Friday, February 18, 2011

Mamta: A perspective on roles of Indian Women

Mamta or maternal – this word forms the essence of womanhood in our country. In India, every woman considered worthy of respect and devotion embodies mamta. Mamta is built on the foundations of sacrifice, self-denial, chastity bordering on abstinence, unconditional maternal love and unquestioning family loyalty. A woman who does not have these qualities is neither respected nor valued in traditional Indian society. 
In our country, a woman's mamta is a product of several factors. An Indian woman's goodness is determined by the quickness, the perceptiveness and the willingness with which she makes sacrifices. Her worth is established by how self-effacing she can be. Her value is ascertained by how forgiving and patient she can be. The woman who excels in all these qualities is considered suitable for the responsibility of Indian motherhood. And the entire family and social system is committed to making all women fit better into this specific mould.
Indian motherhood is somewhat different from the motherhood that women of other nations have and value. Our nation is one of those rare places where it is politically, legally and culturally correct to tell a woman that she achieves completeness only when she becomes a mother. A traditional Indian mother is not a facilitator or an enabler for her child. She is an anchor. Unlike other mothers who step aside after showing their children the path they must travel on, an Indian mother's success is deemed to lie in travelling the entire path with the child.
A traditional Indian mother's role is not that of a bird pushing her chick to test its wings. Her role is to bind her chick to the nest with a soft silken thread so that he does not fly too far. She does not want to teach her child how to fish, nor does she encourage him to discover the source of fish. She gives him so much fish that he remains as dependent on her for his daily needs, as she is on him for her identity. If she dies, another woman takes over her role and keeps the child (regardless of age) in the same state of ignorant dependence. 
In order to prepare for this unique role, an Indian girl is trained from childhood. She spends her whole life in preparation for this great moment of achieving Indian motherhood -in overt and covert ways. Until she bears her own children, she practices her maternal love on her dolls, her parents, her in-laws and even her partner.  
As part of her training, a traditional Indian girl learns to obey her elders and acknowledge the superiority of the males of her family – younger or older. She learns to suppress her opinions or express them in such a way that she does not offend other members of the family.When she can crucify herself effectively and smile doing it, she has the adequate amount of mamta.
Because of this unique training, a traditional good Indian woman is expected to be able to mother everyone. She makes sure that her family is overfed and welcomes a chance to go hungry. She makes sure that she is able to nurse family members or outsiders – giving up sleep, attending to any bedside needs and making sure they take their medications. She takes complete responsibility for everyone's physical and emotional well-being. Even a bride is expected to quickly learn her marital family's routines, likes and dislikes and the sooner she does this, the better mother she will eventually make.
So strong is the Indian woman's maternal instinct that she treats her husband as her eldest son. She openly refers to him as her eldest son and the seeming incestuous angle of this declaration does not faze her or her audience. For, everyone else has an eldest son-cum-husband in their homes as well. Thus, even her sexual side is completely subjugated by her mamta.
Ultimately, when she finally has the children that she has been trained all her life for, she shares a unique, almost parasitic relationship with them. Her identity and importance rests with them, and she has compromised almost every human desire for this moment. Therefore she clings to them by making them cling to her - like two creepers living off each other with the family institution as a support system.
While Indian motherhood establishes her identity, and gives a direction to her mamta, it also brings with it its uniquely Indian challenges. Indian mothers are held  entirely responsible for the value system that an Indian child subscribes to. However, the value system that she is expected to inculcate in her children is not some Decalogue that she has worked out in the course of her life. Oh no! It is an amalgam of values, attitudes and lifestyle choices subscribed to by her marital home.
This is where the self-effacement, the blind obedience and the unquestioning loyalty that she has practised all her life come to her aid. If she did not possess these qualities in abundance, it would be impossible for her to effectively train her children in a code of conduct that she has not worked out for herself. In essence, she is merely the link that passes on the sanskaar of her marital home from the generation before her to the generation that follows.
An Indian woman's varied roles as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a daughter-in-law and even as a working woman, are intrinsically coloured and flavoured and moulded by this great melting pot of mamta – the role that she was supposedly created for. Her choices, her character and her lifestyle are defined by her mamta. Whether she leaves a bad relationship or stays, whether she drops a successful career or works, whether she has children or not... Ultimately all her big life decisions are bound, cinched and decreed by her mamta.
In traditional society, Indian womanhood is defined by mamta, is worshipped by mamta and identified with mamta. Indian womanhood is celebrated by mamta, is honoured by mamta and idolized as mamta. Indian womanhood is established by mamta, is idealised by mamta and determined by mamta.
On the other hand, Indian womanhood is seduced by mamta, is stereotyped by mamta and is shackled by mamta. It is denied by mamta, is distorted by mamta and often debased by mamta. Indian womanhood is a lot bigger than mamta. A whole lot bigger. Perhaps this Woman's Day, we should think about freeing Indian women to enjoy all the roles they have, unadulterated by the burden of mamta.

