremendously thankful for KaliYuga.
Now a week later I am obliged to give you a gloomy update: Highways Department raged around the Hill-round-roadway yesterday, totally destroying all squat enterprises in preparation for the paid temporary enterprises about to sprout for the big Deepam Festival in the beginning of December. When I walked past yesterday evening Father was sitting on top of a tiffin bench extracted in one piece from the rubble of their household possessions now lying in shambles beneath the broken bamboo framework and gaudy but forlorn political posters with smiling moustached men’s faces that had until now served as their partly rainproof roof and one wall of what had been their home and tea-shop.
The elder girl told me that Highways prohibits them continuing their Tea-shop on that spot and that they’d have to sleep on the footpath that evening. I asked her about her Scholarship application and she reported that the NGO cannot give Scholarships for school; she goes to a government school without fees but I guess she was clutching at straws, she wants to stay alive, she wants to get an education. I hope she doesn’t commit suicide.
It rained quite heavily last night around midnight.