On Facebook I’ve connected with a few students from India, most of them studying to be engineers. When they write, they address me as “mam,” and their concerns are almost exclusively about girls. Most recently, one of them contacted me for advice. He’s in love with a young woman but she’s from a different caste. What did I think he should do?
I blinked. Clearly, I was in water over my head. I thought India had abolished the caste system. Rather than reply with a ringing call to personal freedom, I advised him to talk to his friends.
Mine was a coward’s reply, I admit. But except for Ballywood film clips, I am woefully ignorant about courtship in that distant land. All I know is what I read in the newspapers, stories about arranged marriages, brides abused over dowries, and gang rapes that generally go unsolved. The real India lies somewhere in between.
In any culture, old ways of thinking are slow to change. Take dowries for example. In India the practice has been outlawed since 1961. Yet the tradition thrives. The standard cost for a bride’s family to marry off a daughter is 3 gold British sovereigns or approximately $1200. As the average income per household is around $400 a year, a dowry poses an economic hardship. (Made in Hell,” by Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones, pg. 45) That’s why young women of that country flock to the garment industry, hoping to earn enough money to marry. Working long hours with little sleep, living in dormitories that house numbers considered inhumane by U. S. prison standards, they risk physical and sexual abuse in the hope of obtaining their dream. (Ibid pg. 46.)
Western manufacturers who buy from the sweat shops where these girls work 12-15 hours a day, sometimes 6 to 7 days a week, shrug and say the supply chain is too complex to eradicate work violations. Maybe they’re right. Perhaps change begins with me. I could start by becoming aware that the bargain clothes I put on my back come at the expense of powerless women who slave in soulless factories, hoping one day to buy love for 3 gold British sovereigns.
(Courtesy of dilsh.wordpress.com)
(A charitable agency that helps these women is FINCA) http://www.finca.org/site/c.6fIGIXMFJnJ0H/b.6088193/k.BE5D/Home.htm