I tag Desi Girl, Eeprikka and Shilpa Desh to participate.


Phoenixritu said...

You hit the nail on the head. A thought provoking post ... loved it. Indian motherhood ... yes, I can see where we go wrong.

Vani said...

An indian woman is expected to be very generous even outside home. You make a dish. An elaborate cooking spending extra time (take idiyappam for example) and take it to college/office for lunch, offer it to frnds/colleagues(boys esp) and they shamelessly finish it off leaving you nothing more than a spoonful. I somehow cannot tolerate this behaviour because i never do anything like that. I am considerate enough to have only a sensible portion when someone offers something.

The guy who was offered the food took away 3/4 of what was offered to him into his plate. This incident did not happen with me but when i protested- 'This is wrong. What will she eat?', the guy is not bothered to reply and the girl in question happily says, its okay he likes it let him have it!!!! Im sure the guy does the same at home...not bothering to leave food for his mom too (who actually cooked the tasty food for him). Why should we women always display our big-heartendness... Why should we feel happy to not have anything for ourselves and be content that the other person is happy! I just hate this. I might sound very selfish but in my view, This attitude has developed in me only becoz I never saw any man being so considerate. No, that does not work. The man has to be fed always dot

P.S. - Sorry for the long comment. I have just been readin all your recent posts reg women and inspite of having strong feelings, never commented as I am not good at keeping my point short.

Careless Chronicles said...

@ Ritu: Thank you Ritu, both for the comment and for directing me to the contest in the first place.
@ Vani: Please, please put in long comments. Like all bloggers I always love to hear other people think about the issues I raise. I completely agree on the food issue. The starvation and undernourishment of Indian women has been a huge problem in our country. And men are so used to snatching good food from the mouths of women that they don't even realise that this is just wrong. And women are trained to encourage this and be thankful for this appreciation of her cooking skills.

Smitha said...

You are so right! We get shackled by this concept of 'Mamta'! And we don't even realize it. God forbid if a woman does not have that 'mamta' in her! Funny, isn't it, that our society does not see anything wrong in one person(or one gender) being the one giving - all the time? Where is the 'give and take' here?

Indian Home Maker said...

Everybody knows this but doesn't see it the way it should (or could) be seen. Loved this post.

shail said...

You have said it all. Love each and every word. Absolute truth.

Careless Chronicles said...

@ Smitha: At ome point in time when women were little more than property being transferred from father to husband to son, the man gave her an identity. Over time, a woman has developed an identity of her own. Therefore they think in terms of "give and take". They wonder what others are contributing to their lives. This is why traditional society comdemns such them and isolates their own womenfolk and keeps them brainwashed.

@IHM: Thanks. I really believe that people should care for their daughters and daughters-in law, be friends with their sisters and sisters-in-law, love their wives and respect their mothers. Instead of expecting every female in their lives to mother them.

@Shail: Thanks. We don't even think about this in this way do we? I wish more people reflect on the day-to-day realities of their lives. :)

aurpera said...

Amazing post. So brilliantly written.

Usha said...

