Many married couples are anxious to have children. On some occasions, when childbirth is delayed, they offer prayers and undertake pilgrimages to propitiate the Gods and seek medical advice. And when children are born, they are brought up with the deepest of love and affection. When children go out, parents worry about their welfare and safety.
Intolerance to love: A social malady?
Many parents readily sacrifice their personal desires and comforts to give good education and career for their children, to put them in positions higher than theirs. When parental love is so deep and is a universal truth, is it not indeed mystifying, and distressing, to hear reports of parents causing physical or psychological harm to their children? Is this a kind of mental sickness? And, if so, is the malady in the individual or is it woven into the very fabric of modern society itself?
Should society put these ghastly incidents down to the arrogance of a caste-based superiority complex, persisting even so many decades after Independence? Or conclude that the upper caste mentality has finally assumed the cruel form of murderous parenthood? To do either would perhaps be a hasty over-simplification. A study of the statistics over the last seven decades will show that the hold of caste is slowly losing its grip. Even political leaders, who try to exploit the caste divisions to create vote banks, are reconciling themselves to their children marrying across castes.
Most of the present-day parents are reluctant to pressurise their children to marry in the same caste, and are letting them choose their partners. And many love marriages are eventually ending up as arranged alliances.
Parental approval may, however, take months, if not years, and is preceded by considerations relating to the pros and cons of the proposals. Even if the person chosen by their daughter belongs to the same caste, it is natural for the parents to wonder whether she is not making an error of judgement.
And when it is an inter-caste proposal, their concern increases. They worry about her ability to adjust to an alien environment with unfamiliar customs and traditions. Similar concerns characterise parental feelings in respect of marriages relating to sons too. In fact, in the majority of cases, the opposition of the parents to the proposed alliance is more on account of their worry regarding the compatibility of their child’s upbringing and that of the other, rather than considerations of caste. They sometime oppose even a same-caste marriage if there is a wide disparity in financial status.
Clearly, thus, the overriding factor that guides parents seems to be compatibility of the lifestyles, and of boy and the girl. When the love between a boy and a girl is enduring enough to last a couple of years or more, you find even the most obstinate parents climbing down and acquiescing to the match, convinced that the relationship is sincere. That fact that such things are happening despite the obvious reality that the caste of the son-in-law/daughter-in-law remains unchanged only shows that parental concern about the wellbeing of their offspring is much more important than the issue of caste. It is also a fact that parents are worried of their social image if their child marries out of the caste, but it varies from region to region and place to place.
The impact of social imperatives is much less pronounced in urban areas than in rural areas. In rural areas the mindset of people tends to be rigid and their prejudices are generally guided by narrow considerations owing to lack of exposure to the outside world. Superstitions still influence the attitude of people in rural areas. This was one reason why Jawaharlal Nehru encouraged urbanisation.
When one shifts to towns and cities and is exposed to others’ culture, one develops a broader vision and begins to appreciate the oneness of people belonging to different backgrounds and communities. And people have very little time to poke their noses into others’ affairs.
Though belonging to different regions, castes and communities, people of similar economic status have similar lifestyles. Compatibility between them is much easier than those of the same-caste but unequal economic conditions. Most of the conflicts which we hear about, concerning inter-caste marriages, are caused by sharp differences either in educational status or financial conditions, and also pertain mostly to people belonging to villages or small towns.
It is, therefore, necessary that, before young couples commit themselves to matrimony, they should first think of stability and financial independence. Even parents would feel more confident about blessing such proposals. On the other hand, if the couple says they have not completed studies and have no employment in sight parents are agitated and worried since they know that love does not fill the stomach.
In the West, parents’ approval or disapproval does not count much since individuals are generally on their own right from the age of 16. This is not so for the Indian youth, as they are dependent one parents or parents-in-law even after age 25, looking for financial and emotional support. Naturally, parents have a say in all the matters concerning them.
It is hard for Indian parents to swallow the bitter truth that their child, who is otherwise dependent upon them for everything, wants freedom only in matters of love. All this reasoning notwithstanding, no degree of anxiety or amount of concern can justify a violent response on the part of the parent. And bodily assault can never be condoned. The parents must give an opportunity for the couple to adjust to each other and in case things go wrong they can always offer help.
All this, however, requires a great deal of patience and restraint. The youth are generally impatient with those, be they parents or society itself, who are not in sync with their speed of change.
Change is a natural phenomenon but follows its own rhythm and speed. Sometimes, following the dictum “cometh time, cometh the man“, great people appear on the scene and substantially accelerate the process of change in society. Still, some people remain whom change cannot impact upon. Young people should recognise and accept this. And, by the time they reach middle age, they also might change their perception and speak their parents’ language.
The youth of today, therefore, needs to make a conscious effort clearly to understand the dynamics of the ever-changing society around them, and try and mould their attitude accordingly, in order to achieve harmony with external societal realities. They should ask themselves how obstinate a 50-year-old should be, when they themselves feel so strongly about some matters at the age of 20! Such an understanding and empathetic attitude will greatly reduce friction in the relationship between the youth and their elders.
Young people need to understand that their parents and other elders are naturally anxious about their future and the possible difficulties they may have to face on account of hasty decisions. For winning the approval of elders, they need to ensure that such proposals are backed up with reason and justification. The love mantra does not work with parents. Who have already seen the harsh realities of the world. On the parents’ part, they have to come out of the feeling that they know everything about ways of the world and should learn to worry less about future of their children.