What Indian Family Values Are They Talking About?
India has signed eight global treaties to protect children, but the sanskari Indian family fails at keeping their children safe.
Days before the government said same-sex marriage would “cause havoc” and emphasised that marriage between a biological man and woman is a “sacrament, a holy union and a sanskar”, two key functionaries appointed to uphold the rights of Indian women said they had been abused by the biological men who had entered into this “holy union” with their mothers, both biological women.
“I was sexually assaulted by my father when I was a child. He used to beat me up... I used to hide under the bed,” Delhi Commission for Women Chief Swati Maliwal told reporters. Days earlier, politician Khushbu Sundar—the newest member of the National Commission for Women—revealed to journalist Barkha Dutt that her father began sexually abusing her when she was eight.
The government’s submission on same-sex marriage read like a contextless internet essay for students in Class 8 and partly plagiarised from a Vladimir Putin speech. “They are forcing the priests to bless same-sex marriages,” Putin said in a national address recently, bemoaning the ‘Western elite’. I’ll highlight some points from the government’s 56-page affidavit on same-sex marriage in italics and then provide some missing context.
“It is submitted that the institutions of marriage and the family are important social institutions in India that provide for the security, support and companionship of members of our society and bear an important role in the rearing of children and their mental and psychological upbringing also.”
“He was a man who probably thought it was his birthright to beat up his wife, his children, sexually abuse his only daughter,” Sundar told Barkha Dutt about her father. Her description of an Indian childhood is more familiar than we would like to believe. One out of two Indian children face abuse. Many are physically abused by family. India has 30 million orphaned or abandoned children.
Our country has signed eight international human rights treaties to keep children safe, but try telling that to the Indian family. The sanskari unit fails terribly at keeping their biological children safe. Why else would we come up with a scheme titled Beti Bachao? Most things beti needs saving from occur within the four walls of the home she resides in with her biological family.
“It is submitted that by and large the institution of marriage has a sanctity attached to it and in major parts of the country, it is regarded as a sacrament, a holy union and a sanskar. In our country, despite statutory recognition of the relationship of marriage between a biological man and a biological woman, marriage necessarily depends upon age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos and societal values.”
Age-old customs such as female infanticide, sati, dowry? Age-old custom such as domestic violence? Government data show that 30% of women have experienced sanskari-ratified domestic violence at least once. Some 4% of women have experienced spousal violence during a pregnancy. A fourth of biological women, who have experienced this violence from their biological male partners, report physical injuries such as eye injuries, sprains, dislocations and burns. More serious injuries include broken bones and teeth.
“Living together as partners and having sexual relationship by same sex individuals [which is decriminalised now] is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children which necessarily presuppose a biological man as a ‘husband’, a biological woman as a ‘wife’ and the children born out of the union between the two—who are reared by the biological man as father and the biological woman as mother.”
Why? Good parenting skills aren’t determined by gender. Kindness, nurturing and the patience required to bring up a child aren’t determined by gender. Most Indian children don’t have access to good parenting—the gender of their mummies and daddies is the least of their worries.
Seeking declaration for solemnisation/registration of marriage has more ramifications than simple legal recognition. Family issues are far beyond mere recognition and registration of marriage between persons belonging to the same gender. Living together as partners and having sexual relationship by same-sex individuals [which is decriminalised now] is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children which necessarily presuppose a biological man as a ‘husband’, a biological woman as a ‘wife’ and the children born out of the union between the two—who are reared by the biological man as father and the biological woman as mother.
Indian families have always opposed everything from interfaith marriages to intercaste marriages. An individual’s marriage market ratings can plummet for a variety of reasons: darker skin, disability, mental illness, a history of cancer; whether or not you belong to certain professions; if you’re a woman who wants to work after marriage. We specialise in brainwashing our children to believe that ‘sex is okay with forbidden folks, but don’t even think of marriage’. That’s exactly what the government is doing—it is falling back on the oldest trope in this bazaar.
The government says if they allow same-sex marriage, they will have to change a variety of laws. So what? It’s worth it if it gives a greater number of Indians basic rights such as the right to buy a property together, the right to nominate your same-sex partner in your insurance scheme and the right to inheritance among other things heterosexual couples take for granted. In the past decade, we’ve seen that India is no stranger to tweaking existing laws and introducing new ones.
Besides, the faster we adapt to the changing definition of family the better. Like this one: “A family consists of any combination of two or more people, bound together over time, by ties of mutual consent and/or birth, adoption or placement, and who take responsibility for various activities of daily living, including love.”
Maybe the government should do some research on non-traditional families and how countries across the world recognise them. Around 30 countries have legalised same-sex marriage—I’m sure they changed many laws too. Indian legislators can go on one of their all-expenses-paid trips to study how they did it. In Taiwan, the only Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, the court gave the nation’s legislature a deadline to change Taiwan’s laws to include same-sex couples. Maybe that’s the road we will go down too.
Clearly, the government learned no lessons from justice Indu Malhotra’s 2018 judgement which struck down section 377. “History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution,” Malhotra had said. “This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality.” The majority, it seems, has opted to remain ignorant.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.