Princess: Book about Saudi Princess
It all started with my reading of this book called Princess by Jean P. Sasson. This book is story of a Saudi Princess, who tells her story anonymously, through this American writer. We all have known that women do not have it easy in Saudi.
Saudi is rich but even princesses are shabbily treated by their fathers, husbands and brothers. The protagonist, Princess Sulatana, therefore, grows up with hatred for her brother. Other than the facts that a Saudi women is covered whenever she ventures out, she can’t drive, she can’t inherit, she has to have permission of her father/husband/brother to navigate outside, mere suspicion of sexual infidelity of a women can cause her to be stoned to death.
There are other chilly incidents of a Filipino maid who comes to country only to realise that her duties include sleeping with her male masters. As sexual activity and dates are inhibited, royal princes have been known to sleep with young girls (read children) in countries like Egypt. A girl is electrocuted by her father in swimming pool as she brought bad name to family by mingling with males. A young girl is stoned to death for committing a sexual crime but the truth was that she was raped by her brother’s friends. Brother did not take stand for her. Phew! There is more of stomach-crunching stuff (words/language in book are not gory, its the content that is sad) in the book if you care to catch up. You can read a balanced review here.
Girls in India
So I thanked that I am not in Saudi, but in India. But my feeling of thankfulness started evaporating when I read various news items related to woman.
First article was in Outlook magazine that I subscribe. I read an article about girls in Tamil Nadu. Girls aged 15-18 years are made to work on spindle (Tirupur Garment factory) in unhygienic conditions to earn their dowry! Gullible parents pack off their girls to work in these camps where they have poor food and accommodation conditions and they are poorly paid. This is women working in cage, called “camp coolie” system. You can read this saddening piece in detail here. (A registration may be required.)
Three months ago, an enticing flier flooded Tamil Nadu. It said, “Golden opportunities for working women—eighth, ninth and tenth class pass or failed. We provide food and accommodation. After three years, we pay Rs 70,000.”
According to a TPF study, ‘Women Workers in a Cage,’ undertaken last June, these girls are paid Rs 34 per day for the first six months, with an increment of Rs 2 for every six months till they earn Rs 45 by the time the scheme comes to an end. Every month, Rs 450-550 is deducted for boarding and lodging.
According to Mercy, a coordinator with the NGO SAVE, these girls are almost like prisoners in their hostels, which are usually in the same compound as their workplace, and can only step outside the gates escorted by a warden. “Even interaction with parents is restricted to a specified day and for a limited time,” says Joseph Raj, Trust for Education and Social Transformation.
Don’t you dare suggest that desperate measures for dowry exist only in economically backward classes. Here is a post from Amit who relates a conversation about dowry within his well-off colleagues.
Infanticide and Foeticide
The dowry is one of the reasons why people indulge in foeticide and infanticide. I was reading with pride how things were changing in Punjab with crackdown on fertility centers. Oh no, if they can’t indulge in foeticide, they will manage with infanticide. I was crushed when I read this piece in Outlook. Excerpts:
December 27: Sushma gave birth to a healthy baby girl at a Bhatinda hospital. It was the couple’s third girl child. The next morning, the infant was found dead with blue marks around her nose and cheeks, leading to suspicions that she had been suffocated. The local police have registered a case.
December 19: The headless body of a three-day-old baby girl was found at Urban Estate in Jalandhar. Stray dogs had eaten much of her head and shoulders before passersby noticed and informed the police.
Feelings of a Women
Reema’s writes another post about discrimination against girl child. I have had exact experiences as her, when she says:
Often I meet people who ask me about my family and when I say we are two sisters, their next question is invariably the same, asked in the same sympathetic tone with the same pitiful expression “No brothers?” I answer politely “no” but in my mind I’m like “Didn’t you hear? I said 2 sisters. Obviously that means no brothers, moron”. But I’m kind of losing my patience with such people. So next person who asks me that is in lot of trouble. And frankly speaking I think a sister is the best sibling one could have.
Even modern women are perpetually scared of how they are going to manage double workload, how will things fare for her in-law’s household. Nita writes in her post how there are finishing schools for women, but what about teaching men how to keep their wives happy? It is important and need of the hour. Don’t we women have feelings? Reema too has lamented about a colleague uncaring of his pregnant wife’s needs. I admire Amol Palekar now for making Paheli. I was watching yesterday and thought it raised an apt question. A traditional village wife, Rani, chooses other man (spirit) over her husband. Her husband has everything: looks, money and good family. He is busy business man and his father’s obedient son but uncaring of emotional needs of his wife. I would say it was subtle and bold portrayal of a woman making a choice.
And finally, did any one think of inculcating family values to contribute in household chores. Role definitions have changed, so why is it only women managing household chores alone. One of my friend says she and her husband arrive home at same time after work. While her ma-in-law brings sherbet for husband, she is expected to slog in kitchen and wake up early next day! Her hubby is free to hog sports channels on his couch. Where is her life? Why can’t we teach our kids and family to be self-reliant and spouse to pitch in household chores. I will leave you with a peek into an Indian woman’s life in this story by Sakhi.
I do not think I have resolved any issues by writing about it. But I am hoping that some men would read it and try to be considerate to women in their lives. For that purpose alone, I would tirelessly write more. Having said that, all is not bad in India. I am proud to be a woman in India. I have been lucky to savour the best, with best of family.