You said it!!

very few people acknowledge the trappings of some such stereotypes.
The sacrifices they do, and then the emotional blackmails and manipulations they do in the name of those sacrifices. It all just goes on all around us and very few really stop and wonder about what exactly is happening!

loved your post!

sexandtheindiancities said...

brilliant post ..women themselves have to learn the virtues of non-mamta ..mothering whole family is not their duty ..I refuse to look after my bros son when he is around and bhabhi is not .its his son his responsiblity not mine . And I am just happy being taking care of my litle fish ..more than that I am not interested right now :)

Careless Chronicles said...

@ Aurpera: Thanks so much.
@ Usha: Thanks Usha. Mamta is the lifeblood of Indian culture and I expected that I would come in for lots of flak for telling people that we overdo it. I'm so glad to see so many people actually got the underlying point.
@ SexandtheIndianCities: Wow! One of the few people who actually think that kids are the responsibility of both parents. Most women would just tell the man that he knows nothing while they efficiently step in and run his life for him. They'd feel guilty otherwise.

Urmi said...

I hopped over from IHM's link to your post - What a brilliant piece of writing !! I find myself utterly helpless when I am surrounded by my 'well-meaning' female older relatives who keep repeating all this rubbish all the time. I have got into trouble all the time because I refuse to bow down to the so called 'male ego' and I am forever fighting for my own rights, especially with my MIL. In this day and age, I am infuriated when I see ignorant women and Indian women who still believe that they are inferior to men in all aspects!!

You are so right, y'know as a society we can progress only if we begin to teach our own little girls that they ought to have their own identity. We need to raise our little boys to be respectful of women and be grateful for her role in their life [be it mum, sister or wife]. There is just no point ruing about it. If we need to see a change, we have to BE the change.

I have a little son who is only just 4, but I am moulding him in the right direction.

@Vani : I agree!!!! I also hate the men who behave like that, and definitely give them a piece of my mind whenever anything like this happens!!

zradar said...

So true!!The very next word that i could think of after 'Amma' is 'sacrifice'.And whats more saddening is that they still think thats the way it has to be. After coming across so many lives who think this way, I have posted one on my own. Pls let me know what you think about it..

Careless Chronicles said...

@Urmi: Thanks. Women are taught to be silent in front of elders and this is why issues get swept under the carpet. And as for the generation next, read my experiences here. There's always the force of society to contend with!
@Zradar: I can understand a mother sacrificing because you do give up a whole lot when you have a child. What I can't understand is why a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a wife, a girlfriend, a female colleague, an employee and even a granddaughter is expected to sacrifice and be a mother to the men in the family. Can't we enjoy any other role in our life at all?

Simbly Bored said...

Like you said, we're designed to sacrifice. Mamta is a much better word than the one that comes to my mind. Guilt.

On the other hand, we also like it. Not just Indian women. American women have a concept of "mommy guilt" too. It's as though we always had it in us and society is just set up to exploit it.

How else is it that some women raise their sons to be equal partners in a relationship and others to be overgrown brats?

This is not a shameless plug for my blog, but a link from it nonetheless. My idea of what makes an Indian woman a doormat (sometimes):

Careless Chronicles said...

@Simblybored: Yes, in the US, the mothers have mommy guilt. In India, even girls as young as 4 have mommy guilt if they're not sacrificing enough for their family members. That makes a difference. I do believe that mothers can make a difference. But even men who have been used to this can change once they become aware of the unfairness. But it would mean they have to take the tough way out and refuse to excercise their privileges. Until then, nothing will change. Also, feel free to link to relevant posts. To me it's important that more people have these conversations. I want no copyright on it. The more it spreads the better. And it's always wonderful to share thoughts.

eeprikka said...

Hey there,
Thanks for putting me up for the challenge. Haven't done any serious writing for a long time and I hope I can do this justice :)
Haven't read your piece, will do so as soon as I finish mine.

J said...

