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Gender Gap in India- Troubling Statistics from the Mother Land

photo courtesy of media.photobucket.com

As a working Indian-American mother of two daughters, and after a recent trip to India, I get concerned when I see statistics out of India like this:  “India is placed 129th among 146 countries in terms of GII, or gender inequality index, far behind neighbouring Sri Lanka at 74 and lagging most other countries in the region.”(1)   It is a bit disconcerting to learn that India is doing so well economically in the world and progressing in other industries, but yet ranking behind countries like China, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Botswana- yep, Botswana ranks higher than India when it comes to a gender gap report. (2) The World Economic Forum does a survey in which it ranks almost 128 countries on “proportion of resources and opportunities made available to women on educational, economic, political and health parities.”(3)  Thanks to Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was prime minister of India, India ranked high in the area of political empowerment of women.

So, the largest democracy in the world (pure democracy) and where women are some of the most politically empowered makes me wonder why women are still receiving such disparate treatment.  Well, to find an answer you would not have to look far.  Visiting India and staying with family, the answer is even clearer.  Even today, in the most educated, affluent, and influential households in India, the feudal and patriarchal system including “the joint family” concept still dominates.  And, even in bigger cities, daughters live with their parents (in almost all cases) until they marry when they become part of yet another family and oftentimes, these are joint families.  The joint family is one in which families live together.  The sons stay in the house with their parents, daughters marry into this and in turn, everyone lives together presumably in one big “happy” family.  The head of the household is always (I am not generalizing here) male and in that household there may be up to three generations of males running the place — Granddad, Dad, and now, the son this daughter has married.  That new household gains a daughter but also appears to dictate whether that daughter can continue to work, and what role she will assume in the family. In villages as compared to bigger cities, the roles may be even more traditional.

photo courtesy of media.photobucket.com

Historically, the days of “Mogul” rule in India are quite influential regarding the treatment of women.  Keep in mind that Moguls were Muslim, and the concept of multiple wives prevailed in India during that time.  The ‘Ramayana’ influenced the present-day concept of Hindus marrying only one wife.  In the story of the ‘Ramayana’, King Rama (LORD RAMA) said he would only marry once and his wife, (who was also a Devi or Goddess) Sita, enchanted the hearts of Hindus and to this day, that is the story of why Hindu men only marry one woman instead of multiple wives.  However, no one can ignore how Islam still influences Indian culture and philosophy to this day.  While India is influenced by many religions depending on the part of India you are in- Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, there is no doubt Islam played a huge role in Indian history and continues to prevail in modern-day India.  Hindus may have gods and goddesses, but the worship of female gods does not appear to vitiate cultural norms which dictate what women should and should not wear, what they should do, and how they should behave or act in society and in the home.  More importantly, the culture lends itself to a male-driven society.  Sure, western influence is alive and well and making strides towards more equality for women, but based on my personal experience and visits there since the 1970s, I have to say, it is moving at a slower pace than other progresses like technology and infrastructure. Where India is making strides in technology, industry, and manufacturing of goods and products, it is not making the same strides in social progress especially in terms of gender equality.  Overall, from conception, boys are still valued more than girls.  In household where there are no sons, some keep having children to see if they can have sons- after all, a son is valued more than a daughter.  On my side of the family, I have cousins who have only one kid — they will stop at one even if it is a daughter but you hope that she will be treated with the same respect that you treated her with growing up.  After all, once she marries she becomes part of another family right down to her middle and last name.  That’s right!  In India, when a daughter marries, she not only loses her last name, she is expected to take on her husband’s name as her middle name.  So, Reena Krishan Shah becomes Reena Harish Patel (assuming she married Harish Patel).  All kids, whether male or female inherit their dad’s first name as their middle name when they are born.  Do you see a trend here?  What happened to the mom who endured hours of labor?  Well, her kids will carry the values she imparts on them and that is about it.  I thought it interesting that people asked my husband in India (more than one person asked) whether he was happy with two daughters…”Don’t you want a son? Don’t you want to try again one more time for the prospect of a son?”

In poorer, less educated areas of India, it gets even worse.  Women who carry daughters are often tortured, and abortion rates are higher if the sex of the fetus is discovered to be female.  This is because of the tradition of dowry (something that is slowly being dispensed with in the upper classes) which is alive and well in small, rural, and poorer areas.  A dowry is what a family may have to pay (not necessarily money or cash) when marrying their daughter off.  Not only are parents of daughters expected to give their daughters “away” literally but also they are expected to “pay the piper” for taking on the burdens of her.  All of these trends lend to the surveys and the ranking of India which is low in the area of women’s rights and gender equality.  Not only is health care of women and women’s health ranked low in India, education is among the lowest as well especially in rural, poorer areas. Despite having female prime ministers, both India and Pakistan share the same fate and ranking in the arena of gender equality and this is nothing to be proud of even for Indian-Americans.

We visited the Taj Mahal in 2008- breathtaking

I like visiting India, not just to see family, but to do a lot of watching, thinking and studying. Culturally rich, India both inspires me and makes me feel sad at times.  The poverty and pollution issues aside, each time I visit, I am more and more thankful and grateful for the efforts of Gandhi for freeing India from British rule, President Johnson for opening the gates of immigration to Indians in 1965, and of course, my dad for taking a huge risk coming over to a new “foreign” country to make a new life for himself, my mother and eventually me and my brother.   But for one in the aforementioned chain of events, I would not be here where the sky is truly the limit for me.

Now, I do not intend to paint a bad picture of India but this article is focused on the gender gap.  India is making great strides in many areas but gender equality appears to have a long way to go.  Granted, on a positive note, I have a lot of cousin sisters who are doing quite well for themselves both in India and abroad but I have always thought my family and extended family as the exception not the rule.  I have cousin sisters who are working outside the home as engineers, doctors, dentists, designers of clothing lines, running businesses, making jewelry and purses, and yet still balancing work, life, and family. Conversely, I have witnessed and over heard a lot of the opposite as well.  I have heard how a distant cousin once taught as a teacher and now that she is married, she is no longer permitted to do so.  I heard stories of abuse and mistreatment of a distant relative once she was married into a home that disliked her.  In a country where a woman is still segregated and not able to be touched during “that time of the month” for religious reasons, you wonder whether these obstacles can be overcome if they are fundamental – ie. rooted in religion and philosophy.  And yet during a time when individuals are worshiping to Goddesses like Durga and Mataji at wonderful times like Diwali, you would think that women would be revered.  Again, I re-emphasize that I believe the Mogul influence over India has left its mark.  Women who show their shoulders, legs, cleavage, or too much skin in general (short of wearing a burka), are not respected and looked down upon. Granted, cities like Mumbai and Delhi see a lot of progress in these areas, but nonetheless, it is considered that women from “good homes” will NOT wear such outfits and if they do, it is frowned upon and talked about in an ill manner by the elders. Decency and dress codes aside, India is making progress in many areas where it comes to women’s rights and equality.  More and more women are in the work force – banking, accounting, teaching, and even non-traditional roles- engineering, doctors, lawyers, and professionals working outside the home.  Of course, they have to seek permission from their husbands and husbands’ families after marriage but assuming all are progressive, they may get to achieve their dreams, but then again, if they have kids, the traditional role of the Indian female will most likely be at home. I have yet to see an Indian man in India at home raising kids while the wife runs out to be a bread winner for the family.  I think that man would rather commit suicide than face the humiliation of society and I am not making this up- few in India will disagree that no man will stay at home and raise kids while his wife heads out to earn the money to keep that house going.  Desperate times may call for desperate measures but these are far and few between and unless a health reason is involved, this would never be tolerated.

Indian Flag

Americans can learn a lot from India – respecting elders, taking care of our elders, not becoming a burden on the government, religious and moral convictions, and deep-rooted and unconditional love of family and friends.  But conversely, I hope Indians can learn something from us as well and close that gender gap.  Granted, America has yet to see a female President or Vice-President but in the cultural sense, I would love to visit an India one day which is at least 80% free of the evils I hear about towards women- dowry-related deaths and torture, abortions of fetuses or killings of live babies simply because of gender, and more reverence of daughters and daughters-in-law and the respect of their right to choose career or home.  I have a dream that I will visit an India one day with my two American-born daughters and be able to tell them — “this is your culture… you come from a culture that reveres you, that respects you; that daughters and sons are raised equally, valued equally, and have the same opportunities whether in education, health, politics, in the home, or the workplace.”

That is my one vision for the India that I call the Mother Land.

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Tiffin’s – Fast Food Indian Cafe in Boulder, Colorado

photo courtesy of yelp

We went to Boulder a couple weeks ago to try out a new Indian fast food cafe called Tiffin’s– this place is 100% family owned and operated and for me, a taste of my mom’s homemade cooking- no restaurant fluff here!  We know the owners but that did not influence me- I am a foodie at heart and do consumer reviews all the time.  And if you doubt me, check out reviews on yelp and just in case I was biased, I took a friend along who has an amazing Indian Food blog – all things indian food and she is @indianfoodrocks. She also wrote an amazing review on Yelp – check out all the reviews before you head in and decide for yourself. I think it’s time Boulder got a fast food, reasonably-priced cafe with home cooking like this- it has been a long time coming! So, put on your walking shoes, or ride a bike and if you live far away, feel free to drive on in to Buff country – the corner of Arapahoe and Folsom and check out Tiffin’s extensive menu.

Sev Usar (soup with noodle)

For Indians and all Indian-food lovers, I think it is great to get snack places like this one because they are far and few between .  You can get a variety of foods without being locked into heavy creams, or large portions of just one dish and buffets are just too much! The place is simple, cafeteria-like but you can get channa masala with whole wheat bread like mom makes & South Indian fare.  The daal soups are a must try and of course, kids’ favorite are idlis & dosas straight up! There are plenty of homemade dessert options too and mango lassi that will complement any meal and fill you up too! 

Masala Dosa - can you say CRUNCH?