This is such a brilliant post...the overhyped and suffocating 'mamta'. I just hope as a single parent I manage to keep my daughter free from it and its obligations. All you posts are so insightful and well written. While reading most of them I feel as if someone just heard me out and written it all down nicely. Through these blogs I have atlast found my group of like-minded what if it virtual.

nolongeraslave said...

This is an amazing entry post. If you don't mind, I would like to use some of it for a future post on how narcissistic moms sabotage their adult child's independence.

nolongeraslave said...

I forgot to add that your post clearly demonstrates WHY some people think Indian culture doesn't respect women.

Some Indians get defensive and say that they do hold women in high esteem, but I suppose people would rather be in denial than look at reality.

Careless Chronicles said...

@eeprika: I can't wait to see your entry. All the best.
@J: Thanks J. I think women common concern. We either sweep it under the carpet or let it fester quietly inside. When I was divorced, I remember seeking desperately for a support group, a resource group or just anything that would help me out. And I felt so utterly alone. I am happy the Net is a better resource now.
@nolongeraslave: I saw your site and appreciate the work you are doing. Feel free to link to any of the posts that you feel are relevant or write your own take on these issues. I would really like that these ideas reach a wider audience, so we can get more people thinking. I think every culture has its own blind spots. I can only comment on mine.

ladynimue said...

This helped me understand myself a bit better .. thanks for writing this ..

sangeeta said...

Brilliantly sarcastic many things under the guise of mamta . Loved your perspective , this mamta is killing the woman .

Garima said...

As someone else said.. Beautifully sarcastic... came here via IHM! Very well written!

Careless Chronicles said...

@ Ladynimue: Thank you for writing in. I am happy you found it insightful.
@Sangeeta: Yes it is. And we don't even realise it.
@ Garima: Thanks Garima.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what medieval mamta practice you are referring to.

Rather most Indian women these days are street-smart, manipulative, political, opinionated etc, reasonably equivalent to indian males.

The times demand it and therefore nothing different or surprising to be seen this way…

Careless Chronicles said...

@ Anonymous: I wish this was a medieval practice. A small portion of urban women do fit in with your description. A majority of Indian woman are in rural India. Even in urban India, depending on how traditional a household is, the rights of a woman within a family situation is quite low. Even women who are "street-smart, manipulative, political, opinionated etc, reasonably equivalent to indian males" still do not enjoy this status within their households. They often have very little choice except to accept their own homes as they are, or to fight everyday.

Anonymous said...

its so disappointing when someone has no clue of what was said before responding. its simplistic or naive to believe this is product of indian female rights. the erosion of values or decadence of virtues in these times have absolutely nothing gender specific. today mamta or so called kindness and humility have been taken over by greed and ruthlessness. In cities nobody (both women and men) turns to assist the sick, 0 benevolence towards urban poor, no visiting relatives and friends in their times of need, 0 tolerance towards aged parents and elderly.... endless! Rural folk , both men and women are even more meaner and unforgiving due to lack of law, resources and politicizing. When u write, at least give ur readers a hint of reality so that they have a chance to think and renew themselves. Or retain casual tempo of half-baked articles.

Careless Chronicles said...

@Anonymous: I assumed that you said that Indian women today were not expected to have mamta and were as street-smart, manipulative, political, opinionated as men and I responded accordingly. Wasn't that what you said?

As to your rant against city lives, I would not make such a sweeping judgement. People have loved ones even in the cities; only, those may not be family members. Women and men in cities do reach out to people around them; villages on the other hand, still practice untouchability and caste politics. The parents and elderly who do not attempt to wreck the life of modern urban couples are welcomed and loved. In rural societies, few people respect the institution of their children's marriage.
I personally know people who take time off from work to help sick colleagues and friends. Perhaps my experience in the cities have been different from yours.
Each person experiences different realities. Our own experiences on city life differs. So what I write are based on my reality or life as I see it. I am hoping that my readers do carry away a few thoughts from this.
I did not understand what you mean by "retain casual tempo of half-baked articles."
Do consider leaving your blog link, so I can read more of what you write and understand a little better the point you are trying to make.

Indian Home Maker said...

Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).