Pav Bhaji and Bhel is traditional Indian street fare but there’s no need to travel to India when you can get your fix in Boulder, so, check out Tiffin’s and give the small, family-owned business a try – I love that you can get a variety here and leave wanting more….

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Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill- A Vegetarian Delite & Healthy for all!


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We stumbled upon a little café that was simply fabulous in Colorado Springs.  But, I quickly and pleasantly learned later that Garbanzo is a chain (limited to Colorado only so far) and there are several locations both in Colorado Springs and the Denver metro area. All I can say is about Garbanzo is, you must give this place a try to believe it!

Garbanzo is a Mediterranean Grill with very reasonable prices and amazing tasting food and if you are vegetarian or vegan, talk about choice! This is the place for you!  If you are not, well there is plenty on the menu for you too – talk about options!

Their menu is extensive and the selections are fresh. You can get the half soup/half sandwich combo and for a little over $6.00, you get a stuffed pita sandwich, choice of soup and pita wedge for your soup- it’s great for lunch or dinner and the portions are perfect. My first experience was amazing – at the Broadmoor Colorado Springs location and I must say, I am very impressed.  It was such a great experience that I went twice in the same weekend but different locations.  I also visited the Powers Blvd and North Carefree Circle location and took my whole office with me.  This time though, I got the salad and topped it with felafel and it was great.  Overall, I have to say both locations were great and the food is very healthy.  Also, from the get-go, when you walk into any of the locations, you are greeted by very friendly staff, and offerred free samples of falefal and their awesome chips which you simply must try!

Garbanzo is truly tasty and perfect for a quick bite to eat when you want something healthy and inexpensive. And how about your kids? Your kids will love it too!  There is a reasonable kids’ menu with traditional kid choices twisted into the Mediterranean taste I am confident they will love. Great place, great service and at the right price, Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill is a place you do not want to miss!

Don’t miss Garbanzo — on facebook and on twitter too!

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A Hindu, A Catholic & A Palm Cross

No, its not a funny ethnic or bar joke but what I am about to share really happened and as a result, I learned something new about Palm Sunday and the celebration that precedes Easter.  Here’s my story: My neighbors who are Catholic and/or Christian left a Palm Cross in a cooler we keep at our front door for milk delivery.  They left it on Sunday and sent me an email on Monday letting me know that they left a Palm Cross in my milk cooler.  They had a nice message too- that they wish us peace as their neighbors whom they adore.  What a great gesture I thought, but not knowing what a Palm Cross was, I replied, “thanks… I hope it does not melt. We will not be home until later tonight. I am sure the girls will really enjoy it. Thanks- Peace to you as well and Happy Easter!”  I kid you not.  I thought it was a chocolate cross or something because growing up a Hindu in America, I always got Easter baskets from my Catholic neighbors full of chocolate eggs, bunnies, and yes, once, a chocolate cross- it was yummy!  But never before had I received a palm cross and nor had I heard about it.  I even attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) one summer and recited the Psalms (we had to memorize it to get colored paper for our little paper church) but I did not know what anything meant.  Also, while I have heard about Palm Sunday, I never knew what it signified.

As my husband broke it to me gently over e-mail, “it will not melt, dear, because it is a cross made out of palm- ya know? the foliage.”  I was quite shocked and embarrassed that I did not know something about a major religion – something perhaps so basic to Catholics and Christians so I decided to do some research into this whole thing and thus, a Hindu began her journey into learning a little more about Easter and the Palm Cross.  What I found was fascinating and as a result of this blunder, I feel more enlightened.  Have a Good Friday and Happy Easter!

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Where is Colorado again?

Today I had to call T-mobile customer care. I dread calling them but sometimes I just have to – for about a week or more now I have experienced difficulty with texts and checking my remote email on my phone. So I called the customer care lady. She was a customer service provider right here in America- I think out of Iowa. I know this because I had to ask after the conversation we had.

She asked me some troubleshooting questions and told me that T-zones was down and she would credit my account for the month. I was greatful but asked her about text messages and why they would not send. She said something about the entire network being down and that we could not send pages or picture messages either. She asked me where I was located. I told her Colorado. She responded, “yeah since the 19th we have had trouble because of the Inauguration and the east coast.” I was thinking to myself – OKAY, whatever when she asked me the following question: “Colorado is on the east coast, right?” I was driving at the time but I remember precisely what I was doing at the exact moment she asked me that because I was so mortified by the question. I told her Colorado was in the west and borders New Mexico to the South, and Kansas to the east. I then had to ask her where she was mainly because I did not judge this woman in case she was working a call center in England, India or China or somewhere. Nope- good ole American gal.

This got me thinking- how is it that Americans do not know their own country? It is really appalling and confusing. I mean, you do not have to know the exact location of the State- after all, the U.S. is vast. But at least know that Colorado is NOT on the east “coast”. My God! Granted, I do not know world geography very well, but I can name each state capital and give you locations of the States of my country. I then started wondering if I were talking with a call center operator in another country, would they know more about America than its own citizens? Needless to say, this was an eye opening call for me and I realized that future generations of Americans are geographically inept and clueless about the world around them and that we still had some work to do… til then, Where is Colorado again? I need to go home.

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